Just north of Waimea Canyon, inland from the Na Pali Coast, lies this rugged state park, spread across 4345 mountainous acres. Especially popular with nature lovers, the park offers terrific scenery and plenty of outdoor activities, from hiking to pig hunting to trout fishing (with pre-arranged licenses). Temperatures at this elevation are a bit cooler than elsewhere on the island, so you'll want to dress accordingly. Plus, nature trails crisscross the landscape, and camping is available. The park also features a lodge, museum, and visitors center where you can check park conditions before venturing onwards.
Local Expert tip: Bring gear for both hiking and a picnic. You can even sleep up here in a bunk room or tent.
Thanks to its proximity to South Shore resorts, this stretch of beach gets a good amount of traffic. It doesn't hurt, of course, that it boasts abundant sunlight, soft sand, incredible views, and a good mix of surf and gentle shallows. Families and teens gather to bask in the sun, snorkel, swim, and laze in contented bliss. Food is available nearby, and the park also features showers, restrooms, and picnic facilities. Brennecke's Beach, on the eastern end, draws a constant crowd of bodysurfers, who take advantage of the area's rolling waves.
Local Expert tip: A great place for kids and a picnic.
Lydgate Beach Park truly has everything you could need for a day at the beach - two protected natural swimming pools, spectacular snorkeling, white sand, amenities, lifeguard, and an amazing playground for children. This is where snorkel lovers will have the time of their lives. The underwater worlds in nearly always pulsing with life, and offers views of colorful tropical fish. The calm pools are perfect for children or anyone else who would prefer to not get knocked around by waves. Lydgate is a great place for a full day at the beach or a quick snorkel stop. It's also centrally located on the east side so it doesn't require driving far out of your way.
Local Expert tip: Bring some fish food from a snorkel gear shop and send the fish into a feeding frenzy!
Set along the Wailua River, this 30-acre complex introduces visitors to Hawaii's local flora and to more exotic species too. A mile-long trail wends through manicured grounds, offering folks the chance to view cultivated vegetation and a series of ethnic villages that represent the cultures of Kauai's various immigrants. Filipino, Japanese, and Polynesian sites can be explored, along with a fruit orchard, rainforest setting, and ginger and heliconia gardens. Narrated tram tours are available, and the complex also hosts weekly luaus, complete with entertainment and traditional foods.
Local Expert tip: Catch the luau, it's very worth it.
In its heyday, this grand, 1930s-era mansion was the focal point of a successful sugar-cane plantation. Today, the Tudor-style, 16000-square-foot home has been restored to its original glory and houses galleries, boutiques, and the historic train. Visitors may wander its halls with their rich detailing and explore the cottages that lie on the estate's grounds. In addition, 22 North gourmet food fit for a locovore, and local artwork and crafts from on-site shops make ideal souvenirs. You'll also find Kauai's only rum distillery and a ceramics shop where you can make your own pottery to ship home.
Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Kilohana Plantation is the best near port place to pick up locally crafted gifts and souvenirs.
Local Expert tip: Ride the historic train.
This large, crescent-shaped bay on the North Shore hosts a number of enviable beaches, which all share golden sands and clear, calm waters. The bay is protected by coral reefs, and along its two-mile stretch, folks soak in the sun, build sandcastles, and throw frisbees. Water activities include everything from fishing to windsurfing, swimming to kayaking, scuba diving to boating. During the winter, waters get a little rougher, but conditions at such beaches as Black Pot and Waikoko remain manageable throughout the year.
Local Expert tip: Take surf lessons here.
Immortalized in the movie "South Pacific," this gorgeous beach garners ample acclaim for its beauty, although its swimming opportunities are less than optimal. Rip currents plague the waters, which are generally too dangerous to broach except in the middle of summer, when they briefly calm down. Still, the juxtaposition of tropical jungle and ocean panorama is certain to intoxicate any visitor, and time spent on the sands is as satisfying and pleasurable as a jaunt in the sea.
Local Expert tip: Hang out on the northern end and swim in the fresh water river. Keep an eye on the ocean.
On the very site of an ancient Hawaiian village, this modern-day equivalent has been erected to teach visitors about the islands before Western contact. The compound, lying along the Wailua River, showcases (replicated) homes and community buildings, including those used by the chief and those devoted to storing herbal remedies. Visitors may also catch demonstrations of cloth-making, agriculture, and poi-making and learn about early religion and social interaction. Educational and enlightening for the whole family.
Local Expert tip: Make sure to try of the fruit that grows here.
Many visitors recognize these twin falls as the ones pictured in the opening sequence of the "Fantasy Island" TV show. Their dramatic, 80-foot tumble is the subject of many tourist photographs, a distinct difference from the days when Hawaiian royalty dove from the cliffs as a sign of power and prowess. Although the falls' beauty waxes and wanes depending on rainfall, they're always a worthy site. Some folks choose to hike down to the basin, but the journey, which is steep and somewhat treacherous, is perhaps best reserved for adrenalin junkies.
Local Expert tip: Serious adventurers can consider taking the trail up to the falls.