While Hawaii is typically thought of for the beach resorts, visitors of “the rainy island” come to Kauai with a sense of adventure in mind.
In this guide, you will discover the ultimate bucket list for the Garden Isle, including all of the best things to do in Kauai. This includes stunning places like Queen’s Bath that you have to see to believe, epic helicopter adventures over the Na Pali coast, waterfall chasing, snorkeling, and more.
Before you begin, you may want to load some of our other guides to Kauai to help plan your upcoming vacation:
- KAUAI ITINERARY: The Perfect 5-7 Day Visit
- HOW TO PLAN A TRIP TO KAUAI: The Complete Start to Finish Guide
- WHERE TO STAY ON KAUAI: Guide to the Best Areas, Hotels & Resorts
- KAUAI WATERFALL GUIDE: How to get to all 19 waterfalls on Kauai
Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂
Printable Kauai Bucket List
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Best Things to do in Kauai Overview
Each item presented in this list will be discussed in detail below with images to help you visualize the adventure. However, this section will provide a quick reference of the ultimate Kauai bucket list.
The best things to do in Kauai are:
- See the Na Pali Cliffs by Helicopter
- Kayak the Wailua River
- Gaze Out Upon the Waimea Canyon
- Experience High Tide at Queen’s Bath
- Hike the Kalepa Ridge Trail
- Go Waterfall Chasing
- See the Na Pali Coast by Boat
- Attend the Best Luau on Kauai
- Snorkel at Lawai Beach
- Find Puff the Magic Dragon at Hanalei Bay
- Go stargazing at Polihale Beach
- Witness an Iconic Hawaiian Sunset
- Fly to Jurassic Park Falls
- Hang out with Beach Chickens
- Go Tasting at the Koloa Rum Company
- Get Caffeinated & Educated with Kauai Coffee Company
- Watch for “The Green Flash”
- Eat Like a Local With a Hawaiian Food Tour
- Watch the Sunrise in Paradise
- Ride the Rails of the Kauai Plantation Railway
- Hike the Kalalau Trail
- Experience a Magical Dinner Cruise
- Go Scuba Diving at Koloa Landing
- Take Surf Lessons at Po’ipu
- Find the “Secret Waterfall” of Kauai
- Enjoy the Aerial Views on Kauai’s Longest Zipline
- Whale Watching
- Chocolate Tasting at Princeville Botanical Gardens
- Catch Your Own Dinner on a Kauai Fishing Tour
- Arrive in Aloha Style & Get Lei’d at the airport
- See the Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau
- Become a Detective on the Hanalei Adventure Scavenger Hunt
- Find your Zen with Yoga on the Beach
- Star in your own Underwater Photoshoot
- Take Part in a Fireknife Ceremony On the Beach
The Kauai Bucket List: 35 Best Things to do in Kauai
As the second-oldest of the main Hawaiian islands (only Ni’ihau is older), Kauai has had 5.8 million years to perfect its beauty. It’s, therefore, no surprise that it is known for its incredible landscapes and nature.
The Garden Isle of Kauai is a haven for outdoor lovers and adventure-seekers. Those looking for a bit more R&R will find plenty of beautiful beaches and more relaxed things to do.
Below are the 35 best things to do in Kauai, from outdoor adventures to cultural ceremonies to food and much more.
1. See the Na Pali Cliffs by Helicopter
The jagged, sheer cliffs of the Na Pali coast are one of the most impressive natural sights in the world. This also creates a landscape nearly impossible to explore by foot.
If your travel budget permits one luxury item, make it a helicopter tour of the Na Pali coast. Experiencing this iconic landscape from the sky is the most incredible, unforgettable thing most visitors say they did on their trip to Kauai.
2. Kayak the Wailua River
Grab a set of oars and head for a paddle through a beautiful rainforest via the Wailua River. This region of Kauai is exceptionally lush, making for a jungle-like atmosphere.
Daily kayaks rentals are available at several local shops. Alternatively, you can opt for a guided tour if you prefer some local knowledge and company.
While you are there, make time to find the “Secret Waterfall of Kauai” (number 25 on this list!) locally known as Uluwehi Falls, and Fern Grotto, a fern-fringed lava cave.
3. Gaze Out Upon the Waimea Canyon
Known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” the incredible Waimea Canyon looks like it has been painted by the many rainbows for which Hawaii (“The Rainbow State”) is known. Colorful bands stripe this vast expanse, with a waterfall plummeting in the distance to put the cherry on top.
The Waimea Canyon can be enjoyed from the many roadside viewpoints by car, or hiked into. It is an unmissable item on every Kauai bucket list and ranks in the Top 5 for the best canyons in the US.
4. Experience High Tide at Queen’s Bath
The official Queen’s Bath is a natural rock tub and volcanic coastline on the north shore of Kauai. It was formed as lava cooled where it met the Pacific Ocean.
During lower tides, you can sit in the tub and soak in the saltwater. However, the real show occurs during high tide!
Large waves crash down onto the volcanic shoreline, creating small waterfalls as they drain back to the sea. This dramatic show makes it one of the best places to watch sunset in Kauai.
5. Hike the Kalepa Ridge Trail
The Kalepa Ridge Trail provides the best view of the Na Pali cliffs accessible by land. This 2-mile jaunt is considered the best short hike on Kauai.
With that said, there is a lot of proverbial red tape surrounding this hike. It is no longer maintained and, though it remains among the most popular walks, there seems to be some debate as to the legality.
We have written an entire in-depth guide to hiking the Kalepa Ridge Trail that explains everything you need to know. Be sure to read and bookmark this guide before attempting!
6. Go Waterfall Chasing
Kauai is home to some of the most stunning waterfalls in Hawaii. Some of these impressive cascades have been made famous in major cinema productions such as Jurassic Park, while others have earned their reputations based solely on their natural beauty.
Among them, the one that every Kauai itinerary should include is a stop at Wailua Falls. On any sunny day, you can expect a large rainbow to decorate the scenery, formed by the mist coming from the falls.
If waterfalls are your thing, you will want to browse the 19 Best Waterfalls in Kauai, complete with a detailed map and information for finding & exploring each of them!
7. See the Na Pali Coast by Boat
For starters, going by boat means you are going to get hours of time to explore. Many of the Na Pali coast boat tours include time for snorkeling, with turtle sightings quite common, and some even venture into the sea caves and waterfalls!
8. Attend the Best Luau on Kauai
Fill your stomach and your soul with an experience that exemplifies the rich culture and cuisine of the Hawaiian spirit.
Attending a luau is one of the best things to do in Kauai as it combines native food, culture, art, hula dance, and ceremony into one incredible experience. Of the many performances available, Luau Kalamaku is considered the best on the island.
As a result, reservations are necessary. Therefore, we recommend booking your reservation for Luau Kalamaku online in advance to avoid disappointment.
Also, while you’re there, consider combining this experience with a ride on the Kilohana Plantation Train (#20 on this list of best things to do on Kauai!).
If you’re unable to get a reservation at Luau Kalamaku, the luau at the Grand Hyatt Kauai is also highly reviewed. Additionally, if you happen to be a guest at the Grand Hyatt, you’ll be treated to free nightly hula dances.
9. Snorkel at Lawai Beach
No trip to any Hawaiian island is complete without some time underwater swimming around with the tropical fish and sea turtles. While Kauai is not known as the best island for snorkeling, there are a few choice locations where the coral gardens and local sea life put on an impressive display.
If you are looking for places to snorkel without having to book a snorkel tour, Lawai Beach is widely considered the best spot on Kauai. It is located on the south shore of the island near the town of Poipu.
For those staying in Princeville or elsewhere on the north shore, Ke’e Beach is also a great place to strap on a mask and explore the underwater world.
While packing for Hawaii, consider bringing your own snorkel and mask and fins. If you’re planning on doing a lot of snorkeling, it may work out cheaper and easier to bring your own rather than renting them each day. You can also buy these items as a snorkel set which works out cheaper still.
10. Find Puff the Magic Dragon at Hanalei Bay
For anyone who doesn’t understand the reference, Puff the Magic Dragon is a song by the musical group Peter, Paul, & Mary that was released in 1963. The lyrics claim that Puff the Magic Dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Hanalei.
Many urban myths and legends surround the song’s true meaning. In fact, whether or not the song has anything to do with the beautiful beach of Hanalei at all is even up for debate. While the band has publicly stated there is no alternative meaning to the song, speculation continues.
Dragons aside, Hanalei Bay is one of the most beautiful places on any island for Hawaii photography. It is an essential place to visit on your trip.
11. Go stargazing at Polihale Beach
The most remote part of the island accessible by land is Polihale Beach on the southwest side. Vehicles with 4WD can drive a stretch of the beach and claim one of the endless spots of sand as their own.
As a result of its isolated nature, Polihale Beach State Park boasts the darkest night skies in Kauai. It is a favorite destination for stargazing and camping.
12. Witness an Iconic Hawaiian Sunset
You will inevitably see the sunset most nights you are in Kauai. Still, it is worth making a concentrated effort to spend at least one evening somewhere special. Give yourself a genuine moment to enjoy the tropical sunsets for which Hawaii is known.
Typically, the west coast provides the best sunset views. On Kauai, however, the Na Pali cliffs limit access to this entire coastline.
Not to worry! If you need a little inspiration or help finding the right place to end the day, you can find all the best places for watching sunset in Kauai in this guide.
13. Fly to Jurassic Park Falls
From the Kalepa Ridge Trail, you will gaze out at the majestic Na Pali cliffs and notice a waterfall off in the distance. If you are like most, you’ll wonder if it’s possible to get to that thunderous falls.
The answer is YES… kind of! The waterfall you are looking at is Manawaiopuna Falls, also known as Jurassic Park Falls. However, it can only be accessed via a helicopter landing tour. There is only one company that offers this unforgettable Jurassic Falls Landing Adventure (reservations required).
This is the famous waterfall from the classic film, though another scene was shot at Ho’opi’i Falls near Kapa’a. You can learn more about both of these falls and more in our ultimate guide to the best waterfalls in Kauai.
14. Hang out with Beach Chickens
Chickens?! On the beach?! Indeed, Kauai has become renowned for the beautiful, beach-bumming fowl that roam freely throughout the island.
The reason Kauai has so many wild chickens is that they have no natural predators on the island. All it took was a few domesticated to get loose, followed by a few generations of island living for the population to explode.
While you may encounter them on any number of beaches, Ke’e Beach is the best-known destination for seeing them and is sometimes referred to as “chicken beach.”
15. Go Tasting at the Koloa Rum Company
It’s not a tropical vacation until you’ve sipped some rum. The Koloa Rum Company is the first and only distillery on the island of Kauai. It is also some of the finest premium, small-batch rum you will taste anywhere in the world!
The secret ingredient is the native sugarcane that is grown in Hawaii. Combine this with generations of perfecting the process and the result speaks for itself.
In their own words, Koala Rum Company’s mission is to “share the spirit of aloha with the world in every sip of their craft rum”.
16. Get Caffeinated & Educated with Kauai Coffee Company
Hawaii’s rich, volcanic soil and tropical climate combine to produce some of the finest coffee in the world. While Kona may steal most of the shine, Kauai also produces its own unique beans and brews.
Anyone with a penchant for caffeine should include a stop at the Kauai Coffee Company estate to their bucket list. The self-guided tour is one of the best free things to do in Kauai, but there is also a guided tour where you will learn what goes into each delicious cup. As quoted from their website:
Let us share our coffee knowledge with you. We’ll serve you freshly roasted Kauai Coffee before beginning your personalized walking tour along our path through the coffee trees. You’ll learn about the journey of a Kauai coffee bean – from seed to tree to cup.–Kauai Coffee Company
17. Watch for “The Green Flash”
There is a split second every (clear) night when the last bit of sun crosses the horizon and a flash of green light appears. Hawaiians have made a hobby of watching for this little daily miracle and have aptly named it “the green flash.”
As so many of the best things to do in Kauai are some kind of adventure activity, it is important to make time for the little things as well. Find a spot on the beach with a nice clear view, preferably with a cold beverage and rustling palm trees nearby, while mindfully watching as the sun sets.
The green flash will occur very quickly. Watch intensely as the top of the sun fades from view.
18. Eat Like a Local With a Hawaiian Food Tour
Whether at food trucks or restaurants, Hawaiian food is a flavor all its own… and that flavor is heaven! From poke to shave ice, laulau, kalua pork, loco moco, and so much more, tasting your way through Kauai is a must!
Explore the aloha culture through the universal language of love — food. Choose between a short 1.5-2 hour walking food tour of the north shore, or a longer 3-4 hour food tour offered in different parts of Kauai. Within both tours, you will learn all about the local cuisine while enjoying some of the finest traditional eats Kauai has to offer.
19. Watch the Sunrise in Paradise
Getting up for sunrise while on vacation is a big ask, but there are three good reasons to ensure you include at least one of them on your Kauai itinerary.
- Island time is precious, therefore starting the day early ensures you make the most of it.
- The west coast of Kauai is mostly inaccessible without a boat or aircraft due to the sheer cliffs of the Na Pali coast , but the east side of the island where the sun will rise is lush and tropical.
- On a vacation filled with activities and adventures, you will cherish this tranquil moment of beauty.
Any beach or palm tree view is acceptable, but there are a few places, in particular, we recommend for watching sunrise in Kauai. You can read all about those in our Kauai Photography Guide.
20. Ride the Rails of the Kauai Plantation Railway
Part of the story of Kauai centers around the original island crops that sustained life for ancient Hawaiians and stabilized the economy in modern times. If history is of interest to you, you need to visit the Kilohana Plantation.
On your conductor-narrated adventure, you will ride a 2.5-mile rail line through sugarcane and taro, as well as fruit groves filled with mango, banana, papaya, pineapple, and more.
Of course, animals also play their part in the process. In the heart of the Kilohana Plantation, visitors spend time meeting and feeding the pigs, goats, sheep, and a friendly donkey named Stiney.
This is also the same location as the best luau in Kauai; Luau Kalamaku (number 8 above!). We, therefore, recommend combining these two great things to do in Kauai!
21. Hike the Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail is widely considered the best hiking trail in Kauai. This 11-mile hike begins at Ke’e Beach on the north shore and ends at Kalalau Beach. Throughout the journey, hikers will discover breathtaking views of the Na Pali coast, arguably the best available by foot.
Keep in mind that the total journey is 22-miles (you still need to get back to Ke’e!) Accordingly, this is only for the serious trekkers. Instead, an alternative option for those who do not wish to attempt such an undertaking is the Kalepa Ridge Trail.
This hike requires some preparation and endurance, but is a must-do for those with a desire for trekking. If you are one of those people, you will want to visit the official Kalalau Trail website for more information on permits, parking, sites, and more.
22. Experience a Magical Dinner Cruise
After a long day of adventuring, kick back and relax as you’re wined and dined on a sunset dinner sail along the Na Pali Coast.
Indulge in appetizers, craft beer, wine, and Koloa Rum Ginger Mai-Tais before dinner as your captain shares legends and stories of this spectacular area. Then enjoy a delicious meal stopped in one of the most scenic parts of Kauai and raise a toast as the golden light spills onto the island.
For those on their honeymoon, or just looking for a romantic treat, there’s truly no better way to end the day! It is definitely one of the most romantic things to do in Kauai for couples.
23. Go Scuba Diving at Koloa Landing
Koloa Landing is considered the best shore dive on Kauai. Located on the south side of the island, this dive spot is popular with both locals and visitors alike due to its abundance of marine life. Within this protected bay you’re likely to spot many different critters, including sea turtles, eels, and large schools of fish.
For those that are not yet scuba-certified, Koloa Landing is a great spot for a PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience. This small-group dive tour will allow you to safely explore the underwater world with the guidance of a PADI certified instructor.
Certified scuba divers can also book a two-tank shore dive at Koloa Landing.
24. Take Surf Lessons at Po’ipu
Considered the birthplace of surfing, what better place to take a surf lesson than Hawaii!?
Practice the fundamentals of surfing and learn about ocean safety before heading out into the Pacific Ocean to catch your first wave.
25. Find the “Secret Waterfall” of Kauai
Deep in the jungle near Kapa’a lies the picturesque Uluwehi Falls, aka Secret Falls. Witnessing this hidden treasure requires a great adventure!
Despite the name, Secret Falls is really not much of a secret these days. In fact, you should expect to see plenty of other visitors despite the journey as this half-day journey has become renowned as being one of the best things to do in Kauai.
26. Enjoy the Aerial Views on Kauai’s Longest Zipline
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Kauai then this one is for you!
Enjoy a new perspective of the island as you soar through lush forests and over the Waita Reservoir at Koloa Zipline, the longest zipline in Kauai. Fly through the air on the 8-track course and, if you’re brave enough, try out some daring acrobatic stunts with their hands-free harness.
27. Whale Watching
If you happen to be visiting the Garden Isle (or any other Hawaiian Island) during the whale migration season, you are in for an unforgettable experience. From November-March each year, visitors can expect to see these gentle giants splashing, flipping, blowing, and playing right from the shores of the island.
While you will likely see some activity from the shore, the experience of being up close when a whale breaches changes your whole perspective. It is impossible to truly appreciate their size and majesty until you come face-to-face with them.
Consider booking a whale-watching boat tour for an unforgettable experience.
28. Chocolate Tasting at Princeville Botanical Gardens
There is no better way to explore Princeville Botanical Gardens than with a chocolate tasting tour. Spend three hours discovering every corner of these impressive, exotic gardens.
Along the way, sample seasonal fruits and homemade honey, before heading to the outdoor chocolate tasting area. Here, you’ll learn more about the history of chocolate, as well as sample at least 5 different chocolates!
Skip the line by booking your tickets for the chocolate tasting tour online.
29. Catch Your Own Dinner on a Kauai Fishing Tour
Few things are as satisfying as spending a day on the turquoise Pacific waters, enjoying the sunshine and catching your own dinner. Consider a private fishing charter for a memorable experience with your family or friends.
Keep in mind that in Kauai the catch belongs to the boat. Therefore, ensure that the boat you book will share the catch with you! This private charter has one of the most generous fish policies, and any catches are shared with all those on the boat.
30. Arrive in Aloha Style & Get Lei’d at the airport
Start your Kauai vacation in style and embrace the aloha spirit with a traditional airport lei greeting.
Be met at the airport with a traditional garland of sweet-scented flowers which are worn by both men and women in Hawaiian culture. Fresh flower leis are given as a local symbol of hospitality, love and friendship, and are the perfect way to start your Hawaiian vacation.
31. See the Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau (kind of)
There are four major Hawaiian Islands that welcome the majority of tourists: Maui, Oahu, Big Island, and Kauai. Beyond that, Molokai and Lanai also are developed and home to some permanent residents. What most don’t realize is that there is actually a 7th inhabited island: the “Forbidden Island” of Ni’ihau.
Ni’ihau is located just a short distance from Kauai, but there is a reason you probably haven’t heard of it. Until very recently, unless you were a member of the Robinson family who owns the island or had been invited by one of them, you were not allowed to step foot onto sand.
It is now possible to touch land with a half-day helicopter tour. If visiting a place on this planet few people will ever gaze upon interests you, be sure to include this on your Kauai bucket list. Alternatively, you can snorkel off the pristine, untouched shores of the island with a boat tour to Ni’ihau from Kauai.
32. Become a Detective on the Hanalei Adventure Scavenger Hunt
If you’re looking for a more unusual thing to do in Kauai, then this one is for you. Learn more about Kauai as you take on challenges and solve clues provided by your interactive host via Whatsapp.
Beyond the adventure, you’ll also gain a deeper connection to the Garden Isle as you’re encouraged to interact with locals and talk to people along the way!
This is perfect for both families and adults alike!
33. Find your Zen with Yoga on the Beach
Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean you need to let yourself go! Between the Mai Tais and hectic adventuring, do something nice for yourself by taking a morning to find your breath with yoga on the beach.
Exercising on holiday may not sound appealing at first, we get that! You may be surprised, however, at how much you enjoy the rest of your day (perhaps your entire trip) by taking the time for some mindful breaths and stretching on a tranquil Kauai beach.
34. Star in your own Underwater Photoshoot
For many travelers these days, vacations are all about “the ‘Gram” (Instagram). That said, taking home cherished memories in the form of photos was a priority long before social media even existed!
If you are celebrating a special occasion in your life and looking for something one-of-a-kind to remember it by, consider booking an underwater photoshoot. The experience of posing underwater is a fun activity unto itself, and the resulting pictures are sure to be conversation pieces in your home for the rest of your life.
35. Take Part in a Fireknife Ceremony On the Beach
Head to he beach and learn about the history and art of traditional Samoan Fireknife Dancing. After watching live demonstrations and being taught the basic techniques, you will have the opportunity to showcase your skills with a real Fireknife!
This is perhaps one of the most fun things to do in Kauai and you’ll come home with a great memory you won’t soon forget!
Top 10 Places to See on Kauai
In addition to the activities above, you will discover some of the most beautiful landscapes and miracles of nature anywhere in the world on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
These are the top ten places to see on a trip to Kauai:
- Na Pali Coast
- Queen’s Bath
- Wailua Falls
- Waimea Canyon State Park
- Kalepa Ridge Trail
- Hanalei Bay
- Tunnels Beach
- Polihale State Park
- Hanalei Beach
- Poipu Beach & Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
Whether you are interested in photography or just want to get that perfect Instagram shot, you can learn all about these photogenic destinations in our Kauai Photography Locations guide.
Traveling to Hawaii in 2022
Hawai‘i is welcoming most travelers again. However, there are some pre-travel requirements for international travelers visiting Hawai‘i.
Domestic Travel to Hawaii
As of March 26, 2022, there are no COVID-related requirements for domestic passengers arriving in Hawai‘i.
You can find current information, advice, and guidelines related to COVID and travel in Hawaii on the Hawaii Covid-19 website here.
International Travel to Hawaii
For those traveling from international destinations with direct flights to Hawaii, you will need to follow federal international requirements. There are no additional State of Hawai‘i requirements.
As of June 12, 2022, international visitors are no longer required to show a negative COVID-19 viral test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board their flight. However, the CDC is still requiring proof of vaccination for international visitors to travel to the United States. Requirements are constantly changing so ensure you check the CDC website or within your airline for current guidelines.
Other Kauai & Hawaiian Island Travel Guides
If Kauai is just one stop on your island hopping journey, you will want to browse some of our additional guides to the Hawaiian islands.
Additionally, we have created numerous other resources for planning your time effectively on the Garden Isle. Feel free to print and bookmark these guides and send us an email if you have any questions we can answer!
More Kauai Travel Guides
- The Perfect 5-7 Day ITINERARY for One Magical Week in Kauai
- Where to STAY on Kauai: Guide to the Best Areas, Hotels & Resorts
- PLANNING a Trip to Kauai: Everything from start to finish
- Kauai PHOTOGRAPHY Guide: The Best Places to Photograph the Garden Isle
- The BEST HIKE in Kauai: Finding & Exploring the Kalepa Ridge Trail
- Kauai WATERFALL Guide: 19 of the Most Stunning Waterfalls on Kauai
- Kauai SUNSET Guide: The Best Places to Watch Sunset on Kauai
More Hawaiian Island Travel Guides
- GENERAL HAWAII Travel Guides
- OAHU Travel Guides
- MAUI Travel Guides
- BIG ISLAND Travel Guides
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to do on Kauai
We hope you have found this list of Kauai activities and adventures useful in planning your visit to the Garden Isle. If nothing else, hopefully seeing all the things to do on Kauai has you excited for your Hawaiian vacation.
We also welcome feedback! Please feel free to share any experiences you have had on any of these tours and let us know if any information needs to be updated.
Mahalo for reading!