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35 Best Things to Do in Kauai (Besides Beaches)

Over the years we’ve vacationed on the Hawaiian islands, the Garden Isle of Kauai has snagged a special spot in our hearts. It’s so picturesque!

For one, the beaches of Kauai are stunning. You can easily spend days (maybe weeks!) beach hopping or just lounging on one. (Enjoying this in Kauai for free is simply a bonus.)

But with so many natural wonders – from immense canyons and serene rivers to emerald rainforests 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.

Here’s where to go and what to do in Kauai, Hawaii.

Note: Prices are in U.S. dollars.

Kauai, Hawaii, is one of the most beautiful Hawaiian islands!
With thundering waterfalls, ochre-colored canyons and beautiful gardens, Kauai is one of our favorite Hawaiian islands

Best things to do in Kauai, Hawaii

Top 10 things to do in Kauai, Hawaii: Our faves

Keep scrolling for the ultimate list of 35 best things to do in Kauai. We’ve got something for everyone – from adventure enthusiasts and seekers of the unusual to couples, families, food lovers and beach bums.

But if you want the short list of the 10 most unforgettable Kauai activities (other than beaching) – that we absolutely swear by – here it is!

  • Take a Na Pali Coast boat tour (See #1)
  • Hike the Kalalau Trail (See #2)
  • Kayak the Wailua River (See #3)
  • Walk the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail (See #5)
  • Get a bird’s eye view of Kauai on a helicopter ride (See #12)
  • Marvel at the Waimea Canyon (See #13)
  • Visit the Allerton and McBryde botanical gardens (See #14)
  • Watch hula dancers at a luau (See #16)
  • Go tubing (See #20)
  • Taste poke (See #32)

Adventurous things to do in Kauai

1) Sail the Na Pali Coast

Kauai's rugged Na Pali Coast
The Na Pali Coast on Kauai

You’ve likely seen those jaw-dropping photos of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast – where emerald mountain cliffs soar a staggering 3,000 feet straight from the ocean floor.

They’re an iconic Kauai highlight!

And a boat trip along this awe-inspiring coastline is one of the best activities in Kauai.

Sailing the Na Pali Coast in Kauai
We’ve sailed the Na Pali Coast when it was rough (not fun if you’re seasick), and we’ve gone when conditions were perfect (a super day!)

There are no roads accessing this coastal stretch, so the only way you can visit these wildly jagged shores is by boat. (Or you can see them from above on a helicopter ride; see #12).

(Just take precautions if you’re prone to seasickness, as the swells can be wicked, especially in winter.)

Spinner dolphins like to race along at the bow – they’re great fun to watch.

And a snorkeling stop is often included in the boat trip. Keep an eye out for green sea turtles!

A catamaran sails up the Na Pali Coast
Sailing along the rugged Na Pali Coast (Credit: Holo Holo Charters)

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.

2) Hike the Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile trekking 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 reached by foot – it’s difficult but epic!

Note, however, that you need time (a minimum of two days) and camping permits to hike the Kalalau Trail.

Most people just tackle the first two miles to Hanakapi’ai Falls (where we enjoyed the beach), then retrace their steps to go back.

If you love hiking, this shorter section at the start of the Kalalau Trail makes for a great day trip – the views of the dramatic sea cliffs are stunning!

Expect to get dirty, though, 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 ended up tossing these clothes.

Red dirt section of Kauai's Kalalau Trail
This first part of the Kalalau Trail may look easy, but don’t underestimate its difficulty!

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 (once you hit the tough part after Hanakapi’ai Falls).

Still, for outdoor adventurers, 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

Even if you’re only hiking the first 2-mile stretch from Ke’e beach, be prepared.

Wear proper hiking shoes or sneakers (the trail is rugged), and take water and snacks.

3) Kayak the Wailua River

Here’s something else to put on your adventurous Kauai to-do list.

The island of Kauai has the only navigable rivers in Hawaii. That makes for great kayaking in Kauai!

Paddling gently down the stream, er... river? (Credit: Outfitters Kauai)
Paddling gently down the stream, er… river? (Credit: Outfitters Kauai)

The Wailua River is a popular place to paddle. Kayaking adventures here usually also include a 2-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 afterwards).

Kauai kayak tours on the Wailua River

Duke’s Kayak Adventures offers an excellent Wailua River kayaking and hiking tour.

Kayak Kauai and Kayak Wailua also offer Wailua River kayaking tours and/or kayak rentals.

4) 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 on the Wailua River
Yes, you can do this in Kauai! (Credit: Outfitters Kauai)

There are several great places to go paddleboarding in Kauai.

A popular spot is the calm Wailua River (covered above in #3). 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.

SUP is easy to learn here. You’re a little wobbly at first, but soon you’ll be happily gliding along, as the river water is calm. (Even George – who calls this sport “fall-down paddleboarding” – stayed upright.)

For ocean paddling, Kalapaki Beach is a good choice. In summer, Anini Beach and Hanalei Bay are also usually tranquil.

5) Walk the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
One of the best free things to do on Kauai for outdoor exercise, surrounded by nature, is to 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 fortunately, the wind cools you down.

Janice soaking up the views

Maha’ulepu Beach itself is wild and isolated, and we don’t recommend it for swimming. But, on the other hand, you may see Hawaiian monk seals sunning on the sand.

We never tire of walking the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail and it’s one of the best things to do in Kauai for free.

6) Learn to surf

Hanalei Bay is a good place to learn to surf in Kauai.
Hanalei Bay is a good place to learn to surf in Kauai

It’s no secret that Hawaii and surfing go hand-in-hand. So learning to surf is one of those cool things to do in Kauai to make like a local!

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 Kauai’s South Shore, you can also pick up some wave-riding skills with this 90-minute lesson from Hoku Water Sports.

7) Hike in Koke’e State Park

Drive along Waimea Canyon Drive (Highway 550) and you come to Koke’e State Park.

You can see the 800-foot Waipo'o Falls when hiking in Koke'e State Park
You can see the 800-foot Waipo’o Falls when hiking in Koke’e State Park.

At more than 3,200 feet above sea level, the park is blanketed by 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, Kauai Hiking Adventures offer private hiking tours.

Be sure to dress warmly, as it can be cool at this higher elevation!

8) See the wettest spot on Earth

For experienced hikers, trekking to the Mount Waialeale Blue Hole, located in the center of the island, is a challenging but phenomenally beautiful 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.

At the mountain’s base, a series of waterfalls cascade down a crater wall, the so-called Blue Hole or Weeping Wall.

To reach the Blue Hole, fit hikers must follow a rocky, seven-mile roundtrip trail that starts at the parking lot at the end of Kuamoo Road (Highway 580).

(Or, as an easier alternative, you could get a bird’s eye view of Mount Waialeale from a helicopter! See #12.)

9) Zipline through the jungle

Boy ziplines upside down at Koloa Zipline
Hey, there are many ways to zipline, even upside down! (Credit: Koloa Zipline)

When it comes to the best adventures in Kauai for thrill seekers, it’s hard to beat 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 Outfitters Kauai. They operate Kauai’s longest and fastest zipline, which is 3/4 of a mile long!

10) Go horseback riding on a beach

Horseback riding in Kauai on the beach
Stealing a kiss while horseback riding in Kauai (Credit: CJM Country Stables)

Saddle up for a Kauai horseback riding adventure on the island’s South Shore!

CJM Country Stables offers rides on beautiful healthy horses through the historic Maha’ulepu area, as well as “Secret Beach” picnic rides.

11) Hike up the Sleeping Giant

View from the top of the Sleeping Giant, Kauai, Hawaii
View from the top of the Sleeping Giant

Another one of the best things to do in Kauai for hikers is to trek the Sleeping Giant Trail (Nounou East Trail). This 3½-mile (roundtrip) moderate hike 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, thus 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 can 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 its end.

Best things to do in Kauai for couples and adults

12) Take a Kauai helicopter tour

One of the best things to do in Kauai? A Kauai helicopter tour.
You can only see Kauai’s spectacular Na Pali Coast by air or sea

Okay, so what is there to do in Kauai for adults and couples, in particular?

For starters, if you want a megadose of the island’s beauty, one of the must-do Kauai activities is a scenic helicopter tour!

In 50 minutes, you can see the whole island from the air with top-rated Blue Hawaiian 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.

View of the Na Pali Coast from the air
View of the Na Pali Coast from the air

Or choose a “no doors” chopper for awesome pictures and even more thrills – a truly bonding experience!

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 Descendants (2011).

Whatever. Once you start soaring over the island, you’ll understand why an island flight should be on your Kauai bucket list.

Cheaper alternative to Kauai helicopter tours

Pssst! Consider this 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.

13) Gape at the Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon, Kauai
On the west side of Kauai, Waimea Canyon is a magnificent deep gorge

Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon State Park is not only one of the top Kauai attractions everyone should visit. It’s one of the best sights to see in all of Hawaii, period!

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.

14) Visit the Allerton-McBryde botanical gardens

Beautiful orange hibiscus flower at the Allerton Garden, Kauai
One of the many beautiful blooms at the Allerton Garden

What should you not miss on Kauai? Its beautiful botanical gardens.

There’s a reason this Hawaiian island is known as the garden island!

Two of the most stunning examples 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.

One of the green "rooms" at Allerton Garden
One of the green “rooms” at Allerton Garden

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. (And they were a nice shady break from the beach.)

Allerton and McBryde tickets and tours

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 to board a tram for the McBryde Garden. (Both the Allerton and McBryde Gardens are part of the NTBG collection.)

15) Play a round of golf

Golfing at Ocean Course Hokuala
Play a round at one of Kauai’s golf courses (Credit: Ocean Course Hokuala)

For avid golfers, hitting the links is unquestionably one of the best outings in Kauai.

The island isn’t teeming with golf courses.

But at any one of the nine courses that Kauai does have, you’ll enjoy a very satisfying round of golf on your Hawaiian island vacation.

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.

16) Watch hula dancers

Luaus are a good place to watch hula dancers in Kauai
Luaus are a good place to watch hula dancers in Kauai

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 hula 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 the more romantic things to do in Kauai.

If you attend a luau on Kauai, you’ll get to see hula dancing. You may also be entertained by a fire dancer.

A fire dancer at Luau Kalamaku, Kauai
A fire dancer (Credit: Luau Kalamaku)

The most popular luaus are at large tourist sites and hotels.

Luau Kalamaku was picked as a top choice by Lonely Planet. Start with a glass of bubbly and enjoy a four-course Hawaiian dinner. This luau is held at the Kilohana Plantation Estate (see #27 below).

17) Cruise up to Fern Grotto (see Wailua Falls too)

If you’re not up to kayaking the Wailua River (see #3), how about a mellow Wailua River boat cruise to see the Fern Grotto instead?

The Fern Grotto is a lava cave overgrown with ferns, about two miles up the Wailua River.
The Fern Grotto is a lava cave overgrown with ferns, about two miles up the Wailua River

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.

See Wailua Falls too

Since you’re in the area, drive to Wailua Falls before or after your Fern Grotto cruise.

Remember the TV show Fantasy Island? These are the cascading double-tiered waterfalls featured in the show. You can easily see them from the roadside overlook.

18) Indulge your green thumb at Limahuli Garden and Preserve

Terraces at Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kauai
The Limahuli Garden and Preserve pays homage to native Hawaiian plants and Hawaiian culture

Along with the Allerton and McBryde Gardens (see #14 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.

19) Shop at Kukui’ula shopping village

Shops at Kukui'ula
This shopping village is always popular (Credit: The Shops at Kukui’ula)

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.

Products for sale at the Wednesday Kauai Culinary Market
Products for sale at the Wednesday farmers market (Credit: Kauai Culinary Market)

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 (George always brings one or two home) 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.

Something special?

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.

Unique things to do in Kauai

20) Go tubing in sugar plantation canals

Let's float gently down the canal on this Kauai tubing adventure!
Let’s float gently down the canal on this Kauai tubing adventure! (Credit: Kauai Backcountry Adventures)

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.

Tubing in Kauai
Getting ready to go tubing through a pitch-black tunnel (Credit: Kauai Backcountry Adventures)

Feel like a kid again as your tube bumps into the lava rock canal walls and twirls about.

Most fun? Bumper-tubing through five pitch-black tunnels (now you know why you have headlamps).

This is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Kauai! We had a blast…

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.

21) Take a shelter dog on a field trip

Kauai shelter dog on the beach
Missing your pup back home? Then get your doggy fix by taking a shelter dog on an outing (Credit: Kauai Humane Society)

This unique 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.

22) Count the chickens on Kauai

What's with all the wild chickens in Kauai?
What’s the deal with all the wild chickens in Kauai?

One of the oddball fun things to do in Kauai is to count how many wild chickens you see on your holiday.

Say what?

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 less amusing if you’re woken up early by crowing roosters outside your window).

23) Visit a tortoise sanctuary

Talk about unusual things to do in Kauai!

Just a stone’s throw from the parking lot for Makauwahi Cave (see #28 below), you’ll stumble upon Lida’s Field of Dreams.

It’s a quirky sanctuary for hulking Giant African spurred tortoises. Yes, you read that right – massive tortoises hanging out in their own tortoise playground!

They actually serve a purpose. The tortoises are the gardeners of this unique patch of land, munching on weeds to help native endangered plants flourish.

Admission is free to see them. But there’s a donation box where you can part with a few dollars.

24) Take a dip in the Queen’s Bath

Woman in bikini floats in the Queen's Bath on Kauai
The Queen’s Bath is a chill pool for floating in the summer

If you’re looking for more 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.

Exercise caution

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.

Fun things to do in Kauai for families

25) Eat shave ice

Kauai shave ice
The shave ice in Kauai is some of the most delicious anywhere!

We bet that one of the top things to do in Kauai for your little ones is to dig into some shave ice. On a hot day, nothing tastes better!

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).

26) 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 Island 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 pleasant 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.

27) Ride an antique train at Kilohana Plantation

Train at Kilohana Plantation, Kauai
Ride a vintage train and get a glimpse of Kauai’s historic past at Kilohana Plantation (Credit: 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. Adults can also book a rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Company Tasting Room.

28) Crawl into the Makauwahi Cave

One of the most interesting Kauai adventures – especially for kids – is a bit of a Kauai secret known mostly 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 #5) 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).

29) Visit the Kilauea Lighthouse

You get splendid ocean views from the Kilauea Lighthouse (and see interesting birds).
You get splendid ocean views from the base of the Kilauea Lighthouse (and see interesting birds)

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. (You can look around inside its ground level.)

And if the lighthouse looks like it’s straight out of a Disney flick, that’s because it is! Fans of Lilo and Stitch will recognize it from the original movie and its follow-up, Stitch! The Movie.

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 adult to visit the Refuge (children 15 and under are free). There’s an additional online reservation fee of $1.

30) Sway on the Hanapepe Swing Bridge

If you’re looking for more 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.

Tasty things to do in Kauai for food lovers

31) Savor seafood at Red Salt

Creative seafood at Red Salt, Kauai
Creative seafood is the specialty at Red Salt (Credit: 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.

Red Salt, which focuses on seafood, is one of the best restaurants in Kauai
Onaga with citrus curry, beet, ginger, palm hearts and giant snow peas (Credit: Red Salt)

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.

Where to eat in Kauai? You won't be disappointed with Red Salt.
Where to eat in Poipu? You won’t be disappointed with this Kauai restaurant (Credit: Red Salt)

You’ll find Red Salt in the adults-only boutique Koa Kea Resort in Poipu, one of the finest hotels on Kauai.

It’s a bit pricey. But the food sings and is worth the dollars spent.

32) Try poke

Poke is a Hawaiian dish of diced raw fish, typically marinated and seasoned
Poke is a Hawaiian dish of diced raw fish, typically marinated and seasoned

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.

33) Taste chocolate on a chocolate farm tour

You can learn all about chocolate on a tour of Lydgate Farms in Kauai
You can learn all about chocolate on a tour of Lydgate Farms (Credit: Lydgate Farms)

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 3-hour tour of the farm for an interesting and informative tour of the chocolate-making process. It 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.

For chocoholics, especially, this chocolate experience is one of the best things to do on Kauai.

34) Graze at Bar Acuda

Bar Acuda restaurant in Kauai
What’s your fancy? Scallops? Or? (Credit: 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.

35) Tour the Kauai Coffee Estate

The Kauai Coffee Estate is the largest coffee farm in the U.S. And 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).

What about Kauai’s beaches?

Best beaches in Kauai
Ahhh, yes, the beach – Kauai has many great 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

Poipu Beach on Kauai’s South Shore is a sunny hot spot. (The South Shore is our preferred area of Kauai to stay in winter.)

Perfect for swimming, boogie boarding and easy snorkeling, this series of golden sand coves makes for one of our favorite beaches.

Tunnels Beach

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.

Hanalei Bay

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).

Lovely Hanalei Bay
Lovely Hanalei Bay

Kauai travel tips + FAQs

Some quick Kauai facts

  • Population of Kauai: About 72,000
  • Currency: U.S. dollars
  • Time zone: The islands are on Hawaii standard time, which is 5 hours behind the U.S. East Coast (6 hours behind during Daylight Savings).

What are the top Kauai tourist attractions?

The must-see places in Kauai are:

What’s the weather in Kauai like?

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.

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 hope we’ve uncovered the best of Kauai for you.

Of course, it’s not possible to do everything. Choose a few bucket list Kauai activities – and then simply let the rest of your trip unfold naturally.

It’s the best way we know for nailing that dream Kauai vacation!

Discover more of Hawaii!

Maui’s Wailea area: Check out the best hotels and condos in Wailea.

Hawaiian trivia: Bet you don’t know all these 82 facts about the Hawaiian islands!

Lanai: Rock these awesome things to do on Lanai, the pineapple island.

Our top travel tips and 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 Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

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. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

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.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!


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Photo credits: 5, 11 © 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!

Gary Allen

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...

Keith Belk

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 :-).

Maschelle

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!

G. Maria

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!

Cheers, G.

Christina

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.