15 Epic Things To Do In Kauai
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Visiting Hawaii is an epic adventure, and you want to make sure you are making the most of every minute on the ground. This post will go over every aspect of planning your trip- from must-see spots to the best restaurants to our favorite hotels. Let’s dive into the best things to do in Kauai!
Kauai is an island in Hawaii, it is the second most western in the Hawaiian chain and the fourth largest. The main town is Lihue, with a population of just under 10,000 people. The island is usually divided into 4 main regions- the North Shore, The East Side, the South Shore, and the West Side. Each section has a distinct character, but all are quintessential “Kauai.” What does that mean? Well…
Kauai is home to the wettest spot on Earth- and Kauai is very “nature-forward.” There’s a reason it’s known as “The Garden Island!” There are an endless number of hiking trails, beaches for surfing and snorkeling, bike trails, and pretty much any warm-weather outdoor activity you can think of.
You’ll not find lots of nightlife on Kauai- you’ll be up early to enjoy the sunrise and take full advantage of the day. You’ll not find lots of chain restaurants and shops either- Kauai is home to some of the best Hawaiian food you can find, and many of the shops offer Hawaiian-made products. For those who miss the mainland, you can find Walmart, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and even a Costco. Most of these stores are in Lihue.
Plan to slow down and enjoy the island life in Kauai- speed limits are slow and the locals are the friendliest people I’ve met.
Packing For Kauai
There are so many different things to do in Kauai that it can be hard to pack for the island. You’ll want to check what time of year you are going to see the local temperatures, but the island is generally pretty mild. You’ll find upper temperatures in the mid-80s, and the coolest nights dip only into the high 60s.
Packing for Kauai was really similar for me to packing for Costa Rica, especially if you are there during the rainy season. Things you definitely need:
- Hiking shoes that can get muddy
- Rain jacket
- Hawaii-safe sunscreen
- Bug repellent
- Nice outfits to go out at night/to a Luau
- Snorkeling equipment (available for rent on the island)
Getting Around Kauai
The very best way to get around Kauai is in a rental car. You can find many rentals that are very reasonably priced, and the roads are great.
We drove a Hyundai Elantra for our week on the island and never felt we needed a higher clearance vehicle or anything with all-wheel drive.
I did see a lot of cars that were a bit cheaper to rent, like a minivan and a Jeep, but the gas mileage was not nearly as good. Gas is much more expensive on the island, and you’ll want to keep that in mind when choosing a rental car.
Finally, speed limits are slow on the island, and most roads are only two lanes. This can lead to heavy traffic in and out of Lihue at peak commuting times. There are many places where speed limits are 25 or even 15 mph. So sit back, grab some patience, and slow down to island time.
Places To Stay In Kauai
My mom and I stayed in two different hotels on our recent trip to Hawaii, and we loved both of them. When choosing accommodations in Hawaii, it is important to think about location and amenities. We chose our hotels strategically so we had access to the whole island without having to drive more than an hour ever.
You also want to think about amenities. I highly recommend a room with a mini-fridge, and microwave if possible so that you can keep your own food and drinks on hand. We did a lot of shopping at the grocery store to save money on food and drinks and were happy to have a mini-fridge in both resorts where we stayed.
Many people choose to cook at vacation rentals in Kauai- there aren’t a lot of them that are affordable that are right on the beach, which is one of the reasons we wanted to stay at a resort. But if you go that route, you will definitely save a lot of money on food.
Kauai Beach Resort and Spa
The first place we stayed was at the Kauai Beach Resort and Spa, located just about 10 minutes east of the Lihue Airport. The location cannot be beaten as you have quick access both to Lihue and Kapaa, and the North Shore is not more than an hour away.
The resort itself is right on the beach and boasts ocean views from the majority of its rooms. There are ample pools and even a big water slide feature which is perfect for families with kids. There is a sand-bottom pool as well, which we loved.
Rooms have recently been remodeled and are bright and comfortable. The beds were divine, and we had a mini-fridge in the room. There is access to a microwave in the hotel, but not in the room.
There were several bars and restaurants on-site, and the food and drinks we had were reasonably priced and good. There was a local market and Hula show on Friday night- and the hotel gives a complimentary MaiTai to every guest 21 and over.
I would highly recommend this resort to just about anyone- the only drawback is that the beach is a bit rocky nearest to the hotel.
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa
We spent two nights at the Grand Hyatt on the western side of the island- the location gave us a chance to see the Napali Coast and the family-friendly Poipu Beach area.
The Grand Hyatt is the gold standard for Kauai hotels, with impeccable grounds, endless pools, and a gorgeous beach. The service was incredible, and the location absolutely could not be beaten.
The hotel is situated just west of the Poipu Beach area, almost on top of the famous Shipwreck Beach, popular with surfers. This means there is never a dull moment near the beach area, as you can watch surfers in the water and hikers who go up a trail to look down at the beach.
Grand Hyatt Kauai boasts multiple restaurants, seven stores, and two poolside bars. The pools include a saltwater lagoon near the beach, an adults-only pool, a lazy river, and a waterslide. If you want to feel like you are on the perfect Hawaiian Beach vacation, the Grand Hyatt is the place to book. We spent an entire afternoon poolside and had the most relaxing time.
Rooms are spacious, beds are divine, and our room had a mini-fridge. We never were able to get the coffee machine figured out, but there was a Starbucks and a local coffee shop nearby.
The only drawback to the Hyatt is that it is huge- like super big. So we had a long walk from the parking lot to the room, which was not ideal. Otherwise- it was the perfect hotel to end our trip.
Things To Do In Kauai
There are so many things to do in Kauai that it can be hard to narrow down what you want to do. This is probably why we met people on our trip who return to Kauai time after time. We did so many activities on this trip, and I’ll share everything we did with you here.
The Plantation House By Gaylords
There’s something for everyone to do at the gorgeous gardens of Plantation House by Gaylords in Lihue. The property used to be a sugar cane farm, but has since been changed to a top tourist destination on the island.
Families will love the Plantation Train that departs from the depot and includes a visit to a working farm where the kids can feed the animals.
Adults will adore the Rum Safari, where you sip local Koloa Rum and freshly made cocktails while enjoying the farm and gardens. If you can’t commit to a two-hour safari, I recommend the free rum tastings at the Koloa Rum shop. Just arrive early to sign up for the tasting- they are on the hour.
Explore Coconut Marketplace
On the outskirts of Kapaa on the eastern side of the island, you will find the adorable Coconut Marketplace. Filled with local boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, you’ll love exploring the shops here. Tuesdays bring a Farmer’s Market to the parking lot, so get in early!
Check out the events calendar as they have Hula workshops, lei-making classes, and ukelele lessons for a nominal fee. There’s a great island marketplace here with tons of local souvenirs and local delicacies at great prices. Definitely worth a stop.
Visit Opaeka’a Falls
These falls are just off the main road near Kapaa, and an easy stop for anyone heading to Lydgate Farms. Just off the road, you’ll find a parking spot to view the falls, which are 150 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Opaekaa means “rolling shrimp,” which were once abundant in the stream.
Lydgate Farms Chocolate Tour
Lydgate Farms is a real working chocolate farm located near Kapaa. Daily tours fill fast and with good reason. On the tours, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the chocolate-making process- from bean to bar.
Along the way, you’ll try local exotic fruits grown right on the farm. Since Hawaii is the only state where chocolate is grown, you’ll learn a lot about Hawaii and its climate and why the fruit trees grow so well there.
You’ll also get to sample a ton of chocolate from around the world and learn how to talk about the flavor notes in a variety of chocolates.
This tour is fascinating- but it’s pretty slow-moving and has a lot of information in one tour. I’d skip it if you have kids 12 and under.
Smith’s Family Garden Luau
By far the highlight of our trip, Smith’s Family Garden Luau is the best in the business. It’s a family-run company, and when you arrive you’ll feel like family yourself!
Located just between Lihue and Kapaa (and minutes from the Kauai Beach Resort and Spa), the Smith Family Gardens are extensive lush private gardens. On the property, they have a daily Luau that includes a full dinner buffet, an open bar, and a phenomenal Luau show.
Make sure you wear your flowers to the luau and come hungry. The extensive buffet includes tons of Hawaiian food and a huge dessert bar. Don’t forget the bug spray- you are in lush gardens and the mosquitos love to feast.
There were more people than I expected at the luau- I think over 200. The entire celebration felt intimate still, and there was not a bad seat in the house for the show. I definitely wasn’t expecting something on such a large scale, but it was even better than anything I could have expected.
Kauai Coffee Company Farm Tour
I couldn’t believe coffee is grown on Kauai- I mean, it’s a sea level! But the truth is, some great coffee is grown right on the island on a coffee farm with spectacular views of the ocean.
We took a farm tour, where you and 14 other people are in the back of a truck touring the entire Kauai Coffee Company Farm.
You’ll learn about the entire coffee-making process from bean to cup, and see a lot of different farm animals along the way. I found it fascinating that coffee can grow at sea level- but it can!
This tour is about an hour long- but might be a little long for kids under 12. There is a self-guided walking tour on the property which the kids would love. The gift shop here is excellent.
Visit Alokoko Shop
Alakoko Shop is located in the heart of Lihue, just off Rice Street. Here, you’ll find a myriad of products made on the island by Kauai artists. We loved finding coffee, and jewelry- I even got an iPad case here. It is a great stop when you are in Lihue.
Visit The Spouting Horn
The Spouting Horn is a lava tube near the ocean that spouts large sprays of water as the waves go in and out. It’s fun to see from the viewing spot just west of Poipu Beach, and it’s a completely free activity.
We loved hearing the groaning sound as the waves came in and out. The Spouting Horn is especially impressive at high tide.
Explore Poipu Beach
Poipu Beach is one of the most popular family beaches on the South Shore of the island, and with good reason. there is a protected area for swimming and lifeguards on duty.
What is super neat about this beach when we went is that the green turtles have been nesting there, and so you can go and see them resting during the day, and moving about at sunset. You must stay 10 feet away for their protection, but it’s still a really cool thing to see. Otherwise, plan to spend a day splashing in the waves at this beach.
Visit Allerton & McBryde National Tropical Gardens
Named one of National Geographic’s “50 Places of a Lifetime” the Allerton and McBryde Botanical Gardens are not to be missed. Located near Spouting Horn and Poipu Beach on the South Shore, this is a great half-day visit.
You can take a self-guided walking tour through the McBryde Gardens, or take a guided tour through the Allerton Gardens. Parts of Jurassic Park were filmed here, and the gardens are spectacular.
If you want to experience all the gardens have to offer, you’ll love the “Best of Both Worlds” tour. You take a 2.5-hour tour of all of the gardens on the property. I highly recommend this for ages 12 and over. Kids younger than that may love the self-guided walking tour through the McBryde Gardens.
Visit Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon is one of the most visited places on the island and for good reason. Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” the Waimea Canyon Lookout is the best place to view the canyon from the island. You can also see it from the water if you take a boat tour of the Na Pali Coast.
Once you arrive at the canyon lookout, you will pay $10 per car and $5 per person to walk up to see the canyon. The day we went the entire thing was covered in a cloud and we couldn’t see anything. So check the local weather before heading up.
Enjoy Lydgate Beach Park
Lydgate Beach Park is a gem for families. There are picnic area, playgrounds, and restrooms, making it a great place to spend the day. Plus, there are two enclosed ponds where children can play in the ocean and be completely safe.
As if that weren’t enough, there are lifeguards on duty throughout the park. Located about halfway between Lihue and Kapaa, this is an easily accessible beach on the southeast shore of the island.
See The Kilauea Lighthouse
On the north shore of Kauai, you will find the Kilauea Lighthouse. It represents the northernmost point of the main Hawaiian islands. It sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean and is a little white beacon. The views from the park are epic, but it’s only open Tuesday-Saturday and you need a reservation to get in. If you can make it here, it’s gorgeous.
Hike Shipwreck Beach
Located right next to the Hyatt, Shipwreck Beach is a place where locals hang out and surf or boogie board. You can also hike the bluff above the beach, and the seaside trails are gorgeous.
Explore the Na Pali Coast by Boat
I’ve saved the best for last, as one of our favorite parts of the trip was the snorkeling tour we took with Blue Dolphin Charters to see the Na Pali Coast. It’s only accessible by boat or helicopter, and it is a sight to behold.
Blue Dolphin provides a catamaran and excellent tour guides to help you explore the coast. We saw lots of fish and even a turtle while snorkeling. Then we headed to the coast, which is about an hour from the port.
This is a great tour for kids, but make sure to come prepared. The water is pretty rough heading to the coast, and many people on our boat got seasick. I highly recommend taking anti-nausea meds before boarding the boat.
Take lots and lots of sunscreen, your own towel, and a jacket- the water is a bit cold and the wind off the ocean is fierce. It’s a great tour- they even provided a picnic lunch and an open bar for the adults!
Where To Eat In Kauai
I was so surprised to find how amazing Hawaiian food actually is. There is such an eclectic mix of Asian and mainland-inspired dishes, and I found myself eating much more than I should have! Here are a few of my favorite places to eat in Kauai.
The Plantation House By Gaylord
You might say- wait a minute, isn’t the Plantation House one of your top things to do in Kauai? And the answer is yes! BUT- Happy Hour at the Plantation House is epic. They have the best Mai Tais I had on the island, the views of the gardens are divine, and the food was stellar. Make sure to hit the Happy Hour that strictly runs from 3-5 pm.
We loved Kenji Burger so much that we went twice! A Kenji Burger is sort of like a cross between Red Robin and Smash Burger- but on steroids. They offer several types of burgers, amazing fries, and a smattering of local beers and saki. The service was excellent, the prices were low and the food was phenomenal.
Bobby V’s Pizza
We were in the mood for pizza, and Bobby V’s didn’t disappoint! Located in the Coconut Market Place, they have Happy Hour all day. I especially recommend the stuffed mushroom appetizer!
Hualani’s Restaurant at Timbers Kauai
If you want to find the absolute freshest seafood on the island, Hualani’s is your place. A poolside restaurant with endless views of the bay, you’ll find yourself ordering another drink just to enjoy the views.
With impeccable service and an extensive seafood menu, Hualani’s is as popular with the locals as it is with tourists. Prices are on the higher end, but the food was too- so I’d say it’s worth it.
Kauai Island Brewing Company
Located in the tiny port town of Port Allen, you will definitely want to stop here. The beer they brew is definitely the best on the island- I had a Lilikoi Ale that was to die for.
The food is good too- the menu is mostly pub fare, but we had some Hawaiian barbecued pork that was delicious. The service was excellent and the food came out in mere minutes after we ordered.
Since this brewery is located near the port where the snorkeling and scuba tours leave for the Na Pali coast, this is a great restaurant to choose if you are just coming back from a boat trip.
Sueoka’s Snack Shop
This little window attached to the local grocery store has a huge following with locals. Located near Old Koloa Town, expect rock-bottom prices and delicious food.
I had teriyaki beef and my mom had a mahi mahi sandwich, both of which were very good. The only problem here is where to eat the food- there are no tables nearby.
This was our favorite meal of the trip- and also our last. Keoki’s Paradise is located in a strip mall near Poipu Beach, and from the outside it looks like a little hole in the wall.
Once you go inside though, the tables ring around a gorgeous pond with lush gardens. The food is stellar- we did a Chef’s Tasting Menu available only from 4-5:30 daily. We got two courses for $29 and were stuffed at the end! Don’t miss Keoki’s.
Disclosure- I was provided accommodations and activities courtesy of the Kauai Visitors Bureau in exchange for this blog post. All opinions are my own.
Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by