Whether you’re looking for beautiful beaches, waterfront dining, culture, and history, or outdoor activities, there’s something for everyone on Kauai’s East Side. Here are some of the best activities to do in Kapaa and Wailua.
1. Bike Path: Ke Ala Hele Makalae
Ke Ala Hele Makalae is Kauai’s only coastal bike path that runs along the water from Lydgate Park on the south end of Kapaa to Donkey Beach, on the north end of Kapaa. Even with the small disconnect in the middle between The Coconut Marketplace and Waipouli Beach Resort you can still hop on at any point and enjoy a nice long adventure. Lydgate to Coconut Marketplace is approx. 2 miles one way, or Waipouli Beach Resort to Donkey Beach is approx. 4.5 miles one way. You will see me on the bike path often!
You can enjoy a coastal cruise with ocean views, trade winds, sunshine, and sometimes whales! It is safe and accessible at multiple points along the way. The best access point is to park at Kealia and get going in either direction! Wave and smile and say hello to everyone, it’s a friendly place! Rent bikes at Hele On Kauai Bike Rentals, Coconut Coasters, Kauai Cycle, or Boss Frogs.
2. Hiking Trails: Sleeping Giant, Kuilau Ridge:
Nonou Trail aka “Sleeping Giant Trail” is the East Side’s most famous trail. You can access a trailhead in 3 or 4 locations. But, I highly advise that you stick to clearly marked areas with a parking lot and do not park along the roadside in residential neighborhoods or in front of people’s homes or driveways, this is considered rude by local culture.
The front side of the mountain can be accessed off of Haleilio Rd. and the backside of the mountain can be accessed off Lokelani Rd. Both have small parking lots designed for visitors. Parking is free of course. But be mindful of neighbors and keep your noise level down. You’ll be in residential neighborhoods and being a respectful visitor will go a long way to you having a good day.
Hiking from the Lokelani Rd side is short and sweet, green and lush with a pine tree and bamboo forests along the way. Hiking from the Haleilio side is longer, drier, switchback style with ocean views. Both are great. Round trip can be done in 1-2 hours depending on your hiking prowess.
Kuilau Ridge Trail is inland Wailua (approx. 5-mile drive from Wailua Beach toward the mountains). Stay on Kuamoo Rd. until you see the sign for Kuilau Ridge trailhead on the right-hand side. Lush and green, walk along a ridgeline to see the inland area of Wailua and its interior jungle nature.
3. Beaches: Lydgate Beach Park, Wailua Beach, Kealia.
Beach day is self-explanatory and so much fun! Pack your cooler, beach chairs, towels, snacks, water, and sunscreen. All beaches are open to the public in Hawaii. These beaches are specific to the East Side, have easy access, and are safe. Kealia and Lydgate are the only two with lifeguards and it is always advisable to swim at a beach with a lifeguard and always check with them first before going in the water. Lydgate in particular has two protected ponds which are perfect for kids.
Be respectful at all beaches; screaming kids, obnoxious behavior, harming the reef or nature, or being generally unaware of yourself and those around you is frowned upon. Please do be friendly, wave, and give a smile to your local counterparts at the beach. Enjoy yourself and make sure to pick up your trash and all belongings before you leave.
Situate yourself well away from other beachgoers who set up on the beach before your arrival. No one wants to hear your conversation or your music. The beach is a peaceful, yet fun place for all to enjoy.
If you are looking to surf as a beginner on Kauai I suggest going to a dedicated surf lesson for the best experience. There are several to choose from. On the North Shore: Hanalei Surf School, Titus Kinimaka School of Surfing, Hawaiian Surfing Adventures. On the South Shore: Kauai Surf School, Hawaiian Style Surfing, Aloha Surf Lessons. In Hawaii, some surf spots are fairly competitive and considered locals-only surf spots. Most surf spots, depending on season, are incredibly dangerous and high surf and undertow are real issues that a novice may not be able to navigate. Also, getting in the way of an experienced surfer by accident is dangerous for you as well as the surfer. Having a local guide will help tremendously in guiding you to the right spot with the right etiquette for the safest, and most fun surfing experience. Surf lesson companies welcome people at all skill levels so bring the whole fam.
4. Waterfalls: Opaekaa Falls, Wailua Falls
Opaekaa Falls and the nearby Poliahu Heiau and lookout, and Kamokila Hawaiian Village are all a real treat less than 5 minutes off the main highway. Learn by reading the informational posts for a quick snapshot of the area and its historical significance. Easily accessible, self-guided, with a restroom, shade, and lots of chickens to photograph!
Wailua Falls entry is actually at the base of Kapaia Valley near Lihue, off of Maalo Rd. From that entry point you will drive approx. 5 miles inland and find yourself at the south fork of Wailua River. These falls are magnificent and were the opening scene for Fantasy Island back in the day. Wailua Falls are easily accessible and the parking lot looks directly over the falls. A must-see for the waterfall or rainbow enthusiast.
5. Wailua Golf Course: Wailua Golf Course
FORE! Wailua Golf Course is Kauai’s municipal golf course is described by locals as one of the toughest golf courses around and voted #3 by Golf Channel in all of Hawaii. Green Fees are inexpensive and there is no hoity-toity-ness here. This is where the locals golf, and you’ll find plenty of good times and friendly comradery if you take the time to be friendly.
6. First Saturday: Kapaa Art Walk aka First Saturday
Kapaa Art Walk aka First Saturday occurs the first Saturday of each month from 5pm-9pm through Kapaa Town. Park (for free) at one of the nearby public parks and just walk from one end to the other. Live entertainment, food, and participating stores are open to cruise through, local artisans have kiosks set up, come meet people, and have a good time. Did you know Forbes named Kapaa as one of America’s prettiest towns? (First Saturday is temporarily on hold due to Covid restrictions)
7. Kauai Hindu Monastery: Kauai Hindu Monastery
Kauai Hindu Monastery is in the upper Wailua Homesteads area and well worth your time. Welcome to all, and nestled in a small residential neighborhood. For those seeking a quiet, mindful, educational, and inspiring experience are in for a treat. Home to the Himalayan Academy, Hinduism Today Magazine, and Hindu Heritage Endowment, this property is jaw-dropping. Visit their all granite temples on 382 acres, carved in Bangalore India, and assembled on Kauai, wow! The Iraivan Temple is one of them and maybe you get a glimpse of one of the world’s rarest crystals. Learn about an amazing culture and lifestyle of self-sufficiency, mindfulness, spirituality, and meditation. Appointments needed to visit, Virtual Tour here.
8. Heiau Adventures
Learn about historic and special Hawaiian cultural sites (wahi pana) within Wailuanuiaho’ano (Great Sacred Wailua) and their legends:
Visit Kukui heiau (in front of Lae Nani Condo in Wailua), Poliahu (next to Opaekaa Falls), Holoholoku (right off the side of the road on Kuamoo Rd., just beyond the historic Coco Palms Hotel). No fees to enter the heiau, but please remember to be respectful and do not move or take any rocks from the walls or leave any belongings behind. Wailua itself was known as one of the past battlegrounds for the Hawaiians defending Kauai and plenty of stories to accompany those times. Side note: only Alii (chiefs) were born at Holoholoku right alongside Kuamoo Rd. A treasured spot for sure.
9. Waterfront Restaurants
Oasis on the Beach, Sam’s, Lava Lava Beach Club, Bull Shed Sometimes you want to enjoy the water, but not be in it or maybe you’re just hungry. What better way than with ‘your attitude in the sand, and drink in hand’ with our east side oceanfront restaurants. Strangely enough, there are not too many oceanfront restaurants on the east side. Whether it be for lunch, dinner, or pau hana (end of day/happy hour), get to your favorite spot. Each has easy parking, easy access, and allows you to relax to the sights and sounds of the water and someone waiting on you! The Bull Shed is a local favorite and only open for dinner. Low-key atmosphere with delicious steak and lobster, and a nice outside seating area right on the water. Good wine and good food and reasonably priced. You won’t go home hungry from the Bull Shed and when you tell your friends where you went they’ll think you’re swearing, every time! And you can say….”Nooooo I said Bull SHED!”
10. Wailua River Activities: Luau, Fern Grotto, Kayak/SUP
For a nice relaxing tour on calm water and on the state’s only navigable river, check out Smiths Tropical Paradise and their Fern Grotto tour. My Auntie was married there many years ago and it still has an impression on my heart. It’s a beautiful, natural venue and a total treat away from the traditional beach wedding. Fern Grotto is not only for weddings, just take a tour and enjoy the picturesque cruise up the glorious, and oh-so-important Wailua River. Learn on this tour about how incredible that water feature is to our island.
But wait, the Smith family doesn’t stop there. They also host one of the best Luaus on the island. Can you say kalua pig, lomi lomi salad, mac salad, rice, and poi? How about haupia and kulolo? Don’t worry, these will roll off your tongue once you put the divine taste to your mouth. A memory you won’t forget. Hula, song, dance, history, and talk-story all rolled into one fun and casual evening.
Kayaking/SUP up Wailua River. If you are looking for adventure, and you’ve done Sleeping Giant Trail, yet looking for more…take a look at Wailua Kayak Adventures or Ali’I Kayaks. They have self-guided or guided tours and they are all locally run and operated, knowledgeable people, safe and fun. Rent the equipment right from them and they take it down to the water for you. Just show up and have a good time. Catch some lunch or drinks afterward at Coconuts Café, Street Burger, Monico’s, or Lava Lava Beach Club. All of these places are casual and you can go in, in your beach attire, as long as you have shirt and shoes (slippers) on!
This “Top 10” list is good for everyone, but in particular, if you are staying at any of the East Side Kauai condos, Kaha Lani, Wailua Bay View, Hale Awapuhi, Kauai Sands, Lani Kai, Lae Nani, Kapaa Sands, Plantation Hale, Islander on the Beach, Waipouli Beach Resort, ISO, Kauai Kailani, Kapaa Shores, Pono Kai, or Kauai Beach Resort this is especially for you.
If you’re curious to stay in a central location on the island and stay “where the locals are,” please consider renting a vacation rental from us, on the east side. ☺
Book with us at vacations.hawaiilife.com