In this article:
- Beaches: top 5 beaches on Kauai
- Hiking: top 5 easy-ish hikes on Kauai
- Food: top 5 things to eat on Kauai
- Activities: top 5 things to try on Kauai
Measuring at 33 miles long and 25 miles across, Kauai might seem small but it’s packed with amazing beaches, breathtaking hikes, delicious restaurants and a bevy of cultural activities and local spots to explore.
As a Kauai native, I’ve been lucky to try many of the things to do on Kauai and created a list of my favorite five in beaches, hikes, activities and food to get you started on your Kauai Trip planning.
Kauai Fun Fact: Only 10% of Kauai is accessible by car.
Top Five Beaches on Kauai
These are my top five beaches based on location, view, accessibility, swim-ability and access to a lifeguard. There are many other amazing beaches but they can be dangerous or parking can be challenging.
If you plan on going in the water, I encourage you to invest in some reef safe sunscreen!
Often voted as one of the top beaches in Hawaii, the iconic Hanalei Bay offers a fairly protected swimming spot and space for lounging and picnicking. There are lifeguard stations for safety and bathroom facilities in several spots of the beach.
While there are several parking spots, it can be challenging to find parking during peak tourist times, so go early to make sure you have a place to park.
Hanalei Bay is a great place to try surfing. Look for instructors in Hanalei Town.
This is one of my favorite beaches for sunsets and snorkeling. Parking is really challenging here (as it’s also the start of the Kalalau trail) , so expect a bit of a walk or some wait time to find a spot.
If you plan on doing the Hanakapiai hike, plan that in the same day as Ke’e beach as it will be in the same location.
Poipu Beach is one of the most family friendly beaches on Kauai. There is a shallow swimming area for kids, a playground and bathroom facilities. It’s also a great spot to watch for surfers and look for Hawaiian Monk Seals and Turtles. Remember that it is illegal to touch the seals and turtles.
Lydgate is the idea beach for families because it has a huge playground and two protected swimming areas – one that is really shallow for kids and another protected area for older kids and adults. Bring your snorkel gear and you might find fish!
For your safety, stay in the protected areas, the beach outside of those spots can be dangerous.
Anini beach is one of my favorite snorkeling spots on Kauai. It’s usually pretty calm and the colors are gorgeous. The best snorkeling is near the boat ramp on the main portion of the beach.
Top Five Easy-ish Hikes on Kauai
Kauai has a seemingly endless supply of hikes – from short jaunts with incredible views to multi day expeditions. Since I’m not a huge hiker but grew up on Kauai doing a few hikes a year, I’m recommending the hikes that are on the shorter and easier side with great payoffs.
At only a little over 2 miles long, this give a ton of bang for your hiking buck! You’ll see two small waterfalls, one which was used in the beginning amber mine scene in Jurassic Park. (if you watch that part before going, you’ll recognize it instantly!)
Note: You might see people jumping off the falls but it can be very dangerous so we recommend skipping the jump.
Navigating to the falls can be a little bit confusing, so check out this site for detailed instructions.
Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) East Trail
This 3.6 mile hike will get you to the top of the Sleeping Giant Mountain where you’ll find sweeping views of Kapaa (the town, mountains and beach). The east trail is one of three ways to hike the giant but it has the most views and is slightly easier and shorter than the others.
Bring a small picnic lunch to enjoy at the pavilion a the top.
I recommend going in good weather. When it’s muddy, it’s not much fun to hike and can be very slippery and dangerous. I know because our dog ran away on the trail once and it took ten wet and muddy days of hiking the trail until we found her (somehow very clean and nowhere near the trail she disappeared from ).
The mountain is called Sleeping Giant because it resembles the profile of a giant sleeping on his back. Legend tells of a giant that ate too much at a luau and fell asleep – and he hasn’t waken up since!
Waipo’o Falls Trail
This is my favorite short hike in Koke’e. It’s a little over three miles long roundtrip but the views are amazing! You’ll be hiking along the rim of the Waimea Canon for a third or so of the hike – in my opinion those views are the stars of the hike – not the small falls at the end. If you’re hiking during a rainy season, this hike will be very slippery – skip it or be very careful!
Note: Although it is call ed the Waipo’o Fall trail, you won’t see the entire falls on the hike, just a small portion. The best place for viewing the falls is along the road on the drive up. There are several spots to pull off for viewing. Make sure to park fully off the road for safety.
Most people will start the trail by parking along the road slightly past mile marker 14 on the road up to Kokee. If you have a four wheel drive, you can actually cut about a mile off the trail by turning in and driving down the road. Here’s a link to a hiking site that has really good instructions for getting there.
It feels like every twist and turn of this trail yields amazing cliff and beach views. Bring a camera! This is the most rigorous of all the trails I’ve listed. It starts with a 400ft climb to the first view point. Although it’s only four miles, budget more time because there’s a lot of hiking upwards and it can be exhausting.
You’ll get to a river crossing two miles in. Be very careful here – you’re basically jumping from rock to rock. Once you cross the river you’ll be at Hanakapiai beach. This is not a beach for swimming. It is very dangerous!
If you continue for two more miles, you’ll get to Hanakapiai falls. The falls are stunning but this portion of the hike is even more challenging than the first, so if you had a hard time getting to the beach, skip the falls.
This is the first two miles of the eleven mile (one way) Kalalau trail. You don’t need a permit to hike to the beach, but should you decided to hike Kalalau, you will need permits.
Maha’ulepu Heritage Coastal Trail
This four mile hike is probably the easiest of all the Kauai hikes I’ve recommended. It’s more of a walk on an uneven surface than a hike.
You’ll begin at Shipwreck’s beach (Keoneloa Bay) near the Grand Hyatt Poipu. If you need to use the restroom, go here as there are no other restrooms on the trail. Also, don’t forget to bring water as you won’t have any while hiking.
Along the trail you’ll see secluded beaches, the Makauwahi Sinkhole, small blowholes and all types of wildlife. If you go in the winter, keep an eye out for Humpback Whales.
For more information on the Heritage Coastal Trail, checkout their official site.
Top Five Things to Eat on Kauai
Hawaiian Plate Lunch
Kalua pig, lomi salmon, chicken long rice, scoop of mac salad and two scoops rice – that’s the traditional Hawaiian plate lunch. Not traditional like what the Hawaiians ate – but traditional as in the foods you love from Hawaii. They’ll have you saying, “So ono!” (so good tasting)
We recommend this Hawaiian plate lunch as a starter, but there are so many other options like plate lunch with local fish, beef stew, or lau lau (pork wrapped in leaves). Grab a plate lunch and take it to a beach for a picnic.
Our favorite spots for a plate lunch are Pono Market, The Fish Express, The Butcher and the Fisherman, Hanalei Taro and Jucie Co. and Koloa Fish Market.
Food Truck Fare
I love that Kauai has so many food trucks to choose from. They’re low key and delicious. Lots of the food trucks are really close to a beach so you can grab your food and enjoy the view.
Some of my favorite food trucks: Kickshaws, The Fresh Shave (for shave ice), Rainbeau Jo’s (for amazing coffee and aloha)
Tip: If you’re in Lihue on a Thursday evening, check out food truck night at Kauai Beer Co. They usually have two food trucks to choose from and you can order locally made beer from the bar.
We have a sweet tooth in Hawaii! The diversity of the islands creates a multicultural dessert smorgasbord. Here are some of my favorites:
Haupia: A firm coconut pudding made from coconut milk and sugar. You can find this in some Hawaiian plate lunches, luau’s and often at the Koloa fish Market.
Shave ice: Perfect for hot days! You can find two varieties on Kauai – the traditional, brightly colored ones and then newer, organic shave ice made from local fruits. Learn more about the history of shave ice in Hawaii here.
I created a free trip guide with all my favorite Kauai Shave ice spots. Check it out!
Malasadas: A portuguese yeast donut. It’s very different from the donuts we normally eat. It’s a fried ball thats denser than a donut coated in granulated sugar. So yummy!!! Some places even fill them with things like haupia cream, chocolate or custard. It’s best to get them hot and fresh. You can find them at Hanalima Bakery or VIP Treats and Sweets – but call ahead to make sure they have them.
If you like fish, you’ll love eating on Kauai. You can find a range of offerings from affordable plate lunches to fine dining – and they’ll all be good because they are so fresh! Make sure to ask what is caught locally – there are spots that import fish. If you like poke, there a many poke spots to sample from too.
Fine Dining with Pacific Rim Influence
While my style tends towards the casual, there are some amazing restaurants on Kauai with a more fine dining feel. Many are featuring Kauai grown farm to table dishes which make the experience extra special.
My favorite restaurant on Kauai is Hukilau Lanai. Much of the food is locally grown and the dishes have a high end (but affordable) comfort food feel to them. My recommendations: Try the ahi poke nachos, the goat cheese wontons, a fish dish and try to save room for dessert. You’ll want to make reservations as they do book up.
Top Five Activities On Kauai
Aside from eating, beaches and hiking, these are my top recommendations on things to do on Kauai.
See A Luau
It’s an iconic part of Hawaii. If you haven’t seen a luau, I recommend going. You’ll get to try Hawaiian food and see examples of hula and Polynesian dances. Many have an open bar too!
There are many to choose from on Kauai and they’ll vary greatly from price to food to entertainment. My personal favorite (because I used to perform there and because it’s more theatrical) is Luau Kalamaku. You’ll want to reserve these in advance as they can sell out and are on specific days.
Explore the Na Pali Coast By Boat
This will be a splurge for some, but it’s worth it! Because you can’t drive all the way around Kauai, the only ways to view the Na Pali coast are by boat or air.
Most boat companies have two options – an early morning boat and snorkel with lunch or a sunset tour with dinner. If you go in the morning, you’ll more than likely see dolphins.
We recommend booking this ahead of time and earlier on in your stay as sometimes boat outings are canceled due to weather.
View Kauai by Air
A helicopter tour of Kauai will be one of your most expensive activities, but you’ll get views that no one else has. Most locals haven’t even seen Kauai by air. If you can afford it, choose a helicopter company where everyone has a window view. It won’t be as much fun if you’re stuck in the middle.
Take an ATV or horseback riding tour. Both will get you access to parts of Kauai that aren’t heavily trafficked.
ATVs can be especially fun during the rainy season because you get to ride in the mud and get dirty!
I personally feel that my favorite way of exploring a location is through my taste buds. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy a tasting tour. Tasting Kauai offers tours of farms and restaurants that will give you the inside info on the food as well as a full belly by the end of the tour.
Looking for a free tasting? You can taste Kauai made rum and coffee free of charge at the Koloa Rum and Kauai coffee visitor centers. There’s no wait at Kauai coffee because they have a self guided tasting, but you’ll want to plan for a thirty minute to hour long wait for a free tasting at Koloa Rum. They only take reservations in their store and spots go fast! My advice is to reserve a spot and then explore the Kilohana Plantation – which now houses stores and galleries.
Enjoy Exploring Kauai!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my top five things to do on Kauai. If you need more advice, check out the rest of the site. Need custom Kauai itineraries, help booking activities or a one on one phone consultation, I can help with that too! See the link below my image in the right side bar.