35 Things to Do on Kauai

In June 2015 our family of three took a luxurious trip to Kauai, Hawaii. We spent nearly two weeks exploring as much of the island as we could. These reviews are all from that trip, so they may be dated. Take that into consideration as you plan your own trip and confirm before you go. We’ve been to Hawaii (2103), Maui (2013 & 2016) and Kauai (2015). We have plans to return to the Big Island in the summer of 2018. Since our trip, in the spring of 2018, parts of Kauai were devastated by tremendous rainfall. I’ve tried to indicate any changes that I’m aware of after that storm.

North Shore East Shore South Shore West Shore

Guide

  • Maui Revealed, the book and the app – the guide is written by Andrew Doughty and he has stayed on the island long-term to experience everything so he can write about it first hand. His reviews are typically spot on and offer a lot of options to appeal to both the tourist and the people who want to travel the road less traveled. The app is $8 and the book was $18.99. The app is great and is kept up to date, it’s searchable and will even let you search by location to find things near you.
  • https://www.hawaiirevealed.com/kauai-revealed/important-updates-changes/

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North Shore

Beaches

  • Ke’e Beach – This beach is all the way at the end of the road on the north shore. Parking is limited, and people were illegally parked all over the place. We found a spot after a long wait watching the parking enforcement ticket everyone illegally parked. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the beach, but we did walk out to see what it was like. With the popularity it must be good, but we didn’t see what the fuss was all about. We did explore the large wet cave, it was kind of cool, but it’s a very long drive for just that. If you’re doing this, go early, go to the beach first and do your sightseeing on the way back down.
    NOTE: This beach access is closed because of the April 2018 flooding, check before you go.

  • Tunnels Beach – One of my favorite beaches, but it was a long walk. We spent hours and hours here though so it was worth it. Parking is limited at this one too, plan to go really early to find somewhere, and hope you have a smaller car because the road to park on doesn’t leave a lot of room for turning once it’s filled with cars.  Again, it’s worth it though because the snorkeling here was the best on this island, in my opinion. There are reef after reef teeming with fish and turtles were common too. There was a lot that was really shallow, and even more that was deep if you like that. There was even a seal on the beach sunning itself, so this was a win all around.
    NOTE: This beach access is closed because of the April 2018 flooding, check before you go.

Kilauea

Shopping:

  • Anaina hou Farmer’s Market – two farmer’s market’s a week. Great place to find fresh fruit and other typical Farmer’s market fair. Also some unique souvenir’s. Another not so random act of kindness in the park above the grounds where the farmer’s market is.

Entertainment:

  • Kauai Miniature Golf & Botanical Garden – If you’re looking for something fun to do with the kids, this is a great little mini golf course, and the best part is that the grounds are a botanical garden, so you’ll have the opportunity to see and learn about a lot of native plants. They have a snack bar for lunch too.

  • Jurassic Kahili Ranch  – Jurassic Park filming location, you’ll drive by this on your way to Kilauea or Anahola. This isn’t open to the public, but just driving by is enough to give you a sense of being on set in one of the Jurassic films, and you’re certain that if you look close enough you’ll see a herd of dinosaurs off in the distance.
  • Moloa’a Beach

Princeville

  • You’ll find a little shopping complex with a variety of restaurants, souvenir shops, and a general store. Other than the ice cream (see below) there was nothing stand out here, but it was a nice place to visit and if you’re hungry, you’ll find something that should fit the bill.

Dining:

  • Lappert’s Hawaii Ice Cream & Coffee – They also have a shop in Po’ipu but we were closer to Princeville so we came here many times. Best ice cream on the Garden Isle. Hawaii does ice cream well, each island seems to have a different place that takes home the honor of being the best. The waffle cones here are fresh and the best we have ever found. The ice cream flavors have a tropical island flair, from Nene Tracks to Coconut Macademia Nut Fudge to traditional favorites like mint chip or peanut butter cup or Oreo crunch. It’s all good and you’ll want to visit here often.

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Hanalei

Shopping:

  • There are no standout shops, but you will find a variety of shops sprinkled throughout Hanalei.

Dining:

  • Kalypso Island Bar & Grill – we ate here a few times, Mai Tai’s are good here, and the food was tasty and fresh. Great for happy hour vibe.
  • Trucking Delicious – Grilled Cheese Food Truck, so many choices, so little time. We all got something different and they were all great, can’t imagine you could get something bad on this truck.
  • Neide’s  Salsa and Samba (Mexican) – this place is tucked back behind the main store front and has a surprisingly great view of the dozen or so waterfalls coming off the hills above Hanalei; a little bit quieter than the main strip, good for unwinding after a long day in the sun.
    • Edit: Restaurant is closed, but the location was fantastic so if you’re in Hanalei, scope out the area and see what’s taken it’s place. 5-5161 Kuhio Hwy, Ste 105, Hanalei, HI 96714, if you see the restaurant Bar Acuda, you know you’re in the right place.

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Entertainment:

  • Hanalei Valley Lookout – this is nothing more than a turn out, and not even a very safe one, but the view is worth it. Leave Princeville heading towards Hanalei and you can’t miss it. Take the corner slow even if you don’t plan to stop. The valley below is gorgeous, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a double rainbow like we did. All over Kauai you will find random signs of peace and love, random acts of kindness if you will. One of my favorite’s was in the turnout here. “Be your own medicine” is the message, and I think it’s a fantastic philosophy. One that is incredibly easy to practice while you’re on vacation in the Garden Isle.

  • KayakHanalei.com – We explored Hanalei River for several hours from kayaks one beautiful morning. Kayak Hanalei was fabulous, we didn’t need reservations and were able to just pull in, rent three kayaks and gear and get dropped in the water within thirty minutes. The river was calm and easy to maneuver, which is my preferred kind of kayak trip. We saw several other people out on our trip and went as far as we could go up river before stopping for a snack/picnic and heading back. We saw all kinds of birds, one of us saw a turtle, though we all heard their splashes, and we looked all over for Nene’s but we never saw them from the kayak’s. We’d definitely do this again.
    • Edit: with the limited parking at Hanalei Bay after the April 2018 storms, it might be worth parking here and renting kayaks to take down river to the bay to explore that way instead.

  • Hanalei Bay –  We came to Hanalei Bay numerous times. It’s the place to be for sunset photos, don’t be surprised to find brides and grooms in their finest with a photographer finding just the right spot. You can rent stand up paddle boards and kayaks just up the river (it’s walking distance, or you can drive up). The bay is protected so the waves were smaller and good for beginner’s, lots of wading and great swimming for kids. If you like to jump, the pier is open, and the local kids have made an art of jumping off the pier to the water below. It was great to spend an afternoon playing here and then finish with dinner up in town.
    • Edit: The bay area and access was badly damaged in the rainstorm of April, 2018. Parking is very limited now, but the beach and pier are open. Check before you go.

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East Shore

King Kong

  • This is just a fun landmark, you can’t miss it coming from Kapa’a towards the North. This angle doesn’t quite show it but as you drive around you’ll see the familiar silhouette of King Kong. It’ll let you know you’re getting close as you travel to your different activities.

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Kapa’a

Dining:

  • Mermaids Cafe – Healthy options that are tasty and still feel like you’re on vacation. They have vegan and vegetarian options available too, so that’s a bonus if you have special dietary needs. It’s essentially a street cafe, just a couple tables and a walk up window, but it’s worth a visit. On our visit this lovely rooster served as our host.

  • The Green Pig – This is a food truck in a field across the street from Kealia Beach, just north of Kapa’a. They have picnic tables and shade, and when we were there, several kittens and chickens were running around and kept us entertained. The food was served on real plates with real silverware. The menu is largely about pork, but they do have a grilled cheese, a veggie wrap,  burgers, chicken and even mac ‘n cheese. There’s not much else around, but if you’re going to the beach, it’s convenient and was very good. They’re closed Monday though so plan accordingly.

Entertainment:

  • Kealia Beach – This beach is north of Kapa’a. This is a nice long sandy beach. There were a lot of kids with their boogie boards on this beach. You can rent bicycles and ride along a bike path on this one too. I enjoyed just watching the surf here. For some reason, the waves come in from the sides and meet in the middle, shooting up like a fountain when they meet in the middle.

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Lihu’e

Entertainment:

  • Kalapaki Beach / Nawiliwili Bay – Great sandy beach, with easy access. There’s a nearby shopping complex with restaurants and shopping, as well as rentals. You can enjoy your time on the beach and finish with dinner here or in any of a few areas around here, the choices are endless. There’s a park with additional parking and shade trees. The convenience and ease of access to this beach make it a great choice. We rented from Ali’i Kayaks

Dining:

  • Duke’s Barefoot Bar – We discovered Duke’s on our last night in town. It was bittersweet for us, we couldn’t have asked for a better sendoff but we sure wish we had tried it earlier, the interior was beautiful, with a water feature adding the perfect island feel. The cocktails were amazing and dinner was fantastic. Make sure to visit this spot. They also have a dining room, it’s probably just as great, but the atmosphere in the bar was what we needed to end our stay.

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Wailua

Entertainment:

  • Keahua Arboretum – The rainbow eucalyptus are a site to see and worth the drive out to Keahua Arboretum. This is in the interior of the island and was a good place for a picnic. If it’s raining you may want to pass on this one, there’s a stream that crosses the road and it rises quickly if there’s water. You can park on either side of the stream, so if you go and it starts to rain, park on the side before you cross it to give yourself an out. There’s a lot of trails to hike and explore and the trees alone make the trip worth it.

  • Lydgate Beach Park – Hands down best fish experience on the island. We had someone tell us to feed the fish and so we followed their instructions and it gave us a great experience. Watch your fingers if you do this, those little lips are hiding some serious biting power. We got to swim with schools of these parrot fish, the curious puffer fish and even had a couple young barracuda swim with us. It was so much fun to interact with the fish and we spent hours here early one morning when it was still quiet. Definitely recommend if the pool is cleaned up.


NOTE: Recent reviews indicate that the beach is littered with driftwood and debris and that the man-made pools are also full of debris and that it’s no longer good for snorkeling. It sounds like they’ve started cleaning up, so it might be worth checking it out, especially since it’s easy to get to.

  • Wailua Falls/Wailua Heritage Trail – You have a couple options here, you can just drive up to the parking area and view the falls and look out over the river, or you can drive down to the Wailua River State Park and there you can find a place to rent a a kayak or paddle board to play in the river, or take a tour up to the Fern Grotto. We didn’t do this, we didn’t know about it and didn’t plan accordingly, but this looked like a lot of fun and we made a mental note to make this when we return.

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South Shore

Koloa

Entertainment:

  • Koloa Rum Tasting – This has a great little gift shop and the distillery which has a tasting room. They cater to tourists so they have lots of shipping options to get the rum home. The tasting’s are done every 30 minutes, sign up for a time, explore the grounds and the shop and it should be time for your tasting. The tasting room has a different menu every day, so check ahead if you have a preference and want to try something specific. The tour was informative and the rum was delicious, don’t miss this!
  • Kauai Plantation Railway – after the rum tasting, you can visit the railway for a tour and give yourself some time before getting back on the road. Plan ahead for this, the tours are only offered hourly from 10am – 2pm. You’ll get a nice tour of different fruit orchards and have the opportunity to feed pigs, donkeys and more. It’s a great low-key activity, affordable and great for families. There’s a restaurant, Gaylords, that I would consider fine dining and some lovely shops to explore while you’re here.

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Kalaheo

  • Kalaheo Music – We have a habit of buying an ukulele as our souvenir from each island trip.  My favorite trip to a music store on all the islands came when we visited this store. We met old style Kauai, where you welcome before anything. Our host Ron made us feel like Ohana and spent time with us to talk story before helping my husband find the perfect ukulele. Mahalo Kalaheo Music!

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Po’ipu

Dining:

  • Puka Dog – Many people told us we had to try this. It’s kind of like shaved ice, it’s an island staple and you have to try it at least once. What is a Puka dog? It’s a Hawaiian-style hot dog. The bun is a hollowed out roll, there are special sauces, tropical relishes and even a special mustard. This is probably great for kids and a fun easy option for a quick bite.
  • Papalani Gelato – another great ice cream shop with great local flair in the flavors. They have coffee, gelato, shakes, chocolate, and more. Worth a stop for a special treat!
  • Kalapaki Joe’s – We visited Kalapaki Joe’s in mid-afternoon when it was quiet and we sat on the outside patio with one other group. This is a sports bar, and looks like it could even have a dance floor if they cleared some tables. But when we were there, the grand, sweeping porches are incredibly inviting as the image below shares. There’s no rush or hurry here, and you can just relax and enjoy yourself, for as long as you want. When you get settled into Island time, you get used to that, but it’s quite a shift from our normal pace at home. The food is island style sports bar fare, pulled pork, shrimp tacos, salads, burgers and more. They’ve quite the variety so you can probably please anyone with something on their menu.

Entertaiment:

  • Eucalyptus Tree Tunnel – this is part of the drive to Po’ipu, there’s a story about the trees, and it’s fun to drive through the dark tunnel on your way.

  • Glass Beach, Melted Metal & Keyhole Cave at Swiss Cheese Shoreline – this is for sight seeing, not for swimming, lounging or snorkeling. That being said, it’s worth the trip. The beach is made of glass that has been ground and softened into smooth small sand and pebbles. The colors are beautiful and you can get some fun photographs. There is also melted, rusted metal on one end of the beach that is fun to explore. Past that you’ll find the blowhole, if the waves are running.

  • Kiahuna Beach – We walked around and explore the beaches in Po’ipu but we didn’t spend a lot of time here. This looked like it might be good for surfing and they had rentals available right on the beach.

  • Po’ipu Park Beach – next door to Kiahuna Beach, this has some tide pools to explore and both sand and rocks to walk on. Reports show this was voted as the #1 beach in America. This is more for sports activities it felt like, but they say the snorkeling is good too.

  • Shipwrecks Beach – this is best for beachcombing and catching the sunset. It’s notable because 6 Days and 7 Nights had a scene filmed here. It’s not great for beginning swimmers, but it’s beautiful so if you’re just wanting to wade or beach comb, this is a good place.

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West Shore

Waimea

Entertainment:

  • Polihale Dunes – we visited this beach just to see the dunes, and they did not disappoint. This isn’t a very inviting road or beach, but they say the sunset here is amazing. I can’t imagine making the drive out in dark though. There are no lifeguards and limited facilities. It was a fun, bumpy, off-road drive out and if you like exploring, it’s a good treasure at the end of the hunt.

  • Waimea Canyon – We had to make this trip twice, the first one it was raining and there was zero visibility in the canyon. Going back the second time was absolutely worth the long drive. There are hike’s here if you plan ahead for it. The views are breathtaking and easy to get to with short walks from parking areas and facilities. Don’t miss this, but definitely check the weather before you go.

  • Waimea Swinging Bridge – off the beaten path is a swinging bridge that was rebuilt after the hurricane in 1992. The Waimea river runs red and is beautiful against all the lush, green plant life. We were lucky enough to find a horse grazing along the river bank.

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