Is there ever a bad time for a tropical vacation? (No!) Especially under the current conditions, travel is limited, and we’re all dreaming of far-off destinations and vacations. (Yes, even me!) That’s why I’ve dusted off one of the oldest blog posts I’ve been meaning to write: a weekend guide to spend 3 days in Kauai.
I visited Kauai in 2014 – yep, this blog post is waaaaay overdue. I had snagged a flight error fare and was able to fly to and from Kauai for just $81! (It was First Class, too!) With a good friend (who helped contribute photos to this post), I spent a long weekend exploring Hawaii’s Garden Island. My itinerary and suggestions are based on what we did during that trip – plus a ton of research to make sure my suggestions are completely up-to-date.
Whether you’re dreaming of a trip to Hawaii or actively planning your next trip, this post will help. You’ll learn about visiting Kauai and the best things to do in Kauai. I then end by stringing the tips and suggestions together to show you how to spend 3 days in Kauai. Read on for some serious tropical travel inspiration!
Kauai Travel Tips
Before jumping in, here are a couple Kauai travel tips. These will help you understand my itinerary and plan your trip.
First, it’s best to think of Kauai as a ring road for getting oriented. There are some roads that lead up into the island’s interior mountainous region, but the majority of sights and amenities are along the mostly-circumference of Kauai. Also, Kauai’s four sides have different names:
- The northern and southern coastlines are called ‘Shores,’ as in the North Shore and South Shore.
- The east and west coastlines are called ‘Sides,’ as in the East Side and West Side.
Those are the terms I’ll use through the rest of this post.
Second, Hawaiians refer to the rest of the U.S. as the ‘Mainland.’ You’ll see me use that term a bit too.
Third, Kauai’s seasons are the rainy season (November through March) and the dry season (April through October). I visited in February, the heart of the rainy season – that’s why so many of my photos feature drab grey skies. The sights you can see and access will depend on the weather, but I point that out where it’s relevant.
Lastly, you might wonder what to pack for Kauai. My Hawaii packing list covers all the essentials you need no matter which island you’re visiting.
The Best Things to Do for 3 Days in Kauai
I like to start all of my itineraries by running through some of the top sights and things to do first. Then, I’ll show you how to put them together in an itinerary. So before I lay out my itinerary for 3 days in Kauai, here are the best sights and things to do on the Garden Island.
Beaches Around the Island
Obviously, if you’re planning a trip to a tropical island, you want beaches! The Garden Island is happy to oblige; there are dozens of great beaches on Kauai! Here are the ones that I visited (or tried to):
- Poipu Beach – One of the most popular beaches on Kauai, this South Shore beach is near several resorts and golf courses.
- Polihale State Park/Barking Sands Beach – Polihale is the primary beach on Kauai’s West Side – and only accessible by dirt road. We got rained out from watching the sunset here as the road becomes impassable to smaller/rental cars during the rainy season.
- Hā’ena State Park/Ke’e Beach – On the opposite ‘end’ of the road of Kauai from Polihale State Park, Ke’e Beach is at Kauai’s far North Shore in Hā’ena State Park.
- Hanalei Beach – Like Waimea Bay on Oahu, Hanalei Bay is that picturesque crescent-shaped beach you expect on Hawaii. It’s a great spot for surfing, SUPing, and swimming.
- Tunnels Beach – Not far from Ke’e Beach, Tunnels Beach is on Kauai’s North Shore and a popular spot for snorkeling and diving.
- Kiahuna Beach – One of the island’s most popular beaches, Kiahuna is near Poipu Beach on Kauai’s South Shore.
- Glass Beach – Unlike other beaches on this list, Glass Beach is more similar to Fort Bragg Glass Beach in California. It’s the perfect spot to stroll among the sea glass generated from the surrounding industrial area.
Coastal Formations: Cliffs, Caves & Tide Pools
In addition to sand beaches that stretch for miles, Kauai’s coastline is also made up of fascinating rock formations, including mountains, cliffs, tide pools, arches, and caves. Here are some of the most iconic and popular:
- Nā Pali Coast – Kauai’s Nā Pali Coast is that iconic Jurassic Park landscape you instantly think of – and it’s hard to reach. The trailhead sets out near Ke’e Beach; you can also drive up to Kalalau Lookout to look down on the valley if hiking isn’t your jam ??♀️. Others view the Nā Pali Coast by helicopter, if you want to splurge.
- Queen’s Bath – Queen’s Bath is a natural tide pool along Kauai’s North Shore, and a popular swimming hole. It’s a 10-minute hike to reach the pool and it’s not advised to visit the pool when surf conditions put the waves above 6-8ft swells. This guide is great to help you find the pool and provides good suggestions on when it’s safe to visit.
- Spouting Horn – A natural blowhole that waves have carved into the rocks, Spouting Horn is on Kauai’s South Shore and puts on a real show at high tides.
- Wet Cave/Blue Room – A short walk from Ke’e Beach in Hā’ena State park, the Wet Cave/Blue Room is the third of three caves on a short hike from the main road.
Waimea Canyon State Park is located inland along Kauai’s southern coast. It’s affectionately called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and it’s not hard to see why when looking out from the Waimea Canyon Lookout point along Hawaii Highway 550.
The canyon stretches over 10 miles and is over 3,000 feet deep – but unlike Arizona’s Grand Canyon in its palette of reds, oranges, and browns, Waimea Canyon wears dynamic color scheme of iron red, verdant green, and hazy blue depending on the day.
Wai’Ale’Ale from Pu’u O Kila Lookout
As the second highest point on Kauai, Mount Wai’Ale’Ale is a fascinating ‘view’ as seen from Pu’u O Kila Lookout.
I put that in quotes because it can be hard to get a great view from Pu’u O Kila Lookout. Depending on the season, the confluence of clouds and precipitation roll up from the Pacific Ocean, soaking Kauai. This rain encourages the lush flora that cover the island but it also hides the island’s peaks and valleys from view. (On a clear day, Pu’u O Kila Lookout gives you stunning views of the Nā Pali Coast too.)
Craft Beer & Tiki Cocktails
It’s an island. You’re on vacation. Enjoy it.
To the surprise of exactly nobody, Kauai is home to plenty of local watering holes and a few craft breweries. They can hook you up with a good drink on those days you’re chilling on the beach and not driving around and sightseeing.
During my Kauai trip, I did a tasting flight at Kauai Beer Company and sipped Mai Tais at Tahiti Nui Restaurant near Hanalei. You could also try visiting Nani Moon Meadery for a different libation or the Kōloa Rum tasting room near Lihue. ?
3 Days in Kauai: A Weekend Itinerary
Ok, now it’s time to string it all together! I’ve laid out this itinerary for 3 days in Kauai based on the idea you have a rental car and are up for exploring as much of the island as possible. It doesn’t really matter where you stay – this itinerary works from accommodation on any part of the island.
I’m also assuming you arrive from the Mainland around midday on Day 1 and leave in the evening on Day 3. Obviously you might need to adjust this Kauai weekend itinerary if your flight schedule is a bit different, but let’s dive in!
Day 1: The East Side
Depending on your flights, you’ll probably arrive at Kauai’s Lihue Airport around midday or in the early afternoon. As such, you don’t have a full day to explore and it’s best to stick along the island’s East Side. The East Side is also called the “Royal Coconut Coast” for its lush landscape and coconut groves.
Today’s a great day for car sightseeing (such as Opaeka’a Falls, above), scoping out the street art in small communities, some beach time (Kalapaki and Lydgate Beaches are both on the island’s East Side), or tasting local food and drink. Kauai Beer Company is located in Lihue and you can enjoy a flight of craft beer with food from their menu (a combination of pub food and Hawaiian dishes).
In the evening, I recommend checking into your accommodation and enjoying an easy night. The next two days are chock full of exploring the rest of island; it may be a small island compared to others in Hawaii but there’s more than enough to fill 3 days in Kauai!
Day 2: The South Shore & West Side
On your second of 3 days in Kauai, I would spend the day meandering along the South Shore before headed to Kauai’s West Side. There, you can end the day watching an epic sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
If the weather is nice and clear, here’s how I would spend the day.
- Start your day with breakfast and sunbathing at one of the South Shore beaches like Poipu or Kiahuna.
- Explore sights along the South Shore including Spouting Horn, Glass Beach, and Waimea Canyon.
- Drive up to Pu’u O Kila Lookout to see the Nā Pali Coast and look out toward Wai’Ale’Ale.
- End by watching the sunset from Polihale State Park before driving back to your accommodation.
- If you love stargazing (like me) and want to try stargazing on Kauai, you could stay at Polihale to see the stars or stop at Salt Pond Park along the South Shore.
If the weather isn’t clear, it’s still worth exploring! You can definitely admire the misty clouds as they cling to the edges of Waimea Canyon or experience whiteout conditions at Pu’u O Kila Lookout.
Day 3: The North Shore
Kauai’s South Shore and West Side have a ton of sights and stops worth making – never mind beaches where you could easily spend an entire day. That said, it’s the North Shore I think is worth an entire day to itself before your departure.
I would start at the furthest northern point on Kauai’s North Shore, Hā’ena State Park. From there, you can walk along Ke’e Beach and/or make the short hike to the Wet Room/Blue Cave.
From there, you could spend the rest of the morning snorkeling at Tunnels Beach or strolling along the sand at Hanalei Bay before lunch. I haven’t made many restaurant recommendations but Tahiti Nui is a great spot for lunch. It has plenty of kitsch but also appropriately full of Polynesian Pop.
After lunch, you could make the short hike to take a dip in Queen’s Bath (along the same stretch of coastline as Hanalei Bay) or visit Kīlauea Lighthouse further east along the North Shore. There are obviously plenty of other sights along this stretch and as you turn south toward Lihue.
From there, the rest of the day depends on your schedule. If your flight passes through Honolulu on the way home, you’ll probably need to be back at Lihue Airport around dinnertime to make the overnight flight back to the Mainland. If instead your flight is direct to the Mainland, you’ll probably have time for dinner before heading to the airport.
There you have it – a weekend itinerary for Kauai. While you can certainly pack more in, this 3-day Kauai itinerary shows you the island’s best sights and natural wonders… with a few Mai Tais in between!
Have other questions about visiting Kauai for three days? Let me know in the comments!