Last updated on February 15th, 2022
Hawaii’s outdoor playground, the island of Kauai is the most stunning island in this remote chain. The oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai has been beautifully sculpted by the forces of nature to create a masterpiece that is waiting to be explored. Known as the “Garden Isle”, Kauai is the island Hollywood turns to when searching for a paradise setting. Here are the very best, the top 10 things to do in Kauai.
Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and the must-see highlights are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
Ice cold coconuts, sweet papayas, ripe bananas, Polynesia taro, and even super-healthy-albeit-smelly-as-hell noni. Those are some of the tropical delights that await you in one of Kauai’s farmer’s markets. Depending on the day of the week and time of day, there’s always a farmers’ market taking place somewhere on the island. And with such lush volcanic nutrient-filled land that’s constantly bathed by the heavens, it’s no wonder that the quality of local Kauai produce is unbeatable. Sure, it might be cheaper to buy your imported Ecuadorian bananas at the supermarket, but what’s the fun in that? My favorite Kauai farmers market was the Saturday market in picturesque Hanalei, amid wet taro patches and the emerald peaks of the north shore.
You can be sure that if there’s something interesting to see on the side of the road in Kauai, there will be a scenic overlook to ensure that you fall in love with the “Garden Isle”. From north to south on the ‘sightseeing crescent’ running along the coast from Waimea to Ke’e Beach, the most scenic overlooks are Menehune Fishpond, Wailua Falls, and Hanalei Valley. Requiring the slightest of effort just to pull over, swing the car door open, and walk a maximum of 10 steps – there’s no excuse for speeding by these gorgeous spots.
Do you know those BBC nature films where there’s nothing but thousands of nesting birds in the frame? Well, that’s exactly what it feels like at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Home to protected colonies of albatross, frigate birds, boobies and lots more (I’m not gonna pretend I’m a bird expert), this bird sanctuary and historic lighthouse are located on one of the most scenic peninsulas in Hawaii. If you’re extra lucky, perhaps you might even get to see a few humpback whales and spinner dolphins coming to see where all the noise is coming from.
In an island so frequented by visitors, it’s nice to know there’s one trail where you might have nature all to yourself. Running along the rugged coastline between Shipwreck and Ha’ula Beaches, the Mahaulepu Coastal Trail rewards hikers with stunning views of the south shore. Along the way, you’ll pass hidden coves that are protected by sharp limestone pinnacles, ancient Hawaiian stone structures, and maybe even schools of sea turtles coming up for air. Those who at least make it to Mahaulepu Beach can enjoy the beautiful off-the-beaten-track beach and also check out Makauwahi Cave – one of the richest fossil sites in Hawaii.
You cannot visit Hawaii without attending at least one luau, or at the very least, skip the buffet dinner and experience the entertainment part of the evening. The award-winning Luau Kalamaku in Kauai is currently considered to have to best Polynesian dance show of all island luaus. To the beating sounds of traditional drums, dozens of dancers tell the story of a pair of Tahitian lovers separated as one departs on the long voyage to the virgin islands of Hawaii. Will they reunite in paradise? Will they survive the fury of the gods and rival chiefs? You’ll have to find out on your own!
The largest and most impressive bay in Kauai, Hanalei Bay is a playground for all age groups. It’s where George Clooney went for a morning jog in The Descendants and where you’ll simply want to park it for the day. Hanalei Bay runs from the busier Black Pot Beach and Hanalei Beach Park in the east to the more secluded and unnamed western beaches.
Extending for 11 challenging miles from Ke’e to Kalalau Beach, the trail hailed as the “most incredible hike in America” would probably come in at a higher position if it was easy to hike its second and more scenic half. Day hikers on the Kalalau Trail will enjoy stunning coastal views of the famous Na Pali coast as they traverse a series of lush valleys en route to the unforgiving Hanakapiai Beach and its towering waterfall further upstream. But the real treat is reserved for those hiking overnight all the way to Kalalau Beach. This challenging section brings you as close to Mother Nature as possible and to the incredible jagged peaks of the Na Pali coast, sculpted over the course of millennia by the eroding forces of water and wind.
Without a doubt, Kauai’s best beach, Makua Beach – better known as Tunnels Beach – is as pretty as they come. With crystal clear waters and the pyramid-shaped Makana Mountain – better known as Bali Hai – looming in the background, you can easily spend the entire day swimming and snorkeling in Tunnels Beach. And why is it called Tunnels Beach? Apparently, the area is riddled with underground caves, few of which you can check out for yourself on the scenic coastal drive en route to Ke’e Beach.
Words cannot describe the beauty and grandeur of Waimea Canyon. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, it’s hard to believe such a place exists on Earth, let alone on a small tropical island like Kauai. The canyon was formed when Kauai’s massive shield volcano collapsed and water took over to do the rest of the fine-tuning. Dissected by the Waimea River, the canyon runs for over 10 miles from north to south and is as deep as 3500ft! With dozens of incredible overlooks on the scenic Waimea Canyon Drive and hiking trails galore (my favorite is the Canyon Trail), you will never forget this special day in Kauai.
Squeezed between the signature peaks of the Na Pali coast and the bizarre wonder that is Waimea Canyon, Koke’e State Park offers the most stunning land-based views in Kauai. The park covers a vast expanse of high elevation terrain and is home to delicate ecosystems of endemic plants and animals. Capture the beauty of the Na Pali cliffs from either the Kalalau or Pu’u o Kila Lookouts, where you can also embark on a hike to the wetlands of the Alaka’i Swamp trail and its overlooks. But for the “best seat in the house” (literally), hike the incredible Awa’awapuhi Trail and treat yourself to amphitheater views that’ll keep your screensaver busy for a few years.
There you have it, the top things to do in Kauai! Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best beaches and the must-see highlights are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
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