You think you’ve seen beautiful places, but then you go to Kauai. It’s rustic yet pristine, mysterious yet inviting. Once you visit, you’ll be drawn to Kauai again and again.
While much of the island is rugged wilderness and untouched beauty, there are enough amenities that travelers of all styles can enjoy a visit here. Stay in an upscale resort or a remote rental. Hike its emerald coasts or hop on a helicopter to see its wonders. Relax on the beach or explore its waters by kayak.
We’re excited to share our favorite things to do in Kauai so you can perfectly tailor your Hawaii trip to your vision and schedule. Keep reading to begin planning your favorite Hawaii memories.
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COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN KAUAI
- Best Oceanfront Views: Waimea Plantation Cottages is located on the black sands of Kauai. These oceanfront cottages in Waimea have been restored with plantation-period furniture and feature patios overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You’ll love the oceanfront pool!
- Best Swimming Pools: Hanalei Bay Resort features two swimming pools, a hot tub, tennis courts, beach access, and spacious rooms. The grounds at this resort are stunningly beautiful!
- Best for Foodies: Sheraton Kauai Resort is nestled on the shores of Hawaii’s world-famous Poipu Beach. With newly renovated guest rooms and suites, ocean views, and amazing pools, this resort has it all. Dine at their array of authentic eateries, serving fresh Hawaiian fare in a tropical setting; RumFire Poipu Beach is their signature restaurant boasting spectacular sunset views.
SEE KAUAI BY HELICOPTER
Kauai features so much hidden beauty, and one of the best ways to see its landscapes is on a helicopter tour. It’s definitely one of the pricier activities you can do on the island, but most adventurers find it well worth it.
The lowest cost option will be an hour-long tour. Higher-end adventures will allow you to land at a waterfall or in Waimea Canyon. Or, for a truly luxe experience, you can charter a private flight.
Riding in a helicopter anywhere is an incredible memory, and what better place to experience this kind of transportation than in Kauai?
Looking for a air tour in Kauai? Here are some of the best!
- Take a grand air tour over Kauai. Fly over the most beautiful landscape in the world on this deluxe air tour. Soar through the Waimea Canyon, along the Na Pali Coast, and above beautiful waterfalls, while hearing all about the rich history and mythical lore of Kauai!
- See the famous waterfall from Jurassic Park. Experience the view from above in the comfort of a state-of-the-art helicopter on this tour covering over 100 miles of amazing Kauai scenery. Land at the movie-famous Jurassic Park Falls and more.
- Take a flight over the Napali Coast. Sail high above the Garden Island of Kauai in this breathtaking hour-long scenic flight. Fly over crystal clear blue waters, soaring red cliffs, majestic green valleys, and cascading waterfalls.
PHOTOGRAPH SPOUTING HORN
Spouting Horn is one of the most photographed areas on Kauai, but nothing compares to seeing it in person.
Waves push water through the lava rock and into the air. It seems like a simple idea, but it’s an incredible force of nature to watch. And the good news is that it’s easy to catch this sight while visiting Kauai, as it doesn’t require any hiking or reservations.
The overlook is at Spouting Horn Beach Park on Lawai Road in Po’ipu. There’s plenty of parking, and merchants often sell treats and souvenirs in the lot.
TAKE ON THE KALALAU TRAIL
The Napali Coast is one of Hawaii’s most iconic and mysterious places. The long stretch of coastline doesn’t feature any roads or towns, but adventurers can experience this natural beauty by hiking along the Kalalau Trail.
The trail spans 11 miles, though many day hikers stick to the first two miles, which end at Hanakāpīʻai Beach. You’ll need to get a reservation to hike to Hanakāpīʻai Beach.
Experienced hikers who want to take on the entire Napali journey will need a camping permit. You can camp at Hanakoa Valley, about 6 miles from the trailhead, or Kalalau Valley, which marks the trail’s end at mile 11.
No matter how much of this hike you choose to take on, you’ll be treated to incredible views, up-close looks at Hawaii’s plant life, and the chance to say you’ve done one of the world’s most adventurous hikes.
SEE THE NAPALI COAST BY BOAT
If you’re not one to take on an overnight hike, consider taking a boat tour of the Napali Coast. Snorkel in its pristine waters, explore mysterious sea caves, and sail at the feet of 4,000-foot cliffs.
You can choose your adventure along these 16 miles of coastline, whether you prefer a large, leisurely catamaran or a speedy raft boat. Sunset cruises often include dinner and cocktails, but morning adventures will likely have calmer conditions.
This is one of the most popular activities on Kauai and features some of the most unique scenery in the state.
SNORKEL (FROM THE BEACH) AT MAKUA BEACH
If you dream of the perfect Hawaii snorkeling experience, you must visit Makua Beach on Kauai’s North Shore. Commonly called Tunnels Beach, this lagoon area features coral reefs and small caves that are teeming with marine life.
You’ll probably see Honu (sea turtles), octopuses, and crabs while you explore the waters at Makua Beach. Some areas are off-limits for snorkeling, so refer to the placards and markers to ensure you’re within the correct boundaries.
Even with the limitations, Makua Beach (sometimes on Google incorrectly as Makuna Beach) is regarded as one of the best snorkel spots in the world.
You’ll find Makua Beach on Kuhio Highway on the north shore of Kauai. There is a small parking lot at the beach, or you can park nearby at Haena Beach Park.
CHARTER A WHALE WATCHING BOAT
Kauai’s waters come to life in the winter as Humpback whales breach not far from shore. And while it’s easy to spot these majestic creatures in the distance from land, you really can’t beat a whale-watching charter.
You can book a whale-watching trip from December through March, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Sunset cruises on luxury catamarans may include dinner and cocktails, and morning raft boat tours will zip across the water to the best viewing spots.
Many charters take sightseers along the Na Pali coast, so during whale season you can double up your trip and see the incredible coastline and massive whales all in one trip.
COOL OFF AT A SHAVED ICE FOOD TRUCK
No trip to Hawaii is complete without shaved ice, and you can find some of the best of the best right on Kauai.
Stands and food trucks like Wishing Well Shave Ice put their heart and soul into making unique and delicious shave ice. They feature favorite island flavors, high-quality ingredients, and an aloha spirit that makes Kauai such a special place.
Get classic flavors like strawberry or grape, or go tropical with passion fruit, mango, or guava. Toppings like ice cream, sweetened condensed milk, and fresh fruit will make your shave ice even more ono (yummy).
Wishing Well Shave Ice is right off Kuhio Highway in Hanalei.
HIKE KOKE E STATE PARK
Hikers of all abilities and experience will find something for them in Kōkeʻe State Park, a vast and scenic area filled with natural beauty. There are over 45 miles of trails within the park, many of which weave into neighboring Waimea Canyon State Park.
Keep things simple with a 10-minute hike on Cliff Trail or Nature Trail. Or go big and take on Alaka‘i Swamp Trail, a 3.5-mile trek that takes you through mud, streams, and clouds. It seems otherworldly there: the mix of fog, lush plant life, and unique bird sightings.
Kōkeʻe State Park is located 4,000 feet above sea level in Northwest Kauai.
CAMP ON THE BEACH AT POLIHALE STATE PARK
Just before reaching the mysterious uncharted land of the Na Pali Coast on Kauai, you’ll find Polihale Beach, the longest beach in the entire state of Hawaii.
At 17 miles long, Polihale State Park boasts fantastic sunset views and is one of the best places for a long walk along the shoreline. And while swimming conditions can be dangerous here, it’s a quiet and relaxing place to camp on Kauai.
Get your Polihale camping permit online, make sure you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, and bring all the appropriate camping gear. Or simply visit for the day to enjoy this great location without all the hassle.
To get to Polihale State Park, take Kaumualii Highway through Waimea all the way to the end. There will be a dirt road that you’ll take for another five miles to reach the park.
ZIPLINE OVER A NATIVE FOREST
Thrillseeking and sightseeing meet at Koloa Zipline, an unforgettable adventure in Kauai’s lush and rugged wilderness.
Featuring a half-mile line, a hands-free option, and an incredible team of guides, Koloa Zipline may be the perfect activity for your Kauai Vacation. You’ll spend about 3.5 hours exploring the jungle and zipping along the course’s eight lines.
Koloa Zipline is located in southern Kauai, convenient to Poipu resorts.
Many Hawaii visitors dream of seeing waterfalls, and Kauai is home to a couple of the most beautiful falls in the state.
Wailua Falls is a must-visit location thanks to its easy access and incredible beauty. You’ll view the 70-foot plunge from a roadside viewing above. To get to Wailua Falls, travel uphill from the town of Hanamaulu on Maalo Road.
Opaeka’a is another scenic waterfall that’s easy to access. The viewing area features picnic tables, so you can slow down and enjoy the jungle setting for a bit. Opaekaa Falls is on Kuamoo Road in Wailua.
Most of Kauai’s hidden waterfalls are best viewed during a helicopter tour. Still, some experienced hikers trek to Hanakapi’ai Falls via the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coastline, which is about 8 miles round trip.
SEE THE SEALS AND TURTLES AT POIPU BEACH PARK
There’s something for everyone at Poipu Beach, whether you want to catch views of marine life (monk seals and sea turtles frequent the shoreline), wade in the calm waters, or adventure out to where the waves are.
To get to Poipu Beach, look for Hoowili Road near the Poipu Shopping Village. The beach is down that road and has parking, picnic tables, and restrooms.
KAYAK HANALEI BAY
Hanalei Bay is one of the most popular beaches on Kauai. And while many visitors are content enjoying the area from its sandy shoreline, you should consider exploring the bay by kayak.
If you are interested in kayaking Hanalei Bay (and you should be!), you have two options: rent a kayak and adventure on your own, or book a spot on a guided tour. We recommend the guided tour, as it will help ensure you get the best sights and experience, plus you don’t have to worry about keeping track of time, directions, or equipment.
ENJOY ANOTHER (EASY) HIKE ALONG MAHA’ULEPU HERITAGE TRAIL
If you want a scenic coastal hike that’s easier and more convenient than the Na Pali Coast, consider hiking the Mahaulepu Coastal Trail. It’s a sacred spot and a wildlife sanctuary, but it’s only steps away from the busy resort area of Poipu.
The 3.7-mile, out-and-back hike begins at Shipwrecks Beach and ends at Punahoa Point on the South Shore. Along the way, you’ll see remains of sacred heiau, sugarcane fields, and wetlands.
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is a relatively easy and family-friendly trail that’s popular with visitors and residents of all ages.
ENJOY A GUIDED KAYAK TOUR OF WAILUA RIVER
You probably come to Hawaii with visions of vast sandy beaches and endless sunshine. But a kayaking trip through a tropical river should definitely be on your to-do list.
A guided kayak tour of the Wailua River will include a hike to Secret Falls, which is about ¾ miles from the river and is great for swimming.
If you’d rather go at your own pace without the guidance of a professional, you can also rent a kayak for a self-guided trip. But we recommend going with a group to make sure you have the best experience without any worry.
Most kayak tours depart from the Wailua River Marina and take about five hours.
TOUR KILAUEA LIGHTHOUSE
Any Kauai visitor will love the views and photo ops at Kilauea Lighthouse. But birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts will really catch their thrills here.
Located on Kauai’s North Shore, the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge is home to many native seabirds, and signage around the park will help guide your viewing.
But there’s more to do here than birdwatch. For starters, there’s the historic lighthouse that was built in 1913. And then there are the views — endless blue against the grassy greens of the island’s cliffs. In the winter months, you can likely see whales from the overlook, and dolphins and sea turtles are often in the water year-round.
You’ll need to reserve your ticket to Kilauea Lighthouse online. Be sure to spend some time planning your trip to Kilauea Lighthouse. The North Shore area is home to many scenic stops, like Princeville Botanical Gardens, Hanalei Valley Lookout, and Queen’s Bath (though that hike is often closed due to dangerous tides and drowning risks).
BODY SURF ON SHIPWRECK BEACH
Shipwreck Beach is one of Kauai’s most popular beaches. From its spacious sandy shoreline to its incredible views, you will surely have a quintessential Hawaii experience here.
But it’s also a great surfing spot, and experienced surfers flock here to take on the great waves. And when conditions are right, older kids (and kids-at-heart) will bodysurf offshore.
Besides surfing, the beach is also a popular cliff-jumping spot. And while we recommend against anyone leaping into these rough waters, it can be thrilling to watch others do it from the safety of shore.
You’ll find Shipwreck Beach on Poipu Road, between the Grand Hyatt Kauai and the Golf Course.
SPEND A DAY AT WAIMEA CANYON
Waimea Canyon is one of our favorite places in Kauai. The 3,000-foot gorge is often called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” thanks to its vastness and breathtaking views.
A day here can include a scenic driving tour, various hikes, views of Niihau, and incredible wildlife. Take things slowly, enjoy the sights, and be sure to visit neighboring Kokeʻe State Park as well. One entry fee will get you into both parks, and many hiking paths weave through them both.
There are two entry roads to get into Waimea Canyon State Park. Many visitors will take scenic Waimea Canyon Road as they enter the park and then leave via Kokee Road, but you can look at your plans to see which route works best for you.
TAKE IN THE KAUAI HISTORY AT LIMAHULI GARDEN AND PRESERVE
In Hawaii, history and nature are truly interwoven. A trip to Limahuli Garden and Preserve will allow visitors to see how that connection shaped lives in the Hawaiian islands and still shapes the culture today.
Book a self-guided or docent-led tour to see this incredible landscape up close. The Limahuli Valley features numerous native and endemic species, impressive archaeological complexes, and a pristine stream.
Limahuli does charge a per-person admission fee, and most reviewers say it’s well worth the money. Enjoy the scenic drive to the gardens, which is next to Ha’ena State Park in Hanalei.
ENJOY A LUAU
Kauai features many luaus, all of which boast unique island food, great entertainment, and a fun atmosphere. But which should you go to?
The menu choices at most luaus are pretty much the same – they’ll feature kalua pig, poi, poke, and fresh fish. And most include an open bar before the dinner and show.
We recommend choosing a luau not far from your hotel, especially if you plan on partaking in a Mai Tai (or three or four!). You may also want to consider your ideal setting. The Smith Family Luau is in a tropical garden, while the Aulii Luau is beachside.
No matter which luau you decide to book, you’re sure to be enriched by masterful hula, filled up with delicious food, and completely infatuated with Hawaii’s beauty and culture.
SPEND A FRIDAY NIGHT IN HANAPEPE
If you’re on Kauai on a Friday night, then Hanapēpē is the place to be. The small town comes to life as the art galleries, eateries, and shops stay open late to welcome hundreds of people through their doors.
The streets are filled with live music, food trucks, and craft stalls. Whether you are looking for a family-friendly night out or a charming date night, Hanapepe will be a memorable part of your Kauai trip.
Can’t get enough of this kind of small-town nightlife? Check out the Old Kapaa Town Art Walk on the First Saturday of each month.
At either event, you’re sure to find incredible food, unique souvenirs, and a taste of local life that you can’t find at your resort.
MOUNTAIN TUBE THRU SUGAR PLANTATIONS
One of Kauai’s most unique activities is a tubing excursion. Tunnels, canals, and flumes once guided water from the top of Mount Waialeale through the sugarcane fields here.
The plantations are no longer operational, but a section of the irrigation system remains active for adventurers like you.
A Kauai tubing tour is both relaxing and adventurous, as you’ll be able to enjoy the island’s unique scenery and plant life as you float through the cool waters. You’ll have a headlamp for dark tunnels, a mid-tour lunch, a break at a swimming hole, and a knowledgeable guide who will ensure your entire group has a great experience.
Kauai Backcountry Mountain Tubing Adventure is in Lihue. You’ll meet up with your tour group and then hop in their four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the launch site.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO HAWAII
- YOUR HAWAII VACATION
- WAIKIKI: 24 Best Things To Do In Waikiki You’re Gonna Love
- HONOLULU: 22 Absolutely Amazing Things To Do In Honolulu
- HILO: 16 Spectacular Things To Do In Hilo, Hawaii
- KONA: 16 Things To Do In Kona Hawaii (And The Kohala Coast)
WHERE TO STAY IN KAUAI
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