Perhaps the most beautiful of the Hawaiian Islands, this low-key destination is ideal for families with kids of all ages.
While there are plenty of bright lights and big cities to be had on the larger islands, Kauai is the antithesis with no building taller than a palm tree. Between the Na Pali coast and the Waimea Canyon, its nature beauty outshines its sister islands. Kauai invites families to relax and interact with the locals, as their children share sand toys on the beach.
What to do?
In Kauai, it’s all about the water. Kauai Fun Adventures offers surf lessons with a “stand up or it’s free” guarantee. Lessons are normally reserved for children ages five and up, but owner Cliff Kamalani Dixon was very accommodating. My 2- and 4-year-olds thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the surfboards in the shallows then standing on them once they were beached. When they’re older, we’ll be back!
KidTripster Tip: Mornings are the best time to visit Kauai’s beaches with children, because the seas are calm, and the sun’s rays are less intense; the winds tend to pick up in the afternoon. My girls loved Fuji Beach or “Baby Beach,” just south of downtown Kapaa, where a ridge of off-shore rocks shelters the shore from the surf. The resulting tide pool attracts lots of friendly locals and even a frolicking monk seal or two!
KidTripster Tip: All the beaches on Kauai are public, even if they are right in front of the hotels, so don’t be afraid to explore. We didn't stay at the Marriott in Lihue, but we still enjoyed its walk-up bar and restaurant right on Kalapaki Beach.
Also consider exploring one of Kauai’s many rivers by renting a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. We opted to visit Fern Grotto with Smith’s Fern Grotto Tours (3-5971 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa), a cathedral-like destination that is a favorite with brides. The journey there takes 30 minutes by boat, followed by a short hike. My girls enjoyed the live music on board and the freedom to run around the enclosed space. We all loved the (paved) hike into the jungle. Cost: Youth $10; Adult $20; book online for discount.
After the boat ride, we opted to stay for Smith’s Garden Luau. The pink guava bread was a hit with my princess crowd, but the highlight was definitely the entertainment. The evening started with a trolley tour of the grounds, where my 4-year-old came face to face with a peacock, whose tail was on full display. The thrill of that experience was eclipsed only by the opportunity to come up on stage later for a group hula lesson. My daughter is already planning to wear a grass skirt for her next visit! Cost: Youth (3-6) $19; Youth (7-13) $30; Adult $88; book online for discount.
KidTripster Tip: There are many luaus on the island. The Luau Kalamakū at Kilohana Plantation Luau (3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy., Lihue) offers comparable food with a trolley ride that features bigger animals and a pyrotechnic dinner show that may be more entertaining for older kids.
Photo courtesy: Smith's Garden Luau
Where to stay?
Kauai is known as the most rustic of the major Hawaiian Islands, but there’s something for everyone and every budget. On the island’s north shore, the St. Regis Princeville Resort (5520 Ka Haku Rd., Princeville) is the height of luxury and offers on-site child care and activities like free lei making for children. Plus, its location overlooking iconic Hanalei Bay offers a view of the volcano that served as inspiration for the song “Puff The Magic Dragon.” But we felt the hotel and the surrounding town of Princeville were a little insulated from the local culture. At the south end of the island, the Kauai Marriott Resort (3610 Rice St., Lihue) also is very upscale. Being walking distance to downtown Lihue, its proximity offers more opportunity for interaction with local residents. Skip touristy Duke’s Kauai in favor of locals’ favorite, Kalapaki Beach Hut (3474 Rice St., Lihue), offering pineapple burgers and a bird’s eye view of the surfers.
We opted to stay in centrally-located and budget-friendly Kapaa, where beachfront condos abound. The Moana Kai Beach House (4439 Kaloloku Rd, Kapaa) comes fully stocked with chairs, towels, and even boogie boards. The whole town is paralleled by the 8-mile beachfront Kapaa Bike Path; it’s stroller nirvana. You can also affordably rent bikes (kids, too) at Hele On Kauai Bike Rentals (4-1286 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa), just off the path.
KidTripster Tip: Kauai’s North Shore around Hanalei Bay is known for getting more rain than beaches to the south, like Poipu.
Photo courtesy: Kauai Marriott Resort
Where to eat?
Bubba’s Burger is legendary with locals and visitors alike and has three locations on Kauai (Hanalei, Kapaa, and Poipu). My girls loved the milkshakes and being able to run free on its enclosed patio. For a more upscale meal, we enjoyed Sam’s Oceanview (4-1546 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa), but we went early out of respect for anyone on a date night.
And don’t leave Kauai without trying at least a few flavors of shaved Hawaiian ice. It’s not like your carnival shaved ice at home! Our favorite: Ono Ono (1292 Kuhio Hwy., #4, Kapaa) or JoJo’s (5190 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei and 9899 Waimea Rd, Waimea).
Several airline carriers offer non-stop flights from many West Coast cities to Kauai. From Los Angeles to Lihue, it’s about a 6-hour flight.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re yearning for a little excitement, consider booking a night or two on Oahu, before taking a quick 30-minute flight to Kauai. The beach at Waikiki is epic, and the shopping rivals Rodeo Drive. The Moana Surfrider is the grand dame of hotels, but the Queen Kapiolani Hotel and the Holiday Inn Resort Waikiki Beachcomber are less expensive options that still boast ocean views.
KidTripster Tip: When booking flights between islands, I’ve found that it’s best to stick with Hawaiian Air, if you're on a tight schedule. Its competitor, Island Air, is equally clean and safe and far less expensive, but it has a tendency to cancel flights, if they don’t fill up.
KidTripster Tip: The curbside security officers at the Lihue Airport on Kauai mean business! On arrival, they shooed us along as we still struggled to strap car seats into our rental car. On departure, they actually wrote our driver a ticket, when he left the car momentary to wheel our luggage to security. You’ve been warned.
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Corinna Allen is a former Emmy award-winning journalist, living in Las Vegas, Nevada. She spent her junior year of high school as an exchange student in Finland, and she’s been traveling ever since. These days, she travels with her husband and two young girls. You can read more of her adventures on her blog.