Hawaii is a favorite winter holiday destination of ours, and we’ve visited each of the main Hawaiian islands several times.
But the garden isle of Kauai has snagged a special spot in our hearts. Can you blame us? It’s just so darn picturesque!
For one, the beaches of Kauai are stunning. You can easily spend hours, days (maybe weeks!) just lounging around or beach hopping.
But with so many natural wonders – from immense canyons and serene rivers to emerald forests and Eden-like gardens – there are oodles of other things to do in Kauai, besides chilling on the beach.
And that’s a big part of the whole Kauai experience!
In fact, if this is your first time to Hawaii and you’re trying to decide between Kauai or Maui, Kauai wins by a hair in the adventure department because of its diverse landscape.
Plus, there are several top condo resorts and hotels in Kauai where you can kick back with a sunset cocktail after a day of adventure. (Because everyone deserves a great place to stay, right?)
Kauai: Things to do and see
Essential things to know about Kauai
Some quick Kauai facts
Before we uncover the best of Kauai, you may want to know the following:
Population of Kauai:
The islands are on Hawaii standard time, which is 5 hours behind the U.S. East Coast (6 hours behind during Daylight Savings).
Year-round temperatures average 75 to 85 degrees F.
In winter, a light evening sweater or shawl is a must.
Kauai gets more rain than other Hawaiian islands (that’s why it’s so lush). But it has several micro-climates. Even if it’s cloudy or rainy elsewhere on the island, Poipu (on the south coast of the island) is often sunny.
There are no special rules for entering Hawaii if you’re American and are flying to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland.
However, Canadian and international travelers who are planning a Hawaii trip need to be aware of the vaccination rules for travel to the United States (see here).
Best things to do in Kauai, Hawaii
Okay, what is there to do in Kauai? Let’s dive in!
1) Take a Kauai helicopter tour
How does an exciting chopper ride sound?
Scenic helicopter tours in Kauai are perhaps the best way to get a megadose of the island’s beauty.
It’s really one of those must-do Kauai activities!
In 90 minutes, you can see the whole island from the air with top-rated Safari Helicopters.
To the west, you’ll soar over Manawaiopuna Falls (aka Jurassic Park Falls) and the famous 14-mile-long Waimea Canyon, incised with dramatic red, purple and ochre cliffs.
To the north, gape at the unspoiled Na Pali Coast, where 3,000-foot-high emerald mountain cliffs rise up from the ocean floor.
Or choose a “no doors” chopper (with Air Kauai) for awesome pictures and even more thrills!
Movie directors love filming on Kauai. So your pilot may point out the valley cleft where the giant ape cradles the heroine in the 1976 King Kong flick.
Or he (she?) may show you the idyllic Hanalei Bay Beach that George Clooney jogs along in The Descendents (2011).
Whatever. Once you start soaring over the island, you’ll understand why an island flight is on every visitor’s Kauai bucket list!
Other Kauai helicopter tours
These other helicopter companies also offer scenic helicopter tours in Kauai:
- Airborne Aviation (with 4-passenger, doors-off Hughes 500 choppers)
- Jack Harter Helicopter Tours
- Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
- Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours
Pssst! You can also take a deluxe small plane ride in a new Cessna (with wide bubble windows) with Wings Over Kauai.
Some people think this 5-star-rated (but more affordable) scenic flight is superior to the helicopter rides.
2) Go tubing in sugar plantation canals
Don a helmet with headlamp and jump into a big inflatable tube. You’re going tubing!
Kauai Backcountry Adventures has exclusive access to the historic ditches and canals once used to irrigate Kauai’s sugar cane plantations.
This Kauai adventure has you floating down gently-flowing waters on former plantation lands in the island’s lush remote interior.
Feel like a kid again as your tube bumps into the lava rock canal walls and twirls about.
Bumper-tubing through five pitch-black tunnels (now you know why you have headlamps).
Definitely one of the more unique things to do in Kauai!
Tubing in Kauai
- The three-hour tubing tours are offered at staggered times throughout the day.
- Gloves and headlamps are provided.
- For more information, see Kauai Backcountry Adventures’ website.
3) Learn about monk seals
They’re cute and gentle, weigh from 400 to 600 pounds, have folds of skin around their neck and tend to live alone.
We’re talking about monk seals.
You often see monk seals snoozing on the sandy beaches in Poipu Beach Park, on the south coast of Kauai.
But they’re endangered.
One of the sad facts about Hawaii is that the population of monk seals – one of only two mammal species native to Hawaii – has shrunk to less than 1,400 monk seals.
Unfortunately, their numbers are declining as a result of disease, loss of habitat, getting entangled in old fishing lines and so on.
It’s fascinating to learn about Hawaiian monk seals.
And if you see one, don’t approach it. You’ll stress the creature – and it’s also illegal. Observe from a safe distance instead.
4) Savor seafood at Red Salt
Ever since opening its doors in 2009, Red Salt has received rave reviews as one of the best restaurants in Kauai.
The menu focuses on fresh Hawaiian seafood and local flavors. Think spicy seared ahi and ono with King crab hash.
Produce is locally sourced (the resto’s Kailani Farms mixed green salad is tossed with Big Island hearts of palm, roasted macadamia nuts and avocado vinaigrette).
The setting – creamy travertine floors and granite tables – is spare, though sophisticated and welcoming.
Red Salt is a bit pricey.
But the food sings and is worth the dollars spent.
5) Visit the Allerton-McBryde botanical gardens
What should you not miss on Kauai? Its botanical gardens.
There’s a reason this Hawaiian island is known as the garden island. Just look at Kauai’s beautiful botanical gardens – and you’ll see why!
Two of the most stunning are Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden, side-by-side tropical gardens on the island’s South Shore.
“Hang out with shady characters, do-gooders and beauty queens.”
So says the van’s sign on the drive into them.
Even if you lack a green thumb, you’ll love these 350-acre conservation grounds.
On a guided tour, stroll through a cool bamboo forest and outdoor “rooms” with fountains and rippling pools.
Also learn about some unique Hawaiian fruits – like the blue-cheese-stinky noni fruit (studied for its medicinal cancer-fighting properties) – and “canoe” plants brought to Kauai by early Polynesians.
Marvel too at the towering Moreton Bay fig trees, whose gigantic roots hid the dinosaur eggs in the Jurassic Park movie.
We were totally blown away by these gorgeous gardens.
Visiting them really is one of the top things to do in Kauai (especially if you want a break from the sea and sand).
You can reserve your small-group guided tour tickets for Allerton Garden (which is part of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens).
And here’s where you can get a day pass for the McBryde Garden. (Both the Allerton and McBryde Gardens are part of the NTBG collection.)
6) Take a shelter dog on a field trip
This Kauai activity idea is just too adorable to pass up!
If you’re a dog lover, why not do a good deed for a four-legged friend and take in the amazing Garden Isle sites all at the same time?
The Kauai Humane Society offers a brilliant program where you can pick up a shelter dog and take him or her out on a field trip for the day!
The Humane Society staff is happy to offer day trip suggestions depending on what you want to do and the furry friend you’ve been paired with.
Common recommendations include Kalapaki Beach, the Moalepe Trail, the Kuilau Ridge Trail and other dog-friendly destinations.
7) See the Spouting Horn blowhole
When you’re down on Kauai’s South Shore, stop at the Spouting Horn, one of the top natural tourist attractions in Kauai.
It’s a blowhole in the lava rock through which the surf shoots up, creating a huge plume of water, sometimes as high as 50 feet.
When the water shoots through, it makes a loud eerie noise too.
8) Eat shave ice
On a hot day, nothing tastes better than shave ice!
There are several cool little shave ice stands in Kauai.
And don’t think just fresh pineapple or strawberry flavors (though we love these). You can get the fluffy colorful scoops with sweet condensed milk or macadamia nuts on top.
Wailua Shave Ice:
At Wailua Shave Ice (in Kapaa), the coconut foam topping is popular. Or maybe go bold and ask for your shave ice with whipped cream and fruit nuggets.
Waikomo Shave Ice:
Waikomo Shave Ice (in Poipu) uses all-natural ingredients (and you can even get yours in an actual half coconut). Get it topped with home-made coconut cream sauce and local honey.
JoJos Shave Ice:
JoJos Shave Ice has three locations – in Waimea, Coconut Marketplace in Poipu and in Hanalei.
Their syrups are all home-made using cane sugar. The cream toppings are also home-made.
And at the bottom of your shave ice, you’ll find a nice ice cream surprise (vanilla or macadamia nut ice cream, depending on your shave ice choice).
9) Try SUP
An ancient Hawaiian sport, stand-up paddleboarding (or SUP for short) has been revived and is now the world’s fastest growing watersport.
It’s great core exercise, as you stand on a specially-designed surf board and paddle through the water.
SUP is easy to learn. You’re a little wobbly at first, but soon you’ll be happily gliding along (if the water is flat).
There are several great places to go paddleboarding in Kauai.
A popular spot is the calm Wailua River. If you’ve ever wanted to try SUP, one of the must-do things in Kauai is to take a board out on this river.
You can also combine SUP on the river with a two-mile hike to the 120-foot-high Sacred Falls.
For ocean paddling, Kalapaki Beach is good. In winter, Anini Beach and Hanalei Bay are usually also tranquil.
10) Drive through the Tree Tunnel
You can’t miss the famous Kauai Tree Tunnel if you’re driving to Poipu.
This one-mile stretch of Maluhia Road (Highway 520) is the gateway to Kauai’s South Shore (Koloa Town and Poipu Beach).
It’s lined with over 500 majestic Eucalyptus trees, planted more than 100 years ago.
As the trees grew, their branches linked above, forming the leafy canopy over the narrow road.
(It’s difficult to take pictures of the Tree Tunnel, though, as there are hardly any safe places to pull off and park.)
11) Shop at Kukui’ula shopping village
What to do in Kauai when it rains? Shop!
The Shops at Kukui’ula are tasteful, upscale and blend in with the south Poipu landscape.
Discover several art galleries plus interesting shops selling surfboards, Roxy sportswear, Hawaiian sea salt, unique jewelry and gourmet foods (fresh-baked pie anyone?).
You’ll find some great restaurants here too, including Merriman’s Fish House (for seafood) and the much-loved Bubba’s (a local eatery serving old-fashioned burgers).
And don’t miss the Kauai Culinary Market!
This culinary farmers market is held every Wednesday afternoon, with live music and chef demonstrations.
Shopping in Kauai
What to buy in Kauai?
Some of the best Hawaiian souvenirs are macadamia nuts, Aloha shirts and koa wood bowls.
Other local treats include estate-grown Kauai Coffee; hand-made soaps and candles infused with island fragrances like plumeria, coconut and mango; Aunty Lilikoi jams and passionfruit wasabi mustard; and hand-crafted pottery from Kilohana Plantation.
Made in Kauai:
To ensure you’re getting authentic local products made on Kauai, check out Kauai Made – it lists the stores and products.
Pssst! The Walmart on Kauai often has the best prices.
For a special memento, check out the leis and jewelry made with tiny rare shells by local artisans on the nearby “forbidden” island of Ni’Hau.
12) Sail the Na Pali Coast
Sailing trips up the spectacular Na Pali Coast are also one of the best activities in Kauai.
(Just take precautions if you’re prone to seasickness, as the swells can be wicked, especially in winter.)
There are no roads accessing this coastline, so the only way you can visit these wildly rugged shores is by boat (or from above on a helicopter ride; see #1).
Spinner dolphins like to race along at the bow.
A snorkeling stop is often included in the boat trip – keep an eye out for green sea turtles!
Na Pali Coast boat tours
Various Kauai boat tours sail up the Na Pali Coast, departing from Port Allen.
Holo Holo Charters offers a top-notch snorkeling-and-sailing trip aboard a 50-foot, Kauai-built sailing catamaran. It includes breakfast and lunch (with wine and beer).
Smaller vessels can go through the sea caves and explore the ancient lava tubes.
Kauai Sea Tours, for example, takes you on an exhilarating half-day rafting adventure aboard a high-speed Zodiac-style inflatable raft.
Other reputable Na Pali boat tour companies include:
13) Indulge your green thumb at Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Along with the Allerton and McBryde Gardens (see #5 above), the Limahuli Garden and Preserve is also part of the non-profit National Tropical Botanical Garden collection.
Built on a terraced mountainside on Kauai’s North Shore, it’s home to native Hawaiian plant species not found anywhere else in the world, along with special archaeological sites that give you a deep appreciation for Kauai’s early human history.
Complimentary walking sticks are offered.
The gift shop also sells wonderful books, artwork, locally-made Hawaiian throws and other items.
14) Zipline through the jungle
On the list of the most adventurous things to do in Kauai is ziplining.
Between taking in the views and sailing along at heart-pounding heights, you’re in for quite an adrenaline rush!
Near Poipu, Koloa Zipline features three of the longest ziplines on the island. Try some ziplining acrobatics with their hands-free harness, like the Superman, Upside Down and Spinning.
More ziplining fun can be had at Kipu Ranch with Kauai Outfitters. They operate Kauai’s biggest and fastest zipline, which is 3/4 of a mile long!
15) Watch the sunset on Kauai
One of the most romantic things to do in Kauai for couples is simple and free. Plant yourself on the beach at Hanalei at sunset and drink in the gorgeous golden scene!
Kauai sunsets are quite magical.
You can enjoy the sunset in Kauai most places on the island. But Hanalei is the ultimate Kauai sunset spot (in our view).
16) Hike the Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile path fringing the Na Pali Coast cliffs in northern Kauai.
You join the trail at Ke’e Beach.
If you do the whole hiking trail, you end up at Kalalau Beach, which can only be accessed by foot.
Note, however, that you need time (a minimum of two days) and camping permits to hike the Kalalau Trail, difficult and epic – to say the least!
Most people just tackle the first two miles to Hanakapi’ai Falls, then retrace their steps to go back.
If you love hiking, this short section of the Kalalau Trail makes for a great day trip – the views of the dramatic sea cliffs are stunning!
Expect to get dirty, as the trail can be muddy and slippery.
One time we went, no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t wash the red dirt out of our socks and shorts (scrambling = bum contact), so we simply had to throw these clothes away.
Note: There are several lovely easy hikes in Kauai. The Kalalau Trail isn’t one of them – it’s not a beginner hike. It’s one of the most demanding things to do on Kauai (especially once you hit the tough part after the Hanakapi’ai Falls).
Still, for outdoor enthusiasts, hiking the first part of the trail is one of those things you absolutely must do in Kauai.
Na Pali Coast hike on the Kalalau Trail:
Planning to hike the first two miles from Ke’e Beach? Be prepared!
Wear proper hiking shoes or sneakers (the trail is rugged), and take water and snacks.
17) Visit the Kilauea Lighthouse
Built in 1913, the Kilauea Lighthouse is part of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
Located on the North Shore of Kauai, the 52-foot-tall structure stands on a rocky peninsula 180 feet above the Pacific Ocean below.
As well as offering panoramic views, the area is a nesting site and haven for large populations of migratory seabirds, including red-footed boobies, Laysan albatross, wedge-tailed shearwaters and great frigate birds.
From the bluff, you may also spot dolphins and humpback whales breaching in the distance in winter.
Admission is $10.00 per person to visit the Refuge. There’s an additional online reservation fee of $1.
18) Check out the Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens
Visiting the Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens in Kilauea should be on your list of family-friendly, non-beachy Kauai activities.
The lush gardens are gorgeous and offer a splendid variety of exotic flowers in all colors, shapes and sizes. The 120+ bronze sculptures are also a bit of a surprise.
Kids, especially, are drawn to the 16-foot “Jack and the Beanstalk” fountain in the children’s garden.
The venue offers tour options including a self-guided walking tour, a seasonal bird tour, a family tour and several others.
19) Try poke
If you’re looking for a truly authentic culinary treat of the islands, it doesn’t get more Hawaiian than poke (pronounced “po-kay”).
Poke is a Japanese word that means “to cut into small pieces” – which aptly describes this traditional dish, made up of raw fish (usually ahi tuna) that’s cut up into cubes.
It may be seasoned with salt or soy sauce, green onions, onions, seaweed, chopped macadamia nuts or other condiments.
What’s now a staple of the Hawaiian diet originated back when fishermen prepared snacks from leftover cuts of the day’s catch.
Nowadays, you find many varieties of poke that include squid, crab and salmon – in all forms from small appetizer plates to meal-size poke bowls.
For some top-notch poke, try the Fish Express in Lihue and the Koloa Fish Market in Poipu.
20) Kayak the Wailua River
Here’s something else to put on your Kauai to-do list.
The island of Kauai has the only navigable rivers in Hawaii. That means great kayaking in Kauai!
The Wailua River, in particular, is a popular place to paddle. Kayaking adventures here usually include a two-mile roundtrip hike through lush greenery to Uluwehi Falls (Secret Falls).
The 120-foot falls aren’t exactly a secret anymore, but hey, a cool dip in the freshwater pool at the base is still a treat.
Note: Wear running shoes or hiking sandals that can get wet. Our Keens got wet and muddy (but they cleaned up pretty well afterward).
Kauai kayak tours
Duke’s Kayak Adventures offers an excellent Wailua kayaking and hiking tour.
The following adventure outfitters also offer Wailua River kayaking tours and/or kayak rentals:
21) Cruise up to Fern Grotto
Not up to kayaking Wailua River? Then how about a mellow Wailua River boat cruise to see Fern Grotto?
A natural lava-rock grotto, Fern Grotto gets its name from the hanging ferns that grow upside down from the roof of the cave.
At one time, only Hawaiian royalty were allowed to go there.
The Smiths, a local Hawaiian family, are caretakers of the sacred land. For four generations, they’ve been offering Fern Grotto river cruises.
Board a long flat open-air river boat (with a roof for shade) for the ½-hour cruise. Musicians onboard strum ukuleles and sing local Hawaiian songs.
After disembarking, it’s a short walk on a cement path and boardwalk through picturesque gardens to a viewing platform overlooking the famous grotto.
You can’t go inside the cavern, but you can still appreciate it from the viewing area.
Candid confession: We haven’t done this Kaui excursion yet.
By all accounts, it’s a little touristy.
But then again, Fern Grotto is one of the signature things to see in Kauai. And the natural beauty of the grotto and surrounding area is undeniable.
22) Play a round of golf
If you’re a golfer, there’s no question that one your favorite Kauai experiences will be hitting the links.
The island isn’t teeming with golf courses.
But at any one of the nine courses that Kauai does offer, you’ll get one of the most satisfying golfing experiences of your life.
Imagine taking in the cool ocean breeze as you tee up against a backdrop of green-covered cliffs that drop down into the vast Pacific Ocean, like at the Ocean Course at Hokuala.
If a relaxing round of golf is what you’re looking for on your Hawaiian island vacation, Kauai’s courses will not disappoint.
23) Graze at Bar Acuda
It’s worth dining at Bar Acuda in Hanalei for the chance to taste lots of creative dishes.
Serving a Hawaiian take on tapas, the dishes are meant to be shared. Delight in the local cucumber salad with crispy garbanzo beans and feta, seared scallops with butternut squash and Hanalei bison-and-pork meatballs.
And for dessert?
The creamy Lilikoi cheesecake is always a hit.
The setting is casual, but reservations are a must.
24) Watch the sunrise at Lydgate Beach Park
Of course, to watch the sun rise, you need to find a beach facing east, right?
On the east side of Kauai, Lydgate Beach Park is a great place to watch the dawn break.
With picnic tables, you can sit and enjoy your coffee too.
25) Ride an antique train at Kilohana Plantation
Kilohana, an historic 150-acre plantation built in the 1930’s, is the island’s most famous plantation estate and one of the best places to visit in Kauai.
A highlight is hopping aboard one of the classic mahogany passenger cars on the plantation train for a full tour of the Kilohana grounds.
Along the way, you see over 50 varieties of the plantation’s fruit tree orchards, vegetable gardens, tropical exotic flowers, and resident animals.
The train will even stop to let you feed the goats and wild pigs!
The Kilohana Plantation is a lovely place to stick around for a while.
Enjoy a chef-prepared meal at a table with garden views at the renowned Plantation House restaurant. Or book a rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Company Tasting Room.
26) Take a dip in the Queen’s Bath
If you’re looking for unique Kauai experiences, check out the Queen’s Bath.
It’s a natural tide pool of sea water, carved into the lava rock shoreline in Princeville, on Kauai’s North Shore.
The size of a swimming pool, this rock pool was once used in ancient times by Hawaiian royalty to bathe and relax.
The water is usually calm in the summer months, and this is the best time to visit the Queen’s Bath.
It requires a bit of a hike down a rocky landscape to reach the Queen’s Bath (and the path can get slippery).
In the winter months, between October and May, the northern coast is exposed to big surf. People have drowned here after being swept off the rocks.
You may, in fact, find the trail closed in winter. If the gate is locked when you visit, skip this attraction.
27) Gape at Waimea Canyon
Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon State Park is another of those Kauai attractions you absolutely must see (along with the Na Pali Coast).
If you have a rental car (recommended for exploring Kauai), plan a driving day trip to see this craggy mile-wide canyon with its dramatic red and ochre cliffs.
There are lots of scenic lookout points on Waimea Canyon Drive (Highway 550) for gazing at the natural wonders here.
28) Hike in Koke’e State Park
If you continue on Waimea Canyon Drive (see #27 above), you end at Koke’e State Park.
At more than 3,200 feet above sea level, the park is blanketed in rainforest and wild flowers and offers some 45 miles of beautiful hikes.
Pop into the cute Koke’e Natural History Museum for trail information and hiking maps.
If you’d prefer to go with a guide, here’s a great private hiking tour that’s perfect for a family or two couples traveling together.
Be sure to dress warmly, as it can be cool at this higher elevation!
29) Watch hula dancers
The hula dance is an art form that’s totally unique to Hawaii. Its roots go back to ancient times when dance was used to preserve and tell the stories and traditions of the islands.
The graceful undulating moves of the hula dance have stood the test of time and continue to be an honored tradition in Hawaiian culture.
Watching hula dancers perform and being seduced by the peaceful rhythm of Hawaiian music, all the while taking in the glorious sunset, is one of those Kauai activities everyone must experience.
The most popular luaus are at large tourist sites and hotels.
Luau Kalamaku was picked as a top choice by Lonely Planet. It’s held at the Kilohana Plantation Estate (#25).
30) Count the chickens on Kauai
One of the oddball fun things to do in Kauai is to count how many wild chickens you see on your holiday.
Yep, there are thousands of wild chickens running around on the island.
They cross the roads, wander around people’s gardens, squawk about in parking lots. They’re sometimes even on the beaches!
So why are there so many chickens in Kauai?
Locals say the Kauai chickens descended from birds that escaped coops when Hurricane Iwa (1982) and Hurricane Iniki (1992) tore through the island.
Anyway, it’s quite hilarious to see all the wild roosters and chickens in unexpected places.
(Mind you, it’s not so funny if you’re woken up early by crowing roosters outside your window).
31) See the wettest spot on Earth
For experienced hikers, Mount Waialeale, located in the center of the island, is a challenging (but scenic!), vegetation-rich hike.
The mountain is more than 5,000 feet tall and receives an average of 450 to 500 inches of rain per year – making it one of the wettest spots on the planet.
To access the base of the mountain, fit hikers must follow a rocky trail that starts at the end of Highway 580.
32) Poke around the town of Hanalei
Hanalei is the cutest town in Kauai to stroll about.
Exuding a surfer vibe, it’s filled with many quaint historic buildings – we love the inviting porches!
Browse the contemporary art galleries with locally made wood carvings, surfboard shops, cafés, ice cream parlors, excellent food trucks and small boutiques selling Kauai souvenirs.
To get to Hanalei, you need to cross a historic one-lane bridge – always fun!
If you’d like to nibble your way through the best restaurants in Hanalei, here’s a guided walking food tour from Ono Kauai Food Tours. It gets top reviews.
33) Photograph the Wai’oli Hui’ia Church
While strolling about Hanalei, be sure to snap a photo of the town’s landmark – the emerald green Wai’oli Hui’ia Church.
Built in 1837, it has lovely stained glass windows and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
34) Learn to surf
It’s no secret that Hawaii and surfing go hand-in-hand. Learning to surf is actually one of the best things to do in Kauai!
A good place to start is by booking a surf lesson with Hawaiian Surfing Adventures at Hanalei Bay on the North Shore.
The beach in Hanalei is known for having smaller waves that don’t reach much past waist- to chest-high, with no coral or rocky bottoms to worry about. It’s the perfect place for beginners.
You probably won’t be ready to enter the Pipe Masters competition after one lesson, but you’re sure to have 90 minutes’ worth of pure Hawaii-style fun!
If you’re down on the South Shore, you can also pick up some wave-riding skills with this 90-minute lesson from Hoku Water Sports.
35) Walk the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
The seaside Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is a four-mile roundtrip trail following Kauai’s rugged coastline from Shipwreck Beach to Maha’ulepu Beach.
The scenery is spectacular – soaring ochre-colored cliffs, sand dunes, tide pools and crashing blue waves. Gulls cry overhead and the wind cools the sweat off your brow.
Maha’ulepu Beach itself is wild and isolated, and we don’t recommend it for swimming. But you may see Hawaiian monk seals sunning on the sand.
We never tire of walking the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail – it’s one of the best things to do in Kauai for free. (And the “free” part is simply a bonus.)
36) Sway on the Hanapepe Swing Bridge
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Kauai with kids, the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge is a winner!
Once built as a bridge for residents in the 1900s as a way to get across the river, the suspension bridge has become a thrilling delight for adventurous young tikes.
It sways and rocks enough to make anyone squeal, including adults.
37) Gawk at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout
You can enjoy one of the most breathtaking Kauai views from the Pu’u O Kila Lookout in Koke’e Park (see #28).
From this vantage point over 4,000 feet high, you look out at Kalalau Valley, the widest valley on the Na Pali Coast.
Far in the distance, you can just make out Kalalau Beach, which is at the end of the Kalalau Trail (#16).
The views are even better here than at the Kalalau Lookout, a mile back on Waimea Canyon Road.
Go early in the morning to increase your chances of having a clear view, unobstructed by drifting clouds. It’s one of the best things to do in Kauai for free (except for the gas).
38) Go horseback riding on a beach
CJM Country Stables offers rides on beautiful healthy horses through the historic Maha’ulepu area, as well as “Secret Beach” picnic rides.
Saddle up for a Kauai horseback riding adventure on Kauai’s South Shore!
39) Crawl into the Makauwahi Cave
One of the most interesting Kauai adventures – especially for kids – is a bit of a Kauai secret known only to locals.
Discovered by a couple of paleoecologists in 1992, the Makauwahi Cave Reserve is a 17-acre ancient archaeological site that’s home to fossils and the largest limestone cave in Hawaii.
You have to bend down to enter the cave entrance. But after crawling a few feet, you can stand up inside a fabulous, open, garden-like ampitheater, where you’ll discover two caves.
The North Cave has a freshwater lake.
Exploring Kauai’s caves
To get there, hike on the Maha’ulepu Trail (see #35) to the caves, just past the CJM Country Stables. Or follow these directions if going by car.
Free tours are offered onsite by volunteer guides between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm daily.
Admission is by donation to the reserve ($10 per adult recommended).
40) Taste chocolate on a chocolate farm tour
Because… How can you go wrong with chocolate?
A fascinating fact about Kauai is that – as one of the oldest of all the islands of Hawaii – it has the most fertile soil.
This translates into prime conditions for cultivating the highest-quality cocoa that makes for some mouth-watering artisan chocolate.
You can taste this delicious chocolate at Lydgate Farms, a picturesque 46-acre farm that sits above the town of Kapa’a.
Book a three-hour tour of the farm for an interesting and informative tour of the chocolate-making process.
The tour includes strolling their lush gardens and tasting fresh tropical fruit and their award-winning honey along the way.
Then comes the best part – the chocolate tasting!
Savor a taste of all the dark chocolate grown on the farm and compare it with other craft chocolates from around the world.
It’s a chocolate experience you don’t want to miss!
41) Hike up the Sleeping Giant
The Sleeping Giant Trail (Nounou East Trail) is a 3.5 mile (roundtrip) moderate hike that climbs up Nounou Mountain.
Looking up from the town of Kapa’a below, the mountain looks a little like a giant sleeping on its back, hence its name.
The trail ascends gently through forested mountains at first, then rises quite steeply as you start to switchback up the mountain.
There’s a bit of rock scrambling at the end, and the trail could be muddy and slippery in places, depending on the conditions.
Your reward? Knock-your-socks off views of mountains and the coast in the distance.
To access the trailhead, follow the Haleilio Road to the parking lot, found almost at the end.
42) Admire Wailua Falls
Do you remember the long-running TV series Fantasy Island? The opening credits start with alluring shots of Wailua Falls – one of the must-see Kauai sites.
The twin falls on the Wailua River cascade down at least 80 feet (though some say they’re taller, depending on the amount of rainfall, which makes them look as if they’re starting higher up).
You can view the falls easily from the road.
From Highway 56 north of Lihue, drive north on Maalo Road (Highway 583) to the end, where you’ll hit the vista point.
43) Tour the Kauai Coffee Estate
The Kauai Coffee Estate is the largest coffee farm in the U.S. Touring the farm is a Kauai must-do for coffee lovers!
Stroll through the coffee orchard. Learn from guides about how coffee is grown, harvested and roasted on the island. And sample different estate-grown Hawaiian coffees.
Self-guided walking tours are free. Or you can book a personalized coffee walking tour (cost $25).
Okay, but what about the beaches?
Of course, you can’t visit this beautiful island and not go to any beaches. After all, relaxing on a beach is probably the absolute best thing to do in Kauai, right?
Don’t worry. Kauai has lots of gorgeous beaches.
So in case you missed it, head on over to our post on the top Kauai beaches for swimming and hanging out.
Here’s a sneak preview:
Poipu Beach (mentioned in #3 above) on Kauai’s South Shore is a sunny hot spot. Perfect for swimming, boogie boarding and easy snorkeling, this series of golden sand coves is one of our favorite beaches.
It’s our go-to beach area in Kauai in winter.
In summer, when the water is calm on the North Shore, Tunnels Beach is idyllic. Its underwater lava tubes and caves offer great snorkeling and scuba diving.
Then there’s the two-mile crescent of Hanalei Bay, also on the North Shore.
Fringed by palm trees, it’s postcard-pretty. And with wide soft sand beaches and gentle water, it’s ideal for easy swimming (in summer).
Kauai travel tips + FAQs
What are the top Kauai tourist attractions?
The must-see places in Kauai are:
- Na Pali Coast
- Waimea Canyon
- Poipu Beach
- Koke’e State Park
- Hanalei Bay
- Wailua Falls
- Kalalau Trail (first half mile is the easiest)
When is the best time to visit Kauai?
September to early December and also April to early June are the best months to visit Kauai for great weather, fewer people and good hotel prices.
Mid-June to mid-August is the peak summer season and a popular time to visit Kauai, both for honeymooners and families. So expect more people and higher resort rates.
The winter high season is December to the end of March, when visitors like to escape the cold in North America and elsewhere.
This is also a busy time for the island. Be sure to reserve your accommodations in advance.
How many days in Kauai?
We’ve never had a problem spending two weeks in Kauai. (That’s how long we usually go for.)
There are more than enough activities on Kauai to keep you happily busy for two weeks!
But if you have two weeks of vacation, you may want to enjoy one week in Kauai and one week on another island, say Maui or the Big Island.
A one-week Kauai itinerary is totally doable.
To comfortably explore Kauai in a week, devote four days to exploring the North Shore, Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. Then spend the other three days on Kauai relaxing on beaches and exploring the South Shore.
Now you know what to do on Kauai!
We love Kauai (and can’t wait for our next visit).
We hope you also enjoy the island and all the amazing things to do in Kauai.
For more information on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, we particularly like The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed. You can get it on Amazon. (As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)
Also check out the comments from other readers in the Comments section below.
Our top travel tips and resources
Here are our favorite travel resources:
Hotels: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)
Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).
Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out GetYourGuide and Viator.
Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.
Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more.
Vaccines and meds: We follow CDC travel guidelines to see what medications and vaccines are needed for trips. You can get vaccines at your pharmacy, travel medical clinic or doctor’s office.
Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)
Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.
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Photo credits: 22 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase
About the authors
Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.
Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!
Tuesday 13th of July 2021
A few additions:
Watch a cruise ship come in and fill up Nawiliwili Harbor.
Have a drink at the Sheraton Kauai Resort bar and watch the wave action at the Point.
Enjoy a hot dog at Puka Dog in Poipu.
Well, at least, these were things we enjoyed.
Janice and George
Tuesday 13th of July 2021
Hi Gary, Thx for the additional ideas! You're right about how fun it is to watch the cruise ships arrive and leave from Nawiliwili Harbor. They do sometimes dwarf the surroundings :-) Glad you enjoyed Kauai...
Wednesday 26th of May 2021
Kauai definitely has a lot of things to offer other than just amazing beaches to swim in. Your article has quite an amazing list of what you can do in Kauai. But in case you are there for only 3 or 5 days and can't decide what to do, a private tour guide can help so that you can make the most out of your time there.
Janice and George
Thursday 27th of May 2021
That's very true - we've found guided tours very helpful in different cities and destinations we've visited around the world. And having a private tour guide for a day or two to show you the best places is great, because you don't have to wait for the rest of the group and can do just what you want to do. Local guides can also share their knowledge and insight - and it's fun listening to their stories! Thanks for commenting :-).
Tuesday 4th of June 2019
We go to kauai every year. we actually renewed our vows last year in poipu. Next year we are hoping to look for our forever home there.
Janice and George
Tuesday 4th of June 2019
Kauai is a lovely island -- and what a beautiful place to renew your vows :-) If you find your "forever home" there, make sure it has an extra bedroom for all the family and friends who'll want to visit you!
Sunday 26th of October 2014
I loved Kauai and now I want to go back again after reading this post and seeing your great pics! Red Salt and tubing the sugar plantation canals both sound awesome. Thanks!
Saturday 29th of March 2014
I LOVE Kauai... and I miss it. It's been over a decade since I last visited! I love that I now have 5 new reasons to visit :) The seal program looks truly special, and the Grand Hyatt looks lovely! Sign me up.