If you’re considering a tropical vacation, and you’ve zoomed in on Kauai, good for you! 3 days in Kauai makes for a heavenly Hawaiian holiday.
Even on a brief 3-day Kauai itinerary, you can experience everything from lovely waterfalls and idyllic beaches to a bucket list helicopter tour over some of the most epic scenery you’ll ever see.
Kauai is the oldest of the large Hawaiian islands. And its beauty is legendary, from the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon to Hanalei Bay and Poipu Beach.
Our favorite Hawaiian island, Kauai offers a slower vibe and oodles of natural beauty. It’s a place to wake up to roosters calling, stroll golden beaches looking for shells, hike (muddy!) trails to waterfalls, and just soak in the scenery all around you.
Despite its small size, there’s a lot to see and do on this island, and you’ll leave feeling that three days in Kauai wasn’t quite enough…we almost always visit Kauai for a week, even though we’ve visited several times now.
So why a Kauai 3-day itinerary, you ask?
Data shows that many visitors to Hawaii do a combination trip to at least two islands, and Kauai and Oahu, or Kauai and Maui, make for a convenient week-long Hawaii trip for travelers looking for a taste of Hawaii in a short time.
Kauai also makes for a great long weekend getaway from the west coast. Sometimes you can score really inexpensive airfare deals, making a brief 3-day Kauai trip too good to pass up!
Whatever the reason you’re planning a three-day trip to Kauai, we have the perfect itinerary for you.
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Get the Lay of the Land: Kauai Geography in a Nutshell!
Before we begin describing the perfect 3-day Kauai itinerary, it’s important you get an understanding of Kauai’s geography.
Kauai is divided into four main regions: the North Shore, the South Shore, the East Side (or the Coconut Coast), and the West Side (see map).
Each region has a couple of little towns, where you can find shopping, dining, and places to stay:
North Shore — Hanalei and Princeville
South Shore — Koloa and Poipu
East Side — Kapaa, Lihue, and Wailua
West Side — Waimea
We have a detailed article on where to stay in Kauai, with suggestions in all the regions of the island.
But in brief, you can choose to stay in a hotel or resort on the north or south shore or the east side, or you can pick a vacation rental.
On the south shore, the Sheraton, the Grand Hyatt, or the Koa Kea Resort are great choices. On the north shore, try the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay or the Club Wyndham Bali Hai Villas. On the east side, we like the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort or the Waipouli Beach Resorts & Spa.
While we’ve stayed at the Grand Hyatt and 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, we usually stay in VRBO homes or condos on Kauai: they offer plenty of room, the option to cook a few meals at home, and, usually, all the beach paraphernalia you need.
For a 3-day Kauai trip, we suggest choosing one base and exploring from there.
Although the road only goes somewhat along the circumference of the island (and not all the way around!), driving distances aren’t large. So from one base, you can easily explore everywhere, even on a 3-day Kauai trip.
Oh, and public transport options aren’t great on Kauai, so you will definitely want to rent a car to be able to explore efficiently.
3 Days in Kauai Itinerary
This first-time Kauai itinerary is designed to help you hit the major sightseeing spots on Kauai, plus allows for some hiking and beach time.
We usually choose a flight with an early morning arrival time and leave on a late evening flight, to maximize our time on Kauai.
Day 1 of Your 3 Days in Kauai: Explore the North Shore
Kauai’s north shore is one of the most scenic places on the planet, with picturesque bays, misty mountains laced with waterfalls, and lush tropical vegetation.
Tour Limahuli Garden
When visiting Kauai’s north shore, allow time to stroll a verdant garden or two. The Garden Isle is lush and green and its gardens are spectacular.
Limahuli Garden, on the north shore, is one of Kauai’s best botanical gardens, and offers the chance to view a large collection of native Hawaiian plants. The top of the trail offers great ocean views as well.
Or Princeville Botanical Garden
Or consider a guided tour of the Princeville Botanical Gardens, where you can not only learn about a variety of tropical plants, but also enjoy a tasting of tropical fruit, local honey, and chocolate.
Visit Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
On the eastern side of Kauai’s north shore, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is also well worth a wander. You will see lots of Hawaiian birds, as the cliffs here are nesting places for a variety of seabirds.
Historic Kilauea Lighthouse is located at the northernmost point in Hawaii!
Have Lunch in Hanalei
For lunch, head to the charming Kauai north shore town of Hanalei or the nearby resort community of Princeville, where you will find may excellent restaurants (and food trucks!).
For a sit-down restaurant break, we like The Sandbox or Kai Maika’i at 1 Hanalei Bay. Fresh Bite Kauai (with bowls and salads) and Cafe Turmeric (fresh fish curry with Indian spices, among other options) are great food truck options. For pizza, we usually head to Tahiti Nui.
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
Explore the Little Town of Hanalei
After lunch, stroll Hanalei Town! It’s tiny, but has many browsable boutiques and art galleries. And, of course, stop to have refreshing shave ice at Wishing Well Shave Ice.
History buffs will want to make a brief stop the the “Green Church,” the historic Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church, and the adjoining Mission House.
Enjoy Kauai’s North Shore Beaches!
If you are planning a summer visit, you can spend part of your day enjoying one of the many Kauai north shore beaches.
Parking at Tunnels is very limited, so park at adjacent Haena Beach Park, and walk about 15 minutes over the sand to Tunnels. Haena Beach Park is a great option for swimming when conditions are good: it has amenities and is lifeguarded.
The beaches of Hanalei Bay are beautiful for strolling, sunbathing, and getting into the water when conditions are good. Further east, Anini Beach is another family-friendly option: it has a long reef that protects the near shore waters (but no lifeguard).
For those that want a hiking adventure along with time at a beautiful beach, Hideaways Beach is the beach to go!
At the eastern end, Secret Beach is a gorgeous beach for sunset, or for strolling, but the waters are not conducive to swimming or snorkeling.
If you are planning a winter visit to Kauai, know that winter brings dangerously high surf to the north shore and conditions are usually not suitable for getting into the water, unless you are an expert surfer looking to ride the waves.
Instead, spend some time strolling the beaches, well above the water line, and watch the exciting wave action from shore: Kauai’s north shore beaches are so picturesque that you will want to visit just to enjoy the scenery.
Visit Haena State Park
If Haena State Park and hiking a part of the Kalalau Trail are on your wish-list for your 3-day trip to Kauai, be sure to make reservations as soon as your date opens up. The park, and Ke’e Beach in the park, cannot be visited without reservations.
Have Dinner in Hanalei
There are some excellent restaurants for dinner on the north shore of Kauai, but book your table well in advance of your visit. Try Bar Acuda (well-crafted small plates), AMA Restaurant (great ramen), or Postcards Cafe (eclectic menu)!
We dined on the patio at AMA Restaurant on our most recent visit to Kauai, and enjoyed the setting as much as the food! The view is fantastic.
Day 2 of Your 3-Day Kauai Itinerary: Waimea Canyon + Na Pali Coast Boat Tour
Today is the day to hit the sightseeing biggies on Kauai’s west side. You will definitely want to visit both Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast on your first trip to the island!
We’ve described the day here the way we did it, which is visiting Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park in the morning and doing the afternoon catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast from Port Allen, but you can reverse it if that works better for you!
You’ll want to choose the morning snorkel cruise of the Na Pali Coast if you prefer calmer waters (the waves can be very choppy in the afternoon, even if you choose a big boat!). On the flip side, the light is better for photography in the afternoon.
Also, clouds are deemed more likely to obscure views at the lookouts at Koke’e State Park in the afternoon, so you’ll see recommendations to visit Koke’e and Waimea Canyon in the morning.
But the weather in Kauai can be very fickle, and you may arrive to mist and clouds and showers in the morning as well. When we arrived at the Kalalau Lookout, the clouds parted for just 5 minutes to allow us to take a few photos (the one at the top of this article was taken then!) before the clouds rolled in again.
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
Explore Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks
Waimea Canyon is awe-inspiring! The red and green colors of the canyon make for awesome photos, and you may see the ribbon of Waipo’o Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, on the far wall of the canyon.
Waimea Canyon State Park has several lookouts where you can park and get expansive views of the canyon with short walks to viewing areas.
So does adjoining Koke’e State Park, where the lookouts feature fabulous views over the Kalalau Valley.
These two Kauai state parks are a must on any first-time itinerary. In fact, we try to squeeze in this super scenic drive every time we visit Kauai!
And if you are up for squeezing in a hike on your visit, we suggest the Pihea Trail or the Canyon Trail to the top of Waipo’o Falls. They are both moderate Kauai hikes and offer wonderful views.
We usually have lunch at the Koke’e Lodge Restaurant: the food is well-prepared and tasty. If you want pie for dessert, order it early or you’ll find they’ve run out!
Stroll Hanapepe Town
If you still have some time before you head to Port Allen for your boat tour, stroll the little town of Hanapepe, which served as the inspiration for Disney’s Lolo & Stitch!
Take a Boat Tour of the Na Pali Coast
The Na Pali Coast is probably the biggest single bucket-list item for first-timers to Kauai. And it’s not surprising why!
The cliffs and valleys of the Na Pali Coast against the Pacific Ocean makes for a breathtaking scene that can’t be adequately described in words.
There are only three ways to experience the Na Pali Coast: from the air, from the water, or by hiking the Kalalau Trail.
We did an afternoon catamaran cruise that culminated in a rainbow over the cliffs and then sunset over the ocean for the perfect excursion. We also saw some dolphins on our ride back!
Day 3 of Your 3 Days in Kauai Itinerary: Waterfalls, Helicopter Tour, and the South Shore
Start your final day in Kauai with a visit to two easy-to-access waterfalls along the east side of the island.
Admire Wailua Falls
Wailua Falls features two side-by-side cascades that look stunning when the flow is powerful. You can see the falls from a viewing area just steps from the parking lot. No hiking required!
View Opaekaa Falls
Opaekaa Falls, also part of Wailua River State Park on Kauai’s east side, is the second waterfall you can see from a roadside lookout.
And just across the road from the lookout area for Opaekaa Falls is a viewpoint over the Wailua River, the largest navigable river in Hawaii. The river makes for a great photo subject!
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!
Enjoy a Helicopter Tour Over Kauai
Next, it’s time for a helicopter tour over Kauai!
More than half the island of Kauai can only be seen from the air. That includes many of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island, and some of that lush, misty scenery that you saw in the Jurassic Park movies.
Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s also one of those memorable experiences that stays with you for a long time. We did a helicopter tour of Kauai on our very first visit and we still reminisce about that experience several years and many trips to Kauai (and two more helicopter tours) later.
Seeing the jewel colors of Kauai spread out beneath you as you soar above it in a helicopter is worth every cent you spend on the experience.
You’ll soar over the Na Pali Coast and the Waimea Canyon, Hanalei Bay, Mt. Waialeale, Jurassic Park Falls, and much more.
Most Kauai helicopter tours depart from Lihue, so it’s convenient to schedule your tour for before or after you see the east side waterfalls.
Although there are departures into the afternoon, we suggest a morning tour. Mid morning tours have great light and lower chances of clouds than afternoon excursions.
We’ve done both doors-on and doors-off helicopter tours over Kauai and got excellent views from both. You’ll preferably want to pick a tour without middle seats, because you can’t choose where to sit.
Or Kayak the Wailua River and Hike to Secret Falls
If a helicopter tour isn’t for you, consider the kayaking and hiking to Secret Falls excursion in Wailua River State Park.
On this active excursion, you’ll paddle up the Wailua River and then hike through the rainforest to Uluwehi Falls, also known as Secret Falls, where you can take a dip in the plunge pool if you like, and conditions permit.
It’s a fun activity on a tropical vacation, but the trail can be very muddy after rains, so wear clothes and shoes you don’t mind getting dirty and stained!
Or Try the Hike to Ho’opi’i Falls!
Adventure-loving visitors can alternatively consider the Ho’opi’i Falls Trail on Kauai’s east side. One of the easier Kauai hikes, this trail takes you through lush rainforest to a couple of beautiful waterfalls.
Now it’s time to drive through the photo-worthy eucalyptus tree tunnel and explore Kauai’s scenic south shore!
There are lots of diverse things to do in Poipu and nearby, so you are spoiled for choice. We like to shop, spend some time at a beach, hike, and enjoy the food and drink!
Have Lunch in Poipu
For lunch, try the super popular Keoki’s Paradise or Brennecke’s Beach Broiler. Both places offer lots of fresh seafood. Da Crack Mexican Grinds serves up flavorful favorites. We also enjoy the buffet at Ilima Terrace at the Hyatt: the food is great and there are swans to watch.
Drive the Koloa Heritage Trail
Drive the Koloa Heritage Trail for a peek into the history of the island, along with picturesque scenery. You’ll love the Spouting Horn blowhole, one of the most exciting blowholes in Hawaii.
Tour Kauai Coffee Company
Take a tour of the estate of the Kauai Coffee Company, where you can stroll the coffee orchard, sample different coffees, and order some to be shipped to your home.
If you enjoy shopping, stop by Warehouse 3540 to pick up some unique souvenirs. Or browse the boutiques at The Shops at Kukuiula.
Want to soar over the forests on Kauai’s south shore? Adventure-loving visitors can zipline across an 8-track course in Koloa.
Chill at a Kauai South Shore Beach
There are plenty of beaches to enjoy along Kauai’s south shore and the most famous of them all is Poipu Beach, with its golden sand crescents and turquoise waters.
Poipu Beach is also known for marine life sightings: look for resting Hawaiian monk seals or Hawaiian green sea turtles. The turtles come ashore at sunset, which, by the way, is a spectacular time to be at Poipu Beach.
Another wonderful place to enjoy sunset on Kauai’s south shore is the tranquil Salt Pond Beach Park, which you will usually find much less crowded than Poipu Beach.
Hike the Mahaulepu Coastal Trail
If you like to walk as you enjoy sunset over the ocean, hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail. The views of the ocean and the undeveloped coastline are stunning. To watch sunset whilst sipping a mai tai, head to Duke’s Kauai!
End your day with a special dinner!
For dinner, try Eating House 1849 for a special experience. We try to eat here at least once every time we visit Kauai. The food is exceptional, as are the cocktails.
Other wonderful choices for dinner include Beach House Restaurant (it’s right on the beach!), Red Salt at the Koa Kea Resort, Merriman’s for superb Hawaiian dishes, and RumFire at the Sheraton Kauai.
Getting Around in Kauai
There aren’t many good public transport options in Kauai, so if you plan to explore different parts of the island, you’ll definitely want to rent a car.
You can pick up your rental at Lihue Airport upon arrival.
The Best Time to Spend 3 Days on Kauai
There’s no bad time of year to visit the stunning tropical paradise of Kauai. No matter when you visit, you’ll find plenty of exciting things to do in Kauai.
It does rain a lot on Kauai — that’s what makes it so wonderfully lush and green! But usually, the rain doesn’t last all day, and it doesn’t rain all over the island at once. So you can wait it out or drive elsewhere.
The north shore and the east side of Kauai get the most rain, and it rains much more frequently in the winter months.
Summer is therefore a great time to visit the north shore of Kauai if you want plenty of beach time and the chance to hike the Kalalau Trail.
If you want to visit Kauai in the winter and want less rainy weather, choose to stay on the south shore and spend most of your time here.
Also, the waves at the Kauai north shore beaches can be too high for swimming in the winter. So if you want to spend a significant amount of your Kauai vacation enjoying the beaches, pick the south shore in the winter.
April-June and September-November are considered low seasons in Kauai. You’ll likely find the island less crowded at these times, and also score better prices on accommodations. May and September are our favorite months to visit Kauai!
The Best Kauai Tours
Have you booked these top Kauai guided adventures yet?
Sunset catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast (relatively more stable ride, insane views on good weather days!)
Doors-off helicopter tour of Kauai (unobstructed views, chance to see more of the island than you can by land, no middle seats!)
Kayak on the Wailua River plus hike to a waterfall (a super fun activity for active travelers, albeit a little muddy sometimes!)
Raft trip to the Na Pali Coast plus snorkeling (prepare to get wet on this exhilarating adventure!)
Eurocopter ECO-Star helicopter tour over Kauai (the most booked Kauai helicopter tour on Viator with close to 2K reviews and a 5-star rating!)
Entire Kauai Island Air Tour (super popular, less expensive than a heli tour, large bubble windows for flightseeing!)
Lihue Airport-Hotel Shuttle
Not planning to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport? Pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back!
This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Where to Stay in Kauai
Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Kauai you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.
Since you’ll likely want to base in a couple places on your trip to Kauai, we suggest starting your search for Kauai accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO.
We have stayed in VRBO rentals in both Poipu and Princeville and find that the choice and quality are generally great.
Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!
More Kauai Travel Inspiration
Considering a trip to the Garden Isle in Hawaii? You’ll definitely want to check out some of our other comprehensive Kauai travel and attraction guides!
If you are a first-time visitor to Kauai, start by discovering the best things to do in Kauai! From beaches and botanical gardens to cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls, Kauai has it all, and our round-up lists all of Kauai’s must-experience activities and attractions.
Planning to split a week between Kauai and another island? We have a 3 days in Kauai itinerary article you must read to help flesh out what you would like to see and do!
Read our in-depth guide to visiting the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. We give you the full scoop on the best ways to visit this stunning coast in the remote northwest of the island.
Discover our round-up of the nine spectacular state parks in Kauai, which house some of Kauai’s most treasured natural wonders.
Check out our round-up of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, from waterfalls you can view from the road to falls that require hiking and falls that are best seen from a helicopter or sightseeing flight. We also have an article on everything you need to know to visit Secret Falls Kauai on an exciting kayaking and hiking tour.
Read our guide to Wailua River State Park to discover two easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls, and our trail guide for the easy hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. We also have an article on the best Kauai waterfall hikes.
And if a helicopter tour is part of your plans for Kauai, read our article on the top-rated helicopter tours in Kauai!
We also have a trail guide for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s scenic south shore, an article on how to hike the Sleeping Giant Trail, and a guide to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the easy hikes on Kauai.
Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei, the charming town that sits in the middle of Kauai’s scenic north shore.
Read our guide to the best swimming beaches on Kauai, from Hanalei Bay on the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south shore!
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