Kauai is my happy place. Why? Because a Kauai family vacation is filled with both relaxation and adventure. The scenery is lush, the vibe is chill, and there are so many fun things to do!
Don’t know what to do in Kauai? The Garden Isle is for nature lovers who prefer shave ice stands and chicken crossings to the big city bustle of Honolulu. What it lacks in night life, it makes up for in days filled with hiking, swimming, and exploration. Here are 10 of the best things to do in Kauai with kids.
The Best Things to do in Kauai
1. Explore the Napali Coast
Whether by land, sea, or air, exploring the Napali Coast is one of the best things to do in Kauai. This stretch of coastline on Kauai’s northwest side is known for its towering sea cliffs, dramatic scenery and incredible natural beauty.
It is possible to hike the 11-mile length of the coastline’s Kalalau Trail, but it is strenuous, dangerous, and definitely not suitable for children. Instead, enjoy the first two miles of the trail which leads hikers to Hanakapi’ai Beach. The trail is often muddy and slippery and there is a 1000 feet total elevation change. Luckily, the views are worth the effort. This trail is best suited for families with older children.
One of the best ways to see this part of the island is by boat. Exploring the Napali Coast by catamaran is a fun option for those who love the water. A boat tour often include meals, beverages, and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. Dolphin and whale sighting (seasonal) are common on these tours.
Viewing the Napaili Coast by air is a nice option for those not be able to hike or prone to seasickness. Helicopter tours typically visit several spots on the island including Waimea Canyon, Waialeale, and the Napali Coast.
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2. Tube Through the Tunnels of an Old Sugar Cane Plantation
Tubing through the canals of the old Lihue sugar cane plantation is one of the more unique activities in Kauai. Kauai Backcountry Adventures outfits guests with inner tubes and headlamps so they can embark on a guided adventure through irrigation flumes and tunnels that were hand dug back in the 1870s.
We had a blast spinning and gliding across the cool water which is rerouted from Mt. Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on the planet. We listened to our voices echo in the tunnels and marveled at our jungle surroundings. After your tubing adventure, celebrate with lunch (included) and a dip in a refreshing swimming hole.
3. Hang at the Beach
There are so many beautiful beaches out on the island, but some are more kid-friendly than others. Lydgate Beach Park features a sheltered swimming area, perfect for toddlers and new swimmers. Picnic tables and a playground amp up the family-friendly factor.
If you are looking for a nice beach within walking distance of food and drink, Kalapaki Beach is a great option. The water is generally calm and great for beginner surfers and paddle boarders. Shacks next to the beach offer lessons and equipment rental. Several restaurants are near the beach, including the Duke’s and the grab-and-go Kalapaki Beach Hut.
Hanalei Beach is my favorite beach on the island. The views are remarkable, the sand is powdery soft, and the beach is never crowded. While the surf can kick up during the winter months, the water is typically flat and ideal for swimming in summer.
4. Visit the Grand Canyon of the Pacific
Kauai may be small in size, but it is big in geographic diversity. Waimea Canyon is a “must see” on Kauai’s west side. The vibrant and jagged canyon, colored in shades of iron-rich red and tropical green, deserves much more of your attention than a stop at a viewpoint.
After viewing the dramatic Waipoo Falls from a scenic lookout, head into Koke’e State Park to embark on a remarkable hike to the waterfall’s brink. Expect to enjoy plenty of breathtaking views, a dip in a waterfall-fed pool, and the satisfaction of making it to the brink of a waterfall about to make its 800-foot plunge into the canyon below.
5. Fall in love with Hanalei
Meander along the coast towards Kauai’s north shore, cross the one-lane bridge, and enter one of the most beautiful small towns in America. Hanalei town is hugged by misty green mountains, fields of taro, and picture-perfect Hanalei Bay.
The food truck scene is legit in this small town (population 450) and farm-to-table cooking is emphasized in local restaurants. No trip to Hanalei is complete for my family unless it includes a shave ice from JoJo’s.
During the winter months the surf breaks at Hanalei are legendary, but come summer, the water is typically flat and ideal for swimming, paddle boarding, and jumping off the pier. No doubt about it- the beaches of Hanalei are what Hawaiian dreams are made of.
Kayaking can be enjoyed in the bay or up the Hanalei River where kayakers paddle past lush forests and taro fields. Horseback riding and zip lining are fun family-friendly activities found at nearby Princeville Ranch.
6. Marvel at the Birds and Views at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw
Located on the northernmost tip of the island, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is great for those who enjoy dramatic views and scoring another stamp on their National Park Passport. There is a Junior Ranger program, which can be completed in a short visit.
The ocean cliffs of this protected spot provide breeding grounds for various seabirds and the nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose. Albatrosses, wedge-tailed shearwaters, and red-footed boobies can be spotted soaring or nesting nearby. We spotted several eggs and chicks in burrows just off the trail. The Wildlife Refuge is also home to the historic Kilauea Lighthouse, which begs to be photographed. During the winter months, Kilauea Point is a good spot for viewing humpback whales.
7. Spend the Day in a Tropical Rain Forest
One of the lesser known things to do in Kauai is enjoying the day exploring the Kehua Arboretum. Located 6 mile mauka (toward the mountain) from the town of Wailua, this special spot protects 30 acres filled with lush plant life, including the remarkable rainbow eucalyptus trees.
The Keahua Stream runs through the arboretum, making it a great place to swim or let the kids discover some of the little creatures that call the stream home. The Kuilau Ridge Trail originates in the park. This moderate, 4-mile hike leads through rain forest and features lovely mountain views.
8. Sample the Island’s Shave Ice Offerings
If you think shave ice is simply a snow cone, you have clearly never had real Hawaiian shave ice! Shave ice is so fluffy, so fresh, so flavorful, that it simply can’t be resisted. One of the most popular shave ice stands on the island is JoJos. It bills itself as the original shave ice shack on the island and has locations in Waimea and Hanalei. We love the Rootbeer float and the Haupia Special- coconut shave ice, macadamia nut ice cream, and haupia cream.
Another stand that can’t be missed is The Fresh Shave in Kalaheo. They specialize in all-natural ingredients that are fresh, local, and organic. Menu items are named after different mustache types such as “The Handle Bar”- pineapple and coconut shave ice topped with fresh pineapple and shaved coconut- and “The Fu Manchu”- strawberry and banana and cream topped with fresh strawberry puree and bananas.
9. Go Snorkeling
Kauai’s landscape is pretty spectacular, but there is plenty to marvel at below the ocean’s surface. Great diversity of sea life can be discovered in the reefs just offshore, from the iridescent parrotfish to the blue-mustached Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. If you ask anyone in my family, the true superstar of the reefs is the honu, or green sea turtle, with its graceful glide and gentle nature.
Here are some of our favorite Kauai snorkeling spots for families:
- Lydgate Beach Park, near the mouth of the Wailua River, has a jetty-enclosed swimming area which is great for teaching kids how to snorkel for the first time.
- On the south shore, Poipu Beach Park is a great spot for young snorkelers. The spot is well-known, however, and can become a bit crowded during the high season.
- Anini Beach has a large offshore reef and the aquatic life is vibrant. Thanks to Google, there really are no secret beaches on the island anymore, but Anini tends be less visited than many others. I recommend bringing some sort of flotation device because there are sections where the water can get pretty deep.
- On the far north end, Ke’e Beach is a fantastic (and popular) snorkeling spot. Conditions can vary based on weather so be sure to check the surf report before heading out.
10. Kayak to a Waterfall
One of the great family adventures on the island is a kayak trip up the Wailua River combined with the 1-mile hike to Secret Falls. Of all the things to do in Kauai, this was my family’s favorite. There are many tour operators that will lead you on this adventure but if you are looking to spend less, paddle less, and go at your own pace, I suggest heading to the Kaomkila Hawaiian Village. The Village is located just 15 minutes downstream from the trail head to Secret Falls and rents kayaks to those who are interested in a self-guided experience.
The paddle is short but incredibly scenic. Once you reach the pull-in spot for kayaks (which is quite obvious since there will be several kayaks on the shore), beach your kayak on the shore and head into the jungle for an easy-yet-scenic hike to Secret Falls. The falls are swimmable and the perfect place for a picnic lunch.
After enjoying your time at the falls, consider paddling further upstream to a popular cliff jumping spot. After your river adventure, purchase some poultry feed for the kids so they can enjoy feeding the chickens that call Kaomkila Hawaiian Village home. This is Kauai after all!
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort
There is no resort on the island more family-friendly than the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort in Poipu. Located on Shipwreck Beach, this sprawling resort has one of the most gorgeous pool complexes in all of Hawaii.
The pool area features multiple lava rock-lined pools, a lazy river, water slide, and an enormous saltwater lagoon which has been the subject of many of my recent daydreams. A wonderful kids club and countless activities (lei making or ukulele lessons, anyone?) amp up the family-friendly factor, as do the refillable water bottle and sunscreen stations.
Kauai Marriott Resort
The Kauai Marriott Resort in Lihue is centrally located for island exploration. The resort sits on Kalapaki Beach, a kid-friendly stretch of sand perfect for swimming, paddle boarding, and beginner surfers. My family loved the massive swimming pool, dotted with several hot tubs on its outer reaches. There are several dining options within walking distance which is nice because resort dining can be very expensive.
Explore more of the 50th State. Discover the Top 10 Things to do in Hawaii with kids.
Lead image by Shutterstock.
Disclosure: My family received one complimentary night at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort for the purposes of an unbiased review. All opinions are my own.