The 8 Best Ways to Experience Kauai

Travelers who love the slow pace of being on “island time” and truly want to unplug from the hustle and bustle of city life should look no further than Kauai, Hawaii. A quick nonstop flight from San Diego to Lihue puts vacationers on the lush Garden Isle’s jungle-like terrain before lunchtime, with thousands of miles of ocean between you and the mainland. Opportunities for relaxation and rejuvenation are ample, but to get the full island experience, make time for these eight must-do activities assured to get you in the aloha spirit.

Check In To Paradise

Check in to the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa in Poipu Beach, the largest hotel on the island located on 50 acres of beachfront property. The Grand Hyatt has open-air walkways that lead to lanais and gardens, plantation-style décor, saltwater lagoons, a 150-foot water slide and 500 yards of white sand beach. Free fitness classes are available onsite to guests at Anara Spa, including aqua aerobics, beach bootcamp and sunrise yoga. After class, book a traditional Hawaiian lomilomi massage that delivers continuous rhythmic strokes for the sensation of many hands working in unison. Extend your bliss while rinsing off in one of their outdoor lava rock showers. Once the sun goes down, head to Tidepools restaurant for contemporary Hawaiian cuisine served in thatch-roofed bungalows overlooking the water. Dine al fresco on braised pork belly musubi, Tahitian ceviche, macadamia nut-crusted mahi-mahi and local dry-aged beef.

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa
1571 Poipu Road
Koloa, HI 96756

Explore Local History

In their heyday, sugar plantations were one of the largest employers in Hawaii. Visit a piece of this local history at Kilohana Plantation in Lihue, where guests can take a narrated train ride tour of the 105-acre property and sustainable farm. The onsite mansion is an English Tudor-style home built in 1935, which has since been converted into shops selling Hawaiian goods. In the back courtyard area, Gaylord’s Restaurant serves local seafood such as seared ahi, fish tacos and a daily fresh catch. For evening entertainment, Luau Kalamaku presents a theatrical luau performance with hula dancers, traditional fire knife dancing, Tahitian music, drumming, fire torches, an imu (underground oven) ceremony, and ample Polynesian food and drink.

Kilohana Plantation
3-2087 Kaumualii Highway
Lihue, HI 96766

Do Something Dirty

Explore the island with Kauai ATV during a four-hour off-road ATV tour, which covers 23 miles of trails punctuated by waterfalls, picturesque views, noteworthy movie sites, a defunct sugar mill, and a former World War II bunker. For the best experience, plan a tour after heavy rainfall (on average they receive 115 inches of rain annually) so you can drive through big puddles and have fun in the mud—otherwise, it can be a dusty ride. Kauai ATV provides the helmet and goggles, bandanna to cover your mouth and nose, and snacks to enjoy during a dip in the waterfall. Tour guides will take many photos throughout your ride to share after the tour.

Kauai ATV
3477A Weliweli Road
Koloa, HI 96756

Fly Like A Bird

Thrill seekers should head to Just Live! Zipline Tours for the wikiwiki zip tour, which includes three treetop zip lines and two canopy bridges. The high-flying three-hour tour begins in Lihue, but a van will take you to a nearby zip line course that spans a Norfolk Pine forest, with stunning views of the Grove Farm Sugar Plantation and Halenanahau Reservoir. Depending on the direction and speed of winds on a given day, you could potentially be whipping through the air quickly, or alternatively, lack enough momentum to fully make it to the platform and require some manual help. No matter the conditions, it’s sure to be an exhilarating excursion. Closed-toe shoes and tight-fighting clothing are recommended.

Just Live! Zipline Tours
3501 Rice Street, Suite 1017
Lihue, HI 96746

Go Under The Surface

Sail the high seas aboard a 60-foot catamaran for a six-hour snorkel tour to the breathtaking Napali Coast with Kauai Sea Tours. Along the way you’ll see the island of Niihau and pass by Kokee and Polihale state parks. Depending on the time of year, you may also spot spinner dolphins, humpback whales and sea turtles. While snorkeling (gear provided), you can get an up-close look at underwater sea life, such as yellow tang fish and coral reefs. As the boat nears its destination along the Napali Coast, there will be many great photo ops of the towering cliffs that reach 3,500 feet in height, with lush valleys, hidden sea caves and waterfalls spread throughout. For those who experience motion sickness, be sure to take medication before stepping onboard, as sea conditions can get rocky. A light breakfast and buffet-style lunch are served onboard.

Kauai Sea Tours
4353 Waialo Road, Suie 2B-3B
Eleele, HI

Shop Like A Local

Browse island treasures and keepsake souvenirs at The Shops at Kukuiula in Poipu. Home to the Kauai Culinary Market (Wednesdays from 3:30 to 6 p.m.), the center hosts more than 20 local farmers and food vendors to showcase the bounty of Kauai produce and ingredients. Purchase trendy clothes and accessories from shops like Mahina or Halelea Gallery, or simply hang out in the courtyard to hear live Hawaiian music (Fridays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.). Catch the sunset and indulge on a farm-to-table meal at Merriman’s Fish House, serving two must-have items: local Kauai oysters on the half shell, and the Merriman’s mai tai topped with honey-lilikoi foam.

The Shops at Kukuiula
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka
Poipu, HI 96756

Get Lei’d

It’s Hawaiian tradition to greet visitors with a fresh flower lei upon arrival to the islands, and it’s customary to wear leis around your neck or head when celebrating special occasions such as weddings, birthdays or anniversaries. It’s easy to buy these wearable floral accessories, but you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the work that goes into stringing leis if you opt to make one yourself! Elvrine Chow at Heavenly Hakus is the foremost Kauai expert on lei making, and is available for private lessons, custom orders, or to ship orders outside of Hawaii. Newbies should plan for about three hours to make a single lei, but will walk away with a colorful, fragrant creation that lasts for up to two weeks.

Heavenly Hakus

Play With Puppies

Some people can’t stand to be away from their fur babies while on vacation. The good news is that Kauai Humane Society has a program that lets you borrow one of theirs while on island. Through their “Field Trips for Shelter Dogs” program, pup lovers can pick up a dog to adopt for the day (Monday through Saturday between 10 a.m. to noon, or Tuesday through Friday between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.), and they’ll even provide you with treats, poop bags, towels, collar, leash, and a list of local dog-friendly locations. Of course if you fall in love, all shelter dogs can be permanently adopted to forever homes.

Kauai Humane Society
3-825 Kaumualii Highway
Lihue, HI 96766

Website | + posts

Kai Oliver-Kurtin is a San Diego-based writer who contributes to several national and regional publications, covering travel, dining and lifestyle.


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