Top 10 Things to do in Kauai with Kids

We all have our happy places; vacation destinations that we daydream about returning to again and again. Kauai is my happy place. The scenery is spectacular, the vibe is chill, and the pace is  “island time” slow. Kauai is an island for nature lovers who prefer shave ice stands and chicken crossings to the hustle and bustle of Oahu. What it lacks in night life, it makes up for in days of hiking, swimming, and exploration. While it is easy to simply relax at one of Kauai’s spectacular resorts, the best way to really fall in love with the island is to get out and explore. Here are 10 of our favorite things to do in Kauai.

1. Explore the Napali Coast

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Bistock/Mavidav

Whether by land, sea, or air, exploring the Napali Coast is an essential Kauai experience. This stretch of coastline on Kauai’s northwest side is known for its towering sea cliffs and dramatic scenery.

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 2 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.

Exploring the Napali Coast by catamaran is a fun option for those who love the water. Boat tours often include meals, beverages, and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Pacific. Dolphin and whale sighting (seasonal) are common on these tours.

Exploring 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.

2. Tube through the tunnels of an old sugar cane plantation

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Bigstock/EllenSmile

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 is typically flat and ideal for swimming in summer.

4. Visit the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

Kauai is small in size but 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 Kokee 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

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Bigstock/eddygaleotti

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 can be enjoyed at nearby Princeville Ranch.

6. Marvel at the birds and views at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

Located on the northernmost tip of the island, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is “must visit” 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 Point 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

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Bigstock/CrackClipStockMedia

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

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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

 

things to do in KauaiPhoto by: Bigstock/ShaneMyersPhotography

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 off shore, 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. 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 and can become a bit crowded during the high season. Anini Beach has a large offshore reef and the aquatic life is vibrant. 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 post. Conditions can vary based on weather so be sure to check the surf report before heading out.

10. Kayak to a waterfall

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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!

Stay Here

things to do in Kauai

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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.

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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.

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. 

About the author

Sharlene Earnshaw is Trekaroo’s Editor in Chief. She lives in sunny Orange County, CA, with her husband and 10-year-old son and daughter (twins!). She is a self-proclaimed National Park junkie and has the goal of visiting each and every one with her kids. When she isn't traveling to places like Norway, Peru, Disney World, and Hawaii with her family, she enjoys hiking, beach days, obsessively rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, and planning her brood's next trip.

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