Kauaʻi is an amusement park of sorts, just of the more natural variety. Instead of riding roller coasters and eating too much cotton candy, keiki (kids) can snorkel amid tropical fish, eat just the right amount of shave ice, zipline in forest canopies and enjoy sandy beaches, with bodyboarding hot spots and shallow, toddler-sized lagoons. As for you, if you came to Kauaʻi to recapture a childlike free-spiritedness, those tots you’re toting may prove to be an inspiration for letting go and diving into some fun in the sun!
Calling Kauaʻi ‘kid-friendly’ would be an understatement; na keiki (children) are adored on the Garden Island. There’s an explanation for this – cuteness aside. The entire island has a small-town vibe and, as the saying goes, ‘we’re all in the same canoe.’ When it comes down to it, people look out for each other, and each others’ kids, because almost everybody else has kids too.
Not much can go wrong on Kauaʻi – except in the water. Temperatures never drop below 65°F (18°C), driving distances are relatively short and everyone speaks English. Still, proper planning can be a game changer, especially when traveling with kids. With just a few tidbits of insider information you can minimize costs and maximize adventure.
Finding an appropriate home base is a good first step. Resorts and hotels typically allow children under 18 years to stay for free with their parents and might even provide rollaway beds or cribs. Poʻipu’s Sheraton Kauaʻi Resort and Grand Hyatt Kauaʻi Resort & Spa, the St Regis in Princeville and the Marriott in Lihuʻe offer professionally supervised ‘day camps.’ And kids will love playing in the monstro pool areas. Vacation-rental rates often apply only to doubles; kids above a certain age might count as extra guests at a cost of $15 to $25 each per night. B&Bs are generally not as kid-friendly, as they tend to be more intimate and host multiple parties in close proximity.
Most car-rental companies lease child-safety seats (cost per day $10 to $12, or per week $50 to $60), but they’re limited so it’s best to reserve in advance. Supplies, such as disposable diapers and infant formula, are sold island-wide, but try shopping in Lihuʻe and on the Eastside for the best selection and prices. Facilities for diaper changing and breastfeeding are scarce, and doing either in public is frowned upon, so chances are backseat improvisation will be necessary.
Need to Know
- Changing facilities Sparse; plan for improvisation.
- Highchairs Ubiquitous.
- Kids’ menus At most restaurants.
- Diapers (Nappies) Cheapest and best selection in Lihuʻe or on the Eastside.
- Strollers For rent from Kauai Baby Rentals along with everything else one could need, including cribs, toys and booster seats to name a few.
- Car seats For rent from car companies; you must reserve in advance or just bring your own.
- Breastfeeding Generally done discreetly or in private.
- Age limits While age limits apply to some activities and upscale B&Bs, so do discounts.
- Strong currents on the coasts Can make for dangerous conditions. Find a well-protected beach.
Food & Drink
Hawaii is a family-oriented and unfussy place, so all restaurants welcome children, many even with keiki menus, or you can ask for half portions. Highchairs are usually available, even at Kauaʻi’s finest resorts.
If restaurant dining is not your family’s strong suit, no problem. Eating outdoors is among the simplest and the best of island pleasures. Pack a picnic, stop for smoothies at roadside stands, and order plate lunches or fish wraps at patio counters. Accommodations providing full kitchens are convenient for eat-in-breakfasts, especially if you stock up on exotic fruit at farmers markets. A luau is definitely recommended, as is challenging your kids to eat fresh fish, poke (cubed raw fish mixed with shōyu, sesame oil, salt, chili pepper, ʻinamona or other condiments), poi (steamed, mashed taro) and other local delicacies.
The food itself should pose little trouble, as Kauaʻi grocers stock mainstream national brands, just at around 140% of the cost you’re expecting.
The Kauai Youth Directory is an extensive resource for numerous youth and teen activities on the island, with links to recreational, environmental and cultural youth activities that may coincide with your visit.
For valuable tips and interesting anecdotes check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
In the Water
With 55 miles of beach coastline, ocean activities are bound to be a part of the agenda. If your child cannot swim or fears the ocean, try one of Kauaʻi’s gentle ‘baby beaches’ in Poʻipu or Kapaʻa for toddlers. Lydgate Beach Park is an ideal starter beach for grade-schoolers or anyone who needs well-protected waters. Although not lifeguard-staffed, ʻAnini Beach Park’s massive offshore reef creates consistently calm waters ideal for kids.
Snorkeling is generally family-friendly on Kauaʻi, exciting for young kids and teens alike, especially in Poʻipu. Boss Frog is a great starting point as it rents gear and has a wealth of knowledge and direction to share. Little kids love the float-on-top boogie boards with the windows so you can see below. Otherwise, indulge in a thrilling cruise to snorkel the iconic Na Pali waters. If your kid has never sailed before, a smoother catamaran ride might be safer than a zippy raft adventure. Many Na Pali operators will not take children aged under six. If your kid gets seasick, sit downstairs in the middle of the boat.
Surf lessons are another fun family activity and can be a big hit with teenagers looking to beef up their coolness résumé. Kauaʻi’s waters are relatively uncrowded, and beginner groups are generally small and personalized. If your child (or you) associates the word ‘surf’ with iPads and laptops more than set waves and ‘hanging 10,’ go bodyboarding before trying the real thing as it’s much easier to learn and provides that all-important seed of confidence. The best beginner breaks are in Poʻipu and Lihuʻe. As with any waterborn activity, you have to be respectful of the waves. Kauaʻi has some strong currents. Keep to the shallows and well-protected areas with young ones, and protect from them from sun and dehydration.
When all fingers and toes are thoroughly wrinkled, there are some land-based activities that are especially geared toward children. At Lydgate Beach Park, you’ll find two massive playgrounds with swings, slides, bridges and mysterious nooks and crannies. Na ʻAina Kai Botanical Gardens includes a special children’s area with a wading pond, jungle playground, treehouse and more. Smith’s Tropical Paradise is a family-friendly park where there are no time limits to strolling the island-themed 30-acre grounds. There's a train trip from the Kilohana Plantation that younger kids will love, as well as occasional crafts, sand-castle building and lei-making courses at the resorts. A kayak adventure up the Wailua River and ziplining are both usually a hit with teens – many have age and weight limits – as is cruising around the shops of Kapaʻa or Hanalei for tropical knickknacks to show off back at school.
Hiking trails abound on Kauaʻi, though some are geared more toward the experienced enthusiast. At Waimea Canyon and Kokeʻe State Parks, you’ll find trails ranging from simple nature walks to strenuous treks amid the striking landscape of a gargantuan lava gorge and rugged forestland. Hiking even a couple of hundred feet up the Kalalau Trail offers unforgettable views.
Other great adventures include horseback riding, or bicycling along the Eastside coastal path.
Bring lots of water and snacks for hikes, plus sun protection.