Looking for all the best attractions in the Garden Isle? Our guide to all the best things to do in Kauai is all you need!
A sought-out traveling destination, Kauai is famous for its breathtaking natural beauty teeming with roaring waterfalls, luscious rainforests, and tropical coastlines.
Many people overlook Kauai as a getaway destination. Referred to as the “Garden Isle” and the greenest island (97% covered in forests), Kauai is adored for its untouched nature, full of luscious forests and stunning landscapes.
Adventurers and nature lovers, you don’t want to miss out on a trip to Kauai! There are many attractions on the Garden island, which is one of the top islands in Hawaii for adventure! Hike canyons, swim in rock pools, look for humpback whales, see waterfalls created by the Wailua River, and more!
Take a dip into Kauai’s tropical paradise on a trip you’ll never forget. But first, check out our list of the best things to do in Kauai!
If you don’t know what to do in Kauai, we’ve compiled the island’s best attractions and activities! Our list of the top things to do in Kauai includes the best of the best, from visiting pristine beaches and art galleries to whale watching, hiking, and visiting food trucks!
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Referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon State Park became widely known in 1869 after American explorer John Wesley Powell visited the island.
The expansive canyon near the south shore was formed from the Waimea River, which carved a path through the basalt and lava formations, and from the central volcano that collapsed ten million years ago.
The park is a striking natural gem teeming with rushing waterfalls, coastal cliffs, and luscious greenery. Head to the various lookouts for awe-inspiring views of the park, including Puu Hinahina, Waimea Canyon Lookout, and Kalalau Lookout.
By foot, either enjoy a relaxing stroll or take on a bit of a challenge for rewarding views throughout the different trails like the Cliff Trail (easy), Canyon Trail (moderate), and Kukui Trail (experienced).
It’s also a good idea to wear proper hiking shoes if you’re taking on a challenging hike here. Some trails are coated with thick red mud or clay that can make the hike slippery!
The largest bay on the north shore of Kauai, Hanalei Bay, is one of the best things to do in Kauai, thanks to its spectacular scenery of the sea backdropped by mountain peaks.
Adored for its views, Hanalei Bay is featured on the best boat tours. The bay is favored for boating, surfing, and swimming.
It is home to three beaches, Hanalei Beach Park, Waioli Beach Park, and Black Pot Beach. Neary is Hanalei Town, teeming with restaurants, local shops, and water sports rentals, like kayaks, to hit the waves of Hanalei Bay.
Join this small group food tour to experience the vibrant neighborhoods and the culture of the north shore.
On a food tour with a professional guide, you’ll be taken to the best culinary hot spots and food trucks in Kauai, travel through local neighborhoods, taste the diverse cuisines of the various cultures of Hawaii, and meet local business owners and chefs.
Famous for its scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities, Makua Beach, also known as Tunnels Beach, is a must-visit for adventurers on the north shore.
Thanks to the coral reef that runs up to the shore, a tropical haven for marine life, exploring these waters guarantees sightings of vibrant-colored aquatic animals. Sea turtles are commonly sighted in this area, either swimming in the water for easy pickings of food or napping in the small sea caves.
Lava tubes formed underwater caves, for which the site achieved its namesake and gained popularity among adventure seekers looking to explore and take on new challenges.
Poipu Beach Park is a crescent-shaped beach widely loved by tourists and locals alike on Kauai’s south shore.
Its crystalline waters are famous for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and bodyboarding. The nearby natural wading pool is ideal for young swimmers with the addition of on-site lifeguards makes this beach ideal for families.
Ranked among the top ten best beaches in the nation, visiting Poipu Beach is one of the best things to do in Kauai. Sightings of endangered monk seals are common, as the seals favor the sandbar for a restful nap. You can even do some whale watching between March and November.
If you want to learn how to surf, consider learning from a world-renowned surf instructor while visiting Poipu Beach. The instructor caters for a customized surf lesson to help you learn how to surf like a local, find the best swells, and sharpen your surfing skills for the best surfing lesson!
Off-the-beaten-path, Shipwreck Beach is famous for the numerous ships that have wrecked on its rock channel. A rusted 1940s oil tanker, the World War II Liberty Ship, rested mysteriously offshore, beached on Kaiolohia Bay’s coral reef until it was eventually removed.
An American ship, London, also wrecked here, said to be carrying a cargo of silver and gold, though no one knows if it was all recovered.
Swimming and snorkeling are unadvised at Shipwreck Beach, as the waves and rip currents are intense. However, for experienced surfers and bodysurfers, Shipwreck Beach is a favored site to catch some waves. Nevertheless, proceeding with caution is still highly advised.
Protected by a reef, Ke’e Beach is a beautiful location for snorkeling and swimming, especially during the summer when the waters are calmer.
Ke’e Beach is family-friendly, with the calm waters welcoming beginner swimmers to enjoy their time refreshing and playing.
Located within Ha’ena State Park, the beach is a peaceful, tranquil paradise right off the Kalalau trailhead, with Napali cliffs decorating the surrounding. The sunsets here are notoriously breathtaking, ideal for a romantic atmosphere or a magical moment with family and friends.
Featuring two rock-enclosed ponds, Lydgate Beach Park is a family-friendly haven protected from the clashing of the ocean’s waves.
Small reef fish travel through the crevices of the rocks, swimming about through the ponds. Snorkeling and swimming in these calm lagoons are perfect for beginners and guarantee tropical fish sightings while exploring the waters.
With lifeguards, picnic spots, full facilities, and a paved coastal path stretching almost three miles, this beach is one of the top spots on Kauai for families!
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The Kilauea Lighthouse is an iconic landmark in the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a breeding ground of Hawaiian seabirds. The refuge is one of the few places where people can watch the Wedge-tailed shearwater, Laysan albatross, and Red-footed bobby in their natural habitat.
The lighthouse was constructed in 1913 to protect ships from crashing into the rocky shoreline. In the 1970s, the lighthouse was replaced with an automatic beacon and still acts as one of the best things to do in Kauai, the ground level open for exploration.
After visiting the lighthouse, head over to the nearby Secret Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches on Kauai!
Sleeping Giant East Trailhead, also known as Sleeping Giant Trail, draws in people worldwide. As one of three Nounou Mountain Trails, this specific trailhead wanders up to optimal viewpoints of the sleeping giant shaped by the mountain.
Hawaiian legends differ on the founding of the sleeping giant. One of the more popular ones goes that the giant overate at a feast held in his honor and laid down to rest.
The trail is beginner-friendly, ascending into the thriving forestry of the mountains full of silk oak and guava. Throughout Sleeping Giant Trail are outstanding viewpoints of Kalepa Ride, the Hoary Head Mountains, Wailua Bay, Kapaa, and Waipouli.
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail stretches two miles down the coastline of the south shore of Kauai. All along the trail are spectacular views of the ocean, limestone cliffs, and luscious forests.
The trail begins at Shipwreck Beach and ends at Punahoa Point, the location of an ancient Hawaiian sacred site, heiau.
During this hike, trekkers will go over sandy cliffs, through thriving forests, and travel along the coastline for a nature-filled trip full of rewarding scenery, fresh air, and inspiring nature.
There are a couple of points of interest to check out during your trip along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. The Makawehi and Pa’a Dunes are ancient sand dunes, fossils of coral and algae that have been hardened into limestone. They are called lithified sand dunes.
Another point of interest is Waiopili Heiau. The trail passes this sacred Hawaiian place, one of the largest surviving temple platforms, full of historical artifacts.
Finally, consider checking out Makauwahi Cave Reserve near Punaloa Point. It is an archaeological site and Hawaii’s largest limestone cave open to exploring or can be simply viewed from the hiking trail.
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The massive Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa expands across 50 oceanfront acres. The resort welcomes visitors to explore its water playground of river pools, saltwater lagoon, and waterslide.
The renowned resort offers golf at the world-class Poipu Bay and award-winning spa treatments in a luxurious tropical setting.
So sink into a luxury day at the resort’s spa, book a tee time at the coastal golf course, and have fun at the onsite water park!
Koke’e State Park boasts seven major hiking trails for adventure and nature seekers to take on. Some paths lead to impeccable views of Waimea Canyon, while others lead to sweeping panoramic scenery of the north shore.
Hike through the lush vegetation of the rainforest with the scent of salt on the breeze with views of Kalalau Valley within sight throughout.
The park is famous for birdwatching for native endemic birds such as the moa, ‘iwi, and ‘apapane. Experience Koke’e State Park with the experienced help of a local guide.
Your guide will take you to the best points of interest in the park, including the famous Waipo’o Falls, the rainbow-colored walls of Waimea Canyon, and panoramic views of the world-famous Na Pali Coast on Kauai’s North Shore.
Backed by the Kauai Marriott Beach Resort, Kalapaki Beach is notorious for its ideal waters for swimming, boogie boarding, and stand-up paddleboarding. Some people even come to here to learn how to surf, which is made easier by the calmer waves.
The beach is mostly protected from the open ocean by a large break wall, establishing the beach as a relaxing attraction for many. From the beach are viewpoints of the cruise ships coming and going from Nawiliwili Harbor.
At the end of the walking bridge is Kalapaki Beach Hut, serving up shaved ice, the perfect cool-off from the sun.
Home to 4,000-year-old caves, spectacular beaches, and numerous hiking trails, Ha’ena State Park is the place to go for an adventure!
There’s plenty to do in this natural wonderland. Head to Ke’e Beach for snorkeling through clear waters. Hike through sea cliffs and the luscious rainforest to the crown jewel of the park, Hanakapi’ai Beach.
If you’re feeling up to it after your hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach, take the extra journey to Hanakapi’ai Falls.
Na ‘Aina Kai translates to “Lands by the Sea,” and at Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens & Sculpture Park, visitors experience just that in a land teeming with nature’s beauty.
Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens & Sculpture Park is a unique botanical garden featuring a rare variety of land, plants, climate, and water. These features inspired the founders of the park to open their doors and continue their mission to share the beauty of Hawaii with locals and tourists alike.
Set on 240 acres of land, Na ‘Aina Kai intertwines a hardwood plantation and thriving gardens with over 160 bronze sculptures, one of the nation’s largest collections, into a place of wonders.
Consider visiting the Allerton Garden and Estate. On this guided tour, guests can walk among the famous Jurassic trees from the Jurassic Park movies through beautiful landscape garden rooms and have dinner at sunset in the private Allerton Estate House while learning more about the impressive history of the Alletons and the property.
Located in Ha’ena State Park, the Kalalau Trail is one of the park’s most popular attractions and the best hike in Kauai.
Kalalau Trail travels through five valleys, past rushing waterfalls, along the coastline, and above imposing sea cliffs before finally stopping at Kalalau Beach. Hiking Kalalau Trail is one of the best ways to explore the coastline.
There are multiple offshoots from the trail that heads to waterfalls and swimming holes for a full day of adventure. The trail is considered to be challenging, so come prepared!
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One of the best Kauai attractions, the Queen’s Bath, is a favorite summertime activity for locals and tourists on the island.
The short hike to the Queen’s Bath passes through the rocky landscape of lava rock to natural tide pools. Many walk to the area to dip into the water for a refreshing swim in the rock pools.
It is crucial to proceed with caution, though, as the waves can drag people out into the ocean when the waters are rough. This is most common during the winter when the waters are notoriously more turbulent.
We do not recommend swimming here. Instead, we recommend enjoying the views at a safe distance to avoid any possible danger. The pools are often closed as well due to rough oceans.
Head to one of the most photographed lookouts in Hawaii at the Hanalei Valley Lookout!
On the north shore of Kauai, the Hanalei Valley Lookout is backdropped by roaring waterfalls, stunning mountains, and the taro fields bisected by the Hanalei River.
Hanalei Valley is a Wildlife Sanctuary protected for its thriving population of native water birds, like the Hawaiian, stilt, duck, and coot.
The rewarding nature walk to the Hanalei Valley Lookout is perfect for spending time with the family in Kauai’s refreshing and inspiring landscapes. Stop at the nearby Black Pot Beach after to kayak, surf, paddleboard, suntan, swim, and camp!
Extending 2.5 miles, the Kauai Plantation Railway traverses through the island’s crops of taro and sugarcane and groves of pineapple, mango, papaya, and other tropical fruits.
The train heads through the historic 105 acres of Kilohana Plantation, which features native crops of ancient Hawaiians. Passengers can sit back and enjoy the view in the luxurious mahogany passenger cars as the train chugs through the tropical plantations.
Perfect for all ages, the railway welcomes all to settle in for a unique train ride and memorable trip through Kauai’s plantations!
The Na Pali Coast, often spelled Napali Coast, is one of the most incredible natural wonders that you must see when you visit Kauai.
With dramatic sea cliffs covered in rich green jungle, the views here are truly unbelievable.
There are two main ways to see the Napali Coast at its best. Because the landscape is very remote and rugged, hiking is possible, but it’s much easier to fly or sail near the Napali Coast.
So a boat trip across the sea will give you ocean views of the amazing scenery. Book this guided boat cruise and spend a full day sailing over the Pacific and admiring the cliffs from the water.
A helicopter tour is also an epic way to view the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. It’s a bit more expensive than a boat tour, but a helicopter tour combines all the island’s highlights, including the Waimea Canyon, Wailua River, and Napali Coast!
Home to the widest and longest fringing reef of the Hawaiian Islands, Anini Beach’s protected waters make it a popular spot for snorkeling, paddleboarding, and swimming.
Outside the protective reef, the waters at Anini Beach are known to be quite rough, with strong currents. Therefore, use caution when surfing outside the protected area.
The protected area’s waters are stable, offering prime opportunities for snorkeling and paddleboarding. This spot actually has the longest fringing reef out of all the main Hawaiian Islands!
Many people travel to Anini Beach for its camping availability nearby, which is perfect for those looking to start and end the day relaxing on the beach.
Now that you know the top activities to include in your Kauai adventure, let’s look into some other logistics. Renting a car is the best way to get around the island! It’s small and the roads are well maintained. There are lots of great rental car companies on Kauai!
There are also great accommodation options for every budget. Here are some of the top places to stay in Kauai, Hawaii!
Right on the ocean, the Kauai Beach House Hostel is conveniently near grocery stores, bus stops, restaurants, and popular Kauai activities. A stay at the hostel includes free WiFi, ocean views on the deck, access to a community pool, and a full kitchen.
Be welcomed as ohana at Kauai Beach Villas, where you’re more than just a guest. Only three miles from the Lihue Airport, the villas are near some of Kauai’s best beaches and attractions.
Nowhere compares to the tropical paradise of luxury at the Lodge at Kukui’ula. The hotel features a private golf course with views of the ocean, vacation rentals, relaxation at the Hi’ilani Spa, and access to hidden gems with lifetime adventurers at the Huaka’i Outfitters.
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