As my father reminded me recently, there is only one Hawaii. The allure and beauty of the Islands are unique unto themselves, and we’ve been lucky to have travelled to four of the Hawaiian Islands many times over the years. We’ve celebrated honeymoons, birthdays and anniversaries in Hawaii – it holds a special place in our hearts. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but if I did, my choice would be Kauai. The Garden Island of Kauai is holiday heaven for families. From exploring Waimea Canyon to boogie boarding at Poipu Beach and eating shave ice every day, I’m delighted to share ten fun things to do in Kauai with kids.
10 unforgettable things to do in Kauai with Kids
1. Beautiful Beaches
Kauai has many outstanding, white sand beaches, some of which are part of well-maintained State Parks with lifeguard stations, play structures, washrooms and changing stations.
Poipu Beach Park and Salt Pond Beach are two great, younger kid-friendly beaches on the south shore, with washrooms, picnic areas, and shower facilities. These beaches have reefed off areas with calm, shallow water that is perfect for wading and staying within arms reach.
For the more adventurous, Brennecke’s in Poipu is a very good boogie boarding beach, but with powerful surf and shore breaks, especially in winter. Before running into the waves, observe the surf pattern and read any posted signage (i.e. rip currents, sudden shorebreaks), and chat with locals or other beach goers about conditions (which can change daily).
Polihale Beach (at the end of Highway 50, past Kekaha) is a spectacular 17-mile stretch of pristine sand that sits on the more arid westward side, at the southern end of the Na Pali cliffs. Its surf can be dangerous, especially in winter, and there are no lifeguards. The best area to swim or body board is the only slightly calmer Queen’s Pond area, ‘left of the very large tree’, about 3 miles along the dirt road. Safety in the open ocean is a serious matter: never turn your back on the water.
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2. Explore Waimea Canyon
Though Mark Twain did not visit Hawaii, he nicknamed this natural wonder ‘the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.’ The Waimea Canyon is the largest in the Pacific, at over 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and 3500ft deep. Access is easy, via a spectacular drive from Waimea, along Waimea Canyon Drive (Route 550) to the first major Lookout (at the 10 mile marker).
The drive to the end of Route 500 winds through Kok’e State Park and you can choose to visit either the Kalalau or Pu’u o Kila Lookouts for amazing views to the west and the Na Pali coast – if the fog doesn’t roll in. Pack a sweater in the car as the temperature goes down as you drive up.
3. Eat Shave Ice
A sweet treat in the heat – what’s not to like about shave ice? Shave ice is produced by special machines that shaves the ice, onto which syrups are poured and ice cream can be added.
We found two great shave ice shacks: Jojo’s Clubhouse in Waimea, and the Hee Fat General Store in Kapa’a. The latter had the bonus of real fruit syrups, which were delicious and not quite as fluorescent as the artificial ones. I recommend getting your shave ice with macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom. SO yum!
4. Go Surfing
Kauai has decent surf, even on the calm, south shore of Poipu. The locals say anyone can learn to surf. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do believe that it is easier to learn how to surf when you’re young. And since you’re visiting Kauai with kids, there’s no better time to try this symbol of Hawaiian culture and sport.
There are many surf schools in Kauai, and their services and prices are all pretty much in line with one another. We booked a surfing lesson with Kauai Surf School. A 2 hour lesson cost $75 per person, including a free t-shirt for the kids.
The instructor was a young and hip surfer ‘dude’, and connected well with kids. The Poipu beach where the lessons are located has decent sized swells that won’t prove too difficult to newbies – kids or adults.
Remember to be sun safe. Apply reef-safe and water-proof sunscreen or wear SPF surf shirts and swimsuits before heading out on to the water. And don’t forget the bottoms of your feet.
5. Dip into the Queen’s Bath
We visited Kauai in winter, and the surf is highest and most dangerous during those months. This meant that we weren’t able to enjoy a dip in the incredible Queen’s Bath, near the Westin Princeville Resort on the North Shore. While Queen’s Bath is a beautiful spot, it can be deadly, especially in winter.
Even at the best of times, this surf-fed pool can be treacherous. In winter, it’s particularly dangerous. Large waves rush in and fill the bath with churning whitewater. Anyone sitting in the small pool would be 1. seriously injured 2. washed away 3. drowned. A nearby plaque keeps track of the body count, as a quiet warning in case you didn’t think the waves looked so bad. Be careful.
6. Go Hiking on the Na Pali Coast
Kauai is a natural paradise filled with adventurous activities. If you don’t mind a little sweat, the Na Pali Coast State Park is world-famous for hikes of varying length and difficulty. Older kids and adults may enjoy tackling the hiking trails from Ke’e Beach on the north shore, or planning a longer, overnight hike if you’re properly equipped. Good footwear, equipment and water supplies are very important. Don’t attempt a Na Pali hike in your flip flops.
7. Enjoy Nature
Tropical flowers and animals like sea turtles and monk seals make Kauai a vibrant and beautiful place to enjoy nature. The warm trade winds smell like flowers and pineapple. If you purchase a handmade lei at a luau, you’ll enjoy the wonderful plumeria scent for days.
8. Check out the Spouting Horn
The Spouting Horn blowhole is just a 20 minute drive from the main resort area of Poipu on the south shore. The spout and resulting ‘horn-like’ sound is the vestige of an ancient lava tube. It channels crashing waves to spout up through this hole. The hiss and roar has a history in Hawaiian legend and involves a trapped lizard named Kaikapu.
9. Experience a Luau
Every Hawaiian Island features luaus, so it’s not Kauai-specific. But for me, my very first luau after decades of visiting the Islands took place on Poipu Beach at the Sheraton Kauai resort. The beachfront Auli’i Luau was a wonderful evening of music, culture and food. Our kids in particular enjoyed the show, especially the dancing and fire-juggling.
10. Feel the Aloha Spirit
Kauai offers visitors authenticity in its small towns and beautiful landscapes. It’s a laid-back, friendly island where no one’s in a rush and the chickens roam free (courtesy of Hurricane Iniki in 1992). Adventure travellers have many active options – from helicopter tours to scuba-diving, zip-lining, and river-kayaking. Kauai also rewards those who just want to hang loose and enjoy the beauty of this Garden Island paradise.
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All photos by C. Laroye. This article contains affiliate links.
Have you visited Kauai? What did you enjoy most? Share your comment below.