Kauai, the Garden Isle, is the oldest and fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands and a nature lover's dream (or anyone who wants peace and quiet). Kauai is a total sensory experience, a place where the richly hued Waimea Canyon shares real estate with white-sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, ginger-scented jungle, rare seabirds, wild fruits, lush forests, fern grottoes, and cascading waterfalls. Luxury lairs plus ample outdoor activities and spellbinding sights make it a fantasy island for travelers both energetic and idle.
When To Go: Kauai at its best
Best weather: Mild year-round though summer temps can reach the low 90s; slightly less rainfall between April and November. May to September are the best months for hiking.
Best prices: Mid-April to June; September to mid-December
What To Do
Festivals: Local musicians and American composers join hula dancers and art exhibitions for the Prince Albert Music Festival in Princeville in May. All islands celebrate Lei Day on May 1; Kamehameha (named after a Hawaiian king) Day in June; Obon season (Buddhist temples have festivals featuring Japanese folk dances and drumming) in July and August; and Aloha Festivals (a celebration of Hawaiian culture with dancing, street parties, and crafts) in September and October (Kauai's is the third week in October).
Outdoor action: Tons of tour companies are available for kayaking, sailing, rafting, diving, and snorkeling tours along the Napali coast or off Poipu Beach. Or take a seaside swing at the palm- and lagoon-studded Kauai golf courses including the renowned Makai and Prince (among Kauai's toughest) courses. Hiking is also popular: the 45-mile network of trails in Kokee State Park, at the north end of Waimea Canyon, is a wilderness park where indigenous birds and plants thrive in forests.
See celluloid scenes: Kaua'i's valleys and waterfalls starred as a dinosaur preserve in Jurassic Park; Harrison Ford escaped natives via snake-filled seaplane from Papa'a Bay in Raiders of the Lost Ark and returned only to be stranded in Six Days, Seven Nights (poor Harrison). The list goes on: Film buffs should sign up for a five- or six-hour film location tour with Hawai'i Movie Tours, (800) 628-8432.
Explore an old culture: On the west shore, visit Waimea, where Capt. Cook first landed in 1778, and Hanapepe, a sleepy town where plantation-era buildings line the main street and old Hawaii is evoked. Shop for local foods like taro chips, pineapple, coconuts, honey, and papayas -- and have them shipped -- at Kauai's Fruit & Flower Company.