Insider’s Guide to Kauai – 12 Must See Places & Things to Do

Known as the “Garden Island”, it’s no surprise that Kauai is known for its lush, natural beauty and diverse landscapes that make it perfect for outdoor activities. From trekking through remote valleys to relaxing on a sunset cruise along the coastline, you’ll love this fantastic Hawaiian island.

But with so much to offer, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s where we come in with our Insider’s Guide that will make sure you have all the best activities and experiences available!


Kauai is actually known for offering some of the best snorkeling in all of North America. Considering the island boasts over 50 miles of white sand beaches, it’s super easy to access some of the top snorkeling spots. Moreover, it’s perfect for beginners and children, as well as seasoned veterans.

Kauai has been the backdrop for countless Hollywood blockbuster films, and you’ll now get to enjoy towering cliffs, caves, and waterfalls while you’re paddling away through the electric blue waters. Underneath the surface, you’ll discover countless types of bright fish, coral, turtles, and even sea lions and sharks!

If you really want to take the experience up a notch, we recommend signing up for a Kauai snorkeling tour. Instead of heading out by yourself right from the beach, your tour guide will take you out on a Catamaran or other vessel to those hidden spots not many know about. Some of them even include Continental breakfasts and lunch!

Helicopter Tour 

kauai helicopter tour

With 4,000-foot cliffs, thick green forests, and pristine coastlines, we can’t think of a better way to explore Kauai than in the air. This island is undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking places in the world, and you get to see it all with a Kauai helicopter tour! If you already have a packed schedule, these are fast but more than worth it!

These tours are seriously one of the best investments you can make, considering how incredibly fun and magical they are. Each one is a little bit different, but each offers something special. All of them, however, include a professional, expertly-trained pilot to make sure everyone is safe and having a good time.

Most of the helicopters have no doors, so there’s nothing to obstruct your vision as you look out over the fascinating landscapes. We appreciated that some tours even provide lanyards to that no one risks dropping their cell phones! If you want our recommendation, take one of the tours that includes a stop at Manawaiopuna Fall, or “Jurassic Park Falls”. Cascading over 400 feet down, they are only accessible by helicopter!


This is a lesser-known activity but packed with fun and adventure! It’s a wonderful way to explore the island’s emerald interior, and if you’re coming with the whole family, it should be at the top of your list! It’s perfect for any age, and kids really seem to love it. You’ll get to first ride one of the 4-wheel-drive vehicles available in the area, and drive over the hilly Lihue Plantation lands.

While every experience is a little bit different, you typically put on a headlamp, hop on a tube, and zoom through the picturesque landscapes by means of the open water canals hand-dug in the 1870s! This is a one-of-a-kind adventure, as the tunnel system was created specifically to irrigate Kauai’s sugar crop plantations. Oh, and the tours also come with lunch so you have the whole afternoon covered!

What can you expect to see while tubing?

Enormous waterfalls, rich green foliage, gently bubbling waters, and even some local wildlife may make an appearance!

Kayaking Tours

One of the few ways you’ll be able to traverse both rivers and oceans in Kauai, is by kayak. Did you know that the island is the only one of Hawaii that features navigable rivers? That alone has upped its popularity, and the sport is exploding in demand.

But what’s so great about it?

Well, it’s more of a relaxing experience, where you get some fresh air, a bit of exercise, and get to explore scenery you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. For example, kayaking down the Wailua River means you’ll get to pass by incredible jungle landscapes, and the Hanalei River is the longest on the island.

Ocean kayaking offers more expansive views, and with a Kauai kayaking tour you’ll even get a chance to take a break for snorkeling and exploring under the surface! All of the tours, however, come with a professional guide to offer information about reef ecology, fun facts, and the important history of the area. The tours combine not only the activity itself, but a history lesson that you won’t learn about in school.


kauai zipline

If you’re going to zipline anywhere in the world, make it Kauai. Soak up incredible views while experiencing serious thrills as you zip over lush treetops, birds, and other critters! Kauai is home to countless types of trees, plants, flowers, and wildlife and this is a fantastic way to see them while getting that adrenaline pumping!

There are various ziplines on the island, so we recommend choosing one of the Kauai zipline tours. Most last around 2.5 to 3 hours, which makes it easy to fit into a busy schedule and doesn’t last so long that kids start to become restless.

When you arrive, you can count on pretty much everything being covered. You’ll have helmets and all other safety equipment provided there onsite, and some even include snacks and beverages. We really enjoyed the Koloa Zipline, which has some of the friendliest and knowledgeable staff on the island.

Not only that, but they have more advanced zipping options where you can try the handlebar attachment to hang from or the “Flyin’ Kauai’an” harness!

Attend a Luau 

You can’t go to Hawaii and not go to a luau – it’s just wrong! Attending an authentic Hawaiian luau is not only a chance to learn about and experience native culture. It’s an opportunity to have a great time with amazing music, delicious cuisine, and incredible views! This goes double if it’s your first time in Hawaii.

They hold great significance in local communities, as a source of entertainment, as well as a traditional “welcome” or celebration for visitors. While each luau’s menu varies a bit, you can typically expect to find the following dishes there each time: kalua pig, poi (porridge made of taro), poke, sweet potato, laulau, lomi salmon, haupia, and Kulolo.

Entertainment is typically live music from beginning to end, with various dancing acts. Dancing acts could be from Hawaiian hula (both traditional and contemporary styles), as well as other Polynesian dances like the Tahitian hula and Samoan fire knife dancing.

Dating back over 5 million years, Kauai has a massive history behind it, and you can learn all about them with one of these Kauai luaus. Whether it’s you and a partner or the entire family – all are welcome!

Boat Tours

kauai boat ride

These are more relaxing adventures off the island of Kauai. If you just want to sit back, relax, and take in all these breathtaking natural wonders, you’re in the right place. More specifically, we recommend partaking in a NaPali Coast boat tour.

Usually the tours start out early in the morning, to escape the crowds and oftentimes get the best views from a luxe catamaran. They last anywhere from 3.5 to 5 hours long, and are much more than just sailing around. You’ll have a meal or two included, soft drinks, water, wine, beer, and music on board so help yourself.

Your expert guides know this area like the back of their hands, and are great about sharing fun anecdotes, entertaining local myths, and history lessons. Depending on when you go, you may even catch sight of wildlife like whales, dolphins, seals, turtles, and plenty of brightly-colored fish!


Kauai’s local cuisine features some dishes that have become really popular in the continental US, like poke, fish tacos, coconut shrimp, and spam musubi. However, there are plenty more gastronomic delights that you just have to try.

Hukilau Lanai has amazing live music, delicious food, and equally-stunning views. There are plenty of traditional Hawaiian dishes here, along with an impressive cocktail and wine list. Beach House Restaurant has some of the best views on the island, too, but their wasabi-buttered fresh island fish and poke tacos are the real stars of the show.

For those with a sweet tooth, Holey Grail Donuts can’t be missed. Locals love this place too, so you know it’s worth visiting. Their incredibly soft donuts are made with taro dough and fried in coconut oil, giving it a uniquely Hawaiian twist. Just be prepared to crave these things at the most random hours of the day after trying them once!


hiking kauai

If you want a challenge with some incredible rewards in the form of jaw-dropping scenery, you’re in for a real treat on Kauai. No matter what your physical fitness looks like, we’re sure there’s a trail for you. After all, who doesn’t want to ascend a volcanic landscape that looks like you’re on a different planet, then finish it up with an enormous snow cone?!

The most famous hike is the Kalalau Trail, offering magnificent views of the Na Pall Coast. Just be prepared, as it’s a whopping 22 miles roundtrip! The first hour is basically just up, up up! The 3-mile Kaena Point is a much easier trail, leading you to the lighthouse at the end of the trail. It’s relaxing and peaceful, and you may even catch a glimpse of a cute monk seal!

Visit Kilauea Lighthouse

That brings us to our next point, which is Kilauea Lighthouse located on North Shore inside a wildlife refuge. It was constructed over 100 years ago to help ship navigation, as well as some of the first flights over here! After Pearl Harbor, the light station went dark until the war was over.

Oh, and if you’re a bird lover this is a must-do. You’ll see red-footed boobys, brown boobys, and many other native feathered friends.

Go to the Limahuli Garden and Preserve

 If you’d like to really clear your mind and learn about some of the native plants on Kauai, you have to visit Limahuli Garden near Kalalau trailhead. For some reason, it seems like tourists still haven’t found this one out, as you won’t often catch any there. As one of the most biodiverse valleys in Hawaii, you will have the opportunity to see plenty of endangered plants and animals that you can’t see anywhere else in the world.

The canoe gardens in particular were fascinating, offering insight into Hawaii’s history. The terraces are now over 700 years old, and show you how natives used to cultivate the essential taro root.

Take Surfing Lessons

 Have you always wanted to learn how to surf? Well, now you can, with a surfing lesson or two right here in Kauai! Your guide is a professional surf instructor who has likely been doing the sport their entire life.

You can choose to do a solo session or group lesson, and the latter is usually preferable if you’re just starting out. Try your hand in a safe zone, where you’ll get tips and tricks you won’t be able to get anywhere else.

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