Kauai is that rare destination that doesn’t just live up to the hype — it transcends it. There’s simply no way to capture its ancient, powerful landscape in words, or to convey the otherworldly mystique that pervades this pastoral island (the oldest in the Hawaiian archipelago). Hawaiians talk of mana, which loosely translates to spiritual energy. On Kauai, the magic of mana takes hold straightaway, tightening its grip the longer you’re there. And fortunately for kids, the best resorts in Kauai for families are full of magical fun, too.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about Kauai for families, though, is that it can be whatever you need it to be. It’s a place of contrasts: low-key leisure and high-octane adventure, placid shallows and crashing surf, palm-flecked beaches and jagged cliffs. No town has more than 11,000 people; no building is allowed to rise higher than a coconut tree; and most of the land is a patchwork of taro farms, untamed valleys and tangled rainforests. Yet pockets of luxury, culture and convenience abound, if you know where to look.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re pondering a Kauai getaway with your keiki (little ones).
Choose your home base. Kauai’s four sides are distinct: the calm, fair South Shore; the busy eastern coast; the remote and rural North Shore; and the rugged, largely inaccessible west side. If you have plenty of time and want to experience the island at its fullest, base yourself in at least two of Kauai’s family resorts. This also saves a lot of backtracking — since there’s essentially a single roadway along the coast, getting from point A to point B can eat up time. If choosing one location, South Shore ranks high for its amenities and weather.
Decide which season suits you. Kauai’s high seasons run from December through early spring, and summer through Labor Day. Shoulder seasons, such as fall, balance lower crowds with lovely weather. You can count on some rain no matter when you visit, but summer is usually driest. The winter months, especially on the North Shore, can be damp with rougher seas.
Winter’s upside? Rain plumps up the foliage and keeps waterfalls robust. Even when it’s drizzling on the northern coast, odds are you’ll find sunshine to the south and west. And this is also peak time for whale-watching.
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Rent a car. We can’t stress this enough. There’s a bus network, but it doesn’t hit prime tourist spots or the hidden gems that are key to Kauai’s beauty. Driving on the island is easy, so there’s little reason not to have your own wheels. Just be sure to reserve your car far in advance.
Be careful where you swim. Wherever you see more than three cars pulled over to the side of the highway on Kauai, you’ll probably find a beach. Don’t dive in without doing your homework, however: Rogue waves and rip currents here are no joke. Not all beaches are swimmable, so it’s important to ask where you should and shouldn’t go in the water. Lifeguarded beaches are the safest bet, but always check the surf reports first.
Bring old clothing for adventure activities. Kauai’s red soil is so tenacious that local companies use it to dye souvenir T-shirts. If you get it on your clothes, which kids almost certainly will, it may be there for good. You also might find yourself wading through forest streams on hikes, so pack sturdy shoes that can get wet.
Poipu. The South Shore’s Poipu area is absolutely ideal for families. It’s geared toward tourism, but with kids, that’s not a bad thing. Dry and sunny, it has an extensive infrastructure without feeling overdeveloped. The beaches here are calm year-round and good for swimming as a rule. “Baby Beach,” a sheltered patch of sand that slopes gently into the water, works perfectly for toddlers and preschoolers.
For a luxury option in Poipu, we like Koloa Landing. Our clients rave about its family-friendly atmosphere and condo-style accommodation. For multigenerational trips, we’re impressed by the Lodge at Kukui’ula. The cottages and villas all have a a separate inlaw unit. There’s a farm stand of veggies and flowers stocked daily from the on-site farm and the property offers fun kid activities like glow golf and ukulele lessons. It’s not on the beach but does offer sea views. For a beachfront experience, Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is another top-of-mind property in this area, and we can offer clients perks for booking through us.
The North Shore. Picking the loveliest part of Kauai is really splitting hairs, but North Shore is high on the list. Secluded, dramatic and arrestingly lush, it’s a totally singular part of the island. It’s also the rainiest, so do be advised of this.
This is the most upscale area of the isle and home to several luxury properties. We’re looking forward to the opening of 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay on the North Shore later in 2022, another hotel at which our team will be able to offer clients exclusive perks and amenities.
While Kapaa on the eastern Coconut Coast (named for the groves of coconut palms in the area) is not our preferred place to stay, it’s worth visiting. The town is about midway between urban Lihue and the North Shore. As on the south side, weather tends toward sunny, and there’s no better place to take in one of Kauai’s knockout sunrises. It’s stuffed with grocery stores, restaurants, shops et al, so is an ideal place to stock up on essentials you may need or stop for a bite to eat.
Know that this is the most populated part of the island and relatively built up; it’s not about pristine scenery here. Accommodations tend toward chains and budget to midrange options. Still, some of Kauai’s prettiest beaches are in this area. Lydgate Beach is calm enough for swimming with toddlers, and there’s also a fabulous playground, Kamalani — a great find on an island where playgrounds tend to be of the natural sort. Kapaa Beach Park has a paved bike/walking trail that overlooks the waves and is easy to navigate with a stroller. For those that do want to stay on this part of the island, we’ve booked satisfied clients at the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort in this part of Kauai and can offer perks for a stay.
Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino was hosted by the Kauai Visitors Bureau in order to provide comprehensive coverage. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Lisa Frederick. Kristi Marcelle and Susan Robinson contributed to this article.
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