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Kauai, Hawaii is an island for nature lovers. It’s breathtaking landscapes, from majestic mountains to ferocious volcanoes to stunning waterfalls and pristine beaches, the island is not short of visual feasts that please the eye.
Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, and is also known as the “garden isle” because of its natural beauty. It’s quite different from Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.
But there are more things to do in Kauai than just playing in the great outdoors. The island is rich in Hawaiian culture, has a decadent foodie scene, and has plenty of opportunities to sit back and relax.
Whether you’re into hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling, or you just want to embody the true spirit of aloha, in this guide, we’ve shared some of the most unmissable activities on the island.
Things To Do In Kauai
Whether you’re an adventurer or you’re looking to relax, don’t miss out on these top things to do on the island of Kauai.
1. Cruise the Napali Coast on a Boat Tour
Visiting the Na Pali Coast on a boat tour is a must when visiting Kauai. It’s the best way to see the magnificent Na Pali coastline.
There are various types of boat tours available, such as a relaxed dinner and/or sunset cruise, or a catamaran cruise that affords a smaller group. You can even have a raft for an adventure.
Besides seeing the Napali Coast, you can usually spot sea turtles as well as spinner dolphins on the cruise!
I went on a sunset cruise tour and it was relaxing with cocktails, beer, or wine. It’s a good tour for those who just want to relax. The catamaran tour is the best for adventurers because it allowed us to go through the smaller sea caves.
I didn’t do the raft option since I didn’t want to risk getting seasick, but it might be exhilarating for the more adventurous family!
2. Hang out in Kapa’a
Visit Kapa’a if you’re not staying in the area. It’s a little small hippie town with fun little shops and restaurants.
Be sure to visit Lava Lava Beach Club, a beachfront restaurant that serves delicious food with a backdrop of amazing views and often has live music in the evenings.
The bar and interior of the restaurant are covered with tables, couches, and fire pits spreading out onto the beach.
3. Go Horseback Riding
Take a horseback riding tour at Silver Falls Ranch on Kauai’s North Shore.
We had two horse guide tours and they were hilarious as well as informative and kept the group together.
There are stops at small baby waterfalls and lunch is included. The teriyaki chicken and rice were delicious and if you’re vegetarian, the taro burger is also a winner.
The horses are sweet, well-trained, and seemed to be treated very well.
Be sure to arrive on time since the group will have to start riding without you.
Since it is located in Princeville, it often rains so be prepared for the possibility of muddy trails and keep a poncho or light raincoat if it seems like it may rain.
4. Visit 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay for Happy Hour and Watch the Sunset
Head up to the luxurious 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, formerly known as St. Regis Hotel, in Princeville, one of the best resorts in Kauai for happy hour and enjoy a drink (or mocktail) outside on their lanai that overlooks the ocean with a glorious sunset.
The best time to go is 30-45 minutes before so you can snag the best seats.
Every night they do a little ceremony, pop a bottle of bubbly, and everybody gets a glass.
Valet is complimentary but be sure to tip them! It’s a fun and inexpensive way to experience a fancy hotel.
5. Hike the Sleeping Giant Trail
For sweeping views, don’t miss out on a chance to hike the entirety of Sleeping Giant.
It’s an easy-moderate hiking trail that doesn’t take hikers more than 2.5 hours to complete (with time to stop and take pictures).
I recommend hiking in the morning since it’s an exposed hike and it’ll get hotter throughout the day.
The hike is 3.2 miles long and is an out and back trail, so you need to turn around and come back the way you came. Bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water.
6. Visit and Hike Waimea Canyon State Park
Waimea Canyon is the (mini) “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and one of the top things to do in Kauai.
It’s vast and a must-visit even if you only visit the lookout point.
There are various trails for hiking at every level if you feel so inclined. As with all hiking, be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water, and snacks.
7. Kayak and Hike to Secret Falls – AKA Uluwehi Waterfalls
Kayak in a single, double, or triple on the Wailua River upstream with Kayak Wailua.
After two or so miles, dock, and hike up to Uluwehi Waterfalls or Wailua Falls.
Wear your swimsuits under your t-shirt, tank top, or shorts. I recommend wearing old sneakers that you don’t mind getting wet or proper water shoes.
Wear a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Bring bug spray for the hike portion as well as water and a small towel.
Pack light since you’ll be carrying everything with you on the hike.
8. Ride In An Open-Door Helicopter
If you’re looking for something truly special, one of the best things to do in Kauai is to take a scenic open-door helicopter ride over the island.
This scenic flight allows you to witness all the waterfalls that are not accessible via hiking or kayaking, plus gives you a chance to spot wildlife in the ocean that you can’t see from the shore.
If you’re lucky, you might spot migrating humpback whales (from December to May). This is certainly one of the best ways to go whale watching in Kauai.
It is very safe and an unforgettable bucket list activity to have in Hawaii. I recommend if you bring your camera, make sure it has a neck strap.
For cell phones, they have wrist straps to attach to your phone case.
9. Take A Steel Grass Chocolate Farm Tour
This is an awesome family-friendly activity where visitors can enjoy their “branch to bar” educational guided tour of everything there is to know about chocolate, including growing cacao trees, harvesting and post-harvest processing of cacao beans.
And then finish with a delicious tasting of chocolate, chocolate tea, and Miel de Cacao sorbet.
Kids will love it – not only because they get to try lots of chocolate, but because it’s a very educational experience.
10. Go on a Kauai Food Tour
If you are a foodie, going on a Kauai Food Tour is a great way to taste and sample all the best food in Kauai has to offer.
There are tours that focus on north shore Kauai, the south shore, and the east side.
There will be tastings from local cuisine, fine dining, and specialty shops.
11. Mountain Tube Down Backcountry
Another family adventure to have in Kauai is tubing. Tubing adventures have spectacular views of the mountains and Waialeale Crater and is a great way to see the breathtaking scenery from a different perspective.
We took part in the “Tubing Adventures” with Kauai Backcountry Adventures which was a 3 hour tubing experience. What makes Kauai Backcountry Adventures unique is that they have exclusive access to the historic irrigation system of the former Lihue Plantation.
This ditch and tunnel system that once irrigated vast sugar crops had been unused since sugar was taken out of production in 2000.
Recommended for kids 5 and above and must be over 43 inches tall.
12. Visit Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens
For a more peaceful and chill activity, visit the Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens.
Originally a home landscape project, the gardens then evolved into a magnificent 240-acre living mosaic of gardens, canyons, and plantations.
It was founded by Joyce and Ed Doty, and were born out of their deep love for the land and commitment to preserving its natural beauty.
In 1999, the Dotys generously donated the entire garden to a not-for-profit foundation, allowing Na ‘Aina Kai to be accessible to the public.
To see the gardens, you must book a guided tour which are available from Tuesday – Friday. There are no self-tours in the garden. There is a children’s garden as well!
13. Visit Queen’s Bath
Queen’s Bath is a tide pool located in a neighborhood in Princeville.
It’s actually a sinkhole and boasts incredible ocean views. There is very limited parking so I suggest going first thing in the early morning or late afternoon.
The neighborhood will issue parking tickets if you’re parking anywhere you’re not allowed. Be careful of the warnings.
Plenty of people have died or gotten seriously injured at Queen’s Bath. Wear proper shoes or take off your slippers and go barefoot because it gets slippery!
14. Ride ATVs on Kauai
If you’re looking for more adventurous things to do in Kauai, then riding ATVs is a thrilling experience that you’ll never forget.
Not only are ATV tours an adrenaline-filled adventure, but you also get to see the rugged landscape up close, from lush forests to sweeping ocean views to passing cascading waterfalls, it’s undeniably the best way to witness Kauai’s natural beauty at its best.
You can also reach more remote locations so you have more freedom to get off the beaten path.
I recommend the backroads tour where the family can explore for miles. The trip takes you on a historical journey through plantations, the Waita Reservoir, and past an active volcano.
Note you have to be over 18 for an ATV tour and you also need a driving license. Kids can go on the back of your ATV though.
15. Visit the Kīlauea Lighthouse & Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Kīlauea Lighthouse is located on Kīlauea Point on the island of Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi in the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
The ocean cliffs and tall grassy slopes of a dormant volcano provide a protective breeding ground for many Hawaiian seabirds.
It is an easy walk and pit stop for spectacular photographs. This is another fun-family activity especially if you have small children or babies.
It’s open Wednesday to Saturday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, closed on Sunday and Monday and all federal holidays.
Admission is $10.00 per person and children 15 and under are free. It’s recommended to book a reservation in advance to secure your ticket.
For wildlife enthusiasts, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, is arguably the best attraction on the island to see wildlife.
This is the best place to see Hawaii’s variety of seabirds, from the red-footed booby to the great frigate bird to the Laysan Albatross.
Not to mention the Hawaiian state bird, the Hawaiian Goose.
If you look down into the ocean, you may spot some spinner dolphins and Hawaiian monk seals playing in the waters.
Sometimes you can see Green Turtles and Humpback Whales in the waters, also.
16. Hit The Beaches
Kauai is also renowned for its stunning beaches. Poipu Beach is arguably the most beautiful and is known for its crystal-clear waters and occasional appearances by Hawaiian monk seals.
With its picturesque setting and stunning mountain backdrop, Hanalei Bay is a favorite for water sports like surfing and paddleboarding. Shipwreck Beach is another great spot for surfing.
Tunnels Beach, located on the island’s north shore, has exceptional snorkeling opportunities, thanks to its vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life.
Whereas Anini Beach is a tranquil paradise, surrounded by lush greenery and protected by a fringing reef, creating calm waters ideal for swimming.
For those seeking seclusion and vast stretches of golden sand, Polihale State Park is a must-visit. Its remote location allows for an uncrowded beach experience and breathtaking sunsets.
To get off the beaten path a bit, the Hanakapi’ai Beach is a secluded hidden gem that is often quiet. It’s a beautiful beach with amazing rock formations, but the water conditions are quite rough here so it’s not great for swimming.
Combine a visit with a hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls and nearby Ke’e Beach.
17. Try Waikomo Shave Ice
If you didn’t know already, Hawaii has a Japanese influence which has made it’s way into its cuisine.
Fresh poke bowls are a popular favorite, but if you prefer desserts and sweet treats, don’t miss out on a chance to try some shaved ice.
This Japanese dessert has become quite well known in Hawaii. We recommend Waikomo Shave Ice because they use all natural ingredients.
18. Hike to The Kalalau Trail
If you prefer a longer and more challenging hike, the Kalalau Trail is one of the best on the island.
It’s an 11 mile trail that runs from Keʻe Beach to the Kalalau Valley on the northern shores of the island.
It’s one of the most beautiful, and dangerous, hikes in the USA and requires a permit to do.
Don’t underestimate this hike – it’s one for the most adventurous and fit hikers.
If you think this hike may be too challenging for you, simply visit the Kalalau Lookout for incredible views.
So there you have it, those are 19 ideas for what to do in Kauai and as you can see, there is a big variety of attractions to choose from.
We hope this guide helped you pick a few activities to add to your itinerary and gave you some inspiration for your trip to Kauai.
Recommended Tours in Kauai
We recommend the following tours from our partner, Get Your Guide.
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