The north shore of Kauai with babies and toddlers

The north shore of Kauai, Hawaii, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth for a Hawaiian holiday, but it can be tricky to manage a kid-friendly family vacation without a few insider tips! Kauai is a small island, but indirect, winding, two-lane roads and local traffic can slow families down, making outings longer than they appear on the map. We’ve put together a brief list of some of our kid-tested favorite beaches and attractions to help you chose activities that will cater to your babies and toddlers, and help you get a little relaxation while you’re at it!

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Note: family travel with small kids is just easier when staying at a vacation rental, with room to spread out and a kitchen in which to prepare meals. Check out Kauai vacation rental options from VacationRoost.

Anini Beach (Anini Road, Kalihiwai, HI): As any guidebook will tell you, Anini Beach is one of the best beaches for very small kids. The beach is narrow, but there is a grassy lawn for ball games, and the water is more like a zero entry pool than a beach. No waves, soft sand, and some decent snorkeling make this a great beach for the younger set.

Ke’e Beach (HI 560, just past Ha’ena): This one surprised us—it’s not listed as being particularly kid-friendly in any of the guidebooks, and from the parking lot, it doesn’t look like much. It’s at the trailhead of the famous Kalalau Trail, at the start of the spectacular Na Pali Coast. We didn’t notice the beach until we were at the first lookout along the trail and looked down at a beautiful, sheltered beach with clear water and a protective reef about 100 yards off-shore. After our hike, we returned to stop at Ke’e Beach, and it was probably the calmest, most picturesque beach we visited during our vacation. It might be rougher in the winter months, but in late summer the water was calm enough for swimming with a baby!

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Hanakapi’ai Beach and Kalalau Trail: About two miles in on the Kalalau Trail (trailhead located at Ke’e Beach, literally at the end of the road that travels across the north shore) is picturesque Hanakapi’ai Beach. Although not recommended for swimming (strong currents and a remote location make swimming extremely dangerous), this is a spectacular beach, with a freshwater creek and shallow caves to explore. The hike was steep and muddy in places, but we were able to arrive at our destination (Hanakapi’ai Beach) in the morning, eat a snack and explore, and make it back to Ke’e Beach in time for a midday lunch. The hike is extremely beautiful, but tough and often dangerous for kids, and I wouldn’t recommend it for the very young without a carrier of some sort (strollers are definitely not an option on the trail!). Keep in mind: a trip to Kauai isn’t complete without seeing the spectacular Na Pali Coast!

Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge (Kilauea Road, Kilauea): At the northernmost point of Kauai, the Kilauea Lighthouse sits on a bluff with views of the north shore all the way to the Na Pali Coast. There is a short walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse, with great views for bird, seal, and even whale-watching (in the right season). This is a fun toddler activity: everything is fenced in, and the walk is easy, so you can let the kids loose. There is a little information center at the lighthouse that even has coloring paper and crayons for the artists in your group! Note: Kilauea Lighthouse has a $5 entry fee for adults 16 and over; those under 16 are free.

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Lydgate State Park (Nalu Road, accessed via Leho Drive off Route 56 in Kapaa): I was surprised to find that there were not many playgrounds on or near the beaches in Kauai. Of course, the beaches and hikes alone are enough entertainment for most of us, but for the very young (who might be too young to swim or hike in their own right), nothing beats a good old-fashioned playground. Kamalani Playground at Lydgate State Park is a huge wooden maze-like structure with slides, swings, and ropes to climb. It’s actually on the eastern shore of the island, but is only about a 20-30 minute drive from the north shore, and is by far the best playground around. We spent a blissful afternoon letting our three-year-old run wild while the baby happily watched from the swing. The only down side to this park is that the beach directly across the street from the playground is too rough for inexperienced swimmers, although heading north through the parking lot will reward you with a more sheltered swimming area. Tip! Be sure to stop for some shave ice in Kapaa on your way back to the north shore!

General information: All beaches in Kauai are public, and therefore free. The above (unless otherwise indicated) are located just off the main road that travels along the coast from Kapaa to Ke’e Beach (Rt 56/HI 560). Food services vary: none of the locations above have food available, but there are places to eat in the towns throughout the north shore. The Kilauea Fish Market and Foodland in Princeville are some that we enjoyed for lunch and dinner.

Kalihiwai on Dwellable

About the author

Kate Lepore AUTHOR: Kate Lepore is Pit Stops for Kids' east coast editor and a mother of two preschool-aged children. Kate makes her home in Western Massachusetts when not traveling. Find Kate at Google.

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  1. Thanks for the tips! Very timely, as we are planning a trip to Kauai now!

  2. We love Kauai. Went just before I got pregnant and we can not wait to bring the little guy down to show off what we found. Right near Ke’e Beach is Tunnels Beach which should also not be missed. Loads of families were hanging out around the reef. If you walk a little further past all the families you can snag a stretch of sand to yourself and still benefit from the calm waters. Oh boy. You have me dreaming of hoping on a plane right now and going back!

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