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Easy Kauai: 18 Unique Things to Do and Tips

Easy Kauai: 18 Unique Things to Do and Tips

Being less common to visit on a trip to Hawaii than Oahu or Maui, off the beaten path Kauai is still quiet and beautiful; nearly untouched in places. These unique things to do will ensure a wonderful trip to Kauai with kids or without. It’s the perfect island for a relaxing Hawaiian vacation. Our favorite things to do may be more adventurous than you are looking for, but we’ve got lots of ideas that are low-key as well.

Nicknamed the “Garden Island” because of its lush landscape, plentiful waterfalls, and beautiful mountainous terrain, from the moment we landed, Kauai did not disappoint. You’ll find that Kauai is the opposite of the Big Island of Hawaii in many ways, including landscape, activities, and even accommodations. The things to do on Kauai are sometimes more remote and often limited in the number of daily visitors.

If you’ve done all the usual attractions on Kauai, there is still much more to discover, and all parts of the island are definitely worth visiting. There are many more gorgeous places will provide endless family fun and zillions of postcard-perfect photo layouts on the Garden Island. These are some other parts of off the beaten path Kauai to explore that offer the more relaxed beauty that a local might experience.

Tip: there are some really cool places for kayaking around Kauai, so if that’s your thing, check out our full article on paddling the Garden Island!

Don’t forget to listen to our Hawaii Podcast Episodes!

Finding off the beaten path Kauai isn't difficult if you know where to look. Caves, waterfalls, shave ice and more are just off the road on the Garden Island of Hawaii. Recommendations for where to stay on Kauai, tropical hiking and best secret(ish) activities. #Hawaii #tropical #beachvacation #kauai

Top Beach picks for Kauai without crowds

Already you’ll find that Kauai doesn’t have the same size of crowds as Oahu or Maui do, but these beach picks should help make sure you’re relaxation is just that: relaxing and free of large crowds. Kauai beaches are also very different from what you’ll find on the Big Island of Hawaii, so if you’re coming from there you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Tip: if you’re heading to Oahu, we have a great guide to Oahu’s North Shore with some awesome beach recommendations.

Epic Hawaii at Shipwreck Beach, Poipu State Park

In case you still needed another beach recommendation without many people, Shipwreck Beach is another winner. Beautiful sands and rugged cliffs behind make it the backdrop of your own relaxing Hawaiian vacation to Kauai.  This is a public beach and there are vacation rentals nearby and it’s very near the Grand Hyatt, so the number of beach visitors may vary, but in general it’s still going to be much less crowded than the beaches of Oahu.

Ezras Beach at Makauwahi Cave Reserve Poipu Koloa South Shore Kauai Hawaii 1

Afternoon at the Beautiful Hanalei Bay

Another one of the top beaches on Kauai that is big enough to enjoy even on a perfect beach day (because most are) is the beach at Hanalei Bay. With a long curved stretch of sand and a small pier, it’s picture perfect. And if you want to go nowhere further, there are plenty of vacation rentals or even the Hanalei Bay Resort. Perfect.

If you struggle to find parking at Hanalei Bay, you’ll find plenty at Anini Beach to the east about 20 minutes. I only suggest this because I don’t want you to feel discouraged if you need a beach visit and are discouraged by how difficult parking is on Kauai’s north shore…

Book the Hanalei Colony Resort here!

Chris Taylor at Tunnels Beach Na Pali Coast North Shore Kauai Hawaii 4

The Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge

Located on the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, the Kilauea Lighthouse is a bit off the beaten path. It’s open most days to visitors and offers some of the most dramatic views of the jagged Kauai coastline. Since it’s a monitored wildlife refuge, there is a visitors center and naturalists available on busy days to share knowledge.

This is both a great spot for lighthouse appreciation and to watch for wildlife! Between passing whales and the red-footed booby it’s a very special off the beaten path Kauai destination.

Note: there is limited or timed entry for accessing the Kilauea Lighthouse and wildlife refuge, which is why this is a less-visited thing to do. If you cannot be admitted upon arrival, ask when to return or get a return time ticket.

Kilauea Lighthouse on North Shore Kauai Hawaii 1

Best Kid-friendly Beach on Kauai: Poipu Beach

For doing Kauai with kids, the South shore beaches are great for families because many of them are protected by reefs and do not get the high surf that the north shore has for much of the year (especially in winter). The beach was fairly empty whenever we visited and the water was calm, which is great for kids.

There is lots of parking at Poipu Beach, and with both Puka Dogs and Brennecke’s Beach Broiler across the street, you can show up and spend all day at the beach without having to go anywhere for meals or drinks. Poipu is a wonderful spot!

Waves at Poipu Beach Koloa South Shore Kauai Hawaii 2

Relax at Barking Sands Beach (Polihale State Beach)

This beach is at the very end of a dirt road, through the sugar cane fields and past a gigantic monkey pod tree, and it’s worth every bump to get there. Called Barking Sands because the wind sometimes blows the sand across the dunes and makes a sound not unlike a bark, the best thing about this beach is that it’s about 12 miles long with hardly anyone on it. Definitely off the beaten path Kauai.

On the north end of the beach, the famous Na Pali Coast rises from the ocean with sheer green cliffs towering up. Bring a picnic and drinking water, because spending the day swimming in the calm, warm waters here is like heaven on earth.  And watch for honu (hawaiian green sea turtles)!

Waimea Plantation beach Kauai Hawaii i

More Kauai Beaches to Visit

There are also lots snorkeling locations on the south side of the island. We were able to see several sea turtles (honu) and tons of colorful fish while snorkeling in Hanakaape Bay. Apparently the sea turtles like to hang out in the Waikomo Stream where it enters the Bay. We saw six of them sunning themselves on the shore and many others swimming up and down the stream. You can also get a view of the stream from above on the other side near Whaler’s Cove. There are stairs down to the water and a viewing area to watch these great creatures.

When you’re doing Kauai with kids, explore the eastern shore and north to the Nāpali Coast (no you can’t drive a loop on the island) to find even more beached. From Kapa’a to Hanalei you’ll find LOTS of public beach access points WITH parking. Always be mindful of where you leave your car and NEVER walk across somebody’s private property to access a beach or hiking trail.

Overlooked Nature Spots on Kauai

Because there are so many beautiful lowland activities and beaches, depending on the day you may get hiking trails on Kauai all to yourself. Here are several great options to capture the beauty of Kauai off the beaten path.

NOTE: while it’s not required for every hike or state park, there are many places around Kauai that require advanced reservations for entry, even if you’re walking in. For example, we had to wait for a cancellation to get a walk-in reservation at Haena State Park to hike the Napali Coast.

Cliff hiking to Waipoo Falls

A hike through the Waimea Canyon, Waipoo Falls is quite the site from start to finish. The lush cliffs of the gorge are remarkable and just what you’d expect to find off the beaten path on Kauai. Waipoo Falls itself is 800 feet tall, so hiking through the canyon is going to provide all sorts of views. This hike is INTENSE and some parts are tough on your knees, but it’s amazing!

I would do this hike time and time again. If you can do it in the morning, you’ll get the sun on the cliffs across the canyon from you, but if you do it in the afternoon, no doubt you’ll catch lots of rainbows both during your arrival and as you depart the canyon.

Waipoo Falls Waterfall in Waimea Canyon South Shore Kauai Hawaii 3

Hike to Red Dirt Falls in Waimea Canyon

Hiking in Waimea Canyon State Park is amazing. There’s a reason why they call it The Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the colors of the dirt and rocks are a very bright red color. Driving up to the top for a hike is amazing, and on the way down keep to the left at the Y in the road. Soon you’ll come upon what looks like the surface of Mars, with a cool waterfall thrown in. The kids lost their minds.

Red Dirt Falls is cool and it’s fun to explore around, but it is quite a bit smaller than you might expect. Super unique, but strangely small. If you get out to explore, be sure to stay on the trails. This is a very delicate area and you don’t want to be the one to damage it.

Idea: if you don’t have a rental car, you can do a tour through Waimea Canyon. No reason to miss out!

Red Dirt Waterfall Kauai Hawaii 1

Hiking the Maha’uleupu Heritage Trail on Kauai

The south side of Kauai is also home to some beautiful scenery. Never content just hanging out, we took the kids on a hike most days. Our favorites were the Maha’uleupu Heritage Trail near Shipwreck Beach and the Makauwahi Cave Trail. 

It is fairly common to see humpback whales off the coast here as well as the nene, Hawaii’s state bird, but you need to hike it at the right time of year for whales. We did, however, catch a double rainbow. When paired with a visit to the Makauwahi Dry Cave the this trail is one of the best things to do on Kauai and gives you a really unique view of this part of the island.

Tip:  the Maha’uleupu Trail is probably better suited to hike with older kids, as with younger ones you may need to carry them on your shoulders at times.

Chris Taylor with Waves Crashing at Makauwahi Cave Reserve Poipu Koloa South Shore Kauai Hawaii 3

The Beautiful Makauwahi Cave Trail Hike

The second of the trails was about a twenty minute drive from where we were staying in Poipu / Koloa. The Makauwahi Cave Trail takes you through part of a seventeen acre park and has brochures available with marked guide posts for a self tour of the property belonging to the Grove Farm Company. The Maha’uleupu Trail had amazing views of the southern coast’s cliffs that overlook the ocean.

Following the trail to the cave took us about 20 minutes. The terrain is rocky in some places but we discovered on the way back that there is an alternate path closer to the beach that was much easier to navigate. You enter the sinkhole that contains the cave through a three foot (3′) door, which was quite fun, particularly with kids.

Tip:  before doing the Makauwahi Cave Trail, be sure to confirm that it’s accessible. The cave is typically open from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm daily and tends to be staffed with helpful volunteers who can tell you all you want to know about the cave and area.

View from Makauwahi Cave Poipu Koloa South Shore Kauai Hawaii 4

The Best of Kauai: any hike into the Waimea Canyon

The red dirt falls is gorgeous but there are more epic view and waterfalls than you might expect. Whether you’re hiking a whole day or just going out for an afternoon, be sure that the Waimea Canyon is on your Kauai hiking list. Complete article coming in January 2023!

Chris and Rob Taylor at Lookout for Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon Kauai Hawaii 1

More Unique Things to do on Kauai

Beyond hiking and beaches, you’ll find there are many more things to do on Kauai. Here are a few extra ideas to have an off the beaten path experience on the Garden Island.

Check out our 5 Day Kauai Itinerary for a complete plan!

Kauai Helicopter Scenic Tour

I know, this is a big ticket item and may not fit into your budget for you visit to Hawaii, but it’s one of the most astounding things to do on Kauai. We had the most incredible experience doing a Doors-off Helicopter Tour of Kauai, circling the whole island. Instead of laying it all out here, pop over to our complete article about helicopters on Kauai for information and booking options.

Na Pali Coast from Air Kauai Doors Off Helicopter Tour Kauai Hawaii 2

Visit the Maniniholo Dry Cave

Located right next to the road across from Haena Beach on the island’s North Side, this cave is really fun for the kids to explore. The cave is about 300 yards deep with a high ceiling, so it’s easy to walk all the way to the very back. It was not dark or scary, but we used our phones as flashlights in case the ground was uneven. When you are done exploring, walk across the street and grab some fresh coconut or pineapple from the fruit vendor in the parking lot. The beach is also very fun, with a lifeguard to watch over the littles (and bigs).

Fun fact:  part of Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides was filmed at the Waikapalae cave, another dry cave that could be on our off the beaten path Kauai list. Cuz pirates = awesome.

Entrance to Maniniholo Dry Cave at Haena Beach NaPali Coast North Shore Kauai Hawaii 1

Visiting the Tortoise Sanctuary 

After leaving the cave we learned, to our surprise, that right across the bridge from the cave was a tortoise sanctuary. You simply climb over the fence on the provided stairs and enter “Lida’s Field of Dreams” which is home to several to Giant Tortoises as part of a project to help control weeds in a native plant restoration area. We all loved this part of our hike the best! Quite the gem to find when doing Kauai with kids.

Other interesting and fun activities to do on Kauai with kids include the botanical gardens, beaches of the eastern shores, waterfall hiking at Wailua Falls, and taking the Scenic Route along the Nāpali Coast.

Giant Sulcata Tortoise at Makauwahi Cave Reserve Poipu Koloa South Shore Kauai Hawaii 2

Stroll Old Koloa Town

Most people drive through Old Koloa Town on the way to or from Poipu Beach, but it’s really sweet and worth the stop. Only about two blocks long, the charming clapboard buildings are well-preserved from the early sugar plantation days. Lots of fun little shops, restaurants and galleries are now located in the historic storefronts. Our kids have always loved getting an ice cream cone here and then taking a picture with the “old man statue”.

Old Town Koloa

Fierce Nature at Spouting Horn

Not really secret, but the Spouting Horn in Poipu is really a sight to behold as it shoots seawater high into the air. This phenomenon is caused by the ocean waves rushing into a lava tube. positioned at sea-level with a blow hole amid the rocky shore. When the wave is large, the spout is impressive and loud! This is a great place for sunset photos and family poses for the year’s holiday card. There is also an interesting crafts fair onsite on most nights, where the kids can pick out some inexpensive sharks tooth necklaces or shell jewelry.

Spouting Horn sunset Kauai Hawaii 2

Where to Stay on Kauai

Seriously, drop me on a beach and I’m good, but the reality is that you want to find the most relaxing or best hotels on Kauai for a trip. Or you just need a good recommendation for the perfect family resort for your Kauai vacation, and we’ve got lots of recommendations, both from our own experience and from our friends that visit Kauai!

Jungle Na Palii in forest Kauai Hawaii 1

Kauai Shores Hotel in Kapa’a

For a good, central location that’s easy to have as a home base for exploring all three sides of Kauai, the Kauai Shores Hotel is ideal. Located in Kapa’a, it’s halfway between the Na Pali Coast (Haena State Park access point) and Waimea Canyon on the south shore. It has its own beach, two pools, an oceanfront restaurant and fairly good sized rooms.

There are tons of restaurants all around the Kauai Shores Hotel, and if you don’t want to go far for different beaches or paddle boarding spots, within minutes of the hotel you’ve got two different, beautiful beaches and the Wailua River. It’s perfect!

Book the Kauai Shores Hotel here!

Swimming Pool of Kauai Shores Hotel Kapaa Kauai Hawaii 2

Waimea Plantation Cottages

This sweet little hotel is located waaaaaay on the West Side of Kauai where people seldom venture, near the road where cars drive up the hill to reach Waimea Canyon State Park. Because it is away from most of the tourists sites, guess what… There are very few tourists at Waimea Plantation Cottages! It’s a collection of historic sugar plantation cottages, moved from other locations to this tranquil spot on beachside of the island, making it very much an off the beaten path Kauai destination.

Book the Waimea Plantation Cottages here!

Although not a swimmable beach, the long walks and sunsets are epic. And did I mention there are few tourists here? The sign of a good place is when Hawaiians come from other islands to vacation at this place, which is just what we’ve discovered about Kauai and the Waimea Plantation Cottages. At the Cottages, BBQs are included, along with working kitchens and lots of kitch, so it’s perfect Hawaii.

Tip:  if you want to go on a snorkeling adventure there are some wonderful spots, particularly with such a rocky coastline. You can go from the beach or sail out (our pick).

Waimea Plantation Cottages Kauai Hawaii

Koloa Landing Resort with kids

Traveling with small kids finds us looking for places that help us with their schedule. This often includes pools for some fun, a kitchen so we can cook meals, and laundry when available. We were able to find all of this at Koloa Landing Resort in Poipu/Koloa. Just a 25 minute drive from the airport, Poipu/Koloa is on the southern side of Kauai.

Koloa Landing Resort Kauai with kids Lagoon Pool

In addition to the amazing pools on property, there is also a spa, dining options, and a luau that can be booked (these aren’t included in standard bookings).  Overall, it’s a very family friendly resort and does offer the best of what you’d expect of a Hawaiian retreat.

Tip:  if you’re looking to stay in a different style of resort or in a different part of Kauai, check out more options below (search box) but remember, always take a few minutes to read reviews and look at guests’ pictures, as that can really help you determine if a property is right for your vacation.

Condos and Vacation Rentals on Kauai

One of the great travel advances of the 21st century is the availability of vacation rentals. We recommend HomeAway for looking for vacation rentals on Kauai. There is actually quite the inventory and when you’re booking a vacation rental vs an AirBNB you’re guaranteed to not have shared quarters… which sometime happens with AirBNBs. 

Search for Kauai vacation rentals here!

Poipu sunset Waimea Plantation Kauai Hawaii 1

There are many more fun discoveries on Kauai, and part of the adventure of any vacation is finding your own favorites. We hope you share your finds with us here so we can add to the list!

Dining Around Kauai

And food. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention food. While we did cook in often, we also ate out several times. Close to hotels, in the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center we found Living Foods, which had all of our grocery necessities, as well as a kitchen and coffee bar. The shopping village also had several other places to eat and shop, including a pharmacy which is helpful when your child spikes a fever.

Eat Loco Coco Shave Ice

There are many great Hawaiian shave ice places on the Garden Island, but Loco Coco is really special and is absolutely off the beaten path Kauai. Located inside a little portable trailer in a random parking lot in Poipu, they serve their hand-shaved ice with all organic ingredients, including fruit juices, crushed fruit on top, and ice cream on the bottom. De-lish! Poipu has a lot to offer for being a small town.

Tip: for ideas on finding great food on any of the Hawaiian Islands, check out the tips in this article about Oahu!

Old Town Koloa Kauai

Kauai Hot Dogs: Puka Dogs

Another favorite find for dining around Kauai with kids was Puka Dog in the Poipu Village Center. Puka Dog had some amazing Dogs (Polish sausage or veggie) with tropical toppings, the dog being secured in a hole in the center of the buns. Great find for easy dining with kids! We grabbed our dogs and headed across the street to eat them on the beach with our lilikoi lemonades.

Tip:  for more ideas of how to find great food on Kauai, check out our article about dining around Oahu, which includes ways to find authentic local cuisine and off-the-beaten-path dining options.

Eating Puka Dog at Poipu Koloa South Shore Kauai Hawaii 1

Kapa’s Breakfast Spots

We’ve got two solid breakfast picks in Kapa’a: Java Kai and Passion Bakery. Both spots are easily accessible from the highway if you’re not staying in Kapa’a and both offer delicious breakfasts. While the breakfast sandwiches and morning bagels from each are delicious, they each shine with their pastries.

Top pick from Java Kai: Coconut Muffins – OMG, so good and I like to think that they’re extra health because they are so coconutty. Favorite item from Passion Bakery: Lilikoi Malasada – the cream filling and the passionfruit icing are just amazing.

Coconut Muffin from Coffee Shop at Java Kai Kapaa Kauai Hawaii 1

Kalaheo Coffee Company

Hands down, this is the best breakfast on the island. The baked goods at Kalaheo Coffee Company are crazy good, especially if you order a “knuckle” from here (sort of a free-form cinnamon roll with icing). The omelets and scrambles are delicious, and the pineapple French toast with coconut syrup is a favorite. Open for breakfast and lunch every day, and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Sooooo good.

This is up away from the beach so perfect to add to a day when you’re driving between the many things to do on the south shore of Kauai, especially if you’re on your way to hike at Waimea Canyon State Park.

Breakfast Menu at Kalaheo Café

Thanks to our friends Andy (a buddy) and Jon from for sharing their families’ favorite semi-secret aka off the beaten path Kauai activities with kids in addition to our own suggestions. It’s always helpful to hear from people besides us! We love hearing from other dads, especially when it’s about an awesome place that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

And want to pin this for planning your own family trip and seeking out off the beaten path Kauai? Go for it!! And if you have any questions about things to do on Kauai or want to share your own ideas, please leave a comment or send us a note!

Finding off the beaten path Kauai isn't difficult if you know where to look. Caves, waterfalls, shave ice and more are just off the road on the Garden Island of Hawaii. Recommendations for where to stay on Kauai, tropical hiking and best secret(ish) activities. #Hawaii #tropical #beachvacation #kauai
Finding off the beaten path Kauai isn't difficult if you know where to look. Caves, waterfalls, shave ice and more are just off the road on the Garden Island of Hawaii. Recommendations for where to stay on Kauai, tropical hiking and best secret(ish) activities. #Hawaii #tropical #beachvacation #kauai

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Wednesday 27th of September 2023

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Wednesday 16th of March 2022

Great list! Headed there soon.


Saturday 15th of January 2022

My wife and our 2 kids ages 3 and 8 are planning our trip to kauai in March. This was a very informative guide. I've taken several notes and can't wait to build memories with the family. Thank you for the information.


Monday 17th of January 2022

Have an awesome time! Enjoy the waterfalls and totally different Hawaii experience.

I love Croatia

Friday 1st of January 2021

Absolutely stunning! Thank you on a detailed impressive guide!