πŸ– Where to Stay on Kauai: Pros & Cons of Each Area (2024)

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

Choosing where to stay on Kauai is the most crucial decision you need to make when planning your vacation to the Garden Isle.

Your accommodation should be within budget, provide comfort, and be located in the region where you plan to spend the most time.

In this guide, I will describe the best areas to stay in Kauai by comparing the most important factors for you to consider. This includes average costs, climate, beaches, availability of services, and things to do nearby.

In addition, I will provide reviews and recommendations for hotels, resorts, and alternative accommodation options in each of those areas.

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πŸŒ… Staying in One Area vs. Multiple Areas

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?”

Aerial view of the Na Pali Coast in Kauai

One week is the perfect time to stay in Kauai (though more time is always good!)

The Garden Island, as it is colloquially known, is very small. You can easily explore all of the highlights within 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.

Pros & Cons of 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

Pros and Cons of 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

🏝 Comparing the Two Best Areas: Princeville vs. Poipu

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.

I will discuss each region of Kauai in great detail in the next section. First, it may be helpful to understand the key differences between the two main options.

Princeville

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

Poipu

  • More resorts & larger hotels
  • The least rainfall on the island
  • More expensive accommodation
  • Easier beach access
  • Better swimming during winter
  • Easy access to NaPali Coast tours
  • Close to Waimea Canyon & Koke’e

πŸ† My Recommendation for Where to Stay in Kauai

If you will stay at least five nights in Kauai, I recommend splitting your time between Poipu and Princeville.

Poipu is the primary hub of the Kauai South Shore, as is Princeville to the Kauai North Shore.

By dividing your time between them, you properly experience both sides of the island. It also means more exploring and less time driving.

If you have four nights or less on Kauai, I recommend most people stay only in Poipu.

Understand that this is a subjective decision. There are many good reasons to choose a different area based on which factors you personally prioritize.

⚠️ SUGGESTED RELATED GUIDE:
THE PERFECT 7-DAY KAUAI ITINERARY

🌴 Best Areas to Stay in Kauai Explained

The four best areas to stay in Kauai, ranked in order of popularity, are:

  1. Princeville
  2. Poipu
  3. Wailua
  4. Lihue

Princeville and Poipu are the best areas to stay in Kauai for most visitors. This is especially true for family vacations, romantic getaways, and holidays.

Wailua and Lihue are appealing options for budget travelers specifically. However, these regions are the furthest away from tropical beaches and most of the island’s best destinations.

There are also a few properties in the Waimea area on the west coast of Kauai. I do not recommend this option except to those seeking a remote getaway as this side of the island is largely undeveloped.

In the next section, I will provide in-depth descriptions of each of the best areas to stay in Kauai. Consider the pros and cons laid out for you and decide which is your favorite option.

If you are staying a week or more, I suggest dividing your time between at least two different areas to allow a more diverse experience!


β˜€οΈ Kauai South Shore – Poipu Region

Poipu is the best area to stay on Kauai for most vacationers. It features the best weather, hotels, beaches, and luxury services on the island.

Poipu is located on the Kauai South Shore, which is the dry side (leeward side) of Kauai,

The South Shore region is where you will find the largest collection of luxury resorts & hotels, tennis courts, golf courses, shopping, and golden-sand beaches.

As you might expect, with the luxury offerings come luxury pricing, especially for ocean-view accommodation!

Poipu is the most expensive area to stay on Kauai, comparable only to Princeville. If you have saved up for the Hawaiian vacation of a lifetime and want to spoil yourself, this area will be the place you want to stay in.

Poipu is the closest major city to all of the South Shore natural attractions. These include Polihale State Park, Waimea Canyon, Koke’e State Park, and the Kalepa Ridge Trail. It is also the starting point for many Na Pali Coast boat tours.


Best Places to Stay near Poipu

Below are the best hotels, resorts, and places to stay in Poipu based on guest reviews:


🌺 Kauai North Shore – Princeville & Hanalei Bay Region

Princeville is the largest city on the Kauai North Shore. The North Shore is the wet side (windward side) of Kauai.

Princeville is where you will find the majority of the high-end resorts, hotels, and services on this side of the island.

If you want your Kauai vacation to look like a brochure cover and don’t mind a few light rain showers, this may be the best choice for you.

I personally prefer the North Shore for its striking natural beauty and photography opportunities. The extra precipitation creates a lush green landscape that surrounds pristine beaches.

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 Kauai – 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 while decreasing drive times throughout your vacation.


Best Places to Stay near Princeville & Hanalei

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


🌈 Kauai Central – Wailua & Kapa’a Region

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 affordable accommodations.

In addition to lower-priced hotels, 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 choosing accommodation in Wailua is the central location. This region is located near the Lihue airport and is halfway between the Kauai North Shore and South Shore.

If budget and centrality are priorities for your trip, Wailua will be the best area to stay on Kauai for you!


Best Places to near Wailua & Kapa’a

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


✈️ Kauai Airport – Lihue Region

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

Most visitors do consider Lihue as an option, but it is the most budget-friendly area to stay in Kauai.

Lihue 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 also the easiest place to find bargain 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).


Best Places to Stay near Lihue


🌊 Kauai West Coast – Waimea Region

Of all the areas to stay in Kauai, the West Coast is the least popular option. Most visitors explore the Waimea on a day trip, but few stay overnight nearby.

The West Coast of Kauai is far less developed than other parts of the island. Options for accommodation, dining, and shopping are extremely limited.

I wouldn’t recommend this area for most of you, but Waimea does provide a unique and affordable opportunity for those seeking seclusion for a remote getaway.

From Waimea, you will have easy access to some of the best scenery and hiking in Kauai. The most notable areas to explore nearby are Waimea Canyon and Kōkeʻe State Park.

For the truly adventurous or extremely frugal, consider camping at Koke’e State Park. After all, campsites are much cheaper than hotels or vacation homes!

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 on the Kauai West Coast

πŸ€” FAQs About Where to Stay in Kauai

In this section, you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions that future visitors have 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?

The South Shore of Kauai is the leeward (dry) side, making it the best side to stay on. 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 by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who don’t mind the higher rate of precipitation.

🏝 Where is the best area to stay on Kauai?

Princeville & Poipu are the best areas to stay in Kauai, featuring the widest array of resorts, hotels, and accommodations. Wailua & Lihue are the best areas to find budget-friendly accommodation options.

πŸ₯₯ 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 drive times for any sightseeing you wish to do around Kauai.

For more budget-friendly options, consider staying in Lihue or Wailua instead.

🍍 Which is better – Poipu or Princeville?

Most visitors prefer Poipu over Princeville due to the drier climate and closer proximity to beaches.

Princeville receives significantly more rainfall than Poipu, creating a lush landscape adored by hikers and nature lovers. It also boasts some incredible beaches, with Tunnels Beach & Hanalei Beach being the most popular.

Both Poipu and Princeville are great options for travelers seeking comfortable hotels and resorts.

🍹 More Kauai & Hawaii Travel 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.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

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

if you enjoyed this Kauai travel guide, you will want to browse some of our other blogs to help plan the rest of your trip.

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.

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Where to Stay on Kauai

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.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

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 is 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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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

4 thoughts on “πŸ– Where to Stay on Kauai: Pros & Cons of Each Area (2024)”

  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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