The sun is shining. The waves are crashing. And the cares of the world are far behind you. You are lying on a beach in Hawaii. So why would you want to find things to do in Kauai when paradise is right in front of you?
I like a beautiful beach as much as the next person. However, even on a beach vacation I want to explore and find other things to do. I do have some travel confessions to make – the beach isn’t one of my favorite spots. However, beach vacations in places like Kauai are an exception.
Maybe you are like me and want to get the sand out of your shoes (and other places), enjoy the outdoors, eat some Hawaiian food or seafood, and have some fun on land as well.
Maybe you prefer to spend every day on the beach, working on your tan, and cooling off in the turquoise blue waters as waves massage away your worries. A good book, your favorite beverage, and the Aloha spirit are your best companions as the warm sand tickles your toes.
Just in case you decide to leave paradise behind, here are a few things to do in Kauai that will satisfy your appetite, renew your sense of adventure, and give you a greater appreciation of its all around beauty.
When life’s not a beach – fun things to do in Kauai
While the island of Kauai isn’t very big, you will need some transportation to help you get around and explore. Once you’ve done that, your best mode of transportation will be your own two hands and feet.
Warning: These activities may create a greater desire for adventure and alter your plans for a beach vacation. Please note the potential risk associated with these activities – fewer days on the beach.
Kayaking the Wailua River
Even for a beginner, kayaking the Wailua River is easy and relaxing. The sources of water for the river are two waterfalls and Mount Waialeale – the wettest spot on earth (over 400 inches of rain a year!).
The easiest access point is on the east side of the island near Kapa’a. This is Wailua State Park. This is the only navigable river in Hawaii. You will be so relaxed and in love with your surroundings you will be floating in your own version of “It’s a small world” (with lots of paddling and without the Disney characters) .
For the more adventurous, you can kayak to the Fern Grotto. For the more leisurely route, enjoy the river on a boat tour.
Either way, the Wailua River is a nice way to explore the heart of Kauai.
If you would rather go to the source of the river itself, Wailua Falls is a spectacular waterfall in Kauai that offers a torrent of gushing water which drops over the ridge and down into the river.
Just a few minutes from Lihue, you can enjoy your own piece of Fantasy Island (the waterfalls were featured in the TV show) which is easily visible from the road. From Lihue, take Maalo Road in Hanamaulu for three miles. Park the car, fight the crowds, and enjoy paradise (and maybe even a rainbow).
And if you enjoy Wailua Falls, Opaeka’a Falls isn’t too far away.
Hiking the Na Pali coast
You can’t have a list of things to do in Kauai without featuring the Na Pali coast. Whether you hike it, take a helicopter tour, or take a boat, the majestic cliffs of Na Pali tower over the coastline like giants stepping out of a forest.
Or if you’ve seen Jurassic Park, they’re like large scary dinosaurs that eat people. OK so the mountains on the Na Pali coast don’t eat anyone but will you be swallowed up by their beauty.
Hiking the Na Pali coast isn’t easy. The trails are listed as a strenuous hike. The trail head begins at Ke’e Beach in the northern part of the island and continues for 11 miles to Kalalau Beach.
There is a 2 mile hike to Hanakapiai Beach and another 2 miles to Hanakapiai Falls. For those who love to hike, this would be a great way to see the rugged coastline, jaw dropping views, and some waterfalls. Just be careful and give yourself plenty of time for the hike.
For those that aren’t up for a strenuous hike, just hiking a little ways down the trail can lead you to some spectacular views. So do a quick hike, enjoy the views, and then see the coast by sea or air.
Advice: Hiking beyond Hanakapiai Falls requires a permit. Guided hiking tours and camping are available. The 11 mile hike can’t be done in a day and would require an overnight stay. The trail contains numerous elevation changes and can be slippery, rocky, and dangerous.
Snorkeling along the Na Pali coast
If you want to get up close and personal with Na Pali, consider taking a raft or boat tour of the coastline. Most of these tours include snorkeling near the Pristine Coral Reef and a visit to one of the caves.
For my tour, I chose Na Pali Explorer. Leaving from the town of Waimea, the boat ride is a bumpy, fast paced trek across the water to the Na Pali coast. Along the way, you may encounter some dolphins and even some whales in the winter time.
Note that this ride can be very bumpy and tours are subject to cancellation based on the weather and conditions. Early morning tours at 6:30 am giving you the best weather, a chance to see dolphins, and what everyone wants – an early morning wake up call while you are on vacation!
These tours can go for as low as $75 per person but prices may vary based on the type of tour. This is definitely one of the best ways to experience Na Pali up close and make some new friends with sea turtles and dolphins.
Advice: Note these tours are not for everyone. The ride can be extremely bumpy so if you have back problems or you are pregnant, this is not advised.
Polihale Beach State Park
Do you want to see one of the western most points in Hawaii? How do deserted beaches and long stretches of sand sound? Do you enjoy four wheeling over poorly marked bumpy, dirt roads through sugar cane fields?
Then do I have the place for you!
Polihale State Park is a beach that is several miles long in a remote area of Kauai. Most of the swimming in the area isn’t safe but if you ever dreamed of long walks on the beach (and I mean really long walks on the beach), then this is your kind of beach.
You can access the beach from the town of Kekaha as you take the long, unmarked dirt road. Camping is allowed on the beach but the water is dangerous. No swimming or surfing is permitted here (the only safe area to swim is Queen’s Pond).
OK so one of the things to do in Kauai takes you back to the beach. However, this is the wild, untamed beach. You could film your own version of Survivor here. And just to the north of Polihale Beach, you are reminded of how wild it is as you look upon the Na Pali coast.
Warning: Vehicles are allowed on the beach. However, road conditions to the park vary and are not always easy to navigate. Four wheel drive is the best way so use your rental car at your own risk.
The Beach House Restaurant
Now that are are worn out and hungry from kayaking, hiking, and long walks on the beach, you can treat yourself to a meal at one of the best restaurants in Kauai!
If you love seafood, this is the place for you. If you don’t love seafood, this is the place for you. If you want to splurge on a meal, enjoy seafood, chicken, burgers, salads, and more with one of the best views you will ever have while eating.
The Beach House Restaurant has a number of outdoor and indoor tables to enjoy your dining experience. You can check out the menu ahead of time to see what you might like to try. Call ahead for reservations, especially for dinner.
If you want to enjoy the restaurant on a budget, grab lunch, satisfy your sweet tooth with desserts, or just enjoy drinks with a view. The Beach House Restaurant is located on the beautiful Poipu Beach.
Here’s another easy one on your list of things to do in Kauai. This is a postcard moment in Kauai.
“Oh sure, I’ve got hundreds of those” you say.
Trust me on this one though. Or scroll down and look at the photo if you don’t believe me.
This lighthouse was built in 1913 and was used to guide ships to the Orient. Now this beacon on the northeastern shores of a Kauai guides lots and lots of tourists.
This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a historic landmark in Kauai and is a great place for bird watching, cliff and ocean views, and dreams of life as a mariner on the ocean. The visitor’s center provides lots of information about the history but whether you come to learn or enjoy the views, it’s a must see stop on the island.
Located just east of Princeville, take Highway 56 from Anahola and follow the signs to the paved parking lot. There is plenty of parking – just make sure you’ve got some room on your memory card for a few photos.
Are you tired yet? Good because there is still more to see. While Waimea Canyon is the big name place to hike in Kauai, the east side of the island has some pretty great views as well.
The Kuilau Trail is located in the Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve and is one of a few trails in the area. The trail is rated as a moderate hike but only has 640 feet of elevation change. Combine this trail with the Moalepe Trail and you’ve got a total of 4.25 miles to see the wet and green side of Kauai.
On clear days, you can see Mount Waialeale and see the rolling green hills, mountains, and meadows. Feel free to do your best Sound of Music impression as you frolic through the green grass.
“In an place as beautiful and preserved as this, should I really be horsing around?”
Yes, you should actually. This area also has equestrian trails where you and your horse can frolic together. Just be careful as the trail can be slick and muddy at times.
If nothing else, bring a picnic and enjoy the views.
This is Kauai you should visit Hawaii
So have I ruined your beach vacation to Kauai yet? If I haven’t convinced you to explore the island with my list of things to do in Kauai, feel free to pack your towel, bathing suit or bikini, sunscreen, and head to the beach!
Before you slip your toes back into the sand, maybe there is one more thing you could try.
Have you ever kissed a crab?
If you’re motivated to explore Kauai with an adventurous spirit, congratulations! Now pack your hiking boots, snorkel, equestrian riding gear, kayak, and an extra stomach to go along with the towel, bathing suit, and sunscreen.
I’m just kidding – you don’t want to pay the airline fees for your kayak. You can rent one there. Also, pack light to save money on vacation (after all, it’s Hawaii – how many clothes do you really need? You know you’re going to buy one of those Hawaiian shirts when you’re there anyways).
To me, Kauai is the most beautiful island in Hawaii. Yes, the beaches are great but what makes Kauai so awe-inspiring are all the different places to see and the things to do.
If you check out these things to do in Kauai and don’t agree that it’s worth all the hiking, kayaking, eating, and photo taking, that’s OK too. Life’s a beach so enjoy it – just don’t forget the sunscreen.
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Have you been to Kauai? What other places or activities would you add to this list?
P.S. When trying to convince others that you have a great list of things to do for a destination, always throw in a couple of photos of cute animals to help convince them