If you are planning a trip to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we give you the scoop on all the fun and exciting things to do in Kauai.
From beaches and hiking to bucket-list helicopter tours and wildlife viewing, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding what to add to your Kauai itinerary.
The oldest of the Hawaiian islands and the fourth largest in size, after the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu, Kauai makes the perfect tropical vacation destination, whether you plan to just spend all your time on the one island, or you plan to island-hop.
The towering green cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. The expansive ruggedness of the Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The sun and sand of Poipu Beach. The many wonderful waterfalls. The lush vegetation.
Kauai’s beauty is legendary and no photos (or prose!) can do it justice. You definitely want to get over there to experience it for yourself, in person!
And by the way, if you want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!
And now, let’s get started discovering the very best things to do in Kauai, Hawaii!
Hey, by the way! Visiting Kauai? The only way to get a real feel for the rugged beauty of this incredible island is through a helicopter tour! Check out the five highest rated Kauai Helicopter tours for 2023!
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Best Things to Do in Kauai
1. Take a Sunset Catamaran Tour of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai
You’ve likely seen photos of the dramatic Na Pali Coast, with its jagged sea cliffs, clad in a rich emerald green. The coastline is marked by pristine beaches, plunging waterfalls, and lush valleys.
Viewing the wild and raw beauty of the Na Pali Coast is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Kauai.
Looking at the forbidding landscape, you’ll be amazed to know that Hawaiians once lived in the narrow valleys between the pali and cultivated taro on terraced fields.
There are a limited number of ways to visit the Na Pali Coast: you can hike to it, take a boat tour, or soar over it in a helicopter or plane. There is no way currently to drive to it.
A catamaran cruise is a wonderful way to experience the Na Pali Coast. In the late afternoon, the cliffs are bathed in sunlight, making for magnificent photo ops.
This highly-rated sunset cruise in a luxury catamaran allows you plenty of space to enjoy the views and snap photos. You will also likely see marine life, from dolphins to turtles, and even whales in the winter.
The tour includes a full-service bar, and dinner. What could be nicer than standing on deck with a mai tai in your hand, watching the beauty of the spectacular coast unfold before you?
2. Soar over Kauai on a Helicopter Tour: One of the Best Adventurous Things to Do in Kauai!
A bucket-list adventure for many adventure-loving visitors to Kauai, a helicopter tour of the island offers breathtaking views of both the land and the water.
Soaring over the picture-postcard island in a helicopter is definitely one of the best things to do in Kauai! Indeed, it is one of the best things to do in all of Hawaii.
On a guided aerial tour of the island, you’ll get to admire the Na Pali Coast from above. It’s an absolutely stunning sight on a bright clear day. The green cliffs, streaked with red, contrast beautifully with the blue of the ocean for killer photo ops.
Weather permitting, you’ll fly into a couple of the valleys here for up close looks at the cliffs and the landscape.
As the “wildest” of the larger Hawaiian islands, Kauai has many parts you can’t really explore on the ground and Kauai helicopter tours are the perfect way to experience them.
From the air, you’ll get to see secret waterfalls, mysterious valleys and rugged canyons, and many beautiful beaches.
Soar over the majestic Jurassic Park Falls, the awesome Waimea Canyon, Hanalei Bay, Mt. Waialeale with its weeping wall, and so much more.
Tours generally last around an hour, and are accompanied by commentary, so you can appreciate what you are seeing below.
There are several companies that offer helicopter tours in Kauai, and you can choose a doors-off tour, or a conventional tour.
Want a conventional doors-on tour? This highly-rated tour takes you up in a Eurocopter Eco-Star, which features comfy business class style seats and large viewing windows.
Looking for a doors-off flight? Check out this highly-rated tour with no “middle” seats to worry about. They offer both doors-on and doors-off options.
3. Be Awed by the Waimea Canyon
The canyon is very colorful, its red and green landscape making for superb photo ops. It is over 14 miles long, about one mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep.
You can take in the majesty of the canyon on a visit to Waimea Canyon State Park, along the west shore of Kauai.
From the overlooks, you can also see Waipo’o Falls in the distance: the 800-foot falls are a signature landmark in the canyon.
The drive to the park is very scenic, although the road is winding, and the park offers lookouts from where you can get expansive views of Waimea Canyon, without the need to hike.
Of course, if you want to hike, the park offers many hiking trails, some of which are challenging treks into the canyon and back.
Visit early in the day, when crowds will likely be less and there is lesser likelihood of your views being socked in by clouds.
The park is open daily during daylight hours, which is when you’d want to visit anyway, for the views.
There’s an entrance fee of $5.00 per person for visitors that are not residents of Hawaii, as well as a parking fee of $10.00 per standard vehicle: the parking fee is also valid at nearby Koke’e State Park.
If you’d rather enjoy the views than drive, check out this well-reviewed tour of Waimea Canyon State Park and Koke’e State Park. The full day tour includes lunch and a stop at the charming town of Hanapepe.
4. Take in the Views from Koke’e State Park…or Hike!
If you are making the drive up to Waimea Canyon State Park, Koke’e State Park is just a bit further up the word and worth visiting for the views of the Na Pali Coast.
In fact, if you plan to visit the two parks, start at Koke’e State Park and plan to arrive early in the day for the best chance of visibility from the two lookout points.
The Pu’u O Kila Lookout offers views of the ridges of the Na Pali Coastline on either side of a lush valley and the ocean beyond. It’s a stunning view on a clear day.
The Kalalau Lookout offers expansive views over the Kalalau Valley all the way to the ocean on a good visibility day.
Kokee State Park is a hikers’ dream with 45 miles of trails and one of the state parks in Kauai we love to visit.
In addition, the park offers good wildlife viewing, birdwatching, and camping. Book campsites in advance!
There’s also a small natural history museum in the park if you’d like to learn more about the geology and flora and fauna of the region. Note that the museum is open shorter hours than the park.
The park is open daily during daylight hours, which is when you’d want to visit anyway, for the views.
There’s an entrance fee of $5.00 per person for visitors that are not residents of Hawaii, as well as a parking fee of $10.00 per standard vehicle: the parking fee is also valid at Waimea Canyon State Park.
Consider this well-reviewed tour of Waimea Canyon State Park and Koke’e State Park if you’d rather not drive. The full day tour includes lunch and a stop at Hanapepe.
5. Soak in the Sun at Poipu Beach: One of the Most Relaxing Things to Do in Kauai!
Enjoying the sun, sand, and sea at Poʻipū Beach Park is one of the most fun things to do in Kauai.
The crescent-shaped beach is fringed with white sand and palm trees for a picturesque tropical appearance, and the waters here are very clear and inviting.
The family-friendly beach is not only a great place for swimming and sunbathing, it’s also wonderful for snorkeling, surfing, and bodyboarding. There’s a natural wading pool for young kids and beginner swimmers.
Poipu Beach is also a marine life spotting area. You’ll likely see turtles here, as well as the endangered monk seal, and whales in the water in season, usually from December until April.
If you do happen to see a Hawaiian monk seal, watch it from a respectful distance, as it’s an endangered species. Touching one can result in a hefty fine.
There are lifeguards on duty at Poipu Beach everyday, and you’ll find picnic tables, showers and restrooms, perfect if you are planning to spend a few hours here.
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
6. And Check Out Other Beaches on Kauai’s Sunny South Shore
While spending some time at Poipu Beach is a must, you will want to visit some of the other beautiful beaches strung like pearls along Kauai’s south shore.
You will likely find some of them less crowded than Poipu Beach!
Brennecke’s Beach has a beautiful setting between two walls of lava rock. It is a popular place for bodysurfing and boogie boarding.
The strip of sand here is small, but there is also a grassy area with picnic tables if you want to hang out and watch the action in the water or enjoy the sunset.
Shipwreck Beach offers beautiful views, with crystal-clear water and white sand. With its wild and rugged beauty, it’s a great place to walk along the ocean. In season, you will likely see whales from the shore!
While you can swim here in the summer when the waters are calm, surfing is the popular sport here at other times of the year. Adventure seekers come here for the 40-foot cliff jump (the jump is where the cliff ends at the left when facing the ocean).
The beach is also the start point of the popular Maha’ulepu Coastal Trail.
Keiki Cove Beach is a pocket-sized cove that’s protected from the ocean. With the shallow waters, the tiny sandy beach is the perfect place to bring very small children.
If you are lucky to be here when there isn’t anyone else around, it’s a super tranquil family experience!
Keiki Cove is located just past Lāwa’i Beach. There’s parking across from the cove.
Kiahuna Beach is adjacent to Poipu Beach Park (in front of the Sheraton) and offers much the same ambience while being less crowded. Sunset here is lovely!
You can take a surfing lesson here if you like, or go boogie boarding. When the waters are calm, Kaihuna Beach is great for swimming and snorkeling. And the golden sand is perfect for working on your tan.
7. Hike the Kalalau Trail: One of the Most Epic Things to Do on Kauai!
The most epic hiking trail on Kauai, the Kalalau Trail is currently the only way to access the stunning Na Pali Coast via land.
The full trail is 22 miles out and back, and is usually done as a backpacking trip, requiring an overnight camping permit for the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.
The trail has an 800-foot elevation change and is classed as challenging. It crosses five lush tropical valleys before ending at the towering ridged cliffs at Kalalau Beach.
You’ll gawk at the stunning scenery along the trail, and have the opportunity to observe the variety of tropical Hawaiian plants that grow by the trail. Keep an eye out for wild goats.
For outdoor enthusiasts that visit Kauai, hiking the Kalalau Trail is one of the top things to do in Kauai, and many visitors do a part of the trail as a day hike.
Even hiking one half of a mile up (for a total hike of one mile out and back) offers stunning views of the coast.
More robust hikers can go two miles up to Hanakāpīʻai Valley and back (4 miles total), to experience more of the breathtaking scenery along the trail.
There is a beautiful sandy beach at Hanakapi’ai, but random treacherous surf and rip currents mean that you must stay out of the water.
You can choose to hike another 2 miles into the Hanakāpīʻai Valley to Hanakapi’ai Falls, but this two-mile stretch has challenging portions and is not maintained.
The Kalalau hike is best done during the summer months, when the trail is less likely to be wet and muddy, and daylight hours are longer.
The trailhead for the Kalalau Trail is located at Ke’e Beach in Hāʻena State Park. Arrive as early as you can for a more tranquil experience: the first part of the trail is extremely popular.
Parking reservations and day use reservations (or overnight camping permits) are mandatory, and fill up as soon as they open, so book as soon as reservations open for your date.
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
8. Go Snorkeling along the Na Pali Coast
The Na Pali Coast is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Hawaii, and if you are like us, you’ll want to visit it more than once on your Kauai trip.
Another way to visit the scenic Na Pali Coast by boat is on a morning snorkeling tour.
Snorkeling in the turquoise waters at the foot of the towering green cliffs of the coast is surreal! Picking a smaller boat may allow you the chance to snorkel at a less visited spot, for a more serene experience, or you can choose a snorkel and sail tour.
And of course, the journey to and fro is spectacular. Take in the views, and look for spinner dolphins and turtles in the water as you cruise, plus humpback whales in season.
The waters are likely to be calmer in the morning, so if you dislike rough waters, the morning is the better time to visit, whether you choose to enter the water or not.
Adventure-loving visitors can choose a raft tour, which allows you to get really close to the caves, coves, and waterfalls of the Na Pali Coast. Some tours even offer a beach landing.
This popular half-day catamaran snorkel tour leaves in the morning and includes lunch. Snorkeling equipment is provided, along with instruction on how to use it.
9. Take in the Beauty of Tunnels Beach on the North Shore of Kauai
One of the most picturesque beaches in Kauai, Tunnels Beach is a photographer’s dream. It’s worth visiting even if all you do there is stand on the sand and take in the views.
Tunnels got its name from the lava tubes that run through the reef here.
The beautiful Kauai north shore beach is framed by a lush backdrop of mountains and fringed by palms and other trees. The sand is golden and the waters turquoise, making it the perfect spot to relax.
It’s a fabulous spot for sunset on Kauai’s north shore.
While Tunnels Beach (also known as Makua Beach) used to be hands down one of the best snorkeling spots in Kauai, the central portion of the waters here, known as the Makua Lagoon, is now closed to snorkeling. You’ll see markers closing off the area.
There is a small area that still remains open, and you can still see small coral reefs, colorful fish, and maybe turtles and other marine life.
Snorkeling is seasonal at Tunnels Beach: in the winter the waves are too big. In the summer, when the waves are calm, swimming and paddleboarding are also popular.
Parking (along the road) is very limited at Tunnels Beach, so if you arrive when all the spots are taken, park at the adjacent Haena Beach Park and walk about 10 minutes down the beach to Tunnels.
There are no facilities at Tunnels Beach, but Ha’ena Beach Park offers restrooms, showers, and picnic tables.
10. Visit Other North Shore Beaches in Kauai
The north shore of Kauai is extremely picturesque and studded with pretty beaches. Relaxing at the many beaches is one of the best Kauai activities to put on your itinerary!
You really can’t go wrong (safely!) exploring any of the beaches here, but here are some of our favorites, other than Tunnels:
Ha’ena Beach is one the other side of Mount Makana from Tunnels Beach, and you can walk along the beach from one to the other. Both beaches are located along the crescent-shaped Maniniholo Bay.
With its white sand and black lava rocks, and its backdrop of lush green vegetation, Ha’ena Beach is beautiful.
Haena Beach Park has restrooms, showers, shaded areas, and picnic tables, and there may be lifeguards on duty here. A food truck is usually here as well.
Don’t miss the Maniniholo Dry Cave, right across the street!
As one of the most protected beaches on the north shore, Anini Beach is known for being a family-friendly beach in the summer. It is one of the best swimming beaches in Kauai!
Anini Beach is great for swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing, and paddleboarding. Relax on the sandy beach, or enjoy a picnic.
At this beach park, you’ll find campsites (get a permit if you want to camp), as well as restrooms and showers.
Ke’e Beach is located in Ha’ena State Park, and advance entry permits plus parking (or shuttle) reservations are mandatory for non-residents of Hawaii for accessing the beach.
The aquamarine blue-green lagoon at Ke’e Beach makes a wonderful swimming and snorkeling spot in the summer months.
The beach also offers a superb view of the Na Pali Coast if you walk away from the lagoon and look back.
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11. Enjoy Sunrise at Hanalei Bay
Stunning crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay is the largest bay on Kauai’s north shore. The beach here is over two miles long!
Set against the backdrop of lush green mountains, the golden sand of the beach sparkles against the turquoise blue waters on good weather days.
The bay is home to three beaches: Black Pot Beach, Wai‘oli Beach, and Hanalei Beach.
The bay is known as a good surfing spot from fall through spring, when the waves are up. Other popular activities at the bay include swimming, paddleboarding and kayaking in the summer, when conditions permit.
There are lifeguards on duty at several points along the beach, and signs are usually posted about water conditions.
If you want to take a good long walk along the water at sunrise or sunset, Hanalei Bay offers the ideal scenic stretch of sand on Kauai’s north shore.
The Hanalei Bay Pier is a popular sunrise photography spot. It was featured in the movie South Pacific. You can also shoot photos under the pier at low tide!
Hanalei River flows into the ocean at this bay. The river offers recreational opportunities from kayaking to fishing.
12. Visit Hanalei Town
Our most favorite town in Kauai, Hanalei Town is extremely charming.
Located a short drive west of the resort area of Princeville, Hanalei Town offers several small shops and art galleries to browse. Look for unique local souvenirs at the galleries!
Be sure to visit Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church, dating back to 1834, and Mission House, built all the way back in 1837. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The home was the residence of Abner and Lucy Wilcox, early Christian missionaries. The historic church is very picturesque, with pretty stained glass windows.
Hanalei is also home to several must-visit eateries, from Bar Acuda for local dishes served tapas style and AMA Restaurant for ramen to Hanalei Bread Company for baked treats and coffee.
You’ll also find some highly-rated food trucks here: Turmeric Cafe for Indian cuisine, Fresh Bite Kauai, and Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.
Sampling the offerings at the food trucks is one of the best things to do in Hanalei!
Taking a food tour of Hanalei is a wonderful way to get introduced to local eateries. This highly-rated walking food tour takes you to Hanalei’s best restaurants while learning about its history and local culture.
13. Snap Photos at the Hanalei Valley Viewpoint
As you drive Kuhio Highway between Princeville and Hanalei Bay, be sure to stop at the Hanalei Valley Lookout.
One of the most popular photo spots on the island of Kauai, the Hanalei Valley Lookout offers expansive views of the valley and the mountains behind.
The lush vegetation, the river flowing through the valley, and the fields of taro on the valley floor make for a gorgeous scene.
If you are staying nearby on the north shore, you’ll want to capture the scene at different times of the day, because the views are different depending on the weather and time of day.
On clear days you can see the waterfalls flowing down the lush green mountainside, when it looks like a scene from Jurassic Park.
The roadside pullout can only accommodate four or five cars, so if you’re driving by and see an empty spot, grab it!
14. Visit the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
If you are a birder, you must definitely visit Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, located at the northernmost point on the island of Kauai.
And even if you aren’t a birder but love the wildness of nature, you will want to stop here for a bit!
Also look for spinner dolphins and Hawaiian green sea turtles in the water, and humpback whales in season. You may see Hawaiian monk seals as well.
Aside from the Hawaiian birds and marine life, you’ll enjoy spectacular views from the top of the bluff.
Here you will also find the picturesque Kīlauea Point Lighthouse. It dates back to 1913 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Reservations are required to visit the refuge. The America the Beautiful National Parks Pass is accepted here, so bring yours if you have one, or buy one online at REI. You’ll still need to reserve a time slot.
15. Marvel at the beauty of Wailua Falls…
Kauai is home to many beautiful but difficult-to-access waterfalls, but Wailua Falls, on the eastern shore, are both stunning and easy to access.
Wailua Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Kauai, one you have to visit! It is part of Wailua River State Park.
You may recognize Wailua Falls from the opening credits of the 1977 TV show, Fantasy Island.
Stopping to view Wailua Falls is one of the best things to do in Kauai, especially if you visit after rains, when the flow is full and powerful.
The falls consist of two cascades that tumble down 80 feet into the plunge pool below, although the cascades may merge after heavy rains. Surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, the falls make for a striking scene.
If you are lucky, you may catch a rainbow in the mist!
Visit early in the day for lower crowds at the roadside viewing area: the parking lot is small. There is no parking fee or entry fee for Wailua River State Park, so viewing Wailua Falls is one of the best free things to do in Kauai.
To get to Wailua Falls, drive north from Līhuʻe on Highway 56, then take Maʻalo Road (State Hwy 583) past the fruit stand to the viewing area.
16. … And Admire Nearby Opaeka’a Falls
Also located along the eastern shore of Kauai, ʻŌpaekaʻa Falls is another gorgeous waterfall that does not require a hike.
The waterfall plunges 151 foot down the cliff, and is 40 feet wide, making for an impressive sight. Although you’ll view it from a distance, it’s still worth the stop!
You can also walk a little bit further and cross the street to see the Wailua River. The view of the river running through the valley makes for a lovely photo.
To get to ʻŌpaekaʻa Falls, travel north from Lihue along Highway 56, then take Kuamoʻo Road (Route 580) to the viewing area.
There’s a good-sized parking lot, but visit earlier in the day for a more tranquil experience.
17. Tour Limahuli Garden and Preserve on the North Shore
Kauai is known as “the Garden Isle,” and you’ll find several botanical gardens worth visiting in Kauai.
Limahuli Garden and Preserve, on the north shore, is a must-visit if you love plants and gardens.
One of the five gardens of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the botanical garden at Limahuli covers 17 acres. It is home to numerous species of native Hawaiian plants, some of them found nowhere else on the planet. If you are a bird lover, bring your binoculars to spot some pretty Hawaiian birds!
Limahuli Garden and Preserve boasts the largest collection of breadfruit cultivars in the world.
There is a loop trail through the garden that lets you get close to the plants and trees. The trail is 0.75 mile long with about 200 feet of elevation change and numerous steps.
Specimens are well-signed, and the tour book very informative.
At the time of writing, Limahuli Garden is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission for a self-guided tour is $30.00 per adult, $25.00 if arriving by the North Shore shuttle. A guided tour is $60.00 per adult, with $5.00 off if you use the shuttle. The guided tour with a docent lasts 2.5 hours.
Make parking/tour reservations ahead of your visit to be guaranteed a spot. Reservations are mandatory for guided tours.
18. Kayak the Wailua River
The only navigable river in the state of Hawaii, Wailua River on the eastern shore of Kauai is a big draw for adventure-loving visitors to the island.
The river starts at Mount Waialeale, in the heart of the island, and flows about 20 miles to the Pacific Ocean.
You can explore the river on your own on a kayaking trip, or join a guided tour.
If you want to explore independently, local outfitters will rent you kayaks and offer maps and instruction. You can enter and exit the river at several points along the route.
Motorized boats and barges ply the river as well, but there are defined channels for the boats and the kayaks: the kayaks have the north bank of the river.
The major attractions along the Wailua River are Secret Falls and Fern Grotto.
For a shorter paddle to Secret Falls, start at Kamokila Hawaiian Village rather than the marina. The journey to the falls involves both a paddle and a hike of about 1.5 miles round trip.
If you take the left fork where the river splits, you will arrive at Fern Grotto, a lava cave surrounded by lush tropical vegetation.
Many visitors to Kauai visit Secret Falls on a guided kayak tour and hike. This highly-rated 5-hour excursion includes lunch. Your guide will offer commentary along the way, and you’ll have the chance to swim under the falls if conditions permit.
19. Go hiking in Kauai
While the Kalalau Trail is the ultimate Kauai hike, the full hike takes 2 full days for most people.
There are many other Kauai hiking trails that allow you to experience the natural beauty of the island up close.
On the south shore of Kauai, the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail from Shipwreck Beach to Mahaulepu Beach and Punahoa Point runs along the ocean bluffs and is extremely picturesque.
This trail is one of our favorite easy hikes in Kauai on a nice weather day.
Along the way, take in the rugged beauty of the island’s shoreline, with lava rocks, caves, tide pools and native flora. In season, you’ll likely spot whales offshore.
The hike is about 3.8 miles out and back and is classed as easy to moderate.
It is a very popular 6-mile out-and-back trail that runs through the Nāpali-Kona Forest Reserve and offers stunning views of the ocean and the Na Pali Coast.
The Canyon Trail to Waipoʻo Falls is another popular Kauai hike. While you do not get full-on views of the falls on this hike, you’ll arrive at the top of the falls, where you can relax by the stream.
This trail offers spectacular views of Waimea Canyon from several viewpoints!
20. Visit the Spouting Horn Blowhole
Watching the water spray into the air here is a must-see in Kauai!
The ocean water runs into a lava tube at this spot and bursts up into the air, reaching heights of 50 feet. You will also hear the blowhole as the water hisses and roars out of the opening.
It’s a great spot for a video! And lots of photos, of course.
There’s a large parking lot, making for an easy stop, and if you visit later in the day, you can stay for sunset as well.
21. Go Ziplining
Adventure-loving visitors to Kauai can choose to zipline over the island’s lush beauty for a thrilling adventure.
There are several ziplines on the island from which to pick!
The Koloa Zipline Tour is a super popular 3-hour zipline adventure that takes you over the lush tropical forests of Kauai, and the Waita Reservoir.
The lines are some of the longest on the island and there are eight different tracks. You can even opt for a superhero hands-free harness!
The AdrenaLine Kauai Zipline Tour, also a 3-hour adventure, offers several tracks with aerial views of the jungles of Kauai and Kipu Ranch.
Your admission includes the longest zipline in Hawaii and a course that ends in a refreshing dip in a natural lava rock swimming hole!
22. Ride the Waves, or Take a Surfing Lesson
Hawaii is one of the top surfing destinations in the world, and surfing in Kauai, against its backdrop of lush tropical beauty, is among the top Kauai activities.
There are big swells and gentle swells to be found all year long in Kauai.
In the winter, giant waves on the north shore draw expert surfers from around the world, and if you aren’t an expert, it’s still fun to watch the action from shore.
In the summer, swells are generally better along the south shore, and there are spots for beginners as well as for seasoned surfers.
Hanalei Bay is a very popular surfing spot, for surfers of all skill levels. Beginner surfers can find gentler wave action in the middle of the bay and near the pier. The eastern side of the bay attracts more expert surfers.
Kalapaki Beach on the east side, and Poipu Beach on the south are other top surfing destinations on the island. For surfers with experience seeking a wilder ambience, Polihale Beach on the west shore is the place to go.
If you are a novice, you can take a surfing lesson in Kauai! Your instructor will offer coaching on dry land before taking you out into the water at a beginner-friendly location to catch your first waves.
This highly-rated experience in Poipu includes gear and wetsuit rental. The lesson, with an experienced instructor, lasts about 90 minutes and is the perfect way to get introduced to the exhilarating sport.
23. Visit the Allerton Garden and the McBryde Garden
Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden are located next to each other on the south shore of Kauai. They are two of the five National Tropical Gardens in Kauai.
McBryde Garden, located in the scenic Lawa’i Valley, is large, at 259 acres. It is home to the largest ex situ collection of native Hawaiian plant species and functions as an ark for endangered tropical species.
The gorgeous palms, orchids, and ornamentals here will blow you away with their beauty.
Allerton Garden is located in the Lāwaʻi Kai area and is known for its hardscape as well as its botanical collection. The gigantic Moreton Bay fig trees here featured in Jurassic Park.
The water features in Allerton Garden are beautiful!
If you like birdwatching, bring your binoculars: you’ll see (and hear!) lots of pretty Hawaiian birds in the gardens.
The Best of Both Worlds guided tour is the perfect way to tour both gardens if you have limited time on the island. The 2.5-hour tour includes the highlights of the two gardens with an expert guide.
The fee, at the time of writing, is $65.00 per adult and reservations need to be made in advance.
There is also an after-hours combined tour, which costs $85.00 per adult.
You can explore McBryde Garden on your own if you wish, but Allerton Garden can only be toured with a guide, either on its own, or with McBryde.
Insider Tip: Wear closed-toed shoes to the gardens: you may be turned away if you arrive in flip flops!
24. Drive through the Eucalyptus Tree Tunnel
If you are driving south from Lihue to Koloa and Poipu, look for the eucalyptus tree tunnel as you turn onto Highway 520 (Maluhia Road).
The tree tunnel is a short scenic drive under a canopy formed by several hundred mature eucalyptus trees, and a famous photo spot on the island.
It took shape with the gift of 500 trees from sugar baron Walter McBryde in 1911. The trees have survived two hurricanes and continue to flourish.
The tree tunnel marks the beginning of the Koloa Heritage Trail, a series of stops that showcase the island’s rich natural history, geology, and culture. There are 14 stops to explore along the trail, including the Sugar Monument at Old Koloa Town.
25. Enjoy the Wild and Wonderful Polihale Beach
Yes, getting to Polihale Beach in Polihale State Park isn’t easy: the last five miles of unpaved road is full of potholes and can flood during rains.
But if you are up for renting a 4WD and braving the road, Polihale Beach is a wild and remote beach with great views of the Na Pali Coast.
Before you set out though, make sure your rental agreement doesn’t forbid you from driving to Polihale State Park!
Polihale Beach is not a swimming beach, but you can enjoy the water in Queen’s Pond, a natural pool that forms inland at the south end of Polihale Beach. It’s separated from the open ocean by a wide swathe of sand and is considered safe for swimming and floating.
And the beach is fantastic for strolling, beachcombing and looking for shells, and watching the waves. Sunset here is spectacular.
Outdoor lovers can get a permit to camp in Polihale State Park. If you do overnight here, you will be treated to great night sky observation. On cloudless moonless nights, you can see thousands of stars!
26. Look for Souvenirs in Hanapepe
Remember the town in Lilo and Stitch? The fictional town was inspired by charming Hanapepe, on the southern coast of Kauai.
The town is located between Waimea and Koloa and it’s convenient to stop here on your way back from the Waimea Canyon.
Hanapepe has a history dating back to plantation times. Today the little town is home to small shops and many art galleries.
Each Friday evening, the town hosts an Art Walk, when artists from around the island display their work. It’s the perfect time to browse for unique souvenirs to bring home.
While you’re here, be sure to walk across the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, and if you are interested in seeing how salt was made traditionally, drive by the Salt Ponds!
27. Attend a Luau
A lūʻau is a celebration of Hawaiian food, culture, and music, and for most visitors to Kauai, a vacation wouldn’t be complete without attending one!
There are numerous luaus around the island from which to pick.
Luau Kalamaku is set on the grounds of the historical Kilohana Plantation in Lihue. It features a traditional imu ceremony, where a whole roast pig is taken out of an underground oven.
The experience includes a train ride on the Kauai Plantation Railway, an open bar, local food, and a show that includes Polynesian hula dancers and flame throwers.
On the south shore of the island, the ʻAuliʻi Lūʻau at the Sheraton Kauaʻi Resort and the Grand Hyatt Kauaʻi Lūʻau at the Grand Hyatt Kauaʻi Resort are both popular.
ʻAuliʻi Lūʻau is an oceanfront luau that features traditional Polynesian food along with hula dancers from Urahutia Productions. With fire-knife dancers showing off their skills by the light of tiki torches at dusk, the show here is amazing.
The Grand Hyatt Luau also features a royal traditional spread of food, and dances from Polynesian cultures, including Hawaii.
From upscale fine dining to food trucks and everything in between, you’ll not want for choices when it comes to dining in Kauai.
If you are looking for a quick classic poke bowl in Kauai, you can’t go wrong at Hanalei Poke or Koloa Fish Market.
Here are some restaurants to try on the island. Reservations, where offered, are highly recommended.
On the south shore, try Rumfire Poipu Beach at the Sheraton Resort. The restaurant offers fresh seafood with a Hawaiian twist, and the ocean views are spectacular.
Tidepools at the Grand Hyatt is the place to go for a romantic dinner. You’ll be seated in a thatched hut floating on a lagoon. Dining here is one of the best things to do in Kauai for couples. Reserve well in advance!
Beach House Restaurant is helmed by Peter Merriman of Monkeypod Kitchen fame and offers Hawaiian dishes showcasing local ingredients. Get the Monkeypod Mai Tai!
In Hanalei on the north shore of the island, you’ll definitely want to reserve a table at Bar Acuda, where the tapas is divine. Tomato bruschetta, roasted broccoli with harissa, Moorish spiced lentils, braised short ribs, seared Hawaiian fish…the options are endless!
Kalypso Island Bar & Grill is great for beer and happy hour bites: we love the coconut shrimp. This is a fun place to watch sports!
29. Enjoy Shave Ice!
Enjoying shave ice is a must on your Kauai vacation, and if you are like us, you’ll want to relish this sweet treat more than once!
The perfect refresher on a warm day in Hawaii, shave ice was brought to the islands by Japanese immigrants.
We enjoyed Waikomo Shave Ice in Poipu. Their syrups and toppings are all natural, and they are conveniently located.
JoJo’s Shave Ice is arguably the most popular shave ice stand in Kauai, with two locations, one in Hanalei and the other in Waimea. You’ll get a wide variety of flavors here from which to pick, and servings are generous.
Wishing Well in Hanalei is another shave ice stand we love. They offer both traditional and all-natural combinations, so you can pick what you want!
Wailua Shave Ice is located on the Kuhio Highway and offers lots of flavor combinations as well, some with fresh fruit toppings.
The Best Kauai Tours
Have you booked these top Kauai guided adventures yet?
Sunset catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast (relatively more stable ride, insane views on good weather days!)
Doors-off helicopter tour of Kauai (unobstructed views, chance to see more of the island than you can by land, no middle seats!)
Kayak on the Wailua River plus hike to a waterfall (a super fun activity for active travelers, albeit a little muddy sometimes!)
Raft trip to the Na Pali Coast plus snorkeling (prepare to get wet on this exhilarating adventure!)
Eurocopter ECO-Star helicopter tour over Kauai (the most booked Kauai helicopter tour on Viator with close to 2K reviews and a 5-star rating!)
Renting a Car in Kauai
The best things to do in Kauai are scattered all over the island.
Public transport options on Kauai aren’t great, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Kauai trip.
We always use Discover Cars to book Kauai car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Lihue Airport-Hotel Shuttle
Not planning to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport? Pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back!
This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Where to Stay in Kauai
Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Kauai you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.
Since you’ll likely want to base in a couple places on your trip to Kauai, we suggest starting your search for Kauai accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO.
We have stayed in VRBO rentals in both Poipu and Princeville and find that the choice and quality are generally great.
Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!
More Kauai Travel Inspiration
Considering a trip to the Garden Isle in Hawaii? You’ll definitely want to check out some of our other comprehensive Kauai travel and attraction guides!
If you are a first-time visitor to Kauai, start by discovering the best things to do in Kauai! From beaches and botanical gardens to cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls, Kauai has it all, and our round-up lists all of Kauai’s must-experience activities and attractions.
Read our in-depth guide to visiting the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. We give you the full scoop on the best ways to visit this stunning coast in the remote northwest of the island.
Discover our round-up of the nine spectacular state parks in Kauai, which house some of Kauai’s most treasured natural wonders.
Check out our round-up of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, from waterfalls you can view from the road to falls that require hiking and falls that are best seen from a helicopter or sightseeing flight.
Read our guide to Wailua River State Park to discover two easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls, and our trail guide for the easy hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. We also have an article on the best Kauai waterfall hikes.
And if a helicopter tour is part of your plans for Kauai, read our article on the top-rated helicopter tours in Kauai!
We also have a trail guide for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s scenic south shore, an article on how to hike the Sleeping Giant Trail, and a guide to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the easy hikes on Kauai.
Get the scoop on the best botanical gardens in Kauai, from Limahuli Garden on the north shore to McBryde and Allerton Gardens on the south shore.
Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei, the charming town that sits in the middle of Kauai’s scenic north shore.
Read our guide to the best swimming beaches on Kauai, from Hanalei Bay on the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south shore! We also have a guide to the best snorkeling beaches on Kauai, and a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches.
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