Kauai Itinerary: The Ultimate Guide for 7 Days or Less!

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With its lush green mountains, stunning beaches, and abundant wildlife, Kauai is inarguably one of the most gorgeous Hawaiian Islands. While the Garden Isle is the smallest of the main islands in Hawaii, it still covers over 550 square miles—so if you have a short amount of time to explore this absolute paradise, it can be hard to know how (and where!) to spend your time. 

But not to worry—I’ve been lucky enough to explore this incredible island four times and have put together the perfect Kauai itinerary for exactly how you should spend your 7 days (or less!) on this little slice of heaven, including where to stay, how to get around, and what to expect along the way

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Aerial view of green sea cliffs in the Napali Coast and the Pacific Ocean in Kauai
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Table of contents

First things first, some things you need to know about visiting Kauai. 

How to get around Kauai

Listen, Kauai is small compared to most U.S. states—and is even small compared to some of the other Hawaiian Islands (I’m looking at you, Big Island)!

Greenery along a road in Kauai

But, still, it takes over two hours to drive south from the northwestern corner of the island, down along the southern shoreline and up to its northern coast. Pssst… it’s important to note that you actually can’t drive directly from the northwestern side of the island to the northeastern side, due to the rugged mountains and cliffs of the Napali Coast, which we’ll talk about a LOT more below! 

Kauai basically has one road that loops around most of the island and a public bus that stops at all of the major cities along this road, like Lihue and Hanalei. However, the public bus is sloooow, and its stops are pretty limited. And, while you can theoretically take other forms of transport from bus stops to explore destinations beyond the cities, rideshare is extremely unreliable on Kauai, in my experience, and taxi rides are quite pricey. 

Woman sitting on a red Mustang convertible in Hawaii

Accordingly, unless you mainly plan on exclusively hanging out in one of the larger cities or just staying at your resort, I’d strongly recommend renting a car while you’re on Kauai. Yes, they’re usually on the pricier side but It’ll give you SO much more flexibility to get to the world-class beaches and hiking trails (which is presumably what you flew all this way for!) than any other transportation option.

Where to stay in Kauai

For the most part, people tend to stay in three different areas of Kauai—the southern shoreline, around the towns of Koloa or Poipu; the eastern shoreline, around the towns of Lihue or Kapa’a; or the northern shoreline, near Princeville or Hanalei. 

Colorful plantation houses in Hanalei, Kauai

We wrote a whole post about the best places to stay in Kauai, but here’s what you need to know in a nutshell:

Southern Coast of Kauai

Along the southern shoreline of the island, you’ll find a handful of beach towns, with a solid variety of local restaurants and shops that are housed in colorful plantation buildings.

Sunset at Poipu Beach in Kauai

For example, the town of Poipu is home to some of the best beaches in Kauai, like Poipu and Shipwreck Beaches, and, while its accommodations are on the pricier side, it’s the perfect homebase for families, those who are looking to primarily spend time on the beach, or for visitors who prefer staying at upscale resorts.

Check out: 

  • Sheraton Kauai Resort: In full transparency, nothing in Kauai and especially its southern coastline is “cheap”—however, this is one of the better value resort options you’ll find in this area. You’re just steps away from Kiahuna Beach, which offers calm waters that are perfect for snorkeling and there’s a variety of other awesome amenities, like a spacious outdoor pool; spa; and a variety of onsite restaurants (and even a biweekly luau!). 
  • Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club: This is a great option for families—each room comes with a well-equipped kitchen, including a dishwasher and microwave; there’s an onsite pool that overlooks the ocean; and an onsite spa if you’re looking to indulge. Plus, it’s right on Poipu Beach, which is one of the best beaches on Kauai!
  • Grand Hyatt Kauai: Grand Hyatt is purported to be one of the best resorts on Kauai, with an unbeatable location and a stunning property. I’ve stayed here a few times and, in my opinion, the 24-hour pool complex alone is worth a visit, with 50 acres of pools and gardens, including a 150-foot water slide, lazy rivers, two freshwater pools, an adults-only pool; and a five-acre swimming pool, next to its very own beach. In addition to its epic swimming setup, there’s seven onsite restaurants (in addition to a biweekly luau); a spa; and most importantly, complimentary s’mores! 
Woman sitting on a float in a pool in a resort in Kauai

Eastern Coast of Kauai

There’s a couple of towns along the eastern coastline of the island, primarily Kapa’a and Lihue. While Lihue is a bit bigger than Kapa’a (and is actually the biggest city on the island), these two towns are pretty similar, with a more residential feel than some of the more touristy destinations; lots of dining and shopping options; and decent (but in full transparency, not the island’s best) beaches. 

Building at the Kauai Shores Hotel in Kapaa, Kauai

While this area might not be the most paradisiacal portion of the island, it DOES have the most central location, between the attractions along the northern and southern shore, and the best budget-friendly accommodations. Accordingly, this is where my husband, Justin, and I have stayed when we’ve visited Kauai. 

Check out: 

  • Kauai Shores Hotel: Justin and I stayed here during our last trip to Kauai. We actually wrote an entire Kauai Shores Hotel review, but, in a nutshell, this is a really solid option for travelers looking for a more affordable hotel, thanks to its excellent location and numerous amenities. If you can look past some of the hotel’s slightly dated details, you can enjoy the hotel’s plentiful perks, like a trendy onsite restaurant, two pools, daily yoga classes, and complimentary bike rentals. 
  • OUTRIGGER Kauai Beach Resort & Spa: Again, this resort could use a bit of updating, but it’s still inarguably one of the best value stays on Kauai. The property itself is absolutely beautiful and there’s an awesome pool complex, with four swimming pools and a waterslide; three onsite restaurants; and a friendly and helpful staff.
  • The Royal Sonesta Kauai Resort: If you’re looking for a more upscale resort on the eastern side, this is an excellent option, right on the beautiful Kalapaki Beach, located in a calm, secluded cove. Besides its location right on the beach, each room offers a view of either the pool, the ocean, or the lush gardens; it boasts the largest pool in the entire state of Hawaii; and you can get beachside spa treatments. What’s not to love!
Lounge chairs on a beach in front of the Kauai Shores Hotel in Kapaa, Kauai

Northern Coast of Kauai

The northern coastline is probably what comes to mind when you think about Kauai—the jaw-dropping mountains of the Napali coast, impossibly lush jungles, and gorgeous beaches. Beyond just being absolutely beautiful, it also has a bit more of an authentic, local vibe than some of the other popular places to stay in Kauai. 

There’s two different towns here to choose from—Hanalei is smaller and feels more laidback, whereas Princeville offers secluded, glitzy resorts. 

Aerial view of Hanalei in front of Hanalei Bay

It’s important to note that, while this area is STUNNING, it’s also pretty remote and will be a bit out of the way for some of the most popular things to do in Kauai, like Waimea Canyon or the beaches along the southern shore. So if you plan on adventuring around the island, be sure to build in plenty of driving time if you’re staying along the northern shore!

Consider: 

  • Hanalei Colony Resort: Located on Tunnels Beach (which is literally the prettiest beach I’ve ever been to), every single suite at this secluded hotel comes with a balcony with a view of the ocean or the property’s lush gardens. There’s lots of amenities to enjoy here, including a lovely pool, hot tub, and a complimentary shuttle to get to Hanalei town and the other nearby beaches.
  • Hanalei Bay Resort: If you’re looking for a hotel that feels a bit more like a home in Hanalei, this is a great option, given each spacious suite comes with a well-equipped kitchen and well-furnished outdoor space, with stunning views of Hanalei Bay. It’s just a quick walk to the beach and comes with everything you’d want from a Hawaiian resort—beautiful pool, cozy hot tub, and onsite restaurant.  
  • 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay: If you’re celebrating your honeymoon, anniversary, or just looking to splash out, this is one of the best resorts in all of Hawaii, with offerings like complimentary hula lessons, yoga classes, and sound bath treatments; a jaw-dropping infinity pool; and views of the lush mountains or the ocean from every room. 
Restaurant in 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay with view of Hanalei Bay in the background of Hanalei, Kauai

Where We’d Recommend Staying on Kauai

If you plan on mostly adventuring around the island, I’d personally suggest staying on the eastern coastline, like in Lihue.

Yes, it’s not quite as picturesque as the southern or northern shores, but it offers everything you need, in terms of shops and restaurants and, most importantly, is centrally located, pretty much smack dab in the center of all the action. And wouldn’t you rather spend your time actually seeing and doing stuff in Kauai than driving around the island (the traffic here is sloooooow)?!

View of lush mountain in Hanalei, Kauai

Alternatively, if you prefer more upscale accommodations (which the eastern coastline is frankly lacking) and are going to be in Kauai for four days or less, I’d suggest making the Poipu area along the southern coastline your home base and just driving around the island, as needed.

Or if you’re going to be on Kauai for five days or longer, I’d suggest splitting your time between Poipu and Hanalei (for example, four days in Poipu and three days in Hanalei) so you can get the best of both worlds!

Road to the northern shore of Kauai with mountains in the background

How Many Days Do You Need in Kauai?

Ideally, I’d recommend spending at least a full week on Kauai. During my husband’s and my last visit, we stayed on the island for 10 days and still didn’t come close to seeing everything! 

If you’re short on time, I’d try to squeeze in at least five days on the island—there’s seriously so much cool stuff to see! 

When to Visit Kauai

There’s basically two seasons in Kauai—a wet season, from November through March, and a dry season, from April through October. 

Given that Kauai is the rainiest of the Hawaiian Islands, I would generally recommend avoiding the wet season, given that pretty much all of the best things to do on the island are outside. 

Couple watching sunset at Hanalei Bay in Hanalei, Kauai

Kauai is at its busiest in the summertime, so I’d suggest trying to visit during the shoulder months of May, September, and October. You should still have warm temperatures (perfect beach weather!) and clear skies, plus be able to score slightly better prices on hotels and airfare. 

On a final note, a whopping 460 inches of rain falls on Kauai each year—after all, this sheer volume of rainfall is why the Garden Isle is so lush and green! But that also means that it’s likely that it’ll rain for part of your visit, no matter what time of year you go. In fact, during Justin’s and my last trip in May, we unfortunately got pretty unlucky with the weather and it rained pretty much all day for over half of the time that we were on the island. 

Woman wearing a raincoat on a rainy day in Kauai

On the bright side, Kauai is home to several microclimates, so even if it’s raining on one part of the island, you’re likely to find clear and sunny skies elsewhere. For example, the northern coastline is notoriously much rainier than the drier and sunnier southern coastline. 

That being said, there’s definitely times where it’ll be raining across the entire island (like many of the days during our last visit!), so it’s important to keep your eyes on the weather while you’re on the island. If you happen to run into a bit of rain, be flexible and willing to move some things around on your Kauai itinerary.

Two sea turtles basking on Poipu Beach in Poipu, Kauai

Seven Day Kauai Itinerary

Now onto the good stuff—our one week Kauai itinerary! 

If you don’t have seven days on the island, not to worry. I’ve organized all of the activities, based on their proximity to one another. So you can easily shuffle around and mix and match the days, based on how much time you have on Kauai and what kind of activities interest you.

One important thing to note—Justin and I have no chill, like, ever. So, while we definitely enjoy some beach time, we also packed our schedule with stopping at viewpoints, hiking epic trails, and exploring small surfer towns. This Kauai itinerary is definitely more geared towards adventure lovers, so, if that’s not you, feel free to dial back all the climbing up mountains and increase the beach time. 

Couple standing on the rim of Waimea Canyon in Kauai

We go into lots of detail in this Kauai itinerary, so here’s a high-level overview of what to expect:

Day 1: Helicopter ride, Old Koloa Town, and Beaches (Southern Coastline)

Breakfast

If you’re coming from the mainland United States, you’re probably going to be suffering from some gnarly jetlag.  

Luckily, Sunrise Coffee & Donuts, an adorable roadside coffee shop in Lihue that’s served out of an Airstream, opens bright and early at 6 AM on weekdays and 6:30 AM on weekends. This place is seemingly ALWAYS busy, but especially so as the morning wears on. So definitely get here early!

Tip: If you want donuts here, you actually order them at a separate counter as the coffee. They’re made to order and oftentimes, can take quite a bit of time, so accordingly, I’d recommend ordering those first and then heading over to wait in the line for coffee. We’re all about efficiency here at Uprooted Traveler!

Helicopter ride

What could be a better introduction to Kauai than an entire tour of the island—15,000 feet in the air!

Aerial view of Napali Coast from a helicopter in Kauai

Head to the Lihue Airport for a helicopter tour, which is inarguably one of the absolute best things to do in Kauai. It’s really one of the only ways to appreciate the MASSIVE scale of Waimea Canyon, the towering jagged spires of the Napali Coast, and the impossibly green cliffs of Mount Waialeale, which actually holds the title of the wettest place on Earth!

Justin and I are what I would call “bougie on a budget” travelers—we definitely try to save money where we can, but don’t mind splashing out for bucketlist experiences. I wasn’t sure whether doing a doors off helicopter tour in Kauai was going to be worth the cost and I’m happy to report it 1000% was—it’s easily one of the coolest things I’ve EVER done! We went with Air Kauai and I couldn’t recommend them enough! 

Couples' feet in a doors off helicopter  in front of the Napali Coast in Kauai
Tip: It might seem a little ambitious to start off this Kauai itinerary with such a bang, but I put this helicopter tour at the very beginning by design. Helicopter tours often need to be canceled and rescheduled due to weather conditions, and you’ll have much better luck of being able to reschedule during your visit if you’ve got plenty of days left! 

Old Koloa Town

Head west along the southern shoreline of the island to Old Koloa Town, which is full of colorful and historic plantation buildings and Hawaii’s very first sugar mill. 

Road leading through a tree tunnel leading to Koloa on Kauai

There’s a self-guided walking tour that you can do to learn more about the history of Koloa, which dates all the way back to the 1830s. Alternatively, simply browse around the quirky galleries, souvenir shops selling locally made crafts, and funky food stands that line the streets.

Lunch

Grab lunch in Koloa. Some of our favorite options are:

  • Leahi Health: An all plant-based cafe that focuses on hyper fresh ingredients and dishes with a Hawaiian twist (think a beet poke bowl). 
  • Da Crack Mexican Grinds: This literal hole-in-the-wall Mexican food stand checks all of my boxes—fast, affordable, huge portions, and delicious!
  • Mucho Aloha Brewhouse: Cool brewery in an old plantation house, started by a local surfer dude. This craft brewery has a lively beer garden with firepits and dishes up tasty Mexican-Hawaiian fusion. 
Sandwiches from Leahi Health on a beach in Hawaii
Tip: Shops and restaurants in Kauai usually close surprisingly early and have kind of weird and inconsistent hours. Be sure to double check restaurants’ opening days and hours before heading there! 

Beach time 

For the rest of the day, take it easy and explore some of the best beaches on Kauai’s southern shore. 

For example, Poipu Beach has actually been named the best beach in the United States by The Travel Channel—and it’s not hard to see why! This crescent-shaped beach offers calm waves, decent snorkeling and an EXCELLENT chance of spotting wildlife. I’ve been to Poipu Beach several times and have literally never visited when there wasn’t a sea turtle or Hawaiian monk seal (an incredibly endangered species that’s endemic to the Hawaiian Islands) basking on its golden shores.

Turtle basking on Poipu Beach at sunset in Poipu, Kauai

Just a five minute drive from Poipu is Shipwreck Beach, a stretch of soft white sand that’s surrounded by dramatic rocky cliffs and usually is a bit quieter than Poipu. The waves tend to be a bit bigger here and, accordingly, are better for surfing and boogie boarding than snorkeling or swimming. It also just so happens to be one of the best places to watch sunset on Kauai!   

Sandy shores at Shipwreck Beach in Poipu, Kauai
Pssst… if you see either monk seals or sea turtles during your visit to Kauai (which you almost certainly will!), remember not to touch, chase, or otherwise harass them. They’re protected under both state and federal law and you should give these animals a WIDE berth (i.e., you should stay at least 10 feet away from sea turtles and 50 feet from monk seals). Otherwise, you could face either monetary penalties or even criminal charges (plus, it’s just not cool, man)!

Dinner

If you stayed at Poipu Beach throughout the afternoon, you can walk right over to a local institution, Puka Dog, which dishes up hot dogs stuffed into the middle of a pillowy bun, with unique condiments like pineapple relish and Lilikoi mustard. Just keep an eye on the time while you’re at the beach—this closes at 7:30 PM every day! 

Otherwise, I’d suggest heading to Keoki’s Paradise, a kitschy restaurant that manages to be not overly tacky. The Hawaiian-inspired dishes and cocktails are yummy; the atmosphere is fun with regular live music and tiki torches; and the service is unmatched. If you can overlook the touristy vibes, this is a must-visit, in my opinion!

Day 2: Napali Coast boat tour, Hanapepe, and Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail (Southern Coastline)

Napali Coast Boat Tour

So we’ve mentioned the Napali Coast a few times—but what is it exactly?

Essentially, along the northern coastline of Kauai is an 11 mile stretch of dramatic 4,000 foot sea cliffs, covered in lush greenery, and impossibly deep valleys, formed by millenia of pounding waves and rain. This dreamy terrain is extremely rugged—so rugged in fact, that there’s no roads that lead to it. Accordingly, the only ways you can access the coastline is via air, hiking trail, or boat (and lucky for you, we’re going to do all three in this Kauai itinerary!). 

View of the sea cliffs in the Napali Coast of Kauai

There’s a variety of different kinds of Napali Coast boat tours to choose from, most of which depart from Eleele, located in the center of the southern coastline. 

For example, if you’re more of an adventurous traveler, I’d recommend taking a Zodiac raft tour, like this one that we took with Kauai Sea Tours. Zodiacs allow you to get a more up close and personal experience with any wildlife you see along the way, like dolphins, and will give your captain the ability to zip around the sea caves and waterfalls that dot the Napali coastline.

Dolphins swimming alongside a Napali Coast boat tour in Kauai

Alternatively, for a more chill ride (or if you have back, knee, or neck issues), there’s several awesome catamaran tours to choose from, which tend to be a lot less rocky and have more fancy amenities (like, say, bathrooms!) than a Zodiac.

There’s some really cool Napali Coast catamaran tours to choose from, like this tour, which goes all the way to the Forbidden Island of Niihau, which is renowned as one of the best snorkeling destinations on the planet, or this option, where the captains sometimes even dare to cruise their catamarans under the Napali Coast’s sea arches and caves. 

Catamaran in front of the Napali Coast in Kauai

No matter which option you choose, you’ll cruise from the southern shore of the island, along the western coastline, and up to the Napali Coast. Along the way, you’re basically guaranteed to see dolphins gliding alongside your boat and it’s not unusual to see other creatures as well, like honu (sea turtles) swimming through the water.

Once you reach the Napali Coast, you’ll take in the jaw-dropping views, zip through sea caves (depending on what kind of tour you booked!), and snorkel with tropical fish.

View of the sea cliffs of the Napali Coast from a boat in Kauai

Most morning tours provide breakfast and lunch, but be sure to double check before you head out so you can plan accordingly!

Hanapepe

Once you’re back on land, take a bit of time to explore the artsy town of Hanapepe, which is just west of Eleele. This quirky little town has a number of local shops and art galleries, plus an old suspension bridge that crosses the Hanapepe River. The bridge was originally built over 300 years ago and swings around as you walk across it—kids LOVE it.

Couple smiling at the Kauai Island Brewing Company in Eleele, Kauai

If you’re a beer lover, be sure to also stop at Kauai Island Brewing Company in Eleele, which serves up awesome french fries, but more importantly, holds the title of the westernmost brewery on the planet! 

Spouting Horn

Head back east towards Koloa and make a quick stop at the Spouting Horn along the Pacific coastline, where seawater from the crashing waves are channeled into a large lava tube and propelled up to 50 feet into the air! 

Spouting Horn spewing water along the rocky coastline in Kauai

It’s free, impressive to watch, and just so happens to be an excellent vantage point to look out for humpback whales during the winter in Hawaii.

Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

End your day by hiking along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, a 3.8 mile trail that follows along the cliffs of the southern shoreline. 

Red cliffs along the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail in Poipu, Kauai

I absolutely LOVE this trail—it’s totally doable for beginner hikers; you’ll pass shrines left by ancient Native Hawaiians; and the views from the cliffs over the turquoise water of the Pacific are absolutely stellar. It’s also a great place to spot sea turtles—we probably saw about six of them, gliding through the water, during this hike!

Dinner

We’d recommend checking out:

  • Kauai Beer Company: Located in Lihue, this is one of our favorite restaurants on the whole island, with INCREDIBLE craft beer, stick-to-your-ribs bar food, and a fun and laid back atmosphere. We liked it so much that we went back twice during our visit! 
  • Scorpacciata Restaurant and Bar: Also located in Lihue, this restaurant dishes up wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, offers a breezy patio to sit on, and is one of the only restaurants on the entire island to stay open until the late, late hours of 9 PM. 
  • Japanese Grandma’s Cafe: Located in Hanapepe, this quirky little spot offers authentic Japanese cuisine, with impossibly fresh ingredients and a lovely outdoor patio. Be sure to make dinner reservations as this spot gets CROWDED!
Gyro and fries at Kauai Beer Company in Lihue, Kauai

Day 3: Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park (Western Coastline)

Breakfast

You’ve been in Hawaii for three days and haven’t had a smoothie bowl yet, which is basically illegal. 

So let’s remedy that and grab one at either Aloha ‘Aina Juice Cafe in Lihue (my favorite bowl is the Aina bowl, which is drizzled with poi, a traditional Hawaiian pudding made from taro) or ‘Anakē’s Juice Bar in Koloa. 

Smoothie bowl from Aloha 'Aina Juice Cafe in Lihue, Kauai

Waimea Canyon

It’s finally time in this Kauai itinerary to explore its western coastline, which offers some of the island’s most dramatic scenery (which is saying a LOT!). 

First up, make the drive to Waimea Canyon State Park, which is also referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The canyon, with deep red walls covered with lush greenery, stretches for over 14 miles and is more than 3,600 feet deep.

Red cliffs in Waimea Canyon in Waimea Canyon State Park in Kauai

There’s a variety of ways to enjoy this incredible canyon, such as:

  • Doing a scenic drive along Waimea Canyon Road, which follows along the western rim of the canyon
  • Stopping at the park’s scenic overlooks, like Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout and the Waimea Canyon Lookout, for a better view over the rim of the canyon
  • Hike some of the awesome trails in the park, like the challenging Waipo’o Falls Trail, which leads you to the brink of an 800-foot waterfall that careens down the red canyon walls, or the Kukui Trail, which takes you down to the canyon floor—and, of course, a grueling 2,000 feet back up to the rim! 
Woman standing with a backpack along the rim of the Waimea Canyon in Waimea Canyon State Park in Kauai

Waimea Canyon State Park costs $5 per non-resident, plus $10 for parking. 

Koke’e State Park

Directly north of Waimea Canyon is Koke’e State Park, which offers views over the Na Pali coastline and the kinds of scenery that you envision when you think of Kauai—massive green mountain ridges, jutting into the air; the impossibly turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean; and sweeping valleys. 

You can just stop at some overlooks here, like the Pu’u O Kila Lookout or the Kalalau Lookout, but I’d strongly recommend checking out some of the park’s trails. In my opinion, it’s got some of the best hikes in Kauai! 

View of cliffs of the Napali Coast from Koke'e State Park in Kauai

For example, if you’re up for a moderate hike, head to the Awa’awapuhi Trail, where you’ll wind up a narrow mountain ridge overlooking the Napali Coast or the Pihea Vista Trail, which takes you to the highest point along the rim of the Kalalau Valley. 

Just remember to bring proper hiking boots, like this option for men or this option for women (and maybe even a change of clothes), if you plan to hike here or Waimea Canyon. The trails in these parks tend to get RIDICULOUSLY muddy and slippery.

View of Napali Coast cliffs and the ocean from Koke'e State Park in Kauai

Like Waimea Canyon, Koke’e charges $5 per non-resident and $10 for parking.

Tip: I’d recommend looking at the weather in Waimea while you’re in Kauai and scheduling your visit to Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks when there’s little or no chance of clouds. 

Because of their elevation almost 4,000 feet above the Pacific, it’s not unusual for the views to get occluded by low hanging clouds or fog here, especially as the day wears on—which kind of defeats the point of coming here! 

Dinner

Grab dinner at Tiki Tacos in the town of Waimea on the western shoreline, which, true to its name, dishes up HUGE Hawiian-inspired tacos that are packed with flavor.

Salt Pond Beach

Head south along the western coastline to Salt Pond Beach to watch the sunset. 

Sandy shore at Salt Pond Beach at Hanapepe, Kauai

I LOVE this quiet beach and think it’s one of the most underrated hidden gems in Kauai. Given its location along the western shoreline, it’s one of the best places to watch sunset on the island, but there’s so much more to love about it, including its plethora of amenities, like bathrooms, showers, and grills; the fact that it’s one of the best places to spot monk seals on the island; and its awesome snorkeling. 

Just remember to bring your own snorkeling gear—there’s nowhere to rent gear nearby!

Monk seal napping on Salt Pond Beach in Hanapepe, Kauai

Day 4: Scuba diving, Ho’opi’i Falls and Beaches (Eastern Coastline)

Scuba diving

Let’s kick this morning off with yet another adventure—scuba diving

In my experience, Kauai has the largest populations of underwater wildlife, like sea turtles and monk seals, out of all of the Hawaiian Islands AND has the most interesting underwater topography. Accordingly, if you’re up for a more adventurous activity, I’d suggest trying scuba diving in Kauai

Sea turtle swimming through the ocean in Koloa Landing in Kauai

And good news—even if you’re not a certified diver, there are plenty of tours, like this option or this option, that you can join that will actually teach you all of the fundamentals before you head out for your first ever dive.

Alternatively, if you are a certified diver like we are, there are TONS of cool dive sites to check out. For example, we did this two-tank shore dive from Koloa Landing and saw SO many sea turtles. Alternatively, this tour heads to the popular dive site of Sheraton Caverns, which has cool lava tubes and arches to explore and tons of interesting wildlife, including honu and sharks.

Tropical fish in coral reef in Koloa Landing in Kauai

If you’re not quite up for scuba diving, you can alternatively spend the morning, checking out some of the best snorkeling beaches in Kauai. For example, Lawa’i Beach in Koloa is an incredibly underrated snorkeling spot, with vibrant coral, tons of tropical fish, and oftentimes, plenty of turtle friends, or Lydgate Beach in Lihue offers some of the best variety of fish on the island.

Lunch

It’s finally time to start exploring the east side of the island! Head north up the eastern coastline to the town of Kapa’a and grab lunch at:

  • Fish Bar: This spot is a must-visit, in my opinion, with incredibly tasty food, inventive drinks, and a relaxed vibe.
  • RUSSELL’S by Eat Healthy Kauai: A plant-based cafe where you can enjoy dishes made from fresh, local ingredients in a lush garden-like setting
  • Bubba Burger: A nostalgic joint that serves up some of the best (and cheapest!) burgers on the island.
Veggie burger at Rusell's by Eat Healthy Kauai in Kapaa, Kauai

Ho’opi’i Falls 

The Ho’opi’i Falls Trail is a moderately challenging hike, through a lush jungle, dripping with thick vines and enormous primeval ferns overhead, down to a waterfall that spans a wide, rocky cliff. This area is so beautiful, it was actually used in a scene in the original Jurassic Park!

Couple holding hands in front of Hoopii Falls along the Hoopii Falls Trail in Kauai

This hike is really fun—with the dense jungle, it kind of feels like you’re Indiana Jones—but definitely come prepared! Be sure to wear proper hiking footwear, given the trail is usually unbelievably muddy, and have an offline trail map downloaded on your phone on the AllTrails+ app. There’s no signage or cell service along this trail and tons of random offshoots—it would be REALLY easy to get lost here!

Tip: You’ll need to park in a residential neighborhood for the trailhead, so please follow any “No Parking” signs, don’t block any driveways, and generally be respectful of the people who live here!

Beach time

After a jam-packed beginning to your Kauai itinerary, spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on some of the best beaches on the eastern shore of the island.

Aerial view of rock wall at Lydgate Beach in Lihue, Kauai

For example, Lydgate Beach, located in Lihue, is an excellent option, with a protected cove that’s perfect for swimming or snorkeling. Alternatively, Keālia Beach, located in Kapa’a, is a locals’ favorite and is an awesome spot for boogie boarding or surfing.

Dinner

One of our favorite parts of Kauai is its food trucks and Kapa’a has some of our absolute favorites! 

For example, Shakalafel has some of the best falafel we’ve ever had or Anatta’s Thai Street Food offers GENEROUS portions of authentic Thai food.

Man doing a shaka symbol in front of a woman holding a falafel at Shakafalafel in Kapaa, Kauai

Day 5: Secret Falls, Wailua Falls, and a Luau (Eastern coastline)

Breakfast

Grab a smoothie bowl or a breakfast burrito at Kauai Juice Co. (with locations in Kapaa, Koloa, and Kileau), a bright and cheerful shop that’s packed with local goodies and helmed by helpful staff.

Secret Falls 

One of the most unique hikes in Kauai is a two-fer—you actually have to paddle up the Wailua River about two miles to its trailhead and then hike to the base of the 100-foot Uluwehi Falls, referred to by locals as the “Secret Falls”, tucked away in a dense and impossibly green jungle.

Three kayakers paddling down the Wailua River in Kauai

This hike is absolutely epic—the paddle itself is gorgeous, winding through lush forests and rolling valleys. Plus, after you hike the short 0.75-mile trail to the base of the waterfall, you can swim in the cool plunge pool at the bottom!

If you’re a more confident kayaker or stand up paddleboarder, you can rent one from an outfitter along the Wailua River, like this option, and take on the trail yourself. Alternatively, you can go with a tour, like on this option, which has funny and informative guides, or this option, which is perfect for beginner paddlers.

Secret Falls cascading down a rocky cliff in Kauai
Photo by ryanfaas of Deposit Photos

Lunch

If your tour to Secret Falls doesn’t include lunch, grab some food in Kapa’a, like at Lava Lava Beach Club, a restaurant inside the Kauai Shores Hotel where you get to eat with your toes literally in the sand, or one of the other restaurants recommended above that you haven’t tried yet, like Shakalafel or Fish Bar.

View of people dining on the beach at the Lava Lava Beach Club in Kapaa, Kauai

Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls will be a quick stop, but, in my opinion, it’s totally worth including in your Kauai itinerary! Located along the south end of the Wailua River, this stunning waterfall splits into two streams and drops dramatically 173 feet into the water below. It’s so beautiful, in fact, that it was actually used in the opening credits of the 1970s show “Fantasy Island”.

Aerial view of Wailua Falls in Kauai

There used to be a sketchy hike to the base of the waterfall, but, after a few hikers have fallen to their deaths here, the trail is now closed. So, instead, you can just enjoy the views from the overlook near the brink of the falls. 

And bonus—there’s usually guys selling coconuts out of the back of their truck at some of the cheapest prices you’ll find on the island. We got two coconuts for just $5 (we’ve seen people charge as much as $10 per coconut!). 

Woman holding a coconut in front of Wailua Falls in Kauai

Koloa Rum Company

Honestly, Koloa Rum Company wasn’t really on our radar until we were looking for something to do on a rainy day in Kauai—but I’m so glad we stopped here!

Founded in 2009, Koloa Rum Company was the first rum distillery on the island. They now have a gorgeous and sprawling property that has something for everyone—a free tasting of five of its different rums; a kid-friendly two and a half mile ride on a vintage train (with stops to feed cute farm animals along the way!); or a two hour “rum safari tour”, including a rum tasting, two cocktails, and meet and greets with farm animals.

Painting of a Hawaiian chief at the Koloa Rum Company in Kauai

There’s limited space at the free tastings and you unfortunately can’t make reservations for it. So unless you visit during an unusually slow day, it’s probably pretty unlikely you’ll get to join one if you visit the distillery in the afternoon.

So if you can’t try their rum through a tasting, I’d highly recommend stopping at the onsite bar and restaurant, The Plantation House by Gaylords, to try a Mai Tai—I’m something of a tropical cocktail connoisseur and this is hands-down the best Mai Tai I’ve ever had!

Man sipping Mai Tai at the Koloa Rum Company in Kauai

Luau

If you haven’t been to a luau before, it’s definitely a quintessential experience to have in Hawaii. Of course, you get to try all kinds of traditional Hawaiian food, but, if you select the right kind of luau, you can dive into learning more about Polynesian music, dance, and history. 

Hula dancer at luau in Hawaii

We’d recommend considering: 

  • Lu’au Kalamaku: This luau kicks off with a bang, with a champagne reception and a lei greeting at the historic Kilohana Plantation. Afterwards, you’ll enjoy a delicious four-course meal of traditional Hawaiian dishes and a show that includes Tahitian drumming, Samoan fire dancing, and, of course, the Hawaiian hula. My favorite part about this show is that it tells a story of a family, voyaging from Tahiti to Hawaii, mirroring the actual history of these incredible islands.
  • Luau Ka Hikina: Located on the beautiful grounds of Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort and one of the only luaus in Kauai with an ocean view, this option comes with a seriously delicious buffet, unlimited open bar, lei greeting, and a wonderful show, from the pre-dinner music to the Samoan fire dancing. The show does an excellent job of highlighting dances from the various islands in Polynesia, including explaining a bit of their history and cultural significance. 

Day 6: Hā’ena State Park, Tunnels Beach, and Hanalei Beach (Northern Shore)

Breakfast

We saved the best for last–the North Shore! 

Head to Holy Grail Donuts, a food truck, with locations in Hanalei and Kapa’a, that bakes up donuts made out of the mighty taro plant! They have a rotating list of quirky flavors, like the “Reincarnated” with maple, smoked coconut, and sea salt, or the “Acai Bowl”,  with acai, peanut butter, chia, and shredded coconut. They’re SO good and a must-do on any Kauai itinerary!

Woman smiling and holding two donuts at Holy Grail Donuts at Kapaa, Kauai

Hā’ena State Park

The beautiful Hā’ena State Park is the gateway to access the Napali Coast on foot.

This park has a lovely beach, Ke’e, but what it’s really famous for are its incredible hiking trails.

Couple standing at an overlook along the Hanakapiai Falls Trail in Haena State Park in Kauai

It’s home to the Kalalau Trail, an extremely demanding 22 mile multi-day backpacking trek that takes you into the heart of the Napali Coast to the shores of Kalalau Beach, one of the most secluded and beautiful beaches on the planet. Alternatively, if you don’t have the time (or the legs) for that kind of adventure, the park also offers the incredible Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail.

While this hike is still on the challenging side, it’s definitely doable for most people in decent shape. The trail takes you along the rugged Napali coastline, through an impossibly lush jungle, and to a stunning beach and a GORGEOUS 300-foot waterfall that you can swim at the base of. Hiking this trail was absolutely one of the highlights of our Kauai itinerary!

Hanakapiai Falls cascading down a lush cliff along the Hanakapiai Falls Trail in Kauai

That being said, getting to the trail isn’t exactly the most straightforward.  Before your visit, you’ll need to go to the park’s website and either purchase one of the EXTREMELY limited parking passes for the trailhead or book a spot on a shuttle that leaves from the Waipa Park and Ride in Princeville that drops you off at the trailhead. 

The process is honestly a bit confusing, but we wrote a whole post with everything you need to know about getting to and hiking the Hanikapi’i Falls Trail.

Lunch

Grab lunch at one of the cute food trucks in Hanalei, like:

  • Cafe Turmeric: SUCH good Indian food—we liked it so much we came here twice while we were in Kauai! Cash only.
  • Fresh Bite Farm To Beach: Funky food truck that uses ridiculously fresh ingredients and comes up with unique twists on classics, like sandwiches and wraps.
  • Da Fazenda: Authentic Brazilian food made from local and organic ingredients. Plus, the staff are SUPER nice.
  • Mr. Wagon: Asian-Hawaiian fusion food truck that’s stationed in the parking lot for Hā’ena Beach Park (which is our next stop!). Be sure to grab some fresh mango or a shave ice for dessert!
Man holding dish of Brazilian food at Da Fazenda food truck in Hanalei, Kauai

Tunnels Beach

Head over to Tunnels Beach. Between the shockingly turquoise water and the jagged green peaks of Mount Makana, towering in the background, this is inarguably one of the most beautiful beaches in Kauai. In our experience, it also happens to offer some of the best snorkeling in Kauai, with interesting underwater formations and TONS of tropical fish, directly offshore. 

Woman standing in front of Mount Makana along Tunnels Beach in Kauai

To access the beach, you’ll need to park in the lot for Hā’ena Beach Park and walk about half a mile down the sands of Hā’ena Beach to Tunnels. Snagging a parking spot in this teeny lot can be pretty challenging, especially in the afternoon, so be prepared to wait for a bit—and maybe have someone at the ready who can jump out of the car and buy a shave ice from Mr. Wagon while you wait!

Hanalei Beach

Finish the day with sunset at Hanalei Beach, a beautiful crescent-shaped beach with a wall of green mountains as its backdrop. 

Couple smiling at Hanalei Bay at sunset in Hanalei, Kauai

There’s a 340 foot long pier to jump off and its calm waters are perfect for swimming.

Dinner

Finish your day off with a relaxed dinner in Hanalei, at:

  • Ama: This restaurant serves up flavorful ramen and noodle dishes with plenty of outdoor seating that offers jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Hanalei Poke: Tiny hole-in-the-wall dishing up unique takes on poke. Note that they close pretty early so you might want to pick up your poke bowl to go before heading over to the beach for sunset!

Day 7: Queen’s Bath, Okolehao Trail, and Anini Beach (Northern Shore)

Breakfast

Try not to cry too much about it being your last day in Kauai and instead, head to the adorable Kalalea Juice Hale stand in the tiny town of Anahola. They have the best acai bowls on the island (they mix the acai with hunks of coconut meat—SO GOOD!), the owner is incredibly sweet, and the views of the surrounding mountains are EPIC.

Woman holding a smoothie bowl with bananas, in front of a rack of surfboards, in Hanalei, Kauai

Hanalei Valley Lookout

On your way up north to Princeville, make a quick stop at the Hanalei Valley Lookout, which provides an incredible vantage point over the patchwork of colorful taro fields that blanket the valley floor below. 

Couple holding hands in front of Hanalei Valley Lookout in Hanalei, Kauai

You can learn more about taro, which has long been an important part of Hawaiians’ diet and culture, at the educational plaques here. 

Queen’s Bath

Head to Queen’s Bath, a unique natural rock pool of clear, turquoise water, along the rugged cliffs of the Pacific.

To get there, you’ll need to hike about half a mile down a path along the volcanic rocks. While the trail isn’t particularly challenging, the rocks are often slippery—so be careful! 

Woman swimming through turquoise water in Hanalei, Kauai

When the water is calm, this can be an awesome place to go swimming. When the water isn’t calm, though, this can be rather treacherous, due to the gnarly waves that crash into the pool and the extremely strong currents that can pull swimmers out to sea. In fact, so many people have unfortunately drowned here that the state now completely closes down Queen’s Bath in the wintertime and only allows people to hike to it in the summer, when the waves are typically much calmer. 

Accordingly, only go here when it’s open and the surf is minimal (you can check the surf report here). Even then, I’d only recommend getting in the water if you’re a strong and confident swimmer. If you don’t get in the water, I personally think it’s still worth going to watch the cliff jumpers dive into the crystal clear water and to keep an eye out for sea turtles and manta rays in the water below— they seem to LOVE this spot! 

Rocky pool at Queen's Bath in Princeville, Kauai

Lunch

I’d suggest hitting up another one of the food trucks in Hanalei suggested for Day 6 above. 

Okolehao Trail

For your last hike on Kauai, head to the Okolehao Trail, a moderately challenging hike through the jungle that leads up to a stunning viewpoint over Hanalei Bay and, beyond, the wild mountains of the Napali Coast.

Couple sitting on a bench along the Okolehao Trail, overlooking Hanalei Bay, in Kauai

Much like all of the rest of the hikes on Kauai, prepare to get MUDDY on this trail, especially the first half. I’d strongly recommend bringing along waterproof boots, like this option for men and this option for women, AND a change of clothing in case you slip in the mud (which Justin did!). 

Anini Beach

Spend the rest of the afternoon at Anini Beach, a stretch of soft golden sand with a towering green cliff as its backdrop in the tiny town of Kalihiwai. It generally offers a calm and gentle surf in the warmer months and the colorful reef, directly offshore, offers some of the best snorkeling on Kauai, with plenty of tropical fish and honu swimming through its waters.

Tropical fish swimming in Kauai

Consider hanging around until sunset—they’re absolutely stunning here!

Dinner

Head to Kilauea along the northern coastline, just east of Princeville. This small town is often overlooked for its more popular neighbors, but its downtown offers colorful historic plantation buildings with quirky shops and restaurants. 

Kilauea Lighthouse along a green peninsula jutting into the Pacific in Kilauea, Kauai

Stop at:

  • Sushigirl Kauai: Fresh sushi, sushi burritos, and poke bowls with reasonable prices and generous portions, served out of a casual walk-up window
  • Paco’s Tacos: Serves up some of the best and most authentic tacos on Kauai at reasonable prices and with quick service
  • Ally’s Cocina: Super cute spot with homemade Venezuelan food, like arepas, in a fun, laid back atmosphere, with regular live music

Head pack to your hotel to pack up for your flight home tomorrow and start planning your next trip to Kauai! 

What to pack for Kauai

We have a whole post that’s totally dedicated to what to include on your Hawaii packing list, but if you want a quick list of key items you should bring along, don’t forget to pack your:

Woman standing with muddy boots on a rock along the Hanakapai Falls Trail in Haena State Park in Kauai
Woman wearing a rainjacket and looking at a misty morning in Kauai
  • Thermal rash guard (for men and for women). Kauai is the northernmost Hawaiian island and the water can actually feel chillier than expected. After our first visit to Hawaii, I bought a thermal rash guard so that I could stay in the water longer while snorkeling and never looked back!
  • Beach towel
  • Sunglasses

Phew—there you have it! A jam-packed seven day Kauai itinerary, personally tested and approved by yours truly. Do you have any questions about visiting this island paradise? Let us know in the comments below!

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