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Boogie-boarding in the surf, riding a mahogany train through an old sugar cane plantation, digging in the sand on a perfect beach, dancing the hula at a luau, riding a boat to a fern grotto, eating shave ice, chasing rainbows and viewing the Na Pali Coast by boat, air or overlook are all very doable, memorable activities with kids on Kauai.
Whether you are trying to pick the best Hawaiian Island to visit with your family, or you already have settled on Kauai (great choice, by the way), here are 11 kid-friendly activities on the oldest and greenest of all of the Islands in Hawaii: Kauai.
Related: Best Way to Fly to Hawaii With Kids
1. Visit Kid-Friendly Beaches
This is clearly a no-brainer in Hawaii, but one of the best things to do with kids in Kauai is to simply go to the beach. There are many good ones to pick from, but here are some of our favorites.
Just a five-minute drive from the Grand Hyatt Kauai, this beach has lifeguards on duty every day, is known for calmer waters and has a playground for kids.
Because we visited during swell, some larger waves came in from time to time while we were there, but we had a ton of fun closer to shore.
On the north side of Kauai, the crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay is known for surfing lessons, boogie-boarding and rainbows on this rainier side of the island. Waves can get larger here in the winter, but in the summer, it was perfect for school-aged kids to ride the waves.
Lydgate gets very high marks families in Kauai with its two man-made protected pools and lifeguards on duty. In addition to being a safe swimming spot, Lydgate also has amazing play areas, good parking and nice facilities.
The park area is so large that we had a hard time finding the swimming area at first. There are two large play structures, one near the camping area and pretty far from the protected swimming areas. The second play area (that we eventually found after walking in circles and asking campers) is right across from the larger parking lot and protected pools.
2. Ride a Train Through Kilohana Plantation
The 40-minute train ride through the 105-acre former sugar cane plantation is fun for adults and kids (and look in a rental car magazine for discount coupons). Prices are regularly about $20 for adults and $14 for kids 3–12, under 3 are free. Be sure and check the schedule for departures, but many are on the hour.
While on the train ride, they give some history of the plantation and point out the various types of produce that are growing on the plantation grounds. They even use some of the produce in the on-site bar and restaurant.
On the ride, you stop to feed the animals — but be prepared, the pigs are not very friendly. The goats and donkey are much nicer representatives of their species!
After the train ride, head to the main building for a relaxing plantation house environment and one of the best mai tais you will find. In an adorably Hawaiian farm-to-bar approach, they even use sugar cane, fruit and other items grown on the grounds to make the drinks when possible.
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3. Take a Helicopter Tour
You can take sightseeing helicopter rides on Kauai from places such as Lihue or the north side and we’ve done both. Some of Kauai’s most amazing sights are hard to get to, so consider something such as the one-hour tour around Kauai offered by Island Helicopter Tours that starts at about $145 per person. 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 the movie “Jurassic Park.”
We went on the first flight of the day and that proved to be a wise decision in terms of weather and cloud cover that developed later in the day (picture above taken after our flight). My daughter flew with us at both 3 and 4 years old and loved it both times.
The flight was amazing and the scenery was breathtaking. It was a little scary at times for those not used to the motion of the helicopter, but those moments were worth the payoff.
A slightly less expensive way to see the island is via Wings Over Kauai that starts at $135 for adults, 50% off for children 3–5 and free for those in laps and under 3. They fly small planes instead of helicopters, but basically show you the same sights around the island.
4. Na Pali Coast Boat Trip
Other than via helicopter, another great way to see the Na Pali Coast is via boats from companies like Captain Andy’s. 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 and those under a certain age are not permitted. For example, on Captain Andy’s sunset cruise ($95 adults, $75 kids), those under 3 are not allowed.
I haven’t made it here yet, but the description of the family tour sounds awesome. For $35 for adults and $20 for children, you feed fish in the Ka’ula Lagoon, walk through the full-sized hedge maze and play in the Children’s Garden with a rubber tree treehouse, tropical jungle with bridges, tunnels, slides and a kid-sized railroad train. The gardens also offer a kid’s day one Saturday per month with admission just $10. Be sure and make reservations in advance for the family tour.
Choose from a variety of horseback tours, including the $124 ride to Silver Falls where you get to take a refreshing dip after riding your horse with a view of the Makaleha mountain range. There are also longer, shorter and private rides available.
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While the stated minimum age is 7, give them a call if you have a younger rider, as there may be options using lead lines or transport on a 4-wheel-drive gator.
My favorite luau on Kauai is found at Smith Gardens. Doing business in the area since the 1940s, the Smith Family has a few offerings including not only the luau, but a ride down the Wailua River to the fern grotto ($25 adults, $12.50 for kids).
The boat takes you to a rainforest where there is a short walk to the Fern Grotto. Traditional Hawaiian songs are performed for you at the Fern Grotto, as well as on the boat ride by the Smith family.
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. While the boat tour was a fun thing to try once, the Smith Family Luau I look forward to on most visits to Kauai. Located on a 30-acre cultural and botanical garden, you will find peacocks, bridges, a tram tour, ponds and all sorts of plants. It is a fun place to explore, so allow extra time before the official 6pm start of the luau.
The official start of the luau is a welcome and unearthing of the pig, followed by all you can enjoy drinks while folks find their seats.
Pro tip: “Reserve” a table before the luau starts by turning the chair down and unfolding the napkin over the chair. If you are really hungry or simply eat slowly, ask a staff member which tables get to visit the buffet first — about 20 to 25 minutes of eating time can separate the first and last table.
The luau was very family-friendly with lots of children in attendance. About 15 minutes after cocktail hour begins, the buffet is open to one set of tables at a time.
We especially love the Hawaiian sweet potatoes, beef teriyaki, Kalua pork and chicken adobo.
During dinner, there is music on the stage and some audience members may be called up to join in the hula fun. Years ago, they used to call all children up on stage, but on our most recent visit, they only called up those celebrating a birthday, so plan accordingly.
After dinner, the events move to another part of the grounds for the evening performance. Because this starts to run later into the evening, I don’t recommend doing this on one of your first couple of nights in Hawaii due to the time change. The evening show is worth watching and is comprised of performances highlighting different cultures that make up the Hawaiian Islands.
Like most luaus, this wasn’t inexpensive, but it’s a downright bargain compared to prices somewhere like Disney’s Aulani, where the luau can be double these amounts. At the Smith Family Luau, adults are $98, kids 7–13 are $30 and 3–6 year olds are $19. Note that the charge coded as entertainment on my Citi Premier Card and not as dining, but at least I still earned 2 points per dollar.
8. Take a Shelter Dog on a Field Trip
If you have older kids, are missing your puppy cuddles back home or just want to spend a day exploring Kauai with a dog in need, visit the Kauai Humane Society and take an adoptable shelter dog “on a field trip” for the day. The shelter provides all the supplies for your adventure, including an adopt me vest, leash and more, so you can head off with the pup and enjoy Mahaulepu Beach, hike Sleeping Giant or take off to one of their other top recommended dog-friendly spots. In return, the shelter just requests a $25 donation.
Of course, some visitors fall in love with their pets for the day and end up adopting them, which is pretty much a win-win situation. If that happens, it’s probably a good time to brush up on the rules and fees for flying pets. Also know that restrictions from Hawaii can be more strict — for example, Alaska Airlines does not accept checked animals to/from Hawaii in February due to seasonal headwinds, Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t accept checked or carry-on animals to Boston or New York, etc.
9. Walk on the Swinging Bridge
A fun stop on the way back from Waimea Canyon is the Hanapepe swinging bridge. The original bridge was originally built in the early 1900s so that residents could cross the river, but it was restored and reinforced after Hurricane Iniki left its mark in 1992.
I would not make a trek to this part of the island just to walk on this swaying bridge, but I’d certainly make the 10-minute stop while you are in the area. We also really enjoyed some of the town’s art shops, a drink from Little Fish Coffee and a bag of cookies from Popo’s Cookies, all just a two-minute walk from the bridge.
10. Canyons, Rainbows and Views
Most kids like to do rather than see, but they still shouldn’t miss a few standouts. Or rather, you shouldn’t miss them just because you brought the kids. As long as no one gets too carsick on winding roads, take the drive out to Waimea Canyon first thing one morning, but limit your stops to avoid drawing things out too long.
The Waimea Canyon lookout has some bathrooms and even some very limited parking lot concessions, so certainly stop there.
But, I also recommend heading up to the Kalalau Lookout a few more miles up as you can see the Na Pali Coast from there. There’s also some flat areas for the kids to run around, or just take a rest while you try to figure out where the ocean meets the sky.
No really — it can be hard to tell.
Kauai has a number of great waterfalls, but many aren’t easy for kids to access. However, just north of Lihue is a great pair of falls you can see without hiking. This double-falls, called Wailua Falls, is viewable from the road. There is a small parking lot (that was jam-packed), but once you figure out where to park, you can then walk for less than a minute and watch the falls with your kiddos while looking for rainbows.
11. Eat All the Shave Ice
Listing the best shave ice in Kauai is like searching for the best pizza in New York, the best taco in San Diego or the best macaroon in Paris. It’s fun to try to find the best, but the debate will never be settled. Some popular options to put on your taste test include: JoJo’s, Uncle’s, Ono’s, Wailua, Waikomo and Wishing Well in Hanalei.
Just be aware that Wishing Well closes at 5pm — we got there five minutes too late and missed out on their organic, house-made flavors and fruits from local farms. (Missing this is almost enough reason to return to Kauai from what I’ve been told!)
Kauai is not only my favorite island in Hawaii, but a favorite of my kid’s too. Sure, they love playing at the great resort pools found at Grand Hyatt Kauai, Westin Princeville and beyond, but it’s not (that) hard to drag them away from the resorts as they love exploring this gorgeous island as much as we do. If this list isn’t enough to keep your family busy on Kauai, also look into zip lining at Princeville Ranch, tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures and, of course, the fun-for-all-ages game of count the chickens!
What are your favorite kid-friendly activities in Kauai?
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Images by author except where indicated. Featured image by Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images
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