The Hawaiian Islands have something for every type of visitor, a paradise that has somewhat managed to retain a chunk of its pristine beauty despite mass tourism. Over the course of one week in Hawaii, you can scratch the surface and experience some of the top highlights in the islands you’ll visit. In this post, I’ll share with you a sample itinerary for spending 7 days in Hawaii that is based on my experience of island hopping in the chain over the course of four months. Let’s get started!
7 Days in Hawaii Overview
Since you only have a week in Hawaii, this active sightseeing itinerary focuses on two of the best islands in Hawaii: the Big Island and Kauai. I do not recommend trying to squeeze a visit to a third island in just one week. The Big Island is served by many mainland U.S. airlines as well as a few international carriers, so getting here without having to stop in Honolulu is certainly possible.
- Big Island – 3 days
- Kauai – 4 days
Pro tip: if you absolutely have your hearts set on seeing other islands, or if you must begin your journey in Honolulu due to flight constraints, here are sample itineraries for Oahu and Maui which can substitute the Big Island (do not miss Kauai).
Visiting Hawaii? Sample itineraries, guides to the best spots, and the must-see highlights in five island are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
Part 1: The Big Island (3 Days)
There’s a very good reason why the Island of Hawaii is better known as the “Big Island”. Did you know that you could fit the rest of the islands in the chain inside the Big Island and still have some space left over? The island is by far the most diverse destination in the archipelago, a place where can start your day with some skiing in the mountains, get soaked by torrential afternoon rain in the rainforest, and wrap things up with a sunset dip at the beach. Another Big Island plus is the vibe, usually very low key, unpretentious, and sometimes authentically rugged. In fact, I made the Big Island my home for several months before exploring the other islands.
Where to Stay?
Since you only have three days on the Big Island, I recommend to either base yourself for the entire stay on the sunny Kona Coast or around Hilo on the tropical (and obviously wetter) east coast. If you’re coming to the Big Island for “heavy sightseeing” (especially Mauna Kea and the Kilauea Volcano) – the east coast is preferred and will reduce your driving times. If you wish to mix a beach day along the sights of Kilauea, you can get away with staying on the Kona Coast. >> Here’s a link to a complete list of Big Island accommodations which you can book online.
What to Do?
This itinerary focuses on “heavy sightseeing” and will not include a beach day. However, look for the links at the end of the Big Island section of this itinerary, where you can learn more about how to add a beach day to your three days on the Big Island.
If you’re staying on the Kona Coast, start your first day on the Big Island with a drive to the Kohala Region in the north, passing through the paniolo capital of Waimea and catching a glimpse of snow-capped Mauna Kea on the way. You’ll eventually make it the Waipio Valley Lookout, where we’ll pick things up in just a few lines.
If staying on the Hilo side, start your morning at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and stroll through its enchanting grounds which slope to a rugged beach. Continue your journey north to Akaka Falls and pause for a coffee/lunch break in the tiny town of Honomu. You’ll then be treated to awesome coastal views as you push north to the Waipio Valley Lookout. Waipio Valley is the most majestic of the Big Island’s valleys but to get down to its beach and hiking trails, you’ll either need to drive a 4WD or walk down one of the steepest roads in the U.S. Still got some time? Make the long journey to Mauna Kea to watch the sun set beneath the cloudline followed by stargazing from one of the clearest spots in the world for observing the night sky.
Start day two in Rainbow Falls, where mornings are the best time to catch the spectacle for which this waterfall gets its name (take the scenic Saddle Road if staying on the Kona Coast). Continue to Hilo – the Big Island’s largest and most Hawaiian town. If it’s market day (Wed and Sat), stock up on fresh produce and enjoy the sights and sounds of a proper market. Have lunch at Suisan Fish Market – home of the best poke bowls in the Big Island – and continue south to check out the beaches, Lava State Monument Park, and thermal pools. Be sure to reach the Kalapana Viewing Area a few hours before sunset and hike or cycle to the current lava flow in Kalapana – an experience you’ll never forget.
Spend your final day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park getting to know the Kilauea Volcano from up close via hikes, scenic drives, lava tubes and more. Wrap things up at the Jaggar Museum as the sun sets and watch the night sky illuminated by lava erupting from the birthplace of the fire goddess Pele! UPDATE: since the recent eruption, the lava viewing area and several sections of the national park are off-limits. It’s best to check the park’s official website before planning your visit.
Part 2: Kauai (4 Days)
Your 7 days in Hawaii are about to reach their climax with the visit to Kauai. Known as the “Garden Isle”, Kauai is blessed with immense natural beauty and even a quick trip to the gas station quickly turns into a scenic drive. It is the oldest of the major Hawaiian islands, home to some of the wettest spots on our planet and to the largest concentration of “hippies” and vegans in the state. Given its geological head start, Mother Nature has had millennia to erode Kauai’s volcanic peaks and carve its lush interior to absolute works of art. You come to Kauai for the outdoors and to get as close as possible to experience that “paradise” of a feeling.
Where to Stay?
Though not an absolute must, I recommend splitting your time in Kauai between the north and south coasts. On the tropical north coast, stay in the vacation community of Princeville or in the paradise-setting of Hanalei. Down south, where it’s usually sunny, Poipu is a top choice for families and resort-goers, while Hanapepe is more for laid-back. If you prefer not to swap accommodations midway, it simply means you’ll need to get an early start on the days visiting the opposite coast. >> Here’s a link to a complete list of Kauai accommodations which you can book online.
What to Do?
Spend the first of your 4 days in Kauai exploring the area from Lihue to Hanapepe. Pause for a picnic lunch in Poipu Beach and pick up the coastal Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail to the secluded Maha’ulepu Beach for some sun and snorkeling. On the walk back, check out Makauwahi Cave – one of the richest fossil sites in Hawaii. For awesome sunset views, head to either Salt Pond Park on the Hanapepe side or to Menehune Fishpond Overlook on the Lihue side.
On day two, get an early start and drive the scenic Waimea Canyon Drive. Admire the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” from dozens of lookouts and continue to Koke’e State Park where you can pick up a few hiking trails and enjoy spectacular views of the Na Pali Coastline. If you’re the active type, avoid the urge to stop at the scenic lookouts and start the day with the Awa’awapuhi Trail, where a rocky ledge from which incredible views of the Na Pali Coast is waiting for you. In the evening, head to Luau Kalamaku for the best Polynesian dance show in Kauai.
On day three, head up the coast to Hanalei Bay. En route, gaze at Wailua Falls from its lookout, stop for lunch at the Kilauea Fish Market, and visit the bird sanctuary at the Kilauea Lighthouse. Spend the rest of your day in Hanalei and its gorgeous bay – the largest in Kauai – and celebrate a successful day with sunset drinks at the Tahiti Nui Bar & Restaurant.
On day four, get an extra early start and drive to Ke’e Beach. Stretch your legs and hike part of the Kalalau Trail – one of the best hikes in Hawaii – to either Hanakapiai Beach or even further inland to Hanakapiai Falls (access permits now required). After the strenuous effort, get some beach and snorkel time in Tunnels Beach – the best beach in Kauai!
More from Hawaii
I hope you’ve found this 7 days in Hawaii sample itinerary helpful in building your own Hawaiian adventure. Want to see more of Hawaii? Guides to the best beaches, scenic drives and plenty more are all waiting for you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
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