Because much of the Garden Island, including the Napali Coast, is inaccessible to cars, a week will just suffice to view its beauty. To save driving time, split your stay between the North and South shores (detailed below) or stay on the East Side.
Day 1: Arrival, Lunch & a Scenic Drive ★★★
From the airport, stop by Hamura’s Saimin Stand or another Lihue lunch counter for a classic taste of Kauai before driving through the bustling Coconut Coast on your way to the serenity of the rural North Shore. Soak in the views at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge & Lighthouse, and then poke around Kilauea’s Kong Lung Historic Market Center.
Day 2: Hike & Snorkel the North Shore ★★★
Thanks to the time difference between Hawaii and the mainland, you’ll likely wake up early. Get a head start driving across the nine one-lane bridges on the way to the end of the road and popular Kee Beach. If conditions permit, hike at least a half-hour out on the challenging Kalalau Trail for glimpses of the stunning Napali Coast, or tackle the first 2 miles to Hanakapiai Beach, 3 to 4 hours round-trip. After (or instead of) hiking, snorkel at Kee and equally gorgeous Makua (Tunnels) Beach, accessed from Haena Beach Park. Eat lunch in Haena and then spend time in the jewel-box setting of Limahuli Garden and Preserve. Return to Hanalei to explore shops and galleries; after dinner, enjoy live Hawaiian music at the venerable Tahiti Nui.
Day 3: Adventures in Hanalei ★★★
The day begins on Hanalei Bay, kayaking, surfing, or snorkeling (see “Watersports”) or just frolicking at one of the three different beach parks. If the waves are too rough, head instead to lagoon-like Anini Beach. Later, try ziplining or horseback riding amid waterfalls and green mountains; those who book in advance can tour delightful Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens. Savor views of Hanalei Bay and “Bali Hai” over cocktails at the St. Regis Princeville before dinner at the hotel or Bar Acuda.
Day 4: Nature & Culture en Route to Poipu ★★
After breakfast, head south. Visit Kilauea’s Anaina Hou Community Park for Kauai-themed mini-golf in a botanical garden or a hike or bike along the scenic Wai Koa loop trail. Stop for a bite at a funky cafe in Kapaa; then drive to Opaekaa Falls and see the cultural sites of Wailua River State Park. After crossing through busy Lihue, admire the scenery on the way to Old Koloa Town, where you can browse the quaint shops before checking into your Poipu lodgings. Pick a dinner spot from the many excellent choices in the Shops at Kukuiula.
Day 5: Napali by Boat or Helicopter ★★★
Splurge on a snorkel boat or Zodiac raft tour to the Napali Coast, or take a helicopter tour for amazing views of Napali, Waimea Canyon, waterfalls, and more. After your boat returns, hoist a draft beer at Kauai Island Brewery & Grill. For helicopter tours, most of which depart from Lihue, book a late-morning tour (after rush hour). Then have lunch in Lihue and drive to Wailua Falls before perusing the shops, tasting rum, or riding the train at Kilohana Plantation.
Day 6: Waimea Canyon & Kokee State Park ★★★
Start your drive early to “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon. Stay on the road through forested Kokee State Park to the Kalalau Valley Lookout, and wait for mists to part for a magnificent view. Stop by the Kokee Museum to obtain trail information for a hike after lunch at Kokee Lodge. Or head back down to hit the waves at Salt Pond Beach or stroll through rustic Hanapepe, home to a Friday night festival and art walk.
Day 7: Beach & Spa Time in Poipu ★★★
Spend the morning at glorious Poipu Beach before the crowds arrive, and then head over to Keoneloa (Shipwrecks) Beach to hike along the coastal Mahaulepu Heritage Trail. Later, indulge in a spa treatment at Anara Spa at the Grand Hyatt Kauai or take a tour (booked in advance) at the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Check out the flume of Spouting Horn before sunset cocktails at RumFire Poipu Beach in the Sheraton Kauai and dinner at the Beach House.