Kauai is known as the sleepy island amongst all of the Hawaiian Islands. Much less developed than Oahu or Maui, we can see why visitors would say this. There is something to be said for a sleepy island though. It’s a relaxing, peaceful and downright fantastic place to spend a beach vacation. Known as the Garden Isle, it’s a tropical oasis with natural wonders to be seen, but to be honest, if you know what to do, you won’t find Kauai that sleepy after all. Check out our list of 16 Things You Must Do in Kauai to start planning your trip, then we’ll let you decide if it’s the sleepy island everyone says it is.
Stand up paddleboard in the scenic Hanalei Bay
There are a number of rental spots along the canal. For beginners, feel free to paddle right along the canal as it’s made up of calm waters and not too busy. You can also take the paddleboard out to the bay, which has very gentle waters in the summer. Too much work? Take a buddy and you can switch on and off with one of you riding up front free from any work. Tim and I like to do this because it’s fun and like I said, if it’s too much work for one, dividing and conquering is the best option. Oh, and when you’re done that, don’t forget to get a tropical-flavoured snow cone in the town of Hanalei. In Hawaii, they are called, “Shave Ice.”
Try the greatest hot dogs ever at Puka Dog in Poipu
This place is just the coolest. It’s essentially a hot dog stand with all the fixings your heart could ever desire. Tropical relishes, secret homemade mustard, and hot sauces make these hot dogs simply the best. They even have veggie dogs. (YAY!) Their buns are baked fresh in the oven too! Don’t forget their freshly squeezed lemonade, perfect for a hot, sunny day in Hawaii. We are so into Puka Dog that we would even consider franchising it. Visit this place; you won’t regret it!
Hike the Napali Coast because it’s the most gorgeous, captivating coastline you will ever see
There are a variety of distances for all kinds of travellers, so don’t miss this experience. The official trail name is the Kalalau Trail and it starts in the NW corner by Ke’e beach. There are a few lookouts early on or you can hike a 12 mile round trip to Hanakapiai waterfall and the beach there. The more adventurous can head for a multi day trek and camp overnight on a secluded beach. Read our blog here on the 3 Ways to Discover the Dramatic Napali Coast to learn more. Whatever the distance you travel by foot, the views of endless greenery and dramatic coastline will impress.
Boogie board with the turtles at Brennecke Beach in Poipu
Brennecke beach is always bustling with tourists and locals alike because well, it’s awesome. The waves can look intimidating here, but they are an absolute blast to play in and really are gentler than they look especially in the summer months. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice a turtle or two swimming in the waves with you! In fact, it’s one of the best beaches to spot a turtle! If you use a boogie board, we recommend getting fins to help you catch the waves better. If not, just stay closer to the shore; it’s just as fun!
Jump off the iconic pier at Hanalei Bay
Locals LOVE to do this. So do the tourists. It’s kind of a ritual. It’s not a big jump by any means, so even kids can get into it. Also, it’s a lot of fun watching the locals jump. They try to splash the tourists, but the best part is their wild moves. From endless flips to penguin dives, you’ll be amazed at what these young, local teens can do. When sunset is finished and you’ve made a few jumps, stop by Hanalei Pizza to try the Spicy Hanalei Dragon!
Watch a sunset at Hideaways Beach
Tucked between resorts in Princeville, you’ll climb down a small cliff to find this gorgeous oasis. There’s snorkelling by day and unforgettable sunsets by night. Promise you’ll leave time for this gem. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.
Zodiac tour along the dramatic Napali Coast
Recommended for anyone, but especially the adventurous ones, this experience will have you talking about it years later. On the zodiac you get up close to sea life, you get to zoom into sea caves, you get an opportunity to snorkel rare hotspots and you see the dramatic Napali coast in all its glory. It’s unforgettable! Read more about our zodiac tour here.
Snorkel at beautiful Tunnels Beach
This location is listed as one of our Top 5 Places to Snorkel in Hawaii because it’s epic. Not only is Tunnels a gorgeous location to hang out because of its peaky, tropical mountain landscape, but the lava rock and coral under the water will fascinate you as well. Of course, there are always turtles here too! And who doesn’t love a turtle sighting? If you’re big into snorkelling, alternate beaches with lively sea life and interesting coral include Anini Beach and Ke’e Beach in the north and Poipu in the south.
Take a mini road trip and check out Waimea Canyon’s stunning good looks
Not far from Poipu, this area offers incredible landscape photography opportunities. There are tons of lookouts along the way to pull into that allow you to “ooh and aah” at this magnificent natural wonder. You’ll be amazed with the contrast of red dirt and green foliage here. The enormity of this area will remind you just how small you are in this world too.
Hike the heart-racing Awa’awapuhi Trail
This hike is not easy by any means. At 6 miles long, the hike takes about 5 hours or so, depending on how long you spend at the viewpoint. Located in Koke’e State Park near Waimea Canyon, drive past the Koke’e Museum and there will be a parking lot near the 17-mile marker where it all starts. There’s a lot of downhill climbing on the first half, but remember that always means uphill on the way back! It’s a pretty unassuming trail with mostly trees and thick, tropical bushes to trek through, but once you get to the viewpoints at Nualolo Valley, your mind will be blown. The experience is terrifying and exhilarating all in one. Even if you’re deathly afraid of heights and don’t make it out to **the rock, which is a small path surrounded by 4,000 foot cliff edges, you will still be in awe looking out into the valley, witnessing such natural beauty. **This part of the hike is incredibly dangerous and not recommended. Hiking this part will be done at your own risk.**
Tube ride in the tropical jungle
We will admit, we haven’t done this tour, but we’ve heard it’s a pretty good time especially for young families as it is pretty slow paced. Keep in mind, it starts and returns from Lihue, but definitely looks like a fun-filled family adventure!
Spend the day at Kalapaki beach
Dying to get to the beach once you’ve landed on Kauai? Kalapaki beach is just 15 minutes away from the airport. Spend the day in the sun here because well, it’s a beautiful beach in Hawaii. There are opportunities to rent paddleboards and boogie boards because the waves are pretty fun here. If you’re hungry after, eat at Duke’s, one of Hawaii’s iconic restaurants that serve delicious burgers and local beers.
Cliff jump, float and hike at Queen’s Bath
Looking for a jungle hike, float and cliff jump all in one place? Queen’s Bath it is! A unique tide pool on the north shore of Kauai in Princeville, there is lots of adventure here. Summer months are safer, but exercise HIGH caution in the winter months as the waves can be incredibly powerful at this time. Once you find a parking spot in the small lot off Punahele Road (parking is very limited), get out your climbing shoes. It’s about a 20 minute hike down through the tropical jungle, but beware, as the path can get quite slippery and muddy after a rainfall. There’s a beautiful waterfall to gawk at too. Once down on the rock, follow along the shore until you get to the tide pool at the end. There’s a rock you can jump off into the centre of the tide pool, otherwise just float in the water and let your worries fade away. If you’re looking for more of an adrenaline rush, head back towards the hike up and about halfway along the rocks, you’ll find a U-shaped opening where adventurers love to jump off. It’s about a 10 metre drop, but if you’re lucky you’ll see some Hawaiian turtles swimming in the water with you. Whatever you do, jump out away from the rocks to be safe, always exercising caution. To get back in, you’ll have to let the waves push you up onto the flat rocks, then climb back up. Cliff jumping or not, Queen’s bath is a sweet place to enjoy an afternoon!
Enjoy an exhilarating helicopter ride over the island
Wake up bright and early for a helicopter ride over the island of Kauai and you won’t be disappointed. The views over the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon are unforgettable and offer a unique perspective of the Garden Isle. A pricey activity around $250 US, but worth every penny.
Get woken up by stoopid chickens roaming the island
Yep, these roosters are everywhere. And what’s funny is they’re not called roosters, but rather stoopid chickens. There’s even t-shirts to buy with drawings of stoopid chickens on them reading, “Roadkill.” You’ll get a hoot out of them, especially when they scare you on a hike. You definitely won’t laugh when they wake you up at 5 am on your vacation though!
Check out the beautiful Wailua Falls
Just north of Lihue, you’ll find one of Hawaii’s most picturesque and popular waterfalls. With an 80 foot drop, its size will blow you away. When we visited in February, it was gushing with water because of the recent rainfall. What makes Wailua even better is that it is one of the few waterfalls that you don’t have to hike to get to.