Eeeeee 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 waitttt to see Kauai. It’s the oldest and most rural of the others (like, chickens roaming around type of rural) and it’s the least developed compared to the other three, so it has the most old-school Hawaiian charm. It’s called the Garden Isle (since most of the island is a tropical rainforest), so I couldn’t wait to see its lush beauty.
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 jam packed our itinerary to do as much as we could.
How to Get to Kauai
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 17 need to know 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, Skyscanner, 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.
How to Get Around Kauai with Kids
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. Options like Uber and Lyft are available for short trips as well (but know that the island does not have an abundance of drivers).
If you want to explore the rest of the island (which I recommend!) you’ll need to rent a car.
Try rentalcars.com to look at prices from tons of different companies. You can also try Turo as a second option. And book ASAP! As soon as you book your tickets, book your car. Rental cars are always pricey in Hawaii.
Where to Stay in Kauai with Kids
Comparing south shore vs north shore
The two major areas of the island are the south shore (Poipu) and the north shore (Princeville).
Poipu: 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.
Lodging options on south shore:
Rooms range from standard rooms, connecting rooms, or 1- or 2- bedroom suites. Water wonderland with numerous pools, a lazy river, water slide, and a lagoon. Six restaurants to choose from. On Poipu Beach with amazing views.
Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu
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.
Princeville: 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. The more peaceful option of the two.
Lodging options on north shore:
The Westin Princeville
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.
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.
What to Do in Kauai with Kids
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.
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. No parking, you’ll have to park on a residential street. We couldn’t find parking, so we just left to Poipu Beach.
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.
Lydgate Beach: On the northeast side, 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!
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!
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 to 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. Most of the snorkel tours are ages 3+ (this was the biggest reason that I didn’t take my little guy on the trip. I REALLY wanted to do a specific Napali Coast snorkel tour and he wouldn’t have been able to go since he was 1 at the time).
The other option 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+.
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 three “official” lookouts are markers 10, 13, and 14. Markers 18 and 19 are also great, if you can make it that far.
Before you go, make sure that you’re on a full tank of gas. Also, it is a windy road and the elevation goes up about 4,000 feet so if you get motion or elevation sickness, be cautious. You really don’t have to go too far out to get a few great pictures though.
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 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.
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 2.5 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 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.
Take 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 about the history of Old Hawaii 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.
TIP: 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 that (if we had the time, I would’ve done the combo!)
For evening activities, check out one of the outdoor shopping centers near Poipu. They both have dining and shopping options plus live entertainment.
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.
Little Fish Coffee (Poipu)
Koloa Fish Market (Koloa)
Da Crack (Koloa)
Mark’ Place (Lihue)
Waipouli Deli (Kapa’a)
Keoki’s Paradise (Poipu Shopping Village)
Merriman’s (The Shops at Kukui’ula)
And that’s it! Have you been to Kauai? What was your favorite part of it? Tell me in the comments!
need help booking your trip? use my favorite resources!
I always start with Kayak when I book flights. It searches hundreds of travel sites for the lowest prices plus the flexible calendar tells you which days are the cheapest to fly. you can also set price alerts for a specific flight.
My first stop for rental cars is rentalcars.com. It scans multiple agencies at your destination to give you the best price.
Read over my full list of the best sites to book with on my Resources page.