A First-Timer’s Look at the Best Area to Stay on Kauai

Are you thinking about booking a trip to Kauai? Keep scrolling to find out the best areas to stay on Kauai plus our top picks for hotels and resorts.
This list of the best areas to stay in Kauai Hawaii contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Kauai, often called the “Garden Isle,” is a dreamy island in Hawaii filled with lush green landscapes, shimmering beaches, and hidden gems.

For anyone visiting Kauai for the first time, picking the right place to stay can make all the difference in their trip.

Just like choosing the best seat in a movie theater can give you a great view, picking the perfect spot on Kauai can lead to unforgettable memories.

So, let’s dive in and discover the best areas to make your Kauai experience truly special!

Overview of Kauai’s Main Regions

Ah, Kauai! Each corner of this magnificent island offers a different taste of paradise. Let’s explore the main regions to help you figure out the best area for your Kauai adventure.

North Shore (Princeville, Hanalei)

Vibe: A mix of lush beauty and luxury.

The North Shore is a blend of breathtaking green mountains, cascading waterfalls, and gorgeous beaches. Places like Princeville are known for luxury resorts, while Hanalei offers a more laid-back vibe with its charming town atmosphere.

This area is a go-to for travelers wanting a serene getaway with a touch of opulence. When you’re here, the Na Pali Coast is a must-see!

East Side (Kapaa, Wailua)

Vibe: Lively towns and scenic views.

The East Side, often called the “Coconut Coast,” is a vibrant area that is quite popular among travelers. Kapaa, with its lively town feel, offers numerous shops, restaurants, and beachfront views.

Just south, Wailua has scenic wonders like the Wailua River and Fern Grotto.

This region is ideal for those wanting a mix of relaxation and action. Plus it’s centrally located which makes traveling to other parts of Kauai a breeze.

Find out the best time to visit Hawaii with tips by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Guides. Image of Majestic twin Wailua waterfalls on Kauai, Hawaii
Check out Wailua Falls on the East Side.

South Shore (Poipu, Koloa)

Vibe: Sunny days and beach fun.

The South Shore is often drenched in sunshine, making it perfect for beach lovers. Poipu Beach is a traveler’s favorite, known for its golden sands and friendly sea turtles.

Nearby, the historic town of Koloa offers a peek into Kauai’s past and has several unique shopping spots. If you’re after sunny skies, fantastic snorkeling, and a beach resort feel, the South Shore is your pick.

West Side (Waimea, Hanapepe)

Vibe: A journey back in time.

The West Side is often less frequented by tourists, giving it an old Hawaii feel. Waimea is home to Waimea Canyon, often dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” This natural wonder offers jaw-dropping views and numerous hiking opportunities.

Meanwhile, Hanapepe, with its old-style wooden buildings, is a town that seems frozen in time. It hosts the popular Hanapepe Art Night every Friday, where you can enjoy local art and delicious food.

This region is perfect for explorers and those seeking a quieter, more authentic Hawaiian experience.

Each area of Kauai has its own magic. Depending on what you’re seeking – whether it’s luxurious relaxation, shopping and beach fun, or an adventure into nature – there’s a perfect spot waiting for you.

Remember, no matter where you choose to stay, the beauty of Kauai will surely captivate your heart.

North Shore: The Lush Paradise

Imagine waking up to the sound of waves gently crashing on the shore, with towering green mountains peeking through the morning mist. This is the North Shore of Kauai, a true lush paradise.

Let’s dive deep into what makes this region so special.

Description of North Shore Kauai and Its Top Attractions

The North Shore’s Enchanting Beauty

Kauai’s North Shore is often described as the “green heart” of the island. It’s where the mountains meet the sea, resulting in some of the most scenic landscapes imaginable. The vivid green cliffs give a dramatic backdrop to the azure waters below.

Hanalei Bay

At the center of this paradise is Hanalei Bay, a crescent-shaped beach with golden sands. It’s perfect for laying back with a good book or trying out some surfing.

Image of Hanalei Bay and pier on Kauai
Hanalei Bay in North Shore Kauai.

The Hanalei Pier is an iconic spot here, where both locals and tourists come to fish, play, and watch the sunset.

Na Pali Coast

A bit further out, you’ll find the Na Pali Coast. These towering cliffs are one of Hawaii’s most famous sights. You can view them by boat, helicopter, or, for the adventurous souls, via a challenging hike on the Kalalau Trail.

Limahuli Garden and Preserve

For those who want to understand the unique plants and history of Hawaii, this botanical garden is a must-visit. It offers beautiful views and showcases native plants and ancient terraces.

Types of North Shore Kauai Accommodations Available

Luxury Resorts

Places like Princeville offer high-end resorts with all the pampering amenities you can think of – think oceanfront rooms, spa services, and golf courses.

Vacation Rentals

Scattered around towns like Hanalei, there are plenty of vacation rentals available. From cozy beachfront cottages to more spacious family homes, there’s something for every group size and budget.

Bed and Breakfasts

For those wanting a more intimate feel of the North Shore, there are several bed and breakfasts run by locals. It’s a great way to get insider tips on hidden gems in the area.

Image of Limahuli Garden on Kauai
Limahuli Garden in North Shore Kauai. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

North Shore Kauai is Ideal for:

Nature Enthusiasts

With its diverse landscapes, from beaches to mountains and gardens, the North Shore is a playground for those who love nature.

Whether you’re hiking up the trails, snorkeling in the clear waters, or simply taking a scenic drive, there’s always something to marvel at.

Beach Lovers

Golden sands, clear waters, and vibrant marine life make the North Shore’s beaches some of the best in Hawaii. Whether you’re looking to sunbathe, surf, or build sandcastles, these beaches are sure to captivate.

Kauai’s North Shore is a dream destination for many, and it’s easy to see why. Its unmatched natural beauty, combined with a variety of accommodations, makes it perfect for any traveler.

Whether you’re a nature buff or just someone seeking relaxation by the beach, the North Shore welcomes you with open arms and promises an experience like no other.

East Side: The Cultural Heartbeat

If you’ve ever dreamed of diving into the authentic Hawaiian culture while also enjoying beautiful beachfront views, the East Side of Kauai awaits you.

Also known as the “Coconut Coast,” this side of the island offers a rich blend of history, mouth-watering cuisine, and scenic beauty.

Exploring Kapaa Town and Wailua’s History

Kapaa Town

Walking through Kapaa town feels like taking a joyful step back in time. This bustling town brims with small shops, art galleries, and local eateries.

As you stroll around, don’t forget to stop at some of the craft fairs or farmer’s markets. They’re fantastic spots to pick up unique gifts and try fresh, tropical fruits.

Wailua’s Rich History

Not far from Kapaa, the Wailua area stands as a testament to Kauai’s ancient culture. The Wailua River, Hawaii’s only navigable river, was once home to Hawaiian royalty.

As you explore this area, you’ll find the remains of seven sacred heiaus (temples). A kayak trip or riverboat cruise will offer you a closer look at this river’s significance and its serene beauty.

Image of View of Wailua River from Poliahu Heiau on Kauai
View of Wailua River from Poliahu Heiau on Kauai. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Types of Accommodations

The Coconut Coast offers a mix of lodging options suitable for various budgets:

Hotels and Resorts

While not as luxurious as some resorts on other parts of Kauai, the hotels here are comfortable, with many offering ocean views and tropical garden surroundings.

Kauai Vacation Rentals

From condos to family homes, there’s a plethora of rentals available. This option lets you feel like a local, with the comfort of home.


For those on a tight budget, there are also hostels available, providing a more communal and cost-effective experience.

Coconut Palm tree on the sandy beach in Hawaii, Kauai
Kapaa is part of the Coconut Coast.

Kauai’s East Shore is Ideal for:

Budget Travelers

The East Side, with its range of affordable accommodations and eateries, is a haven for travelers on a budget. You get to experience Kauai’s beauty without emptying your pockets.

Cultural Seekers

If diving deep into Hawaiian culture is on your bucket list, this is the place. Between Kapaa’s vibrant town life and Wailua’s historical sites, you’ll leave with a richer understanding of Kauai’s heritage.

Kauai’s East Side is a delightful blend of the past and present, of nature and culture. For those eager to immerse themselves in the local life while also enjoying the island’s natural beauty, this part of Kauai is a treasure trove of experiences.

Dive into the stories, flavors, and sights of the cultural heartbeat of Kauai, and you’ll surely come back with memories to cherish.

South Shore Kauai: The Sunny Retreat

Shining bright with golden sand and plenty of sun, Kauai’s South Shore is a dream come true for beach lovers. If you’re in the mood for sparkling waters, exciting water sports, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere, the South Shore’s got you covered!

Overview of Poipu’s Beaches and Activities

Poipu Beach

This is one of Kauai’s most famous beaches, and for a good reason! Poipu Beach is actually two beaches in one. The crescent-shaped land is divided by a narrow sand spit, creating two separate bays.

Its waters are clear, making it perfect for snorkeling. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some endangered Hawaiian monk seals sunbathing on the shore!

Image of Poipu Beach on Kauai
Poipu Beach is fantastic for families.


Beyond just lounging in the sun or building sandcastles, Poipu offers a lot for the adventurous at heart:

Snorkeling: Dive into the vibrant underwater world. With a pair of snorkels, you can discover colorful fishes, sea turtles, and intricate coral reefs.

Surfing: Whether you’re a beginner or pro, the waves here are suitable for all levels.

Whale Watching: Visit between December and March, and you might catch humpback whales breaching and playing in the waters!

Accommodations Ranging from Luxury Resorts to Vacation Rentals

Luxury Resorts

The South Shore is home to some of the island’s most luxurious resorts. They often come with beautiful ocean views, spa services, golf courses, and world-class dining options. It’s pure indulgence!

Mid-Range Hotels

If you’re looking for comfort without the luxury price tag, there are several hotels that offer great amenities, like pools, beach access, and restaurants.

Vacation Rentals

Want to feel more at home? Opt for a vacation rental! From cozy beachfront cottages to spacious condos, there’s a wide selection. This option often gives you the added benefits of a kitchen, multiple bedrooms, and a living area.

Image of Spouting Horn on Kauai
Spouting Horn is a popular Poipu attraction.

Kauai’s South Shore is Ideal for:


The South Shore, especially Poipu, is incredibly family-friendly. The calm waters at many beaches are safe for kids to splash around in. Plus, there are plenty of activities to keep both the young and young-at-heart entertained.

Water Sports Enthusiasts

From snorkeling and surfing to paddleboarding, the South Shore is a water-lover’s paradise. The crystal-clear waters and consistent waves provide the perfect playground for aquatic adventures.

Kauai’s South Shore is the sunny retreat you’ve been dreaming of. It seamlessly combines relaxation with excitement, offering both serene beach moments and heart-pounding water activities.

Whether you’re with family, traveling solo, or on a romantic getaway, the South Shore’s beauty and charm will leave you mesmerized and eager for more!

West Side: The Rugged Adventure

The West Side of Kauai is like stepping into a time machine. This part of the island is rugged, less developed, and feels like old Hawaii.

From the dramatic landscapes of Waimea Canyon to the quaint vibes of Hanapepe town, the West Side offers a unique experience away from the usual tourist hustle and bustle.

Introduction to Waimea Canyon State Park

Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon State Park is a must-visit. It’s not every day you get to see a massive canyon on a tropical island! The vibrant colors of the rock layers, combined with green vegetation and cascading waterfalls, make this place truly magical.

View into the Grand Canyon of the Pacific or Waimea Canyon island of Kauai in the Hawaiian islands
Waimea Canyon is one of the top places to see on Kauai.

There are various viewpoints and trails, suitable for both beginners and experienced hikers. So, whether you just want to take in the view or hike down the trails, there’s something for everyone.

Hanapepe Town

Hanapepe is a little gem that many travelers overlook, and that’s a big part of its charm. This historic town feels like you’ve stepped back in time with its old wooden buildings and swinging bridge.

Every Friday evening, the town comes alive with an art walk where local artists showcase their works. There are also cute boutiques, bookstores, and some delicious local eateries to explore.

Don’t forget to try the famous “Hawaiian Sweet Bread” from one of the local bakeries!

Accommodation Options for Those Seeking Solitude

The West Side is less touristy, which means accommodations are fewer but definitely unique:

Bed and Breakfasts

Experience true Hawaiian hospitality by staying in a B&B. Local hosts often provide personal touches, local breakfasts, and can give insider tips about the area.

Vacation Rentals

If you’re looking for a place that feels like home, consider renting a cabin or house. Some are tucked away in secluded areas, offering complete solitude and close encounters with nature.

Small Hotels

There are a few hotels around, providing a mix of local charm and essential amenities. They’re usually quieter and more personal than big resorts.

Wide angle view of the famous wooden suspension swinging bridge to cross the river in Hanapepe Kauai
The Hanapepe Swinging Bridge is a popular tourist spot.

West Kauai is Ideal for:

Adventure Seekers

With Waimea Canyon offering several hiking trails, the West Side is perfect for those wanting to explore nature. Plus, there are opportunities for hunting, fishing, and off-road adventures.

Those Looking for an Off-the-Beaten-Path Experience

If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to explore areas that aren’t crowded with tourists, the West Side is for you. It’s less commercialized, offering a more genuine experience of Kauai.

The West Side of Kauai is for those who want to experience the island in its raw beauty. It’s a place where nature, history, and culture collide, giving visitors a unique and memorable experience.

So if you’re the adventurous type, or just someone who wants a quieter Hawaiian vacation, the West Side is calling your name!

Comparing Costs: Accommodations Across Regions

If you’re planning your first trip to Kauai, you might be wondering about the cost of staying in this beautiful island paradise. Accommodations can vary widely in price depending on the region and the type.

Let’s break down the average costs and give you some tips on how to save!

Average Prices for Different Accommodations on Kauai

Kauai Hotels

North Shore: As this is a lush paradise, expect hotel prices to be a bit steeper, often starting at $350 per night.

East Side: This is Kauai’s cultural hub. You can find mid-range hotels starting around $200 per night.

South Shore: With its sunny beaches, hotels here start at around $300 per night.

West Side: This rugged area is less touristy, so hotels can start at a more affordable $180 per night.

B&Bs (Bed and Breakfasts)

Across the island, B&Bs offer a more intimate experience. Prices typically range from $100 to $250 per night, depending on location and amenities.

Kauai Vacation Rentals

These can vary widely based on size and location. On average, you might spend anywhere from $100 to $500 per night. A cozy condo in Kapaa might cost $150 per night, while a luxury beachfront house in Poipu could be $450 or more.

Kilauea lighthouse on a sunny day in Kauai, Hawaii Islands.
Kilauea Lighthouse is a fun stop on a scenic drive along North Shore Kauai.

Tips for Snagging Kauai Deals and Discounts

Book Early

Especially during peak seasons, accommodations fill up fast. By booking months in advance, you can often get a better rate.

Travel During Off-Peak Times

Kauai has times of the year when it’s less crowded. Consider traveling during these periods for better deals.

Stay Longer

Some places offer discounts if you stay for a week or more. If you have the time, it might save you money!

Check Directly with Accommodation

Sometimes, booking directly through the hotel or B&B website can get you a special rate or offer.

Join Loyalty Programs

If you’re staying at a chain hotel, they might have a rewards program that offers discounts for members.

Bundle and Save

Some travel websites offer discounts if you book your flight, car rental, and accommodation together.

Remember, while it’s great to get a good deal, it’s also essential to stay somewhere that fits your needs and travel style. Think about what activities you want to do, and choose a place that’s convenient for you.

With a little research and planning, you can enjoy Kauai without breaking the bank!

Activities to Consider in Each Area of Kauai

Kauai, known as the Garden Isle, is packed with activities and adventures waiting for you. When you’re picking where to stay, it’s a great idea to think about what you’d like to do.

This way, you can be close to the action and save time traveling! Here’s a handy guide to key attractions in each region:

North Shore (Princeville, Hanalei)

Beach Day: Hanalei Bay is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and even a little surfing.

Hike: The Kalalau Trail offers breathtaking views of the Na Pali Coast. Remember to wear comfy shoes!

Visit: The Limahuli Garden & Preserve, a beautiful botanical garden.

East Side (Kapaa, Wailua)

Historic Journey: Explore the old town of Kapaa, filled with cute shops and rich history.

River Fun: Rent a kayak or take a river cruise in Wailua River State Park.

Natural Beauty: Don’t miss Opaekaa Falls, a spectacular waterfall.

South Shore (Poipu, Koloa)

Snorkel Time: Poipu Beach Park is one of the best spots to snorkel and see colorful fish.

History Lesson: Visit Old Koloa Town to learn about the island’s sugar plantation past.

Beach Relaxation: Spend an afternoon at Shipwreck’s Beach, especially if you love sunsets!

West Side (Waimea, Hanapepe)

Nature’s Wonder: You have to visit Waimea Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Swing By: Hanapepe’s swinging bridge and charming art galleries.

Sea Adventure: Consider a boat tour to see the Na Pali Coast from a different angle.

Planning Your Itinerary: Tips for an Awesome Stay

Stay Local

To minimize travel time, plan activities close to where you’re staying. For example, if you’re in the North Shore, spend a day exploring nearby attractions before venturing out to other parts of the island.

Cluster Activities

If there’s a particular activity you want to do in a different region, see what else is nearby. This way, you can make the most out of your travel time.

Ask Around

Locals and hotel staff often know the best times to visit certain spots. They can help you avoid crowds and make the most of your day.

In the end, Kauai has something for everyone, no matter where you decide to stay. By planning ahead, you can make sure you’re right in the middle of the action and enjoy every moment of your trip!

Tips for Getting Around Kauai

Hey, first-timer! So you’ve picked Kauai for your next adventure and you’re wondering about the best ways to get around? Don’t sweat it! Let’s dive into your options.

Renting a Car on Kauai: The Freedom of the Road

Pros: Having your own car means freedom! You can set your own schedule, visit remote spots, and carry all the beach gear you want.

Cons: It can be a bit pricey once you add up rental fees, gas, and parking. Plus, some areas have limited parking.

Using Public Transportation: The Kauai Bus

Pros: The Kauai Bus is super affordable and covers major routes on the island. It’s an eco-friendly way to travel, and you won’t have to worry about parking.

Cons: Buses run on a schedule, which might not match yours. They also don’t reach all the remote spots, so you could miss out on some hidden gems.

Driving in Kauai: Important Tips for First-Timers

Watch Your Speed

Kauai isn’t a place where you want to rush. Speed limits are lower than on the mainland, often around 25-35 mph, and they’re enforced. Plus, driving slowly lets you enjoy the views!

One-Lane Bridges

You’ll find several one-lane bridges, especially on the North Shore. Here’s the unwritten rule: let about 5-7 cars pass from one side, then it’s the other side’s turn. Simple and polite!

Roosters on the Road

Yes, you read that right! Kauai has lots of wild chickens. They’re cute but can dart onto roads unexpectedly, so keep an eye out.

Gas Up Early

Some parts of the island have long stretches without gas stations. If you’re going on an adventure, fill up your tank beforehand.

Your choice of transportation on Kauai really depends on what kind of trip you want. If you’re all about exploring on your own terms, renting a car might be best. But if you’re okay with a slower pace and sticking to main areas, the bus could be your ticket.

Whatever you decide, remember to enjoy the journey and the stunning scenery Kauai offers at every turn!

Image of Anini Beach on Kauai
It’s easiest to get to Anini Beach if you rent a car.

Final Recommendations

As we wrap up our guide, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and revisit the amazing areas of Kauai we’ve talked about. Each spot on this island has its unique charm, so the best place for you will really come down to what makes your heart sing!

North Shore (Princeville & Hanalei)

Remember the lush landscapes and relaxed vibes? This is a paradise for nature lovers and those who dream about lazy days on pristine beaches.

East Side (Kapaa & Wailua)

If culture and history are your things, the East Side is where it’s at. Plus, Kapaa town offers cool shops and restaurants, all with that distinct Kauai feel.

South Shore (Poipu & Koloa)

For those craving sunshine and water sports, the South Shore is your sunny haven. Whether you’re snorkeling or just lounging by the shore, you’re in for a treat!

West Side (Waimea & Hanapepe)

Craving a bit of adventure? The rugged landscapes of the West Side, including the breathtaking Waimea Canyon, are perfect for those with an adventurous spirit.

So, which region is tugging at your heartstrings? When choosing the best spot, think about the activities you’re most excited about. Are you dreaming of hiking through lush forests, diving into history, or just laying on the beach with a good book? Your answer will guide you to your perfect Kauai spot.

One last piece of advice: Listen to your heart! Kauai is an island with a strong spirit. No matter where you decide to stay, the island’s beauty and aloha spirit will make it a trip to remember. Embrace the journey, enjoy the discoveries, and let Kauai’s magic wash over you.

Where to Stay on Kauai FAQs

What are the best hotels near Hanalei Bay?

Some of the best hotels near Hanalei Bay include the Hanalei Bay Resort and 1 Hotel Hanalei (formerly the St. Regis Princeville Resort.)

What resorts are near Shipwreck Beach?

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa and the Poipu Kai Resort are among the top resorts near Shipwreck Beach.

What are the best hotels along the Coconut Coast?

Popular hotels along the Coconut Coast include the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Coast and Kauai Shores Hotel.

Is the Princeville Resort still there?

No, it closed and it’s now 1 Hotel Hanalei.

What are the best budget-friendly hotels on Kauai?

For budget-friendly options on Kauai, consider staying at the Kauai Palms Hotel, Kauai Shores Hotel, or the Aston Islander on the Beach.

Places to Stay in Kauai Wrap-Up

Kauai is truly a gem, where every corner has its own sparkle. Whether you choose the sun-kissed beaches of the South Shore or the rugged beauty of the West Side, each area offers a slice of the island’s magic.

No matter where you decide to stay, Kauai’s breathtaking nature and rich culture will be right at your doorstep. So, dive in, explore, and let the island’s charm make your trip unforgettable.

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