The oldest and considered the quietest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kaua’i offers an appealing mix of history, accessible beaches, and family-friendly outdoor activities. Here are some fun day-trips and excursions in this picturesque slice of paradise.
Head to the North Shore for a day of family fun. The peach-sandy beach and blue-green waters of Hanalei Bay are a perfect place to take a picnic, splash around in protected shallow waters, or just lounge in the sun. When it’s time for a break, head to local chain JoJo’s Shave Ice in the center of town; all profits from these traditional treats fund summer camp spots for Native Hawaiian children.
If you have time, drive about 10 miles (16 kilometers) east to Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, and climb to the top of the old lighthouse for sweeping views and the chance to sight spouts of migrating humpback whales (from October through April). Then, wander the refuge’s grassy trails in search of rare sea and wetland birds — you might glimpse Laysan albatross, tropicbirds, red-footed boobies, and one of the largest populations of the world’s rarest goose, the endemic Hawaiian nēnē.
Līhu‘e and Waimea Canyon
In Līhu‘e, you can take a deep dive into the island’s recent sugar plantation history while floating in an inner tube down a maze of irrigation channels. During a typical three-hour tour of the former Līhu’e Plantation, your tube will follow flumes of gently flowing water corridors past jungle scenery in remote farmlands with ocean and mountain views, and through 19th-century hand-dug tunnels (headlamps provided). There are a few mini drops and quick turns to keep you on your toes — and a refreshing post-float swim in a spring-fed pool.
Winding west in your rental car, there’s much to explore. A self-drive audio tour from Shaka Guide can provide helpful background and historical commentary, as well as recommendations for the best lookouts, hikes, and stops. High-elevation forests home to native honeycreeper birds are interspersed with red rock landscapes, which open up into a mini version of the Grand Canyon. The Waimea Canyon spans 14 miles (23 kilometers) by 1 mile (2 kilometers) and drops some 3,000 feet (914 meters) down from the rim. Other highlights on this drive include a waterfall amid bright red dirt, a natural history museum with a great gift shop at Kōke’e State Park, and the misty clifftops of the lush Nāpali coastline.