Looking for Laid-Back Vacation Vibes or Adventures of a Lifetime? Kauai Has It All

Best things to do in Kauai with kids Andie Huber

From where to stay on Kauai to what to do on Kauai with kids—this off-the-beaten path destination is an easy-going vacation spot that is great for families and multi-generational stays seeking laid-back vacation vibes or adventures of a lifetime

So you’ve decided to take a trip to Hawaii! Of course that fabulous decision brings about an even harder question: Which Hawaiian island is best for your family? And while there is no bad choice when it comes to family-friendly Hawaiian islands, for those seeking a less commercial-vibe, consistent year-round temps (meaning you’re less likely to get stuck with a frigid weather no matter what time of year you go), gorgeous beaches and coves, and a forested, jungly adventure—Kauai is the definitely the island for you.


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what to do in Kauai, Hawaii
Andie Huber

All about Kauai

Kauai is the fourth largest island of the Hawaiian Islands, this under-the-radar tropical destination is also the most northwestern of the major islands, sits about 100 miles off the coast of Oahu, and is by far the most enchanting and relaxing. Kauai is a hidden gem–it feels like a world away even though it’s just a six-hour, direct flight from LA. You can also reach Kauai via Seattle, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco non-stop.

What also makes this island so special—it’s a melting pot of cultures. There are strong influences felt all over the island—from Japan, China, and the Philippines to even Portuguese influences, there’s so much to experience and taste once you get here. Don’t miss trying poi—a traditional staple of Hawaiian culture, is a gluten-free, viscous dish made from taro. And of course, don’t miss out on ube—a purple yam originally from the Philippines. Unlike traditional sweet potatoes that we know in the states, ube is sweeter and has a slightly nutty, vanilla taste making it great ingredient in desserts, pancakes, malasadas and coffee drinks.

10 Reasons to Stay at the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort

1. The Sheraton Kauai Resort’s Intimate, Low-Key Yet Luxe Vibe

Much like Goldilocks in the The Three Bears, here’s nothing harder to nail than a resort trying to be everything, to everyone, yet kudos to the Sheraton Kauai Resort for getting the vibe here just right.

Thanks to a recent renovation, the atmosphere is welcoming, and the spaces are airy, clean, modern and inviting. Add to that, little nooks and crannies tucked along the property that allows for privacy and feels like you have the place to yourself. With 314 rooms (2 of them suites), the size of the resort is manageable (unlike some resorts that feel like you walk for days). The hotel rooms are also spacious, modern and clean. And the way the resort is situated, you’ll get a glorious ocean view, pool view or luxe garden view—all with patios or balconies. 

The added bonus of a smaller resort? You can feel comfortable letting your kids wander off to the game room or explore the grounds while you sit and enjoy a drink—and the view.

2. Zero-Entry Pool & Splash Area for Little Kids

The main pool and the little kid’s splash pool are connected—clutch if you have kids that are different ages. With no lifeguard on duty, two separate pools are a parent’s nightmare but this ocean-front water feature connects the two, making keeping an eye on everyone, super easy.

Add to that, the little kid’s pool is zero entry with splashing water features, including a waterfall (thanks to the infinity-edge of the big kid pool and is where the two pools connect)— little kids will adore splashing around.

3. Sheraton Kauai’s Food Is Top Notch

Resort food can run its course fairly quickly but after five days, we still hadn’t had our fill. Trust us when we say that with four restaurants on the property, we were a little nervous that we’d get food-bored or not have enough options—especially with a picky-eater in tow. Thankfully, that was not the case. The food options were varied and perfectly executed and we walked away feeling satisfied by every meal. Highlights include:

First Light Coffee and Juice Bar: Open as early as 5:30 a.m. (an early-morning miracle if you are still waking up in your time zone), you’ll find custom-made coffee drinks as well as pastries and sandwiches. A must-order? The ube latte—either iced or hot.  

Daybreak Restaurant: If you want a sit-down breakfast, here you can get a breakfast buffet or order food a la carte. The Acai bowl and the English muffin sandwich were big hits. Kids with a sweet tooth will love the ube pancakes—they come with ube-white chocolate syrup, macadamia nuts, and caramelized bananas.

The Crooked Surf: This poolside spot with ocean views is where you can get drinks, snacks and lunch. The kids loved the beef sliders and we loved the Crooked Surf Tacos—fish tacos that were lightly battered and hit the spot more than once during our stay.

Moa Moa Hawaiian Fish House: For a memorable, upscale dining experience that is still kid-friendly, head to Moa Moa. Pacific Island cuisine is on the menu with mussels, and market fish are just some of the highlights. If you don’t eschew garlic, order the Kauai Garlic Prawns on a bed of linguini pasta—quite possibly the best garlic shrimp dish we ever had. 

 

4. On-Site Luau: Luau Ka Hikina

New for the resort, and a draw for the area, is the on-site Luau Ka Hikina. The Sheraton Kauai Resort recenlty built an ocean-view, open-air event pavilion, Halau Ho’okipa, to host special performances during the week that celebrates Hawaiian and Polynesian history. It is a festive experience, beginning with a meet-and-greet with the dancers and musicians—you’re even welcome to try swinging poi balls (much harder than it looks!) and try your hand at drumming on Tahitian drums. A torch-lighting ceremony opens the show, and then the highlight, of course, has got to be seeing the ancient hula perform alongside award-winning singer Leilani Rivera Low.

The buffet-style dinner (included with the price) offers a variety of local favorites—including Mahi Mahi, Kalua Pork, Huli Huli Chicken, and poi— that island staple we mentioned above—and definitely a must-try. As the emcee said, it’s an acquired taste for those who didn’t grow up eating it, but our group gave it two thumbs up. 

Dates: Dates vary but shows typically take place two-to-three times a week
Cost: $64 & up/person

Online: luaukahikina.com

Insider Tip: After the luau, head back to the pool some night swimming! The torches are lit, the fire tables are going and it’s magical to swim under the stars. 

5. The Location of the Sheraton Kauai Resort Can’t Be Beat

The resort is located equidistant from the two main towns on the island, Princeville and Poipu. From here, you can explore all the activities like hikes, waterfalls, and more—all within an hour to an 1.5 drive from the hotel. See below for the top ten activities to do in Kauai with kids.

Also worth noting, there’s the shopping center called Coconut Market less than a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Here you’ll find Island Country Market that doubles as a grocer and deli shop. There are also various souvenir shops, more restaurants (we recommend checking out the Bobby V’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria  and Chicken in a Barrel BBQ), a courtyard where you can hear live music as well as a farmer’s market that pops up during the week. 

6. Complimentary Bikes & Order Ahead Picnic Lunches 

Complimentary cruiser bikes await guests near the lobby—simply sign them out at the bellman desk and then explore the 8-mile oceanfront bike path that connects to the town of Kapa’a. Want to make your exploration of the island by bike even more memorable? Order one of their Picnic Series at the Concierge. There are various options, starting at $35 per person (including options for kids called the Keiki Picnic Party), and when you’re ready for your ride, strap on the back pack and out you go. Stop along the coast and set up your picnic lunch along the way.

Good to Know: The bikes are typically first-come, first-serve although if you reserve a picnic lunch ahead of time, they’ll hold your bikes for you. They also have bikes for kids so everyone in the family can ride together.

game room sheraton kauai
Andie Huber

5. On-Site Game Room & Oceanview Hammocks

Filled with pool tables, foosball, table shuffleboard, and arcade games, rather than be sequestered off to the back of the building in a dark room, this game room is open-air and right next to the pool area. In the grassy area, there’s also lawn games—from lawn Jenga and corn hole to giant Connect Four, if you need a break from the pool, there are plenty of fun games and activities to keep you occupied. One of our favorite spots to chill? The beachside hammocks with ocean views while the kids play in the sand. 

6. Arts & Crafts, Shave Ice & More Activities That Take Place on the Property

If the pool, beach, and game room aren’t enough for active kids, there are a slew of locally-inspired activities that take place on the property, and rotates throughout the week. There’s kite making, lei making, learn to hula and play the ukulele, coconut husking, a torch lighting ceremony, and a shaved ice cart that appears poolside everyday at 1 p.m. Refer to the website, postings in the elevator, and the weekly newsletter for the day’s activities.

Best things to do in Kauai with kids
Andie Huber

8. Epic Sunrises & Morning Yoga

Before you think I’m going suggest you wake up early to catch the sunrise (I’m not), the three-hour time difference from the west coast of the US, more likely than not, means you and the kids will be up. Don’t sit in your room though—grab a coffee from appropriately named First Light Coffee & Juice Bar place (order the ube latte) and head over to the beach to watch the sun rise. It’s spectacular—and the kids can run around on the beach and grassy area while you have a moment of zen. 

Speaking of channeling some island zen, complimentary yoga takes places on the beach-front grass during the week (more often during busier seasons). Yoga starts at 7 a.m. (not an issue if you still dealing with jet lag) and is a great way to start your day and channel those good-for-you island vibes. 

10. Be Prepared —Your Kids Won’t Want to Leave the Resort

Seriously not kidding—we left the resort to explore the island and after about two hours checking out waterfalls, beaches and a glorious tree tunnel—all my kids wanted to do was go back to the resort. It’s so relaxing and chill at the Sheraton Kauai Resort—they had freedom to roam around, play lawn games or arcade games, had the choice between the pool and the beach, great food at their fingertips—what else could they ask for?

Good to Know: The beach does not have a lifeguard on duty—as always, be careful when playing in and near the ocean. This particular beach has a breakaway, making for milder waves but it’s not a swimming beach or recommended to wander too far into the water. For swimming beaches, see below.

The 10 Best Things to Do in Kauai with Kids

Besides lounging away at the resort? From low-key snorkeling in a protected lagoon that’s perfect for small kids, to intense hikes that comes with a fair share of warning from the National Parks Department, there are so many family adventure travel options to fit your adventure level in Kauai—just fitting them all in will be the hardest part. 

1. Kayak the Wailua River: Located under 10-minutes from the Sheraton Kauai Resort, in addition to kayaking the river, you can also paddle board. With Wailua Kayak & Canoe, you can choose a guided tour, or go on your own. They even have tri-kayaks to rent that fit two adults and one child.

2. Find a Waterfall: There are multiple noteworthy waterfalls on the island including probably the most famous one—Manawaiopuna Falls also known as Jurassic Falls thanks to the movie, Jurassic Park (only viewable via helicopter tour) but Wailua Falls (famous from the hit tv show Fantasy Island), and Opaekaa Falls are both close to the hotel and easily accessible. Both can be seen after parking and walking up to a viewing area—go early as it can get crowded and difficult to park. 

3. Visit the Kauai Plantation Railway at Kilohana Plantation: Got a trainspotter on your hand? Head over to the Kilohana Plantation where you can be transported through 2.5 miles of crops like sugar cane and taro and learn about the history of the plantation plus get to feed some local animals like pigs, goats, sheep, and their friendly donkey named Stiney. 

4. Snorkel at Baby Beach in Poipu: This protected cove is perfect for babies and little swimmers. Plus, there’s ample parking nearby.

Good to Know: You’ll end up driving through the Tree Tunnel—a 1-mile long gateway to Kauai’s South Shore that is made up of hundreds of Eucalyptus trees.

5. The Best Hikes in Kauai with Kids: Ranked as the best trail to hike in Kauai, the Kalalau Trail runs along the Na Pali coast and the first 2 miles free to access—the rest of the trail requires a permit (make reservations far in advance to avoid disappointment). Head the warnings on this hike—slippery rocks, potential stream crossings and other dangerous conditions make this hike better suited for older and more experienced hikers.

On the western side of the island is Waimea Canyon—the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, most experts recommend sticking to the Iliau Loop Trail if you have little kids. It’s short and provides epic views—crucial for those short legs and attention spans. Insider Tip: Stop at JoJo’s Shave Ice in Waimea on your way back to the hotel. 

6. Sail the Kauai Coast: Various outfitters offer 1/2 cruises where you can head out onto the deep blue sea and take in the view of the Garden Island from the water.

7. Go Horseback Riding: For equine-minded adventures, you can choose to horseback ride along the bluffs, through the fields and past beaches. Depending on your comfort level, choose from 90 minute tours to five-hour long sojourns that include photo ops, swimming and epic views.

8. Try a Zip Line Adventure: Touted by Julian Cable-Treadwell, the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort Director of Marketing and Resort Manager, as the one island adventure most people skip but shouldn’t, you and the family can get a bird’s eye view of the island as you fly over lush forests and reservoir.

9. Go River Tubing: There are lots of places that offer river tubing (most of them are ages 5 & up)—the three-hour tour is fairly benign and gentle although it is worth noting there’s a 1-mile dark tunnel for those that are claustrophobic or don’t like dark spaces.

10. Taste the Best Doughnuts & Malasadas in Kauai: If you’re in Princeville, hit up Holey Grail Donuts—not only a local Kauai fave but is quickly becoming an LA favorite thanks to their always busy pop-up at Culver City’s Platform and Mar Vista Farmer’s Market (PS: brick and mortar store are coming soon to Larchmont and Santa Monica).

Cable-Treadwell also alerted us to Kauai Bakery, located in the KuKui Grove Center just up the road from the hotel and serves malasadas—Portuguese doughnuts without a hole, filled with various flavors. We think they’re even better than a typical doughnut—this yeast-leavened doughnut version is enriched with eggs, butter, and sometimes evaporated or fresh milk with a crispy outside and soft inside. Pick up the ube malasada (pictured above)—you won’t be disappointed.

What You Need to Know about Rending a Car in Kauai

You’ll need to rent a car to get around the island. If you don’t need a car right away though, after arriving at Lihue Airport, we recommend taking a cab to the hotel. While there is such a thing as “island time,” the car rental lines are long and extremely slow.  It’s a scene out of the movie Zootopia where the main character enters the DMV, only to discover, it’s run by sloths. We rented from Thrifty and it took almost two hours to get our car.

The Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort is only 6.5 miles away from the airport—save your time (and your sanity) and skip the car rental when you first arrive. You can always take a cab back to the car rental place at a less busy time, or take Cable-Treadwell’s recommendation and use the car rental company Turo—he said they have positive reviews from travelers.

—This trip was paid for by Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort but all opinions belong to the writer. 

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