Kauaʻi is known for its slow pace. Here, there are no freeways and only a handful of luxury resorts. There are no bars that keep drinks flowing late into the night. Heck, there aren’t even any buildings taller than a coconut tree. But while Kauai is thoroughly laid-back, there is still plenty to do. From snorkeling off the Na Pali Coast to tubing through irrigation canals, here are the top ten Kauai activities.
The Na Pali Coast is one of the last unspoiled places in Hawaii. Spanning 17 miles of coastline, the Na Pali is known for its breathtaking natural beauty. Jagged, emerald ridges rise sharply from the sea. Waterfalls spill down vertical cliff faces. Pods of dolphins play in crystal clear waters fronting golden pockets of untouched sand. There are only a few ways to experience this sacred place: via a dangerous, 22-mile out-and-back hike, a helicopter tour, or a snorkel charter. The latter is the easiest and most economical.
For the ultimate adventure, opt for a Na Pali Raft and Snorkel Tour, departing from Hanalei Bay. If you’re looking for one of the more leisure-oriented Kauai activities, you can’t go wrong with a snorkel and sail excursion aboard a luxe catamaran.
2. Evening Luau
There’s not much nightlife on Kauaʻi— unless you find yourself at a luau. At the best Kauai luaus, the night comes alive with throbbing pahu drums, ancient chants, dramatic hula, and fiery torches. From Poipu Beach to the lush environs near Lihue, these celebrations are defined by epic Hawaiian feasts, flowing (and often free) mai tais, and heart-stopping Polynesian entertainment.
Treat yourself to an unforgettable night at Aulii Luau, located on the oceanfront at Kiahuna Beach— Kauai’s most blissful luau location. Or, if you’re staying near Lihue, head to the Kilohana Plantation to witness Luau Kalamaku’s spectacular Polynesian revue.
Due to the island’s rugged terrain, most parts of Kauaʻi are inaccessible by foot or vehicle. But that doesn’t mean the island’s deep valleys, harsh coastlines, and boggy mountaintops need to remain a mystery. Helicopter tours reveal a rarely seen side of Kauaʻi.
Soar above the mesmerizing Na Pali Coast, get an up-close look at Manawaiopuna Falls (made famous by Jurassic Park), swoop through the majestic Waimea Canyon, and peer into the crater of Mount Waialeale— one of the rainiest peaks on earth. Tours typically run roughly one hour and depart from Lihue Airport.
The Wailua River is special for a few reasons: it’s the only navigable river in Hawaii, and one of Kauaʻi’s most famed attractions sits on its banks— the Fern Grotto. Here, sword ferns hang from the cavern’s roof, draping the entrance in greenery. Native plants and tropical flora like red ginger envelope the landscape at the grotto’s base. Visitors can reach the Fern Grotto on foot, but taking a Wailua River Cruise is more fun.
The Smith family has been hosting cruises to the Fern Grotto for four generations, and they deliver a remarkable Hawaiian experience. During the two-mile journey to the grotto, visitors take in their scenic surroundings aboard open-air boats and are treated to live Hawaiian music. The trip takes about 90 minutes, but the memories last a lifetime.
Kauaʻi’s Hanamaulu ditch system once carried thousands of gallons of water a day to Lihue Sugar Plantation. While the plantation shut down decades ago, Hanamaulu’s network of canals and tunnels remains. But today, instead of transporting water to thirsty crops, they transport tubers. Kauaʻi’s only tubing excursion sends visitors flowing down 2.5 miles of irrigation ditches and tunnels through former plantation land. Portions of the float are comparable to a lazy river, while other sections send tubers careening and bouncing into canal walls like Disneyland’s spinning teacup ride. The excursion is completely safe, and it’s one of the most unique things to do on Kauaʻi.
6. ATV Tour
On Kauaʻi, a rental car will only get you so far. It takes a 4×4 off-roading tour to get an authentic taste of the island’s rugged and verdant backcountry. On a Kauai ATV tour, you’ll rip through unspoiled private ranch lands, down sinuous red dirt roads, and along pristine coastlines.
Many guided excursions also offer valuable insight into Kauai’s history and unique native plants and animals, helping visitors deepen their connection to the Garden Isle. As long as you’re not afraid of a bit of mud and a little speed, a Kauai ATV will be the highlight of your visit.
Few things are more alluring than champagne, catamarans, and sunsets off the Na Pali Coast. All of this and more are possible aboard Kauai’s best sunset cruise. Departing from Port Allen, this excursion travels the entirety of Kauaʻi’s west side, past Barking Sands Beach and Polihale State Park, before arriving at the “jewel of Hawaii”— the Na Pali Coast.
Kick back with a drink in your hand, the sea breeze in your hair, and watch as golden hour lights up the precipitous coastline. Aboard this deluxe catamaran cruise, it’s not just the views you’ll savor but the fares. Expect a hearty spread of island-inspired pupus and delectable entrees like kalua pork.
8. Surf Lesson
If you visited Hawaii and didn’t learn how to surf, did you really visit Hawaii? Kauaʻi’s sunny south side is optimal for beginners, and there are plenty of adept instructors to help you take your surfing from zero to hero. Kauaʻi’s best surf schools provide everything you need to get started: reef booties, rash guards, expert instruction, and a surfboard, of course! Plus, surf instructors are usually skilled surfers with vast ocean knowledge and safety training.
This is one of the best Kauai activities for keiki— and hey, parents, if your kiddo gets hooked, professional surfing is a pretty lucrative career these days— just sayin’.
9. Hiking Tour
Kauaʻi is a hiker’s paradise. From lush, fern-laden ridge trails to paths that weave along virgin coastlines, there are many Kauaʻi hiking trails to be discovered. But what if you could experience Kauai’s stunning trails through the eyes of a local? That’s where Kauaʻi Hiking Tours comes in.
This local company offers hiking excursions on some of Kauaʻi’s best trails, allowing visitors to connect to Kauai’s natural world by learning about native species and the island’s fragile, sacred environment. From Waimea Canyon to the Sleeping Giant, Kauai Hiking Tours sheds new light on the island’s many storied hiking trails.
10. Rum Safari
The spirit of adventure is embedded into the way of life on Kauaʻi. The sentiment even applies during rum tastings, specifically on a rum safari. Grab a seat aboard Kauai Safari’s open-air safari truck for a rum tasting unlike any other. This excursion tours the 104-acre Kilohana Plantation, giving guests an up-close-and-personal look at the exotic tropical plants grown on the property, and also includes a wild pig feeding. On this unique adventure, guests will also stop for two tastings of Kauaʻi’s award-winning Koloa Rum, as well as hand-crafted Koloa Rum cocktails.