19 Things to Do on Kauai (That You Can’t Do ANYWHERE Else)

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Planning a trip to Kauai? You’re going to love it! It’s one of the most beautiful Hawaiian Islands, well known for its lush, green mountains. Remember Jurassic Park? Well, that’s Kauai. 

With so much natural beauty (beaches! hiking! snorkeling!), you could stay busy for weeks exploring every part of this island, and I could give you a long list of things to do…but I’m going to keep this paired down to things you can ONLY do on Kauai. 

Things You Can ONLY Do on Kauai

Whether you’re planning to spend 3 days or 10 days on Kauai (or still trying to figure out which Hawaiian Island to visit), use this list to see the very best of Kauai. 

Here’s a quick “table of contents” for what’s in this post:

  • Boat Ride Down the Napali Coast
  • Hike the Kalalau Trail
  • Waimea Canyon
  • Fern Grotto & Smith Family Luau
  • Helicopter Tour
  • Shopping in Hanalei & Mai Tais at Tahiti Nui
  • Monk Seals
  • Hideaways Beach
  • Koloa Tree Tunnel
  • Sunset Dinner at the Beach House
  • Wailua Falls
  • Kilohana Plantation
  • Hanapepe
  • Spouting Horn Blowhole
  • Princeville Botanical Gardens
  • Ni’ihau, the Forbidden Island
  • Warehouse 1530
  • Snorkel at Tunnels
  • Polihale Beach

1.Take a Boat Ride down the Napali Coast

This is my #1 thing to do on Kauai for a reason…if you come to Kauai and you don’t see the Napali Coast, you haven’t seen Kauai. 

This is something EVERYONE has to do at least once. Kauai’s Napali Coast is so incredible, but you can really only see it by boat or helicopter. A helicopter tour is amazing (more on that below), but by far the best bang for your buck way (and my favorite!) to see it is by boat. 

I used to really prefer going with one of the small companies that leave from Hanalei on the north shore (the ocean rafts are so zippy and they can pop in and out of all the sea caves), but they’ve gotten exorbitantly expensive lately which is…a little hard to justify in this economy. 

I think the best overall option for seeing the Napali Coast by boat is on a catamaran cruise that leaves from the south side (Port Allen). You’ll spend more time in transit around the island to get to the Napali Coast and the big cat can’t go into the sea caves, but it’s generally a more comfortable “pleasure cruise” type of trip plus it’s a lot more budget friendly. 

I did this Napali Snorkel Sail with HoloHolo Charters last time I was on Kauai, and it was really fun!

We spent about 5 hours sailing, snorkeling, having lunch, and just enjoying being out on the water along the Napali Coast. 

Now I’ll level with you…most of these companies market these trips as a “snorkel cruise” and while there is a stop where you can snorkel for about 45 minutes or so,  these boat trips are NOT about the snorkeling. They’re about seeing the Napali Coast. 

The snorkeling is nowhere near as good as other places you’ll find in Hawaii (in general I’ve not been super impressed with the snorkeling on Kauai compared to the other islands). I’ve done several of these boat trips (stopping at different snorkeling spots) and the reef is usually minimal and the fish are sparse. 

BUT it’s fun to get in the water and it’s a nice addition to the cruise in general. 

Like I said, this is really all about seeing the Napali Coast. It is BEAUTIFUL. No matter how many times I see it, I’m always amazed. 

Pro tip: When you’re settling onto the boat, find a spot on the right side of the boat for the best views while you’re going up the coast. When you’re headed back to Port Allen, the boat will turn around and the views will be on the left. 

On this tour, when the boat sailed past the Kalalau Valley (the real showpiece of the Napali Coast), the captain really slowed the boat down and the crew was great about taking people’s pictures in front of the railing with that magnificent backdrop. 

Once we reached our farthest point on the coast, we turned around, the captain put the sails up and it was SMOOTH sailing while we had lunch and they opened the bar. The food was honestly the best I’ve ever had on a snorkel boat tour (and I’ve had a lot) and the service from the crew was phenomenal the whole trip. 

You’ll find a lot of options for Napali Coast cruises out of Port Allen, but I’ve had good experiences sailing with HoloHolo (since back in the day when they used to do tours out of Hanalei), and highly recommend them. 

2.Hike the Famous Kalalau Trail

If there’s a holy grail of all hikes in Hawaii, it’s got to be the Kalalau Trail. This 11-mile trek takes hikers into the heart of the Napali Coast, which is typically only seen by boat or by helicopter.

This is a once in a lifetime hike. 

But don’t freak out about that 11 miles! Most day hikers hike two miles down the coast to Hanakapiai Beach and back. 

I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty grueling hike (up and down and up and down) but if you’re at all able bodied and can push through, you’ll likely never experience anything else like it. 

The trail starts at Ke’e Beach which is at the end of the road on the north shore. 

YOU HAVE TO HAVE RESERVATIONS FOR PARKING AND HIKING. This is new. In an effort to control crowds at Haena State Park (Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trailhead) after the historic flooding of April 2018, parking reservations are now required. You can make them online 30 days in advance at midnight Hawaiian Standard Time. And they usually sell out in less than a minute. 

There are three different time slots (7AM-12PM, 12PM-4PM, 4PM-7PM). You can reserve multiple time slots if you want to stay all day or you think you’ll get there later (if you’re driving from Poipu). For four adults, it cost $40 for all of us to reserve the first two slots of the day. And we ended up needing them. We got started about 10AM and wrapped up about 1:30PM. 

If parking reservations sell out, there is a shuttle option, although I’m going to level with you…it’s not ideal. During busy seasons, the shuttle still sells out in advance (as I’m writing this it’s booked out a solid two weeks with only limited times available) and it’s $35/person. It leaves from Hanalei about every 30 minutes. Here’s more info on the shuttle.

It’s better than not being able to go at all, but I highly recommend being on top of the drop times for the parking permits and snagging one of those. Also, you’ll need to register every person in your party and they do check your IDs when you arrive. 

3.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.

For the most dramatic view, be sure to stop at the Kalalau Lookout. 

I haven’t been up here at sunset (yet), but since it’s a western facing view, it’s got to be spectacular. I mean, it’s spectacular any time of day, but at sunset it’s probably even better. 

Plan for at least an hour drive from Poipu up to the canyon lookouts, but once you get there it’s easy to park and just walk over to the lookout. No hiking required. 

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4.Fern Grotto & Smith Family Luau

If you’re looking for a luau on Kauai, this is my pick. The Smith Family Luau is completely charming. While it’s a modern operation, the setting and atmosphere will have you reminiscing of Hawaii in the 1960s. 

The luau’s setting (it’s hosted in a 30+ acre tropical garden) looks EXACTLY like Elvis’ Blue Hawaii (it was actually filmed right up the road at the Coco Palms Resort) and I’m not going to lie, that was a major selling point!

It feels very vintage, so wear your best aloha attire and get ready to step back in time.

Arrive early because there’s plenty to see on the grounds and you won’t want to miss the Imu ceremony (the unearthing of the pig). 

The meal takes place in a covered pavilion and there’s entertainment on a small stage while you’re waiting for your turn at the buffet and while you’re eating your dinner. 

The meal is all you can eat with all the trappings of a typical luau (salad with guava dressing, macaroni salad, fried rice, mashed taro, stir fried veggies, plantains, guava bread, sweet bread, sweet and sour mahi mahi, teriyaki beef, and of course, kalua pork.

After dinner, there’s a short intermission and everyone makes their way to the covered theater for the show. 

The show is a pretty nice production with a decent storyline, which begins with an erupting volcano (the birth of Hawaii) and the migration of her people to the islands. There were probably a dozen or so numbers including the traditional hula plus dances from Tahiti, China, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, and some other pacific islands and the whole thing was topped off with a fire dance. The show lasted about an hour and it felt just right.

I would also suggest adding on the cruise up the Wailea River to see the fern grotto before the luau. Since the Smith Family also runs the river cruises and the marina is right next door to the luau grounds, it’s all pretty seamless. If you do the last cruise of the day (usually about 3:30 PM), you’ll arrive back at the gardens as they open for the luau. 

There’s a band and a couple of hula dancers on the boat that provide entertainment while you cruise up the river (yes, they’ll probably sing an Elvis song or two). 

When the boat docks at the Fern Grotto, it’s a short walk to the viewing platform. The Fern Grotto is still recovering from the damage from Hurricane Iniki in 1992, but it’s still pretty impressive. 

My entire experience with the Smith Family Luau (including the fern grotto tour) was pretty amazing. Although it was a big crowd, it still felt like a gracious family hosting us for the evening. From the aunties in the kitchen, to the uncles presiding over the ceremony, and the cousins dancing in the show, this truly is a family affair and likely a much different experience than you’ll have at some of the larger luaus on Oahu. If you’re looking for a luau on Kauai, go spend the evening with the Smith Family…you’ll be in good hands!

5.Take a Helicopter Tour

Kauai was pretty much made to be seen from the air. Only 20% of the island is developed (including roads!) which means that most visitors only see a tiny fraction of its splendors. And boy does it have splendors. 

While every Hawaiian Island has absolutely stunning scenery, Kauai is overwhelming in the “jagged, majestic green mountains that look like the backdrop to every single Jurassic Park movie” department.  

Sadly, many of its most beautiful sites are so remote and difficult to reach that they remain unseen by all but the most intrepid hikers. And that’s why helicopter tours are more popular on Kauai than any other Hawaiian Islands. 

The only time I’ve ever been in a helicopter (they make me a little nervous ; ) was on Kauai and it was an incredible experience. 

For most people, a helicopter ride is a once in a lifetime bucket list experience. Because it seems like such a “big deal” (and maybe because it’s also so expensive), I get asked a lot of questions about tours. I’ve rounded up my most common FAQs about Kauai helicopter tours here.

6.Shopping in Hanalei and Mai Tais at the Tahiti Nui

Hanalei has got to be one of the most magical places in Hawaii (maybe the whole world) and while there’s no end to the incredible things you can do on the north shore, I’m pretty basic so shopping and mai tais are the way I like to go. 

There are cute little boutiques all throughout town, but don’t miss I Heart Hanalei and the handful of shops that are on the edge of town as you come in. 

And definitely stop in Tahiti Nui for a mai tai…it’s a Kauai institution. This iconic tiki bar claims to be the oldest tiki bar in Hawaii and its mai tais are legendary. 

Stop by during the day for drinks (it’s always 5 ‘o’ clock in Hawaii) or grab a pizza (they’re really good). 

7.Monk Seals in Poipu

There are only about 1000 monk seals left in Hawaii and I’ve only ever seen them on Kauai. The beaches on the south side of Kauai around Poipu are a favorite resting area for the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals, and after a big meal they’re known to crawl up onto the beach and nap all day. 

I’ve seen them at Poipu Beach and also Shipwreck Beach, but REMEMBER…it’s illegal to approach them so just admire them from a distance!

8.Find Hideaways Beach

One of the north shore’s best beaches is pretty hidden (hence the name) and requires quite an adventure to find. 

It’s in Princeville (make the turn into the resort area where you see the sign for the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay off the main road). You’ll go about two miles through Princeville and then turn right into a tiny little parking lot just before you reach the 1 Hotel guard shack. Just outside the parking lot, you’ll see a small pathway between the two fences. 

You’ll need good shoes to do this little trail (not flip flops!). There’s a pretty sketchy staircase you have to navigate before you get to the series of rope handles that will lead you to the hidden beach. 

Don’t miss this one!

9.Koloa Tree Tunnel

Close to the Poipu on the southside, don’t miss the famous tree lined road to the cute well preserved town of Koloa. 

Koloa is a historic plantation town just a stone’s throw from Poipu that’s been decked out with some cute shops and restaurants. It feels pretty picturesque, like it might have 100 years ago. 

We stopped at the Koloa Mill Coffee and Ice Cream shop for coffee and breakfast on our way up to the north shore one morning and it was slow but very good. I’ve also had lunch at Pizzetta which I loved. 

10.Sunset at the Beach House

If I only have time (or the budget) for one nice dinner on Kauai, this is probably it. And it’s a place I’ll go back to on every trip. 

It’s one of Chef Peter Merriman’s restaurants (you’ll know him from the Monkeypod and Merriman’s) so besides his signature farm to table fresh and local ingredient based menu, it has that “buzzy” type of vibe that really explodes around sunset. 

The way the property is situated on the south side of Kauai (it juts out a bit at an angle) makes it a prime time spot for sunsets all year long. 

Favorites on the menu: Monkeypod mai tai (of course), lobster deviled eggs, pork potstickers, mac nut crusted mahi mahi, and coconut creme brulee. 

Make reservations here.

Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

11.Wailua Falls from Fantasy Island

There are plenty of waterfalls to see on Kauai that require a bit of a hike, but if you’re not super active you’ll definitely want to see the most famous one. 

Wailua Falls is an 80-foot waterfall just outside of Lihue that’s famous as the backdrop to the opening sequence of Fantasy Island. 

Driving north from Lihue (highway 56), turn left on Maalo road in Hanamaulu. About 3 miles down the road, it dead-ends in the parking lot and overlook. 

12.Kilohana Plantation

This is top of my list for my next trip to Kauai. This historic plantation near Lihue has developed a pretty stellar roster of offerings and activities and it seems pretty high end. 

Things to do here: a historic sugar cane train ride, a rum safari (what??), dinner at the Plantation House (supposed to be one of the best restaurants on Kauai), a luau, and plenty of shopping. 

Check out their website here

13. Hanapepe Town

This little town on the west side of Kauai is said to be the inspiration behind the town in Disney’s Lilo & Stitch and it’s easy to see why. 

It has plenty to offer visitors, but it still feels like a local town in a way that a lot of little towns that have been “made over” don’t. 

The time to go is on Friday night for Art Night when the shops and restaurants are open later and there are a few more vendors. 

Don’t miss the fun swinging bridge in town.

14.Spouting Horn Blowhole

There are several blowholes throughout the Hawaiian islands with varying degrees of both impressiveness and accessibility. I think this one is my favorite. You can drive right up, park your car, and walk over to the railing. It’s a great viewing spot for kids, older folks, and people who aren’t up for a major hike to view a natural wonder. 

The blowhole here is very clearly fenced off, but in case you get any crazy ideas…you should never get anywhere near a blowhole. Many deaths have occured near blowholes in Hawaii. It’s possible to get sucked in as well as swept into the ocean by the large waves. Keep a distance!

15.Princeville Botanical Gardens

Kauai is home to some truly spectacular botanical gardens, but the Princeville Botanical Gardens on the north shore are the best. 

Show up and stroll around on your own, or book this tour which includes a chocolate sampling. 

16.Visit Ni’ihau, Hawaii’s Forbidden Island

It’s easy enough to visit the eight main Hawaiian Islands (Oahu, Maui, Kauai, the Big Island/Hawaii, Lanai, and Molokai), but there are two “other” islands that are pretty much inaccessible to visitors. 

Ni’ihau (nicknamed the Forbidden Island because it’s closed to visitors) is just off the coast of Kauai. While you’re not able to fully explore the island, this tour is the only one with permits to land at a beach on the island so if you’re looking to cross off a major Hawaii bucket list item and visit Ni’ihau, you’ll need to book the tour. It includes snorkeling and sightseeing part of the Napali Coast. 

17.Shop Local at Warehouse 1530

When Walmart souvenirs just won’t do, head to this local collective to do some shopping and support locals. The large warehouse space has been converted and is home to many shops, gathering areas, and food trucks. 

They’re open 10AM-4PM and located in Lawai which is on the road between Poipu and Port Allen so if you’re going on a Napali Coast boat tour that leaves from Port Allen it’s the perfect stop on the way back to Poipu. 

They’re open Monday through Saturday, but most of the food trucks aren’t open on Mondays.

If you’re on island for the second Saturday of the month, stop by for their night market from 5-8 which usually features even more vendors. 

On Another Note: If you’re looking for a condo or vacation rental for your trip, I always book with Vrbo. They’ve got the largest selection of rentals you’ll find anywhere and you can easily filter to find exactly what you’re looking for. Need a specific number of bedrooms and bathrooms? Narrowed it down to a certain location? Want flexible cancellation terms? Need to stay under a fixed budget? Click here to search for Kauai vacation rentals for your trip.

18.Snorkeling at Tunnels

Most visitors to Hawaii want to do a little snorkeling, and while Kauai isn’t generally known for having the best snorkeling compared to the other islands, Tunnels is the best spot. It’s also one of Kauai’s most famous (and iconic) beaches. 

It’s hard to find and there’s not much parking (there are two short access ways which look an awful lot like driveways and a lot of “no parking” signs-that’s how you know you’re near) but you can park at Ha’ena Beach and walk back to the east. 

19.Polihale Beach

Kauai’s most noteworthy sunset adventure is just that…an adventure not for the faint of heart, and it’s mostly because of how remote it is. It’s not the kind of place you’re going to pop over real quick in between getting cleaned up from a day at the beach and heading out to dinner. It’ll take a good half day and some planning, but it’s definitely the best spot to catch sunset on Kauai. 

Polihale Beach is as far as you can possibly go around the west side of Kauai by car and besides being one of the few western facing accessible beaches on Kauai, it’s also the start of the island’s famed Napali Coast so it’s just a picturesque spot in general. 

So what’s the big deal? Well, it’s remote. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Poipu and the last 30 minutes or so you’re not likely to see too many people. Not many people besides locals venture out here and even not too many of them. 

From the end of the main road (highway 50), you’ll drive about 5 miles down a pretty rough dirt road to get to the end of the beach. 4WD is advisable, and depending on how much it’s rained lately, maintenance, etc the road’s passability can vary. If you’re driving a high clearance 4WD vehicle (say, a Jeep), you should be fine to make it down to the area where the facilities are. 

But here’s what you don’t want to do…drive on the beach! Because the beach is so remote (not super monitored), plus the kind of place where you need to pack it all in and out, a lot of locals drive on the beach out here and set up camp. But unless you 1) are driving a jacked up Tacoma and 2) have other friends on the island with jacked up Tacomas, tow straps, and a willingness to drive out to Polihale to tow you out, you should not be driving on the sand. It’s a recipe for disaster. 

So you’ll want to drive all the way to the end of the road where there’s a place to park on a packed surface plus restrooms, showers, picnic tables, etc. And even from there it’s quite a trek to carry all of your stuff down to the beach. It’s a wide beach and it’s very exposed to the elements so you’ll need to bring your own shade (umbrellas, tent, etc.). You’ll need to pack in everything actually. Water (bring plenty of it), food, etc. 

So while it’s not undoable, it’s definitely an adventure that’s going to take some planning. Also, it’s not a great spot for swimming, so be careful.

Want to read more posts about Kauai? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on Kauai // Things to Do in Poipu (South Side) // 5 Day Kauai Itinerary // 4 Day Kauai Itinerary (North Shore) // 3 Day Kauai Itinerary //

Where to Stay on Kauai: Princeville vs Poipu // Grand Hyatt Kauai Review // My Favorite Restaurants in Poipu

Kauai Travel Tips (Things to Know Before You Go) // Napali Coast: Boat Tour vs Helicopter // Kauai Helicopter Tour FAQs

Maui vs Kauai

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable. 

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan. 

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too. 

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours). 

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before. 

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).  

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset. 

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly. 

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window). 

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot. 

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person. 

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle. 

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM. 

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of. 

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day. 

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before. 

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online. 

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor. 

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here

You’ve got three options here: 

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation. 

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas. 

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer. 

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation. 

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist.  Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch). 

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist. 

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance. 

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance. 

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance. 

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.



P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

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