There’s just something about Kaua’i that makes me feel reinvigorated. Whenever someone asks me which Hawaiian island outdoor lovers and adventure seekers should visit, I choose the ‘Garden Isle.’ Why? There’s just so many active and outdoorsy things to do on Kauai’i!
If you’ve been wondering whether Kaua’i is the right island for you, it is if you’re looking for dramatic waterfalls, lots of natural beauty, tons of outdoor activities, and a laidback, slower-paced vibe. For something a bit more developed and lively, with larger resorts and amenities, check out my Oahu and Maui guides to compare and help you choose the right Hawaiian island for you.
Despite Kaua’i’s slower pace and smaller population (just 72,000 inhabitants!), there are actually countless things to do on Kaua’i. Read on for my list of the 23 best things to do on Kaua’i, and check out my recommended Kaua’i itinerary next to help you plan your trip!
RELATED: A 5 Day Kaua’i Itinerary For Outdoor Lovers
20+ of the Very Best Things to Do on Kaua’i
1. Take a Helicopter Tour of Kaua’i
Kaua’i is famous for its dramatic landscapes, countless waterfalls, deep canyons, and rugged mountains. But, did you know that 80% of the island is inaccessible by car?
To get the best perspective of Kaua’i, consider taking a helicopter tour. I consider this to be one of the absolute best things to do on Kaua’i!
In just one hour, you’ll be able to get a full 360-tour of the island, from the waterfalls in Waimea Canyon, to the towering mountain range of Na Pali, to the acres and acres of tropical rainforest.
Some helicopter tour operators even allow you to fly with the doors off, if you’re feeling brave! I recommend Mauna Loa Helicopters, and you can see all of their tours here to choose the one that’s right for you.
2. Tour the Famous Na Pali Coast
The mysterious, alluring Na Pali Coast is inaccessible by car. And yet, it’s one of Kaua’i’s biggest attractions. Whether or not you choose to take a helicopter tour and see it from the sky, taking a boat provides you an entirely different perspective on Kaua’i’s wild beauty.
There are tons of boat tours of the Na Pali coast, and no matter which you choose, it’s bound to be a highlight of your entire Kaua’i trip.
3. Snorkel Off the Coast of Ni’ihau (The Forbidden Island)
Technically this is part of the Na Pali coast recommendation, but I wanted to emphasize just how strongly I recommend booking a Na Pali tour that also takes you to Ni’ihau.
Why? Because Ni’ihau is one of two Hawaiian islands that is nearly impossible to visit (read all about that here), and boat tours like this allow you to get super close to the island and snorkel above beautiful, undisturbed coral reefs. I never thought I’d be able to get close to Ni’ihau in my entire life, so this was a huge highlight for me. Visiting Ni’ihau is something few people will ever get to say they’ve done!
The only time I would not recommend this tour is if you’re easily prone to seasickness, as the 17-mile crossing can be a bit choppy depending on the day’s conditions. If you get seasick easily, choose a tour that sticks to the Kaua’i coast, like any of these.
4. Watch the Sunset in Po’ipu
Po’ipu, literally meaning ‘crashing waves’ in Hawaiian, is one of Kaua’i’s most popular towns to visit. Whether or not you stay in Po’ipu, driving to Kaua’i’s south shore is a must to watch the sunset.
Bring a towel and a picnic and come to Po’ipu Beach about 45 minutes to an hour before sunset for the world’s greatest free show. Afterwards, walk across the street and grab a tropical hot dog from Puka Dog. One of the best cheap eats on the entire island!
5. Explore Koke’e State Park and Waimea Canyon (AKA The Grand Canyon of the Pacific)
Did you know that Hawaii has its own Grand Canyon? Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and sides 3,400 feet above sea level. It’s a jaw-dropper, and one of Kaua’i’s greatest natural attractions.
Koke’e State Park, next door to Waimea Canyon, offers equally impressive views, as well as the opportunity to sneak a peek at the Na Pali coast.
You can – and should – easily spend a day in Kaua’i’s west coast state parks hiking, exploring, and admiring the many lookout points along the way.
6. Explore Kaua’i Beaches
The small island of Kaua’i has something like 70 beaches to explore, each with its own unique qualities and undeniable beauty. No matter what kind of beach day you might be looking for, going to the beach is easily one of the most popular things to do on Kaua’i.
Here are a few of the best Kaua’i beaches to keep on your radar!
- South Kaua’i Beaches: Po’ipu Beach, Lawai Beach, Shipwreck Beach
- East Kaua’i Beaches: Anahola Beach, Kalapaki Beach, Lydgate Beach Park, Wailua Beach, Nukoli’i Beach
- North Kaua’i Beaches: Hanalei Beach Park, Black Pot Beach, Wai’oli Beach, Waikokos, Tunnels Beach
- West Kaua’i Beaches: Kekaha Beach
- Good Spots for Snorkeling: Anini Beach, Tunnels Beach, Salt Pond Beach Park, Po’ipu Beach
- Good Beaches for Surfing: Kealia Beach, Hanalei Beach Park, Kalapaki Beach
7. Shop Local at Warehouse 3540
Despite Kaua’i’s small size, there’s a fair amount of shopping that can be done here. One place I love is Warehouse 3540, a space bringing local Kaua’i makers and artisans together under one roof.
For a compact but unique shopping experience, and a great opportunity for locally made gifts to bring back with you, Warehouse 3540 in south Kaua’i is well worth the detour!
8. Discover a Kaua’i Waterfall
It’s hard to say for sure how many waterfalls there are on Kaua’i, because most of them can’t be seen or accessed from the road. However, there are plenty, and you’ll want to see as many as you can when you’re here!
Some of the best Kaua’i waterfalls include:
- Wailua Falls: On Kaua’i’s east side, Wailua Falls is one of two centrally located, easy-access waterfalls that you reach by car.
- Opaheka’a Falls: Not far from Wailua Falls, Opaheka’a Falls is also accessible by car.
- Hanakapi’ai Falls: This waterfall is accessible via 8-mile round-trip hike. Day hiking is allowed without a permit.
- Hanakoa Falls: A 1,000-foot waterfall, this is one of the falls you’ll find when hiking the Kalalau Trail on Kaua’i’s north shore.
- Ho’olea Falls: Another Kalalau Trail waterfall, Ho’olea Falls can be found at the end of the 11-mile trek.
- Ho’opi’i Falls: You can find Ho’opi’i Falls in Kapa’a Town via a short 2.4-mile out-and-back hike.
- Mount Waialeale Falls: Cascading down Mount Waialeale, this waterfall can be accessed by 4.9-mile hike, but I think it’s equally gorgeous when viewed by helicopter!
- Queen’s Bath: An easily accessible waterfall found at the end of an 0.8-mile trail.
- Uluwehi Falls: Also known as Secret Falls, this beautiful waterfall can be accessed via 6.1-mile hike, or by kayak / stand-up paddleboard.
- Waipo’o Falls: An 800-foot waterfall in the Waimea Canyon, Waipo’o Falls is best seen via 3.2-mile hike or via helicopter.
9. Hike Your Way Around the Island
Hiking is one of the best things to do no matter which Hawaiian island you visit. In Kaua’i, going on a hike will be extra rewarding because you’ll be able to see so many more things than you would if you were simply renting a car and driving around.
From Kaua’i waterfalls, to views of the Na Pali coast, to scenic strolls along the coast, there’s so many options to choose from depending on your skill level.
Choose a hike that matches your abilities, your interests, and your location during your Kaua’i trip. Always check the weather forecast in advance!
Here are some of the best Kaua’i hikes:
- Easy Kaua’i Hikes: Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, Queen’s Bath
- Moderate Kaua’i Hikes: Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls, Awa’awapuhi Trail, Sleeping Giant (East), Ho’opi’i Falls Trail
- Strenuous / Longer Kaua’i Hikes: Kukua Trail, Honopu Ridge, Kalepa Ridge Trail, Nu’alolo Trail, Waialeale Blue Hole Falls Trail, Kalalau Trail (advance reservation must be made using this link)
10. Learn More About Hawaii’s History
Beyond the beaches, waterfalls, and rainforests, Hawaii is equally rich in its history and culture. One of the best things you can do in Kaua’i is learn a bit about Hawaii’s history while you’re here. It’ll help you appreciate this island and its people even more!
- Visit Kukui Heiau or Ka Ula o Laka Heiau, two ancient sacred temples on Kaua’i that are accessible to the public. It is said that ancient heiau carry mana, or power, so tread lightly and be respectful when visiting Hawaii’s sacred spaces
- Stop at the Wai’oli Mission House for a glimpse back at Hawaii’s first missionaries
- Take a tour at the Daniel K Inouye Kilauea Lighthouse
- Stroll, drive, or bike down the 10-mile Koloa Heritage Trail, a ‘treasure hunt’ filled with landmarks and monuments showcasing south Kaua’i’s history from pre-contact to now
- Learn about Hawaii’s sugar plantation history at the Grove Farm Homestead Museum
- Explore the Kaua’i Museum for an overview of Hawaii’s history, from its geological formation, to native Hawaiian life, to the Hawaiian monarchy, to the evolution of surfing
11. Visit the North Shore Town of Hanalei
Located on Kaua’i’s north shore, Hanalei is a small town with a long history of being an abundant agricultural area in Kaua’i.
While you’ll still find acres of taro fields here, Hanalei town is now known for its art galleries, coffee shops, bakeries, boutiques, restaurants, and surf shops. Hanalei Bay is home to some of the best Hawaii beaches for swimming, and is made even more picturesque by the waterfall-lined mountain range surrounding it.
You can easily spend a day – or several – here enjoying the beach, strolling around Hanalei Town, visiting nearby botanical gardens, and hiking. This is one of my favorite areas on Kaua’i.
12. Savor Kaua’i’s Rich Culinary Scene
While you won’t necessarily find as many restaurants on Kaua’i as you will on Oahu or Maui, the food scene here isn’t one to overlook.
From casual bites to vegan and vegetarian, fast food to fine dining, Kaua’i has an astonishing variety of restaurants for its population size. Of course, dining in Hawaii isn’t the cheapest thing to do. So, if you’re concerned about your Hawaii budget, pick a day or two to splurge on a nice meal. Then, spend the rest of your trip with cheaper eats!
If you’re wondering where to eat on Kaua’i, add these suggestions to your list:
- Taste traditional Hawaiian food at Pono Market or Keoki’s Paradise
- Grab a local plate lunch at L&L BBQ
- Experience Kaua’i’s food truck scene all over the island, and use this directory to help you find their locations
- Eat fresh poke and ahi wraps at Kilauea Fish Market and Hanalei Poke
- Drink a refreshing mai tai at the Mahiko Lounge, the Koloa Rum Tasting Room, or Duke’s Kaua’i
- Eat a fine dining at Red Salt, Beach House, or Oasis on the Beach
- Sample Hawaii Regional Cuisine at Eating House 1849
- Indulge in Kaua’i’s health food scene at Trilogy, Healthy Hut, and Kaua’i Juice Co
- Support woman-owned business on Kaua’i by sampling tasty sweets at Haole Girl Sweets, and tasty eats at Hanalei Taro & Juice Co
- Savor a tropical Polish hot dog at Puka Dog
- Buy some delicious baked goods at Hanalima, The Hanalei Bread Company, Passion Bakery Cafe, and Midnight Bear Breads
- Have a local shave ice at The Fresh Shave
13. Uncover Kaua’i’s Cocktail, Beer, and Wine Scene
Kaua’i often gets a bad rap for having zero nightlife, but I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t true! While you won’t necessarily find clubs or a late-night scene, there are still lots of great bars and breweries around the island that you can explore.
For a craft cocktail, check out Bar Acuda, Tiki Iniki, the Mahiko Lounge, The Beach House, or Red Salt.
If you’re seeking out live Hawaiian music to pair with your drink, check out Tahiti Nui, Keoki’s Paradise, Duke’s Barefoot Bar, Hukilau Lanai, or Stevenson’s Library, all of which typically offer live music at least a few nights each week.
Grab a glass of wine (or mead) at The Wine Shop and Tasting Room, Nani Moon Meadery, or the Palate Wine Bar.
Last but not least, get your beer fix at Kaua’i Beer Company or Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill.
14. Drink a Mai Tai in the Rainforest with a Kaua’i Rum Safari
Another cocktail-related activity, this thing to do in Kaua’i is so unique, it deserves its own section.
Located on the Kilohana Plantation, Kaua’i’s Rum Safari takes you through absolutely stunning farm and tropical forest land, giving you a chance to see Kaua’i’s biodiversity while sampling Kaua’i-made Koloa Rum.
Koloa Rum rum is made using Kaua’i rainwater, locally sourced ingredients, and sugarcane. Sugarcane has a long and complicated history in Hawaii, with some key issues being land use and foreign involvement. What’s unique about Koloa Rum is that they’re working to rewrite the narrative, employing 90% local Kaua’i natives, collaborating with local farmers and landowners, and finding ways to sustainably increase Kaua’i sugar production.
So, you can feel extra good about sampling that Kaua’i-made rum, freshly stirred mai tai, and farm-to-cup cocktail (all included in your tour).
15. Float Down the Wailua River by Kayak or Stand-Up Paddleboard
The Wailua River is the only navigable river in the entire state, and it was even once the home of ancient Hawaiian ali’i. What’s amazing about this river today is that there are so many sights to see, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can access them all by kayak or paddleboard. One of my favorites is Uluwehi Falls (aka Secret Falls), which you can hike to via a short trail after a ~45-60 minute paddle.
I recommend renting a paddleboard for a day of self-guided exploration, or taking a guided kayaking tour, to best explore the Wailua River!
16. Take a Boat Tour of the Wailua River to See the Fern Grotto
For a more leisurely float down the Wailua River, try a boat tour. The Fern Grotto – a lush, fern-filled lava cave – is yet another example of Kaua’i’s impressive natural beauty.
You can no longer go inside the Fern Grotto sadly, but you can still admire it from a viewing platform!
17. Admire Hawaii’s Unique Plant Life at a Botanical Garden
Hawaii’s lush rainforests and unique flora are just as special as its pretty beaches! Visit a botanical garden in Kaua’i and plan to be wowed. Many of Hawaii’s plants can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Some Botanical Gardens, Farms, and Plantations to Check Out on Kaua’i:
- Limahuli Garden and Preserve ($25-$40)
- Kilohana Plantation (I recommend visiting on a Rum Safari tour!)
18. Attend a Luau
In Hawaiian culture, luau are big gatherings to commemorate special occasions and to welcome visitors.
Though pricey, attending a luau on any Hawaiian island is regarded as a ‘must’ for first-time Hawaii visitors, and generally comes with an evening of entertainment, tons of local Hawaiian food, and drinks.
Best Kaua’i Luaus to Consider:
- Luau Kalamaku: One of the best Kaua’i luau options, Luau Kalamaku is centrally located at the Kilohana Plantation near Lihue. You can expect a buffet-style dinner and performances throughout your meal.
- Smith Family Garden Luau: Another top Kaua’i luau, the Smith Family Garden Luau near Wailua is one of Kaua’i’s longest-running. This luau is to be more family-oriented. One key difference here is that dinner and the performance are separate events, meaning you’ll eat in a pavilion before moving to an amphitheater to watch the show.
- Auli’i Luau: Located at the Sheraton Kaua’i Resort in Po’ipu, the Auli’i Luau is well-loved for its beautiful oceanfront location and performances by award-winning Urahutia, an all-female local dance group.
Kaua’i luau are popular events. Be sure to book in advance!
19. Go to a Kaua’i Farmers Market
For a break from Kaua’i’s restaurants and food trucks, head to a market! Also known locally as Sunshine Markets, Kaua’i has several farmers markets, fruit stands, and small shops throughout the island for you to choose from. I love and highly recommend Hawaii’s farmers markets because they allow you to sample local produce and foods while supporting local growers. It’s a win-win!
Kaua’i Farmers Markets, Produce Stands, and More:
- Anahola Farmers Hui Market (Wednesdays and Sundays, 10 am – 2 pm)
- Hale Halawai Hanalei Farmers Market (Saturdays, 9:30 am – 12 pm)
- Waimea Farmers Market (Thursdays, 3:30 – 5:30 pm)
- Anaina Hou Market (Saturdays, 9 am – 12 pm)
- Healthy Hut (Kilauea)
- Moloa’a Fruit Stand (Moloa’a)
- Hoku Natural Foods (Kapa’a)
- Olana Organic Farm (Kilauea)
- North Country Farms (Kilauea)
20. Attend a Kaua’i Art Night
Art nights are one of the coolest ways to get to know Kaua’i’s makers, artists, designers, chefs, and entertainers. While Kaua’i might not have a big nightlife scene, Kaua’i’s art nights make up for this by bringing small towns throughout the island to life after dark.
Best Kaua’i Art Nights:
- Hanapepe Art Night (every Friday, 5 – 9 pm): An old port town, Hanapepe has transformed into a popular attraction thanks to its art galleries, boutiques, and food scene. This town is said to have been the inspiration for the town depicted in Lilo and Stitch!
- Old Town Kapa’a Art Walk (every first Saturday, 5 – 9 pm): With live music, sidewalk vendors, and extended opening hours for local boutiques, Kapa’a Town hosts an amazing art walk once a month!
- Kilauea Art Night (every last Saturday, 4 – 8 pm): This monthly art night can be found on Kaua’i’s north shore. Here, you’ll find everything from food trucks to baked goods, along with live performances and more than 40+ local artisans’ crafts.
21. Take a Surfing Lesson
If you’re thinking of taking a trip to Hawaii, odds are, you might be wondering whether you should try your hand at surfing. Lucky for you, there are lots of places to learn on Kaua’i!
Even though I grew up on Oahu, I was never really taught how to surf, so I grew up pretty terrified at the thought of trying. I’ve technically surfed several times, but never successfully. And I’ve never managed to stand up once I caught a wave. That is, until I finally swallowed my pride and took a lesson (in Maui!) to figure out what I’d been doing wrong. That was the day I successfully caught not 1, not 2, but 9 waves. If I can do it, why not you!
Where to Take Surfing Lessons On Kaua’i:
22. Get A Closer Look at Hawaii’s Marine Life
There are so many different ways to experience Kaua’i’s marine life. From snorkeling to seeing spinner dolphins twirl in the air, Kaua’i has endless opportunities for you to learn more about the marine life that calls Hawaii home.
- Snorkel at Poipu Beach, Lawai Beach, or Tunnels Beach
- Take a scuba diving lesson with Dive Kaua’i
- Glimpse a sun-bathing Hawaiian monk seal when you visit Lehua Crater on this Ni’ihau tour
- See spinner dolphins when you take a Na Pali coast boat tour
- Admire humpback whales during the winter months on most Kaua’i boat tours
Not a swimmer, or prefer to appreciate the ocean from land? It’s not unheard of to spot honu or Hawaiian monk seals when you’re just chilling at the beach, so keep an eye out!
Please note that Hawaii’s wildlife is fiercely protected, so be sure to always keep a respectful distance. Don’t touch, don’t feed, and always carry reef-friendly sunscreen only!
23. Give Back by Volunteering on Kaua’i
It would be impossible for me to write a whole post about the best things to do in Kaua’i without mentioning the impact tourism has on the Hawaiian islands.
To combat that, and help preserve this beautiful state for future generations, I highly recommend dedicating a morning of your visit to giving back! From beach clean-ups to learning more about native Hawaiian land practices, there are endless volunteering options you can get involved with.
In fact, at the time of writing this post, some participating accommodations on Kaua’i (like the Koa Kea Hotel and the Grand Hyatt Resort) will even give you a free night’s stay if you do a self-directed beach clean-up during your visit! It’s all a part of Hawaii’s Malama Hawaii Program, which encourages visitors to connect with the ‘aina (land) in a deeper way, and leave the islands better than they were when you arrived.
See all participating Kaua’i hotels, and volunteer opportunities, here.
There you have it! Of the 20+ of the very best things to do on Kaua’i that made this list, which are you most excited to do? Be sure to check out my Hawaii Trip Planning Guide and the rest of my Hawaii series next!
Book Activities in Kaua’i Here:
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Thanks for the vacation ideas. My wife and I are planning a trip. We should try a boat tour.