Kauai, the Garden Isle, is the oldest and fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands and a nature lover's dream (or anyone who wants peace and quiet). Kauai is a total sensory experience, a place where the richly hued Waimea Canyon shares real estate with white-sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, ginger-scented jungle, rare seabirds, wild fruits, lush forests, fern grottoes, and cascading waterfalls. Luxury lairs plus ample outdoor activities and spellbinding sights make it a fantasy island for travelers both energetic and idle.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
10 hours to Honolulu from NYC, 5 hours from LA; a 30-minute flight from Honolulu
Car, bike, taxi
When To Go: Kauai at its best
Mild year-round though summer temps can reach the low 90s; slightly less rainfall between April and November. May to September are the best months for hiking.
Mid-April to June; September to mid-December
Local musicians and American composers join hula dancers and art exhibitions for the Prince Albert Music Festival in Princeville in May. All islands celebrate Lei Day on May 1; Kamehameha (named after a Hawaiian king) Day in June; Obon season (Buddhist temples have festivals featuring Japanese folk dances and drumming) in July and August; and Aloha Festivals (a celebration of Hawaiian culture with dancing, street parties, and crafts) in September and October (Kauai's is the third week in October).
What To Do
Tons of tour companies are available for kayaking, sailing, rafting, diving, and snorkeling tours along the Napali coast or off Poipu Beach. Or take a seaside swing at the palm- and lagoon-studded Kauai golf courses including the renowned Makai and Prince (among Kauai's toughest) courses. Hiking is also popular: the 45-mile network of trails in Kokee State Park, at the north end of Waimea Canyon, is a wilderness park where indigenous birds and plants thrive in forests.
Explore an old culture:
On the west shore, visit Waimea, where Capt. Cook first landed in 1778, and Hanapepe, a sleepy town where plantation-era buildings line the main street and old Hawaii is evoked. Shop for local foods like taro chips, pineapple, coconuts, honey, and papayas -- and have them shipped -- at Kauai's Fruit & Flower Company.