Top Things to do on Kauai for Families

  • 01 of 10

    Introduction to the Island

    Kauai, North Coast. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Kauai, North Coast. Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    It's called the "Garden Isle", and that's your clue about what to expect: verdant natural beauty, a slower pace (--and if you want shopping, night-life, and high-rises in Hawaii, that's spelled "Waikiki").

    Kaua'i is a small island, 33 miles long and 25 across; see a profile including climate, parks, etc. Many of the beautiful beaches are great for surfers but not swim-able, particularly for kids; some resorts compensate with creative pools.

    Read on, for some top activities for families in Kauai. (And for the companies that offer them, head to Kauai Discovery.)

    - continue to Napali Coast by boat

  • 02 of 10

    Napali Coast, by Boat

    Kauai, Napali Coast cliffs. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    It's tough to choose which way is best, to see the stunning Napali Coast: by helicopter or by boat. But perhaps the optimal way is: both; first, from the sea, and later from the air.

    The Napali Coast State Park is in the northwest of Kauai and -- simply put-- has some of the most breathtaking scenery on earth: fold after fold of thousand-foot-high cliffs, by the sea.

    Several companies run day-long cruises in summer months. (In winter, waves get gigantic; cruises switch to whale-watching in the south.)

    Even in August, wave action made for an exciting ride on our sample cruise on a catamaran. Take seasick pills if you or your kids have any tendency to motion-sickness! And think twice before choosing a "zodiac" version of the trip. (Zodiacs are rigid inflatable boats that ride low in the water.)

    The beauty of the Napali Coast is all the more dramatic because it's inaccessible by road. Visitors can take a short 2-mile hike to Hanakapi'ai Beach, or the 11-mile Kalalau Trail (with possible overnight camping -- get a permit, first.)

    However you experience it, the Napali Coast is a must-see on Kaua'i.

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    - continue to Top Things to Do on Kauai - Napoli Coast by boat, dolphns

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary activities for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.

  • 03 of 10

    Napali Coast - Dolphins Swimming by Boat

    Dolphins swimming by boat, Napali Coast. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    A highlight on our Napali boat trip was the sight of Hawaii's beautiful spinner dolphins: who literally spin, when they jump out of the water. These playful animals are a delight, for kids and adults both. Several raced alongside our catamaran, at a terrific speed.

    This gets my vote as the best way to see dolphins: in the wild, and freely enjoying themselves.

    We also saw sea turtles, on our boat trip in August, and had a snorkeling stop. If you want to see even bigger marine life, visit in winter, and take a whale-watching boat trip on the south coast.

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    - continue to Helicopter Tour

  • 04 of 10

    Take a Helicopter Tour

    Top things to do on Kauai - take a helicopter tour - Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    On Kauai, an aerial tour is highly recommended. Many scenic areas are inaccessible, or hard to reach, by car; the birds-eye view of Kaua'i's cliffs and canyons is spectacular; and the size of the island makes a good fit with an hour-long tour by air.

    Helicopters are great for swooping into canyons; small planes do island tours as well, and reportedly can get into canyons too.

    See photos of a Kaua'i helicopter tour -- and tips on the best seats for the ride. Even toddlers can fly.

    - continue to Surf Lessons

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Surf Lesson on Kauai

    Surf lesson on Kauai. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    No, this isn't going to be your teen after his/her first lesson. But learning to surf is terrific fun, even if you only stand up for seconds; don't miss the opportunity.

    Kaua'i has some gentle learning beaches, such as Hanelei Bay, in the north-east of the island. Even kids as young as five can have a go (if they're good swimmers.)

    We sampled a lesson with Kayak Kauai; you're guaranteed to stand during your first lesson, instructor/client ratio is one to six (or less), and after your lesson you can rent a board for just $15/day.*

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    - continue to Mountain Tubing Adventure

    *Always check web sites for updates!

  • 06 of 10

    Mountain Tubing Adventure

    Kauai Mountain Tubing Adventure. Photo courtesy of Kauai Backcountry Adventures.
    Photo courtesy of Kauai Backcountry Adventures.

    For something different, and a fun outing: go tubing through tunnels. Kauai Backcountry Adventures runs this novel half-day outing, suitable even for kids as young as five. (Despite the word "mountain", the tubing is a gentle ride.)

    The back-story for this adventure is part of Kaua'i's history: the setting is an old sugar plantation. Sugar was a thriving industry in Kaua'i starting back in the 1800's; people from many countries came to the island to work as laborers. But the sugar industry dwindled decades ago; by the 21st century this plantation, like others, was inactive, its long irrigation ditches useless -- until someone had the bright idea of floating in tubes down the ditches.

    The fun parts of this adventure are in the hand-dug tunnels: kids will love wearing helmets equipped with miners' lights.

    Highly recommended! Lots of fun, and extra points for novelty.

    - continue to Zipline and Canoeing Adventure

  • 07 of 10

    Zipline and Canoeing Adventure

    Kauai ziplining, Photo courtesy of Kauai Visitors Bureau.
    Photo courtesy of Kauai Visitors Bureau.

    Several companies offer outings that take visitors on adventures in Kauai's interior for some combination of hiking, river canoeing, swimming-holes, and/or zip-lining. Our day-long outing, by Outfitters Kauai, had all of the above...

    Zip-lines are becoming de rigeur on islands from Costa Rica to Kauai, it seems. Even kids as young as seven can fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

    - continue to Rope Swing

  • 08 of 10

    Rope Swing

    Rope Swing, Kauai. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    Another nice aspect of our zipline/canoeing adventure was the chance to enjoy a couple of rope-swings (one of which had been famously swung on, in an Indiana Jones flick) and swimming-holes.

    - continue to Small-town Hawaii

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Small-Town Hawaii: Hanalei

    Small-Town Hawaii: Hanalei. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    Hawaii has its share of glitz, shopping, and luxury resorts; but it also has an endearing unpretentious side, with shops selling shaved-ice or home-made pies, or local souvenir shops in old-fashioned style from the sugar town days. You'll need a car to explore towns like Hanalei, on the northeast coast.

    - continue to Top Things to Do on Kauai - North Coast gardens; ATV tours; Luau, Movie Tours

  • 10 of 10

    North Coast Gardens; ATV, Luau, Movie Tours, More

    Limahuli Garden and Preserve. Photo © Teresa Plowright.
    Limahuli Garden and Preserve. Photo © Teresa Plowright.

    Also in the northeast, and (literally) near the end of the road: Limahuli Garden and Preserve. An extraordinarily beautiful place; take a self-guided tour.

    Also fun to do on Kauai:

    • Movie Tours are offered by several companies. "Jurassic Park" is the biggest name, from the kid point of view; but lots of other movies have been shot here, too.
    • ATV Tours - kids must be at least 16 to drive; typically, ages 5 to 15 can ride as passengers.
    • Luau: a rite of passage for tourists, with big down-home-food-style of buffet (always including a pig roasted in the earth), and a night show with costumed dancers. Smith Family Garden Luau is a popular choice; arrive early and tour the gardens.

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    To find companies that offer the activities highlighted here, head to Kauai Discovery. As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary activities for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.