Ten best things to do on Kauai

There are so many adventures and fun to be had on Kauai that it is next to impossible to limit it to only ten best things to do on Kauai. With that said, there are a few choice things every visitor should do to appreciate the natural splendor that makes Kauai such an incredible place. After much preponderance we at Kauai Exclusive have come up with the definitive list. Many of us who work at Kauai Exclusive have deep roots to the island and would like to share our “manao” with you.

1 – Hike The Napali Coastline

The Hanakapiai or Kalalau Trail, beginning in Haena at Ke’e Beach, is a world renowned north shore Kauai hiking trail offering some of the best views of the scenic and dramatic northwest Na Pali Coastline that you can enjoy from land. This trail takes you into Kalalau Valley, ending at a secluded beach 11 miles up the trail. Used by both locals and visitors, this hike won’t leave you disappointed (don’t forget the camera!).

The Na Pali Coast ‘Kalalau’ trail is best understood if broken down into three parts; the three parts of the Kalalau Trail include:

Section 1: Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai Beach (2 Miles/One Way)
Section 2: Hanakapiai Beach to Hanakoa (4 Miles/One Way)
Section 3: Hanakoa to Kalalau (5 Miles/One Way)

This hike is not for the faint of heart and can be rigorous. You will need much water and check the weather conditions before you go. If you are serious about this adventure please read our complete guide to hiking the Napali Coast:

Kalalau Trail
One of the most photographed places on Kauai, Kalalau Valley

2 – Helicopter Tour Kauai

A helicopter tour over Kauai is simply put, an amazing experience. Most of Kauai is inaccessible and can only be seen by helicopter where you will get a bird’s eye view of the verdant valleys, abundant waterfalls and tropical wilderness. I recommend that you do your helicopter tour early on in your stay because it always you perspective to where Kauai’s landmarks are related to one another geographically. Most pilots have much to share during your flight and the two way communication is great to ask questions along the way.

You will be astounded at the amount of waterfalls seemingly hidden in every other valley. The most famous is the “Jurassic Park” waterfall which is actually the end of many other cascading falls feeding into one colossal one. It is a shock to see the sheer volume of water diverting into this fantastic sight. After all Kauai is called the “Garden Isle” for a reason. Another incredible sight is the center of the island Waialeale Crater which is in fact not a crater but a caldera. Waialeale Crater is famous for being the wettest place on earth so expect much rain and deep pools.

Most helicopter tours end up cutting across Waimea Valley and out into the Napali Coast. Both of these areas are what makes Kauai’s landscape so awe inspiring. You have to see it to know what “awe inspiring” is. Helicopter tours typically head towards the famous Hanalei Bay and back to civilization. Other areas you are likely to see are Wailua Falls (made famous on Treasure Island), Kipu Kai, Hanapepe Valley, the blue hole near Waialeale Crater, and sometimes Hanalei Valley. I highly recommend taking a helicopter tour of Kauai which is why it is #2 on our list.

3 – Boating Adventure Napali Coast

There are a number of boat tour companies operating out of Port Allen on the west side of Kauai. Port Allen is the largest commercial boat harbor on Kauai and is a short run to the famed Napali Coast. All boat tours only visit the Napali Coast in the summer months and weather permitting. In the winter months many of the boat tour companies head to the south shore locations which offer beautiful vistas but nothing compared to the dramatic folding cliffs of the ragged Napali Coast.

Leaving Port Allen Kauai boat tours first pass Salt Pond then shortly come to the Barking Sands area where the water color really changes. The Mana/Barking Sands area tends to have a vast playground of spinner dolphins. The spinner dolphins of Hawaii literally jump out of the water and spin. They are much smaller than Bottle Nose Dolphins and never fail to entertain with their aquatic acrobatics. .  

Next is the first cliffs of the Napali and Miloli reef then Hanakoa, Hanpu Arch, Kalalau Beach and other gorgeous coves and caves. Most famous is the open ceiling cave that can only be entered with smaller boats like zodiacs.

Choosing what type of boat you want to go on to see the Napali should be based on  your desired experience. The smaller zodiac boats can get into caves and closer to the coastline but they are rough and very wet. You should only choose to go on a zodiac if you are in good health and fairly fit. The large boats are better if you tend to get sea sick. Also the larger boats provide bathrooms, food and drinks and a generally more comfortable ride.

Napali Boat Trip
Napali Boat Trip

4 – Visit Waimea Canyon and Kokee

Waimea Canyon, famously dubbed “the grand canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain is a sight to behold. Heading to the west side will feel like you are both going back in time. The west side of Kauai is the driest side of the island and it never ceases to amaze how much of a contrast the arid climate of the west side is to the rest of the island. Waimea town is a dusty old throw back to old Hawaii. Don’t forget to stop at Ishihara Market to get the best poke on the island!

The road heading up to Kokee from Waimea town is an experience unto itself with it’s winding switch back roads that on one side is the abyss of the Waimea Canyon and on the other side simmering views of the Pacifica stretching out to Niihau Island. As a side note Niihau is called the forbidden island because it is privately owned and forbidden to access without permission by owners (read more on Niihau).

There are a number of vistas to stop and admire the sheer magnitude of the canyon/ Waipo’o Falls is the most notable and can be seen directly off the side of the road. Heading further into Koke’e State Park you will come to the visitor center. This is a great place to stop and “talk story” about what to do and where to go with the rangers. In addition, the lodge offers a nice eatery – don’t miss the Portuguese Bean Soup – as well as limited cabins to rent.

Eventually getting to the top is the spectacular Kalalau Canyon vista which looks into the most beautiful valley of the Napali coast. Earlier in the day tends to be more clear as later when the day heats up the mist can sweep in and obscure your view. It is a vista you can’t miss.  

Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon

5-Bike Adventure to a Secret Beach

In Kappa town the bike path has become a great outdoor adventure for the whole family. Over the years the County of Kauai has slowly expanded the bike path to stretch from Lydgate to Anahola. You can rent bikes at a number of different outlets right off the road. From there pack up a lunch or just plan on getting food along the way at the many food trucks that line the path.

Heading north from downtown Kapaa you first come to Kealia Beach which is a beautiful windswept eastside beach. If you want to take a dip in the ocean do so over on the far side of the beach called the landing side as Kealia can have strong surf. Kealia is a popular beach so if you want something more secluded continue on the bike path to head north still. You will pass many beautiful vistas and coves along the way and eventually come to Donkey’s Beach. Donkey’s Beach used to be a nude beach but with the advent of the bike path the character of the beach has changed and now nudity is somewhat frowned upon.

Donkey’s Beach is fairly secluded and offers many private areas to have your picnic. However if you want to find something still more isolated then keep heading north until you come up a small cove called The Crack. It is effectively the end of the line for the north side of the bide path and few make the full journey as well as hike down to beach. Chose your level of adventure and have fun!

Bike Path
Bike Path

6 – Check Out Abandoned Sugar Cane Mill and Lunch at Poipu Beach

On the South Shore of Kauai is one of the best preserved old sugar cane mills left in the islands. It was in full production up until recently and is reminiscent of what industry came before tourism. Many of the older locals on Kauai remember those days when the mills and the pineapple packing production was the places where everyone worked. If you are interested in the history of Kauai this is one of those landmarks you should stop and take in.

After visiting the mill it is s short drive to many of the sights on the south shore, such as the Spouting Horn, a blow hole near Alerton’s Gardens and the harbor. On the other side of Poipu is Mahalapu Beach, the napali of the south shore, and between these two landmarks is Poipu Beach Park. Poipu Beach Park has been voted as one of the best beaches in the world! It is a great place to stop and have lunch, or just take a swim, or both. The beach is very safe and is well worth the stop.

Poipu Beach

7 – Snorkel with Sea Turtles at Ke’e Beach

At the end of the road on the North Shore of Kauai is Ke’e Beach. Ke’e is the jumping off spot for hiking into the Napali Coast or just swimming in this incredibly scenic lagoon. Ke’e Beach is a sacred location in the Hawaiian culture because of the Haieu that overlooks the lagoon. Local lore is that the Heiau was once the sacred Heiau for the dance of hula.

In this sacred lagoon site you will be amazed at the amount of Hawaiian Sea Turtles that congregate to eat and pose for pictures. It is against the law to touch any of these endangered creatures so even when they come close keep in mind that touching them is prohibited. That said you can get that under water picture of you with a real Hawaiian Turtle – don’t forget the underwater camera!

Woman diving with turtle
KalalauTrail 241

8 – Birdwatch the Seabirds at Kilauea Lighthouse

Kilauea Lighthouse was built in 1912 and aside from being the beacon of safe light to ships coming in loaded with valuable cargo in the early part of the last century, it is also an outstanding example of lighthouse architecture.

From Wikipedia: “The tower was built in a Classical Revival architecture style out of reinforced concrete. The tower is a slightly tapering cylinder about 52 feet (16 m) high. The upper portion has a steel circular walkway with handrail. The lens one of only seven second-order Fresnel lenses remaining in a lighthouse in the US. Barbier, Bernard, and Turenne manufactured the lens in Paris, France.”

Today the Kilauea lighthouse is a great place to watch the many species of sea birds as they dive and nest along the vertical cliffs surrounding the lighthouse. The most famous is the Shearwater with it’s low aspect wings, distinct markings,  and quick turning ability it is a sight to behold. There is a visitor center on site to get more info and it is a pleasant way to experience a historical area of Kauai. Also in Kilauea town there are many eateries and shopping so you can make a day of it.  

Kilauea LightHouse with birds

SELECT VACATION RENTAL PROPERTIES IN THIS AREA

These are a few of the exceptional North Shore Vacation Rental Properties that we recommend.

 

north kauai

HANALEI DOLPHIN COTTAGES 

Price Range  $329 – $429 Nightly |  2 Bed 1 Bath

Be in Hanalei for a classic Kauai Experience! The birds eye view of the river makes this cottage a truly unique accommodation. There are five charming river cottages to choose from but because of their popularity they get booked fast.

Be in Hanalei for a classic Kauai Experience! The birds eye view of the river makes this cottage a truly unique accommodation. Cottages are fully equipped with all the amenities you need to make your stay enjoyable. Stroll or drive two minutes to the beach at famous Hanalei Bay.

HALE MAHANA

Price Range $299 – $399 Nightly | 2 Bed 2 Bath

Beautiful private home in Princeville with private swimming pool,  two master suites, perfect  for a full family. Includes all the beach toys including snorkel gear, chairs, towels, boogie boards, and bikes.

Enjoy the privacy and serenity around the large private pool as well as the tropical landscaping. Short walk to Queens Bath, stunning Hideaways Beach, or world class Makai Golf Course.


Honu Hale Sunrise

PRICE RANGE: $750 – $1050 Nightly | Beds 5 Bath 4

Aloha and welcome to Honu Hale Sunrise, located on the majestic North Shore in Princeville, Kauai. A house like you’ve never experienced before; bright, cheerful, exquisite, with warm aloha touches throughout. A house like you’ve never experienced before; bright, cheerful, exquisite, with warm aloha touches throughout. Located in a quiet neighborhood lined with tropical hibiscus and fragrant plumeria trees, just steps from one of North Shore’s top breathtaking excursions


9 – Hanalei Bay Beach Day

Spend a day enjoying the storied Hanalei Bay, made famous by song and film.  Hanalei Bay is the largest bay on the North Shore of Kauai.  The quaint town of Hanalei sits in the middle of the bay.

Hanalei Bay is considered by many to be one of the most  beautiful places on earth.  The long crescent of white sand and the azure waves lapping at the shore, both framed by lush and dramatic mountains, which sparkling waterfalls cascade down.  Sunsets are spectacular at Hanalei, watching the sun melt into the horizon of the Na Pali Coast just a few miles down the coast.

In the winter, Hanalei Bay experiences huge swells, attracting big-wave surfers from all over the world.  In the summer, the bay is as calm as a lake, sailboats and yachts anchor for the season, and swimming, stand up paddling and kayaking are options to explore this magical bay.

Hanalei Valley was originally used by the Native Hawaiians as taro fields.  The taro root is pounded into poi, the staple starch of the native Hawaiian diet.  Lush, wet fields of water grown taro still are cultivated in the valley today, and Hanalei Poi is known as the sweetest, most mild poi in the islands.

Hanalei River meanders through the valley, and opens up the bay on the far southern end.  The river is deep and wide, and can be explored with kayaks or stand up paddle boards.

The ancient sport of “paddling canoe” can be seen nearly every day in the summer months at Hanalei Bay.  Crews (teams) paddle in unison in hand made wooden canoes.  The canoe club is at the base of the river mouth, and many paddlers congregate in the club, have fundraisers and social activities together.

A day in Hanalei Bay is the stuff of storybooks- soft, billowing clouds capping the tops of dramatic mountains, multiple waterfalls crashing to the valley shore from thousand of feet above, lush fields of taro swaying in the breeze, and the crystal blue waters of the bay capped by a white sand beach.  It is not uncommon to see rainbows and double rainbows in Hanalei, largely because of the nearly constant rain in the mountains and the sun bathing the bay.  Hanalei Pier is a historic landmark, and while it is no longer used as a working pier, it is now enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, casting their fishing line, kids jumping off the edge in the cool, deep waters below, and families enjoying picnics overlooking the water.

Hanalei 210

SELECT VACATION RENTAL PROPERTIES IN THIS AREA

These are a few of the exceptional North Shore Vacation Rental Properties that we recommend.

 

north kauai

HANALEI DOLPHIN COTTAGES 

Price Range  $329 – $429 Nightly |  2 Bed 1 Bath

Be in Hanalei for a classic Kauai Experience! The birds eye view of the river makes this cottage a truly unique accommodation. There are five charming river cottages to choose from but because of their popularity they get booked fast.

Be in Hanalei for a classic Kauai Experience! The birds eye view of the river makes this cottage a truly unique accommodation. Cottages are fully equipped with all the amenities you need to make your stay enjoyable. Stroll or drive two minutes to the beach at famous Hanalei Bay.

HALE MAHANA

Price Range $299 – $399 Nightly | 2 Bed 2 Bath

Beautiful private home in Princeville with private swimming pool,  two master suites, perfect  for a full family. Includes all the beach toys including snorkel gear, chairs, towels, boogie boards, and bikes.

Enjoy the privacy and serenity around the large private pool as well as the tropical landscaping. Short walk to Queens Bath, stunning Hideaways Beach, or world class Makai Golf Course.


Honu Hale Sunrise

PRICE RANGE: $750 – $1050 Nightly | Beds 5 Bath 4

Aloha and welcome to Honu Hale Sunrise, located on the majestic North Shore in Princeville, Kauai. A house like you’ve never experienced before; bright, cheerful, exquisite, with warm aloha touches throughout. A house like you’ve never experienced before; bright, cheerful, exquisite, with warm aloha touches throughout. Located in a quiet neighborhood lined with tropical hibiscus and fragrant plumeria trees, just steps from one of North Shore’s top breathtaking excursions


10 – Sunset at Polihale

At the end of the road on the west side of the island, down a dirt road that winds through dry field of sugar cane, lies on the most magical locations in all of Hawaii, Polihale State Park.  Polihale is the longest beach on Kauai, the silky white sand stretching for over fifteen miles of pristine coastline.  Beyond the mountains on the northern edge of the beach is the Na Pali Coast, with dramatic hanging valleys peaking out in the view.

Polihale has basic facilities for camping (permit needed).  The beach has restrooms, cold water shower and drinking water.  There is little shade at Polihale, and the west side of Kauai is usually hot and sunny, so be sure to bring a shade tent and lots of water.  The sands stretch hundreds of feet from the vegetation line to the waters edge, and under the hot west side sun, the sand can be very hot when walking from the camping area to the seashore.

Polihale is known for collection of seashells, particularly the Hawaiian prized gem, the “sunrise shell”.  These beautiful shells show off dramatic red, orange, yellow and even green color combinations.  Spending a carefree day meandering the shores of Polihale, searching for seashells while you breathe in the salt air, is a magical way to spend an afternoon.

Looking at the horizon, you will see the island of Niihau across the channel from Kauai.  Niihau is a small, privately owned island, and is home to only native Hawaiians.  The community of Niihau is world renowned for their stunning shell jewelry, known is “Niihau shell” jewelry.

In the channel between Kauai and Niihau, you will often see dolphins, humpback whales, giant sea turtles and monk seals.  Polihale is an exquisite natural playground, and is so remote that it is always very uncrowded.  Get a picnic lunch at Ishihara Market in Waimea on the way out, and spend a dreamy Kauai day playing in the shore break (when it is safe for swimming) of this stunning beach.

Polihale
Colorful Kauai sunsets are just one of the island's beautiful sights

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