There are only two main roadways on Kauaʻi – Kūhiō Highway (Route 56) and Kaumualiʻi Highway (Route 50) – and the island is 25 miles long and 33 miles wide. This means getting around the Garden Island isn’t very difficult – if you have a car.
There’s a public bus system on Kauaʻi and some hotels run shuttle services, but routes are limited. Taxis and rideshare options like Uber and Lyft can be expensive and difficult to find. You’ll want a car to explore the best experiences the island has to offer.
If you don’t want to rent a car – or want a greener way to get around – there are bike and motorbike rental companies. You can also walk certain neighborhoods, too.
To explore the most of Kauaʻi, rent a car
It takes about two hours to drive from Polihale State Park on Kauaʻi’s west side to Hanalei Bay on the north shore – a route that nearly circles the island. And there’s a lot to explore between the two beaches, from the majestic Waimea Canyon to the sunny beaches of Poʻipu to the beachy town of Hanalei.
Because there are only two main roads that encircle the island – and others that cut inland to towns like Koloa and Kokeʻe State Park – navigating around Kauaʻi isn’t that hard. Most of the places you’ll want to visit, from popular restaurants to beaches, will be along the two major highways.
Rental cars have been hard to come by throughout the state, as car rental companies sold their cars in 2020 in anticipation of the financial blow they would face due to widespread COVID-19 travel restrictions. Tourism returned to the Islands in 2021 with pre-pandemic numbers of visitors – and fewer cars available. People were shelling out thousands of dollars to rent cars, some even renting U-Hauls. Kauaʻi was no exception.
While it’s not as crazy as it was a year ago, you’ll still want to book your car in advance to ensure you’ll have a way to get around once you land, especially if you’re visiting during peak periods. All major car-rental agencies are on Kauaʻi, with lots conveniently located near Līhuʻe Airport. Avis rents cars from the Grand Hyatt Kauaʻi and Princeville Airport, too. Private car rental options are also available through Turo and Outdoorsy, but you’re not allowed to sleep in trailers, RVs or camper vans at county or state parks, and you’ll need a permit to camp. Zipcar is not available on Kauaʻi.
While driving around Kauaʻi, keep up-to-date with road work and land closures – these may impact your itinerary. Visit the state Department of Transportation's website to get daily updates for Kauaʻi. (Last year Kūhiō Highway to Hanalei was closed in both directions at various times during the day and night, as workers needed to fix the road after a major landslide. If you missed the window of time when the road was open, you wouldn’t be able to get in or out of Hanalei.)
As anywhere in Hawaii, drive with aloha. Drive slowly, yield to others and don’t tailgate. (Locals aren’t receptive to blaring car horns, either.) At one-lane bridges – like the one in Hanalei – you must yield to oncoming traffic. Just relax and enjoy the drive. You’re on vacation!
Yes, there’s a bus system on Kauaʻi – but don’t get too excited about it
Unlike Oʻahu, which boasts an extensive public bus system where you almost don’t need to rent a car, Kauaʻi’s bus option is limited in times and routes. The city-run Kauaʻi Bus provides service from Kekaha to Hanalei, and fares are $2 per trip. (It offers discounted fares for riders with disabilities, seniors over 65 and those between 7 and 18. Children under 6 are free.) The routes are geared more for residents than visitors, so check timetables online or call (808) 246-8110 to map out your visit. Note that the bus cannot accommodate large luggage or oversize bags.
Take a shuttle for short trips
There are a handful of private shuttle companies – Roberts Hawaii Airport Shuttle, Kauai Island Shuttle, SpeediShuttle – that provide transportation from Lihuʻe Airport. Some hotels also provide shuttle options for their guests to and from the airport. But Kauaʻi also has local area shuttles that could be a good option if you’re looking for a quick and affordable (often free!) way to get somewhere nearby.
The Aloha Spirit Kauaʻi Shuttle offers free service to restaurants, shopping areas or the beach in the Poʻipu area. (You can also book private charters, too.) The free shuttle rides run from 6 to 10 p.m. daily. And the North Shore Shuttle provides transportation to Haʻena State Park, which includes Keʻe Beach and the famous Kalalau Trail. The shuttle departs the Waipā Park & Ride (where you can leave your rental car) every 30 minutes between 6:30 and 11:30am daily, with return service from Haʻena State Park between 7am and noon and 2 to 5:30pm. Cost is $35 per adult ($25 per child) and includes entry fee into the state park.
Rideshares and taxis are great for quick rides
You can find Lyft, Uber and a locally run rideshare option called Holoholo on Kauaʻi. Wait times may be a little longer than in Honolulu, where there are more drivers, and rides can be more expensive than the daily cost of a car rental. (A ride from Lihuʻe Airport to Poʻipu Beach Park on Holoholo, for example, starts at $60. You can rent a car for about $80 a day.) But if you need a quick ride somewhere, this is a great option.
There are several taxi companies, too, some of which offer charter services. You can find most of them at the aiport and some drivers only accept cash (not credit cards). Kauaʻi Taxi Co. offers three sightseeing tours, even one to see ʻOpaekaʻa and Wailua Falls, and 635-TAXI has beach and adventure tours. You can also book taxi drivers for the entire day if you want a personal tour of the island.
Two wheels can be better than four
If you prefer to experience Kauaʻi on two wheels, you can rent a bike from a few shops, which deliver to specific areas on the island. Eco e-Bikes Kauaʻi rents pedal-assisted bikes complete with gear ($24 an hour, $79 for 24 hours, $279 for six days) and delivers them free of charge from Poʻipu to Kapaʻa. The Bike Doktor has a selection of bikes – from single-speed cruisers to road-hybrid bikes – with drop-off and pick-up service for weekly rentals from Princeville to Haʻena.
A great place to bike is the Ke Ala Hele Makalae (Hawaiian for “The Path that Goes by Coast”), a paved trail that runs 8 miles (in two segments) in Kapaʻa. The path runs along the coastline from Lydgate Beach Park to secluded Kuna Bay (aka Donkey Beach). You can rent a bike right in Kapaʻa town – Hele On Kauaʻi has cruisers, mountain bikes, hybrids and even tandem bikes – and enjoy this gorgeous stretch of Kauaʻi. (You might be able to see migrating humpback whales in the winter months.)
Need more speed? There are a few shops that rent mopeds, motorcycles and scooters. Kauaʻi Mopeds in Lihuʻe offers all three with free delivery islandwide. Cost ranges from $110 a day for a 49cc moped to $300 a day for a Suzuki DR 650 Dual Sport Motorcycle. Due to COVID-19 and the state’s emergency rules, the company does not provide riding lessons. All renters must know how to operate a motorized two-wheeled vehicle. Motorcycle riders must have valid motorcycle licenses.
Hit the pavement
Sometimes the best way to experience a place is by walking. Kauaʻi features a number of charming neighborhoods great for wandering. The half-mile stretch of road in Old Koloa Town is a walkable shopping and food area, with food trucks, boutiques, coffee shops and two supermarkets. Grab an all-natural shave ice from The Fresh Shave or a burger using 100% Kauaʻi-grown beef from Kenji Burger. Or stroll along Rice Street and the surrounding area in Lihuʻe and visit restaurants, shops and other local businesses. Grab a bowl of saimin from Hamura Saimin Stand, which was recognized by the prestigious James Beard Foundation as one of America’s Classics in 2006, or pop in Kauaʻi Beer Co. for a pint of locally crafted beer.
Hanapepe Town seems like it was built for walking – the quarter-mile section of Hanapepe Road is dotted with art galleries, boutiques and cafes. Get a macadamia nut cinnamon roll or hot panini sandwich from Midnight Bear Bakery or browse the charming indie Talk Story Bookstore in this little town, which was the backdrop for Disney’s Lilo & Stitch. If you love Niʻihau shell jewelry – pricey but truly an artform – visit J.J. ʻOhana.
Check the local guidance
The County of Kauaʻi’s Office of Economic Development collaborated with the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority on website focused on transportation options on the island. Get Around Kauaʻi has information on various ways to get around, from renting cars to ridesharing to walking guides. The site encourages the use of low-impact, green options that are better for the environment and reduce traffic for residents.
You might also like:
Help out in Hawaii and get a free hotel stay
Hawaii launches a remote worker program with free return flights
Hawaii wants to ensure a sustainable relationship with tourism post-COVID-19