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Amazing Kauai Itinerary: 3, 4, 5, + 7 Days in Kauai

Can I just say that when our family landed on Kauai to experience this perfect Kauai itinerary, it was like we had arrived on a piece heaven? From the moment we walked across the tarmac, the air, the scents, the view – everything quietly whispered THIS IS KAUAI and I immediately fell in love.

If you are planning your first trip to Kauai, you are in the right place! It has been our favorite family trip so far and we feel pretty confident that you will absolutely love it too! Because, in Kauai is there really anything not to love?!? Check out related posts here for our Hawaii Packing List and Hawaii on a Budget tips!

You may have 3 days in Kauai or up to 7 days or more (hopefully more!), so I have included plenty of variations and optional add-ons below by geographical location so that you can choose what appeals to you and group it together into as many magical days in paradise as you have to enjoy.

Checking which activities are of most interest to you will also help you decide where to stay! More on that below.

Perfet Kauai Itinerary | Tropical Flowers

Things to Keep in Mind While Planning Your Trip to Kauai

Water Safety

Not all beaches in Kauai are kid-friendly, and even those that are require caution by visitors of all ages. For those that aren’t used to being near the ocean, the often peacefulness of it can give false confidence in its safety. Do not turn your back to the ocean and also watch for wet rocks. If the waves reached them once, they will land there again and likely with great force.

We had many water safety conversations with our kiddos before and throughout our trip, but still kept eyes on them at all times, of course. Because none of our children were strong swimmers, we also filled one of our suitcases with life jackets which we were glad to have. If you can’t make the space, they can also be rented.

Please familiarize yourself with rip tides and what to do if you find yourself in one. This article is very helpful.

Overtourism Concerns

Hawaii as a whole is an incredibly beautiful and special place . Overtourism is currently an issue with more visitors on the island than there have been historically. We encourage you to respect the land, the no trespassing signs, the locals who call Hawaii home, and to always leave no trace. Respecting the environment and its resources will help ensure that we can all keep enjoying this paradise.

If you have been to Kauai before, you may find more restrictions on the number of visitors allowed in a location at one time, more advanced reservations and permits required, and higher entry costs than previous visits. These are in place to help sustain the land’s beauty and ensure that the land has time to recover between visitors. Please prepared for these so that they do not negatively affect your trip in any way, but rather recognize that they protect the environment that you have come to experience.

Where to Stay on Kauai

Before you start planning your Kauai itinerary, you will likely first book your plane flights and your accommodations. But where should you book?

Most of your favorite activities and awe-dropping, take your breath away Kauai moments will take place on the North Shore or the South Shore.

Many Hawaii travel guides will advise you to stay smack in the middle in Kapa’a, but then you are resigning yourself to driving north or south almost every day. SO we adamantly disagree. We recommend splitting your time between the the Hanalei/Princeville area and the Poipu area, with 2 or 3 nights in each place.

If you are only in Kauai for three days, then we recommend staying in Poipu and taking a road trip to the north shore for one day.

If you are in Kauai longer than three days but really hate moving your stuff in the middle of your trip, then review the activities below and see which location appeals most to you. This will leave you driving to other side of the island a couple times (1.5-2.5 hours each way), but maybe scenic drives are no trouble for you!

Hanalei is lush, green, and the epitome of paradise. But it also tends to rain more, so spring and summer may leave your days wetter than you’d hoped. Poipu is drier and sunnier and filled with lovely beaches but less foliage and waterfalls.

Best Place to Stay in Hanalei + Princeville

  • Hanalei Bay Resort:

Best Place to Stay in Poipu

  • Grand Hyatt Kauai:
  • Sheraton:

Planning your Kauai Itinerary

We have grouped the island’s most beautiful places and wonderful activities into areas of the island. You can spend one day on each “shore” or multiple if you have more days.

  • South Shore
  • North Shore
  • East Shore

You might notice that there is no “West Shore” listed. That is because much of the west shore is only accessible by first traveling to the north or south shore and venturing west on foot, or by boat or air travel.

South Shore Kauai Itinerary Ideas

Waimea Canyon

  • Drive from Poipu: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Drive from Kapa’a: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Drive from Princeville: 2 hours 15 minutes

Waimea Canyon is a bit of a trek from most areas on the island due to the fact that you can’t access the west side of the island from the north shore, but only from the south. The gorgeous Na Pali mountain ridge lines keep much of the west side of the island inaccessible by car but are insanely stunning.

Kalalau Lookout Kauai Waimea Canyon

Visiting Waimea Canyon State Park will allow you to see the infamous red sand dunes, waterfalls, take short hikes or long ones, and many scenic overlooks, including a view of the Na Pali coastline which is typically only enjoyed by foot, boat or helicopter.

We highly recommend heading straight to the Kalalau Overlook (located in adjacent Kokee State Park) first thing in the morning. Resist the urge to stop anywhere else first as you are most likely to get a clear view earlier in the morning. If the vista is covered in clouds, hang out for a bit and hopefully they will pass!

After enjoying the view, then head back down the mountain and stop at the places most of interest to you. A few options are:

Awa’awapuhi Trail: This moderate hiking trail is about 6 miles round trip and will take you past lush tropical plants and flowers and treat you to a grassy picnic area and lookout halfway through the hike. The first half is downhill so be prepared to hike back up!

Hanapepe

We stopped by the Taro Ko Factory on our drive through the area. It is not a place that would have grabbed our attention had we not learned of it beforehand. But I encourage you to stop for sure!

Inside the shack, you will find two gentlemen making taro chips by hand and frying them in huge vats. There are a few flavors to choose from; they will give you samples, and you can pick up delicious, old Hawaiian snacks for about $5 a bag. They were super sweet with our kids even giving them an extra bag for free. We loved the Ling Mui flavor best! Yum!

While you are in town, take an adventurous walk across the swinging bridge! Our daughter was seven at the time and dearly afraid of heights, but conquered her fear and made it across. We were so proud of her and love how travel encourages our children to step outside of their comfort zones.

Salt Pond Beach

Salt Pond Beach Kauai

This gentle beach is family-friendly and not too busy, with its gentle waves and soft sand. It also a great spot to watch the sunset! There is a protected snorkel area on the west end.

This beach is next to the only natural salt ponds in Kauai, used by Hawaiians foe medicine and food. These salt ponds are only available for use by Native Hawaiians, but the beach is open to the public and is a lovely place to spend a few hours.

Lifeguard and restroom facilities are available.

Sunrise at Shipwreck Beach

Take advantage of the fact that you will likely wake up early the first few days of your Kauai vacation due to the time zone difference. While you might cringe when you see 4:00am on the clock, rest assured that on Kauai, rising early is not such a bad thing!

Head to Shipwreck Beach on the South Shore and watch paradise awaken in a peaceful, beautiful spot. You can park in the beach parking lot or at the next door Grand Hyatt if you would like to take advantage of their delicious breakfast options afterwards. OR…if you are really lucky, we highly recommend staying at the Hyatt and just walking down from your room. You will likely share the beach with only a few others, leaving you in peace to soak up the moment.

Walking on the beach at sunrise is absolutely magical and one of the best things I can recommend that you do. My children were thrilled to take an early morning walk on the beach and be able to run in the sand with abandon.

I, on the other hand, was thrilled to soak up the beautiful display of creation and photograph my children under the beautiful sky dawning a new day in Kauai.

Poipu Beach Park

Poipu Beach is a fantastic place to swim and snorkel and see a variety of colorful fish. Signs warn visitors to be cautious around endangered monk seals and to keep a distance. We didn’t happen to see any, but hopefully you’ll get lucky!

There is protected area to the the left of the lifeguard stand. This beach gets pretty busy, but you’ll find a quieter stretch of sand down further near the Sheraton.

Poipu Shopping Village Hula Show

Every Monday and Thursday afternoon (double check times here) the shopping village hosts a free hula performance. We gathered near the small stage for a small but lovely performance. The performers were talented and our children were captivated. They allowed an opportunity for children and adults alike to join them on stage for a mini lesson. Afterward, the dancers posed for photos with us which my daughter especially loved. That photo captured one of her favorite things to do and made the cover spot of her scrapbook.

Old Koala Town

Koloa is the home to Hawai’i’s first sugar mill and provides a sweet taste of Hawaiian history. Located near Poipu Beach, it is a great little spot to explore, pick up souvenirs, and experience tasty treats. Keep your eye out for fun photo opps as you wander the charming streets! The Koloa Farmer’s Market is held on Mondays at noon at the baseball park. This is where my kiddos tried fresh water from a coconut for the first time; although we later learned that we all preferred it chilled!

The plantation style shopping village offers a roastery, pizza, ice cream, candle shop, and plenty of island apparel. Free hula shows fill the air with music and dancing on Friday nights, and festivals fill the streets seasonally. A self-guided historic walking tour starts at the Tao Building and visits 17 buildings with educational plaques. The History Center also provides photos of the days long ago.

*Pro Tip* Park at Whaler’s Cove and head down the steps to where the stream meets the ocean, and you just might be lucky enough to spot the resident turtles!

I don’t know about you, but one of our very favorite things to do on a trip is try out the local treats at the markets. You can view a list of Farmers Market near your accommodations here. We headed to the Farmers Market in Koloa on a Monday afternoon and picked out a coconut. They hacked off the top of it and stuck a straw in it. We had fun trying it, but honestly weren’t huge fans of the warm water. However, we tried a chilled coconut at my sister’s vow renewal ceremony, and that one was delicious! So I recommend looking for cold ones!

My children also enjoyed trying samples of local fruits from the various vendors. We chose a few fruits (pineapple!) to pick up for snacks and also some local bread for breakfast.

Grand Hyatt Kauai

Staying at the Grand Hyatt was a huge treat for us! We are pretty frugal travelers for the most part, but the Chase Hyatt credit card had made us an offer that we couldn’t refuse (2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world as a sign up bonus; they have since ended this fabulous promotion).  So we gladly took them up on their offer, and fully enjoyed our stay.

Our children (and us!) were in love with the fabulous pool and waterslide (this does have a height requirement; our 7 year old was tall enough but our 4 year olds were not). We could rent inner tubes for a few dollars a day and float down the lazy river and find waterfalls to hide behind in the rocks. The salt water lagoon was warm and luxurious and was also a favorite.

While staying at the Hyatt may not be a possibility for everyone, they offer several activities that are free for the public. I would recommend heading over to the resort for a delicious breakfast and taking part. Twice a week, children can feed the koi fish in the ponds, there is also a weekly parrot show, hula lesson, and lei making. One of the best activities is walking along the beautiful paths at sunrise or sunset and taking a break on one of the beachside wooden swings. A stay or visit to the Hyatt is heavenly and one of the best things to do in Kauai with kids.

Where to Eat on the South Shore

Kalaheo Café: Breakfast at the Kalaheo Café is magical and delicious. Our family was lucky enough to visit when it was raining and the open windows and green, lush, landscape was a perfect, relaxing start to a busy day. The Cinnamon Bread French Toast made for the perfect treat after we finished eating our protein – so delicious!

Keoki’s Paradise:

Uncle’s Shave Snow:

East Shore Kauai Itinerary Ideas

Coconut Coast

This lovely oceanside trail is friendly for pedestrians, bicycles and strollers. The views are beautiful; the activity can be your daily cardio exercise or a relaxing stroll depending on your preference.  The path is over 4 miles long and you can turn around whenever you’d like or stop for a refreshment along the way. Bike rentals with kid trailers are available at Coconut Coasters.

Wailua Falls

overlook quick stop

Lydgate Park + Kalamani Playground

Kalamani Park might be the biggest playground in Kauai. It was definitely the most fun for our kiddos. It was built by the community, is wooden, and offered lots of space for climbing and the running of little legs. We got lucky and the sprinklers turned on and our children squealed with delight and soaked themselves running through them. A bonus is that across the parking lot from Lydgate Beach Park which is one of the kid-friendly beaches that we mention above.

Kayak the Wailua River

The Wailua river was so incredibly peaceful and easy to navigate. We made our way over to the Fern Grotto which can be filled with people if you take a large boat over. We had it to ourselves though and while we had been warned that it was no longer as majestic as it had been before hurricane damage, we enjoyed its quiet beauty nonetheless.

We took a tour (no longer available) and the guide gave us a tour through the tropical forest pointing out exquisite flowers and introducing us to Kukui nuts. He warned us not to eat too many as they are a natural laxative and will leave you saying, “Alooooha!” if you consume more than four. Another Fern Grotto Tour is available here.

You might consider kayaking to Secret Falls, which includes both paddling and hiking. The route is magical and will take at least a few hours but will likely be one of the highlights of your trip.

Smith’s Luau

We knew that we wanted to take our kids to a luau but had a hard time choosing from all of the amazing options. We were so pleased with our choice of Smith’s Family Luau. It is best to arrive as soon as the gates open to get the full benefit of the stunning gardens. You can walk the paths on foot or hop on the tram for a guided tour.

Dinner begins with an emu ceremony as they unearth the pig. My kids were fascinated with this and taken with the delicious fruit juices as well. Buffet style dinner serves my family well; there were so many main dishes, sides and desserts to choose from that everyone was happily full.

There was live music during dinner and my daughter had another opportunity to do the Hukilau on stage again which she loved. As dark came over the gardens, we made our way over to the show in the amphitheater. We all enjoyed the show and it was sweet to know that the performers were mostly family members. Our children were the most fascinated with the fire dancers and their eyes lit up with excitement.

North Shore Kauai Itinerary Ideas:

Hanalei Bay

The town of Hanalei Bay is just a gem to experience. The green mountains surrounding, the gorgeous bay with a charming pier, and plenty of spots to grab something tasty to eat, make this a perfect spot to spend the large part of a day.

While coconut water was not a fan favorite in our family, shave ice definitely was! We are hard pressed to choose the best shave ice in Kauai, but especially enjoyed a large tropical shave ice next to Chicken in a Barrel at Ching Yung Village in Hanalei.

Anaina Hou Park

Our kids had an absolute blast miniature golfing in the botanical gardens at Anaina Hou. The setting was beautiful and there were signs teaching us about all of the different plants.

We went on a warm afternoon and while the kids were in Hawaiian heaven, the adults were melting a bit in the heat and wishing for the beach. I still highly recommend the activity; we would just suggest going on a gray and drizzly day instead!

Short Hikes – Wai Koa Loop Trail or Kuilau Ridge

Both of these trails are simple, easy, and family – friendly. They give great pay off with the views for minimal effort. They make the perfect addition to a beach day by starting off with a morning hike.

Na Pali Helicopter Tour or Na Pali Catamaran Tour

The Na Pali coast is a stunning and unmatched area of Kauai that is not to be missed. However, because it can’t be accessed by car, it can be easily missed if you don’t plan ahead! Experienced on foot (Hanakapiai trail mentioned below) or by boat ride or by helicopter or plane are your only options.

If you have a 5 or 7 day Kauai itinerary, you might time for both, but if you have 3 or 4 days, you likely have a tough choice to make.

Check out these options below and see which is the best fit for you, but remember your Dramamine with either choice – the motion sickness is no joke – ask us how we know! Or better yet, don’t!

Captain Andy’s Na Pali Boat Tour: With options from 4-6 hours long, you get to spend all day on the water to soak up the views. tours are only available seasonally due to rough conditions in the colder months.

Holo Holo Charters: Another highly reviewed option for viewing the Na Pali by sea, you can add on a snorkel experience at Lehua Crater.

Jack Harter’s Helicopter Tour: Experience Kauai in a whole new way with a DOORS OFF helicopter ride and see magical places that you can’t see other than by air.

Wings Over Kauai: This plane ride gives similar views to a helicopter, but your vehicle is a plane instead. Smooth rides and clear views, you can check them out here.

Hanakapiai Trail

The 4 mile Hanakapiai trail (8 miles round trip) shares the first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail along the always impressive Na Pali coastline and then branches off toward the 300 foot cascade. The first 2 miles of the trail is just moderate, but the second 2 miles is more strenuous with steam crossings, slick rocks, and slippery mud.

Hiking just a 1/2 mile will reward you with beautiful views at the overlook and just a quick short hike before moving along with your day. Another popular turn around spot is two miles in at Hanakapiai Beach, which is a lovely spot to relax and have a snack before hiking back.

There are many areas where you can choose to turn around, but those looking to make the whole trek will likely need to book two time slots to have enough time to complete it. Your reward will be the beautiful waterfall where you can swim (at your own risk) and take in some calories and a beautiful view.

A minimum of two liters of water should be in your pack for the full hike, but even more is best. The last part of the hike back to the parking lot will be uphill and hot in the exposed sun with no shade. You should allow 7-9 hours to complete the hike, including time at the waterfall, although if you are super fit, you might complete it in 5 hours. Hikes should be postponed if rain is in the forecast or if heavy rain occurred the day before.

Please note that reserved permits are required to park and get to the trailhead. Reserve your passes here https://gohaena.com/ 30 days prior to visiting the park. You can choose to drive yourself in or take the shuttle. Self-parking is very limited sells out within seconds.

Ke’e Beach

The same Ha’ena State Park passes required above are needed to access Ke’e Beach. While this beach is not great for swimming (too rough), it does boast incredible views as it is the end of the road and juts up against the Na Pali mountains. Ke’e Beach is a great spot for a picnic as well as enjoying the sunset.

Snorkel at Anini Beach

I could spend all day lying on sand at Anini Beach. The drive down to the beach is windy and pretty while building up the anticipation of the view that is to come.

This beach stretches out far from the shore with shallow water, has gentle currents, also has plenty of fish for easy snorkeling. We rented snorkels for our children and my 7 year old daughter loved it and was SO proud of herself for conquering her fear of trusting the snorkel to allow her to breathe. My 4 year old boys loved the boogie boards with viewing windows so that they could see under the sea too.

We were also fortunate enough to see a couple of sea turtles as well! You are likely to increase your chances of seeing them if you head down to the end of the beach away from the picnic area, and swim out about 50 yards. Morning is also the best time to spot them.

Please be aware that these beautiful honu are protected species and it is required by law that you do not ever touch them and do stay several feet away.

While there are an infinite number of ways to plan your Kauai itinerary, here are a few ideas for you based on the activities that we recommend most highly based on our experiences!

Kauai Itinerary for 3 Days

  • Day 1: South Shore: Waimea Canyon + Hanapepe
  • Day 2: South Shore: Koloa Town + Poipu Beach Park + Shipwreck Beach
  • Day 4: North Shore: Helicopter Ride + Anini Beach + Hanalei Bay

Kauai Itinerary for 4 Days in Kauai

  • Day 1: South Shore: Waimea Canyon + Hanapepe
  • Day 2: South Shore: Koloa Town + Poipu Beach Park + Shipwreck Beach
  • Day 3: East Shore: Helicopter Ride + Coconut Coast + Luau
  • Day 4: North Shore: Hanakapiai Trail + Anini Beach + Hanalei Bay

5 Day Kauai Itinerary

  • Day 1: South Shore: Waimea Canyon + Hanapepe
  • Day 2: South Shore: Koloa Town + Poipu Beach Park + Shipwreck Beach
  • Day 3: East Shore: Kapa’a + Coconut Coast + Wailua River
  • Day 4: North Shore Day: Hanalei Bay + Helicopter Ride + Luau
  • Day 5: North Shore: Ke’e Beach, Hanakapiai Trail + Anini Beach

Kauai Itinerary for 7 Days

  • Day 1: South Shore: Waimea Canyon + Hanapepe
  • Day 2: South Shore: Koloa Town + Poipu Beach Park + Shipwreck Beach
  • Day 3: East Shore: Kapa’a + Coconut Coast + Luau
  • Day 4: East Shore: Helicopter Ride + Wailua River
  • Day 5: North Shore: Ke’e Beach + Hanakapiai Trail + Anini Beach
  • Day 6: North Shore: Na Pali Coast Catamaran Ride + Hanalei Bay
  • Day 7: Relaxing Resort Day + Lazy River at the Grand Hyatt

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