Earlier this year, we made our first visit to Kauai and we found so many amazing activities to do.

It was actually our first ever time in Hawaii! The stunning landscape, laid-back vibe, and beaches made us fall in love right away! In the past, we have heard that  a Hawaii vacation was SO expensive – and, it definitely wasn’t cheap. However, we wanted to enjoy everything the island had to offer without breaking the bank. And, it’s definitely possible!

We’ve honed in on the Kauai activities for families we felt were worth splurging on and the ones where we could save a little cash. Keep reading for some of our favorites for your Kauai vacation.

Bonus: They’re all family-friendly!

View of Waimea Canyon in Kauai from Helicopter
Stunning colors of the canyon.

Things to Do On Your Kauai Vacation

Go Waterfall Hunting 

Kauai is known as the Garden Island – and, for good reason. They get a LOT of rain. So much rain, in fact, that Mount Wai’ale’ale is one of the rainiest places on earth and averages over FOUR HUNDRED INCHES of rain a year. Insane, right?!?

  • Thankfully, the rest of the island isn’t as rainy. For us PNWers (is that a word, lol?), we weren’t scared of the rain – especially since it was warm! However, the amount of rain that falls is what keeps the island so lush and those waterfalls flowing. If you visit in late summer, you may not see as many falls, but you still have lots of great options.
  • On the East Shore, check out Wailua Falls, ’Opaeka’a Falls, and Ho’opi’i Falls. Wailua and ‘Opaeka’a Falls are both visible a short walk from the parking lot. Ho’opi’i is a short hike that rewards you with 2 amazing waterfalls along the way.
  • Waipo’o Falls in Waimea Canyon is also a great option. You can see it from a distance off of Waimea Canyon Road. Or, you can also take a hike to see it up close.
  • Other options to check into are Kipu Falls, Secret Falls (you’ll have to Kayak or take a tour to this one), and Makaleha Falls (be ready for an adventure!)
View of Ho'opi Falls in Kauai
Ho’opi Falls from above.

Go Hiking

Kauai has so many amazing hikes. If you’re traveling with small children, you will need to take into account their ages and ability. Our boys were 9 and turning 7 during our trip, so we did a few short, moderate hikes. We loved the hike to Ho’opi’i Falls, the short hike (walk/scramble) to the Pools of Mokolea from Kahili Beach, and the Pihea Trail in Waimea Canyon.

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Explore Beaches

Kauai has many beaches (obviously – ha!). But the best part is that it’s relatively easy to find a spot where you have a section (or even the entire beach if you’re lucky) to yourself. Forget beaches where you have to fight for a piece of sand to lay your towel!

Check out these options: 

Father holding rope while son climbs down bank
Thankful for the rope that helped us to climb up and down this bank.

Gillin’s Beach

The road can be pretty rough to get here (we recommend an SUV or 4WD). It requires a short hike down to the beach, but you may have it to yourself! 

Salt Lake Pond

This is a great beach park with large grassy areas, covered pavilions, picnic tables, bathrooms, and a couple of breaks provided by lava rock. If the water is calm, you may want to give snorkeling a try here. Unfortunately, it was a bit much for our 7-year-old. However, our 9-year-old loved exploring and was thrilled to see several humuhumunukunukuapua’a among the coral. If you’re super lucky, you may also catch sight of a sunning endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. 

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Beach at Lava Lava Beach Club

Okay, we are kind of cheating with this one since it is at a restaurant, but it’s still a great location to hang out.

You may want reservations for dinner, but they literally have tables ON the beach as well as a grassy area where the kids can play corn-hole, giant Jenga, or just run off any excess energy. 

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In addition, if you can make it for happy hour, they have some fantastic deals on their drinks and pupus (appetizers)!  

Poipu Beach

Another popular beach for a good reason is Poipu Beach. It is known as an excellent spot for surfing, snorkeling, and swimming. Also, it is another spot where you might get lucky and spot the Hawaiian Monk Seal. 

Lydgate Beach

If you have little kids, this beach may be your best bet. Again, it is a popular beach for snorkeling, swimming and picnicking. Also, it is also home to a playground we hear is a favorite on the island (you’re welcome!)

Hanalei Bay

If surfing is your thing, you’ll want to check out Hanalei Bay. It is a favorite spot where the locals come to surf. We had a great time just watching the skill that’s present here. You’ll likely see a wide variety of abilities and ages here. We had a killer time watching the little groms! If you’re up for it and have some experience, take advantage and surf one of Kauai’s most popular spots! Otherwise, grab a beach towel, a drink, some snacks, and hang out.

Kahili Beach

If you want a chance to have a little more beach to yourself, check out Kahili Beach. You’ll likely find a quiet stretch of sand. Or, you can choose to boogie board, surf, or hike to the Pools of Mokolea.

Two boys sitting on rocks looking out over the ocean near Pools of Mokolea
The boys climbed up here on their own and didn’t want to come down…can’t say I blame them.

Try Boogie Boarding

For approximately $10-20 (less than $3/day), you can purchase a boogie board at Walmart or Costco to use all week. Of course, you could rent higher-quality boards, but chances are the kids will never notice the difference.  Plus, at the end of your stay, you can share the stoke and pass it on! You can try boogie boarding at most beaches – just make sure the surf isn’t too rough and that there is no hidden coral or lava rock.

Snorkel the Reefs

Lydgate Beach, Poipu Beach and, possibly, Salt Lake Pond are some of your best bets for snorkeling right off the shore. To find the calmest waters, be sure to check beach conditions and surf reports. You’ll find many companies to rent snorkel gear from all over the island. Or,  you can also head to Costco (with a membership), Wal-Mart, or a local shop and grab your own set.

Explore the Friday Evening Art Night in Hanapepe

One of our favorite activities, while we were on the island, was Art Night in Hanapepe. Every Friday night, from 5 pm-9 pm, you can peruse the galleries, grab some tasty food, explore street vendors and listen to local musicians. If you’re a reader, make sure to swing inside Talk Story Bookstore – it’s a great mix of new, used, local and popular books.

Painted Truck with flowers filling the back at Hanapepe Art Night
Hanapepe Art Night had so many spectacular artists!

Bike the Ke Ala Hale Makalae Path (Kauai Multiuse Path)

Next, is taking a bike ride on the Ke Ala Hale Makalae Path. This one is VERY budget-friendly. In addition, there are also a few hotels that have bikes for guest use, so you may get lucky! We headed to Hele On for very reasonable prices on decent beach cruisers. If you want shiny, new mountain bikes, look elsewhere. However, these bikes were only $5/hr or $15/day, which was MUCH cheaper than other options we looked into. After setting you up with a bike, they will direct you down the street to the trail. If you choose, you can ride a portion or the entire trail.

Altogether, it’s a little over 4 miles one way (8+ round trip), but the entire ride has killer views that make the journey seem much shorter. If you need them, there are a few bathroom stops along the trail and plenty of viewpoints for little ones (or big ones ) to stop and rest their legs.

Views along the Kauai Multiuse Path
The views from the Kauai Multiuse Path

Take a Helicopter Ride

Last, but most definitely not least, is taking a helicopter tour to experience the island from a completely different angle. We actually did the tour at the start of our vacation so we could get an overview of the island and orient ourselves. This was our biggest splurge while we were on our trip, and it was worth Every. Single. Penny. If you choose to include a heli tour on your Kauai vacation, we highly recommend Jack Harter Helicopters. When you’re talking four people at $259 each (via their internet special at the time of our trip), it is no small investment. However, Jack Harter and their crew delivered an experience that we will remember for years to come. 

We chose to take their 60-65 minute A-Star tour. The actual flight time was truly just over 60 minutes – not including time getting to and from the aircraft. They do have doors off flights available on their Hughes helicopters, but due to the ages of the boys, it was not an option for us. However, the A-Star helicopter was perfect for us, with floor to ceiling windows – the next best thing! Plus, we were climate controlled. Our pilot, Chris, was excellent at making sure that both sides of the chopper got to truly take in the beauty of the island at each location. The boys are still talking about the experience and it was absolutely the highlight of our trip. 

Family in front of Jack Harter Helicopter
We had a spectacular time on our helicopter ride!

Final Thoughts on Activities for Your Kauai Vacation

Hawaii is often a place where you can sometimes expect to blow your budget. But, if you plan wisely, and are willing to think outside the box, you can have an amazing Kauai vacation within your means and still appreciate the diversity and lushness of the island. You can totally do Kauai activities on a budget and have a blast. No need for high dollar excursions every single day – choose one or two that are the most important to you and do them! Otherwise, just get out, explore, and find YOUR stoke.

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