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Best Things To Do in Kauai

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 Some of the most beautiful and striking scenery you will find anywhere on earth is here and there are several ways to enjoy all of it depending on your preferred activity level. Keep in mind that the more low key you keep your activities the generally cheaper it will be and, in general, the experience more genuine. Consider that a helicopter ride will  show you the island in ways nothing else can in air conditioned comfort but can cost up to $200 per person. Conversely, hiking to those same locations will cost you nothing, let you swim in the waterfalls, and actually have your feet touch that earth you came here to see. In the end, either choice will earn you a great experience but you should take some time to consider whether you want to experience the island with just your eyes or deep into your bones. Read on for some of the best Kauai things to do. 

Surfing Lesson

Neighborhood: The Eastside
An automatic on any list of top Kauai things to do should be taking a surf lesson. Surfing is Hawai’i’s sport and what would people say if you came back without having tried it? While Kauai doesn’t have the iconic surf spots like Waikiki, Kalapaki Beach is a great Kauai sized stand-in and produces the best beginner waves. There are two surf schools at Kalapaki. Kauai Beach Boys is run out a concession stand at the Kauai Marriot Resort & Beach Club and Sol Fernandez runs his surf school out of the back of his pickup. Despite the name it is Sol who is more truly the “beach boy“ in the classic Hawaiian sense. There are other surf schools around the island as well, including one run by surfing legend Titus Kinimaka. 

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Surfing Lesson  

Kalalau Trail

Neighborhood: The Westside
To experience the Na Pali Coast on foot take the Kalalau Trail, which snakes in and out of the valleys along the coast. Most people do the first two miles of the trail and end at Hanakapi’ai beach, making for a perfect day hike and sampling of the coast. If you go past Hanakapi’ai you are in for another difficult nine miles to Kalalau Valley and an overnight trip. This trail is best done in the summer months when the rain has not made a muddy mess of the trail, the rivers are not prone to flash flooding, and the beaches are safe. 

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Kalalau Trail  

Hanapepe Art Night

Neighborhood: The Westside
Every Friday on Hanapepe Street the galleries stay open late and street vendors come out. Don’t expect Manhattan Soho-esque ambiance, but the charm of the small western town enlivened with a street fair atmosphere is undeniable. Many of the galleries will be hosting artists and you are able to “talk story” (a local word for informal discussion) with them. Fronting the Talk Story Bookstore will be local performer Westside Smitty, who puts on a lively one-man rockabilly show including his original composition about the Kekaha Roosters.

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Hanapepe Art Night  

Kayak Wailua

Neighborhood: The Eastside
The Wailua is the largest navigable river on Kauai. Its waters are considered sacred and were one time reserved only for those of royal rank, the ali’i. Today several companies take Kauai vacationers guided tours up the river (Wailua Kayak and Canoe rents kayaks for unguided tours). The tours take you up river and on a hike through the valley to Uluwehi Falls. Don’t believe the kayak companies when they call it “The Secret Falls.” It’s no secret but it is a Kauai treasure.

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Hanalei Town and Bay

Neighborhood: North Shore
The town of Hanalei has a cosmopolitan appeal in a small one-street-town setting, possibly owing to the wealth of nearby residents, including Pierce Brosnan and Ben Stiller. Hanalei Bay has been named best beach by Dr. Beach and no doubt its fine white sand and clear blue water put it in the running. Still, we're sure that it was the mountainous backdrop rife with waterfalls that catapulted it to the top of the running. Hanalei is beautiful in the summer and there is nothing like taking a long swim into the bay and turning around to see Wai’oli falls on the 1,000-foot face of Na Molokama. Like most North shore beaches Hanalei Bay can be very dangerous in the winter surf.

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Hanalei Town and Bay  

Kauai Back Country Adventure Ziplines

Neighborhood: The Eastside
One of the best Kauai things to do for a few chills and thrills is a zip through the rugged landscape on a zipline ride. Kauai Backcountry Adventures runs a scenic series of seven ziplines down the interior of Kilohana crater clear to the bottom. The ziplines themselves are fun but it is really the setting they occur in and the zipping trek down the side of a crater that make this activity compelling. While getting there may not be half the fun of this tour, the adventurous trek on a series of old cane plantation roads into the privately held uplands of eastern Kauai on decommissioned Swiss military vehicles called Pinzgauers, can account for at least a quarter of the fun. 

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Kauai Back Country Adventure Ziplines  

Na Pali Coast

Neighborhood: North Shore
Meaning “the cliffs,” the Na Pali Coast is Kauai’s premier attraction and for good reason (the most stunning part of the coast is the sea cave with a waterfall inside). The ability to take a step back from this panorama of craggy 1,000-foot cliffs and waterfalls falling into the ocean make an ocean tour one of the best ways to experience the coast. Several tour boat and kayak companies offer excursions along Na Pali. The more posh tours offer hot grilled lunches and Mai Tai cocktails. While you pack a sandwich on the kayak tour you get the one-on-one experience with the ocean. Just about every tour includes snorkeling. Keep in mind that the smaller the vessel the more access you get to the sea caves including that one with the waterfall in it. 

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Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks

Neighborhood: The Westside
Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks share common boundaries and read as one large wilderness area. Most of the lookouts are worth a stop, but the two not to miss are the Waimea Canyon Lookout and Kalalau Valley lookout. There are over 40 miles of hiking trails in the parks ranging from short nature walks to multi-day expeditions. The most popular is the Canyon Trail, often taken half of its length to the top of Waipo’o Falls. The longer and somewhat difficult Nualolo and, Awa’awapuhi trails start in the mythic feeling cloud forests and travel down the ridgelines of the valleys over Na Pali. The Pihea, Alaka’i Swamp trail runs through the otherworldly high-elevation bog of the Alaka’i swamp to Kilohana, the overlook above Wainiha Valley. Before you start stop at the Koke’e Museum to get trail information and take in some information on the native ecosystems. 

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Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks  

Polihale State Park

Neighborhood: The Westside
Another top Kauai attraction would be one of two onsets of the Na Pali Coast, at Polihale Beach. The sand is blazing white, the water is Levi Strauss blue, and the sun shines relentlessly. Polihale is known as a “leina” or jumping-off point for the dead into the next world, a belief that stems from its orientation to the setting sun that forms the “waianapanapa” or rippling light on the water that forms a pathway into the next world. Naturally it is one of the best spots to view the sunset on the entire island. The road getting there is long and rutted and has several spots where you can get stuck a long way from help so make sure that you come in a rugged, four-wheel-drive vehicle. 

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Ke Ala Hele Makalae

Neighborhood: The Eastside
This path runs four miles along the coast from Lihi Park in Kapa’a to Donkey Beach (yes, that's its real name). The path is part of a multiphase project that aims to put a bicycle and pedestrian path along the entire east side. For now, the open segment is extremely popular amongst residents as a convenient and scenic recreation amenity. Take a walk on any given afternoon and you'll find joggers, bicyclists, and families pushing strollers and find yourself winding through a string of parks with people doing tai chi, playing soccer and, of course, watching the surfers.

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Ke Ala Hele Makalae  
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