We just got back from a trip to our favorite Hawaiian island—Kauai. OK we’ve only been to Oahu and Kauai, but the other islands would really have to sweep us off our feet to take Kauai’s place in our hearts.
It’s not too touristy or crowded and has so much to do. Especially if you’re into nature and world-renowned scenery. Or Jurassic Park, because most of it was filmed on Kauai.
This was our second time going to Kauai with our kids, and although people think we’re sort of crazy for bringing them along, it’s such a family-friendly place and heaven on earth for kids. I like to think of it as our second home, because we just feel like we belong there and never want to leave.
This trip was special because my close friend, Eleasah, and I had been talking for a couple of years about meeting in Hawaii and we were all finally able to make it happen. El and I went to high school together in Australia and have stayed BFFs ever since. Her husband, Dave, is one of the best people we’ve ever met and our kids were stuck like glue by the end of the trip, so trip tip no. 1 is to go with friends who you jive well with. Ha.
Here’s our shortlist of must-dos.
First things first, food:
Koloa Shave Ice: This was our favorite shave ice spot. Their specials are amazing! You should always get ice cream in the bottom and a snow cap on top, in case you didn’t know. 🙂
Fresh Shave: The syrup is made with fresh fruit and the flavor combos are unique and yummy.
Duke’s: I like the salad bar, and my husband said his ribs were exceptional, but the Hula Pie alone is worth going for.
Koloa Mill Ice Cream and Coffee: The cookies and cream and haupia (coconut) ice cream is some of the best I ice cream I have ever had in my life.
Bubba’s: The cheeseburgers are delicious!
Tortilla Republic: A step up from a casual cafe, but really quality modern Mexican food. I was feeling under the weather, so I got the tortilla soup and the brussels sprouts appetizer and they were both amazing.
Living Foods Cafe: OK it’s a health food store, but the garlic-parmesan fries are amazing! I didn’t even know I liked fries until I had these.
Kalapaki Joe’s: We got takeout from here and it was reasonably priced and pretty yummy. I got the coconut shrimp and loved them.
Beaches + other activities:
Kalapaki Beach: This picturesque bay has everything — waves for bodyboarding/surfing, calm, shallow water for kids to swim in, and it’s a great spot for stand-up paddle boarding and canoeing. (And it’s right by Duke’s, so you can get your Hula Pie.)
Glass Beach: It used to be an autoglass landfill, and over the years the broken glass has turned to sea glass pebbles of all different colors. We walked along the beach and found petrified tires and other car parts which was unique and kind of cool. There’s also an old Japanese cemetery next to the beach which was interesting to explore.
Hanalei Bay & Lumahai Beach: Hanalei Bay is one of Kauai’s most famous beaches, and Lumahai Beach, at the top end of Hanalei Bay, is even more beautiful, in my opinion. It’s one of the places where South Pacific was filmed!
Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Reserve: I have a thing for lighthouses, so this was a must for us. It’s open Tues-Saturday from 10 am – 4pm.
Anaina Hou Park + Botanical Gardens: We grabbed food from the cafe and had a picnic while the kids played on the playground. There’s also mini golf through the botanical gardens, a chocolate farm you can tour, and a fresh fruit and smoothie stand.
Kalalau Lookout: The view of the Napoli coast from here is one of the most stunning vistas I’ve ever seen. Hit Barking Sands Beach (a “secret,” pristine beach) and Glass Beach on the way home!
Napoli Coast hike: We just did the 2-mile (roundtrip) hike to the beach and it was incredible. If you only pick one thing to do on Kauai make this it. The views of the ocean and cliffs are surreal. Get there early to avoid crowds, don’t get caught in the rain, and wear either water shoes with good grip or good hiking/running shoes. You’ll cross a knee-deep river at one point. Bring a picnic for the beach! Next time we want to hike up to the waterfalls, which are another hour and a half past the beach.
Kalamaku Luau: If a luau is on your list, there are a few to choose from. We hear the Aulii, Smith’s, and Kalamaku are the best. We went to Kalamaku because they had a show-only option and that’s what we needed, and we were so impressed by the performance. It was 45 minutes and even our kids were engaged the whole time (right down to our 1-year-old, who loved the drums). I thought this luau was different from others I’ve been to because it told a story and had live singing and music.
Makauwahi Cave Reserve: We didn’t know the cave was only open until 2, so check the hours before you go, but luckily there was so much more to see! The trail alone is amazing. There’s a land turtle sanctuary, which sounds really random, but the kids loved it. And the beach (above), although you can’t swim in the water because of high levels of bacteria, is beautiful.
Hanapepe Town: We happened upon this little town when we were looking for a snack, and we were so glad we did. It’s one of Kauai’s famous old villages. We had some homemade Hawaiian popsicles at a little shop and walked across a swinging bridge to a little riverside trail. It was a quaint little town and a fun place to break up our drive from Waimea Canyon.