Lush, green, quiet—these are some of the traits for which Hawaii’s most underrated island is known. Yet, visitors often neglect Kauai in favor of the state’s more popular islands. Travelers far too frequently flock to Maui’s Road to Hana, the beaches of Oahu, and the rugged volcanoes that decorate the Big Island. No doubt, all the Hawaiian Islands are gorgeous. Each one offers a unique experience, sweeping views, and a special combination of cuisine, culture, and natural beauty. But Kauai is arguably the most elusive link in the Hawaiian chain. Fewer tourists make the trip to the state’s most rugged place—and this is just one of the reasons the northernmost island is so underrated.

Towns like Hanalei and Poipu can expect at least 15 days of rain each month—more than twice the precipitation on the Big Island’s west side. While travelers with limited vacation time might not have rain on their itinerary, floods are the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, the lightest drizzle on Kauai is accompanied by bursts of sunshine and thriving vegetation that wouldn’t likely survive a dryer climate. Rainbows decorate the sky, and with fewer tourists in the mix, you may well find you’ve discovered the United States’ best-kept secret.

The experience is nothing short of authentic. The island itself is small enough to cover in a couple of days, and visitors can circle the island’s roadways by car in under three hours. Yet the landscape is rugged, and much of Kauai’s rainforests—not to mention the famed Na Pali Coast—are inaccessible unless you hike in or travel by boat.

The experience is nothing short of authentic.

This makes the entire island feel deliciously exclusive. Meanwhile, all the island’s towns offer unparalleled appeal. With just 70,000 full-time residents, Kauai is the destination far too many of us have been waiting for—but haven’t known to visit.

Outdoor Activities

Unlike many of the other Hawaiian Islands, the bulk of the beaches on Kauai require short, stimulating hikes, culminating in a multisensory experience.

In Princeville, at the north end of the island, Hideaways Beach is tucked away behind a nine-car lot. When space opens up, visitors must follow the rugged path—complete with uneven steps and makeshift ropes—to experience the captivating beach cove.

On Kauai’s south shore, McBryde and Allerton Gardens offer botanical tours that put others to shame. After spending an afternoon admiring Hawaii’s largest collection of native flora, tourists can proceed to Ka Lae O Kaiwa Beach—a crescent-shaped nook with crashing waves and wondrous sands. Again, the experience must be earned; to access the beach, travelers must park on the road, carefully follow the retaining wall, and make their way past the locked gate into a sea of overgrown brush.

Next on the outdoor adventure itinerary is Makauwahi Cave—a famed sinkhole filled with fossils. This must-see attraction is home to animal bones, geological evidence of natural disasters, and even the pollen of extinct plants. Diverse and compelling, there’s nothing like it elsewhere.

Above all else, Kauai is versatile. Those who favor the island appreciate the rocky cliffs, the wild waves, and the white-sand beaches. The hiking and surfing opportunities are seemingly endless, and among the most popular paths is the Kalalau Trail. This trail offers a rewarding—albeit strenuous— experience for seasoned hikers looking to stun themselves with Kauai’s natural beauty.

We mentioned the Napali Coast, but it stands to be repeated that this 17-mile expanse of pure beauty is well worth tourists’ time and energy. Whether you experience it on foot, from the water, or in the air (helicopter tours offer unprecedented views of the delightful terrain), the narrow valleys and flowing waterfalls will stun you.

Does snorkeling appeal to you? If so, you’ll also want to leave time to visit Tunnels Beach—a pristine expanse full of colorful turtles, fish, and even Hawaiian monk seals. The beach features a reef with plenty of viewing opportunities for divers of all skill levels. No matter your background, you’ll want to take the time to get in the water and experience one of Hawaii’s most treasured locales.

above all else Kauai is versatile

Nuanced Cuisine

Visitors, be warned: this island offers a mouthwatering selection of eateries and delicacies, many of them specific to Kauai. You won’t find much in the way of a so-called tourist trap; instead, everywhere they look, travelers can savor dishes resulting from all the cultures that make up the Garden Isle’s population.

The food on Kauai is rife with influences from China, Japan, the Philippines, and even Spain and Germany. Nuanced and flavorful, the most popular dishes include saimin (a savory noodle soup), poi (a popular taro root paste), poke (salted raw fish), sushi, and delectable sashimi that practically melts on the tongue, paired with wasabi and soy sauce.

No matter the dining experience you’re after, you will have access to everything from restaurants headed by James Beard award-winning chefs (think Chef Sam Choy’s Holoholo Grill) to mom-and-pop shops selling bento boxes ideal for a leisurely lunch, or perhaps a picnic.

this island offers a mouthwatering selection of eateries

With that, we urge travelers to add Kauai—dubbed the Garden Isle, and Hawaii’s most underrated island, in our view—to their list of travel destinations. We invite you to connect with the landscape, take in the natural beauty, enjoy the delicious cuisine, and savor the experience of the calm and quiet island. You won’t soon regret it.