Things to do in Kauai
If you want more from your Kaua‘i vacation than a suntan, there are a multitude of things to do in Kauai that will keep you happy and busy. Among the more popular activities are helicopter tours, ocean tours of Na Pali, golfing, hiking, SCUBA diving and kayaking. You will find lots more to do here as well.
This page will take you through different things to do in Kauai: whether you have kids, are looking for unique or free things to do, or are just looking for Kauai waterfalls and places to eat.
Things to do in Kauai with kids
Kipu Ranch Adventures
Kipu Ranch Adventures is our favorite ATV operator and one of our favorite things to do in Kauai. The scenery is the nicest, the vehicles (Kawasaki Teryx 4’s and Mulepro 6’s) are top quality and the most comfortable of the three companies, plus their guides are the most customer-oriented. Their tour is of the beautiful Kipu Ranch. In the 3-hour tour ($146 per person), you’re treated to the lump-in-your-throat backdrop of Ha‘upu Range along the pastures. They’ll descend into woodsier areas, along the stream where Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed (bring a swimsuit and water shoes in case you “fall” in) and usually end up at a viewpoint almost no one on Kaua‘i ever gets to see—the hidden valley and beach of Kipu Kai from the road that drapes across the mountain.
Silver Falls Ranch
Silver Falls Ranch inland (mauka) of Kilauea is hands-down our favorite horseback riding ranch. Their 300-acre ranch looks more like a palm arboretum, and the guides seem thrilled to see you and show you around their little piece of paradise. The horses are well-groomed and the trails well-kept. This is how rides should be done if you’re looking to be pampered in a stunning location (although it’s nose-to-tail). $104 for the 1.5-hour ride. For $124 it includes another half-hour and a trip to their small waterfall and large pool. Swim and lunch there. The only downside is that their location is rainier than some of the others, so you take your chances with the weather. Their weight limit is fairly high at 300 pounds but also based on your height. This is one of several great things to do in Kauai with kids. The minimum age is 7, but special accommodations can be made for those as young as 5. The menagerie of animals at their barn is also a plus for the little ones and animal lovers.
Unique things to do in Kauai
Rappel off a 60-foot waterfall
In Hawai‘i, as elsewhere, ziplining has really taken off. But what if you are looking for unique things to do in Kauai and want a real rush? That’s where rappelling comes in. Da Life Outdoors has two waterfalls in Lihu‘e that you’ll get to rappel down. Think about it: You’re at the top, you lean back and literally walk backwards down a waterfall. First a 30-footer. Then the big dog—a 60-foot falls that involves walking as well as sliding down. I know what you’re thinking: What if I fall? They have all the safety gear as well as a fireman’s belay at the bottom. That means they will give you the freedom to do it by yourself (rather than completely mothering you), but all it takes is a gentle tug on your rope from the other guy at the bottom to increase the friction and stop you from falling. Which gives you the best of both worlds. Book in advance.
See the island from a native perspective
This is a hard adventure to describe because it all depends on what you want. Charlie Cobb Adams of Hawaiian Dundee Adventures is a Hawaiian outdoorsman who gives small, personalized tours of lands that are often off the beaten track. One of the more adventurous things to do in Kauai. It works like this: You call him up, tell him what kind of outdoor experience you’re interested in, and he’ll tailor the tour just for you. Maybe you want to go into the wilderness hunting for wild boar. (Definitely an adventure.) Maybe you want to snorkel beneath a secluded waterfall or explore private land that Charlie has permission to access. You might want to learn a native Hawaiian dance in an exotic location or rappel off a waterfall. Charlie is a wealth of information about native plants as well as native traditions, and it’s impossible to walk away without having a greater understanding of how the ancient Hawaiians saw and interacted with the island. And you’ll get your own personal adventure in the process.
Things to do in Kauai for free
Lawai‘i international center
Lawa‘i International Center is the site of 88 Buddhist shrines from the early 20th century. This site has been the home of a Hawaiian heiau, a Taoist temple, a Shinto shrine and a Shingon Buddhist temple. Free 2-hour tours on the second and last Sunday of every month at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. (Though you can call to make separate arrangements.) The shrines are on the side of a hillside, and the winding path is easy. They have a new, hand-carved temple that they are very proud of, and overall, it’s a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. One of the best things to do in Kauaia for history and culture buffs. Off Hwy 50 near Lawai Rd. on Wawae Rd.
When looking for things to do in Kauai for free, hiking is the perfect activity. If you only do one hike while visiting the canyon area, this is the one you want. This short trail is only about a mile, but it wraps around the upper rim of the Kalalau Valley, so give yourself plenty of time because you are going to be constantly stopping to take pictures. The view just keeps getting better and better.
The (often muddy) trail starts at the end of Waimea Canyon Drive at the Pu’u o Kila Lookout. The beginning part skirts the edge of the valley, and then passes through native ‘ohi‘a and fern forests until reaching the backside, where the whole valley is laid out before you, with the ocean in the background 4,000 feet below. Near the end of the rim-hugging portion the footing gets chunkier and steeper due to erosion. Long legs help ascending the chunks.
The state is so proud of Wailua Falls they have devoted a whopping four parking spaces for cars and festooned the area with no parking signs, which seem to be universally ignored from what we’ve seen. In ancient times (and as recently as 2016, which you can see on YouTube), men would jump off the top of the falls to prove their manhood (which was often left on the rocks below). This test can be fatal.
Government maps list the falls’ height at 80 feet. That always bothered us because it sure looks taller. So, a while back we dropped a fishing line and sinker to the bottom from the lip of the falls (boy, did we look stupid) and measured it. To our amazement, it was 173 feet of solid drop. (We measured it twice to be sure.) That’s actually taller than Niagara Falls, though the latter has a tad more water flowing.
Another favorite, Waipoo Falls is also moderately strenuous and will probably take you 2–3 hours, depending on how long you linger. Along the way you will get unparalleled views of the canyon from the other side, visit two waterfalls and find a cold pool to swim in, if you like.
After you are exposed to the great canyon views, you will come to the top of a ridge. Keep an eye out for goats on the opposite walls. Look south for a provocative-looking rock arch, out where it’s impossible for man to have created it. (You will see it closer from the larger waterfall ahead.) The light in this part of the canyon is usually best in the late afternoon.
Places to eat in Kauai
An unusual concept for Kaua‘i. It’s a pop-up restaurant that sets up under a large tent rented from Princeville Ranch Adventures. Of all the places to eat in Kauai, think of this as an eating adventure. You won’t know what you’re gonna eat until you’re served. Heck, even they don’t always know what they’ll serve until that day. Because the chef searches around for what’s fresh and then prepares your five-course meal accordingly. The quality is excellent. You’ll have to BYOB, BYOG (glass. unless you like your wine out of a mason jar) and BYOBS (bug spray). They’ll have a can, but it might run out, and there will be bugs. To a degree your experience will be influenced by the quality of your tablemates, because everyone sits at two long tables.
The Local Kauai
Outstanding food served sort of tapas-style. We like to order more entrées than the number of people in our party and share the food. The name refers to the fact that they really strive to use ingredients from Hawai‘i. Preparations are very well conceived. Whether it’s the pan-roasted fresh catch with brown-butter macadamia nuts, green beans, toasted quinoa, or kale and bacon pizzas that are impossibly light, we haven’t had a bad item here. The tuna belly fish and chips is possibly the most tender ahi we’ve had. Cocktails here are made from fresh-squeezed juices and are very tasty, though they don’t seem very potent. Our biggest complaint is that with all the hard surfaces inside, the place can get really loud at dinner. Prices ain’t cheap, but the results work for us. Reservations recommended.
Tunnels Reef is one of Kaua‘i’s snorkeling nirvanas. This superb beach has a wide-fringing reef that is so large it can be seen from space. There is often a lateral rip current, but it’s normally quite weak, making Tunnels a good snorkeling spot most of the time. The beach is quite popular, and you will often see SCUBA divers here, as well as surfers and windsurfers. All this makes it sound crowded, but a lack of street parking keeps the numbers relatively low. The kaleidoscope of underwater life is usually profuse and definitely worth your time to explore.
How to get to Tunnels Beach
Kaua‘i’s North Shore is open as of June 17th, 2019 after more than a year of repairs. As you’re looking for sights and activities, be aware of ongoing road repairs—the North Shore might be open, but there is still work being done along the Kūhiō Highway.
Public access is by either of two short dirt roads past mile marker 8 on Hwy 560. The first (and best if you’re snorkeling) one is 0.4 miles past mile marker 8. It is actually privately owned (by the seven surrounding landowners), and they don’t want you parking on it. Fortunately, one of the nearby landowners wrote to us pointing out that the deed to the road says, “There is an easement in favor of the county of Kauai.” Perhaps this is why the county has listed it as a public access. The second one is almost 0.6 miles past mile marker 8 and has shorter access to the sand. Get there early to assure a parking spot. If they’re full, park at Ha‘ena Beach Park and walk to the right. You could also take Alealea Street before mile marker 8, park near the sand, and walk to the left along the beach. (It’s a half-mile walk in sand that way, but it’s pretty.) You should know that if you park on the highway itself, they do give tickets.
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