Watch Kauai come alive at the break of dawn.
The moment night shifts into day is special, and watching the sunrise can be inspiring anywhere. But on Hawaii's garden isle, Kauai, watching the dawn sky turn pink behind the deep blue Pacific is exciting, romantic and even thrilling. And it's an incredible photo opp.
Don't worry about how difficult it will be to get up at the crack of dawn. Kauai is on Hawaii-Aleutian time. This time zone lags behind the times zones of the continental U.S. from two hours (PST) to five hours (EST), so travelers in Hawaii naturally wake up early. Just be sure to get out in time to see the show.
Timing is everything
Along with palm trees, lush rain forests and some of the world's most spectacular beaches, Kauai is known for its year-round warm weather. But keep in mind that even tropical islands have seasons, which affects the exact timing of the sunrise.
So what's the best time to see a sunrise in Kauai? In summer, the sun rises between 5:53 a.m. and 6:18 a.m. Autumn sunrises start anywhere between 6:22 and 7:00 a.m. In winter, head out between 6:59 and 7:18 a.m. Spring sunrise times range from 6:54 in March through 5:54 a.m. in May. The best show starts before the actual sunrise and lasts some 30 minutes after.
Rainy day sunrise
They say it never rains in Southern California, but the rain falls so regularly in Kauai that it is known as the Garden Isle. Rainfall per month ranges from just under 2 inches in April to more than 5 inches in December.
Rain can make a visit to Kauai better or worse. Light rain offers pleasant cooling on hot days, but a soaking rain can make cooler days miserable. Rain can help or hurt a sunrise. Heavy rain clouds may completely smother the sunrise, but clouds above the horizon can make the first light of the rising sun more dramatic and photogenic.
Go east, young man
Don't just head for any beach to watch the sunrise. Even in Hawaii, the sun rises in the east, so the east coast of Kauai, nicknamed the "Coconut Coast" because of its many palm trees, offers some of the bests sunrise seats in the house. East coast beaches are also less likely to get rain.
Head north up the Coconut Coast to Lydgate State Park to watch the dawn break. Walk to the mouth of the Wailua River and climb the hill near the parking lot to a heiau, or place of refuge. Ancient Hawaiians built Hikinaakala Heiau, which means “rising of the sun,” some 1,200 years ago in the spot considered to be the exact point where sunlight first touches the eastern shore of the island every morning. After sunrise and breakfast, hop in the water for great snorkeling.
For extraordinary photos, catch the sun rising on the north shore of Kauai with the famous Kilauea lighthouse in the foreground. The ocean cliffs of the dormant volcano and the tall grass on the volcano's slopes offer protection for Hawaiian seabirds. Once the sun has risen, look for the red-footed booby, Laysan albatross and wedge-tailed shearwater.
Or, take a panoramic lens for the longer view by driving up to the Kalalau Lookout, which is several thousand feet above the Kalalau Valley. The view is exceptional. Kalalau is one of the most famous valleys in Hawaii since it was the backdrop for “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park,” among other films. Nothing blocks the view of the dawn, but clouds often roll in later in the morning, so take photos early.