Heavenly Hawaii Family Vacations
Endless Fun on the “Garden Isle”
Destination: Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai is known as the "Garden Isle" because of its stunning blue beaches and verdant green landscape. Experience the wonders of Hawaii's most popular destination and plan your family beach vacation today.
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15 Things to Do in Kauai, Hawaii
Enjoy Hawaii's "Garden Isle" and take on these fun-filled activities on your Hawaii family vacation!
- Go tubing in a historic sugar plantation irrigation system
- Take an eco-tour and horseback ride at the Espiri De Corps Riding Academy
- Take a carriage ride tour on a lush historic sugar plantation
- Kayak the Wailua River then swing on a rope over a remote swimming hole
- Soak up Na Pali Coast State Park by hiking in on the famous Kalalau Trail
- Play Hawaii’s #1-rated Princeville Golf Course
- Visit the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge
- Cool off with a double dipper of home made Hawaiian ice cream
- Take an exhilarating helicopter tour and see the Islands’ interiors
- Take a magical mystery tour to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific on Kauai
- Hike to a swamp, Alakai Swamp, in Kauai’s Kokee State Park
- Learn to surf, or at least try to learn!
- Visit the Kilauea Volcano and see molten lava
- Visit the world’s most famous observatory on Mauna Kea
- Pay your respects to WWII soldiers, sailors and Veterans at the Pearl Harbor Battleship Memorials (History/Culture, Pearl Harbor) (H)
Activities in Kauai
Play & Stay in the Hawaii's lush and green "Garden Isle"
Surf, Scuba, Snorkel—on all the islands!
If you’ve come to Hawaii for the water sports you’ve chosen the right spot. This is a veritable outdoor playground with water and reef conditions perfect for everyone from toddlers to teens. The thrill of riding a wave or seeing a colorful fish for the first time in it’s natural habitat is beyond description. Dive in, folks. It doesn’t get any better than this. Plan Hawaii family vacations today!
Kauai Backcountry Adventures has exclusive access to the historic irrigation system of the former 17,000-acre Lihue Plantation. It’s a maze of canals! In January 2003, eco tour company Kauai Backcountry opened a section of the old plantation’s ditch and tunnel nexus for exclusive tubing tours. Talk about floating in paradise— especially on a hot day! Tubers see some of the island’s most spectacular views of the Ocean, coastline, mountains and valleys. You do have to be 5 yrs or older and generally in good condition to splash about. Just sit back and relax while enjoying this silly and fun, fascinating take-it-easy float trip with family and friends. (808) 245-2506/Toll Free (888) 270-0555. Four tubing offered tours daily. Zip line tours are offered as well.
Your journey to and through Kauai’s Waimea Canyon may end up being the highlight of your trip. Dubbed as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, the scenic beauty of rugged cliffs and deeply carved gorges is exhilarating. One hour here and you know you’re finally “off the grid.” Well, sort of. It’s relatively easy to drive a paved road through the Canyon so visitors like you frequent the must-stop look out points along the way. Hikers and walkers will be in heaven once they pick up a complete trail map at the Ranger’s Station in the Kokee Museum and take off on their own. There’s a trail for every skill set, time frame and interest level. Plus, if you stay on Waimea Canyon Drive you’ll end up at Kokee State Park, which is an interior destination in and of itself! Kokee State Park encompasses 4,345 acres, 45 miles of canyon trails, and features the Alakai Swamp, which is nothing like you’ve visited in the southern U.S. Via Magazine called this off-the-beaten-path wonderland a “soggy Eden” that will appeal to botanists, birders, and curiosity seekers equally. It’s definitely one of the wettest places on the island so the organic expression of life here is “off the charts.” Just for the record, the Park’s towering Mt. Waialeale (5,148 feet) can get up to 50 feet of rain per year.
Waimea Canyon is an extraordinary place, like and unlike other Island canyons, born of violent volcanic eruption, earthquakes and erosion. Waimea is the largest canyon in the Pacific and certainly the most dramatic with its copper hues, stunning green canyon walls, waterfalls and river. Ten miles in length, a mile wide and 3,600 feet deep, the sheer scale of the place is part of its splendor. Throw in a misty, cooler atmosphere and swirling rainbows of sunlight that skip along cliff walls, changing hourly, and you’ve got yourself some bliss. Some say the best time to experience this dance of color is in the morning but there can’t really be a bad time of day to be here. At times the cliffs are shrouded in clouds, which adds another dimension to the Canyon’s grandeur. If you make it to the final two lookouts on Waimea Canyon Drive you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Kalalau Valley spread out before you like a surrealist painting. Binoculars are recommended to encourage and allow exploration of the rocky terrains in depth. Geology aficionados will want to do some pre-visit reading about the interesting history of the canyon and formation, partly due to erosion and partly due to a volcanic collapse eons ago. (From Lihue, drive southwest on Kuhio Hwy. (HI-56), which turns into Kaumualii Hwy. (HI-50) and towards Hanapepe and Waimea. Turn right on Waimea Canyon Drive (HI-550) at MM#23. Makaha Ridge Road runs off Waimea Canyon Road just before Mile Market #14 and offers other scenic lookouts and trails. For Canyon weather conditions call (808) 245-6001; Kauai weather: (808) 245-6001). There are no gas stations or concessions along Canyon Drive (40 miles) so fill your tank before you take off. Kokee Natural History Museum offers guided hikes each Sunday, June-September and is a jewel of an interpretive center for the area. For Kokee weather call Kokee Museum at (808) 335-9975.
To rent 4-wheel drive/off road vehicles: Harper Car and Truck Rental, (800) 852-9933. Offering specialty rentals: 5-15 passenger vehicles; four by four RVs and trucks. Hilo and Kona. Another option is Discount Hawaii Car Rental, which services all the islands.
In the Sky: Take a Helicopter Tour
In Hawaii one of the most popular ways to see the sights is with a bird’s eye view from the cab of a helicopter. Why? Because a large swath of Hawaii’s most beautiful landscapes cannot be reached any other way. Not even jeeps and other 4-wheel vehicles can reach some of the Islands’ valleys, cliffs, beaches and mountaintops. Also, touring by helicopter is probably the safest and most comfortable way to see lava flowing or craters spewing, especially if you are unable to hike long distances. The comfort and safety of a helicopter is hard to beat, even on a motor coach. The time efficiency is obvious. It’s the pocket book that says ouch.
There are many tour companies on the Islands (see a partial list below) that provide safe, narrated tours of the most inaccessible terrains on the planet. If your budget permits, take off with the kids in a flying “sky taxi”—soaring over volcanic cliffs and craters, verdant water-fed canyons and valleys, beaches, rainforests, waterfalls and towns. With 360-degree perspectives the magnitude of the islands’ beauty and geologic character comes into clear, unbelievable focus on your family vacation in Hawaii.
Kids, teens and elders yelp with excitement as they gaze into craters of extinct and active volcanoes, cruise the Na Pali coastline, hover over Kauai’s rugged interior wilderness, or float above Hawaii’s north shore beaches. The thrills change dramatically at night—or try a sun set flight! Many tour companies provide head phones so passengers clearly hear the guide’s tour points and insights; some provide mood-enhancing music that renders the scenic experience downright mystical. This is one ride you won’t want to end.
Most tour companies fly daily, weather permitting of course. Flight durations vary (usually 30-90 minutes in length) and costs vary accordingly. Don’t skimp if you can help it—stay in the air as long as is affordable or you’ll regret it. Helicopter cabins are not pressurized but your ears will pop and you may get chilled so carry a sweater. Naturally this is not an exploit for everyone—especially those with fear of heights, flying, or those who easily experience motion sickness. Tour goers can request specific seats when making reservations, but seating is usually determined after height and body weights of passengers are analyzed by an FAA-approved computer program that will determine the best weight distribution for your specific flight. Many companies fly charters if desired. Make reservations in advance on line and save money; watch for cancellation policy details, however. And, here’s a good hint, recommended by one of the tour companies: wear dark clothing on your tour. This will cut down a lot on the reflections off cabin windows! And, be sure to take your camera and video equipment if possible. A few Island operators are listed below, but this is only a small representation of the companies available for hire:
- Blue Hawaiian Helicopters: (800) 745-2583
- Safari Helicopters: (800) 326-3356
- Jack Harter Helicopters: (808) 254-3774
- Island Helicopters: (808) 245-6959
HISTORIC & CULTURAL
Learn to Hula
You’ve seen them on the dashboard of cars back on the Mainland for years; in fact they’ve become iconic for the Islands themselves. Well now meet Hawaii’s amazing hula dancers in person. Depending on what island you’re visiting, it’s easy to scope out a hotel restaurant and learn the basics—while having a lot of fun trying. But don’t take this elegant and important cultural expression lightly. Those who wish to truly appreciate the music, language and movements embodied in authentic hula take dance lessons at the 25-year old School of Living Hula in Oahu (808) 487-3451. 98-614 Aloali`i Street,`Aiea, Oahu, HI 96701. Hula aficionados will probably already be attending the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hawaii's Big Island, a 40-year old world-event hosted to the “perpetuation, preservation, and promotion of the art of ancient and modern hula and the Hawaiian culture through education.” (Slated for March 30-April 5, 2008). Attending at Hilo’s civic center events is free (except for the various competitions) so if you’re in Hilo at the time, sway on over. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see and hear hula performed by world experts. Tickets go like hotcakes, so go online to make reservations if you’re interested in attending upcoming festival competitions. (808) 935-9168; 101 Aupuni St., Suite 1014-A1, Hilo, HI 96720.
Wai‘oli Mission House
Another national treasure and glimpse into mid-1800’s rural life, the Wai’oli Mission House incorporates Kentucky architectural sensibilities (where its builder Reverend William Alexander was born) with Hanalei’s weather demands and opportunities. Kauai’s first missionary home built in 1837 is, as faith would have it, near the Wai’oli Huiia Church, founded in 1834. Eight kids were born and raised in this house and it remains remarkably authentic—with its original koa furnishings, lava rock fireplace and beautiful floors. Lanais on two stories. Into 2008, renovations to the homestead may keep visitors from enjoying this site, however. Call in advance for information about what to expect. (808) 245-3202. Free admission, donations appreciated. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, if tours are operating, they begin at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. 4050 Nawiliwili Rd., Kuhio Hwy. (Hwy. 560), just behind the green Wai’oli Huia Church.
SHOPPING & DINING
Made in Hawaii:
- Aunty Liliko’i’s passion fruit products: jellies, butters, dressings, syrups and mustards. In Waimea on Hwy 50 338-1296, (800) LILIKOI.
- Lappert’s Hawaii: Does it get any better than this? Home made, hand made ice cream (made in small batches daily —so go early!) accompanied by lovingly roasted Hawaiian coffees? Several locations.
- Built in 1935, reflecting the Golden Age of Kauai’s sugar industry, the manor house at Kilohana was intended to be Kauai’s most beautiful home. Today, it is an historic site that still enjoys its stunning grounds, offering guests the chance to shop, dine and explore authentically restored plantation homes while doing so. Can’t you just imagine guests arriving at the Tudor-style manor house in horse drawn carriages? In the guest and camp houses of the estate you'll find a wide assortment of shops featuring everything from fantastic collectibles to local curios, fashions to fancy accessories. Splurge and enjoy Gaylord’s Courtyard Restaurant or take the family on a carriage ride to see the estate’s beautiful gardens and to breathe the fresh air. Cameras are a must. (808) 245- 5608, 3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766.
- Hanalei Center: This is a place to see historical structures plus browse for made-in-Hawaii keepsakes and souvenirs. There’s an old school house that’s rather interesting, plus several restaurants if all you want to catch a bite in a charming place and then be on your way. (808) 826-7677, 5-5121 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, HI 96714.
- Kapaia Stitchery: Quilters, this is a shop you must visit, if just to admire the incredible stitch work of gifted Hawaiian quilters. The staff is friendly and nice so take your time and browse the elegant handicrafts and colorful bolts of fabric. Why not take home tropical fabrics or buy custom made shirts for the entire family? (808) 245-2281, located in Lihue.
- Kukui Grove Center: Kauai’s only true mall, you’ll find many of the same stores here that you frequent stateside. There’s gaiety in the air; frequent entertainment on the Mall stage is engaging. As expected, the true mall comes with movie theatres and a video arcade for the youngsters. What’s unexpected is the generous 38-acre outdoor recreation area for picnicking and relaxing.
In the resort area of Poipu, the Poipu Shopping Village features some unusual, one-of-a kind shops. Seasonally they perform hula dancing in the evenings, which is a nice touch. It may be a bit on the pricey side, but the ambiance of Keiko’s Paradise Restaurant is described by one enthusiast as “mystical” and the food "delicious!" Maybe try it for lunch? Another consideration is Old Koloa Town where you’ll find a variety of restaurants as you stroll around Kauai’s oldest plantation town and enjoy the historic buildings and the nearby eucalyptus “tree tunnel” that is as aromatic as it is beautiful. (Take Highway 50 east to Lawai. Turn right on Highway 530 (Koloa Rd. which you will follow into town.) As you saunter lazily along main street watch for Pizzetta Island Pizza (808) 742-8881 and Tomkats Grille. Both feature kids’ menus; Tomkats has a nice Happy Hour with vintage brews (808) 742-8887. If you have time pop into the small Koloa History Center, (808) 973-0040, open 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m., for a general introduction to the beginnings of sugar plantation development on the Islands and a local map that will guide and inform your walking tour around this intriguing historic town.
Had your fill of pot stickers? Seafood and fish? Maybe you and the kids are up for a good old-fashioned burger? Bubba Burgers bills itself as having the best burger joints on the Islands—and they’re probably right. They’ve been in business since 1936 so they must be doing something right. There are three locations on Kauai serving inexpensive burgers in classic “burger joint” buildings. Bubbas web site says they’ve finally caved in to “non-meat eating humans” by offering Tempeh Burgers too. You and the clan can find these “fine establishments” in Kapaa on the Coconut Coast (across from Kapaa Beach Park). They’re open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Don’t forget to buy a Bubba t-shirt so you can remember this experience for years to come!
On a hot Kauai day, there’s always room for some island-style ice cream. Lappert’s Ice Cream Stores are conveniently located in 4 Kauai locations (Hanapepe, Old Koloa Town, Kapaa and Princeville). Delicious ice cream made with superior ingredients is the family-owned confectionary’s claim to fame. Known for their generous scoops, Lappert’s doubles your pleasure with chunky macadamia nut, coconut or Kona coffee varieties in a double-scoop cone. Lappert’s bakery and coffee selections should not go without mention, either. Maybe you’d prefer scrumptious cookies, brownies, lemon bars and cinnamon rolls to satisfy that wailing sweet tooth of yours? They’re all sensational. This might be a spot you’ll want to visit more than once during your stay on the Islands?
How about something very eclectic? Café Coco (some call it a “little hole in the wall” place, but not irreverently) offers organic meat and vegetarian dishes, delicately prepared and beautifully presented. And guests, please leave room for desserts. They’re really first rate. The favorite place to dine is outside on the vine-covered patio, especially on a nice evening. Café Coco’s nightly entertainment is a big factor in its popularity. It varies by week and by night—belly dancing, live music or hula presentations—but is always an invigorating part of the Coco vibe. Café Coco is open for lunch, dinner and late-night coffee and dessert excursions. The LA Times claims Café Coco has the “most charming ambiance on Kauai.” Check it out for yourselves! (808) 822-7990, 4-369 Kuhio Hwy, Wailua HI.
The Hawaiian cowboys are the stuff of legends. You’ve seen sunset horseback rides on the beach on TV? Right? Well, this is your chance to jump in the saddle. On Hawaii families can get out on horseback (dressed like actual paniolos!) and take in an active, working cattle-grazing ranch while experiencing “knock your boots off” views of the ocean and island volcanoes. Pack the camera before anything else!
Horseback riding tours are available on several islands. In fact, you’ll soon discover a cowboy culture is integral to the islands’ “big picture” histories and economy. There are several outfitters; Tom Barefoot’s Tours offers a variety of tours for every kind of buckaroo on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii. HINT: wear long pants and closed-toed shoes; weight limits may apply; kids 6 yrs and older welcome on some tours.
Now’s the chance to discover a tropical paradise. Plant and flower lovers will blossom with happiness at all the opportunities there are on the islands to get close to exotic tropical plants and ferns. Here are just a few suggestions to get you in the mood for your overdose of green and lush:'
Fern Grotto: Are you ready for this? Take an informative 3-mile boat ride up the Wailua River (the only river in Hawaii that is actually navigable) to a unique fern grotto located in Wailua River State Park—once an area of worship and refuge, a sacred place for the ancients. If you are not already acquainted with learning the hula, you will be after this tour. While in the grotto enjoy the misty air and authentic Hawaiian entertainment. It certainly helps set the mood. Before or after launching, the crew can partake in dining and shopping at the Marina. Wailua River Cruise to Fern Grotto, boats depart every half hour between 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Expanded river cruises last 1.5 hrs. ) Visitors are invited to explore the River on foot as well; take in relaxing riverside picnicking and fishing; visit the Wailua Falls at the end of Maalo Rd. And, to round out the experience, visit Fern Grotto Homestead, the 80-acre sugar plantation home, preserved so many generations can experience another era—a time of robust sugar cane production, harvesting and export. Highway 58, 1⁄2 south of Nawiliwili Road, Lihue, HI (808) 245-3202. Tours must be scheduled in advance so call for reservations and options.
Na 'Aina Kai Botanical Gardens: if you can’t get enough of the gorgeous flora and fauna of Hawaii, this diverse garden attraction will immerse your family in a variety of eco environments that may be new and unusual. At Na 'Aina Kai (meaning "Lands by the Sea" in Hawaiian) you can wander a hardwood plantation, visit a moss and fern draped canyon, and stroll in a Hawaiian meadow. You won’t believe your eyes! The gardens spill out to a white sandy beach and clear aquamarine waters. This was once a private estate so, as a bonus, the landscaping features an array of bronze sculptures—in fact, it’s one of the nation’s largest collections. (808) 828-0525, 4101 Wailapa Rd., Kilauea, HI 96754, Reservations recommended. Open 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. While in the area you may want to take in the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge as well. The 52-foot lighthouse is located high on a narrow peninsula (it can get windy up there!) and is a major island tourist attraction with more than 500,000 guests per year. There’s an informative visitor center with restroom facilities and stunning views—a more than venerable spot to learn about Kauai’s past and maritime legacy. Kilauea Point is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Birders note: the National Wildlife Refuge is the place to see nesting and roosting activity of native Hawaiian seabirds, including the endangered Hawaiian goose (nene). Take binoculars and a camera and search for activity in the Refuge’s rocky cliffs.
As the Waterfalls
The Islands’ plentiful and stunning waterfalls often take a back seat to Hawaii’s famous beaches and volcanoes. Admittedly, it’s easy to take them for granted when you “see them everywhere” it seems. Hawaiian falls are some of the most spectacular falls in the entire world. Some describe two “genres” of waterfalls: the public ones accessible by roads and/or hiking trails (located in state and national parks) and the hidden falls, mostly known only to locals and a few tourists who avidly seek them out. One way tourists see can view the hidden falls—which, by the way, is a thrill of a lifetime—is to fly over them in a helicopter. For example, while not hidden, the Manawaiopuna Falls on Kauai can only been seen by helicopter. Yes, it’s expensive—but well worth it! To have the perspective of the topography from the air is exhilarating and enlightening; helicopter thrill seekers literally see where the falls originate! And those who prefer “terra firma” can visit the public falls on luxury Motor coaches with stops at significant sites (it’s a long day in a bus, however.). If you’re lucky enough to hike or kayak to falls—and you have time—you can have a glorious time swimming in drop pools or, for the brave and experienced swimmer, cliff diving. Seasoned tour companies on the islands are best consulted if you seek an experience of this adrenaline amplitude; it can vary based on weather, recent rainfall and season. Please, contact Park Rangers before taking off on your own and never visit remote sites by yourself.
If you have a car and wish to relish the falls in your own time and space, take the kids and grand parents to visit not only famous, but accessible, falls:
Opaeka'a Falls (150 feet) is located along Kauai’s North Shore and is a spot the entire family can enjoy as the falls can easily be seen from a safe overlook off Kuamo’o Road. Not all falls on the Islands flow all year, but Opaeka’a is an exception. These falls are picture perfect and are best photographed around mid-day. The name means “shrimp roll” and originated from long gone days when shrimp were so abundant they were seen rolling in the turbulent waters at the falls’ base. Imagine that! Take Hwy 56 north from Lihue. Cross the Wailua Bridge, turn left on Kuamo’o Rd. at MM#6. Travel 1.5 mi to the lookout platform.
Wailua Falls in Kauai’s Wailua River State Park is also very accessible with its well-marked and safe viewing point. These falls might look familiar to those in the family that remember the opening scenes of Fantasy Island. In normal flows Wailua Falls drops in 3 different sections providing breath-taking beauty to appreciative tourists. This is one of the more popular tourist stops in Kauai so plan to visit as early as possible to avoid the crowds. Hearty souls can kayak the Wailua River (tours are offered) and this allows for remote swimming-hole playtime, rope swings, and—if you’re up to it—adventuring to a neat waterfall via a hiking trail (that can be VERY muddy, especially if it’s rained). If you and the kids decide to take this wonderful tour, wear old clothes you won’t mind getting wet, perhaps ruined. Take sunscreen and bug repellent, hats, and old tennis or closed-toe shoes. Also, waterproof cameras and swimsuits are recommended if you plan to get into the pools. The falls are 5 minutes out of Lihue. Take Highway 56 north out of Lihue to Ma'alo Rd., Hwy 583, on the right. The waterfall is located at the end of the road. Only five minutes from Lihue.
You’ll say pinch me the first time you stroll the grounds. The palms, the beachfront, the pools, the lounge chairs. As you are checking in you are already thinking, “Why would I want to leave this place?” Guess what. You don’t have to. At least for a day or two. Now it’s your time to unplug, rewind and relax.
On your stay-close-to-home day you’ll have your own slice of Hawaii to enjoy. There are many variations on the “lazy agenda” (including sleeping in, peaceful walks, and reading) but it can go something like this: After a great night’s rest, a hearty breakfast of fruit, cereal and sweetbreads hits the spot. The smell of real Kona coffee fills the air. Take breakfast on your personal lanai if you have time. Heavenly already, isn’t it? Get the kids into their swimsuits, cover yourselves with sun block lotion, and head for the pool or the beach—after all, the sacred real estate of the Royal Coconut Coast is right out your front door. This is a royal playground indeed. The resort pool area couldn’t be more relaxing; there’s even a Jacuzzi Oceanside where true euphoria finally has its way with you.
If poolside is your main destination, check in advance about putting the kids in a swimming class. Or take lessons yourself if you’ve always wanted to. Get comfortable and order lunch from the Beachboy poolside bar—there’s a nice selection of sandwiches and salads, plus cool beverages and soft drinks. The sundeck is your refuge; a shady spot and a hot tub beckon. Or check out the hammocks! In early afternoon or deliver the kids to the coconut-painting soiree and head for the resort’s ocean-side spa to enjoy a rejuvenating couple’s massage? Take a leisurely stroll around the grounds or over to the Coconut Marketplace for some window-shopping and people watching. Maybe you can pick up matching Hawaiian shirts at Crazy Shirts? Or while you’re there, treat the group to a famous Lappert’s double dip ice cream cone. Yummy is an understatement.
Any day is a good day to have a meal at the resort’s on-site restaurant—especially a celebration or special occasion. In the evening indulge the resort’s Hukilau Lanai Restaurant for a terrific evening of camaraderie. You know it’s good when the locals are regulars. Soak up the views while enjoying open-air tables, views of the ocean and soothing entertainment. Watch the sun set as you sample Pacific Rim cuisine, free-range beef, delectable chicken and fish specialties. Pick your favorite from the expansive wine list featuring local favorites. Or sip exotic Polynesian cocktails with fruits and froufrou. Pace yourselves, friends. Save room and time for dessert and another cup of sublime Hawaiian coffee. You’ve dreamed about this evening for a long time, no need to rush it.