Where to stay on Kauai

Poipu tropical gardens

This is something I know a little bit about, since I have been helping visitors to Kauai find the perfect place to stay for 18 years.     You might think it’s simple – and it is – but finding the vacation rental or Kauai accommodation that’s right for you is sometimes a little harder than you might think.   Read on for some basic advice on Where to Stay on Kauai.

The climate of the accommodation market on Kauai has also changed over the years, particularly over the last two years.    It’s very much a seller’s market at the moment so if you want a “deal” book way in advance.   There are not very many people offering last minute deals, not as much as before.

North Shore, East Side, South Shore, West Side     

Per my “Tips and Tricks for booing the best vacation rental  on Kauai”, it’s a good idea to pick one side of the island and stay there, especially if your trip is a week or under.   Moving around the island 2 and 3 times in a week is something I strongly advise against as many people have found to their chagrin that they spend their time in the car moving in and out of places with the habitual “check out at 10am and check in at 3pm earliest”  often with a bunch of groceries going off in the car too.    You can always drive to other parts of the island, it’s not that big, though yes, the traffic through Kapa’a and Lihue can be pretty bad in the middle of the day.

North Shore

More lush, tropical and green.  21 gorgeous beaches.   It does rain more on the North Shore, but most of that rain happens overnight, early morning and then the sun comes out.  More expensive real estate and rentals.   Lots of cottages and homes nestled in tropical grounds.   Hanalei is a lovely quaint town and features fabled Hanalei Bay.

Kauai's north shore

North Shore Kauai

Hanalei – see my post on Hanalei Town & Bay – is the  one place on island (along with Kapa’a) where you can get away with not having a car as you can stay anywhere from oceanfront on Weke Road to Hanalei town and you are always 5 mins to either beach or town.     The drive from Hanalei to the end of the road at Ke’e beach is the prettiest drive on the island (though at present still closed to all but residents following last year’s flood). The area north of Anahola to Princeville has a lot of lovely homes and cottages.    Kilauea town has become something of an oddity as it’s a very local town with lots of little houses and locals who live there… but now surrounded by upscale shops on both ends a the latest new development opening soon.     20 years ago it was just local Kilauea town, old sugar plantation town.   It’s funny to see island cards jostling along with super smart tourist cars.   But it works!  Anini beach, the area around Kilauea and Moloaa.    North Shore is for those who want seclusion, organic farms & little cottages up the road from the beach.    Those of you who want to “get away from it all”  – where to stay on Kauai. 

East Side   

Most populated area of the island.   Kapa’a town is authentic and hip.   The hills above Kapaa are lovely in some areas, particularly backing up to Makaleha :  Kahuna Road and Hopi’i Falls for example.  There are some great places around the mouth of the Wailua River and lots of resorts and rentals from Wailua to the north end of Kapa’a including the Courtyard Marriott.    Fewer beaches than the north shore (Kapa’a beach goes on forever) but stunning Kealia beach is gorgeous and a big Surfer beach.   

Wailua river

Wailua River Kauai

You can find some great rentals in Wailua around the river and along the beach in Kapa’a, Wailua.   There’s also Lydgate, great family beach and it’s a good half way point between North and South.   The Coco Palms Resort made famous by Elvis filming Blue Hawaii there is now running tours around the grounds… it was  badly hit by Iniki in ’92 and the building is crumbling… almost 30 years and no development yet.   This is due to Hawaiians not wanting buildings on a Sacred Site and where bones are buried.   It’s all fascinating history.   The Wailua river is the largest river on Kauai and the Royal Birth Stone sits at within the ahupua’a of Wailua near the river mouth.     If you are looking for where to stay on Kauai and want to be equidistant between the north and south shores, Kapa’a or Wailua is for you.  

 Kapa’a town hosts an “Art” night first Saturday of each month where stalls line the road and there’s literally salsa dancing in the street!   


South Shore & Lihue    

Lihue is the main town and where the airport is.   The Marriott is right there adjacent to Kalapaki Bay … it’s quite busy in Lihue and  obviously not at all secluded.   Nawiliwili Harbor (apart from having the greatest name for a harbor ever, don’t you think?) is cute and has great little places for shopping and watching the bay… especially Duke’s.   My favorite place to stay in Lihue and where I often go for a night when I land from a long trip is the old fashioned and old (it’s been there over 100 years) . Kauai Inn .    I love this place, only 5 minutes from the airport yet surprisingly quiet, backing up to the mountains just near the Huleia River.   Great rates too.     Old fashioned courtyard style around a swimming pool and you get a complimentary breakfast for the price.    As someone who used to consult to the major hotel chains (including Hyatt and Marriott) I really appreciate the local, Kauai style vibe of the Kauai Inn. 

Poipu on the South Shore has become the most “touristy” in terms of a number of Resorts including the Hyatt, Sheraton, various Astons, Lawai Beach Resort and more.    Upscale shopping area and good cafes and eating.  I was talking to someone recently who has been coming to Poipu for many years who was bemoaning the development and the circles and one way system now.   I see his point.   It is more developed than before but it’s still pretty cool.   


Poipu tropical gardens in resort

Koloa town is quite charming and way more interesting than Poipu in my view.    Authentic, with boutique shops and still the local vibe of the old Koloa planation town, it’s the best place on the South Shore.   Koloa landing is also my favorite place to sit by the ocean, though this too now has some more expensive developments around.   Poipu is considered the “Sunny” place to stay so if you want to be absolutely sure of sun, Poipu is your best bet, together of course with the dry, sunny West Side.

There are some great rentals in Koloa that are less “condo” focused.   Poipu is mostly condos and some large homes.    There is now a new development near the Golf Course ; upscale homes with ocean views.

West Side 

This is where you have the Waimea Canyon and the overlook to Kalalau Valley.   Waimea and Kekaha are the driest part of the island.. hardly ever rains.    It’s also not lush or green.   There are palm trees and Plumerias but it does not have the lush feel of the centre of the island and the North Shore.   Best Mangoes on island.. I suppose it’s the best place to grow them!     

Waimea town is authentic if a little rustic and is home to the original Aunty Lilikoi’s shop where you can buy terrific Liliokoi everything!    Also has the Russian Fort and a small boat harbor.     You can also sit on the beach and look out at the famous Niihau Island where you may not visit without a special invitation.    Hawaiians still live there though it is owned by non Hawaiians. 

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon easily accessible from West side Kauai

 If you are looking for a very local vibe.. this is where you find it.     There is also however the Pacific Missile Range but then there is also amazing Polihale beach – 7 miles of amazing beach and sand.   Fantastic place to camp (as many of us do).    Fantastic place to star gaze.    Go midweek when there are less people.     This is where the Hawaiians say “the souls depart”.   It’s an amazing place.   The Waimea Plantation Cottages is a good place to stay in Waimea town and also the cabins in Koke’e which is where the locals go to feel as though we are in Colorado or Wyoming with Pine trees and a cooler temperature!     There are also vacation rentals in around Waimea town.  Waimea is local, shaka. 

Types of Accommodation

Hotels, Motels & Timeshares

Kauai has everything from the upscale hotels :  St. Regis and the Westin in Princeville, the Hyatt in Poipu and the Marriott in Lihue to the budget motel type accommodation in Lihue.      It also has a range of Aqua resorts in Kapa’a and Poipu and similar mid level hotel accommodation and all the regular timeshare resorts.   So if your ideal accommodation is a pristine condo or suite where you can sip cocktails around the pool, you are covered on Kauai.   These you will find in Princeville on the North Shore and Poipu on the South shore.   Kapa’a now has the Courtyard by Marriott and a few more budget hotels such as the Aqua resorts and Plantation Gardens.   Neither Hanalei nor Waimea towns have any big hotel chains or resorts…. I believe local residents are happy about this!

Kauai Inn

Kauai Inn Lihue – top pick in Lihue

B & Bs .

There are not that many on Kauai, but there are some, ranging from very upscale to modest.   Most can be found on vrbo and other listing sites but just searching “b & b’s” on Kauai will bring results.

Vacation Rentals

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of vacation rentals on Kauai.   Rentals of every hue and color as it were; something for everyone.   Upscale, chic, “in”, regular family homes, pristine condos and cute cottages up the road from the beach.     20 years ago, people advertised their vacation rentals on vrbo (when it truly was “Vacation rentals by owners) and as a traveler, you could go on there, look at a listing and speak directly to the owner.     Now I hear many owners complain that those days are gone and how hard it is to market directly to guests due to airbnb and how vrbo and other online rental listings who have gone the same way.

On this subject, I have a very firm view!   I would never book anything anywhere without speaking to either the owner or manager who both know the property.   So for me, Airbnb is out as they control everything including taking money from both ends…. both the owners pay them a commission and so do the guests.   So guests, why not search a little further?    At some point I will do a post on this.. but my advice is always, book directly with the owner or property manager.   It is still possible, it’s just not as easy as booking an airbnb.  Certainly book with someone who actually lives on Kauai.    Photos on a listing do not show you everything and talking to a real person gives you a much better idea of what you are booking.    Note:  scammers don’t talk on the phone!    So be old fashioned… talk to people!

As for budget, there’s everything from an $80 studio with no cooking in Kapa’a (off season) to $15,000 a night.   Oh yes.   So  do a bit of research and be realistic about budget.    It’s good to look for a deal, but it’s also good to understand the market.    Anything ocean front is premium.   As is anything on acreage which is secluded.    Condos tend to be less expensive unless you are looking at some of the premium condo complexes.

It’s worth spending a bit of extra time doing research and talking to someone who lives on Kauai so you can decide where to stay on Kauai with some knowledge before you book

Have a wonderful stay on Kauai!





About the Author

Kauai Advisor ~ Francesca Azuremare ~ has lived on Kauai for 22 years. I feel blessed to live in such a magical, beautiful place. Over the years I have helped thousands of people find the perfect place to stay on Kauai whilst also advising on everything from places to propose to the best Na Pali boat ride. Now I'm sharing that information here. It's the Hawaiian way. Aloha!