Aloha, the beautiful Lihue, is the second-largest town on Kauai. Everyone typically starts here when visiting Kauai since either your plane landed at the Lihue Airport or your cruise ship just docked at the Nawiliwili harbor.
Lihue is pretty much a central Kauai location, and many visitors travel to the Northshore or the Southshore from Lihue. Just 2 miles away from the harbor or the airport is the only Costco Kauai has. Near it is also a Target, the Kukui Grove Mall, Safeway, Home Depot, and Walmart and there are several car rentals either on or off airport property. My favorite for customer service and quality of cars is Avis.
Lihue also is where Kauai’s hospital is located, Wilcox Hospital. Oh, and motorcycle lovers, did you know the world’s westernmost Harley-Davidson is in Lihue, Kauai? You can rent, buy or shop their huge collection of clothing apparel.
Whether you plan to stay in Lihue or just pass through, you can find many restaurants and a beautiful beach to spend time at. It’s also a good way to use up time before heading back to the airport on your way home.
Lihue has two totally different areas. It’s a section up the top of businesses or the short drive down to its beach and harbor, where you will encounter an off the beaten path ocean vacation atmosphere.
Best Things To Do In Lihue
Lihue has the beautiful and quiet Kalapaki Beach. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas from Kauai Beach Boys, who also rent out and give lessons for surfing and stand-up paddleboarding.
Kalapaki is a bay, so the waves are easy to surf for beginners or intermediate surfers. The smoothness of the water is excellent for stand-up paddleboarding. The beach itself has several volleyball nets, public restrooms, and showers.
Da Life Outdoors is also right at the beach. Here you can shop or sign up for their adventures like repelling waterfalls, surfing and SUP lessons, sunset catamaran cruises, boat tours, and outrigger canoe rides.
Book An Adventure Tour
Tours are some of the best things to do in Lihue. Adventure seekers can book all types of fun tours, from ATV rides to mountain tubing and ziplining, and helicopter rides. Book an open-door helicopter tour to get unique views of the entire island that you won’t see otherwise.
The Koloa Zipline (15 minutes from Lihue) is one of the longest ziplines in Kauai if you want to go zip lining. Read our recent experience with the Koloa Zipline. Go with Kipu Ranch Adventures for the ATV rides to waterfalls and to learn a bit about the history of Hawaii.
Kauai Backcountry Adventures for their unique mountain tubing excursion and ziplining. Outfitters Kauai Kayak Shack offers a kayak tour up a river to a waterfall with a swinging rope for swimming. Back at the airport is where all the airplane and helicopter tours take off at.
Enjoy A Sunrise At The Nawiliwili Harbor
The Nawiliwili Harbor is next to the beach. A jetty divides it, which has a road to drive to the end or walk to it to watch the sun come up, fish, or just enjoy the beauty of the surroundings of Mount Ha’upu.
The sunrises on the east side of Kauai are nothing but spectacular. The harbor itself offers many different fishing charters and kayaking tours. A short drive past the harbor takes you up a hill to the Menehune fishpond overlook.
Volunteer at Kauai Humane Society
The Kauai Humane Society is in Lihue, where you can rent a dog for a day or even volunteer. They provide you with locations where you can take the dogs. Kalapaki is one and my favorite, as well as Shipwreck Beach in Poipu.
They also give you a backpack with water, a bowl, and food. If you’re a dog lover, you’ll enjoy this as much as the dogs do. Cat lover? Ask about their program of flying home a kitten to an airport they work with on the mainland that gets the cats adopted.
Explore Famous Filming Spots
I love exploring and hiking to all the spots that Kauai has to offer, especially the hidden places. I even set out to see the filming locations on the island, so here are a few in the area you can check out:
- Raiders of the Lost Ark took place at the Hule’ia stream and the isolated meadows near the Menehune fish pond.
- A scene in Donovan’s Reef had a shot at Kalapaki Beach and Hanamaulu Beach.
- The Honeymoon in Vegas was filmed at the Lihue Airport.
- The Hawaiians were filmed in the sugar fields near Kipu Ranch.
- South Pacific had a scene at Kalapaki Beach.
- Diamond Head was also filmed near Kipu Ranch.
- A scene of Jurassic Park was filmed during a storm at a jetty across from Kukii Point, they kept filming for the storm effect.
Visit The Kauai Museums
The Kauai Museum in Lihue is full of authentic artifacts, stories of Hawaii history, family history, and a gift shop. It may be small, so it’s an adventure to fit easily into a day and so full of interesting history. They also have basket weaving and Lai classes.
The other Kauai museum in this area includes the Grove Farm Museum. It has tours of its beautiful grounds and extensive history. They also have a farmers market every Saturday, and other community farmers’ markets on Saturdays are at 3 in Kaumualii Hwy.
Lihue also has Kauai’s only stadium, the Vidinha Stadium, near the airport. They have a track open to the public on weekdays from 7 am to 2 pm. You can attend special events like the July 4th fireworks and different sporting events, graduations, and so forth. Visit the Kilohana plantation, which is where the Lihue Luau takes place.
See Wailua Falls
Wailua Falls is the only waterfall in Lihue. It’s a massive 173-foot waterfall that drops into the plunge pool below. Just a short drive to it from the town or a nice run. It’s the famous waterfall from the TV show Fantasy Island and the twin falls are breathtaking. The Wailua Falls Hike can take you to the area, although it is officially closed since it’s quite unsafe.
Kalepa Ridge Trail
One of my favorite hiking trails in Kauai is the Kalepa Ridge trail which is a 9-mile roundtrip and starts in Hanamaulu. The trail goes along a ridge with the ocean to your right and ends looking down at the Wailua River.
From there, you can see the kayaks on the river heading to or from the Uluwehi Falls trail that starts where the Fern Grotto tour starts. From the end of the Kalepa Ridge trail, you can see Sleeping Giant and Opeka Falls. Kalepa Hill begins at the same spot. This is another paved 1.7 miles roundtrip walk to the top that offers ocean views.
Get A Round Of Golf In
Lihue has two golf courses. One is the Pukea Golf Course which is up the hill near Costco. It’s surrounded by hilly views and is quite the place to be for an amazing sunset. We also recommend stopping by the Puakea Grill for a delicious breakfast or lunch.
Back down near Kalapaki Beach is the Ocean Course at Hokuala. The name says it all, with ocean views that will take your breath away. The 16th hole for it is above the lighthouse at Kukii Point. Golfers can also get golf lessons from their trained staff which consists of PGA instructors.
Marriott Lagoons Trail
You can ride a bike, walk, or run by the beautiful lagoons on the Marriott Lagoons trail. There is a farm where they grow many types of plants and fruits, which are labeled, and the same path can take you on the driveable dirt road to the Ninini Point Lighthouse.
This lighthouse is the start of the runway you flew over or passed on the cruise ship coming in and leaving. You can watch planes coming in above you or a ship pass by. Up at Timbers, you can walk along a paved road to more lagoons or down to Kukii Point Lighthouse beacon.
The small lighthouse at the beginning of Kalapaki Bay. From here, you can watch the sunrise, fish, or watch the boats and cruise ships.
The whale watching season in Kauai takes place from November to March, but it’s also possible to see whales up until May. There are a couple of places on the east side of Kauai where you can go whale watching if you visit at the right time.
A popular place lies at Ahukini Pier, at the north end of the airport, which also is the spot for incredible sunrises and moonrises. Ninini Beach, Ninini Point Lighthouse, and Kukii lighthouse beacon are other amazing options. You can also sign up for whale-watching tours that take you to the Na Pali Coast and let you see other marine life, like dolphins and sea turtles.
The Harbor Mall has several gift stores, nail and massage salons, and a bike repair/rental shop if you want to go bicycling.
Across the street in the Harbor Mall parking lot are a few food trucks. One in particular is an Espresso and Waffle truck, which also opens early. Inside Harbor Mall on the ground level is an ice cream store with a shaved ice dessert with ice cream inside, Skinny Mike’s. Downstairs is a pizza restaurant, and upstairs are three more restaurants, Mariachi’s Mexican Cusine, Lilikoi Bar and Grill, and South East Asia Kauai.
Across the street, back to the beach is another mall, The Anchor Cove. There you can find an ABC store, Unique Gift store, Crazy Shirts, Maui Divers Jewelry, and a tattoo parlor. Near the bridge, there is a health food store, Health Go Market. You can shop their whole foods or check out their menu for food, organic smoothies, and activity bowls.
Hawaiian Styles is a clothing store of beautiful Hawaiian attire for the family. Find it right at the walking bridge from the parking lot. If you’re looking to remain in good physical condition on vacation, you can use the beach gym at the famous Kauai Athletic Club. It’s near the harbor and has classes, trainers, and all the equipment needed for a workout.
Eat Lunch & Dinner
Visitors to Kauai will find plenty of restaurants and shops near Kalapaki Beach. To start, head to Dukes, one of the best places to eat in all of Kauai. The upstairs has a fine dining experience with valet. The Dukes canoe club and barefoot bar are downstairs and along the beach walkway. Downstairs is perfect for lunch or dinner, and upstairs for dinner with a different menu, but both have the famous hula pie.
If you want Italian food, Cafe Portofino is also upstairs by Dukes and provides a scenic view of the beach. For an early breakfast at Kalapaki, go to Noka Grill. They open only for breakfast and lunch and have unique Hawaiian choices. For fine dining with the best view of the lighthouse and ocean is Hualani’s, located inside the Timbers.
There are plenty of other restaurants uphill from Lihue. Big Monster Sushi and Thai is a small hole-in-the-wall but has some of the best Sushi. Another seafood place is The Fish Express, with amazing poke and fish dishes. Robs Good Time Grill is a sports bar with fun entertainment and tasty food. Smileys is a call-in order and pickup known for its Ox Tail soup.
Go to Kauai Beer Co and Ginger Beer Kauai if you want a fun local place for laughs and beer. Ginger Beer Kauai has a special type of beer and sodas. A couple more favorite local spots are Mark’s Place and the Tip Top Cafe. For a top coffee place in Lihue, go to Aloha Roastery, and for pastries, visit the Orly Patisserie.
Where To Stay In Lihue
Banyon Harbor has condos with supplied kitchens across the street from Kalapaki Beach.
Kauai itself has so much to see and do, and I hope you find Lihue just as enjoyable and as spectacular as the Northshore, Southshore, and Kokee. Lihue shouldn’t only be your arrival destination once your vacation starts.
It can be a day, week, or month-long vacation spot. Remember Lihue, Kauai, as you board your plane or ship and enjoy the scenery from the vessel. It will be your first and last step of memories that create a continuous relationship with Kauai for a lifetime.
- For more guides on things to do on the eastern side of Kauai, check out our Kapa’a guide.
Written by: Debra Bowyer