The city of Honolulu and the island of Kauai are more different than they are alike. So this may make your decision to visit either one much easier.
Honolulu possibly has everything you’d need or want in a Hawaiian getaway. Within the city, you’ll get a taste of their culture, history, cuisine, shopping scene, natural wonders, and more. You can explore the lush forests or beach hop yet always have the convenience of city life.
With this, Honolulu is perhaps the most convenient travel destination in Hawaii. But while you’ll get everything here, you only experience them in small doses. For the outdoor enthusiast, the wild nature of Honolulu can be a bit vanilla.
This is where the island of Kauai comes in. It’s the go-to destination for action-packed days for the adrenaline junkie in you. Take long hikes, swim with sea turtles, discover hidden coves, and much more.
Kauai preserves and protects its natural beauty, thus, it’s less developed. But this may be the perfect paradise for you if you truly want to immerse yourself in nature.
Honolulu is not only Hawaii’s capital city but also the state’s primary gateway to the world. It’s highly developed, yet still boasts the natural beauty that Hawaii is famous for. The city’s mix of nature and urban metropolis makes it easy for tourists to have everything they need within arm’s reach.
This modern city is also home to Hawaii’s famous tourist attractions. Thus, it caters to every type of visitor too.
Honolulu has the Iolani Palace for history buffs, Waikiki Beach for beach lovers, and Diamond Head for outdoor enthusiasts. But away from the main draw, the city also has a rustic charm. So you’ll also get an authentic Hawaiian feel in this bustling metropolis.
What Makes Honolulu Unique?
A Diverse Mix of Dazzling Beaches
Honolulu may be a bustling city capital, but there’s no shortage of stunning beaches there at your disposal. With miles of golden sandy coasts, a 30-minute ride will take you through a wide array of beaches.
Some are highly-developed beaches, surrounded by various hotels, condos, and other establishments. This includes the world-famous Waikiki Beach and Ala Moana Beach.
But you can also get a taste of rustic and unspoiled beaches. This includes the natural beauties of Kailua Beach and Diamond Head Beach Park.
If you’re on a family trip with kids, you’ll enjoy Waikiki Beach and Magic Island. Both have roped-off swimming areas, protected by reefs.
For the adrenaline junkie in you, you can always catch some waves, go boogie boarding, and more on surfing beaches such as Sandy Beach.
So no matter who you are or who you’re with, you’re bound to find the perfect beach in Honolulu. But some are the crowd favorite of tourists, for plenty of good reasons. Below are some beach highlights if you’re planning to beach hop in Honolulu!
This legendary beach is a no-brainer, and no trip to Hawaii is complete without taking a dip here! Waikiki Beach is the busiest one of all as it has the most services among the beaches in Honolulu. With this, there there’s always something for everyone here.
Waikiki Beach just has a bit of everything. The gentle waves are perfect for learning to surf, but not too harsh to deter you from swimming. There are several water sports centers for snorkeling and other activities too.
If you’re tired of the water, you can relax on the shore under a beach umbrella. Or go to some restaurants nearby. The big city convenience is also one of Waikiki Beach’s selling points.
If you’re seeking a rugged, idyllic escape by the beach, Hanauma Bay is for you. This compact embayment has gentle waves and clear waters are perfect for swimming. And the shore is wide and flat, so you can soak in the scenic view with some tasty cocktails in your hand.
More than the beauty of the bay, the views are just as gorgeous underwater. Hanauma Bay is also a nature reserve, so you can snorkel to your heart’s content and swim with the bustling marine life!
You don’t have to stray too far from the heart of Honolulu for a secluded beach. Kahala Beach is a quiet, serene beach for you to enjoy with the perks of the city’s convenience.
On the east edge of the beach lies some of Oahu’s best five-star hotels packed with fancy restaurants. You also have a shopping strip nearby with more affordable dining options.
Kahala Beach is best for relaxing on the sand by the palm-fringed shore. The water is calm and shallow. But the sea floor is rocky, so it’s not the ideal swimming beach.
Cultural and Historic Ventures
The capital city of Honolulu is also a delight for culture-vultures and history buffs. Downtown and Waikiki are the best hotspots for a historical tour of Hawaii.
Downtown Honolulu is dense with historic landmarks. It’s home to the only royal palace in America and several historical buildings, to name a few. You’ll even find a multitude of art galleries, cultural museums, and venues for performing arts.
Waikiki may not be as abundant in historical spots as in the downtown area. But it has a thriving art scene that depicts Hawaiian culture, life, and local heroes.
Waikiki also houses several museums. One is the Lucoral Museum, a great place to learn more about ocean geology, including pearls. There’s a jewelry-making workshop here too.
If you’re planning to take a historic tour around Honolulu, here are some must-visit spots.
This ornate site was the house of Hawaii’s last monarchs. Today, it’s one of Hawaii’s top-visited historical landmarks!
You can go on a guided or self-guided tour through the elegant palace. A must-see spot here is the king’s gorgeous private suite.
On the Palace Grounds, you’ll find the gorgeous Iolani Barracks. This structure looks like a medieval castle, and it used to house the royal guards back then. Today, it houses the Palace gift shop and ticket office.
Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site & Archives
This museum has a massive collection of Hawaiian, Pacific, and Western artifacts. There are over 3000 of them, so it’s easy to spend all day going through each one. It also has an impressive collection of 12000 books, documents, and manuscripts.
The Food and Night Scene
Honolulu has a strong focus on providing tourists with top-notch restaurants and bars. And with Hawaii’s diverse mix of cultures, you’ll get a taste of both traditional and international cuisines. You’ll find just about every type of restaurant in Honolulu, fit for any type of palate.
Kaimuki and Kapahalu are the hotspots for local diners. From generation-old eateries to farm-to-table diners and diverse cuisines.
Downtown is where you’ll find a vast array of fine dining, along with trendy restaurants.
And if you’re craving Asian cuisine, head over to Chinatown for Chinese and Thai food, to name a few. Chinatown is also filled with small markets where you can buy foreign veggies and fruits.
The fun doesn’t stop when the sun sets in Honolulu though. It also has a vibrant nightlife with a friendly and laid-back atmosphere.
Downtown also has many craft cocktail bars within your reach. Kakaako is famous for its brewery-hopping scene for beer enthusiasts. Local breweries are all within walking distance for a fun night out!
But Waikiki and Ala Moana are the winners for the night scene. Both have a plethora of bars and nightclubs for some merrymaking!
The last call in Honolulu is 2 AM. But some clubs in Waikiki have a cabaret license, allowing them to serve booze until 4 AM!
A Hodgepodge of Outdoor Adventures
Although Honolulu is a busy, developed city, it never feels like a concrete jungle. Apart from its beaches, much of the land is also covered with lush forests, along with a diverse landscape. This gives plenty of outdoor activity adventures for everyone!
Dabble in water sports, take a hike on a volcano, trek through dense forests, and more!
If you want to surf, bodyboard, or boogie board, Sandy Beach is the best place to be. Its large waves reel in serious surfers, but it gets too strong for beginners. But you can try the gentler waves of Kailua Beach if you’re still learning.
Honolulu also has great spots for windsurfing, such as the windy Waialae Beach Park.
For snorkeling and scuba diving, virtually any beach in Honolulu is a great choice. But among the best are Hanauma Bay, Ala Moana, and Diamond Head. All three have clear and calm blue waters where you can swim with sea turtles!
If you love hiking, then you’ll enjoy the moderately challenging trail to Manoa Falls. It’s a 1.7-mile (2.7 kilometers) back-and-forth hike across the jungle with a gorgeous display of flora and fauna.
There are so many other places to be in Honolulu for some exciting adventures. But if you’re short on time, two places seem to have it all. Both Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head have a host of outdoor activities that you can do in a day.
This beach is ideal for a variety of water sports, and you can find various operators here to enjoy the waters. Surfing and snorkeling are a given, but you can also try paddle boarding, outrigger canoeing, and much more!
This national park hosts a delightful mix of water and land activities. You can go surfing, snorkeling, hiking, and more, in one day!
The main attraction here is the Diamond Head itself, a dormant volcano. You can hike its flower-filled trails to the summit, or go on a scenic, round-trip bike tour!
Whichever you choose, you must see the breathtaking sunset views from the summit. The top of Diamond Head is also the best place to get a panoramic view of Honolulu’s urban and natural scenes.
If you want to have some fun in the water, the park also has a quiet beach at the foot of the volcano. Its big waves attract surfers, but you can also snorkel here too.
The park also features a zoo and aquarium, so you can get a glimpse of the Hawaiian wildlife up close and personal.
Unique Neighborhood Experiences
Honolulu has several neighborhoods, each with a distinct vibe from the others. So traveling throughout the city is a delight, as you’ll find something new all the time!
Waikiki has some iconic beaches, and not only the famous Waikiki Beach. This neighborhood has the best nightlife in Honolulu if you’re looking for a night out. And it’s truly a mix of urban and natural settings, as it’s also home to high-rise condos, hotels, and more.
Ala Moana’s star is their stunning beach park. But it’s also the place to be to go on a shopping spree. From Ala Moana Beach, you can take a short walk to Ala Moana Center, the world’s largest outdoor shopping mall.
Downtown Honolulu is a popular attraction for cultural and historic trips, as most historical sites are here. But more than that, it boasts a thriving art scene with plenty of museums nearby. Downtown Honolulu also has several upscale restaurants for more luxurious dining.
Kapahulu and Kaimuki are two quaint neighborhoods that sit next to each other. Both give you a more authentic trip, as they have more of a local vibe compared to others. It’s home to restaurants that have been passed on for generations and other diners that use fresh and locally grown food.
Diamond Head is where adventure seekers and nature lovers go to. Volcano hiking, an uncrowded beach, and wildlife are only some of its highlights. You can also get a 360 view of Honolulu from the summit of the volcano.
Kahala is the most luxurious neighborhood in Honolulu. It’s packed with Oahu’s finest 5-star hotels, upscale restaurants, and pristine beaches. Many celebrities also have homes here in Kahala, so you may spot some of them around the neighborhood!
Kauai, The Garden Island, is often overlooked by visitors for its busier neighbors. Kauai is the greenest Hawaiian island, with incredible beaches and verdant rainforests in the backdrop. There are also waterfalls, hidden valleys, and other natural wonders sprinkled all over the island.
Nature is where Kauai’s charm is, thus the island feels quite rustic and rawer. You won’t find towering buildings or feel the presence of big establishments here.
With this, Kauai is the best island for outdoor lovers or those who want to escape the crowd. Everything feels more personal in Kauai, even their accommodations. So if you prefer the more authentic and natural side of Hawaii, Kauai is your top island.
What Makes Kauai Unique?
Blissful, Tucked-Away Beaches
Every Hawaiian island has stunning beaches, and Kauai is no different. Kauai is less touristy than the other islands, so its beaches don’t get as crowded. So if you want to enjoy the island’s sandy shore and blue waters, you won’t have much competition!
Poipu Beach is arguably the face of Kauai’s turquoise waters. This crescent-shaped beach has two rock pockets to keep the bigger waves out. Thus, it’s a great beach for snorkeling and swimming for just about anyone.
Poipu Beach also has several amenities a bit away from the shore. You’ll get restrooms, barbecues, picnic tables, and even a playground.
Hanalei Bay is another one of those idyllic and scenic beaches, especially during sunsets. Cradling the bay are tall, emerald cliffs to add to the mystic vibe. This beach is popular for families with small kids, but you can also surf here to your heart’s content.
Other Kauai beach staples are Tunnels Beach, Polihale Beach, and Shipwreck Beach.
But some say that the best beaches in Kauai are the hidden beaches, tucked away in lush natural wonders. This may not be the best option if you’re with your family. But if you’re an outdoor lover, you can have the empty beach to yourself.
Here are some of the best almost-secret beaches on the island of Kauai.
The path that leads to this gem of a cove is steep and treacherous. You’ll go through uneven grounds, slippery rocks, and rusty posts. But it’s all worth it once you get there.
The trees that fringe Hideaways Beach’s coastline are thick, so you don’t have to bring an umbrella. What you do need to bring is your snorkel gear, as this is one of the best snorkeling spots on the island.
While you’re in the beach’s blue-green waters, you can even swim your way onto Pali Ke Kua Beach. This is another gorgeous cove, one that’s even less traveled.
Nestled on the coast of Na Pali coast is a beach with a gorgeous backdrop. Hidden beaches are appealing to many, as the rewards, in the end, are high. And likely no other beach on Kauai could top this thrill.
The backdrop of Kalalau beach is some emerald cliffs with lush greeneries. You can also find a cascading waterfall in the background to complete the natural wonder.
You’d have to hike 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) to get to the beach, though, but even the hike itself is worth it. The path to Kalalau Beach is one of the most incredible hikes in the country, the Kalalau Trail.
Dramatic Natural Wonders
Kauai is also called “The Garden Island”, and once you set foot here, you’ll immediately see why. Every corner of Kauai is postcard-worthy, thanks to its lush and diverse landscape. You’ll see mountain ranges in front of you, a dense tropical forest on the side, and some glistening beaches by the shore.
And while there are countless natural wonders on Kauai, some stand out as being the best ones. If immersing yourself in nature is your idea of paradise, here are some must-visit spots.
Na Pali Coast
This dramatic coastline is Kauai’s signature attraction. A magnificent view from any angle, the vividly-colored sea cliffs aren’t the only beauty here. It also has narrow valleys that sandwich the mountains, waterfalls, streams, and more.
The coast also has the hidden gem known as Kalalau Beach, and a lesser-known one called Ke’e Beach. There are a few valleys here to explore, such as Hanakoa Valley.
There are a few ways to explore Na Pali Coast. You can kayak along the coast or go on a boat tour with snorkeling opportunities. You can also go on a helicopter ride for a breathtaking aerial view of the coast. But hiking is the best and most popular option to explore the Na Pali coast.
Dubbed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Waimea Canyon lives up to its name. It’s a 14-mile (22.5 kilometers) long, 1-mile (1.6 kilometers) wide canyon of vibrant red dips and peaks. The canyon is over 3600 feet deep (1 km), with lush emerald vegetation on the bottom.
The color contrast of the reddish rocks and greenery below is truly a natural delight. You can appreciate it best on the lookout point for views that you wouldn’t want to miss.
This dormant shield volcano lies within the heart of Kauai. It’s one of the wettest places on Earth, thus, it’s filled with dense forests and foliage.
Mt. Waialeale has an average of 450 inches (11430 millimeters) of rainfall each year. So its tall peaks are usually hidden away by a shroud of thick, rainy clouds.
One of its secret wonders is the Weeping Walls, which are dozens of waterfalls cascading down a deep canyon. This deep canyon is the Blue Hole, sitting at the base of the mountain. Hiking to get here is nearly impossible, even for very skilled hikers.
So if you want to see the Weeping Walls and Blue hole, you’d have to take a helicopter ride and hover over the area.
An Adventurer’s Paradise
With Kauai’s natural wonders, a vast array of exciting adventures are a given. From secret coves to densely overgrown trails, Kauai is just begging to get explored.
If you want the sea, sand, and sun, head over to any of Kauai’s stunning beaches. Some are better for a specific water sport, though.
The calm waves of Poipu Beach, Hideaway Beach, and Hanalei Beach are great for snorkeling, for example. But if you want to surf, Kalapaki Beach, Kealia Beach, and Kekaha Beach are great options. You can also go on a kayak through winding rivers, such as the Waiakea River.
But if you want to stay dry, Kauai still has plenty of offerings. The most popular inland activity on the island is going on a long, scenic hike.
The Kalalau Trail is the most popular one, due to the gorgeous flora and fauna on its path. This is one of the toughest trails in Hawaii, yet many hikers don’t mind as the hike is worthwhile. Dramatic cliffs, secluded beaches, and tall waterfalls are only one of the few wonders that await you on this trail.
If you want an easier hike, you can always hike at Secret Falls and Kokee State Park. Or, you can take the Cliff Trail at Waimea Canyon to hit two birds with one stone!
Natural Historical Sites
True to its name as The Garden Island, Kauai’s historical sites are centered around its natural beauty. Kauai is Hawaii’s oldest island, so it has a long history that you can appreciate.
Visiting the island’s historical sites is a two-in-one excursion. You get to learn more about the island’s distant past while soaking in Kauai’s lush nature! If you’re a history buff, here are some must-see highlights for your trip.
This was once a sprawling plantation then, owned by the Wilcox family. They were missionaries who helped the local community in many ways. But their main legacy was the introduction of plantations to Kauai.
You can take a railway around the whole plantation and enjoy several scenic stops. Some island activities, delicious dining, and shopping will also be part of your trip. You can also go for a rum tasting to end your long day trip.
Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
This may be an underwhelming coastal trail for many as it’s only 2 miles short (3.2 kilometers). But Mahaulepu’s charm lies within its plethora of different sceneries, packed in a small area.
It’s home to dramatic sand dune cliffs, limestone formations, and rocky inlets. It’s the last piece of accessible coastline on the South of Kauai that’s still in its raw, untouched state. Thus, there’s also plenty of wildlife here, such as sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals.
Quirky Gastronomic Delights
Traditional Hawaiian cuisine is generally comprised of veggies and fruits grown on the island. Most dishes mainly have yams, coconuts, pineapples, various meat, and freshly caught fish. You can taste the freshness of each ingredient from the first bite!
But if you’re driving around Kauai and see some colorful shacks, make sure to stop by. You might be pleasantly surprised by what the locals can offer you.
Plenty of shacks have nutritious smoothies so you can drink your breakfast on the go. Some amazing juice shops are Kalalea Juice Hale, Kauai Juice Co., and Aloha Juice Bar.
If you’re a coffee lover, stop by Kauai Coffee Company. You can tour the area, learn about the coffee-growing process, and sample some yourself.
A trip to Kauai isn’t complete without trying their Puka Dogs. The island has a different take on hot dogs, as they fuse it with tropical flavors.
What makes Puka Dogs special is the delightfully surprising tastes that you can pair it with. You can have passion fruit mustard, banana, or mango, and even relish it with coconuts!
Is Honolulu or Kauai Better?
A direct comparison of the two destinations would be unfair. They have a distinct draw that you wouldn’t find in the other. Thus, you’d have to focus on what you want out of your vacation.
If you want a bit of everything in Hawaii, go for Honolulu. Anything that you might need is within the city so you’ll have a hassle-free vacation. Beaches are within your reach, but so are fancy restaurants, high-rise hotels, and more.
But if you want a slice of raw tropical paradise and to escape the crowds, go for Kauai. The island sees way less visitors, so you have its natural beauty almost to yourself. Your experience in Kauai will feel more local and personal, giving you a more authentic taste of Hawaii.
Is Kauai Cheaper Than Honolulu?
Kauai is a more budget-friendly destination than Honolulu in almost every aspect. The average daily cost in Kauai is around 152 USD. While in Honolulu, you’d have to shell out 227 USD per day.
If you want to get a better picture of the costs, below are some factors to consider.
In Kauai, a hotel for one person is 91 USD and 181 USD for couples. This price skyrockets in Honolulu. A hotel for one person will be 146 USD and 262 USD for couples.
Local transportation in Kauai is a bit more expensive at 27 USD a day. In Honolulu, you’ll spend 21 USD a day to get around the city.
The average daily cost for meals in Kauai is 45 USD per day. This is more expensive than Honolulu’s average of 42 USD.
Entertainment costs in Kauai are around 14 USD, while this will be 32 USD in Honolulu. This includes fees to tourist attractions, such as museums and parks.
The cost for alcoholic drinks is significantly cheaper in Honolulu and will only cost you 5.18 USD a day. But in Kauai, you’re looking at 12 USD for drinks per day.
Is Honolulu in Kauai?
Honolulu is not in Kauai. It’s a city on the island of Oahu. Kauai is a different island to the west of Oahu.
How Far Is Kauai From Honolulu?
The straight line distance between Kauai and Honolulu is 120.15 miles (193.37 kilometers).
Can You See Honolulu From Kauai?
It’s geographically impossible to see Honolulu from Kauai. Not only would the entire island of Oahu be in the way, but the view would also get covered by the Waianae Mountain Range. You may see Oahu’s north shore from Kauai, though, but there’s much debate about this among many locals.
Kauai to Honolulu
The only way to travel from Kauai to Honolulu and vice versa is by plane. There are no passenger ferries that can take you around the Hawaiian islands. The only exceptions are the ferries between Maui and Lanai.
Can You Do a Day Trip From Honolulu to Kauai?
If you don’t want to switch hotels, you can take a day trip from Honolulu to Kauai. The flight time is short, and you can have the whole day to explore The Garden Isle’s top attractions.
The easiest way to go on a day trip to Kauai is to book a trip with a travel company. They’ll pick you up from your hotel, handle the round-trip airfare, take you to tourist hotspots, and more.
Flights From Honolulu to Kauai
It’s easy to find a flight from Honolulu to Kauai and vice versa. You have several airline options for air travel, and each flies out many times a week.
Honolulu to Kauai Flight Time
It takes around 38 to 41 minutes to fly from Honolulu to Kauai. But bad weather conditions will extend this quite a bit.
What Airlines Fly From Honolulu to Kauai?
There are several airlines that fly from Honolulu to Kauai, such as Delta Airlines and Mokulele Airlines. But the top airlines that consistently travel between the two are Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines.
How Much Is the Flight From Honolulu to Kauai?
A round-trip plane ticket price from Honolulu to Kauai ranges from 142 to 235 USD. But you can get a good round-trip deal for as low as 76 USD. Low-cost airlines generally have one-way ticket prices of 30 to 38 USD.
How Far Is Kauai From Honolulu Airport?
The distance from Lihue Airport in Kauai to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu is 102 miles (164.2 kilometers).
Ferry From Honolulu to Kauai
There are no passenger ferries between Honolulu or Kauai, or the Hawaiian islands in general. The only ferries that operate travel between Maui and Lanai.
There used to be a ferry that provided transportation between the islands. This was suspended back in 2009 though due to environmental impact concerns.
Honolulu to Kauai Ferry Price
From the year 2009 onwards, no ferries exist between Honolulu and Kauai. Thus, you’d need to fly to travel from Honolulu to Kauai and vice versa.
Boat From Honolulu to Kauai
Boat rides aren’t possible from Honolulu to Kauai. But there are several flights between the two so you can experience the beauty of both destinations.
How Long Does It Take to Sail From Honolulu to Kauai?
Traveling by sea is no longer possible between Honolulu and Kauai. Since 2009, the only way to travel between the Hawaiian islands is by air. Flying from Honolulu to Kauai typically only lasts under an hour, but this depends on the weather and air traffic too.
Honolulu to Kauai Drive
Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, a separate island from Kauai island. There’s a vast expanse of water between the two, with no bridges to connect them. Thus, you cannot travel from Honolulu to Kauai by driving.
Cheapest Way to Get From Honolulu to Kauai
The cheapest and only way to go from Honolulu to Kauai is by plane. Island Air and Hawaiian Airlines always offer short flights between the islands. But you have other airline options to choose from, such as Delta.