the top 10 things to do in kauai, hawaii

Recently, I read an article in the LA Times about Kauai’s record rainfall earlier this month: Records indicate that Kauai got 50 inches of rain within 24 hours, and scientists posit that this record-breaking and destructive weather is a result of global warming—and that there’s plenty more where that came from. And while I know that an island that has rebounded from two tsunamis and two hurricanes will come back from this, too, it’s a discomfiting thought, certainly, that this crazy weather could become the norm.

I’d planned on sharing a list of top things to do and see in Kauai today, to cap off my Kauai series—and I’m still going to do that, but I want you to keep in mind that some of these things might be off-limits if you’re heading to Kauai in the very near future. Just do your research before you go, because if any of these places or activities is open for business, you should check out each and every one of them while you’re visiting.

And now, my top 10 list of things to do and places to see in Kauai:

1. climb wailua falls

The waterfall can actually be seen from the roadside in Lihue, but we actually went all the way down. It’s not an easy hike. It’s actually a little more like mountain-climbing. It’s a steep, steep decline, and you go down there at your own risk. If for some reason you can’t get back up on your own, you’ll have to be airlifted out, and man, would that suck. So if you choose to ignore the warnings plastered all along the guardrail, like we did, just be careful. I actually thought it was really fun. I like the logistical challenge of figuring out where to step and where to grab on. The view from the bottom of the falls is so spectacular and totally worth it. Once we made it down (and it took us a while, we really took our time, because safety), I took off my shoes and socks and stood with my feet in that cool, cool water and just basked in the view. Totally worth it. 

2. visit waimea canyon national park

Waimea Canyon is considered the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and though it’s smaller, it’s still a sigh to behold—and there’s plenty of hiking and viewpoints to keep you occupied along the way. We spent our first full day in Kauai exploring Waimea Canyon, which you can read about more here.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Explore Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

3. take a surfing lesson in hanalei bay

When in Hawaii, try to surf. Seriously. Even this completely uncoordinated girl rode some waves, and man was it exhilarating! You can read more about our surfing experience here.

10 things to do in Kauai, Hawaii: Take a surfing lesson

4. sail along the na pali coast

The Na Pali coast, a sheer cliffside off of Kauai’s northern coast, can only be seen by boat or air; you can hike along the coast as well (I’m sure the views are spectacular), but from what I understand, they’re pretty challenging (and long) hikes. Between Waimea and Na Pali, Kauai’s main highway does not connect between them. We opted to see the coastline from the water with Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures. You can read more about our experience snorkeling, picnicking, and sailing along Kauai’s stunning Na Pali coast here.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Sail Along the Na Pali Coast

5. eat all of the food

We ate so well in Kauai, you guys. It was expensive, but it was worth every penny. I don’t think we had a single meal in Kauai that was not orgasmic, but I whittled the list down for you guys to the best places we ate:

for breakfast: wake up cafe in hanalei or banandi

At the Wake Up Cafe, try the Hanalei Quesadilla (a Mexican omelette) and the mac nut cinnamon roll, which is heaped with pineapple and macadamia nuts.

wake-up-hanalei-bay-best-restaurants-kauai-hawaii-1.jpg
Get the mac nut cinnamon roll at Wake Up Hanalei Bay. Yes, those are pineapples and macadamia nuts piled on top. Yes, it’s as delicious as it looks.

At Banandi, get all of the crepes. To be, erm, relatively healthy, I started with a hearty crepe—salami and mozzarella—but then I also tried their strawberry-Nutella dessert crepe (which is a classic combination) and the lemon and sugar crepe on our second visit, which was utterly refreshing. My only complaint about Banandi is that they didn’t offer juice, but that might not bother you, or it the lovely Ukrainian gentleman who owns it may have changed that by now, who knows?

for hawaiian grilled cheese and fresh ice cream: pink’s creamery

For the record, Hawaiian grilled cheese has pulled pork and pineapple on it and is simply divine.

Get Hawaiian grilled cheese at Pink's Creamery in Kauai, Hawaii!

for shave ice: jojo’s shave ice

Shave ice is really big in Kauai, which I don’t 100% understand. It’s just a fancy and overly expensive snow cone. But apparently it’s one of the things you must-do there. The Fresh Shave is supposed to be the best; unfortunately, we never got around to trying it. But Jojo’s is an institution in Kauai; all of their syrups are homemade.

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for dinner: hanalei dolphin restaurant & fish market and tahiti nui

The fish tacos at the Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant are to die for (the fish is fresh fresh fresh since the fish market is attached). The Dolphin also offers a variety of sushi and Asian-inspired dishes.

You might recognize Tahiti Nui from that movie George Clooney filmed in Hawaii. No? Well, no matter. Their pizza is freaking amazing. I believe mine had Kalua pork and pineapples (pretty much everything I hate in Hawaii was adorned with pineapples and I have no regrets).

6. go tubing & ziplining

Do both with Kauai’s Backcountry Adventures and you get 10% off! (That’s what we did!) We went tubing in the morning through an old sugarcane plantation and went ziplining through the rainforest in the afternoon—both were really cool experiences and highly recommended. Want to know more? Check out this post.

kauai-hawaii-tubing-ziplining-2.jpg

7. kayak & hike along wailua river

The hubs and I loved the various outdoor activities Kauai offered—we love both kayaking and hiking, so this excursion was perfect for us. Plus, you get to have lunch by a beautiful waterfall after all that hard work! Click here to read more.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Hike & Kayak Along the Wailua River

8. check out queen’s bath

Again, do this one at your own risk—people have died there. But really, just don’t be stupid. Don’t try to swim in them if the water is rough (or maybe at all, if you really don’t want to tempt the fates). We were there on a wild day, and it was so exhilarating to watch the water churn from the top of the rocks. It was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

9. spend some time on hanae beach

We were actually looking for tunnel beach because I’d read the snorkeling is supposed to be top-notch there, but we ended up at Hanae Beach, which was still super nice—plus there’s a cool cave to explore right across the road. We had nothing in particular to do that day, so we spread out our towels in the shade of the trees that border the sand, and I took a nap while Jeremy frolicked in the insane waves. The beach was so clean—spotless tan sand dotted by black volcanic rock and crystal-clear water—absolute heaven. Bring a book, bring a picnic, bring some snorkel gear if you have it, and spend a few hours just chilling on this beautiful beach.

10. watch the sunset at poipu beach

On our last day in Kauai (sad face), we ended up on Poipu Beach, where if you’re lucky, you can spot seals and maybe whales (we weren’t that lucky, although the lifeguard announced a whale sighting while we were there, I, unfortunately, saw nothing). Except for the sunset—I did see that, and although it was a little cloudy that evening, the clouds just gave the sunset some character.

bonus: drive through the tunnel of trees

It’s a great photo-op.

bonus: walk across the hanapepe swinging bridge

I read about this “swinging bridge” in several blog posts when I was researching Kauai; many had it listed a “must-see.” I’m not sure I would agree, but who knows, maybe you’ll check it out and feel differently. The town of Hanapepe if pretty cute, though, so if nothing else, we enjoyed licking an ice cream cone and checking out the little shops.

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