Top 12 Things You Can’t Miss in Kauai

///Top 12 Things You Can’t Miss in Kauai

Top 12 Things You Can’t Miss in Kauai

Kauai may be the smallest of the main four Hawaiian islands, but there is no shortage of fun packed into this compact paradise.  Make sure you hit them all with my top things to do in Kauai.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Hi everyone,

My recent trip to Kauai exceeded my wildest expectations.  The Hubs and I honeymooned on the island after getting married on Maui 6 years ago, but our return trip was somehow even more magical.  From jaw dropping emerald cliffs plunging into dazzling turquoise waters, steep red canyons and waterfalls that seem to start in the clouds and go on forever… Kauai is filled with natural wonders that are so beautiful you have to pinch yourself to confirm that what you are seeing is real.

Breathtaking takes a whole new meaning on the garden island.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

For this trip I put together an itinerary that gave us a chance to see the best natural wonders of the island again like the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon… plus plenty of time to embrace cultural activities, indulge in local food and just enjoy relaxing in paradise.  Kauai is a smaller, more rural island than some of the others, so it has a special charm that I love.  It’s lacking a huge city center and much of this island’s attractions are not man made, which is something I also love.  It’s also a compact island so our week long trip gave us a chance to see a lot of things without too much driving around.  Despite it’s smaller size though, it has so many things to do that we didn’t really repeat anything exactly like we had done it on the first trip and I feel like I could spend much more time there and still never get bored.

I planned the trip using The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed and highly recommend it to you if you are going on this trip too.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

To share my Kauai trip with y’all I decided to break my photos up into a series… first up is the Top Things to Do in Kauai followed by my favorite experiences at the best resort on the island (Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa,) Best Kauai Eats and a separate post for the hike I did along the Na Pali Coast.  The hike was so spectacular I decided it had to have it’s own post.

There are roosters everywhere on the island!

Top Things to Do in Kauai

I hope the posts will give you an idea for a future trip, fill your wanderlust for the day or just pass along a taste of what it’s like to really be over the rainbow.

I hope you enjoy this little taste of Kauai!  In no particular order… these are the Top 12 Things to Do in Kauai.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

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Top 12 Things To Do in Kauai

Mahaulepu Beach Trail

On my first morning in Kauai I woke up super early (I was still on east coast time!) beyond excited about being in Hawaii.  I also didn’t feel like sitting on the beach because I’d spent the entire day before sitting cramped up on a plane.  Luckily I found out about a stunning beach trail that was literally right in front of our resort, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa.

The trail is the last accessible coastline on the south shore of Kauai that hasn’t been developed yet.  It starts at Shipwreck Beach and meanders along sand-dune cliffs, limestone formations and rocky inlets.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

We walked the path several miles and spotted sea turtles and whales before turning around.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The path is fairly easy to follow and one of the easier hikes I’ve done on the islands, although it does require some elevation changes and walking in sand.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

At one point it even takes you along a golf course.  Each vista was even prettier than the next making this adventure totally worth it.  You get a lot of WOW for not a ton of work.

I’m going to share more photos from this hike in my next post, Top Experiences at the Grand Hyatt Kauai.

Waimea Canyon

I’ve got to be honest with you… both times I’ve driven to the Waimea Canyon I’ve gotten car sick.  The road is windy, it’s a bit of a haul to get to and takes a beach day out of your trip, but when I’ve stepped out of the car to this view it is worth it.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The Waimea Canyon is often dubbed as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and you can see why.  The geological wonder on the west side of the island is 14 miles long, 1 mile wide and 3,600 feet deep.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The vistas go on for all of those miles.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Beyond the Waimea Canyon roads is the Kokee State Park, which has hiking trails for just about any level of hiker.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

This time we started part of the Pihea Trail which started at the Puu o Kila lookout, which gave us much better views of the canyon than from the road lookouts.  The first time we visited Waimea Canyon it was too slippery and wet to try any hiking in this area, but this time was perfect.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The canyon is MUST SEE for any trip to Kauai and getting to do any hikes in the region is an added bonus!

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Next time we got to Kauai we’re going to tackle a hike to that waterfall behind us!

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Sunrise & Sunset Watching

No trip to any Hawaiian island is complete without watching at least one sunrise and sunset.  Kauai is filled with some pretty spectacular ones.  This is the sunrise view from our room at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa.  It literally looks like a postcard.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Sunset along Hanalei Bay on the north side of the island is equally as stunning.

Luckily there are hundreds of places around the island that give you perfect viewing.  Just make sure to get up early or check the sunset time and settle in for the free show.


Smith’s Garden Luau

Each time I visit Hawaii I make it priority to go to one luau.  When in Rome, right?!?  I’d heard the Smith’s Garden Luau was the best on Kauai, so I booked a spot ahead of time and was so glad I did.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The luau starts with a trip through the families immaculate gardens, which look like an Hawaiian paradise.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

They give you time to stroll through the grounds before dinner.

The luau kicks off with the traditional Kalua pig ceremony.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

During dinner the family entertains you with beautiful Hawaiian music.  Many members of the staff were members of the Smith family and you got such a feeling of hospitality while you were there.  In many ways it felt like they invited you to their family party.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Most folks enjoy the pork, but as a pescatarion/vegetarian I still found plenty of yumminess to fill my plate.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The highlight of the evening and my favorite part of luau was the show!

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The dancers were so good and really shared more about Hawaiian culture through dance.  I adored the show and our visit to the Smith’s Garden Luau was such a nice night.

Top Things to Do in Kauai


Eating Your Way Around the Island

No vacation is complete to me without lots of good EATS!  Since Kauai is a bit smaller, it doesn’t have as many food options as the other islands but each meal we had was really delicious.  One of the biggest food trends on the island is food trucks, so there are literally hundreds to choose from.

A few of our favorites were shave ice… which is Hawaii’s version of a snow cone on steroids.  This one from Wailua Shave Ice was one of the best on the island.

Acai bowls are also very popular on Kauai.  You can try them all over the place, but my personal favorite was this one from Wishing Well Shave Ice in Hanalei.  That’s papaya on top.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Another must eat in Hawaii is poke!  We literally had it every day, but my favorite was from The Dolphin in Hanalei.  Poke is basically fresh cubed fish with Asian seasonings mixed in.  It’s become quite popular in the US but I swear it is nothing like what you get in Hawaii.  The freshness is unreal here.

I’m going to be sharing a post with all the fabulous food I had on the trip… because there was SO much good food but I thought I’d tease you with some highlights.

Kauai Culinary Market

Another foodie highlight and sort of off the beaten path thing to do in Kauai is the Culinary Market which is at the Shops at Kukui ula, which is near Poipu, on Wednesdays.

The market has all sorts of yummy fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods and authentic Kauai made packaged goods to eat while you are on the island or take home as souvenirs.  It’s really fun to walk around and talk to locals to get a better feel of the community.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

We picked up breakfast pastries and fresh fruit to eat for breakfast including the cult-favorite Sugarloaf pineapple, which just so happens to be THE BEST pineapple I’ve ever had.  I have a fun story about this find I’ll share in my Kauai Eats post.

Top Things to Do in Kauai



Na Pali Coast Hike

No trip to Kauai is complete without somehow seeing parts of the Na Pali Coast.  The Na Pali coast are those iconic emerald cliffs that crash into the water.  It’s so rugged that you can’t drive to it so the only ways to see it are hiking in, from air or by boat.  On our first trip to Kauai we took a boat tour, which was amazing.  We saw dolphins, snorkeled with turtles and got great views of the coast line.  Since the boat ride takes a long time and we had done it before we decided to try to tackle the hike and air methods of seeing it this time.

There is a long and infamous 22 mile round trip hike which takes you along much of the coastline.  It’s supposed to be one of the best hikes in the country.  It’s also supposed to be one of the most challenging and dangerous as well.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

I love nature, but I’m not quite that tough so we settled on doing the first two miles of the hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach, which still gave us views like this.

The path to the beach is well traveled and quite busy considering how tricky it is, but each and every step was worth it!

I loved this hike so much I’m going to share more about it in it’s own post.

Helicopter or Boat Tour of Na Pali Coast

If you don’t hike your best bet for seeing the Na Pali coast is by air or by boat.  I’ve done them both and I’m not sure I can pick a favorite.

The boat ride takes longer and can be rough in the winter, but it gets you much closer to the cliffs.  It makes for a lovely day if you have the time to spend on the water and weather is right.

The helicopter tour is also pretty darn magical.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

This is what the cliffs look like from the air.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

If you are short on time and have the extra cash, I’d suggest doing the helicopter tour.  However if you have a full day, don’t get seasick and love getting out on the water… try the boat.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Honestly you can’t go wrong with either choice.


Beach Hopping

You can’t visit Kauai and not spend time just enjoying the stunning beaches.  Two of my favorite are Shipwreck Beach…

Top Things to Do in Kauai

… and the beaches along Hanalei Bay.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Bonus points for securing one of these epic cabanas at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa.

Top Things to Do in Kauai


Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa Pool

I’m normally more of a beach girl, but the pools at the Grand Hyatt Kauai are epic.  They are totally worth staying at this resort and setting aside a day of fun.  More about them in my next post!

Top Things to Do in Kauai


Shelter Dog Field Trips

The Kauai Humane Society has a really amazing program where you can take their shelter dogs out on field trips.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

While we were in town we stopped by and met Winston and took him out on a field trip.  He was a shy guy who loved taking in the pretty ocean views.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

It was a great way to spend some time with him, help him with his socialization AND spread the word about the Kauai Humane Society.  It was a really easy process and is a fun way to give back on vacation.  You can do this on your own or through the Grand Hyatt Kauai’s Volunteering program.  All you have to do is stop by the shelter during field trip hours.  They give you food, a leash, suggestions on what to do and a field trip vest.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

And by the way, if you want to learn more about this cutie contact the Kauai Humane Society.


Queens Bath

In Princeville there is a short, super muddy hike to a natural pool called Queen’s Bath.  It used to be a spot only known by locals until this book told tourists about it.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The hike down to the area with rocky cliffs was very slippery when we went.  It’s short but definitely required real hiking shoes.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

The actual bath area is to the far left.  There are several other pools in the area but in the summer this one can be perfectly calm and safe to swim in.  It can look like a perfectly clear and calm pool.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

In January though the waves were crashing and there was no way we were getting in.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Despite that, the mini-hike and walk along the shoreline was so beautiful and worth the effort to get down there.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

Just bring real shoes and check the weather/surf conditions before you go because it can be a dangerous area.  People have died here by not paying attention to the surf conditions and taking risks, which is why we stayed on the rocks.  The summer is a safer time to go.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

We had a lovely day enjoying some adventure to Queen’s Bath in the morning and taking it easy with pina coladas along Hanalei Bay in the afternoon.

Top Things to Do in Kauai

So that’s the short version of my recent trip to the garden island.  Hope you enjoyed these top things to do in Kauai!  I’ll be sharing more from the trip in the coming weeks.

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Top Things to Do in Kauai

Your turn!

What would be your favorite thing to see?

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By | 2018-01-29T18:13:58+00:00 January 23rd, 2018|Other US Travel, Travel|12 Comments


  1. kimmythevegan February 12, 2018 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    What an amazing adventure. Just breathtakingly beautiful there. The helicopter ride sounds so fun and what a great way to see the island from a different perspective. The hikes look like they are a great way to explore.
    And Winston is so cute!!!
    kimmythevegan recently posted…Defending VeganismMy Profile

  2. Andrea on Vacation January 29, 2018 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Oh I love the poke so much! Kauai is my favorite Hawaiian island by far. The hiking, the beaches, the food- I love it all!
    Andrea on Vacation recently posted…Hiking AconcaguaMy Profile

  3. Kristy from Southern In Law January 26, 2018 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Kauai is on our to visit list and now you’re making me want to go all the more! I’ve saved this post to refer back to!
    Kristy from Southern In Law recently posted…Recent Things: Poopy Heads and Book MailMy Profile

  4. Emily Swanson January 25, 2018 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Wow I don’t even know what to say after seeing all the beautiful views and eyeing that delicious poke, pineapple, acai, and shave ice. It’s like a tropical heaven. That Grand Canyon of Hawaii is SOOOO vast and beautiful; makes me think of God’s vast immense awesome majesty that just has no end. That luau sounds so fun; I love going to other places/countries/states and experiencing their sweet hospitality.

  5. Debbie January 24, 2018 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    This makes me miss Kauai so much! It’s been over 10 years since I’ve been there, but it’s one of my favorite places on earth. We would always rent a house in Hanalei and hang out on the bay. We’ve also done the downhill bike ride in Waimea Canyon and beach hopped from the north end to Poipu. When we were there (before 9/11) the base at the south end was open to tourists and we were able to go to Barking Sands beach (and be almost the only people there). The first time I did the hike on the Na’Pali trail was two days after my very first marathon. We did the two miles to the Hanakapi’ai Beach, then two miles in to the waterfall. I was almost in tears from the pain in my toes when we finished. 🙂

    Thanks for the memories!!!
    Debbie recently posted…8 Race Day Tips for a Successful MarathonMy Profile

  6. Shannon January 24, 2018 at 11:46 am - Reply

    Absolutely gorgeous

  7. [email protected] January 24, 2018 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Next time I go to Hawaii I would love to go to Kauai. So much to see and so little time. We did do luaua while we we there. How fun you got to volunteer w a shelter.

  8. Farrah January 23, 2018 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    …Clearly, I need to go back to Hawai’i. <3 I need to check out all the other islands next time!! Those photos are absolutely stunning! I definitely also miss the food–poke bowls and acai bowls are two of my greatest food loves in life. <3!

    That's so awesome that you can take the shelter dogs out too!! <3 I really need to go there. *-*

  9. Annie January 23, 2018 at 11:57 am - Reply

    What a great post!!! Really took me back to past trips and how special they were. Loved that you could take a shelter dog for a day…totally awesome. I would definitely do that…Hope that doggie finds a good home.

  10. Maureen @ Maureen Gets Real January 23, 2018 at 8:13 am - Reply

    All of these pictures are beautiful! I want to go to Hawaii so this will be perfect!
    Also where did you get that pineapple tank top?? I need it!

  11. Blane Sherer January 23, 2018 at 6:46 am - Reply

    Glad all went so well for you.
    Beautiful pictures !

  12. Emily @ Pizza & Pull-Ups January 23, 2018 at 6:41 am - Reply

    This brought back so many memories for me, what a beautiful place!

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