An Ideal 9-Day Family Vacation in Kauai
Kauai, often referred to as the "Garden Isle," is a mesmerizing and enchanting island famous as the oldest and most northern of the Hawaiian Islands. The island offers a perfect blend of adventure and serenity, with opportunities for hiking along the rugged Na Pali Coast, exploring the grandeur of Waimea Canyon or simply relaxing on the golden sands of Poipu Beach. Whether you're exploring the dramatic landscapes, engaging in thrilling water sports or immersing yourself in the island's vibrant culture, Kauai promises an unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe of its natural wonders and warm aloha spirit. The following 9 day guide is built around one activity per day for the most part. I try to have an exciting adventure on the agenda each day to keep the whole family engaged and happy while also allowing enough down time to relax.
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Where to stay
1 Hotel Hanalei Bay
Luxury resort on Kauai's Napali Coast with world-class wellness amenities and sustainable initiatives.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa
A quintessential island resort on 50 lush acres of white-sand beachfront on Kauai’s beautiful southern shore.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas
Overlooking the pacific, this cliffside resort features studios and villas, a relaxed restaurant and four outdoor pools on its palm-studded property.
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Day 1: Arriving
Many properties have a 4PM check-in so a great way to kill time from landing late morning and check in time is to stop for lunch and then grocery shop for your stay. I highly recommend Gaylord’s Plantation 3.5 miles LIH airport. Gaylord's Plantation Kauai is a historic and picturesque destination located 3.5 miles from Lihue Airport that offers a farm to table menu. Situated amidst lush gardens and surrounded by scenic beauty, this charming plantation offers a glimpse into the island's rich history and cultural heritage. Visitors can explore the meticulously preserved estate, including the grand plantation house, beautiful gardens and even take a train ride throughout the property learning about it’s history as well as making a stop to feed cows, pigs and donkeys. I highly recommend making dining reservations in advance.
Day 2: Napili Coast
Start your first full day with a boat tour of the Napili Coast. There are many tour offers available on larger catamaran style boats or smaller zodiac boat tours. The zodiac bout tours are a rougher ride compared to a larger catamaran style boat and there are no facilities on the small boat. However, the zodiac tour offers a more intimate experience and you'll maneuver easily in and out of sea caves that bigger boats can't reach. While the larger catamaran style boats cannot go into the caves, they can still get close enough for a great view, offer lunch and have restroom facilities on board. I recently took a catamaran tour of the Napili Coast and had an amazing time with the best crew! I am happy to share the details.
Day 3: Helicopter tour
View the island from the sky with a helicopter tour. Only one company on the Island can land at the infamous waterfall in the first Jurassic Park movie intro. Other companies will fly you by the waterfall for an outstanding view of the falls but if you are a huge fan of Jurassic Park, I highly recommend taking this tour. It last about 70 mins and you cover the entire island. You land for about 10-mins at the famous Jurassic falls to take in the beauty and capture the moment.
Day 4: South and West Kauai
Start your day early to cover stops in South and West Kauai. Start a morning swimming with turtles at Poipu Beach. There are two nearby outdoor malls that have dining and shopping opportunities for lunch: Poipu Shopping Village and The Shops at Kukui’ula. Next, make your way to Sprouting Horn Park to view a blowhole in action. There is plenty of public parking and can easily be enjoyed with a 10 min stop. Then head to Waimea Town for some shopping and excellent shaved ice at Jo Jo’s Shaved Ice.
Waimea Canyon, often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," is a breathtaking natural wonder located 14 miles from Waimea Town. It is known for its awe-inspiring panoramic views, vibrant red cliffs and lush green valleys. There are multiple scenic lookouts that offer stunning vistas, allowing you to appreciate the beauty of the canyon from various vantage points. Stopping at all of the viewpoints can take about 2 hours if you take your time at each stop. If you are an avid hiker, you can spend an entire day hiking the Kukui Trail, offering gorgeous views of the Waimea Canyon. Alltrails.com is a great resource for hiking anywhere in the world.
Day 5: Sugar plantation lazy river
Embark on a half-day adventure as you leisurely float down the historic irrigation system of an old sugar plantation, meandering through open canals and traversing a series of hand-dug tunnels dating back to approximately 1870. The friendly staff at Kauia Backcountry Adventures assist with every aspect of the tour and educate you on Hawaiian culture during the drive to the start of the canal adventure.
Day 6: Wave riding
Experience riding waves in an outrigger canoe with a professional guide. This is such a fun, unique activity. I recommend Kaui Beach Boys at Marriott Kauai's Beach Club. They provide instructions, life vests and about an hour out on the water in the outrigger canoe. Duke’s is located on the beach and is a great stop for lunch after all of the paddling.
Day 7: Secret Falls Guided Kayak Tour
This was my favorite activity we did in 9 days on the island. We paddled two miles through Wailua River, the most beautiful jungle river on the island. You will then beach your kayak and hike 1.5 miles through the rainforest to Uluwehi Falls “Secret Falls” where you will spend about 45 mins having lunch and swimming in the waterfall. It is an amazing experience swimming in the pool with water rushing down on you surrounded by 120 foot tall cliffs.
Day 8: Spend the day at the North Shore
The North Shore is usually calm and ideal for snorkeling in the summer time. The North Shore in the winter is known for it’s strong currents and large swells and would be best suited for staying out of the water. In the summer months, there are many places to swim and snorkel on the north shore. Hanalei Beach is a picturesque and renowned destination known for its crescent-shaped golden sand beach, majestic emerald mountains and world-class surf. The bay has a pier that visitors can jump off into the crystal clear waters. Hanalei River is located on the East end of the bay and offers opportunities to paddleboard and kayak up the majestic river. Hanalei Town is a charming town with a laid-back island vibe, featuring colorful buildings, quaint shops and restaurants all surrounded by the stunning backdrop of lush mountains. Spend some time at Kēʻē Beach for excellent snorkeling.
Day 9: Fly out
If your flight is in the afternoon, be sure to squeeze in one last swim in the warm ocean before you depart your accommodations. If you have spare time before your flight, I recommend wrapping your vacation up with another farm to table lunch at Hualani’s Restaurant. The food is delicious and the views are unforgettable. They offer complimentary valet parking and it is located only 2.5 miles from LIH Airport.
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, 3 Days in Napa: A Journey Through Wine Country.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Hawai'i.