One of the most rugged islands in Hawaii, Kauai has rightfully earned its "Garden Island" moniker. Rainforests cover much of Kauai, and many parts of the island are only accessible by boat or plane. To experience the absolute best of Kauai, you'll sail along the Na'Pali coastline, fly high over Waimea Canyon, and explore rough terrain in Kipu Ranch—all while enjoying the island's laidback atmosphere of Kauai. Here's how to make the most of 48 hours on Kauai.
Day 1: Morning
10 a.m.: Figuring out where to stay in Kauai is vital. With just one road circumnavigating the island where you stay significantly impacts your travel time to different activities. Kauai's rugged nature means there also a diverse assortment of lodging options. If you're looking to commune with nature, Waimea Plantation Cottages are an excellent choice. Each cottage is a mini-home with full kitchen, living room, and porch. Grills come with some cabins, and Kauai's natural landscape surrounds each one. A black-sand beach is situated along the edge of the property.
If you're looking for a little more luxury and pampering, Kauai Beach Resorts is the way to go. This hotel has its own beautiful beach as well as multiple pools, hot tubs, and even a water slide for the kids, a daily delicious breakfast buffet as well as a lounge bar and a pool bar, so you're never far away from Hawaii's signature mai tai.
Once checked in, grab a healthy breakfast at Little Fish Coffee. This local coffee shop offers Kauai-grown coffee beans and healthy pitaya and acai bowls. The menu also includes bagels and other sandwiches if you're craving a bit more fuel.
11 a.m.: Waimea Canyon is a requirement for every visitor to Kauai. Called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This 3,600-foot deep canyon stretches 14 miles long and one mile wide and is truly a sight to behold. As you drive through the State Park, there are several opportunities to pull over and take photos along the way at various lookouts. For those wanting a more up close and personal experience with the canyon, there are several hiking trails for both beginners and experienced hikers. Different trails will lead you to the top of the canyon for a spectacular view or to the top of Waipo'o Falls.
Day 1: Afternoon
1 p.m.: If you chose to go hiking through the canyon, even on a short hike, you'll most likely be covered in red dust. So a casual lunch spot is the way to go. Porky's is a quick sandwich counter that offers Hawaiian pulled pork dressed up in the style of your choice. Fish Express is the place to go if you want to experience the freshest poke on the island. They also have other traditional Hawaiian options like lau lau, pork cooked in taro leaves.
3 p.m.: For more stunning landscape, head to Kipu Ranch Adventures. This privately-owned cattle ranch operates guided ATV tours traversing 3,000 acres. If the incredible scenery isn't enough, the company's guides are incredibly knowledgeable of the terrain and the history of the ranch and Kauai in general. You'll get to take in one of a kind views while learning how ranching played a massive part in Kauai's history.
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: Experience local flavors at Eating House 1848. Named for Hawaii's first restaurant, Eating House 1848 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, by serving dishes made with only local ingredients. Merriman's Fish House is another great farm-to-table restaurant that was a driving force in the expansion of Hawaiian farming beyond pineapple and sugarcane.
9 p.m.: Let's be frank: Kauai is not known for its nightlife. Most establishments close down by 10 p.m., but if you need a late-night tipple or dance, Trees Lounge in Kapa'a has live music until 12:30 a.m., and Rob's Good Time Grill is a lively sports bar that stays open until 2 a.m.
Day 2: Morning
9 a.m.: Java Kai, a local surf-themed coffee shop has an array of breakfast options and quick service—ideal for fueling up before a long day of adventuring. Have the hearty power bowl, filled with eggs, bacon, pesto, mozzarella, beets, and sprouts.
10 a.m.: If there was ever a place to take a helicopter tour, Kauai is it. The majority of Hawaii is used for nature reserves and agriculture and is not publicly accessible, so truly take in all of Kauai’s rugged landscape, you have to do it from above. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters offers aerial tours of the most remote parts of the Kauai. Pilots can fly you through Waimea canyon, over mountains, and into huge craters. Their highly-trained pilots are well-educated on Kauai’s history and landscape and give plenty of context along the way.
Day 2: Afternoon
12 p.m.: Visitors often flock to Kauai’s North Shore, which is chock full of stunning beaches, quaint towns, and celebrity homes. After a devastating storm in 2018, much of this area was completely flooded. It reopened in July of 2019, and since then, locals have been striving for more sustainable tourism in the small community. They have set up a shuttle that will drop you off at the end of the route—the very popular Ke’e Beach in Haena State Park. Permits are now required for visitors and must be purchased in advance.
3 p.m.: You can stop in many of the small towns along the north shore for local fare. Some favorites are Tiki Iniki tiki bar and restaurant, Hanalei Taro & Juice Company for some healthier options, or Trucking Delicious. Locals love this permanently parked food truck; there can be a wait time during peak lunch hours, but it is well worth it.
Day 2: Evening
4 p.m.: Head back to the south end of the island for Blue Dolphin Charters' Nā Pali Coast sunset dinner cruise. One of the real gems of Kauai is the stunning Nā Pali coastline. It's challenging to get to on your own, so a tour or dinner cruise is one of the best ways to experience this natural beauty. The journey will head up to the Nā Pali Coast and take you up close and personal with some of the waterfalls. Dinner is served on the boat, and an open bar means you're guaranteed a good time. You'll stay out on the water to witness one of the best possible sunsets.
8 p.m.: If you're in the mood for one more nightcap, you have a couple of options. Mahiko Lounge is a chic jazz bar that stays open until 10 p.m., and Keoki's Paradise is mainly a restaurant but has a bar that serves until 11:30 p.m.