If you’ve always dreamed of unplugging and immersing yourself in absolute lush greenery, rugged coastline, and adventure for a few days, Kauai is the Hawaiian island you need to visit.
With its lush mountains, dramatic sea cliffs, remote beaches, and endless plunging waterfalls, Kauai is just about the perfect place to get away from it all.
We recently visited Kauai for an entire week and it was just enough time to have a few different adventures of a lifetime there! This was my second visit to the island, and it was as beautiful, rugged, and captivating as I had remembered it to be.
If you’re planning a trip to The Garden Isle and are looking for some guidance on what to see or what to do on Kauai, look no further! Today, I’ll be sharing with you the exact itinerary we created for our latest 7-day trip.
This itinerary has the perfect mix of sand, sea, rainforest, adventure, and relaxation, as well as plenty of opportunities to try some of the best local food spots! You’ll be partaking in some touristy activities and some not-so-touristy activities.
This Kauai itinerary will also showcase a good mix of adventurous and family-friendly activities.
We’re so excited to share this 7-day Kauai itinerary with you because we had so much fun doing these exact activities! Continue reading to get the scoop on the best things to do (and eat) on Kauai over a course of seven fun-filled days!
This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!
Table of Contents
WHAT IS THE ISLAND OF KAUAI KNOWN FOR?
Kauai is one of the least developed of the Hawaiian islands known for its stunning natural beauty.
The whole island is practically covered in lush rainforests, towering waterfalls, and beautiful beaches perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing.
The island is also home to several famous must-see geological formations, including Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast. It’s also known for its oodles of outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, surfing, beach lounging, and snorkeling.
Additionally, the island has a rich cultural heritage, with a strong tradition of Hawaiian music, customs, and cuisine. Do not miss your chance to eat local food — skip the fancy pupu’s and head straight for the food trucks and poke markets!
KAUAI IN A NUTSHELL
Here’s a quick overview of all the useful info you need to plan an awesome trip!
- When To Go: December through March (peak season). September to November or April to June (off-season, for pleasant weather and fewer crowds).
Where To Stay: Plantation Hale Suites if you’re on a budget, Kauai Coast Resort at the Beach Boy for condo-style living, or The Lodge at Kukui’ula for luxury bungalows perfect for larger groups.
- Nearest Airport: Lihue Airport (LIH)
How to Get Around: You will need a car. We recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the best deal. Book early because rental cars in Hawaii go like hotcakes!
Must-Do’s: See the Na Pali Coast by boat, hike Waimea Canyon, and visit the town of Hanalei.
Before You Go: Pack your snorkel gear to avoid having to rent! And remember to pack a rain jacket — Kauai’s weather can be unpredictable, and rain is possible at any time of the year.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT KAUAI?
In my opinion, the best time to visit Kauai is all the time. Nothing stops me from visiting whenever I can!
Generally speaking, the high season runs from December to March, when all the visitors from the mainland USA and beyond flock to Hawaii to get away from the cold winter conditions back home. This is when you’ll find the island most packed.
Having said that, if you value good weather and fewer crowds, the best time to visit Kauai is between September and November or from April to June.
During these months, the weather is generally dry and mild, with temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit. Additionally, these months tend to be less crowded than the peak tourist season of December through March.
No matter when you ultimately decide to go though, it’s important to note that Kauai’s weather can be unpredictable, and rain is possible at any time of the year.
The island is known as “The Garden Island” because of its plethora of gushing waterfalls and lush green rainforests. These natural attractions don’t just happen magically — rain is needed! Kauai’s rainfall is one of the aspects that makes it so special, so be prepared to encounter some during your trip.
ISLAND OVERVIEW: LAYOUT OF THE ISLAND
The island of Kauai can be broken down into four quadrants, North, West, East, and South shores. Each region has quite different characteristics (and even weather).
Not only will this overview help you to decide where to stay or spend the majority of your time, but it will also help you pack accordingly!
- South Side
- The South Shore tends to be sunnier than other regions of the island. There are lots of restaurants, shopping, and lots of opportunities to do water sports. However, it can be a little more crowded at times, as this is where a lot of tourists will hang out.
- North Side
- The North Shore is the rainforest part of the island. It’s a lot wetter and rainier, and with those conditions come 360-degree views of beauty, lushness, and greenery. There are a good amount of restaurants, beaches, and activities up north, but not quite as many as on the South Shore. That means you’ll be rewarded with a more quiet, relaxed atmosphere here.
- East Side
- Among the clusters of coconut trees on the East Shore, you’ll find historic landmarks, amazing beaches, and memorable attractions here. There are several little towns along the Eastern coast of Kauai with plenty of shopping, dining, and activities. For first-timers, this is probably the best place to stay. Why? Being situated right in between the North and South Shores means you will have to spend less time driving to all the areas you’ll want to explore. Once you get a feel for which side of the island you like the most, take a mental note for your next visit.
- West Side
- The West Side is where you go for outdoor adventure. For the most part, Northwest Kauai is impassable, filled with mountainous terrain and valleys that make roads impossible to build here. The West Side features Waimea Canyon, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Koke’e State Park is here as well. Hanapepe Town offers eclectic local galleries, boutiques, and more. The southwest region of the island is pretty remote in comparison to the rest of the island. It’s usually sunny and dry most days of the year (unless you head inland).
WHERE TO STAY ON KAUAI, HI
Where you choose to stay will depend on what you want to do with your time in Kauai. If you want resort life and sunny weather, the south shore is best for you. If you want to avoid the resort vibe, stay in the east. If you plan on exploring a bunch in the North, stay in that region.
Another thing to consider is whether you are a more laidback traveler or if you value amenities.
North Shore: More rural, laidback and relaxed. Main attractions include Hanalei town, Kilauea, waterfalls and lush valleys, and the resort community of Princeville. If you’d like to base yourself on the North Shore and don’t have a million bucks to spare (accommodations in this area are expensive!), go with Hanalei Bay Resort or Hanalei Colony Resort for beachfront vibes.
South Shore: This is where lots of the resorts are. Koloa and Poipu offers world-class golf, tennis, walking trails, upscale shopping, and higher-end dining. The Lodge at Kukui’ula is a fabulous option if luxury bungalows are your vibe — perfect for larger groups!
East Shore: This is where most residents live. Because of this, you’ll find most vacation rentals here. This area is considered the most central. Here you’ll find Wailua, Kapa’a, the airport, several small shopping centers, restaurants, and a few beaches.
If you plan on seeing the whole island, my recommendation is to spend a few days with accommodation on the North Shore while you’re sightseeing up there, then change accommodations to somewhere further south/east once you’re ready to explore the South Shore and East Shore.
My personal favorite area to stay? The East Shore! For first-timers, this is probably the best place to stay. Why? Being situated right in between the North and South Shores means you will have to spend less time driving to all the areas you’ll want to explore.
Not only is it super convenient, but it’s also cheaper and more down-to-earth (no resort vibes here), so you’ll get a more authentic local experience than you would in other parts of Kauai.
Whenever we’ve visited Kauai, we’ve always stayed in Kapa’a. Again, not only are you sort of at the midpoint of the entire island (makes the drive less painful if you want to see the North Shore one day and the South Shore the next), but you’ll also be saving a good amount of money on lodging/accommodation.
- On our last trip, we stayed at Plantation Hale Suites in Kapa’a for the full 7 days. The 1-bedroom suite was spacious and affordable, not to mention the location was absolutely perfect.
- I’d also recommend checking out Kauai Coast Resort at the Beach Boy – featuring beautiful and spacious condo-style accommodations just an 8-minute walk from the beach! Who wouldn’t want to wake up surrounded by tropical gardens and walk right to the beach? Absolute paradise.
Regardless of where you stay, try and book as soon as possible. Since Kauai is so much more rural compared to some of the other Hawaiian islands, there is limited availability of hotels, vacation homes, and resorts.
Search for prices and availability for Kauai accommodation here on Booking.com. (I love booking with them because they guarantee the best prices for any type of property, have no booking fees, and there are tons of options where prepayment is NOT required).
Traveling with a larger family or group? Instead of staying at hotels, you can save money by staying at a vacation rental. Use VRBO to book a vacation home or condo rental on Kauai instead. Not only can they be significantly cheaper than the resorts and hotels, but a lot of them also come fully stocked with extra amenities (bikes, boogie boards, beach towels, etc.).
THE PERFECT 7-DAY KAUAI ITINERARY
Okay, now that we’ve gotten some of the logistics out of the way, let’s get right into the fun stuff! Here’s your ultimate Kauai 7-day itinerary.
DAY 1 – SETTLE IN AND EXPLORE
Depending on what time you get in, pick up your rental car and either check into your hotel/vacation rental or head straight for the grinds and the beach! We landed at 11:30am, so with the whole day ahead of us, we aimed to start with a lunch picnic followed by our check-in followed by a relaxing beach day.
LUNCH AT KONOHIKI SEAFOODS
Grab some of the freshest and most delicious poke at Konohiki Seafoods! While in Hawaii, you should make it a point to eat as much poke as you can, because you’ll hardly ever find anything as fresh and affordable on the mainland.
Though the fish was good, we think the real showstopper is their sweet potato haupia pie. Do not miss it! They also serve hot lunch plates, so if you’re not a fish eater, no worries! There will be something on the menu here for you.
After getting your fill of delicious poke and lunch plate foods from Konohiki Seafoods, it’s time to check into your hotel.
We checked into the Plantation Hale Suites in Kapa’a. Not only were the units spacious (1 bedroom suite with full kitchen and living room), but we also really liked the location of this hotel.
On one side of the property, you will find the Coconut Marketplace (shopping center with an ABC store, Jojo’s Shave Ice, Chicken In A Barrel, and more). On the other side of the property, you will find Longs Drugs and a Mcdonald’s.
Why is McDonald’s even worth mentioning? Because we are completely obsessed with their Haupia Pies and Taro Pies–only available in HI! Every time we’re on the islands, we eat at least 1 per day (goodbye to any semblance of a beach body).
All in all, we had a wonderful experience at Plantation Hale Suites. It’s super affordable compared to what else is offered on the island, and the property’s amenities include BBQ grills, pools, jacuzzis, a spacious lanai to hang out at, and free coffee from Kauai Coffee Company!
PIT STOP TO STOCK UP: SUPERMARKET RUN
After your hotel check-in, head to any local drugstore or supermarket to purchase any toiletries, snacks, and drinks you’ll need for the remainder of your trip. Be sure to stock up on a few jugs of water if your hotel doesn’t provide water to its guests. Forgot to bring sunscreen, toothpaste, or aloe vera? Now’s your chance to pick some up!
Don’t forget the energy bars, li hing powdered candies (a local style of candy covered in li hing mui powder, yum), and gummy bears! Gummy bears are our favorite hiking snack.
Pro Tip: If you head to Foodland (Princeville), don’t miss the local baked goods like butter mochi, banana bread, or guava pound cake. You can find me constantly snacking on these throughout my trip, as well as hoarding a bunch to bring back to the mainland!
Once you’ve gotten prepared for the trip, it’s time to head straight for the beach! We went to Lydgate Beach Park, which was one of the nicer beaches closest to us on the East Shore. There’s a little swim area protected by rocks, so if you have little ones or are not a fan of waves, Lydgate Beach is a great place to take a dip.
If you’re staying somewhere else on the island, here are a few great beaches to check out–great for swimming in the summer months (late May to August).
NORTH SHORE BEACHES
- Hanalei Bay
- Ke’e Beach
- Anini Beach
- Kalihiwai Beach
SOUTH SHORE BEACHES
- Poipu Beach Park
- Kiahuna Beach
- Salt Pond Beach Park
EAST SHORE BEACHES
- Kalapaki Beach
- Lydgate Beach Park
As a general rule of thumb, the South Shore beaches in Kauai are better for swimming in the winter (November to March). During the winter months, the North Shore sees strong ocean currents and swells – great for surfing, but not so much for swimming.
As such, the North Shore beaches of Kauai are better for swimming in the summer months (late May to August). As we began visiting various beaches across the island throughout our trip, we found this to be very true.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for swimmable beaches, be sure to check the surf report of the beach you plan on visiting. Ocean conditions can change frequently, so it’s best to check the morning of. If the waves end up being 5-6 feet that day, simply pick another beach where the waves are more like 2-3 feet.
DINNER AT WHEREVER IS OPEN
Dinner time! At this point, either dine-in, pick up food at a local restaurant to enjoy at your vacation home/hotel, or cook something at home. If there’s a BBQ grill onsite at your hotel property, that’s a great option too!
It was getting late for us (and by late I mean past 6pm), so at this point, dinner options were limited. Saimin Dojo was located just across the street, serving up casual lunch plates and saimin. All in all, a good meal–our group really enjoyed the food here!
Pro Tip: Be mindful of what time you grab dinner. Since Kauai is a much slower island compared to Oahu and Maui (and definitely slower compared to urban cities on the mainland), establishments tend to close a lot sooner than you’re probably used to. Don’t be surprised by restaurants closing up shop by 6-7pm.
DAY 2 – WAIMEA CANYON (WEST)
Today is all about exploring Waimea Canyon in the beginning of the day, followed by a more relaxing visit to Hanapepe Town and the Poipu area.
BREAKFAST AT PONO MARKET
Pono Market is the best place to go if you’re looking for quick, grab-and-go Hawaiian food in the early hours of the morning. We dislike energy bars with a passion (unless we’re on a backpacking trip), so we were on the hunt for a quick breakfast and something to snack on during our day exploring Waimea Canyon. We ended up going with Pono Market, serving up fresh fish, lunch plates, and various types of musubis beginning at 6am!
We each picked up a poke bowl for breakfast and a spam musubi to munch on later in the day. Such a great alternative to breakfast sandwiches/energy bars!
EXPLORE WAIMEA CANYON
Waimea Canyon is a geological gem and an awesome place to explore by car. Waimea Canyon is commonly referred to as “The Grand Canyon Of The Pacific”, known for its dramatic vistas and impressive landscape.
Along Waimea Canyon Road (Hawaii State Route 550) there are plenty of viewpoints and overlooks where you can pull your car over and soak in the views.
Once you get to Waimea Canyon Overlook, you will need to pay for parking as well as admission per person. You will pay for both at the parking kiosk machine. From this lookout point, you can see Waipo’o Falls in the distance – an 800-foot cascading waterfall.
Pro Tip: Clouds can often obscure the views, so it’s best to check the weather before you make the drive. Mornings are usually clearer. Bring a light sweater because it is usually 10-15 degrees cooler up in the canyon and often windy.
Some of our favorite stops include:
- Red Dirt Waterfall -Features a small, seasonal waterfall cascading down bright red soil. One of the best roadside attractions easily accessible to all ages. The falls can be found on the left side of the road near the 23-mile marker.
- Waimea Canyon Lookout (mile marker 10) – This is the main viewing area for the canyon, offering panoramic views of the rim of the canyon
- Puu Hinahina Lookout (mile marker 13) – The Puu Hinahina offers another perspective of Waimea Canyon, looking down into the canyon. With this view, you can get a sense of how the river winds its way through the canyon down towards the sea.
- Kalalau Lookout (mile marker 18) – The view showcases the tall cliffs of the Na Pali Coast against the deep blue waters of the ocean. (This stop is not worth making if the fog and clouds have started to roll in. You literally won’t be able to see anything.)
CANYON TRAIL HIKE
If you’re interested in hiking, we highly recommend the Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls (moderate 3.6-mile out-and-back hike). This relatively short but tiring hike takes you through a beautiful forest, leads you to two awesome viewing areas of the Waimea Canyon, and ultimately brings you to Waipo’o Falls.
This was such a fun hike with a pretty good payoff. I mean, look at that view! After soaking up the sights and sounds, you can have a little swim in the waterfall behind you!
This trailhead is located at the Pu’u Hinahina parking lot (mile marker 13). Bring shoes with good traction, the trail can get extremely muddy after significant rain.
If you’re interested in doing a shorter hike at Waimea Canyon, here is another great option:
- Cliff Trail (2 miles roundtrip, easy)
- The Cliff Trail is a great option for beginners, families or first-time visitors of Waimea Canyon. Keeping to the ridge top, this trail provides beautiful views of the canyon. Park at the Koke’e State Park entrance off of Koke’e Road and take Halemanu Road to the beginning of the Cliff Trail.
Pro Tip: Waimea Canyon, though drop-dead gorgeous because of its red rocks, can end up making your shoes slightly red. I recommend wearing proper hiking boots or shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.
EXPLORE HANAPEPE TOWN
Hanapepe Town, also known as “Kauai’s biggest little town”, once flourished as one of Kauai’s largest communities. In the 1900s, West Side Hanapepe was bustling with G.I.s and sailors who were stationed there for training. Today, the plantation-style buildings you see here are home to charming shops, local eateries, and many art galleries.
Hanapepe Town hosts a farmer’s market on Thursdays starting at 3 p.m. On Fridays, Hanapepe Art Night takes place from 5-9 p.m. This event celebrates the arts as painters, sculptors and craftsmen open the doors of their galleries and studios while market stalls, musicians, and other street entertainment add to the lively experience.
Pro Tip: If you’re visiting on a day other than Thursday or Friday, be sure to visit Hanapepe Town before 3pm. The town tends to close up shop around 3pm.
POIPU BEACH PARK
Poipu Beach Park is the main beach on the south shore and is known for its great snorkeling opportunities. It’s well equipped with lifeguards, toilets, picnic tables, and a children’s play area. It’s also a great place to spot sea turtles and monk seals lounging on the beach!
Here the water is protected by a reef, has a lifeguard on duty, and is ranked one of the safest beaches in the US. Be careful though, some parts of the beach floor are rocky and can cut your feet/hands.
SEE THE SPOUTING HORN
The Spouting Horn (located a short distance from Poipu Beach) is worth a quick stop and is one of the most photographed locations on the entire island of Kauai. What you’ll find is that as the tide and waves come closer to shore, the water shoots up into the lava tube, creating a blowhole of water that shoots as high as 50 feet up!
DINNER AT WHEREVER IS OPEN
Depending on what time you finish your explorations for the day, head to whatever food joint is open. Some convenient options in Poipu include Keoki’s Paradise, Bubba’s Burgers, and Eating House 1849 Koloa.
You’ll find a lot of award-winning restaurants at the Poipu Shopping Village.
DAY 3 – NORTH SHORE / HANALEI
Today is all about the North Shore! You’ll be visiting a few fun spots in both Hanalei and Princeville!
HANALEI FARMERS MARKET
I’m a sucker for farmer’s markets when traveling. No matter where I go, I always try to pay a visit to local, open-air markets. There’s something about the bright, buzzing atmosphere and the opportunities to learn more about regional foods/specialties that really brings out the joy in me. If you happen to be in Kauai on Saturday, don’t miss the large Saturday morning farmers’ market.
This market features fresh-squeezed juices, locally made honey, fresh-baked goods, salsa, and other tasty treats that highlight the culinary talents of the area. Before your trip, check for the latest farmers market hours – Hale Halawai Farmers’ Market.
HIT THE BEACH IN HANALEI
Hanalei Bay is a crescent-shaped shoreline with a pier located on the north shore of Kauai steps away from Hanalei Town. It’s such a magnificent spot to hang out for a few hours, perfect for relaxing and enjoying the backdrop of the cliffs at the start of the Na Pali coastline!
Hanalei Bay has relatively calm waves, so it’s perfect for swimming, paddleboarding, boogie-boarding, kayaking, and snorkeling as well.
If you don’t plan on doing any water activities, we still suggest packing a picnic dinner, heading over to the beach, and watching the boats drift on by. This was by far our favorite beach spot–we did the drive to Hanalei twice from Kapa’a just to hang out here again!
There are three Hanalei beaches within the bay: Black Pot (near the Hanalei Pier), Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park and Waioli Beach Park (aka Pine Trees). In winter, Waioli is a popular surfing spot.
EXPLORE AND LUNCH AT HANALEI TOWN
Hanalei is a charming small, laidback town located on the North Shore. The picturesque center of Hanalei Town is filled with many historic buildings that are home to many local businesses. Grab lunch, wander through the art galleries, do some shopping for gifts and souvenirs, and grab some coffee or ice cream.
You can find some really great food trucks at Hanalei–they are often the most affordable (and delicious) places to eat, but do take note that most are only open for lunch. We learned this the hard way, so heed our suggestion! If you’re looking for a meal, head there before 2pm as many of the lunch trucks will be closed by 3pm.
Our favorite food trucks here are Hanalei Taro and Juice Company and Hanalei Poke. (Fun Fact: Hanalei Poke is on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives list!)
After lunch, If you’re in the mood for ice cream, get Pink’s Creamery. If shave ice, acai bowls, and smoothies are more your style, get Wishing Well Shave Ice and thank me later.
The Queen’s Bath is a unique tide pool worth visiting in the summer months (May through October). Here, the water is semi-protected from the ocean’s waves. In the summer months, the tidal pool’s water is relatively calm, which means you can get in and enjoy a few moments inside the pool.
During the cooler months (November to April), the coast here is exposed to very big surf and people have drowned after being swept off the rocks. Take caution when visiting and be sure to check the surf report before you visit.
Pro Tip: For the best chances of a swim in Queen’s Bath, go during low tide. Always be cautious and use your best judgment when deciding to get in.
If you still have daylight to burn, make a stop at Princeville. Princeville is the resort community of Kauai’s North Shore known for its epic coastline and world-class golf courses. Here you can stay in luxurious condos and resorts and enjoy the finer side of Kauai.
Even if you don’t choose to call this your home base (or can’t afford it), Princeville is still worth a visit. You can shop and dine in Princeville Center and enjoy sunset cocktails at the Saint Regis Hotel overlooking Hanalei Bay. Princeville also has access to many beautiful beaches including Hideaways Beach and Puu Poa Beach.
ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: KILAUEA POINT LIGHTHOUSE AND NATURAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Located at Kauai’s northernmost point, the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge is a great historical stop if you’re touring the island. This area is marked by a 1900’s lighthouse and boasts panoramic views of the North coast.
This bird nesting sanctuary is home to large colonies of native Hawaiian seabirds like the Red-Footed Booby, Laysan Albatross, and the Great Frigate Bird. The ocean cliffs and tall grassy slopes of a dormant volcano provide a protective breeding ground for many native seabirds. Stay long enough and you might also be able to catch a glimpse of humpback whales and dolphins.
Entrance fee is $10 per adult (free if you have an America The Beautiful pass) and there is also a gift shop on site.
DAY 4 – EAST AND SOUTH SHORES
SLEEPING GIANT EAST TRAIL (NOUNOU MOUNTAIN)
Time for a sunrise hike! The Sleeping Giant, or Nounou Mountain, is aptly named due to the shape of the ridge, resembling a giant sleeping on its back. Regardless of if you see it or not, one thing is true–the top of the Sleeping Giant’s “chin” boasts 360 degrees of panoramic views of Kapa’a and the surrounding landscape.
There are 3 trails that will lead to the same spot in the end:
- A 1.8 mile (2.8 km) one-way east side trail: the Nounou East Trail on Haleilio Road
- A 3 mile (4.8 km) one-way south side trail: the Kuamo’o Trail in front of Melia Street on Highway 580
- A 1.5 mile (2.4 km) one-way west side trail: the Nounou West Trail at the end of Lokelani Road
I recommend the East Trail because it offers the most beautiful views during the ascent. The start of the hike is at the end of a residential area of Kapa’a following the Haleilio road almost to the end. You will easily find the parking lot to park your car.
BREAKFAST AT KOUNTRY STYLE KITCHEN
After your hike, refuel with a hearty Hawaiian breakfast at Kountry Style Kitchen.
Everything is great here, but if you want something sweet for the table to share, get the ube french toast or the mac nut pancake (it’s absolutely gigantic and delicious). Get a side of the char sui fried rice with whatever you’re ordering–you won’t regret it!
EXPLORE WAILUA FALLS AND OPAEKA’A FALLS
While most waterfalls in Kauai are inaccessible, there are a few that are easy to get to, like Opaeka’a Falls and Wailua Falls. If you’re short on time but still want to experience one of Kauai’s majestic waterfalls, then Wailua Falls will be the most bang for your buck.
This beautiful double waterfall is easily accessible (just drive up and park) and often features a rainbow. Follow Highway 56 a few minutes north of Lihue, and stop at the lookout point for Wailua Falls. Conveniently, the best views of this beauty are right off the highway.
Also easily accessible from the highway is Opaeka’a Falls. You’ll find this waterfall on the east side of the island about two miles up Kuamoo Road (Route 580) also on Highway 56. Signs will clearly point to the roadside lookout on the right. This stop offers great views of the falls and access to picnic tables and restrooms.
Pro Tip: These falls are best viewed on overcast days or in the mid-morning when the sun is in the best position for photos.
EXPLORE OLD KOLOA TOWN
About 20 minutes west of Lihue lies Old Koloa Town, a charming little town rooted in its sugar plantation past. Koloa opened its first sugar mill in 1835 and really began the commercial sugar production era across the islands. This opened the door to a wave of immigrants that make up Hawaii’s multicultural population today.
Today, many shops now occupy the plantation buildings along Koloa Road. Explore and shop at the old-fashioned storefronts–it’s a great place to find some local gifts to bring home. Our favorite shop here was Kauai Gourmet Nuts, the macadamia nut shop!
Then, stop by the Koloa History Center to learn about the town’s interesting history.
Before you go, be sure to grab something to eat either at Koloa Fish Market or at the food truck pod in town. Follow up your meal with a cup or cone of Hawaii-inspired ice cream at Lappert’s.
Here’s your chance to explore a new beach! Since you’ll likely be close to the South Shore, you can check out Baby Beach, Kiahuna Beach, or Salt Pond Beach Park.
Alternatively, you can go back to Poipu Beach Park for another snorkeling session and to see if you can catch a sea turtle lounging on the beach!
DAY 5 – HAENA STATE PARK
Today is all about Haena State Park, probably the most magical and epic state park you’ll ever set foot in. Haena State Park includes Ke’e Beach, the Kalalau & Hanakapiai Beach/Falls trailhead, two wet caves, and more.
A bit of preparation is required if you want to visit the area, so be sure to secure a reservation in order to visit before your trip. Get all the logistical information here.
Spending a few hours on the world-renowned Kalalau Trail will be one of the highlights of your Kauai vacation. No, no. Don’t worry, this is not the full backpacking experience. If you can get permits to enter Haena State Park, you are in for a treat as the Kalalau Trail is a true hiker’s paradise!
Having already done the full Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach (11 miles) on a previous backpacking trip in 2017, we decided to relive just a small portion of the trail this time around.
We embarked on a 3-4 hour hike on the Kalalau Trail from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach (4.2 miles roundtrip). On this hike, you’ll take on the first two miles of the Kalalau trail starting from the parking area. After walking through a canopy of trees and on a boardwalk area through taro fields, you’ll reach Ke’e Beach and the Na Pali State Wilderness Park sign.
From here, you’ll also see the sign for the Kalalau Trail. This is where your adventure begins! Capture some photos before you start because you will look like a hot mess on your return.
The first section will be tough as you climb over rocks and uneven, potentially muddy ground, but the path does flatten out as you go further in. You’ll catch glimpses of the gorgeous coastline as you hike on the trail. Once you reach a wide river crossing, cross it to get to the beach!
Hope you brought a light picnic with you! Eating on the beach while enjoying the views of the surfers? A priceless experience! You’ll end your hike at Hanakapi’ai Beach and then make your way back.
Looking for a little bit longer of a dayhike? We’ve got you. The Kalalau Trail from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Falls is a 8.2-mile roundtrip hike that will bring you to a waterfall you can actually take a dip in.
Once you reach Hanakapi’ai Beach (the hike above), if you aren’t too tired and have some time, consider taking a two-mile hike inland (total of 4 additional miles) to see Hanakapi’ai Falls. Don’t forget to bring food/snacks to enjoy at the falls! Make sure you bring enough water as there are lots of ups and downs (and areas where it’s stifling hot and breezeless, despite being right next to the ocean).
Pro Tip: As of 2021, you need to get a permit to visit Haena State Park–get the latest information here. Start your hike early in the day when the sun is not as strong.
Hopefully, you brought some snorkeling gear with you (we didn’t) because Ke’e Beach is a wonderful snorkeling destination in the summer months! Located at the start of the Kalalau Trail (near where you parked your car), this reef-enclosed lagoon has calm, crystal clear water during the summer months. You may even be able to spot green sea turtles in addition to the colorful fish here.
It is recommended to stay to the right when entering, as the channel on the left can be dangerous with unexpected currents. The safest time to swim is when the surf drops below 4 feet.
Don’t feel like swimming or snorkeling? It’s still a wonderful place to eat some snacks and people-watch before heading out of Haena State Park.
LUNCH IN HANALEI OR PRINCEVILLE
Here’s your chance to spend more time at either Hanalei or Princeville, two very entertaining towns located right next to each other. Go souvenir shopping, beaching, or even take on a new adventure!
We easily killed 3-4 hours by visiting Hanalei Beach again, reexploring the town, and eating more shave ice at Wishing Well Shave Ice and more ice cream at Pink’s Creamery (our favorites are the Vanilla Mac Nut or the Haupia flavors). If you couldn’t tell, we absolutely fell in love with the North Shore.
ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: PRINCEVILLE RANCH
If you’re looking for an alternative activity in the North Shore, here’s one that we didn’t have the time to fit in–Princeville Ranch, featuring Kauai’s rugged and beautiful backcountry.
This ranch is like a one-stop shop for adventure and romance on Kauai. They offer guided horseback riding tours, off-road ATV experiences, hiking and kayaking tours, and the best zip lining on the island.
You can choose from 9 different world-class adventures that take you to one of the 6 waterfalls on the ranch. The combo tours are awesome, where you can pair horseback riding with a hike to a waterfall in 3.5 hours.
DAY 6 – EAST SHORE
It’s been an adventurous few days so far. Today we’re going to take it slow with some light shopping, dining, and cave exploration!
GET COFFEE AND MALASADAS
With no early morning adventure to head off to this morning, you can take your time and sample some local coffee and baked goods! I recommend Aloha Roastery (get the mac nut latte) and Passion Bakery Cafe (pumping out hot, fresh malasadas on select days of the week, a must-try!). These two establishments are located within walking distance from one another in Kapa’a.
Not staying in Kapa’a? Aloha Roastery has multiple locations. Another great coffee spot is Sunrise Coffee (a cute little coffee truck in Lihue).
SOUVENIR SHOPPING AT WALMART
The one and only Walmart on the island is located near Lihue Airport. As we had to drop off our friends at the airport, we decided to souvenir shop together right before their flight. We love hitting up the Walmart when we’re on Kauai because you can pick up some really affordable souvenirs and also re-up on travel necessities!
SHOPPING AT KUKUI GROVE CENTER
As we had some time to kill before our lunch reservations, we headed to the Kukui Grove Center for a light stroll. This shopping center is small but pleasant nonetheless.
Here you can find Longs Drugs (great for stocking up on Hawaiian snacks and candies), Deja Vu Surf, Jamba Juice, Fun Factory arcade, Macy’s and more.
LUNCH AT HUALANI’S RESTAURANT
If you want to experience the finer side of Kauai, head straight to Hualani’s Restaurant, located at the Hokuala Timbers Resort. Hualani’s Restaurant embraces approachable, thoughtful and creative cuisine, featuring a bold approach to seasonal farm-to-table Hawaiian dishes for lunch and dinner.
This restaurant was on the fancier/more expensive side, but we really enjoyed our experience here as it was a nice break from all the casual lunch plates and poke bowls we were eating.
As we visited on a Tuesday, they had a Taco Tuesday special that allowed us to try a 4-course meal for $29!
All in all, Hualani’s is a great place to eat some fresh fish and vegetables while enjoying an unbeatable view.
VISIT MAKAUWAHI CAVE RESERVE
Makauwahi Cave Reserve is truly a hidden gem. This is a sweet little spot that I first discovered online while browsing for things to do on Kauai. Immediately after reading about the reserve’s pristine, prehistoric-like conditions, I knew I had to visit!
You would never expect to find such a historically rich archaeological site right on the edge of Poipu’s resort area. This is Hawaii’s largest limestone cave, the richest fossil site in the islands, and a uniquely preserved archaeological site. Interested in learning more? They have free guided tours daily from 10am-4pm.
The cave entrance is quite small (you may need to get on your hands and knees), but as soon as you go through the little 3-foot cave mouth, it’ll immediately open up into a large open cave with tons of natural light. This can be muddy at times, but totally worth all the muddy bits you get on you!
Pro Tip: After exploring the Makauwahi Cave, head over to the nearby Mahaulepu Beach for a beach stroll. Before you head back onto the trail to leave, check out the tortoise refugee located to the left of the cave entrance. You will see signs for the tortoises, so it should be easy to locate.
Hiking Directions: An approximate 2-mile hike from Keoneloa Bay (Shipwreck’s Beach) to the coastal trail on the Makawehi Cliffs will lead you to the sinkhole, which is located just after the horse stables in the area.
Driving Directions: Head east on Poipu Road, past the Hyatt, and keep going on to the Grove Farm’s private dirt road. Go left at the fork (not right, that takes you to horse stables). Please note, this dirt road will be extremely bumpy with lots of potholes, so take care and drive slowly. At the end of the road, turn right and keep driving until you see a small wooden sign on the right that says “Makauwahi Caves”. Turn right following the sign to the end of the road which is the parking area. The caves are just past the little wooden footbridge. Cross the footbridge, turn right and walk to signpost 15. The entrance is the small hole with the ‘open’ sign next to it.
WAIKOMO SHAVE ICE
After cave hunting in the heat, you deserve a cold treat. Head for Waikomo Shave Ice, located just 10 minutes away in Koloa. Waikomo is a shave ice truck located at one of the most unsuspecting places (right next to a grocery store), but serves up some of the best shave ice on the entire island.
You really have to try it for yourself! They use no artificial flavors or colorings, so if this is what you’re looking for, look no further.
We ordered a lilikoi and guava shave ice, thinking we’d get a simple icy treat with homemade syrups. When we received it, we were pleasantly surprised to find it topped with fresh guava pulp and even lilikoi seeds! This by far was our favorite shave ice spot on Kauai.
DINNER AT SMILEY’S
Smiley’s Local Grinds is one of our favorite spots to eat in Kauai. This is where you need to go if you want authentic Hawaiian cooking. No frills, just pure deliciousness and comfort.
Best garlic shrimp and chicken we have had on the island! Don’t forget to check their website for daily specials.
We highly recommend the garlic shrimp plate, lau lau plate, Smiley’s chili chicken plate, as well as the beef stew plate. Everything was so good that we ate here twice during our trip (and contemplated eating it a third time before our flight home)!
DAY 7 – SNORKEL AND EXPLORE
NA PALI COAST SNORKELING TOUR
If there’s one thing you absolutely cannot miss while visiting Kauai, it’s a visit to the Na Pali Coast, located in the Northwest corner of the island. (If you didn’t know, this was where the movie Jurassic Park was filmed.) The Na Pali Coast can be seen in all its glory by air or by boat (or by getting a permit and hiking 11 miles in).
There are several catamarans, sailing, rafting, and snorkeling companies that will take you on a tour up and down the coast, many of which usually includes a snorkeling stop too. Check out a few of the below:
- Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail: On this sailing and snorkeling cruise from Port Allen, you’ll get to enjoy the Na Pali Coast from the deck of a catamaran and explore the island’s underwater world during a snorkeling stop. This tour includes a buffet lunch and entertaining stories told by the captain and crew!
- Na Pali Sunset Buffet Dinner Cruise: Experience the Na Pali Coast during the most romantic time of day on this sunset dinner cruise. Experience the epic landmarks aboard a deluxe sailing catamaran as you enjoy a buffet dinner complete with Mai Tais, beer, wine, and fresh juices, and a glass of champagne at the end.
We did the Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail Tour (with Holo Holo Charters) and let me tell you, it was worth every penny! From the true blue waters to the commanding views of the Na Pali coast, this is an adventure that needs to be experienced by travelers from all walks of life.
On our 5-hour adventure, there was no shortage of Aloha from the captain and crew. They were extremely friendly and knowledgeable from the start, captivating us with super fascinating stories of ancient Hawaiian history and folklore.
Not only did we get to see many schools of Hawaiian Spinner dolphins during our journey to and from the Na Pali Coast, but we also had one of the most memorable experiences of our trip while snorkeling! We saw everything from rainbow parrotfish, stingrays, sea turtles, angelfish, and more. If you aren’t sold yet, read more about our snorkel and sail adventure here!
Yes, this is a pricier tour, but you’ll be witnessing some of the best flora and fauna Kauai has to offer–many of which can only be experienced by boat. This was by far our favorite excursion on Kauai (and secretly I might be obsessed with spinner dolphins now).
KAUAI COFFEE COMPANY
Why does coffee from Hawaii taste so good? Well, this is due to the islands’ ideal conditions–warm sun, rich volcanic earth, cool trade winds, and the ideal amount of rainfall. As such, Kauai is home to the state’s largest coffee plantation, Kauai Coffee Estate, and taking a tour of the plantation is super fun and educational.
The best part about visiting? Free coffee samples!
We did the Kauai Coffee tour on our last trip and learned so much. There are free daily walking tours of the estate available, as well as private, more in-depth farm tours. Reservations are required for the guided tour.
At the plantation, you’ll have a ton of coffee types to choose from (way more than the average supermarket has available). You can buy either the regular coffee varieties or the Estate Reserve varieties, which include Blue Mountain, Peaberry, and Acacia (the Estate Reserve bags are more expensive).
Warehouse 3540 off Koloa Road is a multi-vendor indoor marketplace. This is a cute little roadside venue that houses various curated shops that sell jewelry, clothing, home decorations, baked goods, art, and even produce.
There is also a coffee counter inside a small camper trailer within the warehouse. Right out front are various food trucks.
The warehouse isn’t very big but it’s a fun little stop if you happen to be in the area and are looking for artisanal goods.
KOLOA FISH MARKET
Smack dab in the middle of Old Town Koloa where the fish is fresh and the sun is beaming, you can try an assortment of tasty poke that will have you asking for more.
Each poke bowl can be customized with different types of poke as well as different toppings like furikake, cucumber salad, edamame, and seaweed salad. Don’t forget to order the huge block of haupia for dessert!
SHOP AND DINE IN KAPA’A
Kapa’a is the largest town on the eastern coast of Kauai. Here, you’ll find unique shops, restaurants, and opportunities to try out water sports, including water skiing and kayaking. The Kinipopo Shopping Village is a favorite for its casual eateries and small shops.
If you’re looking for something quick (grab-and-go for a trip to the beach) as opposed to a sit-down restaurant, your go-to spot should be Pono Market–amazing hot foods and fresh fish at fantastic prices!
You know I love my shave ice, so my top recommendation is Wailua Shave Ice in Kapa’a (get lilikoi and top it off with that haupia cream).
Other well known spots to grab a refreshing drink include Kauai Juice Company (pressed juices) and Java Kai (coffee and breakfast).
DAY 8 – GOODBYE KAUAI
Today is the day we must say farewell to the beautiful island of Kauai!
Depending on the time of your flight, you can grab your final meal, get your final shopping in, hit the beach one last time, and drink your last Hawaiian Sun before heading to the airport.
Return your rental car and head for the Lihue Airport.
TOP FIVE POPULAR TOURS IN KAUAI
If you’re looking for more epic activities to add to your 7 days in Kauai, try out one of these super popular and highly recommended tours to elevate your vacation that much more:
- Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail – On this sailing and snorkeling cruise from Port Allen, you’ll get to enjoy the Na Pali Coast from the deck of a catamaran and explore the island’s underwater world during a snorkeling stop. This tour includes a buffet lunch and entertaining stories told by the captain and crew! We did this tour, and it was completely and utterly amazing.
- Na Pali Sunset Buffet Dinner Cruise – Experience the rugged Na Pali Coast during the most romantic time of day on this sunset dinner cruise. Buffet dinner comes complete with Mai Tais, beer, wine, and fresh juices, and a glass of champagne at the end.
- Entire Kauai Island Air Tour – Soak up breathtaking views of natural attractions like Waimea Canyon, Opaekaa Falls, the rugged Na Pa Coast, and Mt. Waialeale — the wettest spot on earth.
- Koloa Zipline – Soar through lush forests and over the Waita Reservoir on the island’s longest ziplines on this 8-track course.
- Kauai’s Ultimate Guided Shore Snorkeling Adventure – Snorkel in Kauai’s pristine south shore reefs teeming with tropical fish, monk seals, and sea turtles–away from the crowds!
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR KAUAI, HI
- Airfare is a big part of your expenses, so the longer you can stay the better. Five days is the bare minimum, 7+ days is even better.
- You won’t find big cities, tall buildings, or bustling towns in Kauai. What you’ll find is plenty of lush wilderness to be explored though!
- Note that you will need a rental car to make the most of your stay. Public transport is very limited on Kauai so you’ll need a rental car to visit all the spots on this list.
- It’s not a big island, but getting around can take a while. Due to the lack of alternate roads (there are only a few major highways on the island), your destination may only be 20 miles away but it could take at least an hour to get there. Be aware of driving times when planning outings. You’ll usually find some congestion around Lihue and Kapa’a, especially during rush hour.
- Know the one-lane bridge rule. The main road along the north shore has several one-lane bridges. The local custom is to let 5-7 cars go at a time. Be sure to count how many cars are in front of you and be courteous to the local rule!
- Instead of staying at hotels, you can save money by staying at a vacation rental. Using VRBO to book a rental on Kauai can save you major dollars on your trip. Not only are they significantly cheaper than the nearby resorts and hotels, but a lot of them also come fully stocked with beach towels, beach chairs, boogie boards, and can even have kitchens and washing machines. Another few bonuses? Free parking and no resort fees!
- If a luxury resort with all the amenities is more your style… you’ll find no better choice than the 5-star St. Regis Princeville Resort near Hanalei. Think full-service spa, golf course, gourmet restaurants, and swim-up bar.
- Kauai weather varies by side of island. For example, Poipu (South Shore) is usually sunny throughout the year and the North Shore is usually more variable during the winter. Always check weather conditions if you plan on traveling across the island, and carry a rain jacket with you just in case!
- Ocean conditions change by season. If you plan on surfing or snorkeling, study up on the ocean conditions based on the month you’ll be visiting. For example, if you want to snorkel, Tunnels Beach would be best/calmest from May-September and Poipu Beach will have the more favorable conditions from October-April.
- A helicopter tour and sailing trip around the Na Pali Coast are expensive, but the unforgettable views and memories are 100% worth it. A must-do for first-timers.
- If the weather looks questionable during the week you visit, make sure to book your helicopter or Na Pali sail tours earlier in your stay. This will allow time to reschedule if it’s canceled due to weather.
- There is one Walmart on Kauai near the airport. Super convenient. It’s a really good place to pick up snacks to bring home as well as souvenirs.
- Food and other necessities tend to be more expensive on Kauai. No surprise there, Hawaii is made up of islands so pretty much everything has to be shipped in. Before heading to your hotel or condo, you’ll want to load up on sunscreen, beach gear, food, and snacks at Walmart. Trust me, you’ll save so much in the long run. There’s also a Costco in Lihue near the airport as well as a Safeway grocery store.
- Everything in the resort areas is more expensive. On Kauai, that means Princeville on the North Shore and Poipu on the South Shore. Restaurants and bars will always be more expensive in resorts than locally owned businesses.
- Make sure you pack warm clothes, rain jackets, and waterproof hiking boots if you plan to spend any time adventuring in nature. The weather varies depending on which part of the island you’re on, so to be safe, we recommend you always keep these just-in-case items in the trunk of your car.
- Pack water shoes for hiking. Many of the trails on Kauai are muddy or will require you to cross streams. These hikes are much easier and more pleasant if you don’t have to worry about keeping your hiking boots clean or dry. They also work great for boat tours! If you need to buy a pair, I like closed-toe Keens or closed-toed Tevas.
- Thinking about wearing makeup? You probably won’t need it. The humidity will make you sweat it right off! The most makeup I wore was a BB cream with SPF.
- Sunscreen is a must, any time you’re outside. Not only on your body but also your face (even if you’re wearing a hat/sunglasses). If you don’t like the greasy sheen most sunscreens leave on your face, get Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen–it’s mattifying magic and it’s reef-friendly! For something reef-safe for the body, we like Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen.
- Things aren’t very well-marked on Kauai. While things are fairly easy to navigate and find on Maui and Oahu, this is not the case on Kauai. Case in point, it can be really hard to know exactly where most beach access points are unless you’ve been there before. There are also a lot of hikes and waterfalls that you’ll never find if you don’t know exactly where to look. The Kauai Revealed guidebook can be a lifesaver when attempting to get around and visiting off-the-beaten-track beaches, hikes, and attractions (such as Tunnels Beach, Hideaways Beach, etc.) Do yourself a favor and go buy this book before your trip.
- There are lots of wild chickens on Kauai. Apparently, the hurricanes of 1982 and 1992 destroyed domestic coops, releasing the chickens into the jungles. These chickens then mated with the wild red junglefowl, resulting in the feral chickens we see today. Don’t question it, just embrace it.
WHAT TO EAT ON KAUAI, HI
There’s so much good food on Kauai, I couldn’t possibly name them all. Here’s a list of some of our favorite places to eat on Kauai. We go back to these establishments time and time again! (These skew more local/casual than fine-dining.)
- Mark’s Place – casual lunch plates by the airport, perfect for that pre-flight meal. The beef stew is my favorite.
- Konohiki Seafoods – Laulau plates, lomi lomi salmon, poke, sweet potato haupia pie
- Pono Market – great for poke
- Koloa Fish Market – great for poke
- The Fish Express – can you tell I like poke yet?
- Smiley’s Local Grinds – casual lunch plates
- Hanalei Taro & Juice Company Lunch Wagons – one of the very few authentic Hawaiian food places you’ll find on the island; everything is good
- Kountry Style Kitchen Restaurant – favorite breakfast/brunch spot (amazing mac nut french toast, ube french toast, and pancakes)
- Trucking Delicious – get the garlic shrimp plate
- Wishing Well Shave Ice – such delicious shave ice and acai bowls
- Japanese Grandma’s Cafe – casual Japanese eatery
- Bubba’s Burgers Poipu – deliciously simple burger with fries
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST FOR KAUAI, HI
- Snorkel Gear | Bringing your own snorkeling set means you can choose to snorkel anytime you want without having to track down a rental shop to rent gear. Seavenger, one of the best snorkel gear makers in the game, sells a Hanalei Anti-Fog 4-Piece Snorkeling Set that’s really loved by both kids and adults.
- Sand-free beach mat | There are actually beach mats that are quick-drying, waterproof, and sand-proof, making setting up on the beach super, super easy. This beach mat is all those things, plus it has sand anchor pockets and 6 ground stakes so that your beach mat is wind-resistant even when you’re not laying on it!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for a day hike.
- Packing Cubes | You need to get these packing cubes, they are amazing at creating space in your luggage that you never thought you had. However you want to organize your clothes— by day, by outfit, by type—these will be the most useful thing you have in your packing artillery. You’ll no longer need to dig through the entire suitcase for that one thing you’re looking for, because you’ll know exactly where it’s at.
- Clothing | You really don’t need that many shirts, especially if you choose versatile pieces, allowing them to be multifunctional. Do note that on Kauai, mosquitos can be a problem (especially when hiking). Pack 1-2 lightweight long sleeves to protect yourself from unwanted bites. In terms of pants, go with something loose and light. Jeans can be way too hot for summer travel. Flowy dresses and activewear are always a great choice!
- Underwear and socks | Bring five sets and just find a washing machine whenever you can. Or save water and wash them while you’re showering. These are light enough where overpacking is not a problem.
- Bras | Depending on your activity level, 2-3 will do. Because I’m pretty active and tend to do a lot of tropical hiking, I typically bring more sports bras than regular bras. (Plus, your swimming suit tops can function as bras too.) Throw them in the wash as needed.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start. Trail runners are a great alternative if you’re visiting Kauai during the dryer seasons.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time on the river or at the beach, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any wet, tropical destination. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Shawl / scarf | One of my must-haves! I’ll always have a medium-sized thin scarf in my bag. Not only can you use them for warmth or style, but you can also use them as a coverup after beaching, as a towel, as a mat on grass/sand/dirt, as a quick rain shield, or as an emergency skirt if your bottoms get stained or soaked somehow.
- Swimsuit | 2-3 depending on how much you plan on beaching. It’s okay to pack extra, in case you need to hit the beach or pool and the ones you wore previously haven’t had a chance to fully dry yet.
Sleepwear / Loungewear | Yoga pants and a t-shirt or workout clothes are all you need here. Save luggage space; these items can be used as pajamas, loungewear, and airplane/road trip outfits.
- Basic Hawaii packing list for men | T-shirts, tanks, polo shirts, shorts, one pair of pants (only if you plan on going to a nicer restaurant), two pairs of swimming shorts, one lightweight jacket. Consider a light rain jacket if there’s rain in the forecast.
- Sunscreen | Sunscreen is absolutely necessary for tropical destinations. Even if it’s overcast and cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors. If you plan on snorkeling near the reefs, choose a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreen contains chemicals that damage and even kill the precious reefs. Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy online:
- Bug spray | Depending on the island you choose and the season you go, there will be mosquitoes and you’ll want to protect yourself against bites. Typically the more undeveloped the island or destination, the more prevalent mosquitos are. If you plan to go hiking, I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
- Squeeze travel bottles | GoToob travel bottles are my favorite thing ever. Made of high-quality silicone, they are extremely durable, have never leaked on me, and are super easy to squeeze. They have different TSA-approved sizes, but I found the large GoToobs to be the best for the duration of my trip. I put face wash in one of the large ones and it lasted me all 3.5 months without a need for a refill!
- Moisturizer with SPF | You’ll be out in the sun all day. Save your face from premature aging and sunburns with a daily moisturizer with SPF.
- Deodorant | You’re going to be in the hot sun most of the time, so bring deodorant if you sweat or stink.
- Makeup | Some girls have a huge collection of makeup. But it’ll be hot, and you’ll be sweaty or beaching so much that you won’t need too much. Bring only what you need.
- DIY survival kit | Make a little bag of the following: ibuprofen, allergy pills, Immodium, ciprofloxacin (or whatever your doctor prescribes for traveler’s diarrhea), bandaids, floss, hand sanitizer, eye drops, lip balm, a sharpie, tape, and extra contact lenses (if applicable). Think about the ailments you typically suffer from and have to deal with on a regular basis and adjust the contents of the bag as needed.
- Laundry soap | Optional, but extremely useful for minimalist packers. Bring a super-concentrated soap so you can do your own laundry if you’re going to be taking a longer trip. By doing your own laundry, you can save on those insane dry-cleaning fees hotels charge!
- Quick-drying towel | Optional. These are light and quick-drying. Useful if you plan on having beach days but don’t have access to a beach towel. This one is a great option.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or hand sanitizing wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Camera | Optional. iPhones are typically good enough, but some higher quality pictures wouldn’t hurt. I typically go with my Nikon D5500, which produces great photos that I’ll cherish forever. If you plan on doing a bunch of adventurous activities (ziplining, skydiving, kayaking, paddling, ATV-ing) and/or want some underwater footage when surfing or snorkeling, you should definitely go with the waterproof GoPro.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Travel adapter | Necessary for many out-of-country travelers. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
- Travel belt / money belt | Thief proof! I used a Flip Belt when I went out exploring, which doubled as my running belt. I swear, this thing doesn’t budge or jiggle at all when you run, plus it’s super comfortable!
- Money | A mix of local currency and your home currency for emergencies.
- Tickets and travel documents | Passport, student ID, medical card, proof of travel insurance, printed documents of your flight/hotel bookings, visas if you need them.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles.
- Foldable tote bag | Great for doing groceries or carrying your belongings in a pinch. Please note, Hawaii has completely banned plastic bags! Bring one of your own, save money, and save the planet.
- Laundry Bag | Outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
And there you have it. Now, you should be all set for your vacation to Kauai. Stay safe and happy travels!