GETTING THERE: United flies to Kauai from BWI or Dulles, with a stop in L.A., and is quoting a round-trip fare of $636 for early December.
WHEN TO GO: Kauai enjoys a temperate climate year-round, with average temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees, 65 to 70 at night. Slightly more rain falls in the winter (November to February) than in the summer, but prolonged rainfalls are rare.
STAYING THERE: It's a good idea to stay in a few different places to avoid long drives as you explore different parts of the island. In Poipu on the south shore, the Poipu Beach Surfsong (5135 Hoona Rd., 877-373-2331, www.surfsong.com) is a cozy four-unit guesthouse near the ocean. Prices start at $70 a night in low season (until Dec. 15) for a studio (three-night minimum) or $425 a week; all units have queen beds, refrigerators, microwaves and TVs.
The ResortQuest Islander on the Beach (440 Aleka Pl., 877-997-6667, www.resortquesthawaii.com), in Kapaa on the eastern shore, was recently renovated. Doubles are $111 to $260 per night.
On the north shore, the Hanalei Colony Resort (5-7130 Kuhio Hwy., 800-628-3004, www.hcr.com) offers the only beachfront accommodations in Hanalei. Each two-bedroom condominium unit has a full kitchen; $210 to $375 per night.
WHERE TO EAT: Kauai is a melting pot of cuisines, from the Asian-inspired fusion fare of celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi at Roy's Poipu Bar & Grill in Koloa (2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr., 808-742-5000; appetizers $6 to $9, entrees $15 to $25) to the delicious coconut-crusted shrimp at the no-frills Shrimp Station on Highway 50 (808-338-1242) in Waimea; a full plate with fries is $11.
Don't leave without trying some shave ice -- liquid flavorings over ice shavings -- either at JoJo's Clubhouse in Waimea or from the Wishing Well truck in Hanalei ($3 to $5).
WHAT TO DO: The Margo Oberg Surf School (808-332-6100, www.surfonkauai.com) offers two-hour group lessons for $50 per person or private lessons for $100 per person near the Sheraton Hotel on Poipu Beach.
The all-day kayak trip down the Na Pali Coast with Kayak Kauai (800-437-3507, www.kayakkauai.com) is offered from May to September for $185 per person, including guides, lunch and equipment.
INFO: Kauai Visitors Bureau, 800-262-1400, www.kauai-hawaii.com. The best guidebooks we found were Robert Nilsen's "Moon Handbooks: Kaua'i" and Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman's "The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook."
-- Julian Smith