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The Best Things to Do in Hanalei
Hanalei is a gorgeous town on the North Shore of Kauai known for its natural beauty. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Hanalei, you’re in the right place!
There are many incredible things to do in Hanalei, from water activities to magnificent landscapes and sandy beaches.
I know you are excited to learn more about what you can do in Hanalei. So, let’s get started with all the fun things you can place on your list of things to do on your Kauai vacation.
Do I need a rental car in Kauai?
Renting a car is an absolute must in Kauai. It would be a shame to waste your time on the beautiful garden isle in a resort (even though the resorts in Kauai are beautiful too.)
There aren’t many options for public transportation, so you don’t have much choice. I recommend Discount Hawaii Car Rental. You’ll find the best deals and don’t have to pay for your rental until arrival. By the way, I recommend a Jeep; it is a lot more fun! That said, a car will be sufficient.
You can read more about why you need a rental car in Hawaii, but suffice; you’ll need a car no matter what.
The Best Things to Do in Hanalei
Here are the best things to do on the North Shore of Kauai, in no particular order. This includes things to do in Princeville, Hanalei, and the surrounding areas.
Wander Around the Limahuli Garden and Preserve
One of the best things to do on the North Shore of Kauai is visiting the Limahuli Gardens. It is a 17-acre botanical garden. Lush plants are scattered throughout the garden. You can take a tour of the gardens. Or you can wander around on your own.
Make sure you check out the taro gardens. They grow on ancient lava rock terraces. Take your camera too. The Makana Mountain in the distance makes a perfect backdrop for pictures.
Visit the Hanalei Valley Lookout
The Hanalei Valley Lookout is one of the destinations in Kauai that you should visit more than once. The views seem to change constantly and depend on the time of day, weather, and even the number of clouds in the sky.
You won’t want to miss any of the magical moments at the Hanalei Valley Lookout. Those include rainbows that pop up without much notice.
Explore the Wai’oli Hui’ia Church
One of the best things to do in Hanalei explores the Wai’oli Hui’ia Church. This church was founded in 1834. Although, the current building wasn’t constructed until 1912. It is currently the most photographed building in the town of Hanalei.
It is recommended you visit when a service is being held. If you do, you can listen to the choir sing hymns using the Hawaiian language.
Visit the Wai’oli Mission House
This mission house is located behind the Wai’oli Hui’ia Church. It is best to take a guided tour inside the house. This will ensure you learn about its history and won’t miss any details.
Take a Shuttle from Hanalei to Haena State Park
There are so many things to do in Princeville. However, one of the best things to do is to take a shuttle to Haena State Park. This park is the perfect spot for shore fishing. You can also do a little swimming at Ke’e Beach.
If hiking is on your list of things to do on the North Shore of Kauai, Haena State Park has you covered! The Hanakāpi’ai Falls Trail is only 4 miles long. A lengthy 11-mile trail, Kalalau Trail, can also be found within the park.
Take a Na Pali Coast Boat Tour
There are quite a few catamaran tours available in Kauai. I always recommend taking one of the coast boat tours, though. The reason for this is that smaller boats can enter many of the sea caves. The larger catamarans cannot. However, catamaran tours are a better choice if you get seasick.
These tours (like this one) are available out of Hanalei from April through October. If you visit during the other months of the year, you will need to book a boat tour out of Port Allen on the other side of the island. My favorite sail and snorkel is with Holo Holo Charters.
Kayaking is one of the best things to do on the North Shore of Kauai. You can choose to kayak in the Hanalei River. Or you can head right out into Hanalei Bay.
Turtles can be seen in either area. However, dolphins are primarily present in the bay.
I recommend taking snorkeling gear with you on this adventure. You can easily slide into the water with the marine life to see it up close. A kayak and snorkel tour is always a good option.
Go Shopping at the Hanalei Farmers Market
The Hanalei Farmers Market is open every Saturday morning. There are more than 50 vendors there selling local food and crafts. The summer months bring the most tropical fruit. It is best to plan your vacation in Hanalei for those months if you want to eat juicy tropical fruit during your trip.
Explore Kaula Paoa Heiau
According to legend, Kaula Paoa Heiau is the birthplace of hula. Getting to Kaula Paoa Heiau is simple. All you need to do is walk along the trail from Ke’e Beach.
The heiau, which is a stone temple, is dedicated to Laka. She is the goddess of dance and music. You should only enter this temple via the opening. Climbing up over the rocks is considered to be disrespectful.
Relive South Pacific Scenes at Lumahai Beach
If you are a fan of South Pacific, you will want to relive a few scenes at Lumahai Beach. Especially the one where Mitzi Gaynor “washed that man right out of her hair.”
Over the years, this stretch of sandy beach has also been featured on thousands of Kauai postcards.
One of the things you cannot do while at Lumahai Beach is swim. The water usually is too rough.
Surfing is one of the best things to do in Hanalei. The surf breaks are incredible. The scenery is fabulous too.
If you do not know how to surf, don’t worry! Hanalei also happens to be one of the best places to learn! There are quite a few professional surf instructors at the beach. You can take lessons from any of them. I recommend:
Not everyone loves to surf. Of course, some people love to surf and participate in every other water sport. No matter which type of person you are, snorkeling might be at the top of your list when on vacation in Kauai.
You can snorkel at any of the beaches in Hanalei. Tunnels Beach is considered the best snorkeling destination in Hanalei, though.
Heading to Tunnels Beach to snorkeling is considered one of the best things on the North Shore of Kauai. I recommend going early in the day or later on. The middle of the day gets crowded. And parking is always limited.
You can also do a kayak and snorkel tour, which is a lot of fun!
Explore the Caves on the North Shore
I know I talked about how you can take a coastal boat tour to the sea caves a little while ago. Did you know you can walk to some of the caves on the North Shore, though?
One of the best things to do in Hanalei is exploring the caves on the North Shore. The two caves I recommend are the Waikanaloa Cave and Waikapalae Caves. You won’t need to walk far to reach either one.
Go On a Food Tour
A food tour is one of the tastiest things to do on the North Shore in Kauai. This is one of the best ways to try local foods. Since the portions are smaller, you won’t need to worry if you don’t like something. It’s not like you will starve!
Play a Round of Golf
One of the best things to do in Princeville is playing a round of golf. The Princeville Makai Golf Course is one of the better golf courses on the island of Kauai. Six of the holes have views of the ocean.
Walk Along the Hanalei Pier
The Hanalei Pier was constructed back in 1892. The bridge has been lengthened over the years. It is now 340 feet long. The original wood has been replaced with concrete. A roof was added during the 1940s. And the rest, you could say, is history.
Tourists and locals alike love to spend time on the pier. You can simply relax and enjoy the ambiance. You can also swim in the shallow water surrounding the pier.
My favorite thing to do while on the Hanalei Pier is watching the sunset. Arrive early because the pier will get crowded as the sun sets.
A family favorite thing to do in Princeville is ziplining. There are multiple zipline courses throughout Princeville. Each one will have you taking in the spectacular views of the North Shore.
Relax at Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park
This beach is directly in the center of Hanalei Bay. The water is not as calm in this area, so swimming is not always possible. However, most summer days bring calm water. Therefore, you shouldn’t rule out visiting this beach because you may be able to swim on the day you want to visit.
Checking out the surf report early in the day is one of the best ways to determine if you can swim at Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park.
There are numerous boutiques along the Kuhio Highway. You will find many others in the heart of Hanalei Town. Many of those boutiques are located within historic buildings.
Eat Shave Ice
You cannot spend time on any of the Hawaiian Islands and not eat at least one cup of shave ice! There are a few places to get shave ice on the North Shore of Kauai. However, The Wishing Well Shave Ice is at the top of the list for many people.
Eating shave ice is one of the best things to do in Hanalei.
Photo from Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tommy Lundberg
Tour the Ho’opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill
This rice mill can be found in the taro fields within Hanalei Valley. The rice mill dates back to the 1800s. It is currently the only rice mill in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Ho’opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill is now a museum. Taking a museum tour is an excellent way to learn more about the area’s agricultural history.
The tour includes more than a visit inside the museum. You will also enjoy lunch, a taro smoothie, farm-fresh tastings, and hands-on activities.
Go Shopping at the Princeville Shopping Center
If Hanalei doesn’t have enough boutiques for you, I recommend heading over to the Princeville Shopping Center. This is one of the best things to do in Princeville on those days when it rains for a little while.
Out of all the stores, I recommend going to Foodland. You may not want to shop for food, but trust me when I say you need to! This store is filled with all sorts of Hawaiian-made products and local foods. You definitely won’t leave empty-handed!
Wander Around the Princeville Botanical Gardens
There may be a botanical garden in Hanalei, but that doesn’t mean you should skip over this one in Princeville. This botanical garden only contains 9 acres. Yet, those 9 acres are filled with lush plants and flowers.
I highly recommend the chocolate tasting, which is part of one of the gardens walking tours. I mean, who can resist a little chocolate while on vacation?!
Experience the Princeville Night Market
If you want something to do one night, head to the Princeville Night Market. You can listen to live music, go shopping, and grab some food from the food trucks.
This is one of the best family-friendly things to do in Princeville at night. Kauai isn’t much for actual nightlife, but if you like live music in the evenings (like I do), it’s perfect!
Have an Adventure at the Princeville Ranch
Over at the Princeville Ranch, you can go horseback riding, off-roading on an ATV, and even go ziplining. The possibilities are practically endless at this ranch on Kauai.
There are six waterfalls on the ranch property. It is best to do one of the activities that include checking out at least one of those waterfalls.
One of the best things to do on the North Shore – and in all of Kauai – is to go hiking. Keep in mind that many Na Pali coast hikes are accessed in Koke’e State Park, on the other side of the island. However, the famous Kalalau Trail can be accessed here; make sure to get your permits!
The top 10 Hikes on Kauai will tell you more!
Take a helicopter tour
The helicopter tours don’t depart from the North shore, but a helicopter tour in Kauai is always a good idea! Most of Kauai is not accessible by car, so this is the perfect way to see all of the North Shore. I have an entire blog post about helicopter tours in Kauai, but these are my favorites:
- Kauai Island private helicopter tour
- Kauai ECO adventure tour with Blue Hawaiian
- Private doors-off Kauai helicopter tour
Check Out Queen’s Bath
Queen’s Bath is a tidal pool in Princeville. It is not safe or legal to go down to Queen’s Bath anymore, but you can check it out from above!
Visit the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge
One of the best things to do on the North Shore of Kauai is visiting the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse is from the 1900s. It is located at the most northern point of the island.
Inside the wildlife refuge, you will have the opportunity to see many native seabirds. A couple of the birds you may spot include the great frigate, Laysan albatross, and red-footed booby.
Depending on the timing of your visit, you may see dolphins and humpback whales out in the ocean.
Thing to do on the North Shore of Kauai
These are the best things to do in Hanalei and on the North Shore of Kauai. Did your favorite thing to do on the North shore of Kauai make the list? If not, make sure to share it in the comments!
For more Kauai travel tips, check out some of my most popular blog posts:
- The best waterfalls in Kauai
- The 10 best beaches in Kauai
- 10 best adventure activities on Kauai
- 7 day Kauai Itinerary
- The best restaurants in Kauai
- 25 things to do on Kauai
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