The Ultimate Budget Friendly 5-day Kauai Itinerary

So, you only have a few days in the most beautiful place in the world? 

You want to make sure you “do Kauai right” and see all the beauty it has to offer in the little time (and money) you have there? 

Kauai-itinerary-budget-friendly-millie

Well, if you think you can see everything Kauai has to offer in just a few days, you are mistaken. I will tell you up-front, that is just not possible. It’s okay, don’t panic! Before you choose to click away, I promise you will see countless jaw dropping places, I just want you to adjust your expectations to reality so that your upcoming trip to Kauai is stress-free. The worst thing you’d want to do is spend your time stressing about seeing everything on your checklist and not actually enjoying spending time in the moment. 

I mean, just think about it... Kauai is 552 square miles of endless adventure, scenic hikes, hidden trails, delicious food and the most breathtaking beaches you’ve ever seen. Keep in mind that square footage doesn’t include the dozens of gorgeous spots you can hit up snorkeling. So if you plan on covering 100+ square miles a day, seeing everything in a few days will be near to impossible.

If you’re thinking “Well now what, Millie? There’s so much to cover and not enough time”

Don’t you worry! I created a 5-day Kauai itinerary for you to follow to make the most out of your trip. I’ll be talking about the best place to stay, MUST DO experiences, need-to-try local food spots and much more all planned out for you to follow step-by-step. 

Let’s get started!

Aloha! Welcome to the “garden island”, home to the wettest place on Earth and where you’ll find chickens roaming around freely. I’ll be talking about this gorgeous island in sections: north, east, south and west. Each side of the island carries a completely different experience and that is how John and I chose to organize our days when we were there. Then I’ll break down a daily Itinerary for you to adapt to your upcoming trip. This method worked the best for us and know it will work for you!

North Shore

The Hanalei Valley Lookout

The Hanalei Valley Lookout

On the North Shore of Kauai you’ll find the town of Hanalei. If you’ve ever been to Julian, CA, Hanalei is basically the surfer beach version of that with local food trucks, shopping and views of lush mountains all on one strip. You also may have heard of it with Hanalei Bay, Hanalei Lookout or Hanalei Pier. Anyone who has been to Kauai (and visited the North Shore) I’m sure would tell you Hanalei is a MUST SEE or express one of their favorite views were in this town. 

Also, on the North Shore you will find one of the best snorkeling spots with the largest coral reef in Hawaii, Anini Beach. John and I didn’t find out about this until the 2nd to last day of our trip, but had we known, it would’ve been one of our top picks for visiting which is why I’m including it here for you! However, if you’re not picky about seeing the coral reef particularly, almost EVERY beach we did visit had an amazing snorkeling experience with an abundance of sea life and I’ll include one of our favorites later in this post.

East Shore

This is where you want to stay. If you’ve done any searching on where to stay during your time in Kauai, I’m sure you’ve discovered that there are countless options for hotels, resorts, and AirBnb’s around the island. The East side is the most convenient in our opinions. With the North and South shores being the most active locations on the island and where most of the locations we wanted to see, being right in the middle was a huge time saver.

This was the beach directly outside our hotel room captured at sunrise.

This was the beach directly outside our hotel room captured at sunrise.

If you’re looking for some more guidance on where to stay specifically, we ended up staying at the Courtyard by Marriott Kaua'i at Coconut Beach and loved every second of our stay. Our room overlooked the Pacific Ocean so we fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing gently on the shore and woke up to ever-changing sunrises. The staff treated us like family to the point where I even remember the names of some who helped us...and I’m horrible with names (shout out to Bernice, Andrew and Lisa). The food at their in-house restaurant was genuinely some of the best food we had on the island. I 100% recommend going even if it’s just for the papaya creme brulee dessert. They have morning yoga every morning at 8am and yes, ITS FREE. AND, to wrap it up, they have laundry on every floor, which came in handy for us being content creators wearing 3-4 outfits a day to take photos! 

While on the East Side there are a few local food spots that I could not get enough of. 

  • Eat Healthy Kauai - It was so nice to have a go-to place on vacation that wasn’t “junk”. Obvious what we choose to eat is our choice but what I’m saying is that it’s totally natural to go on vacation and eat anything and everything in sight. Some days you just feel heavier than others and this spot was our favorite place to go we needed that healthy boost. Our favorite was their acai bowls which not only were delicious but delicately crafted.

  • Kalalea Juice Hale - This is what I would say was the perfectly stereotypical “Hawaii experience” - in the best way possible! If you’re looking for the most authentically delicious coconut water and/or smoothies, this place will have you feeling addicted. You order from a window and they make everything within their little hut/shack. I would have to say my favorite local spot the entire trip.

  • Java Kai - This spot was probably the most crowded coffee shop we went to but so wroth it. This might be because it was also the most “Instagrammable” shop around town so tourists like us were always revolving though. I don’t want to discredit their unique coffee choices and food options. We thoroughly enjoyed every sip and last bite, just as much as we enjoyed taking pictures! 

Lastly, if you’re wanting a nice relaxing time to walk around, cool down with some shaved ice and shop for some fun souvenirs for the family and fur baby back home, Coconut Market is the way to go. This is right across the way from the hotel we stayed at too so we loved that we didn’t have to drive. We were able to get all the souvenirs we needed at the ABC store, which, if you are unfamiliar with, is Hawaii's most well-known convenience store chain. We also tried a local business owners banana macadamia bread and then some shaved ice at Jojo’s Shaved Ice. If you’ve never tried shaved ice like I hadn’t, this is your golden ticket. 

South Shore

Our time on the South and West shores were limited due to rain but we still found perfect locations we will never forget and likely visit again when we go back (yes- we 100% want to go back). When passing through the South Shore of Kauai, we found the most exciting snorkeling spot, Poipu Beach. 100% recommend! This beach was our ABSOLUTE favorite snorkeling location the entire trip! I honestly have never seen so many fish before in my life. 

Neither of us had ever been snorkeling before but we came prepared with our goggles, snorkel, fins and water shoes. Every time we went out to snorkel we found better and better spots and Poipu was the best. The water was so clear and the sea life was friendly. Definitely a place to wear water shoes though!

Waimea-canyon-millie

West Shore

To wrap up the shore summaries, on the west side you will find Waimea Canyon. The drive up to the canyon was honestly the best part. There are countless turnouts to pull over and take pictures. If you do choose to go to the top of the lookout, there is a $5 parking fee you must pay to see the lookout. We went when during hurricane season so the lookout was cloudy but if you have an extra $5 to spend, it doesn’t hurt to check out. Plus, there’s a pop-up tent where a local sells fresh fruit and snacks...literally the best mangoes I’ve ever had in my entire life. 

If you’re on a tight budget, I would 100% recommend still driving up the mountain. The higher you get, the cloudy-er it gets, so go just high enough to where the sun is out and choose a place to pull over. The lookout is the same view as the turnouts! 

~ ~ ~

Alright. Now that we’ve covered the shores, let’s talk about the day-to-day plan. Below you will find mine and Johns itinerary of what we did during our trip. We feel like we had the perfect balance of traveling/exploring and relaxing and hope you get to experience that as well.

Sunday

  • We landed in Kauai around noon, grabbed our rental car and went straight to the hotel to get settled in. We used this day to plan out the content we needed to create for the rest of the week and relax. 

Monday - North Shore 

  • The Hanalei Experience
    We had no idea the North Shore was going to have so much to offer so we ended up splitting it up into 2 days of exploring. This first day was dedicated to seeing everything “Hanalei”. The pier, where John proposed. The bay, where I wouldn’t recommend spending time snorkeling but definitely recommend jumping off the pier into the bay. The lookout, which is the PERFECT picture spot. Then the town, which has amazing food truck options.

Tuesday - North/East Shore

  • During our drive towards the North Shore the day prior, we took notes of all the local shops we wanted to stop at and today was the day we tried them out. We went up the coast exploring shops and beaches that looked exciting to us. This is where we tried Java Kai, Kalalea Juice Hale, and Kauai Chocolate.

  • If that isn’t something that sounds adventurous enough for you, then dedicate this day to snorkeling at Anini Beach or visiting Queens Bath! Both are “must see’s” if you’re wanting to fill up the day with a plan and less spontaneity. 

Wednesday - South/West Shore

  • Waimea Canyon was the furthest location from our hotel so we wanted to knock it off our list first thing in the morning. After eating at Eat Healthy Kauai, we drove to the lookout point (remember this is $5 for parking/entry) paused to enjoy every second and drove back down. 

  • After Waimea Canyon we were ready to dive into some water, as I’m sure you will be too. Stop at Poipu Beach for snorkeling, say hi to some turtles and friendly fish and order a coffee float from their snack stand! Yes, you read that correctly, that's a root beer float but with coffee!!

Thursday - East Shore 

  • John actually had started feeling like he was getting a cold and this was the day it hit him. We spent this last day cruising around our hotels side of the shore relaxing, which was 100% needed after back-to-back adventure. 

  • Don’t forget to grab some souvenirs and shaved ice at the Coconut Marketplace!

  • Luau time! You NEED to go to a Luau if you have never been to one before. The experience of Hawaii’s culture and food is actually indescribable. We were lucky that the hotel we stayed at hosted a Luau every few days so we walked downstairs to that one and it was so exciting.

Friday - Going home...

  • Get a massage. After all the adventures you went on this week, you deserve it. Book an afternoon or evening flight so you can get a massage before heading out. John and I both agree it was the most perfect way to wrap up our trip. 

Alright my lovely friends. I hope this Kauai guide and Itinerary helped you feel a little more prepared for your trip to Kauai. If you click away from this post remembering one thing is “embrace the island”. The weather can go from sunny to rainy in a blink of an eye depending on where you are. Be prepared for change and allow yourself to experience everything that comes your way. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you will fall in love and want to move there so you won’t have to worry about seeing EVERYTHING yet ;)