The Garden Isle is known for its diverse microclimates and stunning landscapes. From dusty red-rock desert canyons to the postcard-perfect Na Pali Coast, endless outdoor adventure awaits. Every day road trip to a different part of the island, stopping at roadside takeout counters for plate lunches and wandering around tiny surfing towns in search of shaved ice. Best of all, do as the locals do and learn how to slow down and embrace island time. Here’s a 3-day Kauai itinerary that will allow you to see the highlights of this magical island.
Day 1: Na Pali Coast
If you see only one thing on Kauai, make sure it’s this stunning coastline that features dramatic cliffs dropping into the Pacific Ocean below. The coastline is officially part of the the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, and one of the best ways to see the landscape is by a daytime boat tour that brings you up close and personal at a leisurely pace (often with lunch included). If you prefer to be up in the air, a small plane or helicopter flight are a bit more of a splurge, but will let you see a unique aerial perspective.
The Kalalau Trail is the only way to access the coastline by land, but has been closed due to storm damage in 2018, so check on the trail’s website before you head out. If the trail is open, an ideal moderate hike is the 4 miles trek to Hanakapi’ai Falls.
Day 2: North Shore
Head north towards Kilauea, and stop at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse, with a stunning, rugged coastline as a backdrop, and the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye could see. Make a brief stop in Princeville, which is often referred to as Haolewood by locals because of the local lavish lifestyles. Wander around the Princeville Center for some window shopping and local Lappert’s Ice Cream.
The last stop of the day is Hanalei, where you can stretch your legs, admire the local murals, and get something to eat at Harvest Market, the local health food spot (try the ahi tuna wrap). The surrounding taro fields and lush mountains make an excellent photo backdrop.
Day 3: Westside
Waimea is reminiscent of the Old West with its sleepy towns and a layer of red dirt covering everything. Make your way through the town, admiring the historic art deco Waimea Theater (which is a great alternative activity for rainy days). The highlight of the area is Waimea Canyon, which is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the West. Route 550 winds along the canyon, offers several scenic lookouts, and ends in Koke’e State Park.
On your way back home stop at the neighboring town of Hanapepe, which feels like an artsy, frontier town and if you’re around Friday night stop by for the popular Friday Art Night, which features local artists and plenty of food trucks.
Day 4: South Shore
Spend your last day in Poipu, where you can visit McBryde Garden, an impressive tropical botanical garden with stunning views of the beach below on the drive in. The adjacent Allerton Garden, is another option, but is a bit pricey at $45 per person, and requires a guided tour, unlike McBryde which is a self-guided one. Stop in Old Koloa Town, and walk among the historic sugar plantation buildings which are now shops and restaurants. This town is a great spot to pick-up plate lunches at Sueoka Snack Shop before heading down to Poipu Beach for a lazy beach afternoon.
Make a detour to The Tree Tunnel, which is made up of a mile-long stretch of eucalyptus trees that formed a natural canopy over the road and can be seen on the way from Lihue to Poipu on highway 520.
Where To Stay In Kauai
The drier South Shore (Koloa, Poipu, and Lawai), the rainy North Shore (Princeville and Hanalei, and Kilauea), and the East Coast (Kapaa, Wailua, and Lihue), are the popular spots to stay on Kauai, where you’re close to either sandy southern beaches, the rugged coastline of the north or the bustling country seat on the east side. Here’s some mid-range to luxury choices in these three areas.
Located in Lihue, these beachfront condos are a great home base for those who want to be halfway between the South and North Shores, while also in the middle of the action in Lihue. With a spacious outdoor pool, full-service spa, and stunning ocean views, it will be tempting to stay on property. Free airport shuttle included.
These Princeville condos are ideal for guests who want to have the convenience of their kitchen and washer/dryer unit at their disposal. Condo options come with either one bedroom or two. There’s no shortage of things to do on property, with 2 outdoor pools, 3 hot tubs, and an outdoor tennis court.
An expansive, stunning property located in Koloa that includes a luxury spa, panoramic ocean views, and a wide range of pools to cool off in. This central location includes close by destinations like Poipu Beach, and Poipu Shopping Village, which are both a little over a mile away.
What is on your 4-day Kauai itinerary?
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Photo source: Hanakapi’ai Falls