When I was in second grade, a classmate came back from Hawaii after spring break perfectly bronzed with stories of luaus, sugar cane, delicious tropical fruit, and amazing beaches.
My eight-year-old self knew at that point that someday I would visit. It took a while, but at 35, we finally made it on our first Kauai vacation! And, even better, John and I were able to share it with the boys.
Kauai is magical. It truly is full of all the wonders we imagined – beautiful beaches, countless waterfalls, lush landscapes, and a stunning canyon that offer some of the most impressive scenery we have witnessed – and, we put it all in this Kauai Travel Guide. We loved it so much, and we are already dreaming of returning!
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10-Day Kauai Vacation Itinerary
We spent 10 days (9 nights) on this tropical paradise. Since this was a trip for all four of us, we chose to do most activities that everyone could participate in together. There are a few options we plan to explore when we return when Garrett is a little older, and I don’t have a shoulder injury – kayaking, zip-lining, etc.
We also knew that the boys would need a little bit of downtime built-in and decent bedtimes to avoid meltdowns (well, as many as possible, anyway!) However, if your kids are slightly older (and one of you doesn’t have an injured shoulder), you may be able to push a little harder and consider adding those activities to your list.
What to Pack
Obviously, you’ll need the standard beach gear, but here are a few extra things we found to be extremely helpful on our trip:
- The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: This was an invaluable source of information in our planning stage. We did find at least one thing in the print book that was out of date once we arrived, so I would suggest considering purchasing the companion app, Hawaii Revealed, for more up to date information. We typically prefer to have a book in hand to an app, but they were perfect to use together, and the maps in the app were slightly more straightforward to navigate while on the Island.
- Hiking Shoes– Bring old tennis shoes or hiking shoes. We chose pairs that were old enough, so we didn’t care if they got trashed.
- Individual Backpacks with hydration packs– We each used a backpack as a carry-on, which doubled as our hiking/day packs.
Okay, enough introduction, let’s get to the fun stuff!
Kauai Day 1
After you arrive on the Island, secure your rental car. We used Hertz at the Lihue airport and were super pleased with the check-in process for Gold Members (seriously, check out joining – it’s free and makes things soooo easy!) Next, head to your hotel, check in, and get settled. If it’s too early for check-in, we recommend exploring Kapa’a. There are a bunch of cute shops, two of our favorite shave ice locations (Wailua Shave Ice and Hee Fat General Store), and some tasty food options. Or, if your kids are antsy for pool or beach time, check with your hotel about holding your bags and accessing the pool – most will allow this!
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We stayed at Kauai Shores Hotel in Kapa’a for our first two nights. It is located in the heart of the East Side and has a spectacular laid-back vibe. Just past the lobby is Lava Lava Beach Club, a relaxed restaurant that has seating ON the beach. If you prefer, they also have picnic tables alongside a grass lawn where they have Giant Jenga, and Cornhole set up for the kids to play while you wait on your food. In addition, if you can make it during Happy Hour, they also have a selection of Pupus and Drinks at great prices. After your dinner, let the kids burn off any energy left from the day of travel at the pool. Then, get some rest before your first full day on Kauai!
Kauai Day 2
We chose to start our week with a helicopter tour with Jack Harter Helicopters (shout out to our fantastic pilot Chris) based on the recommendation from The Ultimate Guide to Kauai. After experiencing Kauai from above, we consider this a MUST do at least once. If you can squeeze it into your budget (it is pricey!), you will not regret it!! We suggest doing it either as early as possible during your trip to orient yourself to the Island, or as a wrap up at the end of the week to bring everything together. We were afraid the boys wouldn’t appreciate it, but they were fully engaged and still say it was their favorite thing from the entire week!
Next up, head to Makauwahi Cave area and Gillin’s beach – the last part of the road to get there is a little rough but was handled efficiently by our SUV. Take some time to explore the cliffs and trails before making your way down to the beach (you may even get it to yourself if you’re lucky!) Be sure to watch your footing, especially for the kiddos next to the edge! Then, make your way to Makauwahi Cave. Double-check their hours and make sure you go when they have guided tours (free, but donations suggested). Don’t do what we did! The boys were anxious to get to the beach, and we played too late, not realizing that they had closed, so we only saw the cave from the trail above.
On your way back, stop and grab some shave ice at Wailua Shave Ice (grab a rewards card – it’s likely you’ll be back!) and some food in town. If you’re up for it, next is Spouting Horn Beach Park. Legend has it there is a giant moo (lizard) trapped inside the lava tube who still moans and its breath sprays from the blowhole. Take some time to watch – the surf blows up to 50 feet in the air! If you wish, stay and watch the sunset.
Kauai Day 3
If you stayed at Kauai Shores Hotel, you likely got a welcome pack with some sweet discounts. Take your discount card to the Lava Lava Beach Club for breakfast. The boys were especially happy with their Acai Bowl (without granola for Garrett), and Banana-Blueberry Pancakes for Tomer. An order consists of 3 GIANT pancakes – I think this may be the first time he couldn’t finish pancakes at breakfast, haha!
We were swapping hotels today, so we loaded up the car and headed into Kapa’a to rent beach cruisers from Hele On Bicycles. They were super easy to work with and have VERY reasonable prices. You’ll get decent beach cruisers, helmets, and a bike lock if needed. Follow their directions to get to the paved trail that runs along the shore and take a left. Follow the path to the end just past Donkey Beach along the coast and back (approximately 8 miles round trip). Stop as needed for little legs and to appreciate the views.
After you’ve worked off breakfast, head to Wailua Shave Ice again to reward the kiddos for their hard work, then go to Chicken in a Barrel and order their Chicken For Two (you can thank us later). The portions are quite large, and we probably could have all eaten off one plate. If you have big eaters, grab some sides or second plate and dig in – make sure you try the BBQ sauce!!
If you’re moving to a new hotel, get settled and head to Costco, Wal-mart or Safeway to stock up on some breakfast and packable lunch items (a necessity for us to save a little money and always have safe options for G). You will find that everything is slightly more expensive than the west coast on the island, but these stores are where we found the best deals. Grab boogie boards for the kids as well – they were cheaper than we could rent and we passed them along to another family at the end of the week! After you’ve stocked up, head back to the hotel for (you guessed it!) more pool time!
Kauai Day 4
Wake up at your leisure this morning – it is your Kauai vacation, after all! Grab your camera and head to Wailua Falls, ‘Opaeka’a Falls Lookout and the Wailua River Lookout across the street. Take a picnic lunch and eat it at your favorite spot.
Head to a surf lesson (pre-arrange this)! John was the only one to try surfing this time. Tiffany’s shoulder is still injured, and the boys aren’t quite ready. However, it was perfect for heading to the beach with boogie boards and watch! You could also go to Ho’opi’i Falls if no one wants to surf, but we did this on Day 6 to accommodate the lesson.
In the evening, head to the Smith Family Luau. Pre-book as they can fill up quickly. You have the choice of doing the full Luau experience with dinner, imu ceremony, and the show or show only. We opted for the more budget-friendly show-only option and grabbed our dinner at Scarpattiato Pizza food truck and Wailua Shave Ice – told you to grab the rewards card! 😉 The show was informative and intriguing. We learned about the history of Hawaii and the influence from other countries present in Hawaiian culture. However, be forewarned that the show doesn’t START until 8 pm – our kiddos had a hard time keeping their eyes open, lol!
Kauai Day 5
Spend today on the North Shore! Wear something to hike in, pack up snacks and beach gear! Head to Kilauea Lighthouse. You can get in with a federal land pass or pay admissions (adults are $10 and children under 15 are free). Take your time exploring! You might also want to borrow a pair of binoculars from the little building next to the lighthouse. Take them outside and see everything in more detail. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a whale!
After you finish at the lighthouse, give everyone a snack and head to the beach at Kahili Beach for a short hike to the Pools of Mokolea. Take your time investigating the tide pools and lava rocks, but pay close attention to the surf and tide…you don’t want to get caught by an unsuspecting wave or stranded!!
Next up, head to Princeville and Hanalei. We spent our time in Hanalei, but can explore Princeville instead, or even both! There is a cute little food truck area, where we grabbed a bite to eat at Kaua’i Burger then strolled through the shops. Then, we headed to Wishing Well Shave Ice. The setting for this shave ice place was probably our favorite. There were picnic tables and a grassy area for the kids to play in while they wait. The shaved ice was good, but mom & dad preferred the cold brew!!
Your last stop of the day is Hanalei Bay. Jump in with your surfboard or find a spot to watch! We had a blast and saw everyone from little groms up to adults catching a wave!
Kauai Day 6
If you didn’t go on day 4, start today with a hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. There are two different waterfalls at this location, and both are worth seeing! The walk was a lot of fun. There were some bugs, so bring bug spray!
Head to Kapa’a and reward everyone with some food (our boys chose pizza again, lol) and shave ice (of course!). We went to Hee Fat General Store this time for the shave ice. The guava was terrific – there were real pieces of fruit! While there, stroll around and check out the shops. Stop in Kauai Photo Tours & Camera Shop and check out the stunning images from around the Island and more and meet the excellent staff! John got quite a surprise when he walked in and found a friend from high school working in the shop. We had no idea she was there, and it was super cool to connect!
When you finish exploring, head back and get freshened up for the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar & Ukulele Concert at All Saints’ Episcopal Church with Doug & Sandy McMaster. We didn’t think the boys would last, but they surprised us. They both enjoyed it, just said they were ready for bed, lol! The music is soothing and chill, and you’ll find yourself completely relaxed and prepared to settle in for the evening.
Kauai Day 7
Today is your built-in day to take it easy. Don’t want to chill? No worries, book a Kayak or Boat Tour on the Na Pali coast. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do that this time, but it’s definitely on our list for our next visit!
There was a farmers market at Coconut Marketplace, so we decided to check it out. If it’s there, check it out or browse the shops. Then, Tiffany headed to grab a couple of things to grill for dinner while John watched hockey (Go Hurricanes!) and the boys binged on YouTube videos.
We spent the rest of the afternoon playing at the pool and grilling up a tasty dinner. A decent bedtime helped the boys be ready to tackle the next morning’s hike (or so we thought!)
Kauai Day 8
Plan to head early to Waimea Canyon – the earlier you arrive for your hike, the cooler it will be! On your way through the canyon, take your time and stop at lookouts as desired. We chose to stop at Waimea Canyon Lookout and Pu’u O Kila Lookout. Your hike for the day is a 2-mile round trip hike on Pihea Trail. There are killer viewpoints the entire way along the trail, so take your time and stop as needed. But, for now, know that you should bring shoes that can get muddy. And, if it’s super wet or rainy, you may want to skip, especially if your children are small. Some spots remain muddy even when most of the trail is dry and the steeper areas would be very slick when wet.
After your hike, eat a picnic lunch (or take it up the trail with you) and head back down to Salt Lake Pond. It’s a great little beach with some protected areas for kids to play in, a grassy area, picnic tables, and restrooms. When we arrived, there was an area that had been sectioned off to protect a resting Hawaiian Monk Seal. It was super cool to see this endangered marine animal up close! You can also give snorkeling a try here if you would like. John and Tomer saw a handful of fish (including the humuhumunukunukuapua’a), but the current was a little much for Garrett. He got a taste of snorkeling and saw some coral, but decided he was out after that.
When you finish at Salt Lake Pond, change into something dry and head into the town of Hanapepe for Art Night. It was a great evening spent checking out local artists, food and music! Grab yourself some musubi or pastries and browse the local art. While you are there, check out Talk Story Bookstore, an adorable bookstore that I could’ve gotten lost in for hours!!
Kauai Day 9
For your last full day, keep it relaxing and fun. Sleep in, spend some time lounging by the pool, take the opportunity to visit any sights or shops you missed. Grab one last shave ice (we went back to Wailua Shave Ice and earned our free one) and try another restaurant (we chose Kenji Burger).
Kauai Day 10
Finish any last-minute packing, grab some breakfast (we chose the buffet at our hotel for ease), say “Aloha” to this beautiful island, and head to the airport.
Final Thoughts on Our 10-Day Kauai Vacation Itinerary
No matter where you choose to spend your time on this spectacular island, you are sure to have a wonderful time taking in the beauty and spirit of the islands.