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With lush green mountains, towering waterfalls, pristine beaches, and small-town charm, the Hawaiian island of Kauai is a tropical paradise. If you’re wondering what there is to do during your upcoming trip, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Enjoy scenic hikes like the Kalalau Trail, relax on beaches like Hanalei Bay, go snorkeling at Tunnels Beach, take a boat ride along the spectacular Na Pali Coast, and explore the Waimea Canyon. But there’s much more, so read on!

In this comprehensive guide to Kauai activities and attractions, we’ll provide an overview of the top things to see and do during your Hawaiian escape, from outdoor adventures to historical and cultural sites and more.

With helpful sections tailored to a variety of interests and trip durations from day trips to two week itineraries, you’ll discover amazing experiences for every type of traveler.

Outdoor Activities in Kauai

Go on epic hikes and scenic drives

With over 90 trails covering 120 miles, Kauai offers some of the most stunning hikes in Hawaii. From family-friendly routes to the awe-inspiring Kalalau trail along the famous Napali Coast, outdoor enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice.

The Awa’awapuhi Trail rewards hikers with views of the breathtaking Na Pali coastline while the Kuilau Ridge Trail takes you up to jaw-dropping vistas at the summit. For an easy coastal hike, head over to the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail stretch, perfect for all ages.

Kauai’s scenery also lends itself to scenic drives along cliff-hugging roads. Rent a car and embark on a drive along the coast on Highway 550. Pull over at scenic lookout points along the way to take in views of the lush mountainscapes and the azure ocean.

Relax on world-class beaches

Fringed by swaying palms, Kauai’s beaches are the stuff of dreams. Sunbathe, swim or surf at family-friendly Poipu Beach with its calm waters. The wide open sands of Salt Pond Beach Park are great for beach combing and spotting Hawaiian green sea turtles.

For excellent swimming and snorkeling, head out to Anini Beach near Princeville, protected by one of Hawaii’s longest coral reefs.

Catch world-class waves along Hanalei Bay or polish your surfing skills with a lesson at Kalapaki Beach. With over 50 miles of coastline, beach lovers will delight in Kauai’s pristine strands.

Enjoy tropical snorkeling and diving sites

Snorkelers and divers will find an underwater world brimming with coral gardens, sea turtles and schools of colorful fish around Kauai. Gear up and drift above coral reefs at Lawai Beach or head out by boat to snorkel the crystal-clear waters of Niihau, Lehua Rock and the Forbidden Island of Niihau.

Scuba divers can explore caverns, lava tubes and wall dives around Kauai. Ranked one of the top 10 dive sites in the world, Shipwreck Beach offers the chance to discover a WWII minesweeper wreck 30ft underwater. With clear waters and abundant sea life, Kauai offers world-class snorkeling and diving.

Zipline above lush valleys and waterfalls

For bird’s eye views of Kauai’s breathtaking scenery, embark on a zipline adventure tour. Various companies like Kauai Backcountry Adventures offer courses for all levels, zigzagging over tropical foliage, rivers and waterfalls across the island.

Glide at exhilarating speeds across forest canopies in Hanapepe Valley or opt for a laidback tour over lush taro fields.

According to research, Hawaii zipline tours generated over $120 million in 2018, indicating the huge popularity of this outdoor pursuit. With professional guides and unparalleled views, ziplining through Kauai’s landscapes will create lifelong memories.

Unique Attractions and Tours

See spectacular sights on boat cruises and helicopter rides

One of the best ways to take in Kauai’s magnificent scenery is from the air or sea. Helicopter tours provide a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the island’s emerald mountains, hidden waterfalls, and sea cliffs.

Popular landing spots include Manawaiopuna Falls, made famous from Jurassic Park, and Waimea Canyon. For those preferring to stay closer to the water, catamaran and yacht cruises explore the dramatic Na Pali Coastline with its towering cliffs and secluded beaches, ideal for snorkeling and whale watching.

According to Hawaii Boat Tours, Na Pali snorkel tours have a 95% sighting success rate for humpback whales from December to April.

Visit botanical gardens and sanctuaries

Kauai is sometimes called the “Garden Isle” for its abundance of tropical plants and flowers. The island is home to several magnificent gardens open to visitors, including Allerton Garden with its sculptures, waterfalls, and exotic plants featured in Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean.

At NTBG’s McBryde Garden, guests can take educational tours through the largest ex situ collection of native Hawaiian plants in existence. For animal lovers, wildlife sanctuaries like Kauai Humane Society offer behind-the-scenes tours and volunteering with shelter animals.

At Pono Bird Farm and Sanctuary injured native birds receive care with the goal of release into the wild.

Taste treats at coffee and chocolate estates

Coffee and cacao both originated in tropical regions and are now grown on plantations across Kauai. Tour and taste test at coffee estates like Gay & Robinson and Kauai Coffee Company, the largest coffee grower in Hawaii.

At Steelgrass Chocolate Farm, sample handmade chocolate infused with tropical ingredients like guava, passionfruit, coconut, and sea salt. Lydgate Farms Chocolate boasts the sweetest tasting cacao beans in the world. Tasting tours pair samples of estate grown chocolate with fresh island fruits.

Explore Kauai’s rich history and culture

In addition to natural wonders, Kauai has a long human history and vibrant culture to discover. Ancient Hawaiian sites like the royal complex at Waimea Valley offer glimpses into the island’s storied past of warriors, navigators, healers and aliʻi (royalty).

The coastal town Hanapepe has an artistic community, quaint stores, and Friday art nights. The west side holds historic towns built around the sugar cane industry like Waimea, home to the Russian Fort Elizabeth constructed in 1816.

In Lihue, the Kauai Museum educates visitors about island heritage with cultural artifacts, art, and changing exhibits covering history, science and the arts.

Food and Nightlife

Savor Hawaiian fusion cuisine

Kauai’s diverse culture is reflected in its mouthwatering fusion cuisine that artfully blends Hawaiian, Asian, Polynesian and American influences. For a unique dining experience, try Tahiti Nui in Hanalei, which offers dishes like guava chicken and macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi.

Their popular ahi poke tacos with mango salsa are a can’t miss. Or check out BarAcuda Tapas and Wine in Hanalei, which creatively fuses tapas-style small plates like braised short ribs in red curry sauce with an extensive wine list.

If you’re looking for an upscale fine dining experience with sweeping oceanfront views, head to Beach House Restaurant in Poipu. Their signature dishes include misoyaki butterfish and chimichurri steak.

For the best of Hawaii’s diverse food experiences, visit the Kauai Mokihana Festival in September, where you can sample cuisine representing the island’s various cultures at booths around Kauai.

Check out local farmer’s markets

In addition to restaurants, explore Kauai’s bounty of fresh local produce, meat and seafood at weekly farmer’s markets and roadside farm stands around the island. The Kauai Community Farmers Markets offer the largest selection, with locations in Kapaa, Kilauea, and Koloa.

You’ll find tropical fruits like guava, dragonfruit, rambutans and more, as well as herbs, vegetables, honey, coffee, macadamia nuts, salad greens, breads and pastries.

Find the island’s best happy hours

After a day of adventures, unwind by discovering Kauai’s best happy hour deals. Head to Duke’s Barefoot Bar in Lihue for half-priced appetizers and drinks with prime sunset views. Or check out Street Burger and Tap Room in the Historic County Building in Lihue, which has $4 craft draft beers and half-priced burgers from 3-5:30pm.

For stunning coastal scenery paired with happy hour specials, try Brennecke’s Beach Broiler in Poipu. Their lanai bar has $5 margaritas, mai tais and appetizers like ahi poke and coconut shrimp when the sun goes down.

Experience a luau under the stars

No trip to Hawaii is complete without taking part in a luau, a vibrant Polynesian feast filled with entertainment and culture. Smith’s Tropical Paradise in Wailua offers an award-winning luau with authentic Hawaiian dishes like kalua pig, lomi salmon and poi, along with hula dancing and music.

Or check out the oceanfront Grand Hyatt Kauai Luau with panoramic sunset views. Their luau buffet features both traditional fare and dishes with a modern twist, followed by an enchanting Polynesian show. End your days in paradise by experiencing the magic of the Islands with a luau under the stars.

Family-Friendly Places and Activities

Build sandcastles at Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach on Kauai’s sunny south shore is a family favorite with its calm waters perfect for swimming and building epic sandcastles (😊). The wide beach has lifeguards and facilities. Rent sand toys and boats at nearby shops.

Expert sand sculptors hold classes for kids to construct mermaids, sea turtles and more. Afterward, rinse off in the showers and picnic under palm trees.

Splash in waterfalls and tidepools

Kauai’s interior features countless hiking trails leading to gorgeous waterfalls and natural pools perfect for swimming. Families love splashing under the 80-foot Waipo’o Falls. Or check out the Queen’s Bath tidepools on Kauai’s north shore when waters are calm.

Supervise children carefully where waves can surge. Respect signage and kapu (taboo) areas in this Hawaii paradise.

Go whale watching and kayaking

From December to April, thousands of humpback whales migrate to Kauai’s warm waters to mate and birth calves. Take a whale watching cruise out of Port Allen to glimpse these amazing marine mammals up close. Many boats have underwater hydrophones so you can listen to whale songs.

For more adventure, try a kayak whale watching eco tour.

Visit fun theme parks for all ages

On rainy days or to please the keiki (kids), Kauai has several family-oriented amusement parks. At Lydgate Park, kids love the huge, creative playground and two-story wooden castle. On the east side, Smith’s Tropical Paradise offers 30 acres of jungle gardens, ponds and trails to explore.

In Lihu’e town, the interactive Kauai Museum brings Hawaiian history and culture to life through engaging exhibits and demonstrations showcasing native arts, crafts and more.

Conclusion

With so much stunning tropical scenery, unique local culture, and exciting things to do in Kauai, this Hawaiian island really does live up to its reputation. By following our recommended top attractions and activities in each area, you’re sure to have an unforgettable tropical trip full of amazing sights, new flavors, fun adventures, and ultimate relaxation during your time in Kauai paradise.

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