I was just looking over my blog and realized I haven’t done a Kauai family travel guide! I’ve visited Kauai approximately 30 times since I was 10 years old. My grandma used to live part-time on Kauai when I was growing up. My mom has been living on Kauai for the past 10 years. She’s a Kauai wedding officiant and knows a lot of the best Kauai beaches for families and things to do on Kauai with kids. So, I conferred with her to make sure all my info was up to date and she added in some unique things to do on Kauai.
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Best Time to Visit Kauai
Personally, I like to visit Kauai in the fall (specifically October) or the spring (specifically May). Summertime, especially end of July and August, the Kauai weather can be quite humid and hot. I love being warm and I don’t mind the humidity, but these months are a bit too much for me. And wintertime can be hit/miss with the weather. This past winter/spring, Kauai was hit with flooding that has impacted the North Shore a lot.
As far as airports go, the Lihue Airport on Kauai is pretty small. In fact, their baggage claim only has 2 carousels. When you get off the plane, just follow the crowd and you’ll wind up at baggage claim. They do have baggage carts available to rent. Since it can take awhile before the bags come out, I like to use the restroom and then pick up brochures and tourist magazines so I can thumb through them later (they have lots of coupons inside.)
For Kauai, I highly recommend you rent a car. There’s just so much to see and do. The car rental stands are right there at the airport. There are also some budget-friendly car rental options off-site.
For your flight home, you’ll need to go through their agricultural inspection, so don’t try to take home any fruit or plants. There’s also a Starbucks you can hit up as soon as you get past security.
Where to Stay on Kauai
Kauai is basically a circle with one highway. But, the highway doesn’t go completely around the island. It stops at the Na Pali coast. So if you are staying on the North Shore and want to go to the West Shore, you have to drive 3/4 around the island to get there. And the traffic on Kauai is no joke.
The most important thing to think about when figuring out where to stay on Kauai is your vacation itinerary. Are you planning on driving around the island a few days? Do you have scheduled activities somewhere? Would you like to stay at a resort and just relax?
The North Shore is simply stunning. It’s where they filmed South Pacific back in the day and countless other movies like The Descendants, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. It’s the perfect place if you are looking for a romantic getaway and want the quaint Hawaiian experience. I usually don’t recommend it for families with young children because the beaches aren’t kid-friendly and it’s the rainy side of the island. Due to the April 2018 flooding, all areas past Hanalei are closed and a re-opening date hasn’t been announced.
The St. Regis Princeville Hotel is the creme de la creme of Hawaiian resorts. The St. Regis has an amazing spa, an infinity pool, golf course, tennis courts, etc. Kids ages 5-12 can participate in the Young Voyagers Club, a drop off kids club. They even offer delectable treats, child-sized robes, slippers, and a step stool for the little ones.
The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas is about half the price of the St. Regis. It’s not a budget Kauai hotel, but moderately priced. They feature 4 heated swimming pools, a golf course, and a spa. For kids ages 5-12, they have the Westin Kids Club with interactive programming, custom travel journal, local activity guide, and more.
The Cliffs at Princeville is another moderately priced accommodation on Kauai. They offer one bedroom suites and two bedroom/loft floor plans, which is awesome when traveling with kids. Plus, their suites are twice the size of standard hotel rooms. They have fully equipped kitchens, so you can save money by cooking in the condo.
My mom lives in Kapaa and so that’s where my family always stays on Kauai. For families traveling with small children, I usually suggest they stay on the East Shore for two reasons:
- SHOPPING: It’s close to Costco, Walmart, and several grocery stores. That makes it easy to stock up on food, diapers, formula, extra swimsuits, the sunscreen you forgot to pack, pool floaties, etc.
- CENTRAL LOCATION: Staying on the East Shore makes it easy to check the weather and then head North, South or West to chase the sun and avoid rain. And it makes it easier to come back for naps.
The Kauai Marriott Resort is my pick for the best family hotel on Kauai. They have one of the largest heated outdoor pools in Hawaii. The Kauai Marriott Resort features 5 restaurants/bars, a spa, a golf course, and they are right at Kalapaki Beach, which is kid-friendly. Plus, the Kalapaki Kids Club is available both mornings and nights if you want some kid-free time. And they offer a free shuttle to the airport.
The Aston Islander on the Beach is a low-rise hotel. Their beachfront pool area offers barbecue areas, a large, sparkling pool, jet spa and a poolside bar. They have on-site laundry, which is so helpful for families! And they offer free shuttle service to the airport. What I like about this location is that you can walk to Safeway, Foodland, and a lot of affordable restaurants and shops.
The Plantation Hale Suites were recently renovated. They have large rooms and full kitchens. It’s the perfect place to stay on Kauai if you are planning on exploring the island and then coming back to the hotel to cool off in the pool, cook dinner and rest.
The South Shore is notorious for almost always being sunny. And there are lots of calm, kid-friendly beaches. This is also where you’ll find the most family-friendly resorts on Kauai.
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is my pick for the ultimate swanky place to stay on Kauai with kids. Drop the kids off at Camp Hyatt Kauai a fun, active program exclusively for children ages 3 to 12. Then, enjoy a day at the spa or playing golf. You can also play in their “river pools” that wind through waterfalls and grottos. Kids of all ages will love their 150-foot water slide. And they have an adult-only pool.
The Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu is an Autograph Collection hotel. When you arrive, staff give you a fresh flower lei and a mai tai (or fruit punch.) This hotel features 3 lagoon pools, including a 350,000-gallon signature pool complete with cabanas, swim-through waterfalls, water slide, and a walk-through grotto. They offer a variety of room sizes to fit all families and fully stocked gourmet kitchens or kitchenettes so you can cook yourself.
The Sheraton Kauai Resort is a moderately priced hotel on Kauai. You’ll find a guest laundromat, pool, fitness center, beach access, and massage treatments. For kids ages 12 and under, they have a special dining plan at their restaurants.They also have an on-site luau.
Kuhio Shores condos are a great option for families. I stayed here 5 or 6 years ago and saw sea turtles from the lanai! They have 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom options, which is nice when traveling to Kauai with kids. And, they have elevators, which makes it easy to carry up groceries.
Best Kauai Beaches
Kauai beaches are some of the most beautiful in Hawaii. My family has been to so many over the past 25 years, but these are the best Kauai beaches for families and some of my personal favorites. It’s always a good idea to swim at Lifeguarded Beaches like Haena, Hanalei, Kealia, Lydgate, Poipu, Salt Pond, and Kekaha. You can always ask your hotel concierge or rental agent for safe swimming options nearby where you are staying.
One of my favorite kid-friendly beach on the North Shore is Hanalei Bay. They have a pier where kids can walk out and see fisherman and stand-up paddlers. It’s also a fun place for kids to play in the sand and water.
Anini Beach (and just down the road from Anini Beach) has some of the calmest, shallow waters, especially in the summer. You can usually see wind surfers and kite surfers here, which is neat for kids. And lots of chickens.
Kahili Beach has a river, which can be fun for younger kids to play in. It’s sometimes affected by flash floods, so make sure to check before you head there.
Kalapaki Beach is one of my favorites with little kids. It’s right in front of the Kauai Marriott Resort. The water is pretty calm, kids can usually see cruise ships and airplanes, plus you can grab lunch at Duke’s Barefoot Bar.
Fuji Beach is Kapaa’s “baby beach” and is located along Moanakai Rd and the bike path in Kapaa. Just be sure to keep an eye on your kids when they are near the water.
Lae Nani Beach on Papaloa Cove is pretty awesome for families. It’s really small, so it’s perfect if you are staying at a hotel or condo nearby.
Salt Ponds is one of my family’s favorite spots on the South Shore. It’s in Hanapepe and last time we were there, my kids saw a sea turtle sunbathing on the beach! The water is calm and perfect for little kids to try snorkeling.
Poipu has Baby Beach and Keiki Cove, both of which are great for little ones. These are small beaches and often you are only sharing with one other family. These are cute spots for family photos, too.
Best Kauai Snorkeling
If your kids are a bit older and you’re looking for the best Kauai snorkeling spots, you’re in luck! Kauai has some awesome snorkeling. Typically, the North Shore is calmer in the summer, the South Shore is calmer in the winter, and the East Shore and West Shore are variable daily. It’s always a good idea to check the Daily Surf Report before deciding where to go.
I’d personally recommend snorkeling at beaches that have a lifeguard on duty. However, there are snorkeling beaches at unlifeguarded locations, such as Beach House Beach, next to the Beach House Restaurant in Poipu on Lawai Road. Snorkel rental shops also keep on top of the surf conditions and can make recommendations.
Snorkeling off boats is fun. They usually anchor at a safe spot and you don’t have to worry about finding a good place to snorkel on Kauai. For families with kids ages 5 and older, this SeaFun Snorkel tour seems perfect for beginners and a great way to see turtles and tropical fish.
Best Kauai Waterfalls
Since Kauai is home to the wettest spot on Earth (Mt. Waialeale) they also have lots of beautiful waterfalls. Some are easy to drive to and others take a bit more work. There’s even a family-friendly Kauai Waterfalls Tour you can book that’s just 3 hours long. Here are some of my favorites to see with kids:
Do you remember the old TV show Fantasy Island? The opening credits feature Wailua Falls on the East Shore. But, that’s not why you should add it to your Kauai itinerary. Add it because it’s impressive to look at AND you can see it from the parking lot. So, if your kids are napping in the car, you can pull into a parking spot and marvel at the falls.
This is another Kauai waterfall that’s easy to get to. You can follow the signs to the scenic lookout on the East Shore. From the lookout, you can see Opaekaa Falls and Kamokila Hawaiian Village.
This is a really fun family adventure on Kauai. I did this when I was in middle school, but it’s totally doable for elementary aged kids. In order to see it, you need to paddle up the Wailua River. There’s an official tour you can book for kids ages 5 and up that includes a kayak rental and lunch. Or, you can rent your own kayak or canoe and do it on your own. The “hike” is basically a 45 minute walk.
HIDDEN VALLEY FALLS
This is another kid-friendly Kauai activity. Basically, you kayak down the Huleiwa River and hike .75 miles to see the waterfall. With this tour, you get lunch and a motorized boat ride back. This sounds perfect for families with younger kids who might not have much energy to paddle back.
If you are driving up North, you can see the impressive Kalihiwai Falls as you cross the bridge over the Kalihiwai River. The tricky part is that there’s isn’t really a turnoff so you can get out and look at it. So, I’d suggest switching drivers if you can so you can get a good look.
If your kids are a bit older and are up for an adventure, Hanakapiai Falls is the ultimate hike on Kauai for families. To get there, you literally drive to the end of the road on the North Shore. This hike is the first leg of the famous Na Pali Coast hike to Kalalau Valley. What I think is cool about this hike is that you go through a bamboo forest. I remember doing this hike when I was 10-14 years old and I survived just fine. It’s probably good for kids ages 6 and older, due to the steep cliffs. I don’t enjoy hiking, but this one is worth it. Due to the April 2018 flooding, this area isn’t accessible and no re-opening date has been announced.
Kauai Hikes, Walks + Strolls
Kauai is absolutely stunning and it’s best experienced by walking around and exploring. If you don’t want to go back to your hotel for nap time, try putting them in a stroller or baby carrier while you go for a walk. It’s a great way to maximize your time on Kauai with avoiding overly tired kids!
There’s walking at Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens in Kilauea. It’s a sculpture park with an entrance fee. They even have a children’s garden that would be fun to explore with little ones.
A few years ago, Kauai opened their Multi-Use Path on the East Shore. It goes around Lydgate Park and across the Wailua Bridge, past Wailua Bay View and up Papaloa Road where it ends at the Coconut Marketplace. But, then it starts back up at Waipouli Beach Resort where it goes all the way past Donkey Beach. My mom’s favorite part of the Multi-Use Path is past Kealia Beach, because there are no cars and fewer people, just beautiful scenery.
This path is stroller friendly. There are lots of bike rentals in town, some with kid options, so that might be a fun idea. And some resorts, like the Hilton Garden Inn, have bikes for borrowing.
There are some marked paths near the Kauai Marriott Resort, that go around the lagoons. The paths are mostly paved, so strollers would be okay. Plus, you can end up at Kalapaki Beach to play and have lunch.
An easy trail on the East Shore is the Kuilau Ridge Trail. It’s a steady climb to the picnic shelter area. Sleeping Giant is a bit more strenuous, and is best for older kids.
There is the Heritage Trail in Poipu, which runs on either side of the Grand Hyatt. You can walk from Shipwreck Beach toward Mahaulepu. Or walk from Shipwreck Beach toward Poipu to enjoy the turtle views from up there. There’s lots of walking options in Poipu, with a sidewalk along Lawai Road up until Kukuiula Harbor (which features a nice little beach!)
The Biodiversity Trail at National Tropical Botanical Gardens is interesting for adults and pretty and gentle paths for kids. You can explore on your own with a self-guided tour.
Other Kauai Top Attractions
Kauai really has so many things that draw visitors from all over the world. Too many to mention everything, so I’m highlighting some of the popular places families tend to go:
This is billed as Hawaii’s grand canyon and you’ve probably seen photos of Waimea Canyon anytime you read anything about Kauai. You can drive up to a lookout point and marvel at the view. Be sure to check weather conditions before you go. I promise the view is underwhelming in foggy weather. There are lots of hikes into the canyon, but I haven’t done them.
KOKEE STATE PARK
If you are driving up to Waimea Canyon, you might as well continue up to Kokee State Park. It can get quite chilly up there, so pack a sweatshirt if you tend to get cold easily. They have a Kokee Natural History Museum that features Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park (imagine that!) There are some interesting lookouts up here. The road can get quite windy, so be warned in case you get car sick.
This is another free thing to do on Kauai. It’s located in Poipu and when the waves hit just right, you can see water shoot up in the air. It’s fun to watch for a bit. Kids will probably ask to check out the souvenir stands nearby. It’s a fun stop on your way to the beach.
TUNNEL OF TREES
If you are heading to Poipu, you’ll drive through this Tunnel of Trees. It would be fun to experience with the top down in a jeep or convertible! But, it’s still cool in a regular car. If you want to get a photo, make sure to pull off before you enter.
Hanapepe is known as “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town.” Here’s where you’ll find a cool swinging bridge that kids love to cross. It used to be super rickety, but now it’s actually fairly sturdy. Their little downtown area is filled with boutique shops. It’s also home to the Storybook Theatre of Hawaii that offers children’s programming. My favorite thing to do in Hanapepe is hang out at Salt Pond Beach Park.
Hanalei is the epitome of a North Shore town. It has a similar vibe as Haleiwa on Oahu. Besides the Hanalei Pier and Hanalei Bay, the biggest reason to come to Hanalei is to see the taro fields. It looks like a patchwork quilt and there are lookouts to see the fields from the highway. There’s also a historic church that is green and gorgeous! It’s a nice town to walk around and visit the shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Kauai Kids Activities
If you’re wondering what to do on Kauai with kids, don’t fret! This island has a ton of cool family-friendly activities. Again, there are too many to list so I pulled together the most popular Kauai activities for families:
KAUAI BOAT TOURS
One of my favorite things to do on Kauai is go on a boat. Kauai has such stunning scenery and seeing it from the water is amazing! My family likes to do the Captain Andy catamaran cruise. It’s for kids ages 3 and older, so no babies or toddlers.
If you’re interested in seeing whales, there’s this whale watching tour for kids ages 7 and older. I did this tour several years ago and it’s pretty cool. It’s 3 hours long and they give you snacks. It’s a great way to see whales in Hawaii, especially November-February.
But, the most family-friendly boat ride is the Fern Grotto one down the Wailua River. My oldest LOVES this one! There’s storytelling, singing and dancing on the river boat. The whole experience is an hour and 20 minutes, which makes it doable with toddlers.
KAUAI HELICOPTER RIDE
So, I haven’t personally done a helicopter ride on Kauai, but I keep hearing good things about this Kauai helicopter tour. For one thing, babies are welcome and kids under 2 years old are free. This tour is also 50 minutes long and features narration, so you know what you’re looking at. It’s definitely at the top of my Kauai bucket list!
ZIPLINING ON KAUAI
If you have adventure-seekers ages 7 and older, this Treehouse Zipline Course looks incredible! There are 7 different zipline adventures, one of which is Hawaii’s longest zipline at more than .75 miles long! I’m not a thrill-seeker, so I haven’t been, but I’ve heard other families rave about it.
My mom loves going to Allerton Garden. National Geographic Traveler just named it one of the top “50 Places of a Lifetime.” They have a guided walking tour where you can see those crazy trees featured in Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. Plus, it’s a gorgeous place to walk around and take photos. It’s not stroller-friendly, so you may need to bring a baby carrier.
Another popular Kauai activity for kids is going mountain tubing. It’s for kids ages 5 and older, so we haven’t tried it yet. But, I think we’ll do it on our next trip to Kauai. Basically, you float on an inner tube down a river through tunnels and scenic landscapes. Oh, and you wear a headlamp so you can see where you are going.
KAUAI FARMERS MARKETS
Another fun thing to do on Kauai with kids is explore their farmers markets. We like to stop by on our first morning. With the time difference from Seattle, our family is up bright and early that first day. So, we can load up on local fruits and veggies to enjoy throughout our trip. Plus, oftentimes you can get baked goodies there!
CAVES ON KAUAI
Kauai is also home to several caves. And they are some of the coolest caves for kids to explore. I remember visiting Maniniholo Dry Cave (across from Haena State Park up North) when I was a kid. Make sure to bring flashlights for your kids! And if you are looking for a wet cave, Waikanaloa Cave and Waikapale cave are just up the road a bit. Neither are safe for swimming, so keep an eye on kids. Due to the April 2018 flooding, this area is not accessible and a re-opening date hasn’t been announced yet. When it does re-open, the parking situation may change and there may be shuttle service.
And on the South Shore, families should check out Makauwahi Cave. I remember thinking it was kind of scary when I was a teen, but I think that’s because you have to crawl on your hands and knees through a triangular opening to get inside. It’s like a prehistoric experience once you are inside. When we first went, it was practically impossible to find. But now, it’s pretty easy and there’s even an education table there.
Best Kauai Luau
I’ve been a professional hula dancer for the past 20 years. Hawaiian culture is just so rich and amazing and it would be a shame to fly all the way to Hawaii and not see any hula dancing. So, I have to talk about your Kauai luau options so you can pick the best Kauai luau for your family:
This is the luau I grew up going to. They have an incredible garden that kids love to run around before the show. What’s extra cool is that you can just pay to explore the 30 acre botanical and cultural garden, if you aren’t interested in the full luau experience. And if you already have dinner plans, you can reserve tickets just for their show. And their show is fantastic! Not only does it feature Hawaiian hula dancing, but they also feature dancing from Tahiti, Samoa, New Zealand, China, Japan and the Philippines. And the food is really good!
Last year, I took my kids to Luau Kalamaku and they LOVED it! You can ride the Kilohana Plantation Railway train before the luau, which is a total hit with the kids! I was impressed with the food and even went back for another helping (which is SO unlike me.) They do some traditional hula dancing during dinner. But, the actual show is more like a theatrical presentation. It reminded me a lot of Moana since it was about voyaging to Hawaii. My kids were 3.5 years old and 9 months old and they BOTH were mesmerized until the very end. I like that it ends earlier than other luau.
GRAND HYATT KAUAI LUAU
This is a popular luau for those staying at the Grand Hyatt Kauai since it’s on-site. They feature hands-on crafts and activities (including hula lessons) for the whole family. They have an inside option for rainy weather, but I’ve heard it can be tough to see the performance when it’s indoors.
This is Kauai’s only oceanfront luau experience. We’ve done an oceanfront luau on Maui and it is kind of cool to be able to walk the beach at sunset and hear the ocean waves during dinner. This one is in Poipu, which is perfect for those staying on the South Shore. The show sounds pretty cool, as they feature the migration to Kauai, famous Kauai songs, fire throwers, 1950s style “Hollywood hula,” and dancing from Tahiti and New Zealand.
HAWAII ALIVE LUAU SHOW
This is the luau at Kauai Marriott Resort. It’s one of the longest running luau shows in Hawaii. What’s cool about the Hawaii Alive Luau Show is that you can just purchase tickets to the show, without dinner. So, if luau food isn’t your thing, you can go to a restaurant and then just go to the luau show. But, the food sounds really good and includes carving stations and Hawaiian-inspired cuisine. Oh, and they offer free valet parking.
This luau is at the Courtyard Kauai at Coconut Beach. I went here as a kid when it was called something else, but it’s been revamped since then. They do a torchlight ceremony before the festivities start. Their menu is extensive and offers gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, and shellfish-free options.
MAILANI DINNER SHOW
If you are up at the North Shore, the Mailani Dinner Show is right at the St. Regis Princeville. They don’t offer this year-round, so you’ll need to check with the hotel to see if it’s happening during your stay. This show takes place in front of Hanalei Bay and features chanting, dancing, and storytelling. Kids ages 5 and under are free.
Best Places to Eat on Kauai
Kauai is quickly becoming a foodie paradise. These past few years, their food truck scene has exploded! And so has their shave ice options.
One of my favorite places to send people is Tahiti Nui in Hanalei. It’s the dive bar featured in The Descendants, but the food is outstanding! Plus, this is where you can see amazing hula dancing and listen to professional musicians at night.
My family has been eating at Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza for years and years. We like to pick up our goodies to go and then find a pretty spot to eat.
My favorite Hawaiian restaurant of all time is Mark’s Place. It’s one of those secret spots in an industrial area that you wouldn’t know was there. There food is AH-MAZ-ING. They have picnic tables where you can eat, but I like to pick up to go. In fact, my mom often picks up food to bring to the airport when we arrive so we can eat it at a beach. My personal favorite menu item is their beef stew, but their menu changes frequently. They specialize in upscale plate lunch.
So, I’ve only eaten at Coconut’s Fish Cafe on Maui, but it was so outstanding that I literally texted everyone I knew when I heard they were opening a location in Kapaa. You have to order their fish tacos. They are mind-blowingly tasty and may ruin all other fish tacos for you.
On my last trip, I devoured a plate of chicken and waffles at NOM Kauai. They were a food truck last year, but have since set up a brick and mortar restaurant in Kapaa. Their food is locally sourced and has a Southern twist.
For a nice lunch or dinner or Sunday Brunch, Gaylord’s at Kilohana has a grassy area right off the dining patio where kids can walk around and explore. Then, you can hop aboard the Kilohana Plantation Railway Train!
For a casual breakfast, lunch or dinner out, Lava Lava Beach Club has a grassy area with Corn Hole, Giant Jenga and other games. Plus ,the beach is right there.
And we can’t forget shave ice! Wailua Shave Ice is here and they feature all fresh fruit. Their shave ice is so popular that they opened up a location in Portland, OR. I went down there for “research” and it’s sooooo tasty!
I love love love Shrimp Station in Waimea. They also have a location in Kapaa, but I like the roadside feel of their original Waimea location best. They make the tastiest coconut shrimp I’ve ever had!
Now, this isn’t a restaurant, but you have to swing by the Kauai Kookie factory store. Here’s where you’ll find new cookie flavors and products not available anywhere else. I’m hooked on their Cinnamon Toast. They also have a restaurant in Kalaheo, but I haven’t tried it yet.
Speaking of Kalaheo, my favorite breakfast spot is the Kalaheo Cafe & Coffee Company. They have an array of baked items that you can grab on your way to the beach. But, I like to sit and do a full breakfast to energize me for the day. So many tasty options!
And you absolutely have to swing by Warehouse 3540 in Lawai. This is where you can find Kickshaw’s (home of my favorite burger) and The Fresh Shave. They have indoor and outdoor seating. Plus, you can shop at cool boutiques while your food is being cooked.
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