For an island with a population of only 66,000, ‘The Garden Isle’ has made its way into the hearts of millions of travelers throughout the world. With rugged mountains, deep canyons, towering waterfalls, and over 50 miles of white sand beaches, it’s no wonder that Kauai is often touted as one of the most beautiful places in the world.
When visiting Kauai, there a number of attractions to choose from depending on your interests, length of stay, and vacation goals. Everyone knows you should do a Kauai luau, but what about attractions and lesser-known things to do? Below we have listed the best activities and points of interest for those visiting the island, and we hope you have the opportunity to explore all of them on your next trip!
Top 10 Things to Do on Kauai
#1 Explore Waimea Canyon
Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain, Waimea Canyon is over 10 miles long and 3,600 feet deep. Created thousands of years ago by runoff from nearby Mt Waialeale, the wettest spot on earth, Waimea Canyon includes scenic and brightly-colored gorges, buttes, and crags. Pull over at one of the many overlooks along Waimea Canyon Drive or follow a trail hike from Kokee State Park to get an even better look inside the canyon itself. Visit the park’s Natural History Museum for more information about trails, flora, fauna, and maps.
#2 Take an Aerial Tour of the Na Pali Coast
The Na Pali Coastline is one of the most picturesque places in the state of Hawaii and a ca n’t-miss for those visiting Kauai. With jagged cliffs and interesting topography that can only be appreciated in person, we recommend a helicopter tour of Kauai’s most scenic locations. While many ambitious travelers choose to explore this famous coastline via an 11-mile, one-way hike along Kalalau Trail, viewing it from above is a perspective unlike any other.
Since 70% of Kauai is inaccessible by foot, this a great way to see the Na Pali Coast and several of Kauai’s most popular locations, including Hanapepe Valley, Mana Waiapuna (also known as Jurassic Park Falls), Olokele Canyon, Waimea Canyon, Bali Hai Cliffs, Hanalei Bay, Princeville Resort area, and if the weather permits, Mt Waialeale.
#3 Experience a Wailua River Cruise
The longest and only navigable river in Hawaii, the Wailua River is enjoyed best on a boat or kayak. Smith’s is a family business that’s been giving tours of Wailua River since 1946, and their daily riverboat tours are a lovely way to see the beauty of the island while learning about Hawaiian culture. Guests will enjoy a 2 mile upriver boat ride with ancient Hawaiian songs, hula lessons, and stories before landing at the Fern Grotto for a short walk through the rainforest. With ticket prices less than $20, this tour is one of the best and most enjoyable bargains on Kauai.
#4 Visit Kalapaki Beach
Located on Kauai’s south shore near Lihue Airport, Kalapaki Beach is a popular hangout for several reasons – close proximity to many delicious island eats, water sports like surfing, paddle boarding, bodyboarding, kayaking, sailing, canoeing, and more, not to mention the white sand, turquoise water, and gorgeous scenery. Grab a picnic lunch and enjoy a beautiful beach day on one of Kauai’s most family-friendly beaches.
#5 Tour Limahuli Garden & Preserve
Named the ‘Best Natural Botanical Garden in the United States’ by the American Horticultural Society, Limahuli Garden and Preserve is the perfect place to learn more about Kauai while enjoying views of mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Featuring native plant species as well as those that continue to be an important part of Hawaiian culture, the garden offers self-guided or guided group tours 5 days per week. Spend some time exploring the garden, lava rock terraces, and Limahuli Stream, and make sure to bring a camera to capture some truly amazing tropical scenery.
#6 Tour Kilohana Plantation
Kilohana Plantation is the only place in Hawaii to “ride a train, hike through a rainforest, taste locally made spirits, shop, dine, or enjoy a day spa,” all in one place. Meaning “not to be surpassed,” Kilohana has grown from 36 acres to 104 acres since its opening in 1986 and features more than enough activities to keep you entertained throughout the day.
Taste test Kauai’s own Koloa Rum after enjoying a delicious brunch buffet at the onsite Gaylord’s Restaurant, or enjoy pupus and live music at Mahiko Lounge after experiencing the Plantation Railway property train tour, or even make a night out of it and enjoy the fiery Luau Kalamaku.
#7 Go Tubing
While snorkeling, swimming, and surfing may be on everyone’s list of water sports to try in Kauai, we recommend an alternative – tubing through a former sugarcane irrigation system. Kauai Backcountry Adventures is the only eco-company on Kauai with access to 17,000 acres of the former Lihue Plantation fields, offering four daily tours through the stunning surrounding landscape. This family-friendly activity, open for ages 5 and over, is a great way to see the island and enjoy a different kind of water activity in paradise.
#8 Snorkel or Scuba Dive at Tunnels Beach
This popular north shore beach, also known as Makua Beach, is known for its beauty and unique reef structure. The inner reef is shallow and perfect for beginner and intermediate snorkelers while the outer reef is popular among scuba divers and advanced snorkelers. While conditions at this beach are best during summer and fall months, the picture-perfect palm and ironwood trees backed by mountainous terrain make it worth a trip any day of the year.
#9 See Wailua Falls
Helicopters and difficult hikes aren’t the only way to see gorgeous waterfalls in Kauai. Enter Wailua Falls, a double-tiered, 85-foot waterfall only a short drive north of Lihue Airport. While hiking down to this waterfall is advised against by the county, you can enjoy a great view of it from the lookout above. If visiting during a time of particularly heavy rainfall, Wailua has been known to combine into one giant waterfall and even create a third tier.
#10 Watch the Sunset at Hanalei Bay
A 2-mile crescent-shaped bay on Kauai’s north shore, Hanalei Bay is the perfect place to enjoy a day of fun in the sun and magical Hawaii sunset. This cozy surfer town is home to some serious swell during winter months, and is a great place to people-watch, surf, explore historic landmarks, browse art galleries, watch a ukelele concert and enjoy a stunning sunset from Hanalei Pier, originally built in 1892 and now one of the most popular hangouts on Kauai.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the Top 10 Things to Do on Kauai, and mahalo for reading! Let us know what we missed in the comments below.