Kauai is the oldest of the chain of the main Hawaiian Islands at 5.1 million years; you could call it the Granddaddy of Hawaii. It also happens to be the filming island of choice for famous Hollywood Blockbusters such as Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, King Kong, The Descendants, Tropic Thunder and hundreds more. Located just a 30-minute plane ride Northwest from Oahu, Kauai is the perfect weekend getaway when you live on the islands. Whether you’ve visited Kauai numerous times, or are planning your first trip, this post will help you get the most out of your trip to the Garden Isle. Also be sure to check out my Kauai Food Guide. and Kauai Hiking Trails.
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Regardless of the amount of time you have on Kauai, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches to be discovered, activities to be enjoyed and food to be eaten. Here are 32 awesome fun-packed things to do on Kauai, including free things to do and paid activities, broken out by region of the island from North to South:
Hanalei / Princeville / Kilauea
– Swim in the Tidepools at Queen’s Bath
– Snorkel at Hideaways Beach
– Visit Ke’e Beach in Ha’ena State Park
– Hike the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls
– Tour Haraguchi Rice Mill
– Go Birding at Kilauea Lighthouse & Wildlife Refuge
– Take a Photo of Wai’oli Huiia Church
– Drive to Hanalei
– Kayak Hanalei River
– Sunset at Hanalei Bay Pier
Kapa’a / Wailua
– First Saturday in Old Kapa’a Town (first Saturday of each month)
– Take a Chocolate Farm Tour at Steelgrass Chocolate (Lydgate Farms)
– Visit Wailua Falls
– Meditate at Kauai Hindu Monastery
– Take a Movie Sites Tour
– Go Ziplining & Kayaking
– Take a Helicopter Ride
– ATV Waterfall & Movie Sites Adventure
– Go Tubing with Kauai Backcountry Adventures
– Bike Down Waimea Canyon with Outfitters Kauai
– Take a Shelter Dog for a Field Trip at the Kauai Humane Society
Koloa / Poipu
– Rum Tasting at Koloa Rum Factory
– Luau Kalamaku
– Drive Through Maluhia Road Tree Tunnel
– Walk the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
– Visit Shipwreck Beach
Hanapepe / Ele’ele
– Hanapepe Artwalks (Friday nights)
– Visit Historic Hanapepe Town and Swing Bridge
– Take a Boat Cruise Along the Na Pali Coast
– Visit Waimea Canyon
– Visit and Hike Around Koke’e State Park & Lookout
Hanalei / Princeville / Kilauea
1) Swim in the Tide Pools at Queen’s Bath
Located on the grounds of the Princeville Resort, Queen’s Bath is a beautiful collection of tide pools, accessible only when the ocean is calm. It’s an easy (but muddy and slippery) 10-minute walk from the parking lot to the ocean over a few small waterfalls to get to the rock area where you can access the pools. There are only 15 parking spots, and during busy season, cars line up waiting for people to leave, which can take upwards of 30 minutes, so I recommend taking an Uber or walking if you can.
This area has some of the highest occurrences of drownings on the island each year so please use caution and enter at your own risk. If the swell is high or there is heavy rain, do not get in. The tide is strong here and can pull you out very quickly.
2) Snorkel at Hideaways Beach
Get here early or take an Uber as there are only 10 parking spots inside Princeville Resort. This beach is good for snorkeling on a clear day, but during winter the swells are usually too rough to get in.
3) Visit Ke’e Beach in Ha’ena State Park
This is one of the most photographed places on Kauai, as the waves create almost animal-like creatures when they crash along the shores. This is also one of the best places to watch the sunset.
4) Hike the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls
For a nice day hike, you can hike two miles into Hanakapi’ai Beach, then another two miles to Hanakapi’ai Falls, making this a total of approximately 8 miles round trip. If you prefer a shorter hike, you can go as far as you’d like and then turn around.
Please note that permits are required to access the State park, which is where the Kalalau trail head begins (this is also where Ke’e Beach is located). You can visit www.gohaena.com to see if any parking/park entry permits are available (permits can book out several weeks in advance). If there are none available, you can also take a shuttle bus from the satellite parking area, which includes the park permit. You can find all the information on their website.
5) Tour Haraguchi Rice Mill
Learn about Kauai’s agriculture and cultural history on a tour of one of the largest taro fields in the U.S. in Hanalei, kept alive by 6 generations of farmers who share their love of their land. Tours are offered on Wednesdays from 9:45 AM – 12:45 PM.
6) Go Birding at Kilauea Lighthouse & Wildlife Refuge
There is an admission fee if you’d like to enter the path to the lighthouse, or you can just stop at the parking lot to take photos. This is an excellent spot to bring your binoculars to bird watch.
7) Take a photo of the beautiful Wai’oli Huiia Church in Hanalei
Its picturesque mountain backdrop blends in with the beautiful shades of green all around.
8) Drive to Hanalei
The drive going South to North into Hanalei is one of my favorite parts of Kauai.
Be sure to make a stop at the taro fields and be on the lookout for the Nene Goose, Hawaii’s State bird.
9) Kayak Down the Hanalei River & Hanalei Bay
10) Relax or go for a Surf at Hanalei Bay
This beach is huge with a long stretch of soft white sand. There are mangroves where the river meets the bay that are fun to explore, and when the tide is low, it forms a natural sandbar. You’ll also find lots of driftwood; perfect for making wooden structures and doing yoga poses on.
11) Watch the Sunset from Hanalei Bay Pier
This area was badly damaged by the flooding in April of 2018, and some homes are still partially sunken into the ground. It’s unclear when this area will be repaired and re-opened, but the pier and Hanalei Bay are still accessible from a residential area where you can park and walk about a quarter of a mile to the beach.
Kapa’a / Wailua
12) Visit First Saturday in Old Kapa’a Town
If your trip happens to fall on the first Saturday of the month, be sure to hit the music and street food scene down South in Kapa’a Town. If you fancy live music and food trucks, this night-time event is the place for you!
13) Take a Chocolate Farm Tour
Tours are conducted on a working cacao farm and will leave you with a nice high from indulging in over 10 different types of chocolate samples! Learn how the cacao pods grow and the production process from seed to bar with interesting facts on Kauai’s agriculture along the way.
14) Visit Wailua Falls
This is the easiest waterfall to access on Kauai because you literally drive right up to the car park, get out, walk a few meters and your’e there at the lookout point. You can also walk down to the falls for a closer look.
15) Meditate at Kauai Hindu Monastery
This is a beautiful hidden gem in the area of Kapa’a that is only open from 9AM – 12 noon to the public. Please be respectful when walking the grounds as people are meditating and practicing their religion.
16) Take a Movie Sites Tour
Are you a movie buff? Do you not have a rental car while on Kauai? Or do you simply want to see some of the island’s most famous and beautiful sites and attractions? If so, this tour is for you. Tour duration is approximately 8 hours with several stops at the filming locations.
17) Go Ziplining and Kayaking
Whether you’re looking for full-fledged adrenaline on the longest zipline in the state of Hawaii (just under 3/4 of a mile and more than one minute of fly time “Superman style” belly down, head first) or you prefer a mellow kayak down a calm river, you can do either or both! Check out local flora and fauna on your way up to your ziplining location.
If you’re on the full-day Safari tour, this is where you’ll eat lunch:
You can also participate in the water zip into their bamboo pool!
18) Take a Helicopter Ride
This is the #1 activity to do on Kauai, and probably one of the most beautiful places in the world you can do it! There are several options; doors on, doors off, or an exclusive landing in Manawaiopuna Waterfall. Standing at 122 meters (365′) tall, this waterfall was made famous in the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Jurassic Park.
*FUN FACT* – Mount Wai’ale’ale receives 450 – 600 inches of rain a year and is one of the wettest spots on Earth.
19) ATV Waterfall & Movie Sites Adventure
This is one of my favorite activities on Kauai! The ATV (all terrain vehicle) seat four people (but you can go solo or with two or three; they won’t put you with strangers), and this four-hour waterfall tour is both fun and interesting as you get to learn about the history, culture and all the movies that were filmed on Kauai!
FUN FACT: Did you know that bamboo can grow over six inches per day?!
This tour includes swinging on the very same rope swing that Harrison Ford used during his escape in “South America” in the first Indian Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And you’d better believe I reenacted it! At the very end, it culminates with swimming (optional) in a waterfall!! If you walk away from this tour not covered in mud, you’ve done something wrong. 😉
20) Go Tubing Down the Old Sugar Cane Flumes with Kauai Backcountry Adventures
When Hawaii became a state in 1959, they had to join the union and pay a minimum wage. They couldn’t afford to pay the workers at the sugar cane mill and still make a profit (the average daily wage was around 12 cents), so they converted most of the sugar cane fields into cattle ranches or burned them down completely.
This portion of the sugar cane flume ditch carried water to irrigate the crops and has now been turned into a fun tourist attraction. It’s basically the equivalent of a lazy river, only in nature and with fresh mountain water! Kauai Backcountry Adventures provides the tubes, gloves, helmets and headlamps, and you just have to show up in your water shoes and swimmers! The water is quite brisk, especially in the morning, so a long sleeved rash guard top is recommended. You’ll be tubing through man-made caves sparkling with what looks like gold on the rocks. You’ll also tube through pitch black tunnels (you turn your headlamps on, but the very last one they have you tube through without any light!) During busy summer season (May – September), this activity books up over two months in advance, so make reservations early.
21) Bike Downhill from Waimea Canyon at Sunset with Outfitters Kauai
This photo was from a trip in 2012 I took with my girlfriends. You check in at Outfitters Kauai shop in Koloa, and they will drive you about 3/4 of the way up Waimea Canyon, outfit you with your cruiser bikes and helmets, and off you go cruising downhill the whole time! This is a safe ride, as the van follows the group the entire time and every now and then you have to pull over to allow other cars to pass.
22) Take a Shelter Dog on a Field Trip For the Day at Kauai Humane Society
Are you missing your pets back home, or just want some cuddle or adventure time with a furry fluff? Visit the Kauai Humane Society and you can be a pet owner for a day! There is no cost, but they do ask for a minimum of $25 donation to support the shelter. Here’s more information on how you can take a dog on a field trip for a day.
Koloa / Poipu
23) Get a Buzz at Koloa Rum Factory on a Free Rum Tasting Tour
Tours are held every half an hour inside the tasting room (this is a standing tasting). You’ll need to sign up in their shop when you arrive. Groups are limited to 16 people max, and the first tour begins at 10:30 AM. You must show your ID to prove that you are over 21 years of age. This tasting is free, but the bartender appreciates tips. 🙂
24) Attend Luau Kalamaku
This is my favorite luau on the island of Kauai, and is appropriate for people of all ages as well as families with kids. I highly recommend taking the train ride through their plantation, where you get to feed baby pigs and goats and learn about all the fruit that grows on their orchards!
Luau Kalamaku only runs on Tuesdays and Fridays, and Mondays are added during summer season.
25) Drive Through Maluhia Road Tree Tunnel
This road is lined with overhanging greenery, forming a tunnel of trees. Don’t go out of your way to see this, as it’s only a short two-minute drive and nothing spectacular, but if you’re headed to Koloa from Lihue, it’s a nice visual bonus.
26) Walk the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
This trail is approximately four miles long and begins from Shipwreck Beach. For more information on the trail, check out my Kauai Hiking Trails post.
27) Visit Shipwreck Beach
Located on the grounds of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, this beach is great for swimming, body boarding, boogie boarding or watching the sunset. We even saw a group of manta rays, which we thought were sharks at first glance because all we saw were fins in the water! Apparently this is a popular sunset spot for them!
Hanapepe / Ele’ele
28) Visit Hanapepe Artwalks (6 – 9 PM every Friday night)
Hanapepe is Kauai’s “biggest little town” about three blocks long, but comes to life on a Friday night when all the art galleries stay open late (9:00 PM is late on Kauai), and food trucks line the street with hungry passerby.
Be sure to try Porky’s – hot dogs with a twist. With hundreds of five-star reviews on Yelp, we had to give it a go! The queue went pretty quickly, and boy oh boy was it worth it! (Sorry I don’t have a photo; it was too dark.)
29) Visit Historic Hanapepe Town and Walk Across the Swinging Bridge
The only thing on the other side of the bridge is an art gallery owned by a sweet older couple (who are also the photographers of the art they sell). Most visitors just cross the bridge and come back.
This tiny three-block town inspired the story plot of the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. Hanapepe has that true small town original Kauai vibe where everybody knows everybody’s name, and the town is run by little mom and pop shops.
*FUN FACT* – The characters from the movie Lilo and Stitch were actually based on real life people from the town of Hanapepe.
A note about Ele’ele Glass Sand Beach: this is the industrial area in Port Allen, and the place where cars, bottles and other glass go to die. After years of being smashed up and spit out, the area turned into a glass sand beach. However, over the years, people have greedily taken parts of it home, leaving nearly zero trace of what was once a beautiful beach with multi-colored rounded glass dotting the sand like glistening mermaid scales. The last time I was on Kauai was 2016 and there was still some brown and green glass left over. Sadly when we went in 2019 there was nearly no glass at all, and the beach had an empty ghost-like feeling. Please do not take from the land. 🙁
30) Take a Boat Cruise Along the Na Pali Coast
There are only four ways to see the famed rugged Na Pali Coast: hike (22 miles round trip overnight backpacking), kayak (can be a rough paddle), helicopter, and by boat (includes snorkeling for morning sails, or you can take a sunset sail in the afternoon, which includes dinner). Most boat tours depart from Port Allen in the town of Ele’ele and depart early because the sea is calmest in the morning and the sea life (turtles, dolphins, manta rays, eagle rays, etc. are also more active in the mornings.)
Visiting Oahu? Be sure to read my posts on A Local’s Ultimate Oahu Foodie Guide and Things to Do on Oahu’s North Shore next.
31) Visit Waimea Canyon & The Red Dirt Waterfall
Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Waimea Canyon is a must on your things to do on Kauai list. On the drive up to the Canyon, there’s a pull-off on the side of the road with the reddest clay-like dirt you’ve ever seen. This area has soil that is high in iron, and there’s a cute little waterfall that you can hike around and explore.
For a moment we thought we were in a national park in Utah!
Once you reach the top, the views are breathtaking. During winter season, bring a jacket as you’ll reach nearly 4,000′ (1,200 meters) so it can get chilly.
There’s a little stand at the parking lot selling fresh and dried fruits and other home-baked goods, which are perfect for bringing along on day hikes! Other than this, there are no concessions, so you’ll want to pack food and water for the day.
There are several short hikes around the area to check out different views of the canyon. Locals joke that Kauai’s state bird is the helicopter. Literally every 10 seconds a helicopter will fly overhead no matter where on the island you are.
32) Check out Koke’e State Park and Lookout
This is where you’ll find that picture-perfect, most Instagrammed spot on Kauai.
A Note About Roosters
Ahh, yes, the famous Kauai roosters. There are more roosters than humans on Kauai. (This is not a known fact, but that’s how it feels; kind of like sheep in New Zealand.) Roosters are somewhat famous on Kauai; they’re printed across t-shirts, tourists love snapping photos of their beautiful feathers (they know they’re pretty, too), and they’re even the island’s form of security! 😉
Stay on Kauai long enough and you will grow so used to hearing the sound of roosters all day and night that when you return to wherever home is, you’ll feel somehow empty without it, and find yourself angry that you’re now being woken up by an alarm clock instead of an obnoxious “cock-a-doodle-dooooo!!!”
I hope this Kauai blog post helped you in planning your trip! Please feel free to reach out if you have any general questions about traveling in Kauai or any other Hawaiian Islands!
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Kauai Hiking Trails - Cultural FoodiesJanuary 15, 2020 at 5:34 am
[…] Kauai is home to some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain, from the Grand Canyon of the Pacific (Waimea Canyons) to the lush tropical Kalalau Trail up North along the Na Pali Coast with many a stunning view to be seen in between. If you’re planning a trip and looking for the best hikes on Kauai, In this post I will detail 6 great hikes day hikes that are suitable for all levels of hiking. If you’ll be visiting Kauai, be sure to check out my Kauai Food Guide as well as my Ultimate Kauai Guide: Top 32 Things to Do. […]
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