A visit to Kaua‘i is never a bad idea. But we get it. Life is so busy, even on vacation – which is why you should take advantage of our recommendations for the best way to maximize a visit to Kaua‘i.

Combine action and relaxation by hiking, biking and kayaking on Hawai‘i’s Garden Island, before eating and drinking your way around all the excellent restaurants and bars. Just don’t be surprised if you need more time off after all that. These three itineraries capture the best of Kaua‘i.

A group of people scuba diving and snorkeling off the coast of Kaua‘i on a sunny day with dramatic cliffs in the distance
Four days on Kaua‘i leaves plenty of time for snorkeling and other water sports © Adam Hester / Getty Images

4 days: Great hikes, food and beaches on the southwest coast

Best for swimming, snorkeling and a spectacular road trip

The South Shore and West Side of Kauaʻi offer beaches, great food and good hiking.

Start your first day in Kalaheo at Kalaheo Café & Coffee Co, before an early tour of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. At nearby Poʻipu Beach Park, two sheltered lagoons are ideal for kids and beginner snorkelers. Adjacent Brennecke’s Beach has an outside reef good for experienced ocean swimmers and free divers; on the other flank is a consistent reef break ideal for surfers. Afterwards, head to Old Koloa Town for gourmet burgers or crab tacos at Kickshaws.

On day two, stretch your legs on the scenic Mahaʻulepu Heritage Trail. Head for lunch at Koloa Fish Market (bring cash), then explore the Shops at Kukuiʻula. Drop by Poʻipu Beach Park for another sunset. Kiawe Roots is a good choice for dinner.

On day three, join a Na Pali catamaran tour in Port Allen before strolling Hanapepe town and browsing art galleries and the bohemian Talk Story Bookstore. Eat at Japanese Grandma.

Pack a picnic from Waimea’s Ishihara Market on your last day, then drive Hwy 550 through the Waimea Canyon and into Kokeʻe State Park. Negotiate the Awaʻawapuhi Trail with stunning coastal views before a final end-of-the-road sunset at Polihale State Park.

Mother and daughter crossing a creek via stones in a lush rainforest, Na Pali Coast, Kaua’i, Hawaii
More days on Kaua‘i means more time for the island’s famously beautiful hikes © Per Breiehagen / Getty Images

8 days: Encircling the Garden Isle

Best for kayak adventures and mountain and coastal hikes

You have one week to explore, taste and experience the best of the Garden Island. Ready, set...go.

Check into your chosen lodgings in Kilauea and make your way into Hanalei. Park near Hanalei Beach Park, take a dip or maybe have a surfing lesson, then hit pristine Lumahaʻi Beach for sunset. Casual dinner and drinks then beckon at nearby Tahiti Nui. After morning coffee and breakfast, head to the edenic Limahuli Garden, then hike the Kalalau Trail from Keʻe Beach to Hanakapiʻai Beach. Catch a Technicolor sunset on Keʻe, then take the slow drive back to Hanalei for dinner at Bar Acuda. Kick off another Kauaʻi day with coffee and ciabatta scrambled eggs at the Kilauea Bakery, then visit the lighthouse at Kilauea Point before spending the rest of the day at Kauapea (Secret) Beach or Kahili (Rock Quarry) Beach. Dine at the Bistro in Kilauea.

On day four, check into Fern Grotto Inn in Wailua, then paddle the Wailua River. Book dinner at the JO2 in Waipouli. The following morning, breakfast at Java Kai in Kapaʻa, then ride the bike path to Kealia Beach. Come evening hit Hukilau Lanai in Wailua for island-style fine dining before craft beers at Avalon Gastropub. Wake up with a hike up Nounou Mountain, then pack up and drive to Koloa, pick up lunch at the fish market and spend the day at Poʻipu Beach Park. Check into your short-term rental in Poʻipu. Start the next day with scuba diving with Seasport Divers if you’re certified; otherwise, hit the Mahaʻulepu Heritage Trail and spend the morning at rugged and beautiful Mahaʻulepu Beach. Land in Hanapepe by early evening for a bit of gallery hopping, and check out Kauai Fine Arts for antique maps and prints.

Day eight is all about the trails. Stop at Ishihara Market in Waimea to pack a picnic, then drive Hwy 550 as the road rises to the rim of Waimea Canyon. Venture into Kokeʻe State Park and onto the Awaʻawapuhi Trail with views overlooking the Kalalau Valley and the stunning Na Pali Coast, before driving on toward the western end of the road for a final Kauaʻi sunset in Polihale State Park.

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2 days: Rivers and mountains on the northeast coast

Best for beachcombing and biking

This short but sweet itinerary takes you from one of the state’s most sacred rivers to one of the island’s most spectacular beaches, with all kinds of beauty and flavor in between.

Start your day with a serene paddle up the Wailua River. Whether you choose to join a tour group or blaze your own wake, you will either hop in a kayak or rent an SUP board, glimpse heiau (ancient temples) and explore a hidden waterfall. Next, fuel up with coffee and breakfast at Java Kai, a Kapaʻa classic. When you’re ready to keep moving, rent a bike and cruise the 5-mile Ke Ala Hele Makalae path, which stretches 5 miles from the south end of Kapaʻa Beach Park to Paliku Beach. Grab a nap at Kealia Beach, then spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening exploring the shops in Old Town Kapaʻa. At night, travel south to Wailua for dinner combining craft beer and burgers at Street Burger.

The next morning, climb Nounou Mountain then grab some Tiki Tacos in Waipouli and hit one of Kilauea’s sublime beaches. We suggest Kauapea (Secret) Beach. Take a quick dip, plant your body in the sand, repeat as necessary. Dine at the Bistro in Kilauea.

An aerial view of the lighthouse overlooking the cliffs and Pacific Ocean at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Kaua‘i
Even a short stay in Kaua‘i can take you from one end of the Garden Island to the other © Westend61 / Getty

2 days: The North Shore to the end of the road

Best for experiencing the island’s most spectacular trail

Explore along Kauai’s North Shore from Kilauea Point to the mythic end of the road.

Wake up in Kilauea with coffee at Kilauea Bakery, a popular and community-focused local staple. Next up is the drive to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and check out the stately lighthouse. Back in Kilauea, grab lunch at Kilauea Fish Market, and then hit Kauapea (Secret) Beach. Rinse off and hit the shops and galleries of Hanalei, enjoy an exquisite dinner at Bar Acuda and then step over to Tahiti Nui for drinks and laughs until the music stops.

You’ll need another hike to get your blood flowing again, so after fueling up on coffee and a breakfast burrito at the Hanalei Bread Company, hit the Okolehao Trail for a steep, quick adventure, or drive to the end of the road and get a taste of the Kalalau Trail. (Be sure to book a permit well in advance.) Next, hit Haʻena Beach Park or (if you surf) Makua (Tunnels) Beach for another well-spent, lazy afternoon. Wake up in time to drive to a Keʻe Beach sunset, then hit the sushi bar at the Dolphin restaurant for dinner in dear, sweet Hanalei.

You might also like:
10 essential hiking trails on Kauaʻi for exploring the Garden Island
How to visit Hawaii without totally destroying it
How to choose the best Hawaiian island for your trip

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