Kauai with Kids: Best Places to Play and Stay (2024)

Heading to Kauai with kids and need some help planning? I recently visited Kauai and I want to tell you all about the best things to do, best beaches to visit, where to stay, and the logistics of getting there.  

 

I am SO excited that I finally made it to Kauai! I’ve been to the other three major Hawaiian Islands (Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island) and COULD. NOT. WAIT. to see Kauai.

It’s the oldest and most rural of the others (like, chickens roaming around the streets type of rural) and it’s the least developed compared to the other three, so it has the most old-school Hawaiian charm.

Since most of the island is a tropical rainforest, it’s nicknamed the Garden Isle. And boy, is it lush!

I found an amazing deal (a little over $200 for a roundtrip, nonstop to Kauai from Oakland- one of the perks of living in California) and immediately bought a ticket for me and my 3-year-old. My friend wanted in too, so she came with us, which was an added treat.

The deal was for five days, which obviously is never enough in Hawaii, but we packed our itinerary as much as we could.

So, if you’re heading to Kauai with kids, keep reading! 

Key Takeaways

  • Kauai offers something for everyone in the family, including kids. A few of the top things to do are visiting the Napali Coast, seeing Waimea Canyon, endless water and boat activities, enjoying a luau, and going on a helicopter tour.
  • Kauai is split into four different regions and there are amazing activities in each. It is best to plan your days by region to ensure you see everything.
  • If you would like a more popular and bustling environment, stay on the South Shore in Poipu. If you want complete relaxation and quiet, stay on the North Shore in Princeville. If you want to stay under budget, consider the East side. 

Table of Contents

10 Best Things to Do in Kauai with Kids

1. Visit the Napali Coast

The MUST do activity on a trip to Kauai is check out the Napali Coast. It’s one of the most beautiful coastlines in the WORLD and probably the most well-known feature on the island. You’ll see cliffs, sea caves, waterfalls, pristine beaches, and all kinds of other ocean gems.

It’s about 17 miles on the north shore of the island and not accessible by car, so visitors have to take a boat or a helicopter to see. (You can also hike a ridiculous amount to get to it but you won’t find any info about that here because that’s def not my vibe.)

We went on a snorkeling tour the coast—it was 5.5 hours in total. It takes a while to get there, almost 2 hours, then an hour to snorkel and another 1.5 hours to get back.

Note that most of the snorkel tours have a minimum age of 3.

(This was the biggest reason that I didn’t take my little guy on the trip. I REALLY wanted to do this specific Napali Coast snorkel tour and he wouldn’t have been able to go since he was 1 at the time).

The other option to see the coast is a helicopter ride. They are about 50 minutes and you’ll get a view of the whole coast, plus you’ll get to learn about the area from the pilot. The pilots hover over the more exciting features too! There are different age limits for different tour guides—like some allow lap infants while others allow only ages 10+.

If you do ONE thing Kauai it has to be a Napali Coast tour! 

This top-rated 5.5 hour morning snorkel tour earned a Badge of Excellence:
➡️Check prices and book the Deluxe Na Pali Morning Snorkel Tour here!

napali coast tour: one of the most beautiful sites to see when visiting kauai with kids.

napali coast: one of the most beautiful views to see when visiting kauai with kids.

2. Waimea Canyon

Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is 14 miles long and more than 3,600 miles deep. You can take a tour or just drive through it and stop at the multiple lookout points throughout.

The lookouts to check out are markers 10, 13, 14, 18, and 19.

We decided against the tour and drove ourselves. It was an easy ride and it wasn’t difficult to make stops wherever we wanted.

Before you go, make sure that you have a full tank of gas. Once you get in there, you won’t see any gas stations.

It is a windy road and the elevation goes up about 4,000 feet so if you get motion or elevation sickness, be cautious. (And if you do get motion sickness, you should also consider driving on your own so that you’re not stuck on a tour feeling like crap.)

You really don’t have to go too far out to get a few great pictures though!
Note that non-Hawaii residents will have to pay an entrance fee ($5 for ages 4+) and parking fee ($10) to visit. You’ll pay at the kiosks in the parking lots at several of the lookout points. 

waimea canyon: one of the most beautiful sites to see when visiting kauai with kids.

waimea canyon: one of the most beautiful sites to see when visiting kauai with kids.

3. Luau

We went to Smith’s Family Luau, and I could not recommend it enough! It was my first luau and it exceeded all of my expectations.

When visiting Kauai with kids, this should be the first thing you book!

When you enter, they let you in to walk the (unbelievably gorgeous) grounds.

Then, they have the pig ceremony (which doesn’t last very long).

From there, they serve cocktails (included with the price of ticket), and you can sit at your table. The seating area was open but had a roof overhead. We were called by groups to go through to the buffet.

After about an hour of dinner, we moved on to the auditorium to view the show. It was about an hour of different types of dances from all over the world, with an amazing finisher of a fire show!

The whole event was a few hours (from 6-9) and my son was sleeping on my lap by the end of it, but it was so worth it! Check it out here.

BONUS ACTIVITY:

4. Fern Grotto Tour

Smith’s Kauai runs this tour along with their luau—you can do both on the same night since they are right next to each other. Choose the 3:30pm Fern Grotto Tour if you want to do it.

The fern grotto tour is a boat cruise through a rainforest to a fern-covered lava cave. You’ll be cruising on the only navigable river in Hawaii!

During the ride, you’ll hear Hawaii history and you can even join in on a hula lesson. Once you get to the landing, it’s a short walk through the rainforest to the Fern Grotto.

The tour is about 1.5 hours.

Check it out here. 

smiths luau: a family friendly activity you must do when visiting kauai with kids.

smiths luau: a family friendly activity you must do when visiting kauai with kids.

5. Kauai Helicopter Tour

Step aboard a slow-flying aircraft to take a tour of the whole island. You’ll see Waimea Canyon, Opaekaa (and Jurassic) Falls, Napali Coast, and Mt. Waialeale (the wettest spot on Earth.) The pilot narrates the whole tour for you too.

The tour is 1 hour and 10 minutes and infants are welcome, but must be in parents lap.

Everyone that I have spoke to that has taken an air tour has stated it was the BEST part of their whole trip. So if you can add it to your itinerary, you should!

This unforgettable helicopter tour is 5 stars, has a Badge of Excellence, and sells out quickly! So book fast!

➡️Check prices and book the Entire Kauai Island Tour by clicking here!

kauai air tour

6. Explore the North Shore

The North Shore is so breathtaking, it’s something you cannot miss when you’re on Kauai.

We took a day to drive up to the North Shore and explored along the way. I really recommend doing this!

Here was our route:

If you’re starting in Poipu, make your first stop on the East side at Lydgate Beach. This is a great beach for small kids because it’s protected by a lava rock wall.

Head up the shore and make a stop at the playground at Anaina Hou Community Park. There are adorable replicas of a volcano, sailing canoe, and even a sugarcane train. The park itself is gigantic and has mini golf and a farmers’ market too.

Another great beach for small kids is Anini Beach. It’s known as one of the safest beaches on the North Shore because it’s completely protected by a reef.

From there, head to Hanalei Town for the famous food trucks. There’s a stretch of road that is sprinkled with a variety of food trucks. Start at The Hanalei Bay Dolphin and keep driving to check them all out!

That’ll lead you to Hanalei Bay Beach. It’s a huge bay with a mountain backdrop. There’s also a long pier you can walk out on.

Last stop on the tour is Tunnels Beach. It’s a nice, wide beach great for sand play. The waves can get rough though, so it’s a hit or miss on getting in the water. My son loved chasing the waves here!

The ride is easy and from Poipu to Tunnels is a little over 50 miles. The views you’ll see on the way will be worth every second!

You can also head straight to Tunnels from Poipu and then make all the stops on the way back. 

the north shore: an amazing site to see when visiting kauai with kids

7. Kilohana Plantation Train

If your kid is a train lover (and what toddler isn’t) this is such a great activity! It’s a 40 minute train ride passing through 2 miles of the Kilohana Plantation.

You’ll pass through tropical beauty of flowers, plants, trees, and animal pastures. PLUS there’s a stop to feed the pigs, goats, sheep, and a donkey!

There’s also an option for an even longer adventure (3.5 hours) that includes a picnic lunch, a walk through the orchards, and an extended plantation tour.

All ages are welcome for both and under 3 is free.

Check out both options here. 

8. Visit an Outdoor Shopping Center

For evening activities, check out one of the outdoor shopping centers near Poipu. They both have dining and shopping options plus live entertainment.

Both areas are very family friendly. Each of the restaurants we visited had kids menus, booster seats and high chairs, etc.

The Shops at Kukui’ula is bigger and more upscale, great for a stroll.

Poipu Shopping Village is smaller with a more relaxing vibe and has the BEST gelato place— Papalani Gelato. 

outdoor malls are a great place to go to when visiting kauai with kids.

9. Do a group tour

Traveling with kids can be stressful enough, the less I have to plan the better. That’s why I always look into tours when I’m planning my trips.

My favorite part of group tours is that we just have to show up!

An extra bonus is that there have always been other kids on the tours that we’ve been on, so they get to make new friends. Our Captain Andy’s tour to the coast was full of kids!

The great part about Kauai is that there are group tours for every type of activity you could imagine.

Want to browse the best day tours? 

➡️Check out the highest rated Kauai tours here

10. Activities if you’re visiting Kauai with older kids:

ATV Tour

Ages 4+. You’ll explore Kauai’s backroads (including an active volcano!) by ATV while learning about Hawaiian history. It’s a 3 hour tour and everything you’ll need is provided.

Click here to book the highly recommended tour.

Koloa Zipline Tour

Ages 7+. Soar through forests and over the Waita Reservoir on the island’s longest zipline. There are 8 different tracks on this zipline tour and it lasts 3 hours.

Check out more and book here.

Zodiac Boat Snorkeling Tour

Snorkel the gentle waters of Kauai’s southern coast on a small group tour. You’ll pass Spouting Horn blowhole and stop at two different snorkeling spots. The tour is about three hours and snacks and drinks are provided.

Book this tour here (it was given the Badge of Excellence!) 

Best Places to Stay in Kauai with Kids

Short on time? 

➡️South Shore’s best hotel: Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa

➡️North Shore’s best hotel: Westin Princeville 

Comparing South Shore vs North Shore

The two major areas of the island are the South Shore (Poipu) and the North Shore (Princeville).

Poipu – South

Is the more busy, touristy area of the island. You can find a central spot and walk everywhere.

It has more options for full-service hotel/resorts and condos. It’s also closer to the big-ticket activities (like Waimea Canyon or Port Allen for any boat rides) and has more choice in restaurants.

Because it’s more touristy, you’ll have to deal with more crowds.

Best Lodging Options on South Shore

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa

The Grand Hyatt Kauai offers rooms that range from standard or connecting rooms, to 1- or 2- bedroom suites. It’s a water wonderland with numerous pools, a lazy river, water slide, and a lagoon. Six restaurants to choose from. On Poipu Beach with amazing views.

➡️Check out prices and book the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa by clicking here!

Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu

At Koloa Landing Resort you can choose from 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom villas. Three gigantic pools including a lagoon pool with a children’s swimming area. Fun extras around the property like volleyball nets, a putting green, a soccer area, poolside BBQs, and weekly activities like hula lessons and s’mores. On Poipu Beach.

➡️Check out prices and book the Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu by clicking here!

Princeville – North

The more laid-back, scenic area of the island. It’s greener, lusher, (but also wetter) and more natural overall.

There are more beaches, better snorkeling, and more options for kayaking or paddle boarding. Less big resorts and more smaller, quieter hotels or secluded houses.

Less restaurants and activities, and you’ll need a car to get around. It’ll take longer to get to the more popular activities and excursions.

Overall, the more peaceful option of the two.

Best Lodging Options on North Shore

The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort

The Westin Princeville has options of studios, 1- and 2-bedroom villas. Three pools to choose from including a Children’s Pool with a small water slide and spouting turtles. Westin Family Kids Club.Two on-site restaurants plus a Market with a coffee shop inside. Near Anini Beach.

➡️Check out prices and book the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort by clicking here!

Hanalei Bay Resort

The Hanalei Bay Resort offers 1- and 2-bedroom condos. Their main pool is a gigantic free-form lagoon pool with waterfalls, and they also offer a spa in a grotto setting, and a smaller adults pool. On Hanalei Bay

Check out prices and book the Hanalei Bay Resort by clicking here!

The Best Beaches for Kids in Kauai

Kauai has a coastline full of amazing beaches for all different types of beach goers. Some are perfect for waves, some for families, and even some that are secret.

Want a full list of the best beaches in Kauai? Click here to read all about them! 

South Shore Beaches

Poipu: very well-known as one of the best beaches for families on the island. Clear waters and a natural wading pool which is perfect for small kids (or even adults who want to relax in calm waters). This beach has everything you’ll need—lifeguards, bathrooms, picnic area, big parking lot, even a playground. You can spend a full day here. Close by is Sprouting Horn, a blowhole—the water can reach up to 50 feet! It’s a fun addition to the day.

Salt Pond Beach: a locals beach, so it’s not as crowded and perfect for families. Like Poipu, it’s also protected from big waves. It’s very relaxing with lots of room to spread out. It has lifeguards, showers, picnic areas, and lots of parking.

Disclaimer on Baby Beach: a lot of people will recommend Baby Beach to families. It’s a cute, protected cove, BUT it’s not easily accessible. You have to pass through houses to get to it. There is no parking, you’ll have to park on a residential street. We couldn’t find parking, so we just left to Poipu Beach. 

poipu beach: one of the most beautiful beaches to see when visiting kauai with kids.

salt pond beach: one of the beautiful beaches to go to when visiting kauai with kids.

East Side Beaches

Lydgate Beach: On the northeast side of the island, Lydgate is protected from the ocean by a lava rock wall so the water is calm AND hosts a number of tropical fish! There are lifeguards, restrooms, and a picnic area. (The day we went to the north shore it rained so we couldn’t make it here and I was SO bummed!)

 

North Shore Beaches

Anini Beach: Known as the safest and most protected beach on the North Shore, Anini is perfect for kids. It goes on for 2 miles and is completely protected by a reef so the water is shallow and calm. There are restrooms, outdoor showers, and shaded picnic areas.

Hanalei Bay: A huge bay with a mountain backdrop. A wide, two-mile beach of white, powdery sands. The water is clear and warm. There is a long pier to walk out on to really see the views. Restrooms, lifeguards, and picnic tables on site and rental shops and dining options within walking distance.

Tunnels Beach: You have to visit this beach just for its breathtaking beauty. The golden sand beach has a backdrop of a lush jungle. The waves can get pretty big, so swimming might not be an option every day but the long, spacious beach is perfect for sand toys and lounging around. Parking is difficult so come early! 

tunnels beach: one of the most beautiful beaches to see when visiting kauai with kids.

When is the Best Month to Visit Kauai with Kids

There’s really no “bad” time to visit Hawaii, but if you want less rain (I say less because it still rains, just not as much) head over there between April—October.

The rainy season is from November—March.

If you want to beat the crowds and the higher prices, skip June—August since that is summer break in America.

You’ll most likely see the best deals from April to June and September to November, Hawaii’s shoulder seasons.

Temperate-wise, the coolest month is January. The highs are just under 80 degrees and lows are in the mid 60s. The warmest month is August. The highs are in the mid 80s while lows are mid 70s. 

sea turtles come onto poipu beach, a great site to see when visiting kauai with kids.

How to Get to Kauai with Kids

Kauai’s major airport is Lihue Airport (LIH). Flights from the west coast are roughly 5.5 hours there, and 5 hours coming back.

Read my best tips for flying with a baby to get you through the long flight.

Hawaii in general is pretty expensive to fly into most of the time. Because of the lingering effects of COVID on tourism, there have been a lot of flight deals—we snagged our direct flights from Oakland for a little over $200 each! Keep a look out on flight deals from the airlines.

When booking, I always check Google Flights and Kayak. You can choose to watch prices and receive email notifications on all of them too. And check Southwest Airline’s website for a comparison since they don’t show up on those sites. If possible, check nearby airports to fly out of for cheaper fares than your home airport. 

Do You Need a Car on Kauai?

If you’re planning on staying at the resort or rental area the whole time and want to book tours that are within walking distance or have shuttle service, you won’t need a car. (BOR-ING. I do not recommend this.)

You can try your luck with Uber or Lyft, but they were very hard to come by when we were there. We were told by a taxi driver that they just don’t have enough drivers on the island.

If you want to explore the island (I HIGHLY recommend that you do!) you’ll need to rent a car. Kauai is packed full of beautiful sites that are all over the island. You would be missing out on SO much if you didn’t see the different sides of the island.

You can also consider just renting a car for 1 or 2 days and plan all of your exploring on those days.

And whatever you book, do it ASAP! As soon as you book your tickets, book your car. Rental cars are always pricey in Hawaii. 

❗Planning on renting a car? 

rentalcars.com is the place to look – I always find the cheapest rate on this site!

Best Places To Eat in Kauai with Kids

Breakfast:

Little Fish Coffee (Poipu)

Lunch:

Koloa Fish Market (Koloa)
Da Crack (Koloa)
Mark’s Place (Lihue)
Waipouli Deli (Kapa’a)

Dinner:

Keoki’s Paradise (Poipu Shopping Village)
Merriman’s (The Shops at Kukui’ula) 

What Should You Not Miss on Kauai with Kids

Kauai is a treasure, so the list of what you should see is endless.

If I had to pick three activities that you just cannot miss that are unique to Kauai, they would be:

1. Napali Coast. It’s one of the most well known coastlines in the world. Plus there are so many fun ways to see it– snorkel tour, sunset tour, helicopter.

2. North Shore. It’s lush and natural with an Old Hawaii charm. And the beaches are beautiful!

3. Waimea Canyon + Salt Pond Beach. It’s the Grand Canyon of the Pacific! The views are too amazing to miss. Salt Pond Beach is one of the beaches nearest to Waimea Canyon, which is a perfect place to unwind.

And that’s it! Have you been to Kauai with kids?

nightly sunsets are great to watch while visiting kauai with kids

MEET BESA

Your Go-To Girl for Beach Travel

Hi! I’m Besa. I’ve always been a travel-loving beach bum… and then I had kids. Two boys, born 19 months apart. But I didn’t let that stop me. I still travel, even with a couple little boys in tow – and I want to help other parents like you do the same!

I’ll be sharing all my travel tips, beach hacks, and guides for some of my favorite family vacation beach spots.

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Why Trust Beaches and Babies?

Why Trust Beaches and Babies?

Besa has been a frequent traveler for almost 20 years, and the last five years of her travels have included her two toddler boys, 19 months apart.
Years of flying and beach bumming with her kids has given her plenty of hard-earned experience in the travel world.

Need Help Booking Your Trip?
Use My Favorite Resources!

FLIGHTS
Kayak searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly.

LODGING
booking.com is easy to use and gives options for all types of lodging. When I know I want a big rental house, I use VRBO.

RENTAL CARS
rentalcars.com scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.

ACTIVITIES
Viator lets you search for a specific activity at your destination or scroll all available.

Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.