Things to do Kauai

Kauai is our absolute favorite island to visit and finding things to do in Kauai is easy if you love beautiful beaches. Its chill vibe makes it the perfect Hawaiian destination for those who are looking for less touristy things to do. Read on to learn our favorite things to do in Kauai and let us help you plan a perfect itinerary on The Garden Isle.

We used to take our kids to Kauai almost every year before we became full-time RVers and absolutely loved staying on the north shore of Kauai, playing on the white sand beaches, getting shave ice in Hanalei, and sitting on our lanai reading for hours on end. We almost never even hiked or did any sort of excursion because just being in Kauai was enough. I still love this about Kauai.

While there are things to do in Kauai, rushing from one paid excursion to another is not the goal here. If you are looking for that or a busy nightlife, Maui and Oahu are better choices.

Best Time To Visit Kauai

Kauai is the most northwest of the Hawaiian islands which means it receives more rain than the other islands. The north shore of Kauai can be quite cool, especially during the winter. However, it’s also the lushest and most tropical part of the island. The south side gets significantly less rain than the north side making it a better home base if you want warmth and sun. With that in mind, Kauai really is a perfect place to visit year-round.

What I Love About Kauai

It’s a Small Island

With a population of only 70,000, I feel like I can breathe and relax better on Kauai. Plus, Kauai is smaller, making it easy to stay on the north shore and drive all the way around the island to Waimea Canyon and back in one day.

Waimea Canyon, Kauai
No trip to Kauai is complete without seeing the beauty and raw nature of Waimea Canyon

The Weather

Kauai is not as hot as Maui or the Kona side of the Big Island so I love not having to constantly seek shelter from the intense sun rays. Plus, Kauai has the most cleansing sea breezes in the world.

things to do in Kauai
Hiking Sleeping Giant is one of the best things to do in kauai

The Natural Beauty

Mt. Waialeale is the wettest spot on Earth, averaging 450 inches of rain per year which means there are always waterfalls flowing year-round. I think Kauai has the most gorgeous beaches to choose from. My favorites include Makua and Kiwili. The Na Pali coast is only accessed by foot or kayak/boat, making it a great place to immerse in nature without crowds. And the chickens. They are everywhere and I love it!

Lack of Commercialism

I love the one land bridges on the north shore because it’s kept the commercialism out. There are no large cities in Kauai either. The biggest city is Kapaa and while you may sit in some traffic here between 4 and 6 p.m., you could still walk through this town in 15 minutes. Also, there are no skyscrapers on Kauai. Kauai code only allows buildings to be 4 stories or less.

Kauai Rainbows
One of my favorite parts of Kauai is that you always see rainbows

Where To Stay In Kauai

If you want more sun and love the resort feel, then Poipu is perfect for you. I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. While warmth is nice, I prefer staying in condos on the north side of Kauai so that I am close to my favorite beaches that I love to just chill at. The east side is a great option if you plan on trying to squeeze it all in because then you’ll be halfway between Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast, both of which are must-dos IMO.

Where to stay on the North Shore of Kauai

Where to stay on the East Side of Kauai

Where to stay on the South Side of Kauai

  • The entire Poipu side of Kauai is definitely the most resorty area of the island but it can be really nice because it’s almost always warm and the beaches are calm. In Poipu, I recommend staying at the Sheraton because you’re the boardwalk and you can surf a beginner-friendly wave right out in front of the resort.
  • I personally really loved the historic town of Koloa. Though there aren’t many places to stay in the quaint, forested town, you can stay at this condo (Waikomo Stream Villas) and be within walking distance of Koloa and only a 5-10 minute drive from the beach.

Tips for Visiting Kauai on a Budget

In the winter, bring a jacket. One year we visited in April, and I had to buy everyone sweats because it was that cold. The ocean isn’t that warm either. I get cold easily and so I always pack a thin wetsuit when I go to Kauai.

Related: Minimalist Hawaii Pack List

Sign up for Hawaiian Airlines emails to make sure I don’t miss their sales. If you follow us on Instagram, we often post on our stories when Hawaiian fares go on sale. Also, Alaska Airlines and Southwest fly to Hawaii and often have sales so keep an eye out for those.

Camping is super cheap and most campgrounds are totally safe. We recommend camping at Anini Beach in Kauai.

Related: Guide to Camping in Hawaii and 12 Best Campgrounds in Hawaii

Cook your own food. We rarely eat out and instead, when we land, we head to Costco to stock up on food. In addition, there are Foodland grocery stores on all the islands. Get their Makai Card to save tons of money on food. For example, their poke is $10/lb and a cup of coffee $1 with your Makai Card. Foodland sells a variety of prepared foods at an affordable price.

Skip a lot of excursions and create memories hiking or playing at the beach. I know FOMO is a real thing, but I’ve hardly done any paid activities in Kauai and still love visiting enough to try and go there once a year. It’s that magical!

5 Things You Must Do In Kauai

I’ve visited a mix of the Hawaiian islands over 20 times, but Kauai remains to be my absolute favorite. While I do prefer Oahu when it comes to surf, there’s just something magical about Kauai that I don’t experience as much on the other islands. These are the 5 things I recommend prioritizing when you visit Kauai if you want to see the best of what Kauai has to offer.

1 | Hike the Nāpali Coast + Snorkel at Ke’e

Time Needed: 3-6 hours + driving time

This right here is your absolute #1 must do in Kauai. The only drawback is that you have to plan ahead because in order to visit this part of the Na Pali coast and Ke’e Beach you need a parking permit for Ha’ena State Park. Permits run $1 per person and $5 per vehicle. Reservations may be made up to 30 days in advance, and no later than the day before your visit. Click here to reserve your permit or for more details on shuttle service and FAQs.

If backpacking the Napali Coast is on your bucket list, click here to read everything you need to know about getting permits for backpacking and overnight parking, along with tips on the trail itself, what you need to pack, tips for being prepared, and how to make it a more enjoyable experience overall.

What I’m covering here in this blog is just the 4-mile roundtrip hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi‘ai Beach via the Kalalau Trail.

Once you get to Ha’ena State Park, I recommend doing the 2-mile (one-way) hike to Hanakapi‘ai Beach. It’s a moderate hike on a well-maintained trail with some rocky and steep sections. You will probably want hiking sticks to help navigate the descent. With that said, I’ve done it many times in flip flops while holding a child and I see locals do it barefoot.

If you need a fitness plan to get you ready to hike, check out our Fit to Hike course that can get you ready to tackle new trails in only 4 weeks.

Note: If you are not in physical conditioning to hike this, or if you want to really take in the views of the Na Pali coast, then you should definitely look into a Helicopter Tour of Na Pali Coast.

After you conquer this beautiful 4-mile hike, it’s time to relax and snorkel at Ke’e Beach. This is a gorgeous stretch of white sand beach with shade, picnic tables, restrooms, and drinking water.

You really could spend your entire day here but you’ll want to pack food as there isn’t anything to buy anywhere nearby.

Plan Your Day 1 Itinerary

After exploring the Na Pali coast and relaxing at Ke’e Beach, I’d choose one of these fun things to do on the north shore: