Hawaii's westernmost shore of Kauai combines every imaginable luxury with a pristine environment, entertaining family fun and green tourism.
Many people think of Kauai as a true edge of the world destination because it is the farthest west of the Hawaiian Islands that tourists regularly visit. While commonly associated with romance and seclusion — and with good reason as it's very romantic — this remote Hawaiian destination is actually quite a good choice for a truly memorable family beach vacation. From hotels with thoughtfully considered amenities and a wide array of fun activities, to the vast number of exciting adventures that can be found throughout Kauai, this small island offers a special experience for the whole family.
Kauai boasts some of the most naturally beautiful beaches in the world, heavenly waterfalls, majestic canyons and lush tropical flora, and it is also one of the best islands to introduce you and your family to the "Aloha Spirit," a trademark of the warm, welcoming Hawaiian culture.
Orientation to a Kauai, a Bio-Diverse Isle
If you are thinking about traveling to Kauai, it's best to allocate a minimum of four to five days so that you will have enough time to try some of the must-see activities, however, you could easily spend up to two weeks there and still not want to leave when your vacation is over.
The Island of Kauai is divided into several very distinct resort areas: The North Shore, the Coconut Coast, the West Side and the South Shore and, due to the tropical location, there are technically only two seasons in Kauai: "Summer" between May and October and "Winter" between October and April. While there is no shortage of wonderful hotels, the climate can vary a great deal depending on where your hotel or resort is located, and should be taken into consideration. If you are planning on traveling during the warmer and drier climate of summer season, you might want to stay in the Northern regions. However if you are planning to travel during the winter months, you might want to stay close to the dry southern areas as mild rain and wind storms (although very short lived) are more common. Some families choose to divide their stay between two areas.
The North Shore includes the posh resort area of Princeville, home of beautiful white sandy beaches, the famous lush green Hanalei Valley, as well as the majestic Na Pali Coast. The splendors of northern Kauai can be affected by dampness and rain, however, as the locals often say, "If you don't like the weather in Kauai, just wait five minutes." Inland, much of Kauai is made up of tropical peaks and valleys irrigated by waterfalls, lending further proof to the island's nickname: The Garden Isle.
The eastern shore, known as the Coconut Coast is the most populated area on this sparsely inhabited island (there are approximately 65,000 residents in total). From Kapa'a to Lihue are stretches of beautiful beaches, historical sugar plantations and beautiful waterfalls; this part of the island is generally much drier and sandier than the North Shore.
The West Side is home to Waimea Canyon, often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific."
Lastly, the South Shore resort region of Poipu enjoys the sunniest and driest weather on the island. While there are some terrific resorts for every budget throughout Kauai, when traveling with your family, the best options are probably the sunnier beaches located in the central Coconut Coast or southern Poipu areas.
Kauai Marriott, a Coconut Coast Cultural Institution
For a central location, the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort & Beach Club (808/245-5050; 3610 Rice Street, Lihu'e, HI 96766) is, without question, a great place to stay. This incredible resort on the shores of beautiful Kalapaki Beach in the Lihue region has, since its opening in 1995, been committed to protecting and preserving Hawaii culture. The hotel's Hawaiian Art and Artifact Project assembles a variety of authentic Hawaiian artifacts and artwork for display and decoration. Placed throughout the common areas are shark tooth weapons, ancient hula instruments and drums, and kappa cloth made in Hawaii over a hundred years ago.
One of the unique events that the Marriott offers for the whole family is a live, authentic display by Halau Rohotu, which conducts its traditional dance rehearsals at the resort's Ni'ihau Court every Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm. There are many hula halau in Hawaii that practice authentic hula such as the kahiko, an ancient form of dance, and Halau Rohotu is just one of many signature Hawaiian guest offerings.
The sublime Kalapaki Beach itself is a huge draw because it is suitable for various ocean activities such as surfing, boogie boarding and kayaking. It's probably the safest beach on Kauai for those whose children are not very strong swimmers because a protective bay prevents the stronger open ocean currents from reaching the gentle surf close to shore. A great compliment to the perfect beach is the astounding 26,000-square-foot swimming pool – one of the largest in Hawaii.
In addition to the beautiful beach and impressive pool, the Marriott offers some outstanding options for families, including Marriott's Activity Zone Experience (MAZE). Here, parents and children can participate in Koi Fish feeding, cultural garden tours and surfing lessons. Other programs allow parents to drop their children off for a specified amount of time at nominal charges. The Kalapaki Kids Club invites children to explore beautiful gardens, see indigenous animals, native plants and flowers, play beach and water sports, learn about Hawaiian culture and make new friends under the enthusiastic supervision of qualified, caring counselors. This seasonal, full-day program for children 5- to 12-years of age costs $45/day, which includes lunch, a snack and a Kalapaki Kids T-shirt. Reservations are required one day in advance and can be made through the hotel concierge.
All ages will find that there is no shortage of things to do. The Kauai Marriott keeps guests well informed of these great activities by distributing a daily newsletter of age-specific events and activities available during the week of their stay. This resort is not just a beach vacation destination, it is a chance to really enjoy a beautiful natural Hawaiian setting as well as learn about the state's rich cultural heritage through the resort's amazing programs.
Sheraton Kauai: South Shore's Eco-Tourism Paradise
For a hotel in the Poipu resort area of sunny southern Kauai, look no further than the Sheraton Kauai Resort (808/742-1661; located at 2440 Ho'onani Road, Poipu Beach, HI 96756). Like other Starwood Vacation Resorts, this Sheraton is an ideal resort for families not only for its seasonal deals (up to two children per room under the age of 12 eat free; two children under 17 stay for free when sharing adults' room), but for a number of other considerations as well.
The phenomenal guest services department organizes the scuba, snorkeling equipment and boogie boards, and beach cabana rentals are available adjacent to the ocean pool. Guests have access to a second swimming pool (a separate kiddie pool is on the ocean side), a fitness center, tennis courts, and a news/internet library.
In addition to beautiful landscaping, what really sets this resort apart is that it's perfect for a family of eco-tourists. As part of its support of island environmental initiatives, the Sheraton Kauai has teamed up with local marine biologists who host a teaching event about the endangered Hawaiian monk seal known to occasionally frequent the beach in front of the resort, despite the fact that there are only 1,300 of this species remaining.
In a similar eco-touristic vein, the resort is located in very close proximity to the Allerton Gardens. It is a part of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and the public events are often narrated by native Hawaiians. The evening star gazing session is accompanied by a fascinating history of ancient ancestors who used the stars for navigation purposes, and background on the Hawaiian names and stories behind the various constellations. This unique program is a truly beautiful and educational experience for the whole family to enjoy.
If that isn't enough to tempt your family, the resort also hosts morning yoga classes on the beach, which this author just so happened to take part in and felt completely rejuvenated by.
For the family's golf enthusiasts, the resort is located near the Poipu Bay Golf Course, former home of the PGA Tour Grand Slam of Golf, which most of golf's modern day champions have all taken part in, as well as the Kiahuna Golf Club whose course was designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones. With all of these activities and amenities, you may not feel like you ever have to leave the resort, but you certainly would be missing out.
Eco-Outings on Kauai with Infants & Toddlers
If you're traveling with infants and toddlers, you may find that they're under the minimum age requirements of many of the more adventurous activities unique to Kauai. However, there's a great young family activity: the Kilohana Plantation Tour. The highlight of this soft adventure is a very enjoyable train ride around a real working farm that grows papaya, pineapple, guava and sugar cane, among other local produce. There is also an opportunity to feed goats and pigs, fun for kids and grownups who are kids at heart. The Kilohana Plantation is perfect for a half-day trip or an all-day excursion because the historic site contains many other activities that families will enjoy as well as a luau featuring state-of-the-art entertainment equipment.
Attending a luau, or traditional Hawaiian feast, is another pleasure for the whole family. Both the Marriott and the Sheraton offer luaus of their own, but you're better off leaving their grounds and checking out a more traditional / authentic feast. One great family choice is the Smith's Garden Luau located in the so-called sacred Wailua River Valley. Upon arrival, you will be blown away by the grounds themselves. Smith's Garden is located in an Hawaii State Park and contains vibrant flowers, koi ponds, peacocks, walking paths and bridges, all of which you see on a brief trolley tour of prior to the festivities.
The very ono (Hawaiian term for "delicious") feast is prepared and cooked in a traditional Hawaiian way; food is cooked underground using an imu (oven) and the audience experiences the unearthing ceremony. The Smith's Garden luau has been around for over 50 years and remains a family-run operation. In that time, they've managed to keep it an authentic experience, while making it both educational and fun. It should also be noted that the Smith Garden Luau show aims to give the audience a sense of all of Polynesia, while the Kilohana plantation offers a luau that is specific to Hawaii.
After experiencing the train ride plantation tour and having been thoroughly "Lu-Wowwed!" you might be ready to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the island.
Kauai is a Watersports Eco-Paradise for Active Families
Only 10% of Kauai is accessible by car, while the remainder can be seen by foot, bicycle, helicopter or boat. We recommend Holo-Holo Charters for a catamaran boat tour of the Na Pali Coast from which you will behold some of the most spectacular (and familiar) views in the world.
The Na Pali Coast has been the site of some famous Hollywood movie scenes in "King Kong," "Jurassic Park" and "Six Days Seven Nights," among many others. The island cliffs are being naturally eroded by up to one inch every year, which creates unique caverns, waterfalls, and the occasional beach, all completely inaccessible by automobile. Getting there on boat can be an exciting adventure in and of itself, and may not be suitable for children under 5. (In fact, with the exception of certain sunset cruises, many charters don't allow children under 5 aboard.)
Beneath the sea of the Na Pali coast you can have also have a snorkeling experience, said to be the best on the island of Kauai,with Holo-Holo. As with any boat tour, what you will be able to experience is dependent on the conditions that day. The captain of the vessel will ultimately decide what points of interest you will see or if he will open up the sails for a smoother cruise. If you are traveling between December and April, you can expect to see humpback whales spouting mist out of their blowholes, breaching up out of the water. Most charters will feature spinner dolphins swimming in front of the boat, sightings of the elusive sea turtles, and provide snorkeling equipment and a lunch as part of the tour.
Kauai Helicopter Tours for Active Families
Finally, the undisputed best way to see the whole island from a vantage that simply cannot be matched, is a helicopter tour. The prices vary significantly by tour company, and a perfect balance between cost, facilities and the tour experience can be struck by selecting Island Helicopters.
Many visitors will be aware that tragic helicopter crashes have taken the lives of Kauai tourists in the past. At Island Helicopters, owners Bonnie and Curt Lofstedt have been flying in Hawaii for over 30 years, and Curt personally selects and trains each of their pilots. Both the Company and all of the pilots are F.A.A. Certified Part 135 and all of Island Helicopters' pilots have perfect safety records.
The sleek and modern Island helicopters offer ceiling to floor glass doors, leather interiors, air-conditioning, quality BoseX CD stereo systems and headsets, and two-way communication between pilot and passengers. Island Helicopters' professional pilots give a personalized live narration highlighting the island's history and culture and their tour is choreographed to gentle Hawaiian music, making it a true audio-visual experience.
This is definitely a must-see activity that families really do not want to miss out on, but there are a few warnings: It's expensive, but Island Helicopters' price is definitely reasonable compared to other providers and the knowledge and expertise of the pilots are of the highest quality. The Island Helicopter is extremely comfortable, but a ride through the canyons making sharp bank turns may cause motion sickness, especially in youngsters; and yes, Island Helicopters does allow children of all ages aboard their tours.
Trip Planning Details for a Kauai Family Adventure
Whether you are planning to spend a few weeks or just a few days, you'll no doubt find that this beautiful island is guaranteed to offer once in a lifetime experiences. It is a great beach destination for the whole ohana (family), especially for your keiki (child). Kauai provides for a truly authentic, less commercialized, less cookie-cutter Hawaiian experience while still maintaining all of the amenities that you would expect to find on some of the surrounding Islands.
For more information, check out the Kauai Tourist Information website.
As you can see, the best way to describe a Kauai vacation is to use the Hawaiian phrase No ka 'oi which means "Is the best."
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.