Kauai offers some of Hawaii’s most stunning scenery, from its rainforests and mountains to the underwater reefs abounding in color.
Luckily, the island offers a ton of options when it comes to taking it all in. Explore the island with a hike, drive, zip-line experience or helicopter tour — and this is just the beginning. Here are the best things to do in Kauai, Hawaii.
Snorkel with Nemo
For some of the best snorkeling in Kauai, head to the reefs of Lawa’i Beach on the southern coast for shore-accessible snorkeling. This spot welcomes beginners with coral heads buzzing with fish life.
Here, you’ll come mask to nose with butterflyfish, needlefish, surgeonfish, yellow tang, orangespine unicornfish and much more. Note that 20 percent of Hawaii’s marine life is found nowhere else on the planet, so you may consider picking up a guide to Hawaiian fish before you go.
Hike the Awa’awapuhi Trail
The most intimate way to experience the Na Pali Coast is by foot. One of the best trails for hiking in Kauai, offering dramatic views and an up-close experience with steep drop-offs along the way, is the Awa’awapuhi Trail in Koke’e State Park, a 30-minute drive from Waimea Town.
Note that the 6.2-mile hike is moderately challenging, so if you want to any easier experience, head inland and opt for the Waipo’o Falls Trail, a two-hour there-and-back hike through the Waimea Canyon.
Tube a Sugarcane Plantation
Who needs a massive waterpark when you can ride an inner tube through nature? Head to the Lihue Plantation on Kauai’s southeastern side for a three-hour tubing adventure.
This former sugarcane producer, dating back to 1849, now welcomes riders to wind through canals with fast-moving water giving way to drops and small waterfalls. We love that this adventure requires wearing a headlamp to light the way through tunnels.
Fuel up on Food Trucks in Hanalei
The north shore town of Hanalei, hip and defying definition and overdevelopment, serves up eclectic culture, from the shopping to the food scenes.
Be sure to check out the food truck Kealia Poke, parked by the Big Save Market, which pulls together bowls of chopped, just-caught tuna with light, fragrant flavors, from basil and watermelon, to wasabi aioli and cilantro cream sauce.
Another top choice is Pat’s Taqueria, found in the Hanalei Pier, dishing up simple but flavorful offerings, including fish tacos and burritos stuffed with kalua pork, cooked in a traditional Hawaiian underground oven.
Scuba Dive the Island of Ni’ihau
For the best scuba diving in Kauai, head to the forbidden island of Ni’ihua, 18 miles off of the coast, to see the pod of Hawaiian monk seals that call the isle home. Divers will almost certainly spot these 400-pound marine mammals from the boat, and, most likely, while in the water also near the site known as Lehua Rock.
From May to September, Seasport Divers runs a three-tank day trip from their shop in the town of Koloa. The rest of the year, they run morning and afternoon boats, alternating between 15 reef dive sites on the southern coast.
Peruse Art Nights in Hanapepe
Kauai has no shortage of hippies and artists, and with the scenery as inspiring as it is, it’s no surprise that one of the best things to do in Kauai is to peruse local art.
Head to the Hanapepe, just south of Waimea Town, for the weekly Hanapepe Art Night, every Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. Whether you’re a serious art collector or just a window shopper, it’s fun to cruise local galleries and take in the live music.
Zip-line the Kauai Coast
Curious to try zip-lining in Kauai? Out along the island’s southern side, Koloa Zipline delivers elevated views of the Poipu Coast and surrounding green-covered mountains.
This outfitter’s claim to fame is that it’s home to three of Kauai’s longest zip-lines, with the longest one spanning ½ mile. We love that the course lets your fly headfirst for a different kind of rush.
Play a Round — or Three — of Golf
Kauai doesn’t boast the longest list of golf courses, but it does offer a collection of some of the most scenic in the country. When golfing in Kauai, the three courses not to miss include the Hokuala, the Poipu Bay Golf Course and the Princeville Makai Golf Course.
Completely renovated in 2018, the Ocean Course at Hokuala delivers what its name promises: ocean views of Kauai from Kalapaki Beach, one of the most scenic spots on island. Jack Nicklaus designed this 18-hole loop, one of the most awarded courses in Hawaii.
Next up, consider the Poipu Bay Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design on the southern coast next to the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa. This course is famous as the home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from 1994 to 2006. While you may not get to tee off against Tiger, you will enjoy the same cliff-side ocean views.
One more not to miss is the Princeville Makai Golf Course on the northern coast, another Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, this one renovated to the tune of $6 million in 2010. For holes that edge up against the Pacific and offer a mountainous backdrop, the course was named top three in the state by GolfWeek magazine.
Go Deep-Sea Fishing
Surrounded by near-shore deep water, fishing in Kauai offers anglers short run times to the action. Year-round, you’ll likely pull in mahi-mahi and ono, aka wahoo.
In the fall, the list of what will pull your line includes Pacific blue marlin, and in the summer, skip jack and yellow fin tuna. Book with Hunt Fish Kauai, owned by Hawaii locals and based in Port Allen on the southern coast.
Tour the Na Pali Coast by Helicopter
If you’re ever going to shell out for a helicopter tour, is it by far one of the best things to do in Kauai. Roughly 70 percent of the Garden Isle is inaccessible via land, which means you won’t be able to see the most stunning sights from a rental car, or even by hiking in.
Much of this island, with sheer green mountainsides, more waterfalls than you can count and even a canyon — Waimea — that rivals Arizona’s Grand Canyon, can be witnessed during a one-hour tour.
Just don’t be surprised when the Jurassic Park theme music starts playing in your head when you see the coast that doubled as home of the dinosaurs.