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Yippee! My favorite island! Kauai is seriously so amazing (straight up Jurassic Park looking) that it’s where I went on vacation when I used to live on Maui. What?? That’s right…everybody needs a vacation. Just so you don’t miss anything incredible, here are my picks for 15 things to do in Kauai:
UPDATE: In April 2018, Kauai experienced record setting flooding especially on its north shore. As a result, the road west of Hanalei town is currently closed cutting off access to the popular Kalalau Trail, Ke’e beach, and snorkeling at Tunnels. I encourage you to check local news coverage before your trip to obtain the most current conditions, and I will also update this as things reopen.
1.Take a boat ride down the Napali Coast. This is classic Hawaii…the Hawaii you see in movies, and it’s not to be missed. This coastline full of soaring green, jagged cliffs lined with white sand beaches is a sight that many choose to see on a helicopter tour but it’s best explored by ocean raft where you can zip in and out of sea caves and feel the ocean spray on your face. In the summer months, choose a tour that leaves out of Hanalei Bay on the North Shore for a shorter ride to the coast. Read about my experience with Holo Holo Charters (and reserve a tour) here.
2. See Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain called Waimea Canyon the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s worth the drive to the most remote part of the island to gaze out across the canyon and from some lookouts you can even look down on a unique view of the Napali Coast.
3. Hang out in Hanalei Town. Full of cute little shops and restaurants, Hanalei is a great surf town and in the winter months it draws surfers from all over the world. Grab a bite to eat, browse through a couple of shops and keep driving along the North Shore for great views.
4. Paddleboard or Surf Hanalei Bay. Depending on the time of year, you can either surf or paddleboard on Hanalei Bay. During the summer, Hanalei Bay is calm as a lake and the perfect place for paddleboarding. Rent boards at a place in town and paddle around the bay. During the winter months, this is a great place for surf lessons. On the south side, take lessons at Poipu Beach Surf School.
RELATED: Not very familiar with Kauai? Read up on the lay of the is(land) and where to stay plus my favorite beach resorts, budget hotels, Airbnbs, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, luxury resorts, and boutique hotels.
5. Go Beach Hopping on the North Shore. Kauai’s north shore has some of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Start at Ke’e beach, which is the end of the road on the north shore, and check out some spectacular beaches including Ha’ena, Tunnels, and Hideaways. And I strongly suggest picking up this guidebook before you go. I never would’ve found half of the hidden spots I now love on Kauai without it.
6. Swim in Queen’s Bath. A popular spot on the North Shore, Queen’s Bath is a large natural tide pool which is a local swimming pool of sorts when the ocean is calm. While it’s a neat natural phenomenon and a beautiful place, be extremely cautious around the rocks and avoid the area at all if the surf report is about 3-4 ft.
7. Search for Monk Seals at Po’ipu Beach. The sunny south shore of Kauai is a favorite resting area for the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals. There are only about 1000 seals left in Hawaii and after a big meal they’re known to crawl up on to the beach and nap all day. It’s illegal to approach them so just admire them from a distance and don’t worry, they’re fine…they’re just sleeping!
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8. Snorkel at Tunnels. Kauai’s famous north shore beach has some of the best snorkeling you’ll find on the island. It’s hard to find and there’s not much parking (there are two short access ways which look an awful lot like driveways) but you can park at Ha’ena beach and walk back to the east.
9. See Wailua Falls. The 80-foot waterfall just outside of Lihue is practically a drive up waterfall, making it a popular spot. It’s also famous as the backdrop to the opening sequence of Fantasy Island.
10. Kayak the Wailua River to Fern Grotto. Explore the Wailua River by kayak or take a boat tour up the river into the fern grotto, a popular wedding destination. This is a unique attraction as the Wailua River is the only navigable river in the state. The Smith family operates a fern grotto tour and a luau in the valley that’s a great option.
11. Take a Helicopter Tour. Kauai is practically made to be seen from the air. Some of the most spectacular parts of the island can only be seen from the air and a helicopter tour is sure to be one of the highlights of your trip. Read all about the flight I did with Blue Hawaiian (and reserve your flight) here.
RELATED: How to See the Napali Coast
12. Ride ATVs at Kipu Ranch. Kipu Ranch offers some great ATV tours of “undiscovered” Kauai. Their tours will take your through green pastures, tropical valleys, and waterfalls, all which have been the backdrops of films such as Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. Book a tour at Kipu Ranch here.
13. See Kauai’s Historic Towns. Hanapepe: This classic little beach town was the inspiration behind Disney’s Lilo and Stitch and really feels like a step back in time to old Hawaii. Koloa: Take the famous tree lined road to this cute well preserved town where there’s plenty of shopping and dining. Kapa’a: Historic downtown Kapa’a is the central hub of the coconut coast and feels like a charming beach side town.
RELATED: Need a packing list for Kauai? Find my best packing advice here.
14. Spend the day at Polihale Beach. Perhaps one of Kauai’s most beautiful beaches, Polihale definitely has an off the grid feel. The seven mile stretch of sand is bordered by the Napali Coast and is a great spot to camp if you feel like roughing it in paradise.
15. Hike the Kalalau Trail. Not for the faint of heart! This epic 11 mile trail (one-way!) along Kauai’s famed Napali Coast lures hikers from all around the world. While the whole hike takes a lot of planning (camping permits are required), the first 2 mile leg of the hike to Hanakapi’ai beach is perfect for a day hike. This birds eye view of the Napali Coast feels even better when you’ve hiked it with your own two feet.
And don’t forget to order your copy of the Kauai Revealed guidebook. It’s advice on how to find hidden beaches, waterfalls, and trail heads is well worth the space in your backpack.
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Kauai Bound! I’ve put together the BEST Kauai itineraries you’ll find anywhere! These are the itineraries I use on my trips to Kauai (plus a few tweaks because hindsight is 20/20 right?) and they’re perfect for first time and repeat visitors who want to see the very best of Kauai.
Check it out here.
I’ve included everything from the best snorkeling spots, beaches, and excursions and it’s all broken down by each part of the island so you won’t waste any time backtracking.
So what exactly do you get? With Kauai Bound, you’ll get a 3, 4, 5, and 6-day itinerary and I’m not just talking about a bullet point list of to dos. Each itinerary comes with 10-15 pages of commentary explaining why I recommend doing certain things (plus various options to suit your interests). Each itinerary also comes with its own Google Map (broken down by day). You’ll also get an itinerary template that you can use to make your own, along with extensive tips on creating your own itinerary, a huge list of things to do on Kauai, and directions for making your own Google Maps.
This is basically vacation in a box, friend! Just add a bit of salt water and you’re in for the trip of a lifetime!
Click here to grab the Kauai Bound itinerary bundle.
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