Kaua’i is known as the “Garden Isle” with its jungle green terrain, kept lush by over 460 inches of rain per year in the wettest regions. Kaua’i is the oldest of the main Hawaiian islands, clocking in at around six million years.
At the time of the 2010 Census, Kaua’i had ~67,000 residents, with over 1.2 million tourists visiting each year. A popular destination, yet natural and idyllic, here are the top ten things to do while you’re on Kaua’i.
1. Hike the Na Pali Coast.
The Kalalau trail on the Na Pali Coast is one of the most beautiful hikes I have done in my life. With aqua waters (makai) below and jungle green mountains (mauka) above, you are in a paradise of nature and color. Watch Jurassic Park to get in the jungle mood – the opening scenes were shot here along the Na Pali Coast.
You can enjoy a nice 4-mile day hike from Ke’e Beach (where the trail starts) in to Hanakapi’ai. While Ke’e Beach is often ideal for swimming (and snorkeling), the rip currents at Hanakapi’ai mean that swimming is not recommended.
For an 8-mile day hike, go in to Hanakapi’ai, then take the 2-mile (4 mile round trip) side hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls. Bring water and watch your step, roots poke up out of the trail along the way. Read more about each stretch of the trail and download a map here. No permit is required for either of these day hike options.
(Please note: Prepare accordingly if you plan to backpack the whole way in to Kalaulau Beach – areas along the mid to latter portion of the hike are a bit treacherous, and should be approached with care and attention to the weather. Get an early morning start on the trail to avoid the midday heat. Bring extra socks or water shoes for stream crossings. A permit is required, more information here.)
2. Watch Every Sunset.
Plan your day so that you can drink up each sunset from a beach picnic or restaurant terrace. With a local Kona brew or Mai Tai in hand, the views will be that much sweeter.
3. Visit a Farmer’s Market & Indulge in Fruits of the Earth.
Local fruits include papaya, mango, banana, guava, pineapple, and star fruit. Try some noni or a lychee martini to take your taste buds outside their comfort zone. Drink up and stock up on local coffee. Visit a coffee, sugarcane, or pineapple plantation to see these crops in action.
4. Snorkel & Swim with Wildlife.
Buy or borrow fins, snorkel, and mask (lots of AirBnBs provide water sport supplies, so check your listing) so that you can enjoy the colorful delights below the water’s surface.
Ke’e Beach (at the base of the Kalalau Trail) is my favorite snorkeling beach, but there are tons to explore. Check out this Kauai Snorkeling Guide for the scoop on the numerous options around the island, and find one near you.
You can also book a boat tour that may include a sunset cruise and/or snorkeling with spinner dolphins. The spinner dolphins are fast, so get ready for some spirited swimming to keep up!
Or catch a wave with a surf lesson. Instructors will help you select your wave and refine your stance. Ask in advance for what time of day and which beaches on the island will be best for beginner waves.
5. Explore Waimea Canyon.
The canyon rocks against the tropical sky provide photo ops at every turn. Ten miles long and 3,000 feet deep, it is a sight to be seen. The canyon was formed by the heavy rainfall on the island’s central peak, Mount Wai’ale’ale. Hence the name “Waimea,” which translates to “reddish water.” It is incredible to see what a trickle of water can accomplish over time.
6. Hike, Kayak, or Drive to Towering Waterfalls.
For kayaking, try out Wailua River or Hule’ia National Wildlife Refuge. The latter is where jungle treasure hunting scenes and the rolling boulder scene from Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed (portrayed as Peru in the film). Book a rental or a tour at kayakkauai.com .
One of my favorite things to do in Hawai’i is to hike to various waterfalls. Here is a guide to five of Kaua’i’s best waterfalls.
7. Attend a Luau or Dance Performance.
Luaus are perfect for families, children, couples, singles, mother-daughter trips, and everywhere in between. Sure, luaus can be a bit contrived and touristy, but they are a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the Hawaiian times of yore. Learn about the island’s history, sample the local foods, enjoy incredible dance, and participate in historic activities.
8. Stock up on Beachy Essentials in Hanalei.
With art galleries and beach boutiques, Kaua’i’s North Shore has lots of fun little shops to explore. Follow your nose, or follow a shopping guide, like this one from Lonely Planet.
9. Wear Flowers in Your Hair.
When in Hawai’i (or San Francisco) wear flowers in your hair, hat, or behind your ear to enjoy their scent and vibrance all day long. Snap some artsy pics if the mood strikes.
10. Beach. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.