TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE
The Best Things To Do In Kauai
Ryan, Senior Traveler
Updated March 2019
Take a moment to imagine your wildest dream vacation. Is it filled with stunning scenic mountain views peeking over a crystal clear blue sea? Maybe dotted with extravagant rainforests, rushing rivers, and hidden treasures? A place like this could only have been created by Mother Nature herself.
Snap back to reality – does a place this naturally gorgeous and filled with adventures and delicious food truly exist? We’ve got some amazing news, it most certainly does and it’s called Kauai, Hawaii. With so many things to do in Kauai, it’s no wonder people flock to this Hawaiian paradise year after year.
Kauai, or “The Garden Island” comes in at Hawaii’s fourth largest island encompassing over 560 square miles. A true Hawaiian treasure, Kauai is also the oldest of the state’s main islands. Its name has a few translations and possible means. One more popular translation comes from the legend of Hawaiʻiloa who was believed to discover the island and name it after his favorite son.
The island itself can be divided into five regions each offering their own unique experiences and adventures.
- The North Shore is laced with expansive mountains and a unique mix of greenery and warm beaches.
- East Side, known as Royal Coconut Coast, is home to groves of coconut palms, historic sites, and luxury resorts.
- Venture over to the West Side and you’re in with the locals. West Side is a trip away from many of the normal tourist attractions and brings with it eclectic towns and untouched natural wonders.
- About an hour from East Side you’ll find the government and commercial center of the island, Lihue. You’re most likely to pay a trip to this section as the island’s main airport is located in its epicenter.
- When it’s finally time for the ultimate beach day, head over to South Shore. South Shore is known for its jaw-dropping beaches and shopping, making sure there is always an adventure to be had. Boring is not in the local’s vocabulary.
If you’ve been searching for a tropical island retreat that offers warm and sunny beaches as well as cool elevated mountainous regions, Kauai is the answer.
Photograph courtesy of Trip Advisor
One major benefit to venturing on a helicopter tour is your ability to actually see all of the island in a breathtaking panoramic view. Witnessing Hawaii’s fourth largest island by air guarantees that you will make the most of your time on your trip. There’s no wonder why helicopter tours are the most popular attraction on the island, almost three fourths of the island itself can only be accessed by air or boat.
Due to their popularity, there are multiple options for helicopter rides on the island. Your best bet is to first determine what you and your travel crew would like to get most out of your experience. Tours can range from hour long trips around extensive canyons, private tours with no doors, and first-class seating with a pilot’s view.
There are even options to bring your own camera to capture the unbelievable waterfalls and valleys or purchase a professional live recording. With prices ranging from the mid $200s to upper $400s based on times, speeds and aircraft carrier, it’s best to pre-plan and book your tours ahead of time. That way, you can be sure that the experience is best suited to your unique needs.
The only thing better than an information rich tour of a scenic tropical island is an information rich tour of a scenic tropical island with authentic local cuisine. A popular dinner cruise service is the Na Pali Coast Tours and it’s easy to see why. The coast is dotted with the jaw-dropping cliffs that helped to bring the island its fame.
You’ll be able to take in the sights at a leisurely pace with a delicious Polynesian dinner and refreshments ranging from a sunset champagne toast to Mai Tai’s and Margaritas. There’s no rush, you’re on island time with over three and half hours to witness unbelievable marine life.
Whether you’re yearning for that perfect sunset summertime glow or a chance to catch a glimpse of the native humpback whales in the winter season, taking a dinner cruise will be a must-do on your itinerary.
After your dinner cruise, the sea is bound to call your name again – and this time with only it’s powerful winds to guide you. There is no true feeling like a relaxing sailing experience to melt your stressors away.
Come aboard a few of the island’s most popular catamaran tours equipped with authentic island foods, drinks, and classic Hawaiian music. By the end of the trip, you’ll feel it’s your duty to carry on the Aloha spirit.
Tours can last around two hours with prices starting at just $85.00 per person. Perfect for families, romantic couples or the curious solo traveler, experience the sea like a true Kauai local.
For those looking to get even closer to Kauai’s crystal clear waters, travelers and locals alike cannot recommend kayaking tours enough. There are multiple types of tours offered, each featuring their own adventures with different thrill ranges. Take on the Ancient River Adventure that leads explorers to a secret waterfall and accompanying pool.
Or, try out the kayak and snorkeling tours that take you down the Hanalei river into a bay where you’ll catch the sea turtles and other wildlife relaxing on the coral reef and pristine banks.
A quintessential Kauai experience, don’t leave the island without giving a horseback ride through the lush landscapes a try. Not to worry about safety or skill level, your guide will keep you and your group at a comfortable pace slow enough to truly take in the Makaleha mountain ranges and the multitude of local flowers including orchids and hibiscus plants.
Travel to the base of the mountains themselves while witnessing ancient volcanic calderas up close. Rides can range from just over an hour to three hours long, depending on what secret sights you plan to uncover.
Time to pick up the speed for some serious fun on an ATV tour sure to get you close to all the action from beaches to mountains. The ATV tour guides will lead you and your team on a mostly three to four-hour range adventure priced in the mid $200s to high $300s.
Start at the gorgeous golden coasts and work your way inland to hidden waterfalls where travelers can stop for a dip in a natural pool and snacks. If you’re not afraid to get dirty and have a passion for adventure, the island ATV tours were created just for you.
Connect with traditional Hawaiian cultures and the sea by learning the ancient sport of He’e Nalu. Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned wave rider, you’ve got nothing to lose learning from local experts on how to truly connect with the water.
The options for learning on rivers, the ocean, or bay is given depending on your mood as well as private and group lessons.
Gently glide down historic tunnels and canals crafted in the 1870s while safely secured with a helmet and flashlight in your own mountain tubing craft. Visitors are given the options to tour the exclusive Lihue Plantation, made famous for its sugar crops.
Tubers will be able to catch sights of Waialeale Crater and tropical views only seen on this tour. An experience of a lifetime, if you’re interested in an outdoor journey that requires a little physical activity, give mountain tubing a try.
What if we told you that an extreme adrenaline rush paired with a bird’s eye view of almost the entire gorgeous island is only a short hike away? Zip lining adventures on Kauai are offered at all times of day!
That’s right, morning, noon or night, enjoy zip line tracks as long as half a mile offering the best sights on the south side of the island. At prices in the mid to low $100s per person, a ziplining tour is a thrill that packs immense bang for your buck.
Are you looking for more of a unique adventure less focused on hiking and more on thrills? Give clay shooting a try! All the necessities plus expertly trained guides are provided.
Searching for an added challenge? Try shooting in the rain! Clay shooting courses are open rain or shine and available for all skill levels.
You’re always seeing it on vacation advertisements, it’s time to give SUP a try. SUP allows you to ride the rolling waves or calm bay waters using your balance and oar. SUP tours are perfect for any and every age group, whether you’re searching for a calm relaxing paddle or a challenge on rougher waters.
Group and private lessons are available, meaning a perfectly catered experience is available to all. If you’re interested in surfing, but nervous to start, SUP is the perfect beginners’ course.
Snorkeling and Kauai go together like pineapples and poke, they just make sense. Take advantage of the many unique underwater tours offered on all parts of the island. Trips are also offered at all times of the day for varied lengths of time including day trips and a just few hours.
No matter what you choose, you simply will not believe your eyes at the stunning and mysterious sea creatures you’re bound to run into. Your tour guide will be poised and ready to answer your any and every question.
Take on the journey to see what is known as the “Grand Canyon Of The Pacific.” Waimea Canyon is the picturesque result of a collapsing volcano mixed with wear and tear from the Waimea River.
At about 3,000 feet deep, the canyon is filled to the brim with eye-catching red soil and lush greenery. Bring your best hiking boots and cameras to capture the once-in-a-lifetime moment.
On Kauai we always recommend unplugging and enjoying nature, but if you’re craving a movie fix you can’t afford to miss the famous Movie Tour. “Jurassic Park”, “Tropic Thunder”, “Gilligan’s Island” and “Lilo and Stitch” are just a few of the many stops you’ll make on this expertly guided tour.
Seasoned guides offer a true look behind the scenes of what made your favorite flicks magical with delicious refreshments provided.
“Do NOT leave Kauai before taking this trip. You have not seen the island until you have experienced it like this from the air. Do not miss this trip!” – Review of the Eco-Adventure Helicopter Tour
A day-trip out in the fresh air with nothing but your guide group and nature is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of mainland life. Check out a few of our favorite places to hike around Kauai.
- Nounou East Trail
Staking its claim in East Kauai, the Nounou East Trail offers unbeatable views of Waipouli and Kapaa. This trail starts off relatively easy and finishes with excitingly dangerous and steep drop-offs. Make sure to stay aware of muddy slopes. Perfect for early risers, this trail’s temperature tends to heat up fast as the day progresses. Try to find the face in the profile of the mountain and see for yourself why it’s called the “Sleeping Giant” trail.
- Waialeale Back Wall Hike
Known as the “Blue Hole Hike” this expert level trail will lead you to the heart of Kauai. Along the way you’ll experience streams, rivers and enchanting waterfalls. Take note to bring plenty of bug spray and water. This is not a hike to take solo if not extremely familiar with the area. You’ll want to solicit a guide for this hike as it is one of the more challenging and prone to disorienting trails and extra rainy days.
- Kuilau Ridge Trail
If you’re searching for a more family-friendly and laid back trail, the Kuilau Ridge Trail is the path to take. This wide and well-maintained hike is frequented by adventurers of all ages due to its gentle and short climb up a scenic ridge with beautiful views and lush native Hawaiian plants.
- Canyon Trail
If the gorgeous Waipoo Falls have peaked your interest, head inland for this unique trail that leads you to the very top of the falls themselves. You’ll be immersed in a thick forest filled to the brim with native island shrubbery and wildlife. This is one of the cooler temperature hikes due to higher altitude and tree covering, so make sure to bring a jacket!
- Kalalau Trail
Saving our favorite hike for last, the Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile long trail that takes you through five gorgeous valleys up the Kauai coastline. It is the only trail that leads adventurers to the coastline, making for a private and dream-like climb. We say climb because you’re likely to do quite a bit on this trail as steep elevations upward and downward are the norm. It’s all worth the effort as you see for yourself the gorgeous coastline and all that Kauai has to offer on foot.
Beautiful view of Kauai’s waterfalls.
Hawaiian cuisine can be viewed as a melting pot of many exotic cultures including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Polynesian. You’ll notice many dishes featuring pineapples, their national fruit, rice, Korean BBQ and salted fish. Together these ingredients come together for delicious and unique culinary delights that are not to be missed.
Saimin is a dish most similar to the Chinese Okinawa soup. It’s an egg noodle dish in hot broth that can be topped with Spam, seaweed, barbeque or cured pork sausage and cured fish. This is one of the more traditional dishes, originating from Chinese immigrants who were the first Asian immigrants in Hawaii. Today, you can enjoy a bowl at the McDonalds, sports venues and is a regular option to serve to schoolchildren.
- Açaí bowls
Acai bowls have gained popularity in the States over recent years, but they are found in just about every smoothie or snack bar in Hawaii. The tropical blend of frozen berries, granola, fruits and shaved toppings make this the perfect refreshing treat in hotter months. Although blended Acai is the staple of the bowl, ingredients such as Dragonberry or the Hawaiian Poi can be used as delicious alternatives.
- Loco moco
Loco Moco is the ultimate Hawaiian comfort dish. It calls for a burger smothered in gravy atop a bed of rice, topped then with an over-easy egg. Although made up of simple ingredients in an even simpler stack, this dish has been gracing Hawaiian dinner tables since 1940, first created as an affordable meal for workers.
It’s almost impossible nowadays to head out to a seafood dinner without seeing the options for tuna poke. Poke is a staple of Hawaiian cuisine as locals popularized the dish in the 1970s. Poke, which literally means to slice, is a raw fish served traditionally with sea salt, seaweed and algae. Although ahi, or tuna, poke is most common, poke can be crated with octopus.
Poi is a combination of mashing the cooked stem of the taro plant with water to create a dough. The dough is then mashed again into a near-liquid form. Consistency can vary depending on the eater’s preference. The dish is considered a sacred element of Hawaii, representing the spirit of Haloa. Don’t let its look fool you, this dish is delectable and pairs perfectly with fish or as a dipping sauce.
Manapua derives from Polynesian and Chinese influences and translates to “delicious pork.” The dish is very similar to steamed buns, where a warm and fluffy bun is filled with a yummy blend of meats and seasonings. Most commonly, Manapua is stuffed with shredded pork, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce. Today it can be found everywhere from famed Hawaiian restaurants to the local island 7/11.
- Spam Musubi
If you’ve never tried Spam before, make this treat your number one food priority on the island! With Japanese roots, the look is similar to the rice ball. It consists of a grilled slice of Spam on top of sticky rice held together with a seaweed wrap. It’s a mixture of savory and sweet that can be found almost everywhere on the island.
Na Pali Coast
Mountainous peaks greet you as a seemingly endless coastline laps gracefully to say Aloha, the NaPali Coastline is the perfect mixture of land and sea.
This iconic 17-mile stretch is filled with activities ranging from snorkeling, mysterious sea-cave tours and lava-tubes rich with history. Adventures fit for the whole family are calling your name.
This majestic waterfall, stretching over 170 feet, falls into a lovely pool where everyone is welcomed to take a dip. Take advantage of the ancient river kayak tour that leads you up the Wailua River where you can take a journey that the original Hawaiians made over a century ago.
Paired with ancient history, the falls have been featured in many pop-culture movies and shows including “Fantasy Island,” “The Amazing Race” and “Tropic Thunder.”
Get back to the basics with this gorgeous beach on the southern coast of Kauai, where nature has taken charge. One of the more undeveloped beaches, travelers will delight in finding hidden coves, stunning cliffs and a variety of marine life.
The water itself tends to err on the rougher side, so those without expert swimming abilities should stick to the sand.
Can’t decide between a beach or mountain day? Why not choose both? Hanalei Bay is the largest bay located on the North side of the island. Visitors can enjoy swimming, volleyball, picnicking, or explore the small local town of Hanalei and enjoy some truly delicious poi. This spot is easily a local favorite.
Spouting Horn is a gorgeous beach park known for its waves. Over time, lava rocks were eroded on the coastline leaving narrow openings.
When one of the many waves crash into the openings, they spray up sometimes reaching heights of 50 feet. Legend has it that the area is protected by a giant lizard, whose cries can be heard every time the waves crash.
Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” we’ve mentioned Waimea Canyon earlier regarding just a few of the breathtaking tours made available for curious travelers. Only adding to its gorgeous sites is its rich history and deep connection with all of Kauai.
The collapse of an over 5 million year old volcano created the crater, along with the island of Kauai itself. With over 1,800 acres to explore, this is definitely a day-trip to add to the itinerary.
The Kilauea Lighthouse sits proudly on Kilauea and has been guiding ships home since 1913. What’s remarkable about its construction was that all materials used in creation had to be transported by sea due to lack of proper road infrastructure. Enjoy panoramic views of the stunning coastlines that stands 180 feet over the ocean.
Located in the Wailua State Park on the eastern area of Kauai, this hidden gem showcases nature’s wonders. Ferns have taken over the grotto itself, resulting in a lush and romantic scene.
In fact, Fern Grotto is considered one of the most romantic sites on Kauai and commonly used as a wedding venue. Take advantage of one of the many tours offered that includes a history of this plantation-era site and relaxing Hawaiian acoustics.
This park area, on the south of the island, is another hidden Kauai gem. Once the location of an ancient Hawaiian temple, the park is now used to display fountains, a Japanese garden, statues and lava rock artifacts.
The park has major Japanese influences and is perfect for walks, joggers and hikers alike. There is also a golf course available.
To round out our list we’ve chosen an east-side location that forgoes the common beach scene for a more tree-lined and cooler climate.
Keahua Arboretum is utilized as an outdoor classroom, filled with native and non-native plants and trees. The park is a hot-spot for families who wish to picnic, as well as hikers, joggers and horse-back riders.
Kukui Grove is more than just a shopping marketplace, it’s a lifestyle center. With over 50 stores to visit, ranging from Macy’s to local shops, you’ll need a few hours to discover all that this 50-acre center has to offer. Stop by on Monday’s for a farmer’s market and live music Friday nights.
Just a few blocks from Hanalei Bay, this shopping village offers local treats and eclectic finds with a view. Located in the center of Hanalei, the village is oftentimes referred to as the “Heart of Hanalei.”
Kauai Made offers exactly what its name implies, apparel, accessories and knick-knacks all made locally on the island. The love of the locals is easily seen in the craftsmanship and high-quality products, so you’re sure to find something for everyone in the family.
This local bakery was established in 2010 by a schoolteacher with a passion for delicious and fresh jam using the fruit of Kauai. Today it has grown into a neighborhood hotspot that even offers a monthly subscription for their jams.
No matter what you’re searching for, Kong Lung Trading has it all. From gifts, accessories, home decor and food, this local favorite is located in a historic building in the historic Kong Lung Historic Market. The store dates back 120 years, so stop in for a true island treasure.
Whether you’re on a mission for adventure and thrills, a relaxing dream-like beach stay or tantalizing unique Hawaiian delicacies, Kauai is the island to visit because there’s so many things to do.
With welcoming locals and a laid-back vibe, you’ll never want to leave this Hawaiian oasis.
Have any questions? We’d be thrilled to answer. Give us a call or text us at (808) 400-5778 or email us at [email protected] and one of our knowledgeable representatives will be happy to assist you!
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