If you’re planning a vacation to Hawaii and looking for a budget-friendly destination, Kauai is the place to be. My boyfriend and I have explored many of the islands and have come to find that Kauai offers an abundance of free activities such as snorkeling on its spectacular beaches, hiking through its lush trails, and sampling delicious coffee from local plantations – all free of charge!
So we’ve compiled the best places to visit in Kauai while sticking to a budget. From its iconic beaches and picturesque hiking trails to some of the most renowned landmarks in Hawaii, these sites are guaranteed to provide an unforgettable experience without breaking your bank account.
When my boyfriend and I crave an adventurous getaway but still want to save money, our first thought is always: let’s go back to Kauai! As they say – the best things in life are free!
Get a bang for your penny and come straight to Kauai!
Go snorkeling at Kauai’s Beaches
You can visit all the shores of Kauai free of charge but consider Poipu Beach Park for the most family fun and Lydgate State Park for the safest swimming waters.
Best of all – both beaches offer an incredible snorkeling experience!
Poipu Beach Park
Famous for the Hawaiian monk seals that occupy its shores, no matter when you visit, expect to see a variety of marine life on land and in the water.
My boyfriend and I went running at Poipu early one morning and saw a bunch of green sea turtles (or honu) on the shore. Since this beach has calm and clear waters, you get to snorkel alongside the turtles and a variety of fish.
Don’t worry about the snorkeling equipment as nearby shacks rent theirs, or you can bring your own. Kids will love swimming here, and you can have a picnic afterward in the beach’s many shaded spots.
Lydgate State Park
This beach is ideal for swimming as its water is in two protected lagoons with very calm waves. These lagoons have tons of marine life you can snorkel alongside.
You’ll see schools of blue tang fish (that’s Dory from Finding Nemo), striped fish, needlefish, and even small black crabs while snorkeling.
Also, there’s a play area across the beach to take younger children – if you can get them out of the lagoons!
Spending a day at these gorgeous beaches is one of the best things to do in Kauai for free, and you’ll keep coming back. Here’s what makes these beaches even better:
- The lifeguards on duty are attentive and closely watch the children.
- Facilities like clean restrooms, showers, picnic pavilions, ample seating, and food shacks are great here.
- Sunny weather is the norm at Poipu beach, and the lagoons at Lydgate are calm even when rains make larger waves outside them.
Hike Kauai’s Scenic Trails
Kauai’s trails are accessible for people of all ages and skill levels, so no one misses out on trekking through this island’s stunning views, that too free of cost.
Head to Maha’ulepu Trail for an easy, family-friendly hike with caves and beaches.
Disturb the Sleeping Giant with a moderately difficult hike with excellent views.
Kalalau Trail is unmissable if you’re up for a challenging hike with some great stops on the way.
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
On this trail, you’ll wander through the low cliffs of Kauai’s South shore, starting at Shipwreck Beach, with lovely ocean views along the way. Since this trail is mostly flat with few inclines, it’s perfect for families to trek.
The trail takes you to the Makauwahi Cave, Hawaii’s largest limestone cave. Here you can learn about fossil preserves from on-site volunteers or walk farther to a tortoise sanctuary that’s part of the Cave.
Since the hike ends at Maha’ulepu Beach, you can take a break on its shores and enjoy a picnic with beautiful ocean views.
Located in the Nounou Forest Reserve, the Sleeping Giant is at a 1200 ft elevation with stunning scenery of the entire coastline.
Since the hike is steep with some rocky areas, it’s best to come prepared with water and wear hiking boots. However, you’ll be rewarded for completing the short trail with a picnic shelter at the top, called the Giant’s Forehead, which has tables and a seating area.
The Kalalau Trail is a strenuous hike, but being the only trail with clear views of the Na Pali Coast, it’s worth the effort. Pack plenty of water and snacks for the 22-mile round trip (long trail) or the 4-mile trip (short trail).
No matter which trail you hike, you’ll pass through lush forests, deep valleys, plenty of streams (so be prepared to get your shoes wet), and dramatic waterfalls, all while taking in cliffside ocean views.
We took the shorter trail, which ends at Hanakapiai Beach, and had a great time relaxing on the sandy shore after hiking.
Wandering along scenic trails is the best thing to do in Kauai for free. Here are some things to know before going
- Avoid hiking on Kauai’s trails before and during a rainy spell as their muddy tracks get slippery and dangerous.
- Always wear good hiking shoes and bring trekking poles, as the trails have roots and uneven rocks.
- The Kalalau Trail requires parking permits and hiking passes, available at gohaena.com for a small fee.
Visit Kauai Coffee Company for a Free Tasting
As the largest coffee farm in the US, the Kauai Coffee Company has cultivated more than four million coffee bushes. The farms are an excellent place to learn about Hawaii’s coffee harvesting history and enjoy a delicious brew.
We took their free, self-guided tour of the grounds and learned about the Company’s production process and plantations. Afterward, they treat you to free samples of different coffee varieties and brews, which are insanely good!
You can also take a guided tour where attendants explain how to pick coffee according to your palette and the best ways to make it. However, this tour is an hour-long and paid.
Overall, a few hours on these grounds are perfect for exploring and taking in the coffee aroma, undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Kauai for free.
Here’s why you’ll love it even more:
- There’s a snack bar here with yummy drinks and lunch options.
- A gift shop sells cute Kauai Coffee Co. souvenirs and bags of their roasted grounds.
- The farm has a Scavenger Hunt every Wednesday, and winners get a free lunch at the Kauai Coffee Estate.
- Attendants on the plantation are very friendly and informative.
Go to see the Spouting Horn
Kauai Island is never short of wonders, and its natural blowhole is a perfect example of this. Located close to the Allergen botanical gardens, this is one of Hawaii’s most photographed spots.
Who wouldn’t want to see water blow up with intense pressure from the ground?
However, the water pressure depends on the weather, so it’s best to go during high tide and see the water sprouting in all directions, which is a magical sight.
Spouting Horn makes a sound when the waves come in, and there’s an interesting legend behind it. A giant lizard guarded the area and ate any trespassers. Once a boy outsmarted the lizard by shoving a stick in its mouth and escaping. So the Hole’s sound comes from the lizard’s cry.
Legend or not, visiting Spouting Horn is a fun activity and one of the best things to do in Kauai for free. Some things to consider before you go:
- You should never get too close to the blowhole, even for pictures, as there have been accidents.
- The area has parking lots and bathrooms, but they are run-down.
- There’s a small picnic area where you can sit and admire the crashing blue-green waves.
Pay your respects at the Hindu Monastery
Unwind from a tough day by meditating at the serene Hindu Monastery in Kauai. Plus, being near the Wailua River Falls gives a scenic backdrop to the Monastery from its overlook.
However, the area is a place of worship, so it’s important to follow the Monastery’s rules, which include wearing traditional Hindu attire or modest clothes and no photographs.
During the day, you can roam the beautiful grounds, which house waterfalls, rainbows, jungles, and gardens. But make sure to spend the last open hour inside the temple, for twenty minutes of self-reflection and meditation, free to all visitors.
We loved our time at the Monastery and appreciated the Hindu worship practices. This tour is one of the best things to do in Kauai for free. Some things to consider before going:
- The grounds are open between 9-12 am for visitors.
- There’s a guided tour for which you can call ahead and make reservations.
- Visit the gift shop to get souvenirs and the Mini-Mela visitor center, where you can browse through religious texts.
Explore Kauai’s Art Nights and Free Shows
Kauai is home to some fantastic art galleries, theaters, and live music shows in different areas on the island.
You can’t miss Hanapepe’s Art Night’s stunning art displays and vibrant nightlife.
If you’re with family, don’t miss Poipu Shopping Village’s fun, free shows.
Hanapepe Friday Night Art Festival
The small town of Hanapepe hosts an Art Night every Friday, a highlight of any Kauai visitor’s weekend. You can expect to walk into independent art shows and galleries, and enjoy dances and bands playing.
Even though people say the crowds aren’t what they used to be before COVID, the street is a delight to new visitors exploring the local stores and quaint restaurants in the streets.
Although all the shows are free, you can purchase art pieces or handicrafts here to support the local artists.
Free shows at Poipu Shopping Village
The Shopping Village is a must-visit even if you’re not looking to buy anything. You can enjoy window shopping here and see the weekly free shows.
The shows include hula performances and live music, held Mondays to Thursdays at 5 pm. Many tourists come here to watch the performances, and the musicians and dancers let you join in too!
We especially loved listening to the local bands play Ukuleles.
Exploring the town life is a fun thing to do in Kauai for free. Some other great things about them:
- You can have a delicious meal from the restaurants and snack bars in both places.
- The local stores sell great handicrafts and goods at low prices.
- Locals are pretty friendly here.
What is Kauai best known for?
Kauai is best known for its natural beauty – stunning white sand beaches, deep valleys with dense forests and waterfalls, and gorgeous views of the Na Pali Coast.
Are beaches free in Kauai?
Yes. All of Kauai’s beaches are public access and free of cost. You might have to pay for parking on a few, but head to Poipu Beach, Lydgate Beach, and Polihale Beach for a free visit and the best time.
What activities are available on Kauai?
Besides the apparent sand and surf, Kauai has ATV tours, zip lining, helicopter tours, waterfall excursions, hiking trails, deep caves, and valleys to explore.
What is the cheapest way to get around Kauai?
Ideally, cars are the only way to get around Kauai since the highway takes you to most places. However, for the cheapest rides, book a rental car in advance, ride the free shuttle services most hotels offer and take the bus to explore inland Kauai.
What are some cheap things to do in Kauai?
You can explore Kauai’s shores and its hiking trails free of cost. For cheaper options, explore the island’s many farmers markets, go snorkeling, and visit scenic spots like Kilauea Lighthouse and Hanapepe Swinging Bridge.
Kauai may be one of Hawaii’s smaller islands, but it’s the best tourist spot, owing to its breathtaking views and low-cost activities. We’ve traveled here in different seasons, and there’s no shortage of things to do, even for free.
Aside from spending on rental cars and food, you’ll be hopping from one place to the other without paying much. But always make sure to call, or check websites, before visiting any place and confirming rates in advance.
No matter what you end up doing here, Kauai guarantees an amazing time.
Last Updated on February 8, 2023 by Brigitte