I’ve spent time on five of Hawaii’s islands, and Kauai definitely ranks number one in my book. It’s just such a gem – charming little towns, relaxing beaches, incredible snorkeling, and amazingly varied landscapes.

So, here’s my “best of Kauai” list:

Best Place to get your Tropical Plant Fix: Allerton and McBryde Gardens. Kauai is known as the Garden Isle, and there are beautiful plants all over the island, but if you’re looking for peak-plant, go here. I was lucky enough to get a private tour since I was photographing the gardens for the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and I was in plant heaven! Make sure you check out the Moreton Bay fig trees of Jurassic Park fame.

Best Photo Op: A doors-off helicopter tour (for the best photos, it’s gotta be doors-off to avoid the reflections!). Guys, I’m super afraid of heights and flying. Yeah, I know it’s weird considering I’m a travel photographer. Still scared of it. Anyway, I so badly wanted to photograph the Na Pali coast from the air even though it involved getting in a helicopter. I spent the week before our tour worrying about how I was about to spend a bunch of money on something that was probably going to kill me. But guys, I didn’t die, and it was AWESOME! Hands down the best thing I did on Kauai.

Best beach for sunset: Ke’e Beach. This is the last beach accessible by car on the north shore, so you get awesome views of the Na Pali coast. We went to this beach a few times to enjoy sunset and relax after hikes. The waves crashing against the cliffs are backlit by the sunset… SO pretty!

Best Shave Ice: Wishing Well Shave Ice. Get the Organic Tropical Bliss – passionfruit and coconut syrup topped with papaya and coconut flakes over macadamia nut ice cream. SO amazingly good. We went here a bunch.

Best Hike for Epic Views: Pihea Trail. Kalalau Trail gets all the fame (and the part of the trail I went on was stunning), but I really loved Pihea Trail. There’s an amazing view of Kalalau Valley right at the beginning of the trail… Probably my favorite view on the island.

Best Place to Feel Like You Have the Island to Yourself: Hideaways Beach. This was my favorite beach on the island. The water is the most amazing aqua color, it’s secluded, and there’s shade – the perfect beach! Getting to this little gem means hiking down a super steep/muddy/sketchy trail though – so be careful. And then thank that trail for keeping the beach nice and quiet.

Best Venue for a Destination Wedding: Waimea Plantation Cottages. While we were staying here I woke up early every morning (thanks time change and roosters) and wandered the grounds taking photos with my film camera. I kept thinking about how perfect this spot is for a destination wedding – it’s naturally beautiful and there are a bunch of cottages close together for all of your closest friends and family to stay. I LOVED this spot!

For more Kauai inspiration and travel tips check out my Kauai Pinterest board.