Are you planning a trip to Kauai, Hawaii but unsure about what to do on the island?

From snorkeling with exotic fish to hiking through lush forests, there is an infinite number of things to do for the whole family!

To make planning for your next trip easier, I have compiled a list of the 20 best things to do in Kauai, Hawaii.

*All photos are mine, unless otherwise stated in the caption.

kalalau valley kauai

1) Snorkel at Poipu Beach

poipu beach
sea turtle kauai

Poipu Beach is the most popular beach located on the South shore.

With a lifeguard on duty 7 days a week, Poipu Beach is considered to be the safest beach on Kauai. Not only is there a lifeguard everyday, but the beach is sheltered by rocks so the water is extremely calm, even for babies and toddlers!

The beach is characterized by soft, white sand and clear waters. Snorkeling here is top notch and you’re guaranteed to see a large variety of colorful and tropical fish swimming just inches away from your face! If you’re lucky, you might even catch a sea turtle or monk seal (or both) on the sand snoozing away. A lifeguard will draw a line around the sea turtle and monk seal so visitors don’t invade their space or harm them in any way.

Tips:

  • Poipu beach has a lot of rocks that can be sharp, so make sure to wear water shoes or fins. 
  • Get there early to avoid the crowds and before the water gets cloudy from all the people swimming in the ocean.
  • Do not touch the sea turtles or monk seals.
  • Wear reef safe sunscreen.

2) Go on a Doors Off Helicopter Tour

napali coast kauai
kauai waterfall

70% of the island is inaccessible by foot. Thus, the best way to see the entire island and its majestic beauty is by helicopter.

I highly recommend booking a 1 hour tour with Jack Harter Helicopters and doing their doors-off tour.

It’s $309 per person. Pricy. But worth every single dollar.

helicopter ride kauai hanalei bay
napali coast

To this day, the helicopter ride was the highlight of my entire trip and still gives me chills every time I think about it. During the ride, I saw countless waterfalls and streams, lush green forests, massive taro fields in Hanalei Bay, the magnificent Napali coast and the extraordinary Waimea canyon. Seeing the “garden isle” from above is a must do!

Tip: Wear a long sleeve or jacket because it’s 10-20 degrees colder up in the air. 

3) Hike the Sleeping Giant Trail

sleeping giant trail

The 3 mile Sleeping Giant trail is one of the most popular trails on the west side of the island. The trail got its name because the people from the city of Kapa’a, saw a “sleeping giant” atop the Nounou mountain.

As an amateur hiker, I found the trail to be quite difficult because the conditions were completely different from what I was used to. About 80% of the hike was extremely steep, so I would not recommend children or the elderly to attempt this hike. In addition, the sporadic rain showers throughout the day kept the trail muddy and slippery, which further increased the difficulty of the hike and made it difficult to have good footing.

Even though I found the hike challenging, the views at the top made all the mud stains on my legs and the hot sweat on my forehead worth it.

Try hiking during sunrise or sunset  to get even more spectacular views of Kapa’a and the rest of the island.

Tip: Wear old hiking shoes because they will get dirty and muddy. Wicking long pants are preferable to avoid getting scratched by the plants.

4) Visit the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge

kilauea lighthouse

The Kilauea lighthouse and wildlife refuge is located on Kilauea point and is open Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is $10 per person, with the exception of children 15 and under being free.

Officially established in 1985, the Kilauea lighthouse and wildlife refuge was set up to protect the native birds of Kauai. These birds include the Ā (Red-footed booby), Mōlī (Laysan albatross) and ‘Ua ‘u kani (Wedge-tailed shearwater).

 

 

Throughout the year, the ocean cliffs and grassy lands provide the perfect breeding ground for the birds, safely away from the harm of humans.

I recommend stopping here first thing when it opens before heading north to learn more about the history of the lighthouse and about the unique birds native to this island.

kilauea lighthouse

5) Go Food Crazy in Hanalei

fruit stand kauai

Hanalei is a small town located on the North shore and is home to tons of delicious food! From Hawaiian shaved ice with ice cream to authentic chicken katsu with savory curry, there is something for everyone. Here are some of the must visit restaurants in Hanalei:

  • Bar Acuda – Tapa Bar
  • Trucking Delicious – Hawaiian
  • Pat’s Taqueria – Mexican
  • Chicken in a Barrel – BBQ
  • Wishing Well Hanalei – Shaved Ice
  • Aloha Juice Bar – Smoothie

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the beautiful views at Hanalei Bay pier. 

6) Stop at the Taro Fields Viewpoint in Hanalei

kauai taro fields

Ever since the Hawaiians arrived on Kauai, Hanalei Valley has been an important agricultural site, especially for the production of taro. Taro is a type of starchy tropical vegetable grown year round. Once ready, farmers harvest the roots and then mash them into a pudding like purple food called Poi. Poi has been a staple food for hundreds of years and many Hawaiian restaurants serve it with the entrees. In addition, the viewpoint offers a spectacular view of Hanalei Valley, as well as the large taro paddy fields.

7) Drive to the Top of Waimea Canyon

waimea canyon

Waimea Canyon, which is located on the southwest part of the island, has been nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Stretching 14 miles and more than 3,600 feet deep, this majestic canyon will literally take your breath away.

Waimea Canyon Road, which is the main road, takes you up the mountains where you can stop at various lookouts with panoramic views of the canyon cliffs, deep gorges, waterfalls and the stunning Napali coast.

napali coast

If time permits, stop at all of the lookouts because they offer different but fantastic views. My favorite lookout points were Waimea Canyon lookout (best place for getting panoramic views), Kalalau lookout (located around 18 mile marker and offers a great view of the Napali coast) and Pu’u O Kila lookout (the last one and my all time favorite). 

Waimea Canyon also offers a plethora of trails including Waimea Canyon trail, Cliff trail, Black Pipe Trail and Kukui trail. These all differ in difficulty and length so make sure to do your research beforehand.

8) Take a Napali Coast Boat Tour

Taking a Napali Coast Boat Tour is one of the most popular activities to do! There are many companies to choose from with the top ranked ones being Holo Holo Charters, Captain Andy’s and Makana Charters.

The boat tours are on large catamarans and take you along the beautiful Napali coastline for approximately 4-6 hours, depending on the specific tour you pick. The tours also offer food and drinks, as well as a snorkeling option. If you choose the snorkel tour, the catamaran will drop you and the other passengers at a great and secluded location to see tropical fish, coral reefs, reef sharks, turtles and other sea creatures. 

Tip: Book your tours early because they tend to sell out fast. 

9) Get Close and Personal with Kauai's Waterfalls

waterfall kauai

As I stated earlier, Kauai is covered with tons of waterfalls. Although most of them are inaccessible by foot or car, there are several remarkable waterfalls that you can easily get to.

Wailua Falls and Opaeka’a Falls are both located on the east side and are very easy to get to by car. Uluwehi, also known as Secret Falls, is not so easy to get to. In order to get there, you have to kayak for 50 minutes followed by a moderate 30 minute hike.

Waipo’o Falls is another great one located in Waimea Canyon. You can either stop at one of the lookouts or hike the easy-moderate Canyon trail to get a closer look.

Do you know why there are so many waterfalls on Kauai? It’s because the island gets 300-600 inches of rain annually and is one of the wettest spots on earth!

Fascinating, right?

waterfalls kauai

10) Visit Smith's Family Garden Luau

smiths family garden luau
smiths garden luau

What is a trip to Hawaii without a visit to a Luau, am I right?

Smith’s Family Garden Luau is located in the Wailua River Valley and started almost 50 years ago.

Four generations of the Smith family continue to honor the Hawaiian tradition of the luau by showing guests how the Kalua pig is roasted in an earthen imu oven, playing authentic Hawaiian music and, of course, performing the Hawaiian Hula and Tahitian drum dances. In addition to these performances, you get to enjoy a buffet dinner and unlimited drinks to your belly’s content.

Last but not least, the garden itself is massive and unbelievably beautiful. I suggest getting to the luau early so you can explore the garden and take lots of pictures!

Tip: Book early because they only offer the Luau a few days a week. Check their website for dates and times. 

11) Try Kauai Cookie and Popo's Cookies

Cookies. Who doesn’t love cookies?!

Kauai Cookie was founded in 1965 by Mabel Hashisaka and today is known as one of the most reputable brands in Kauai.

Popo’s Cookies has been on Kauai since 1982 and is another great brand that sells delicious cookies.

Try them both and bring them back home as gifts for your friends and families. They’re sure to be a hit!

12) Walk on the Swinging Bridge in Hanapepe

hanapepe swinging bridge

Originally built in the early 1900’s, the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge is one of Kauai’s most popular attractions and was built for residents to cross the river.

After Hurricane Iniki somewhat destroyed the bridge, a team of workers fixed and restored it. However, over the years, age, wear and tear has made the bridge somewhat old and rickety.

The swinging bridge is an iconic part of Hanapepe and visitors enjoy walking across the bridge because it sways from side to side.

While in Hanapepe, make sure to walk around the adorable small town and check out the locally owned shops and restaurants. From boutiques and souvenir shops to hardware and grocery stores, Hanapepe has it all.

P.S. There is a Popo’s Cookies store here!

13) Dig Your Feet in the Soft Sand at Lumahai Beach

Source: Murals Your Way

Lumahai Beach is a popular and picturesque beach located on the North Shore.

With its long stretches of white sand speckled with bright, green olivine, Lumahai Beach is a great place to relax and unwind. The Lumahai River empties into the Pacific Ocean at Lumahai Beach and there is a rocky barrier where the freshwater meets the ocean. 

Although beautiful and tempting, use extreme caution before going into the ocean because the waves and currents at this beach are typically much stronger compared to other beaches.

The summer months warrant calmer and safer waters, but it is still important to be careful. Many locals suggest swimming in the river because it is much safer.

If you do not feel like going into the water, taking a nice stroll along the beach is another great option. The entire stretch is 2 miles roundtrip on soft sand, so it’ll be a truly enjoyable and easy walk.

14) Eat a Hawaiian Hot Dog at Puka Dog

puka dog
puka dog kauai
Source: Hawaii on a Map

Puka Dog is famous for its Hawaiian style hot dogs. Featured on the Travel Channel and Anthony Bourdain’s TV show, Puka Dog is a local favorite.

What makes Puka Dog truly stand out is its unique take on relish and sauces. Unlike traditional American hot dogs that usually have ketchup and mustard, Puka Dog offers mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut, banana, or star fruit relish and Aunty Lilikoi’s Hawaiian mustard.

In addition to the tropical relish and Hawaiian mustard, you get to choose from a mild, spicy, hot or lava garlic lemon secret sauce.

Ugh, if that’s not enough to get your mouth salivating, I’m not sure what will! It really is what I call hot dog heaven.

15) Visit Kauai Coffee Plantation

If you love coffee, then you have to stop by the Kauai Coffee Plantation. As the largest coffee farm in the entire United States, you will get a chance to learn how coffee is grown, harvested and roasted on the island, as well as sample some of their fresh coffee!

16) Snorkel at Ke'e Beach

kauai

Ke’e Beach is located at the end of the road on the North Shore in Ka’ena State Park, and is ideal for both swimming and snorkeling because the beach is protected by a large coral reef.

This beach is also the point where the Napali Coast begins and the entrance for the extremely difficult Kalalau trail.

Since there is limited parking at Ke’e Beach,  you will need to make a reservation beforehand to even enter the park. Residents with a local ID do not have to make a reservation.

Tip: Go early to avoid the crowds and to get a good parking spot. There is little to no cell reception in this area.

17) Take a Dive at Queen's Bath

Source: Travel and Leisure

Queen’s Bath is a unique and beautiful tide pool located in Princeville. In order to get there, you will have to park your car at the end of Kapiolani road. Then, there is a short 20 minute (1 mile) steep hike down to the tide pool.

Queen’s Bath is essentially a large swimming pool surrounded by igneous lava rocks and cliffs. During the summer months, the waters are calm enough to swim in. You might also see some tropical fish and sea urchins in the pool too!

From October to May, however, the surf tends to be very strong and is NOT safe to swim in the pool. Follow the guidelines and use extreme caution as people have drowned and died here in the past from the strong currents or from slipping on the rocks.

Tips:

  • The hike and Queens Bath are not suitable for the disabled, young, or elderly because the rocks are very wet and slippery.
  • Check the surf report the morning you plan to visit.
  • Make sure to ONLY swim in the pool and not the ocean. Queens Bath is a closed tide pool; do not make the mistake of swimming in an open pool.

18) Enjoy a Nice Sunset Walk on Mahaulepu Beach Trail

poipu mahaulepu trail

The Mahaulepu Beach Trail is a popular hike that starts at Shipwreck’s Beach, which is located 1 mile North of the Grand Hyatt in Poipu.

At just 2 miles long in distance, the trail offers stunning views of the waves crashing against the igneous rocks, secluded coves, unique tide pools and native plants. The trail is relatively flat and well kept so most people of all ages can easily walk or run.

Tip: Go during sunrise or sunset to get the most picturesque photos. Look closely at the waters because you may catch some sea turtles floating around.

19) Buy Local Produce at a Farmer’s Market

farmers market
Source: Kauai

Do you want fresh produce? Then check out your local farmers market. With a farmers market almost every day, there is no excuse to not go. At the market, you will find juicy fruits and vegetables, tropical flowers, delectable Hawaiian food, taro pastries, mango desserts and much more!

Eat healthy food while supporting the local farmers. It’s a great and fun experience for the entire family.

20) Hike the Grueling Kalalau Trail

kalalau valley

Many people agree that Kalalau trail is the most beautiful but physically and mentally challenging hikes on the island. The 11 mile trail starts at Ke’e Beach and ends at Kalalau Beach. As the only trail that provides access to the rugged terrain, it is a must do if you want to see the Napali Coast and all of its natural beauty. Throughout the hike, you’ll get views of the ocean and the lush, green forests.

Tip: Make a reservation beforehand. This is a very challenging hike so bring lots of water and food.

Thank you so much for reading my post on the 20 best things to do in Kauai! I hope you found it helpful If you are interested in reading about fun things to do in East Oahu, click here: East Oahu – Fun Things to Do .   Feel free to comment below or email me with feedback or questions. 

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