Nature reigns here, and nowhere is that more breathtakingly apparent than the Na Pali Coast, where verdant cliffs hide secret waterfalls, unreachable by car or even on foot. That's why you'll be arriving by air.
An 85-minute tour with Island Helicopters circles Kauai before cutting north for Na Pali to hover over lush valleys and scoops of sand. But the smooth-as-silk ride takes a turn for the legendary when your pilot alights at 350-foot Manawaiopuna Falls, where Steven Spielberg filmed part of Jurassic Park. There you'll be blissfully alone, as this helicopter company is the only one allowed to land (from $716 for two, islandhelicopters.com).
Where to Stay
For Hawaii unplugged, base yourself at the north-shore Hanalei Colony Resort on crescent-shaped Ke'e Beach. Think comfy and charming rather than flashy and slick. As an added bonus, since even casual restaurants can be pricey here, each unit has a full kitchen (from $255, hcr.com). If you want to spend a few days on the more hopping south coast, reserve a room at the Koa Kea, a sophisticated hotel on Poipu Beach (from $329, koakea.com).
What to Eat
On the high end, Bar Acuda plates up tasty tapas, such as honeycomb with goat cheese and apple, from its theatrical open kitchen (restaurantbaracuda.com). For more casual bites, head to Postcards Cafe, where local fish and island-grown produce take center stage (postcardscafe.com). And when it comes to takeout, nobody does fresh mahimahi tacos like Pat's Taqueria in the Hanalei Pier parking lot (800-262-1400).
What Else to Do
Stand-up paddleboarding packs an intense core workout. Sign on for a lesson with Kayak Kauai (from $85 per person, kayakkauai.com).
When to Go
A terrific time to travel -- both weather- and crowd-wise -- is late spring or early fall. Try not to coincide with Japan's Golden Week, a late-April holiday that sets scads of tourists loose on the islands.
How to Get There
Both United and American airlines offer direct flights to Kauai from Los Angeles. Then rent a ride, as you'll definitely want your own set of wheels for exploring.