Looking for Kauai Hawaii best things to do? When we told our friends we were headed to Hawaii for two months for some housesitting gigs and island hopping in between, their first question was “Can we meet you there?” Just another reason why we adore these two!
So, the planning began for a one-week Kauai vacation with our travel besties. Eventually, we narrowed down our time frame to meet up after Buddy and I were done with our last house sit. And a laid-back, but beautiful island was our top pick. So we decided on a Kauai vacation. The Garden Isle did not disappoint!
2023 Update: We went to Kauai with our awesome friends in 2018, and in a fun turn of events, we actually moved to Oahu in 2021! Life has been a lot more twisty and turny than we expected since that trip together, which has made it hard to have another in-person reunion with our pals, but we hope to soon! And they are still cherished friends even though it has been wayyyy too long since we’ve seen them!
Since our move to Hawaii, we’ve focused most of our trips to other islands on Big Island adventures. However, we recently went back to Kauai and had so much fun we immediately booked another trip a few weeks later. So, we have a lot to add to this list of Kauai Hawaii best things to do!
9 Kauai Hawaii Best Things to Do
Kauai is pretty amazing. It is definitely a nature-lovers playground and has so many unique activities and lovely beaches. Plus, the iconic Na Pali Coast is jaw-droppingly stunning. It’s a small island packed with big fun!
1. Adventuring to Secret Falls
On our return trip to Kauai, we wanted an epic day trip adventure. Kayaking two miles up the Wailua River then hiking a mile on a muddy trail to swim in a waterfall definitely checked that box.
For fellow nature lovers who want an unforgettable iconic Hawaii adventure, the five-hour journey to Secret Falls and back is a must! Just note that you will need to go on a weekday because the river is closed to be allowed to “rest” on the weekends. We also highly recommend getting an early start to get there before other tourists. For the self-guided tour, it is under $150 for a double kayak.
2. River SUPing on the Hanalei River
For anyone wanting a more relaxing padding trip, renting a SUP board on the Hanalei River is a great option. When we visited Kauai with friends, we found out our bestie Kelley had never been on a stand-up paddleboard, so we knew we had to give it a try! After some trial and error, she eventually got the hang of it and we all laughed as we got a great arm workout paddling upstream on the scenic Hanalei River.
The absolute best moment of this Kauai vacation was when we were paddling back and the current pushed Kelley into some overhanging branches. She held on to one to try to stop herself and it fell onto her board. I was right behind her and laughed so hard I went straight into a river-side bush.
Needless to say, the boys weren’t any help either, as they yelled tips from a yard or so away. I so wish I had a photo of her face, the moment that branch snapped off. However, I shouldn’t have trouble remembering it. This is for sure a contender for favorite moment of the friendcation trip, but there are a lot more that give this some strong competition.
3. Beach Days: A Must-Do on a Kauai Vacation
Of course, we had to chill on the sand for a few days of the trip. Kelley and I loved to bask in the sun as the boys tried to body surf. Looking out and seeing my hubby with a pal to do those things I’m not a big fan of made me so happy.
And he knew how much my soul craved a girlfriend to ponder the inner workings of my brain and the world with – or just laugh together at how cute the boys looked playing in the water. I think it was a welcome change of pace for all of us full-time travelers who are with our spouses often.
Lounging on one of Kauai’s stunning beaches was such a special experience as well. Here are some top beaches in Kauai:
- Ke’e Beach
- Tunnels Beach
- Anini Beach
- Shipwreck Beach
- Queen’s Bath
- Shipwreck Beach
4. Kauai Rum Safari Tour
Buddy and I stumbled upon this amazing farm tour meets cocktail class on our return trip to Kauai and absolutely loved it. It’s the perfect happy hour alternative since you have two full (DELICIOUS!) cocktails plus some small tastings of a variety of Koloa Rum flavors.
Plus, the tour is super entertaining! The open-air safari truck makes it feel very adventurous and bouncing around on the dirt roads and sipping a cocktail in a jungle bungalow definitely kept us smiling!
5. Driving Tours of the Island
While we had some bigger things to do in Kauai planned for most of the days, for the most part, we just wanted to explore. We drove over and sampled coffee at Kauai Coffee, stopped at overlooks, walked on the beach, and stopped for shave ice or other snacks.
At one point, I remembered I had mini dinos in my purse and my friend Kelley was more excited than I can even explain. She giggled like a little kid as she took pictures of the little triceratops I gave her with the lush mountain backdrop. I didn’t think I could love her more, but this moment proved that wrong.
6. Obligatory Kauai Vacation Dinner at Smith’s Family Luau
On one night of our friendcation, we got dressed up (for Hawaii, at least), and went to the Smith’s Family Luau. While this wasn’t really any of our ‘thing,’ we decided it was one of the top things to do in Kauai – and Hawaii in general, so we needed to check one out before we all left. We wandered around the property, ate the not-really-our-style food, and watched the awesome show.
Truly, the show was fantastic! And we all just ignored the rambunctious kids and drunk people we seemed to sit right between. Funny enough, the best part of this night was just realizing we’d probably all be okay skipping some must-dos on future trips together if we aren’t feeling it. Although it wasn’t a bad time, we all had the same looks of, “yea, not so much for us,” which was surprisingly, a relief!
However, I’ve since found out about a fire show on Kauai’s north shore that looks awesome! The Ahi Lele Fire Show is definitely on our list for next time!
7. Sunsets by the Ocean
While we couldn’t afford a beach-front property in such an expensive destination, we had an awesome sunset spot at our second and final rental condo during our friendcation. There was a trail that led out to some stunning volcanic rocks where we could sit or stand while we admired the crashing waves, swimming turtles, and setting sun.
We went out there pretty much daily while we stayed there, and took so many great photos. It was a time to be quiet, be a little romantic with our couple, and just take in why Hawaii is such a very beloved place. Paradise with friends? Can it get much better?
8. NaPali Coast Boat Tour
Going on a Kauai vacation without seeing the Na Pali Coast is kind of silly since it is THE top of any list of Kauai best things to do. And for good reason. Our tour with Makana Charters of this epic, iconic coastline was a highlight of our trip – the touristy side of it anyway. And we all loved admiring the rugged mountains, waterfalls, caves, and sea life.
Plus, it was Kelley’s first-ever time snorkeling which turned out to be a fun adventure for all of us! It was great getting to share something we had fallen so in love with during our prior weeks in Hawaii with one of our besties. After a few minutes with her face in the water, she definitely understood – especially when a sea turtle swam by!
9. Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon was one of those must-see places that we really enjoyed. Although it was a short visit, we were all in awe of this large canyon in the middle of such a lush island. Hawaii’s landscape never ceases to amaze me! It is no wonder this is considered “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Our first trip to Kauai for our friendcation happened right after they had some bad mud slides and a lot of rain, so we didn’t get to do as much hiking as we wanted to. However, we still saw PLENTY of amazing places and are looking forward to more hikes on return trips.
Other Kauai Hawaii Best Things To Do
We’re constantly adding places to our list for return trips to Kauai. Please let us know if you have anywhere to add!
- South Shore
- Hanalei Bay
- Lyndgate Chocolate Tour
- Poipu Beach Park
- Hanalei Beach Park
- Kalalau Beach
- Koke’e State Park
- Wailua Falls
- Hike Kalalau Trail
- Sleeping Giant Trail
- Go to Farmer’s Markets
- Kauai’s North Shore
- Stop for Food Trucks
- Kilauea Lighthouse
- Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
- Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
- Koloa Heritage Trail
- Polihale State Park
- Ha’ena State Park
- Take a Humpback Whales Tour
- Go on a Helicopter Tour
- Botanical Gardens
- Allerton Garden
- Kalalau Lookout
Tips for Flying In & Out of the Lihue Airport on Kauai
Kauai’s international airport in Lihue is close to a ton of great activities, including the iconic Secret Falls hike (preceded by a paddle up the Wailua River), popular Lydgate Beach, the Kauai Rum Safari, and more!
If renting a car, you will need to be shuttled over to the rental car area a few minutes away. Nearby, there’s a Costco and Walmart if you need to go stock up on essentials like sunscreen, water, and snacks. Lihue also has some great places for a sit-down meal as well as the very tasty drinks at Kauai Beer Company.
Once you are all setup and have a good meal, there are tons of great beaches nearby as well as some more effortful hikes and adventures.
Luckily, Lihue is not nearly as busy as the Oahu airport, so you won’t need to arrive super early for your departure. But, if you get to the airport early and need to kill some time, go up to Ahukini Recreational Pier State Park to watch the planes come in while relaxing by the waves.
Where to Stay on Kauai, Hawaii
Of course, there are many hotels as well as AirBnB and VRBO rental homes to consider when planning a trip to Kauai. One thing to note about Kauai is that there is not a road that circles the entire island. So, it may make sense to split your trip into having two bases: one in the north and one in the south.
I’d narrow down your options by checking where your must-see places are then picking your bases from there. Lihue and Waimea in the south are popular Kauai destinations with plenty of top sights and activities near each. (Note: Lihue is also home to the airport.) Up north, Princeville is known for its amazing beaches and is a popular place for a resort Kauai vacation.
If you don’t mind driving around a lot, it is only about two hours from the famous Waimea Canyon up to Princeville, but just note that traffic can get really bad and can be almost double that.
Notes on Our First-Ever Friendcation!
Aside from a few friends who came to visit us when we lived in Colorado and a few weekends away here and there, we’ve never gone on a vacation with friends. And we’ve certainly never planned a week-long trip to a new destination with another couple.
Honestly, the idea of it really freaked us out, so we never really pursued it. We didn’t want to spend a bunch of money just to be annoyed for a week when we have different ideas of what vacation means. But then we met Kelley and Rob – fellow nomads who full-time RV.
We only knew them from a brief interaction at an RVing event, but had kept in touch during our first (and only) year of RVing and met up a few times in person. We just have too much in common not to be besties. But, enough differences to have some really great conversations. The more we learn about them, the more we like them and realize how similar we are.
So, although we were a little bit nervous about putting one of our favorite friendships to this kind of test, we were psyched for them to come meet us in Kauai for our epic friendcation.
Everything didn’t go perfectly – the rental car company jacked us around a bit, I lost my prescription sunglasses to the ocean, Kelley busted her butt on a muddy trail, Buddy had a wicked bad hangover after indulging in too many of Rob’s amazing alcoholic concoctions the night before, and Rob somehow managed to attract the most obnoxious people to us at the luau (a talent he forgot to share before! haha). But that’s just life.
Getting to be together for an extended time and share in our struggles as well as all the joy, it was an amazingly special thing. It allowed for long, heartfelt talks. Some frame-worthy group photos. And SO MUCH laughter – uncontrollable, child-like laughter. All with the gorgeous background of Kauai that just elevated this trip to the next level.
We already loved these two before, but this trip made us family. And like any close-knit family, we’ll have many annual or maybe even bi-annual reunions in our future. Until then, we’ll just have to deal with withdrawals from not seeing our travel besties.
Do you have a Kelley and Rob in your life? What’s your favorite friendcation memory?
Read more about our other tips for visiting Hawaii here. And if you want to know more about how we made this vacation happen, check out our guide to pet and housesitting!