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The last couple of summers my my family and I have headed to the beautiful island of Kauai.  We have stayed at the St. Regis Princeville on the North Side, and covered some restaurants and activities that we enjoyed on that part of the island.  We then stayed at the Grand Hyatt Kauai on the sunny south side of the island.  The Grand Hyatt Kauai is impressive and is an attraction in and of itself, but if you never leave the hotel you are missing so much of the beauty of Kauai, so this post is dedicated to some of the fun things for kids to do in Kauai. I’ll cover some things I can speak to first-hand from our last two trips as well as some that were recommended to me, but that we haven’t had a chance to experience.

Go to a kid-friendly beach

This is clearly a no-brainer in Hawaii, but honestly one of the best things to do with a kid in Kauai is go to the beach. There are many good ones to pick from, but we went to Poipu Beach on our first trip because it was so close to the Grand Hyatt Kauai (literally a 5 minute drive). It also has lifeguards on duty every day, is known for calmer waters (though not really while we were there during swell), and has a play area for kids.

Because huge waves came in from time to time while we were there, I didn’t feel comfortable with her in the water without me, but she still had a ton of fun getting in the water some and playing with her sand toys.

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The play area also offered a great chance for her to interact with other kids – many of whom lived on Kauai!

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Visit Lydgate Beach

Lydgate gets very good reviews for families in Kauai and we were thrilled to get a chance to visit on our most recent trip to Kauai. It has two man-made protected pools and some consider the sand-bottomed pools to be one of the safest year-round swimming sites on the island. In addition to being a safe swimming spot, Lydgate also has amazing play areas, good parking, and good facilities.

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We made the trek to Lydgate on our most recent trip and found it to be worth the 20 minute or so drive from the Grand Hyatt Kauai.  The park area is so large that we had a hard time finding the safe swimming area at first.  There are two large play structures.  One is near the camping area and pretty far from the protected swimming areas.  The second play area (that we eventually found after working in circles and asking campers) is right across from the larger parking lot and protected pools.

Play structure near camping areas
Play structure near camping areas
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Beach near Lydgate camping area
Lydgate Camping Area
Lydgate Camping Area

The camping area itself was okay, but had used food cans, cigarettes, and other trash right off the trail.  We weren’t scared in that part of the park, but we weren’t totally comfortable either.  It was a much different scene once we arrived at the part of the park that we were in search of.

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Lydgate protected pools

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Beautiful Lydgate

The protected pool area at Lydgate has a lifeguard, outdoor showers, indoor changing area, and I would absolutely return here for safe swimming and snorkeling.  It was a place that both tourists and locals go to swim without the stress and unpredictable nature of the ocean.

Several other beaches on Kauai also get frequent thumbs-up from family travelers. These include Hanalei Bay Beach and Anini Beach, amongst others.

Visit Kilohana Plantation

You will pass the Kilohana Plantation on the way from the airport to the Grand Hyatt Kauai, so knowing how to get there was a big part of why we went, but it actually was fun as well! There was a coupon in the magazine that Hertz gave us that saved a couple of dollars off the price of the train ride. It is open 7 days a week and the train tour lasts about 40 minutes and departs at the top of the hour, every hour from 10:00 AM – 2:00PM. On Tuesdays and Fridays there is also a 5:30PM departure. The regular price is $18 for adults, $14 for children 3-12, and children under 3 are free.

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Like most kids, my daughter loved the train ride. They even blew the whistle and said “all aboard”! While on the train ride they give some history of the plantation and point out the various types of fruit that is growing on the plantation grounds. I thought it was super interesting and learned quite a bit on the tour. My daughter mostly just enjoyed the ride I think.

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On the ride, you stop to feed the goats, chickens, sheep, pigs, etc. that are on the plantation. The goats were by far the most friendly to feed. There was no place to wash your hands after interacting with the animals, but otherwise this was a real highlight for my kiddo!

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For the adults on the trip, I recommend doing a Koala Rum tasting on the property. We went to Gaylord’s Restaurant that is located in the mansion on the property, and there I had the absolute best mai tai ever that used the local Koala rum made from Hawaiian sugarcane.

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Take a Helicopter Tour

On our most recent trip, we did a helicopter ride on the north side, but last year we did the one out of Lihue as described below.

Kauai offers amazing sites to see, but some can be pretty hard and time consuming to get to. On our short trip, the best decision was to see as much as we could from the air via Island Helicopters. They have the Kauai Grand Tour that we did that offers views of basically the whole island and lasts about 60 minutes. They also offer a more expensive “Jurassic Falls” tour that last about 20 minutes longer and includes a landing at the famed Manawaiopuna Falls that is featured in Jurassic Park. Including the airport surcharge, we paid about $180 per person for our tour and it was worth every penny.

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We went on the first flight of the day and that proved to be a wise decision in terms of weather and cloud covered that developed later in the day (picture above taken after our flight). I was a bit worried how my 3 year old would do with the loud helicopter as she was not overly impressed during the safety briefing.

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I carried her as we boarded the helicopter as the spinning rotors were pretty intimidating, but as you can see the second we lifted off the ground she was all smiles. The flight held her attention and was a great way for me to see a ton without taking days or hours to do it – thus boring her and causing potential fussiness.

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The flight was amazing and the scenery was breathtaking. It was a little scary at times as this was my first time in a helicopter, but the cool way outweighs the scary.

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Little C got a little nervous sometimes, but her way of coping was simply to grab onto my arm a little tighter. Overall she had a fantastic time as well and would do it again in a heartbeat.

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This was a pricey excursion, but a very memorable one.

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A slightly less expensive way to see the island is via Wings Over Kauai that is about $125 for adults, $101 for children ages 4-17, and free for children 3 and under. They fly small planes instead of helicopters, but basically show you the same sights around the island. There are some companies in Kauai that offer helicopter tours that don’t have doors to get in the way of your pictures, but I had no interest in doing that with my young kid.

Na Pali Coast Boat Trip

Other than via helicopter, another great way to see Na Pali Coast is via boats from companies like Captain Andy’s and Southern Star. With these boat tours you can snorkel, see the sunset, eat dinner, or have a day expedition on the Na Pali Coast. The prices vary, but seem to be mostly between $100 – $150 per person depending on the tour you select. If your kid is good on a boat, this could be a ton of fun. Just be aware you really have to keep a close eye on younger kids. I hope to try it on a future visit.

Na Aina Kai Botanical Garden:

I didn’t make it here on this trip, but the description of the family tour sounds awesome. It is $35 for adults and $20 for children and includes “feeeding the Koi in Ka’ula Lagoon, and walk through our full-sized hedge maze, along with discovering the many varieties of plants and sculpture. From there it is on to the Children’s Garden, where their senses will be awakened as they explore Jack’s pond, a gecko maze, the rubbertree treehouse, a tropical jungle with bridges, tunnels and slides, a kid-sized railroad train, log cabins and a covered wagon made from our own teak wood – all among kid-friendly plantings.” Check with the botanical gardens for the times of the family tours as they are somewhat limited.

Horseback Riding at Silver Falls Ranch

What I love about this ranch is that in addition to having what looks like being located in a spot filled with tropical flora and views of the Makaleha mountain range is that young children can also participate in the horseback riding. I contacted them and found out that they will take 5 and 6 year old who have a guide assigned to them with a line attached to their horse so they stay safe on the group trail rides. There is an added charge of $50.00 for this service. For families on their “Ride, Swim & Picnic” tours they offer transport to the waterfall in their 4 wheel drive “gator” for children under 5, or for those who do not choose to ride, so that they can join the group for the swim and picnic portion of the tour. During the time at the waterfall guides are happy to lead the tiny tots around on horseback so long as an adult is willing to walk alongside.

The Smith Family Garden Luau and Fern Grotto River Ride

We have now done two luaus on Kauai, and far preferred the Smith Family Garden Luau to the one at the Grand Hyatt.  Before the luau we scheduled a two-mile boat ride down the Wailua River before the luau.  The Wailua River is “the only navigable river” in all Hawaii and the boats were open aired boats so you can take in all the scenery.

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Smith Family Grotto Boat Ride

The boat takes you to a rainforest where there is a short walk to the Fern Grotto.  Traditional Hawaiian songs are sung for you at the Fern Grotto as well as on the boat ride by the Smith family.

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Fern Grotto

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Tickets for the boat ride are $18 for adults and $9 for children 3-12 if purchased online ahead of time.  There are indoor restrooms at the boat dock and be sure to get there a little early to get a good seat on the boat.

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My only mosquito bites on Kauai came during our 15 minutes in the rainforest and the fern grotto, and while the ride was scenic, I wouldn’t consider it a “must do” on Kauai.  However, assuming you have some bug spray it was a fun thing to do if you are already in the area for the luau or similar.

After the boat ride we walked over to the luau area which was set in a 30 acre cultural and botanical garden.  You can tour these gardens outside of luau times, but since we got there shortly after the gates opened, we had plenty of time to enjoy the tram tour (included) as well as just wander around and enjoy looking at the fruits, flowers, and animals.  I think doing the 3:30PM boat ride then heading right over the to luau is the perfect way to maximize time and resources as that gives you roughly an hour in the gardens before the luau ceremonies start.

Smith Family Luau Entrance
Smith Family Luau Entrance
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Smith Gardens

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Fun before the luau

The first official part of the luau is the welcome and unearthing of the pig, followed by drinks and music.

Pro Tip: You can ‘reserve’ a table before the luau actually starts by just turning the chair or unfolding the napkin.  That way you can have a good view of the stage without having to guard your seats.

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As you can likely see from the pictures, the luau was very family friendly with lots of children in attendance.

Right after the opening ceremony, everyone heads to cocktail hour to get a beverage.  If you aren’t a big drinker they have really good Hawaiian punch and other drinks in addition to mai tais, beer, and mixed drinks.  The drinks are included in the price of the luau.

Mai tais at Smith Family Luau
Mai tais at Smith Family Luau

About 15 minutes after cocktail hour, the food is served one table at a time and it is actually legitimately good.  It is much better than other luau food I have had, and both C and I sufficiently were stuffed after sampling the various offerings.  We especially loved the Hawaiian sweet potatoes and beef teriyaki.  Everyone we were sitting near was talking about how good the food was (for a luau), and many were repeat customers.  The drinks were also quite good for mass served drinks.

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Pile of Smith’s Family Luau food

During dinner there is music on the stage, and a portion of the evening is dedicated to kid’s getting to come up and perform a guided hula, which was so cute!  My daughter took her performance very seriously!

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After dinner, the event moved to another part of the grounds for the evening performance.  To be honest, we were tired by this point of the event and considered going home after dinner.  I am so glad we pushed through.  The evening show was comprised of performances highlighting different cultures that make up the Hawaiian Islands.  In fact, it basically tells the history of the islands, and was so entertaining that even my four year old was into it!

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Like most luaus, this wasn’t inexpensive as adults are $78 (if purchased online ahead of time), $30 for kids 7-13, and $19 for kids 3-6.  I would not do it on your first night in the islands due to the time change, but if you want to do a luau, I would absolutely recommend going to the Smith Family Luau during your visit to Kauai.

Kauai Humane Society’s Doggie Field Trips

If you have older kids and want to have a day exploring with a dog in need on the island, you can visit the Kauai Humane Society and take a shelter dog “on a field trip” for the day. They provide all the supplies for your adventure…doggie bags, towels for your car, an “adopt me” vest, and identification tags for your partner for the day and you provide the adventure all while you enjoy Mahaulepu Beach, hike Sleeping Giant, or explore Waimea Canyon. Of course, some visitors fall in love with their “pets for the day” and end up adopting them. This sounds like a great program I would love to do on a future trip!

Other fun Kauai activities

Those are just a few of the thousands of great things to do with kids in Kauai. Here are a few other good ideas I wanted to mention: chicken spotting (they’re everywhere), eating shave ice (JoJo’s gets lots of recommendations), visit the Princeville Ranch Adventure Center, farmer’s markets, snorkeling, and hiking. I would also check out the website of a Mommy Points reader, Susan, who has all sorts of info on Kauai for Kids!

What are your favorite kid-friendly activities in Kauai?

Featured image by Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images

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