Where to Stay on Kauai: Guide to the Best Areas, Hotels & Resorts

Where to stay in Kauai blog cover image.  Text overlaying an image of Hanalei Bay.

Choosing where to stay on Kauai will be the most important decision you will make for your vacation to the Garden Isle. It is important to find a location that meets your budget, needs, and is located in the region you plan to spend the most time.

In this guide, you will learn all about the best areas to stay in Kauai, as well as the most popular hotels, resorts, and accommodation options in those areas. This includes the pros and cons of staying in each region.

Before you begin, you may want to queue up some of our other Kauai travel guides to help you plan the rest of your Hawaiian vacation:

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How Many Days to Stay in Kauai

Aerial view of the Na Pali Coast in Kauai

One week is the perfect amount of time to stay in Kauai (though more time is never a bad thing!) The Garden Island is very small and the highlights can easily be explored in about 4-5 days. If you wish to attempt some of the longer hikes, such as the Kalalau Trail, or are planning to partake in tours, this is where extra time comes in handy.

When choosing where to stay on Kauai, you first need to answer the following question:

“Would I prefer to spend all of my time in one area to have a consistent home base, or would I prefer to divide my time between two or more areas in Kauai?”

Staying in ONE Area

Pros

  • Less time re-packing
  • Eliminate extra check-ins
  • Only one hotel decision

Cons

  • Increased driving times
  • Higher fuel costs
  • Only experience one place

Staying in TWO (or More) Areas

Pros

  • Shorter drives
  • More diverse experience
  • Save money on gas

Cons

  • Multiple hotel check-ins
  • Requires re-packing / unpacking

Princeville vs Poipu Quick Comparison

While there are more than just these two areas to stay in Kauai, the choice for most visitors comes down to either Princeville or Poipu. Each region of Kauai will be discussed in-depth in the next section, but it may be helpful to first understand the key differences between the two main options.

Princeville

  • Smaller hotels & vacation rentals
  • More affordable options available
  • Beach access may require driving
  • Better swimming during summer
  • Better surfing
  • Green and lush (but more rain)
  • Close to Kalalau Trail & Na Pali Coast

Poipu

  • More resorts & larger hotels
  • More expensive accommodation
  • Easier beach access
  • Better swimming during winter
  • Easy access to Na Pali Coast tours
  • Drier year-round
  • Close to Waimea Canyon & Koke’e

Our Recommendation

If you are staying at least 5 nights in Kauai, we recommend splitting your time between Poipu and Princeville. These are the two major hubs on the South and North Shore, respectively, allowing you to experience both sides of the island. It also means more time for exploring and less time in the car.

If you are staying 4 nights or less, however, it is probably easier to choose one region and eliminate unnecessary time dealing with packing and check-ins. Unless you are expecting to spend the majority of your time in one place, the best thing to do is browse current accommodation options and find the one with the best reviews that matches your budget, regardless of the region. Or, continue reading for our recommendations!

We have already arranged the perfect itinerary for a one-week Kauai vacation for you. It includes driving routes, destinations, tours, and more!

Best Area to Stay in Kauai

The four main areas to stay in Kauai are Princeville, Poipu, Wailua, and Lihue. Of these, Princeville and Poipu are the most popular places for family vacations, romantic getaways, and holidays. Wailua and Lihue are more appealing options for budget travelers.

There are also a few properties in Waimea on the west coast for those that are looking for adventure and a more remote getaway. However, this side of the island is largely undeveloped and will not be the best place to stay for most travelers to Kauai.

Below are descriptions of each of the best areas to stay in Kauai. Consider the pros and cons to decide which is the right option for you. And if you are staying a week or more on the Garden Island, consider dividing your time between at least two different areas to allow a more diverse experience!


Kauai South Shore – Poipu

Poipu, Koloa is the best area to stay on Kauai for resorts, hotels, and higher-end travel. This region features the largest collection of luxury resorts & hotels, golf courses, shopping, and golden sand beaches. The south shore is also the dry side of Kauai and has the best weather on the island!

As you might expect, with the luxury offerings come luxury pricing. Poipu is typically the most expensive area to stay, with competition only from Princeville. If you have saved up for the Hawaiian vacation of a lifetime and want to spoil yourself, this area will probably be the place you want to stay for at least part of your trip.

Poipu is the closest major city to all of the south shore attractions including Polihale State Park, Waimea Canyon, Koke’e State Park, and the best land-access views of the Na Pali cliffs via the Kalepa Ridge Trail. It is also a primary starting point for Na Pali Coast tours.

Best Places to Stay in Kauai – Poipu Region

Below are the best places to stay in Poipu based on guest reviews:


Kauai North Shore – Princeville & Hanalei

Princeville is the largest city on Kauai’s north shore. It can be thought of as the northern counterpart to Poipu. This is where you will find the majority of the high-end resorts, hotels, and services on the wet-side of the island.

If you want your Kauai vacation to feel like the brochure cover and don’t mind a few light rain showers, Princeville will be your best choice for places to stay. The extra precipitation creates a lush green landscape with all the right tropical feelings, as well as some of the best beaches in Hawaii. However, these beaches are not in as close of proximity as those to Poipu.

Princeville is the gateway to the famous Hanalei Bay. It is also the closest city to Queen’s Bath, Tunnels Beach, and the trailhead for what most consider the best hike on the island; the Kalalau Trail.

Those of you with the time and budget should consider splitting your time between Princeville and Poipu. This allows you to experience both sides of the island and shorten drives to the nearby destinations on each stretch of coast.

Best Places to Stay in Kauai – Princeville & Hanalei

Below are the best places to stay in Princeville and Hanalei based on guest reviews:


Kauai Central – Wailua & Kapa’a

Wailua / Kapa’a is the best area to stay in Kauai for budget travel. It is home to the only hostel on the Garden Isle (Kauai Beach House Hostel) and a wide variety of less-expensive accommodation options.

On top of the affordable pricing, Wailua is a beautiful place to explore. While the beaches leave something to be desired, this lush jungle is where you will find the best waterfalls on Kauai. Another popular activity is to rent a kayak and head up the Wailua River.

One additional advantage to finding accommodation in Wailua is that you will be in the exact center of the island, halfway between the north shore and south shore, and close to Lihue airport. If budget and centrality are your priorities, Wailua will be the best area to stay on Kauai for you!

Best Places to Stay in Kauai – Wailua & Kapa’a

Below are the best places to stay in Kapa’a and Wailua based on guest reviews:


Kauai Airport – Lihue

An interesting sunrise from the backyard of our AirBnB near Lihue.
An interesting sunrise from the backyard of our AirBnB near Lihue.

Lihue is a less popular area for most travelers to stay on their visit to Kauai. While it is certainly not a glamorous place to stay, it does have some advantages. Most notably, Lihue is the most budget-friendly part of the island.

The primary reason to stay in Lihue is affordability. It is where you will find inexpensive food and grocery options, such as Safeway, Walmart, and McDonald’s. As Lihue is not a destination and does not provide much in the way of sightseeing, it is usually the easiest place to find cheaper hotel and accommodation options.

One last advantage to choosing to stay in the Lihue region is that it is the closest city to the Kauai Airport (OGG) and is a fairly central home base overall.

Best Places to Stay in Kauai – Lihue Region


West Coast – Waimea

Of all the places to stay in Kauai, the west coast is the least popular with most visitors exploring Waimea as a day trip. It is far less developed than other parts of the island, with limited accommodation, dining, and shopping.

Although we wouldn’t recommend staying on the west coast for most people, Waimea provides a small hub for those looking for more seclusion or a remote getaway.

From here you will have quick access to some of the best scenery and hiking in Kauai including Waimea Canyon and Kōkeʻe State Park. It is also the pick up point for most Na Pali Coast boat tours.

For the truly adventurous or frugal, you could consider camping at Koke’e State Park. Reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance. Find out more on the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources website.

Best Places to Stay in Kauai – West Coast

Best Things to Do in Kauai

Photo of a group boat tour of the Na Pali coast.
A tour of the Na Pali coast, by boat or helicopter, are worthy of every Kauai bucket list!

The essential area explore outside of the resorts are the Na Pali coast, Waimea Canyon, Kalepa Ridge Trail, Queen’s Bath, Wailua Falls & Wailua River, and Hanalei Bay. However, these are just some of the many highlights.

For the ultimate Garden Island bucket list, browse our guide to the 35 Best Things to Do in Kauai.

Where to Stay on Kauai FAQs

The following are answers to the most frequently asked questions when choosing where to stay on Kauai. Click the dropdown arrows to reveal their answers.

What side of Kauai is the best to stay on?

Most visitors think Poipu on the South Shore of Kauai is the best to stay on because it is the dry side of the island and closer to the beaches. It is also the gateway city to Waimea Canyon, Koke’e State Park, Polihale, and the starting point for many Na Pali coast & Kauai tours.

The North side of Kauai is preferred for hikers and explorers who don’t mind seeking the hidden gems, or simply prefer the lush vegetation that exists on the wet side.

Where is the best area to stay on Kauai?

Princeville & Poipu are the best areas for resorts, hotels, and higher-end travel on Kauai. Wailua & Lihue are the best areas to find budget-friendly accommodation options.

Where should I stay in Kauai for the first time?

On your first visit to Kauai, you should split your time between Princeville and Poipu to experience both the north shore and south shore vibes. Additionally, this will limit the time you spend driving to explore the island as there are highlights on both sides of the island. If budget is a primary concern, consider staying in Lihue or Wailua instead.

Which is better – Poipu or Princeville?

Poipu is on the dry side of Kauai and is in closer proximity to golden sand beaches. Princeville is more green and lush due to the extra precipitation it receives, and is more about nature than beaches. Of course, it also boasts some incredible beaches of its own in Tunnels Beach & Hanalei Beach.

Both options are best for travelers wanting to stay in comfortable hotels and resorts. In fact, the best option is to divide your time between both Poipu and Princeville!

Other Kauai & Hawaii Guides

Sunset during high tide from Queens Bath on the North Shore of Kauai.
Don’t miss out on any of the hidden gems of the Garden Isle! Download our ultimate bucket list from our guide to the Best Things to Do in Kauai.

There is a lot that goes into planning the perfect Kauai vacation. Luckily, we have done a lot of the hard work for you!

Whether you are only visiting the Garden Isle or hopping over to some of the other Hawaiian Islands, you will find other helpful guides below to help you maximize your time in The Rainbow State. And don’t forget to ensure you have everything you need for your vacation with our Hawaii Packing List (complete with free printable checklist!).

Where to Stay on Kauai Final Thoughts

The cliffs of the Na Pali coast shrouded in mist.
No matter where you stay, be sure to make time for a tour of Na Pali coast.

We hope this travel guide has helped you find the best place to stay in Kauai for your big Hawaii holiday. With such an important decision to make, understanding all the pros and cons of each are important to consider.

If you found this post useful, please let us know in the comments below. Likewise, we truly appreciate any corrections or opportunities for improvement that you notice while reading. Finally, our inbox is always open if you have any questions you need more help answering: simply email us!

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2 thoughts on “Where to Stay on Kauai: Guide to the Best Areas, Hotels & Resorts”

  1. Your review is extremely thorough. This is the first time I’ve read such a detailed review, with pros and cons, links, rating and everything. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us. We will refer to the list you provided to choose our place to stay in Kauai

    Reply

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