Wondering where to stay in Kauai? Then read on. We’ve rounded up all the island has to offer, including the best parts of town, hotels, things to do, and much more. Just don’t blame us if you book a ticket after reading!
Why Visit Kauai?
Kauai is the fourth largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago and is nicknamed “The Garden Isle” for the lush tropical rainforests covering most of its land area. We’ll show you where to stay in Kauai, including the best towns and our favorite parts of the island.
People love to visit the island because it perfectly combines Hawaii’s nature with comfortable and welcoming towns and cities. When looking for a place to stay, you’ll want to find accommodations that give you easy access to the breathtaking national parks.
However, you’ll also want fun activities right outside your doorstep. There are several villages and towns along the outer rim of the island.
You’ll want to make sure you choose the right one. It can mean you’ll have something more exciting to do than just lay down and sleep when you return from the wilderness.
To help you make the most of your vacation, we rounded up our favorite destinations and hotels in Kauai. Try booking accommodations in multiple locations to ensure you experience everything the island has to offer.
Where to Stay in Kauai
While the island is fairly expansive, there are 5 main parts of Kauai:
- Princeville: Most Luxurious
- Kapa’a: Tourist-Friendly
- Lihue: Most Convenient
- Poipu: Most Scenic
- Waimea: Best for Hiking
Read on to learn about each of these in greater detail, including our hotel, dining, and activity recommendations.
If you want a close relationship with the ocean during your stay in Kauai, then you can’t go wrong with Princeville, located on the northern coast. The city was built on top of stunning seaside cliffs and overlooks the majestic Pacific Ocean below. You can take a stroll down to the beach every morning!
Perhaps, midway through your stay, you might grow tired of the beach. Nothing to worry about! You can also enjoy the lovely attractions inside the city. There are tons of delicious restaurants in Princeville with outdoor patios and gardens, so you won’t need to miss out on the weather.
Nearby you’ll find the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and Namalokama Mountain. The Wildlife Refuge is home to the diverse fauna you can find on Hawaiian islands. On Namalokama mountain, you can go for a hike and spot a couple of waterfalls.
This area is primarily for tourists with deep pockets. Princeville is full of stunning golf courses and multi-star resorts that cater to those with a massive budget. If you want to save on accommodations, you might be better off on a different part of the island.
Things to Do
Looking for something to do in Princeville, Kauai? Check our list below!
Pali Ke Kua Beach
If you wanted to stay in Princeville to get close to the ocean, you can’t get much closer than this. Pali Ke Kua Beach (Hideaways Beach) is just 20 minutes from Princeville’s center and has some fabulous snorkeling when the weather is calm.
The beach isn’t as famous as some of the other options on Kauai, so lay down your towel and enjoy some relaxation beneath the palms. You can get there by following Ka Haku road from Princeville. Just be careful at the head of the beach as it can get steep and slippery.
Taking pictures in the ocean can get kind of generic. Why not post some images from one of Hawaii’s most famous tide pools instead? Depending on water levels, Queen’s bath fills with beautiful pools of crystal clear water. They’re perfect for wading or observing tide pool ecosystems.
Hanalei Lookout and Hike
Going on a quick hike outside of Princeville will allow you to acquaint yourself with Hawaii’s wilderness. This hike to a lookout is only two miles from Princeville’s center. At the peak, you’ll see spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and landscapes.
Where to Eat
Here are our top places to eat in Princeville, Kauai.
Experience the finest food and products Hawaii has to offer at the Princeville Center. You’ll find an endless supply of local styles and cosmetic products. You can even take a yoga class to refresh your island zen.
The restaurants in the center are affordable and delicious. You can try some local delicacies at Tiki Iniki Restaurant and Bar. They also have a wide selection of delicious Asian Cuisine and some lovely coffee shops for a quick bite.
Lapperts Ice Cream
Lapperts is the perfect place to go after a hot Hawaiian day. You’ll be able to find your favorite flavor. They have tons. Try the caramel coconut macadamia for a rich taste of paradise.
How about a drink, some sushi, and a view? You can get all of that at the Princeville bar. It overlooks the Hanalei Bay and has some of the best sushi on the island. They also have first-class decorations and a responsive and courteous waitstaff.
In the region of East Kauai, you’ll find the friendly town of Kapa’a. While it’s home to just 10,000 people, it’s still the largest town on the island. It gets thousands of tourists every year due to its accessibility and Tourist-friendly infrastructure.
It’s one of the most popular accommodation destinations on Kauai. Beyond the many shops, restaurants, condos, and hotels, there’s also incredible scenery around this quiet tourist town.
The Nounou Mountain range, which hangs over it, resembles a “sleeping giant” and is an excellent place for hiking.
There are also some fabulous beaches near Kapa’a, which are usually pretty spacious and not overflowing with tourists. However, you’ll want to be careful in the waters around here because of some wild currents, which can be challenging to navigate.
Kapa’a is a fantastic place to stay if you want a nice resort or a condo with everything you need to feel comfortable close to you. You won’t have any trouble meeting people here or finding group activities. If you don’t like places with lots of tourists, then you might not want to stay here.
Things to Do
Here’s our list of the top things to do in Kapa’a, Kauai.
The Fern Grotto
You can find some wet and wild fun inside the island of Kuai as well. It’s not just limited to the ocean. Try renting a kayak or a boat and taking it down the Wailua River. If you’re not confident in your sailing skills, you can always hire a guide or take a tour.
At the pinnacle of your trip down the river, you’ll reach the Fern Grotto, a gorgeous rock formation decorated with thousands of hanging ferns. As you walk up to the grotto, you’ll also pass through a tropical plants garden with some of Hawaii’s most beautiful plants and flowers.
You won’t have to worry about strong currents here. Lydgate Beach has several small tide pools that will keep weak swimmers and children safe from the dangerous undertow. There’s always a lifeguard on duty, but be careful when swimming out in the open ocean.
The Sleeping Giant Trail (NouNou East Trail)
Hiking enthusiasts looking to challenge themselves will feel at home on this picturesque journey. You’ll climb up through Kauai’s canopy over 1,000 feet to reach stunning views of the valley and ocean below. We recommend starting early so you can beat the sun.
Where to Eat
Try some of these restaurants in Kapa’a for a tasty bite.
Tasting some of Hawaii’s natural juices is a must when visiting. Their fruits are unbelievably fresh, and Hawaii is one of the only places in the United States to find some of them. We recommend starting with coconut water, a Hawaiian classic.
Kapa’a has some of the best seafood restaurants on Kauai, thanks to its booming tourist population. JO2 might just be the best of the bunch. It might not be in the most impressive location. However, it makes up for it in attention to detail and culinary originality.
Who says you can’t find good tex mex in Hawaii? Monico’s perfectly blends fresh local ingredients with delicious and innovative recipes to create a unique and personal experience. Try some of their seafood burritos and tacos for an interesting flavor combination.
Lihue became a prominent city on Kauai in the 1800s when it became a large part of the sugar industry. Now it’s the second-largest town on Kauai. Lihue means “cold chill” in Hawaiian and perfectly represents the laid-back nature of the town and surrounding area.
Lihue has about 5.5 thousand people, and one of its biggest businesses is its local airport. Almost all flights go to Kauai land here, so if you want accommodation near the airport, this is one of the best places to find it.
This is also an excellent place to stay because you can get all your errands done. If you need to stop at a Home Depot, K-Mart, or Walmart, they all have locations in Lihue. It’s a good place for people who have an extra day between flights or want to do some shopping for the next leg of their vacation.
If you want to experience more of the island’s culture, then Lihue might not be the best place for it. While Lihue has a rich history, now it’s mostly just a small airport town. There are better places to stay if you want to link yourself to Hawaiian culture.
Things to Do
If you’re bored in Lihue and looking for something to do, try out some of these suggestions.
Uluwehi Falls (Secret Falls)
Hawaii is full of waterfalls, and none of them aren’t very secret. Despite its name, Uluwehi, AKA Secret Falls, is easy to access and well known. However, it’s still absolutely gorgeous and worth a quick visit.
You can visit the falls on guided kayak tours up the nearby river. The kayak trip is about 45 minutes, followed by a 20-minute hike up to the falls. Once you get there, you can go swimming in the falls and enjoy lunch.
The beach here is beautifully maintained and easily accessible to the public. You can practise surfing, swimming, and body-surfing here. Unlike some other swim spots on East Kauai, these waters are relatively calm and safe for children to swim.
This is the best place to go if you want to learn more about local culture and history. They have several exhibits about Kauai, Lihue, and their fascinating stories. They also have a small display space for local artists to showcase their work.
Where to Eat
If you’re hungry in Lihue, Kauai, you should try one of these places!
The Fish Express represents Lihue as one of their most popular restaurants. They have an interesting blend of island and Asian-inspired dishes, which will get your taste buds roaring. They’re perfect for any seafood lover. We recommend the fish tacos!
From Poke to pork chops, Gaylord’s has a little bit of something for everyone on the island. Its atmosphere is unique as well as the restaurant sits inside an old Kilohana plantation.
Don’t be ashamed! Put a little pineapple on your pizza. It’s customary in Hawaii. Or try some of the other flavors and meals they have at Pietro’s Pizza Kauai. They have other Italian food as well like pasta and bruschetta.
Staying on the south side of Kauai has its benefits as well. You’ll be incredibly close to the Kahili Mountains, and the famous Jurassic Park falls. You could stay inland on Hawaii’s first sugar plantation, Koloa, but we recommend Poipu.
Poipu is right in the middle of the Southern coast and sits directly on the water. You won’t have to drive to get your feet in the sand if you stay here. It has some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches on the island and some volcanic rock formations for a dramatic aesthetic.
You’ll have plenty of fun in the nearby ocean with a plethora of sea caverns and coral reefs to explore. This area is perfect for the whole family to enjoy, with tons of sheltered ponds and lifeguard services.
Since Poipu is a little bit further along the coast, it’s more remote than large towns like Lihue and Kapa’a. If you prefer to stay in large resorts with all the amenities nearby, then this might not be the best town for you.
Things to Do
Read on to find the best activities in Poipu, Kauai.
Poipu Beach Park
Poipu has one of the most unique and interesting beaches on the island. Nukomi Point separates the beach into two sandy bays with a narrow line between them. Monk seals like to nap on the east side and make for great photographs.
You’ll find a large sandbar and shallow waves on the west side, making the ideal climate for body surfing. There are also tide pools and a lava rock area for small children to swim.
Limahuli Garden and Preserve
This garden is a National Tropical Botanical Gardens member and has some wonderful native plants on display. You can reach it via a shuttle bus from Poipu. Many of the plants and birds here are endangered and exclusive to Hawaii’s unique biome.
The land you’ll walk on this trail is protected by the Hawaiian government and relatively underdeveloped compared to the rest of the island. You’ll pass famous sites like the Shipwreck Beach, sand-dune cliffs, and intricate limestone formations.
Where to Eat
When it’s time to sit down for a meal in Poipu, try one of our recommendations below.
If you’ve got a hankering for some classic American food, then there’s no better place to fill it. Bubbas Burgers has been making burgers on Kauai since 1936. They serve freshly ground beef burgers along with chicken, fish, and vegan options.
Dondero’s offers a classy Tuscan culinary experience in the middle of a tropical island. They have stylish and formal decor and an exceptional menu with a wide selection of Tuscan specialties. They are only open for dinner, so make a reservation!
After dinner, you can try out something new. Fresh Shave’s take on shaved ice is a healthier version of the sugary classic. They use all-natural organic ingredients and purchase them from local vendors.
Don’t confuse this with Waimea on Hawaii’s Big Island. Kauai has a Waimea of its own, and it has just as much appeal and pop. Situated on the west coast of Kauai, this former sugar plantation has scenery unlike anywhere else on the island.
Mountains and volcanoes surround the small town, matching the vibrant and dense green forests and patches of orange and red. Take in the befuddling landscapes on the hundreds of hiking trails nearby.
Ascending the beautiful Waimea Canyon will reward you with one of the best views on all of Kauai. If you don’t like to go for a trek, you might be better off at a beach resort. This town is all about inland adventures.
Things to Do
Get adventurous with these activities around Waimea, Kauai.
Ever wondered what the grand canyon would look like if it was in Hawaii and not a desert? Welcome to Waimea Canyon. The reddish hues of the canyon’s walls will amaze you as you explore it in search of waterfalls and fascinating rock formations.
Probably the best part of this hike is the views from the Pacific ocean as well. At certain peaks, you can look out onto the sea and down into the canyon at the same glance.
Polihale State Park
Polihale State Park has some of the more tranquil beaches on Kauai. It’s a great place to escape the hoard of tourists and enjoy some nature while you sunbathe. You can even rent a tent and stay the night in one of the nearby campsites.
Right above Waimea Canyon you’ll find the Koke’e Mountains. You won’t find many better views of the Kalalau Valley than the one from these peaks. The trails here are rough and not for inexperienced hikers, but all that works pays off in the end.
Where to Eat
All that hiking will work up an appetite! Try some of these fabulous restaurants in Waimea, Kauai.
This market has a Japanese-style deli counter full of fresh fish. You can get adventurous with your diet and try the kimchi sea snails or iidako (baby octopus). They’ll be happy to give you a taste before your purchase.
Normal potato chips are so boring! Venture into the nearby town of Hanapepe to test this old-school chip distributor’s delicious potato chips made from Taro. They have garlic salt seasoning and are the perfect crispy snack.
Nothing hits the spot after a long hike, quite like a good slab of meat. Try the succulent and flavorful pulled pork from Porky’s to rejuvenate you. They serve their signature sandwiches on Hawaiian buns, over rice, and in a grilled cheese sandwich.
Best Hotels in Kauai
Now that we’ve established the best places to stay in Kauai let’s learn about the island’s best hotels.
Kauai Beach House Hostel
For some people, it’s enough to just be on the island and enjoy. You don’t need a luxurious room with a view. Well, if you don’t mind sharing, then this hostel can be perfect for you. They have a friendly and helpful staff and a great location in Kapa’a
South Shore Kauai Gem
On the Southern Tip of Kauai, you’ll find a cozy hotel near Poipu and Koloa. It’s less than 2 miles from Lawai Bay Beach and has free wifi, AC, and an outdoor swimming pool. For traveling on a budget, you can’t find a better deal than this place.
Makai Club Resort
Most Resorts on Kauai are way too expensive for a mid-range budget. The Makai Resort Club adds affordability to the appeals of resort vacations. They have an outdoor pool and hot tub, and the property overlooks a scenic ocean view.
Sandpiper 120A from HGTV’s Hawaii Life
Who knows how to decorate a space better than HGTV? This fabulous bungalow was the star of HGTV’s Hawaii Life and is right next to the Princeville Shopping Center. This is the perfect space to rent out with some friends as it has a pool, BBQ, and a hot tub.
You’ll learn what it’s like to live on a Hawaiian Island as a local for a surprisingly affordable price.
Club Wyndham Bali Hai Villas
Why settle for a hotel room when you can have a villa? This resort defines luxury with its two outdoor pools and stunning grounds with a playground for children and tropical gardens. Don’t forget to try out the tennis courts and hot tub.
Your villa will have a fully equipped kitchen and a spacious living room. You’ll also have full laundry facilities.
Pono Kai represents the pinnacle of resort potential on Kauai. It has all the features you’d expect of Paradise. This resort truly has everything from their apartments with balcony access to stunning views of the surrounding mountain tops.
You’ll be staying very close to Waimea, so be sure to check out the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” during your stay.
Where Should You Stay in Kauai?
Now that you have all this information, where will you stay? Will you live it up with the finer things in Princeville or get some mud on your boots in Waimea? Did the small town appeal of Poipu catch your eye, or were you more intrigued by the large town of Kapa’a?
Whatever your favorite is, you have plenty of information above to make the best choice. Remember to include your future travel plans, itinerary, and your fellow travelers in your decision. Everyone has a different preference and with the right plan, everyone can be satisfied.
We hope this guide was helpful. Enjoy your vacation!