Sure, you could gather your best girlfriends and book another lazy, all-inclusive Mexican beach vacation or an exhaustingly rowdy weekend in Vegas — but considering how hard it is to coordinate an escape from your everyday lives, wouldn’t you rather find some balance between the two extremes? Kauai offers the best of both worlds, allowing for both peaceful rejuvenation and exciting outdoor recreation all on one fabulous island.
Known as the Garden Island, thanks to its lush landscape, Kauai sits toward the western end of the Hawaiian archipelago. You’ve likely seen its iconic mountains and cascading waterfalls in any number of movies that have been filmed on the island, including Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, South Pacific and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I met my girlfriends at the Lihue airport to begin our ultimate BFF getaway on Kauai. We rented a vehicle (as rideshare availability is scarce), ensuring we’d have the freedom to explore all parts of the island at our leisure.
A Grand Stay at the Grand Hyatt Kauai
A 15-mile drive from the airport, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa provides an excellent base camp for your stay location-wise — it’s located between the east side and the South Shore of the island — but also places you in the lap of luxury. Upon check-in, we were greeted with beautiful purple leis before heading up to our rooms.
The ocean view with two queen beds is perfect for each duo in your group, and comes complete with a private lanai (balcony/patio), marble bathrooms, a double vanity sink (which truly helps preserve any friendship), a walk-in shower and classic Hawaiian décor.
The palm-tree lined and hibiscus-filled grounds of the beachfront property, situated along the white sands of Poipu, are meticulously maintained. My girlfriends and I spent hours relaxing in hammocks and lounge chairs surrounding the multi-level pools, floating down the lava-rock-lined lazy river, and barreling down the 150-foot waterslide. We even held an impromptu photo shoot in the property’s various seating nooks, secret caves, waterfalls and on the beach — because, what better way is there to commemorate a girlfriend’s getaway than by snapping as many Insta-worthy moments as possible?
One afternoon, we booked treatments at the resort’s Anara Spa. What a pleasure to experience a lomilomi massage—a traditional Hawaiian massage of flowing strokes—in this open-air setting. Not yet ready to leave our little spa oasis, we made use of the steam room and whirlpool after our treatments and then rinsed off in the outdoor lava showers. After all, it’s not a true girlfriend’s getaway until you’ve been to the spa!
5 Island Adventures
While we could have happily spent the entire week holed up at the Grand Hyatt, we knew we’d regret not exploring some of the fun activities the islands have to offer.
Tropical Botanical Gardens
The National Tropical Botanical Garden is dedicated to discovering, saving and studying tropical plans from all over the world—in part, to help preserve endangered species. We chose the 5-hour Allerton Garden tour, located on the South Shore of Kauai. Our extremely knowledgeable guide led us through a towering rainforest organized into various sections of trees, flowers and other plant life.
More than just a garden, it’s a true landscape architecture masterpiece complete with water features custom-designed to live in harmony with each garden space. My favorite sections were the bamboo forests and the Moreton Bay fig trees, which were the scene of a pivotal moment in the original Jurassic Park movie.
Zip-lining Above the Trees in Kauai
When it’s time to get your heart pumping a bit, head to Just Live! We selected the Wikiwiki zip tour, which includes three ziplines and two canopy bridges over the course of several hours.
Truth be told, we all found the bridges much more nerve-wracking than the actually zipping, probably because you have a lot more time to think as you slowly make your way across them, swaying with each step. But we had a blast flying through the trees and over the lush canopy and enjoyed the magnificent 360-degree views from the platforms between each leg of the course.
Horseback Riding on the Beach
It’s one thing to see Kauai by car, but it’s another thing entirely to experience it while on horseback. CJM Country Stables offers twice daily trail rides on the South Shore of Kauai, through the legendary Maha’ulepu wilderness area. After getting matched up with horses that complemented our prior riding experience (mine was quite the diva, and appropriately named Celine Dion), we set out in a single-file line.
Over the course of the next few hours, we meandered through a tree-lined tunnel, crossed over the ocean, rode along the beach and in open fields—all the while, a guide shared stories of local Hawaiian culture, told us about different plants, and poured us each a glass of refreshing POG (passion fruit-orange-guava juice, a local favorite).
Haku Lei Making
You already know how much fun it is to take selfies with your girlfriends while using the Snapchat filter that places an imaginary flower crown on your head—but wait until you get to wear real flower crowns!
And not just any flower crowns, but ones you made with your own two hands. Elvrine Chow of Heavenly Hakus Kauaii brought fragrant flowers from her own garden (think: plumeria, rose petals, carnations, orchids, mums, song of India leaves, baby’s breath, and fern) and taught us how to make the haku leis from scratch.
These flower crowns are typically worn during weddings and other special ceremonies on the island — you really do feel like royalty when you don one. We wore ours to dinner that evening and again the next day, because how often does one get to wear a flower crown?
Shopping, Sipping and Tasting
If you’re in town on a Wednesday afternoon, don’t miss the Kauai Culinary Market at The Shops at Kukui’ula. Sounds of live Hawaiian music fills the air, as you explore the various food stalls of fresh, locally grown produce, pies, jams, and other yummy treats. Plus, you’ll find many fun shops and boutiques where you can purchase local goods such as island wear, jewelry, souvenirs, and sunglasses. The four of us purchased keepsake “friendship necklaces” at Mahina, so our time together could always be close to our hearts.
Of course, there are also catamaran snorkel tours of the Napali coast, ATV rides through plantations to waterfalls, and helicopter rides with awe-inspiring views available—you simply cannot go wrong with any of the island activities.
4 Best Eats and Drinks in Kauai
Delicious food and drinks are an essential component of any girlfriend’s getaway—meal time is where secrets are spilled, hilarity ensues and bonds are cemented. Kauai offers a wide variety of restaurants, food trucks, and take-out options (most of our lunches were poke bowls followed by shave ice in between activities) catering to any craving you have. Some of our favorites included:
Gaylord’s at Kilohana
Kilohana is a historic 105-acre sugar plantation-turned-destination that is most easily explored by taking the conductor-narrated train ride through the fruit tree orchards, fruit fields, vegetable gardens, and animal pastures.
This is also a great spot to attend a traditional luau, complete with hula dancers, torch lighting, Tahitian music, and Polynesian cuisine. We chose to have dinner at Gaylord’s, where we sipped on Mai Tais and dined on island-influenced dishes while enjoying the distant views of Mt. Waialeale.
Tidepools at Grand Hyatt Kauai
You certainly don’t need to leave your hotel to have an unforgettable meal—Tidepools is set in thatched-roof bungalows at the base of a waterfall right on the property.
We toasted over cocktails at our table, which overlooked a koi-filled lagoon, and ordered mouthwatering ceviche appetizers, Macadamia-crusted Mahi, steaks, lobster tails, and malasadas (donuts) for dessert.
Merriman’s Fish House
If you love chilled oysters as much as my girlfriends and I do, then treat yourself to dinner or happy hour at Merriman’s Fish House.
Make sure you arrive prior to dusk and sit in the upper level, so you can enjoy the glorious sunset views while you eat fresh, local oysters (arguably the best we’d ever eaten, and we consider ourselves connoisseurs) and sip their lilikoi foam-topped Mai Tais.
The Aqua Kauai Beach Resort’s Naupaka Terrace offers laid-back indoor and outdoor dining options, and ingredients sourced from local family-run farms. While our dinner was delicious, it was the dessert that stole the show: a cast-iron S’mores brownie, made with burnt marshmallow, Lappert’s vanilla ice cream (a local brand), caramel sauce, macadamia nuts, and Hawaiian sea salt. It’s enormous and decadent, and easily shared with friends — but why would you?
The Garden Island is always blooming with package deals and specials, cultural festivals, and other seasonal experiences. So grab a few girlfriends and make this your next getaway any time of year — the days will go by quickly, but the memories will last you ladies a lifetime. If you want more ideas for traveling in Hawaii, our Wander readers have some great suggestions.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.