Escape from the mainland and enjoy the gorgeous scenery, relaxed attitude, and abundance of island activities at welcoming prices.
By Ellen H. Parlapiano
This lush green isle is movie-set perfect. Jurassic Park, King Kong, and Raiders of the Lost Ark were all filmed here. Channel your inner Indiana Jones alongside dramatic waterfalls and soaring sea cliffs. In Kokee State Park, revel in the spectacular views of Waimea Canyon, aka the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
Free for all: You can drive right up to many of the island's awesome sights. Near Lihue airport, check out 80-foot Wailua Falls. On the southern shore, the Hanapepe Overlook displays a valley where Spielberg's dinosaurs roamed; there's also a Swinging Bridge over the river that kids can run across. Go west on Route 50 to pick up the winding road to Waimea Canyon, taking in the vistas at mile 11, then continuing to Kokee State Park, high over the Pacific. (Don't worry if fog is shrouding the view; it usually lifts after a few minutes.) Go road-tripping across one-lane bridges to the secluded beaches on the less-developed North Shore—be sure to stop at roadside fruit stands and visit the historic town of Hanalei.
Adventures in Paradise: Strap on a lighted helmet and mountain-tube in old sugar plantation ditches, zooming through flumes, mild rapids, and dark tunnels ($100; kauaibackcountry.com). If you'd rather take things slow, kayak the tranquil Wailua River to waterfall trails, $17 per person; or do the guided three-hour Blue Lagoon Paddle and Snorkel through the wildlife refuge on North Shore's Hanalei Bay, (adults, $60; kids, $45; kayakkauai.com). Climb to the top of the North Shore's Kileaua Lighthouse to spot whales, albatrosses, and red-footed boobies (ages 16 and up, $5). Don't forget to fuel up for all that activity with famous Hawaiian fast food: burgers at Bubba's (in Hanalei, Kapaa, and Poipu) and pizza from Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza on the North Shore.
Where to Stay: At Sheraton Kauai on sunny Poipu Beach, kids can swim in the ocean or pools (one has a slide and rope swing). During spring break there's a teen concierge program, with local high school students leading cultural workshops. Nightly rates start at $219 in low season, April to May and September to Christmas (sheraton-kauai.com). The newly renovated beachfront Kauai Beach Resort on the Coconut Coast is near the Lihue airport and most of Kauai's major sights. It also has multiple lagoon pools—the ocean's too rough for swimming. Rooms start at $129 (kauaibeachresorthawaii.com). On the North Shore, the two-story Hanalei Bay Villas overlook the ocean, waterfalls, or mountains, and come with free access to the secluded beach at 5-star Princeville Resort next door. Rentals start at around $145 per night for two-bedroom units (oceanfrontrealty.com).