Looking for the ultimate Kauai 3-day itinerary? Continue reading to get the top activities to do in Kauai.

Known as Hawaii’s Garden Isle, the island of Kauai easily lives up to this title – you’ll realize why as soon as you step off the plane.  If you’ve ever imagined a tropical paradise, it probably resembled Kauai.

After visiting Maui and Oahu, I was in disbelief at how lush and green Kauai is. My entire family, from my mom and her husband to my twin boys, couldn’t get over this island’s beauty. 

During our time in Kauai, we found that the island offers a perfect blend of traditional Hawaiian experiences, like luaus, and unique Kauai adventures, like the Nā Pali Coast. And with all of its natural beauty, there were plenty of opportunities to simply relax and soak it all in. 

Based on my family’s experience, let’s dig into a Kauai 3-day itinerary that will maximize everything this island has to offer. From the perfect snorkeling beaches to thrilling (and kid-appropriate) adventures, these just might be the best 3 days of your life. Let’s go!

Your 3 days in Kauai itinerary in a nutshell:

Day 1: South Shore

Day 2: Lihue Area

Day 3: North Shore

Map of itinerary locations

Kauai 3-Day Itinerary

Day 1: South Shore

Breakfast

Begin your first morning at the locally-owned Anuenue Café in Poipu. This charming spot offers some of the best local breakfast dishes on the island. Be sure to try the Haupia Mac Nut French Toast, a delightful combination of creamy coconut pudding and macadamia nuts. For a taste of local flavor, consider pairing it with Portuguese sausage, a spicy favorite. Another excellent choice is The Riptide, a Hawaiian twist on Eggs Benedict featuring kalua pork.

On your way to McBryde Garden, make a quick stop at Long’s Drugs (CVS) in The Shops at Kukui’ula. Long’s is a staple in Hawaii and the perfect place to pick up some mid-morning snacks to-go.

They have a terrific selection of Hawaiian treats. Go for something local, like Hurricane Popcorn with mochi crunch (Japanese rice cracker) and nori (seaweed). Or li-hing gummies – gummy bears coated in a ground plum powder – a Hawaiian obsession.

They have lots of ‘normal’ treats, too, as well as beach toys and souvenirs, plus an ATM. There are Long’s scattered around the island – it’s a good place to become familiar with.

My family and I enjoying time at our hotel pool, a relaxing part of our Kauai 3 day itinerary.

McBryde Garden

Take a self-guided tour of McBryde Garden and see the largest collection of Hawaiian flowers in the world. Let the kids marvel at the impressive plants and explore the 80+ acres of open space. Fascinate them with giant banana flowers and the colorful, jug-shaped traps on the carnivorous Pitcher Plant.

You’ll see native Hawaiian flora, rare and endangered species, with everything from spices to orchids. The walking paths throughout the garden will even lead you past streams and waterfalls. 

It’s a restful spot that’s perfect for exploring with or without kids. The trails are interactive journeys that spark curiosity and discovery, with something new around every corner. 

The Garden is a fantastic way to get to know the natural side of Kauai. You can also attend the weekly markets each Thursday, and monthly movie nights all summer.

Quick tips: rules require close-toed shoes or good hiking sandals in the Garden. And be aware that a bus will take you into the garden for your 2.5-hour tour. 

Lunch

When you leave the park, cross Lawai Road for a quick stop to see the blow hole and the views from Spouting Horn Park. Then head back down the coast a bit to Brennecke’s Beach Broiler. Enjoy lunch there, across from Poipu Beach. 

Their seafood is fresh, the scenery is fantastic, and the keiki menu (aka. keiki =  kids in Hawaiian) is a crowd-pleaser.

Brennecke is known for its casual, friendly atmosphere. They serve up a wide variety of dishes, from fresh seafood specialties like Ceviche Wonton Tacos to classic American burgers. 

Sit out on the lanai (deck) to enjoy lunch, with the sounds of the waves in the background and that delicious smell of Hawaii all around. 

Poipu Beach

Whether you’re seeing Kauai in 3 days or 30, there has to be some beach time. Spend the afternoon at Poipu Beach – you’ll be able to see it from Brennecke’s Beach Broiler. 

The beach offers a wading pool, a playground, and access to the ocean, providing plenty of entertainment options for children. It’s an ideal spot for families, as well as a favorite among locals.

Poipu Beach has the trademark golden sand and clear blue water along with excellent snorkeling spots. It’s well-equipped with amenities, too, including public restrooms, outdoor showers, and picnic areas.

There’s a lifeguard on duty, and parking is free in the lot across from the beach, next to Brennecke’s. There’s usually plenty, but it can fill up on the weekends. If the lots are full, try for a spot on the street past the parking lots.

And if you’re lucky like we were, you may catch a Hawaiian Monk Seal sunbathing on the beach. These beautiful creatures spend about ⅓ of their time resting and sleeping on shore to conserve their energy. They are also an endangered species, so if you see one, observe from afar. 

Hawaiian Monk Seal- an endangered species- sunbathing at Poipu Beach. If you get to see one during your 3 day Kauai Itinerary, consider yourself lucky!
My family and I enjoying time in the sea at Poipu Beach,a must-see beach included in our Kauai 3 day itinerary.

Snacks

If you’re up for a little something after an afternoon in the sun, you have to stop at Uncle’s Shave Ice & Smoothies. Just head back to The Shops at Kukui’ula, where you found Long’s Drugs this morning. Shave ice is something you have to try at least once while you’re on Kauai.

Dinner

Keoki’s Paradise is a bit of a hidden gem, with excellent food, atmosphere, and service. The surroundings are beautiful too, like a garden oasis. Don’t let its location next to the Poipu Shopping Village fool you. You’ll sit around back, sheltered and with the sides open to the gardens. It’s sublime.

Day 2: Lihue

Breakfast

The family-run Jammin’ Banana Bakery & Cafe Lihue is famous for its macadamia nut banana bread. And believe it or not, the graham crackers in the homemade banana pudding are also homemade. They have lots of other pastries and baked goods, too, as well as bagels, with spreads or as sandwiches.

Of course, there is also coffee and the usual breakfast and lunch beverages. They close at 2 pm, so plan ahead if their lunch items look good to you. You might want to take some goodies along for the morning activities.

This little gold mine is located inside the Anchor Cove Shopping Center. 

Kauai Animal Education Farm (KAEF) 

The Kauai Animal Education Farm is a fantastic Kauai spot. You can get up close with the rescue animals and have some fun learning about wildlife conservation and sustainable living. 

This place isn’t just about seeing cute animals. It’s an interactive experience that teaches kids and adults alike about the environment and our furry or feathered friends. 

Visitors can interact with goats, sheep, and even feed chickens. Both adults and children enjoy the farm, which offers engaging and informative sessions on animal care and environmental conservation. It’s an educational experience wrapped in a fun day spent with the animals.

It’s a throwback to simpler times, making the whole visit feel very personal and down-to-earth.

Lunch

Just 10 minutes back toward the sea is the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort. It’s home to several good eating spots, and the Crooked Surf is a great place for lunch.

Though it’s billed as a Tiki bar, it actually has more of a family feel to it, especially in the afternoon. The food is light and perfect for lunch – not to mention the waterfront location is perfect for a post-meal dip!

Sunrise photoshoot at Shipwreck Beach Cliff with my husband and twin boys. A must visit add to your Kauai 3-day itinerary

Mountain Tubing Adventure

Experience the Mountain Tubing Adventure through Kauai’s historic irrigation system. This is a terrific adventure for families with kids 5 years and older.

Mountain Tubing Adventure is a part of the eco-tourist enterprise Kauai Backcountry Adventures on the Kuhio Highway. It’ll give you the feeling of stepping into another world, where you’re surrounded by jungle greenery, without a care.

Your quest will take you floating through mysterious old irrigation ditches and tunnels. These were carved out by hand in the 1800s for sugar plantations. You’ll each have your own tube, and a headlamp to light the way.

The journey is a magical mix of sunny skies and secret passages. And all you’ll hear will be laughter and the soothing sounds of nature. It’s your chance to dive into the history and scenery of Kauai. It doesn’t matter your age or how fit you are, you’re going to love it. 

Your guides will be right there with you, ready to tell you all about the island’s past. They know its plants and landscape and will make sure every moment is as interesting as it is enjoyable. 

Don’t forget to wear shoes that can get wet, and be ready for a few splashes along the way. The Mountain Tubing Adventure is a standout choice for anyone wanting to mix a bit of history, nature, and fun in their 3-day Kauai itinerary.

Snacks

You’ll be hungry once you dry off, and Sunrise Coffee & Donuts is just a couple of minutes away. Snacks at a coffee truck like this one are part of the Hawaii experience – never shy away from a restaurant with wheels!

Sunrise has delicious coffee drinks and of course different flavors of fresh-made donuts. They also serve things like acai bowls, bagels, monkey toast, and pastries.

A quick tip: you’ll get your donuts from one truck, and the rest from the one beside it. It works!

Dinner

Wrap up your day with dinner at Duke’s Kauai, located on Rice Street in Lihue. Duke’s is a beloved institution in Hawaii, named after Duke Kahanamoku, the “father of modern surfing.” Their menu offers a wide selection sure to please everyone, and their Hula Pie is legendary. Plus, the oceanfront setting provides a blissful backdrop for your meal.

In fact, my kids couldn’t resist heading to the beach. So after they finished eating, I took them to the beach while the rest of the adults enjoyed their meals. 

Dukes Restaurant- a great beachfront lunch or dinner option on your Kauai 3 day itinerary

Dinner Alternative Option:

If you’re interested in a luau experience, Lu’au Kalamaku is a fantastic choice! The show is outstanding, the food is delicious, and you can even add a safari and train ride experience before the main event.

My boys had a blast riding the updated old-school wooden chair train and seeing the beautiful creatures along the way. However, their favorite part was undoubtedly getting out and feeding the animals.

A luau experience at Lu'au Kalamaku, kauai
My boys feeding the animals at Lu'au Kalamaku. One of the highlights of our Kauai 3 day itinerary

Day 3: North Shore

The final day of your 3 day Kauai itinerary takes you to the island’s North Shore. To give you some perspective, the North Shore is about a half-hour drive from Lihue.

My son chilling by the pool at hour hotel in Kauai

Breakfast

Stop at the organic bakery and coffee house the Hanalei Bread Co. for an amazing breakfast. You’ll find baked goods, as well as dishes like breakfast burritos, waffles, “fancy toast” with goat cheese, smoked salmon, and other toppings. Not to mention the ubiquitous acai bowls and smoothies. 

A Helicopter Tour

Today’s the day for a Blue Hawaii Helicopter Tour from Kilauea! Booking the first flight of the day tends to mean calmer air conditions and softer light for your photographs. 

The experience offers exceptional views of the dramatic cliffs, emerald valleys, and pristine beaches from above. It’s a unique perspective of Kauai’s breathtaking beauty.

You’ll fly above the island’s spectacular scenery and with unrivaled views of the island’s most incredible sights. See the Manawaiopuna Falls in the Hanapepe Valley, famously known as the “Jurassic Park” falls.

Soar over the vistas of Olokele Canyon on the way to Waimea Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. But the highlight of your adventure just might be the Nā Pali Coast, with its dramatic 3,000-foot sea cliffs. It’s an awesome spectacle.

Blue Hawaii’s pilots are also certified tour guides and provide commentary throughout your flight. You’ll hear insights into the island’s geography, history, and legends as you fall in love with the sights below.

It’s a flight you’ll never forget.

By the way- if you want to take a helicopter tour and don’t have time to make it to the North Shore, this is a great helicopter tour in Lihue.

About to board the helicopter for a tour over Kauai, an epic addition to any Kauai 3 day itinerary
My son asleep during the helicopter tour, missing some of Kauai's most incredible sights

Lunch

Head back to Hanalei for lunch at the Hanalei Gourmet. Another Kauai institution, the Gourmet has been serving up ono grinds (delicious food), for about 30 years. It’s a local spot with a local feel, and you can’t NOT try it out.

There’s a lot of variety to the menu, with a selection for the keiki (kids). Eat like a local and try the loco moco, an unlikely but delicious combo of rice, hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy.

Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, and Anini Beach 

The Kilauea Lighthouse was built in 1913, and it’s been meticulously preserved. You’ll learn about the maritime history of Kauai and the important role lighthouses played in navigation. 

Entry into the lighthouse tower itself isn’t permitted. However, the surrounding grounds and the visitor center provide plenty of information. This is an amazing vantage point for photos of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged coastline.

Take a tour, wander through the visitor center to see the exhibits and displays, and practice your photography skills on the insanely stunning scenery.

The trail around the lighthouse will give you the chance to spot local wildlife. Look for birds like the Red-footed Booby and Laysan Albatross nesting or in the air. The NeNe, or Hawaiian goose, can also be found in the refuge. It’s Hawaii’s state bird and possibly the rarest goose in the world.

And from December through May, you could even catch sight of humpback whales breaching offshore. 

A few tips: The lighthouse is inside the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. There’s a small entrance fee, which goes towards conservation efforts. The refuge is open Wednesday through Saturday, and all over 16 need a reservation.

If you have time after exploring the lighthouse and its trail, stop in at the nearby Kilauea Market + Cafe for a snack. 

Then head for Anini Beach Park for the rest of the afternoon. You won’t see lifeguards on duty, but it’s known as a safe beach. Use caution when the surf is high though, as the current can become strong – and stay inside the reef for the same reason.

Anini has soft sand, clear water, and a long, fringing reef. This is where you’ll find some of the calmest, safest, and most exceptional snorkeling on the North Shore. Perfect even for the kids.

Anini Beach is equipped with amenities – public restrooms and outdoor showers. There are picnic tables and BBQ pits available for public use as well.

Beach Alternative Option

If surfing is a must on your Kauai 3-day itinerary, skip Anini Beach and head to Hanalei Beach Park. The surf is perfect for beginners. In fact, this is where my family took surfing lessons for the first time. 

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the ocean floor was sand. Making it an easy and safe fall for beginners like myself. 

A photo of me standing on my surfboard during a surf lesson
Taking surf lessons is one of the best activities to do in your Kauai 3-day itinerary.

Dinner

Wind down with dinner at Bar Acuda in Hanalei. The menu is full of local, fresh ingredients served tapas-style, perfect for sampling a bit of everything. While it’s geared more towards epicurean tastes with no specific keikis menu, there are plenty of options that can cater to the younger crowd too. 

The place has a cozy, stylish feel, with seating both indoors and out, so you can enjoy Kauai’s warm evenings – and that air. Located in the heart of Hanalei, it’s ideal for your last night out. 

A few tips: a reservation is a good idea, they’re closed on Sundays and Mondays, and they don’t open until 5:30 pm. 

Be sure to go across the street to Tahiti Nui. They’re known for the best Mai Tai in town!

Retaurant Tahiti Nui, known for the best Mai Tai in town and a must if you are visiting Kauai
My son wearing a cute Hawaiian Lei that he made at the Western on the North Shore

Additional things to add to your 3-day Kauai Itinerary

Since you’ll be creating your very own Kauai 3-day itinerary, I wanted to provide additional activities you could possibly add or swap. Because at the end of the day, I want to make sure you have the best experience possible.

Additional things to do on the South Shore

Hike Shipwreck Beach to Shipwreck Beach Cliff– A relatively easy hike from the beach to the cliff. Once you arrive at the top, you’ll find a beautiful view overlooking the ocean and Kauai. I recommend going during sunrise. Gorgeous!

Photoshoot at Shipwreck Beach Cliff, a stunning sunrise spot everyone should include in a Kauai 3 day itinerary

Visit Old Koloa Town– A quaint village that gives an old-town vibe. Here you’ll find a variety of shops, restaurants, and a history center. If you’re hungry- stop at Bobby’s for a pulled pork sandwich. 

Go Ziplining at Poipu 5 Line Zipline– Have the experience of a lifetime by ziplining over Kauai’s lush green landscape and the ocean’s beautiful hues of blue and turquoise.

Additional things to do on the North Shore

Explore Na ’Aina Kai Botanical Garden- A beautiful botanical garden and structure park. The tours include open-air cart tours, self-guided tours, bird tours, and beach tours. If you’re traveling to Kauai with kids, know they have a children’s garden with a splash pad, playground, maze, and more. 

Go Snorkeling at Kalihikai Park– Enjoy a beautiful mountainous backdrop as you snorkel at this shallow water beach. And if you’re lucky, you just might see sea turtles! 

Hike Queen’s Bath– Although it’s only a 1-mile hike, it’s not necessarily the easiest hike due to the terrain. But my twin 4-year-old boys accomplished it. And the views at the end. So worth it!

At the top of Queen's Bath, a short, strenuous hike with stunning views to add to your Kauai 3 day itinerary

Best Time to Visit Kauai

This largely depends on your preferences for weather, crowds, and pricing. The drier, quieter seasons of spring and fall are good times to visit.

Spring is roughly from April to June. The winter rains are letting up and temperatures are rising, but the summer crowds haven’t arrived. 

September to November is fall, with the summer crowds gone and the heat of the season mellowing out. The beaches and other attractions are more peaceful in the spring and the fall, and prices for accommodations are often a bit lower.

The winter months, December through March, are popular, especially with surfers looking to catch the big waves on the North Shore and people escaping the winter in mainland USA. This is also the rainiest season, but the rain usually comes in quick showers. It’s often limited to just certain parts of the island, too. It might affect your outdoor plans, but it won’t last, and you can usually find sunshine a short drive away.

We went in early March and it only rained for a few hours of one day during our entire visit. The weather was perfect and the crowds were manageable. 

If you’re looking to miss the crowds and the highest prices, consider avoiding the peak travel times. These are around major holidays and in the summer months when families are more likely to flock here. 

All in all, there’s no bad time to visit Kauai. Its gorgeous landscapes and aloha spirit make it an incredible travel destination year-round.

The view from our massive balcony at Marriott Vacation Club Lagoon- Kalanipu'u.

Where to Stay

Kauai has so many wonderful, family-friendly resorts that it was hard for us to choose. So much so, that we ended up staying at three different resorts and areas in Kauai. I couldn’t help myself!

South Shore

Choosing to stay on Kauai’s South Shore, especially in sunny Poipu, means you’re in for a treat with the weather. It’s almost always perfect for hitting the beach. This part of the island is a favorite for many because it’s sunny more often than not.

The beaches here, like the well-loved Poipu Beach, are some of the most welcoming and family-friendly on Kauai. Swim, snorkel, or just lounge in the sun. 

Poipu has good options for accommodations, too. There’s something for every taste and budget, from plush resorts that pull out all the stops to cozy vacation rentals that feel like your home away from home. 

Where we stayed on the South Shore

Koloa Landing Poipu

Rating: 9.1/10 Price Range: $$$$ Luxury ☑️ Book Here

Out of all of the hotels, Koloa Landing Poipu was the best overall resort. The variety of pools and activities made it perfect for those traveling with only adults or those with kids in tow. In fact, it is home to America’s largest pool!

Although it’s not directly located on Poipu Beach, it’s a quick walk to it. They also offer a shuttle service, which includes car seats.


The largest pool in America, located at Koala Landing Poipu.

Lihue area

Staying in the Lihue area on Kauai offers convenience. This area provides the advantages of being in the commercial hub of the island while also being near a variety of activities.

Lihue stands out for its accessibility, particularly since it’s home to Kauai’s main airport. But this central location is not just about practicality; it offers its own set of attractions. 

You’ll have the quiet and clean Kalapaki Beach nearby, as well as the Kauai Museum and Grove Farm Homestead Museum. Not to mention a good selection of shopping, dining, and golfing opportunities.

Plus, its central locale makes Lihue a strategic base for exploring the wider island. 

Where we stayed in Lihue

Marriott Vacation Club Lagoon- Kalanipu’u

Rating: 9.4/10 Price Range: $$$$ Luxury ☑️Book Here

The accommodations at Marriott Vacation Club Lagoon- Kalanipu’u left me mesmerized. I mean the 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom villa we stayed in had the absolutely most gorgeous view I’ve ever seen. Their EXPANSIVE balcony overlooking the pool, ocean, and overall lushness of Kauai is indeed something magical. 

So if you’re looking for the perfect view and spacious accommodations, this is the resort for you.

The amazing pool at the Marriott Vacation Club Lagoon- Kalanipu’u, a hotel you should stay at in your Kauai 3 day itinerary
My children playing at the backyard of the Marriott Vacation Club Lagoon- Kalanipu’u with stunning views of the sea

North Shore

Kauai’s North Shore is known for its breathtaking rugged beauty and laid-back lifestyle. The North Shore is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, with some of the best scenery on the island.

Beyond water sports like surfing and stand-up paddle boarding, the North Shore offers incredible hiking opportunities. You’ll also have easy access to scattered small towns full of boutiques and galleries, and plenty of restaurants that serve up farm-fresh cuisine.

Be prepared for occasional rain showers, though. These are what make the area so lush and beautiful. 

Where we stayed on the North Shore

Westin Princeville

Rating: 8.8/10 Price Range: $$$ Luxury ☑️Book Here

The Westin Princeville is a very popular resort on the North Shore of Kauai. It’s not uncommon to find it sold out, especially their oceanfront rooms. While staying here, we decided to stay at the resort for the entire day and were impressed by the variety of activities they offered for both adults and kids. Plus the pools kept my boys entertained- especially the slide and splash pad. 

What to Bring to Kauai

1. Sun Protection: High-SPF, reef-safe sunscreen, hats, sunglasses

2. Swimsuits

3. Water shoes for rocky shores, tennis shoes or active sandals for trails, and flip-flops (‘slippers’ in Hawaii) for the beach

4. A lightweight rain jacket

5. Reusable Water Bottles

6. Insect Repellent: Especially for hikes through the trees and greenery

7. Backpack or Beach Bags: For carrying your essentials during outings

8. Light clothing, plus a sweater or jacket for cooler evenings, and especially for the strong air-conditioning in stores and restaurants

Taking a selfie at the pool and magnificent view at Marriott Vacation Club Lagoon- Kalanipu'u.

Conclusion: Kauai 3 Day Itinerary

And there you have it – your ‘3 days in Kauai’ itinerary. Even in such a short time,  you’ll find yourself lost in the spirit of aloha, in the island air, and in the sound of the waves.

From the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast to the beauty of the South Shore’s beaches, Kauai is a tropical nirvana that will steal your heart. 

And don’t worry. If you can’t fit all the activities you want to do in your Kauai 3-day itinerary, you’ll have a great reason to come back. 

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