The island of Kauai stands out for its rugged, natural beauty. No matter which corner of the island you find yourself in, you will be taken aback by just how untamed Kauai remains.
The endless waterfalls, dormant volcanic calderas, and dense rainforests take you back in time and away from all concerns. Kauai can be divided into four distinct regions: North Shore, South Shore, East Coast, and West Coast.
On the North Shore, you’ll see the full force of nature on display with jagged mountainsides and seacliffs.
The South Shore will remind you of any postcard photo of Hawaii with sunbathed beaches and palms.
The East Coast is where the people are and it’s a fantastic place to visit if you want to be close to the action.
The West Coast serves as a reminder of the unbelievable majesty of nature, with scenes to rival the Grand Canyon.
In the following guide on where to stay in Kauai, we go over each region in greater detail. We highlight some of the reasons for visiting each, as well as mention some of the top accommodations available in each area. Read on to find out what The Garden Island has in store for you.
Where To Stay In Kauai
The North Shore of Kauai offers some of the most spectacular views of the raw untouched beauty on the island. This is the place to go to check out rugged mountains with impressive valleys and sea cliffs with huge drops into the deep blue waters of the Pacific.
All of this rests along the Nāpali Coast, 17 miles of coastline that perfectly sum up the glory of Kauai and all of Hawaii. When you visit the North Shore, there are some obvious highlights that simply cannot be missed, especially its scenic waterfalls. Two of the most popular areas on the North Shore include Princeville and Hanalei.
Head out to Kilauea Lighthouse, the northernmost point of Hawaii, and hike down the coast to the stunning Kauapea Beach just to the west. The beaches on the North Shore are the stuff of legend and there are plenty to go around: Ke’e Beach, Hanalei Beach, and Anini Beach dot the coast and offer a variety of terrains to enjoy.
If you’re visiting Kauai to spend time at the beach, you’ll be happy to know that there are dozens of beaches that pepper the entire North Shore, promising every visitor a little stretch of sand to themselves. The beach waters offer plenty of marine life for snorkeling and activities like surfing and kayaking. Surfing is a very popular activity with locals and tourists.
Depending on what kind of traveler you are, there are several different opportunities for recreation around the North Shore. There are world-class golf courses to play, limitless watersports opportunities, and miles of stunning scenery to hike for those looking to stay active on their visit.
There are state parks, national wildlife refuges, and the one-of-a-kind Na’Aina Kai Botanical Gardens for those who want to experience nature fully. Or if you’re just here for the sand and the sun, you can spend your days relaxing by the water.
The tradeoff for all of this rugged, primordial splendor is that most of this area of Kauai is inaccessible via car. In order to see some of the genuinely jaw-dropping features of the North Shore, you’ll need to hike, charter a helicopter, or book a boat tour of the coast.
Fortunately, there are loads of tour providers who are ready and willing to take you to all of the hot spots and take the guesswork out of your visit. It’s one of the most visited spots for Kauai excursions. However, one thing to note is that this is also one of the rainiest parts of Kauai.
Places To Stay In North Shore Kauai
If you’re looking for an amazing place to stay that seems as though it sprung right from the land itself, check out Hanalei Bay Resort. This beautifully crafted property sits in Princeville with stunning ocean and mountain views in every room.
For a property slightly off the beaten path, check out Hanalei Colony Resort in Wainiha. It sits nestled between Kepuhi and Wainiha beaches and offers beautiful views of the bays and mountains jutting out of the water nearby.
The big names in hospitality have locations all over Kauai and a fine example is The Westin with their Princeville Ocean Resort Villas. Choose from one of their traditionally appointed rooms or villas with all of the amenities you expect from the Marriott brand.
The South Shore of Kauai sits on one of the tamer sections of the island, where steep mountains give way in favor of a verdant green valley and farm fields and beaches meet. It’s also where some of the popular all inclusive resorts are located.
It’s one of the more drier areas on the island, so you won’t have to worry too much about the rainfall compared to the northern shore.
It’s a great spot to go if you want to relax and get yourself on island time with the locals. Spend days walking the Poipu Beach or through one of the villages browsing shops and dining on local favorites.
All along Poipu Beach, there are places to stay and things to do, as well as the beach itself, one of the finest examples of coastline on the island. This is a great spot to unwind and soak up the sun or enjoy watersports.
Take a long walk up and down Shipwreck Beach, Brennecke’s, or Kiahuna beach for a change of scenery, or take in a sunrise or sunset at one of several points that dart away from the coast.
Explore the towns of the South Shore and you’ll have a chance to engage with the local culture and history. You can learn a bit more about the background and history of this area by hiking the Koloa Heritage Trail.
Poipu, Koloa, Lawai, Kalaheo, and Hanapepe are all in this area and offer visitors a unique glimpse into life on Kauai.
Each beach town has a story to tell and this story is told through the parks, gardens, and shops that line the quiet streets. Between cities where the land spreads out, you’ll find farm fields and idyllic peaceful scenery.
Since the South Shore is a less dramatic example of the Hawaiian landscape, there are better options to look into if you want to be close to the landscapes nearby. There are fewer options for hiking and sightseeing on this side of the island but this is the main draw of the South Shore.
It’s an excellent spot for relaxation and will be a completely different world than the one you may be accustomed to back at home. It also tends to be busy with tourists, so that may or may not be a benefit to you.
Places to Stay In South Shore Kauai
The best hotels for accommodations on the South Shore are all situated around Poipu and up and down the coast. Many are directly on the beach, but some incorporate the small-town life closer to where the locals call home.
Hilton Vacation Club sits on a point overlooking Keoniloa Bay and Shipwreck Beach and brings the quality and value this popular chain is known to travelers. A beautifully appointed property blends the laid-back feeling of this side of the island into the entire guest experience.
The Ko’a Kea Resort sits comfortably between Poipu Beach and Kiahuna Beach and has been voted as one of the most romantic places to stay. Pick your dates and bring that special someone to this corner of paradise and let the staff take care of the small stuff while you enjoy your tropical vacation.
The Grand Hyatt Kauai truly exemplifies the brand with its banner property on Shipwreck Beach. All of the amenities you expect from Hyatt with naturally inspired touches including winding lagoon pools, cabanas, and swim-up bars.
The East Side of Kauai is the place a majority of the residents of the island call home and where you can find one of the most popular spots, Kapa’a. It’s a great spot to check out if you want to be closer and get to better experience the local culture. It’s also one of the most budget-friendly areas if you’re looking for cheaper accommodations. Kapa’a has plenty of fun things to do and many travelers choose it as their area to stay.
There is no better place on Kauai to see what Hawaiian city life looks like. Like with much of the island, you’re only a short ride or hike from breathtaking natural wonder. Travelers will find many of Kauai’s amazing restaurants here.
Although it’s the busiest part of the island, it has some of the best beaches on Kauai. Depending on where you travel, you can find yourself looking at one directly on your doorstep.
The longest stretch of beaches resides on the island’s East Side and includes Lydgate, Waipouli, and Kapaa Beach, which all form a massive stretch of gently sloping sand. You can also enjoy a scenic hike with the Sleeping Giant Trail in this area.
For nature lovers, you’ll be close to Wailua River State Park, which features the famous Wailua Falls, Kalepa Mountain Forest Reserve, and the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge. These are only three options closest to town but there are hikes and scenic views galore if you’re willing to go inland a little and explore.
If you are interested in chartering a helicopter tour of the island, many of them originate from Lihue and give you the chance to see the inaccessible portions of the island up close and personal.
As the East Side of Kauai is fairly populated, you’ll want to avoid staying here if you’re in the mood for a relaxing atmosphere. The east side is composed of the cities of Kapa’a, Puhi, Lihue, or Hanamaulu. Lihue is one of the busiest places on the island and a common place people move to when moving from the mainland.
It’s worth noting that no matter where you end up on Kauai, you’re always within short proximity of natural and gorgeous sights.
Places To Stay in East Side Kauai
Halfway between Lihue and Wailua, you can find Kauai Beach Resort & Spa. You’ll love this location for being just outside the action but close enough to be a convenient escape when you need it.
On the shores between Wailua and Kapa’a, check out Waipouli Beach Resort. Enjoy the luxuriously appointed apartment-style accommodations complete with stunning beach views and access to multiple pools.
If you want to stay in the heart of Kauai’s East Side, look into the Royal Sonesta Resort. Situated directly on Kalapaki Beach, this convenient location has it all.
Take a dip in the massive swimming pool, pamper yourself with a spa treatment, or take a short walk to the beach lining the front of the resort.
The West Side of Kauai is the place to go to witness the most beautiful parts of the island. If you want to surround yourself with the quintessential Hawaiian landscape, this is where you need to be.
Volcanic mountains give way to beautiful green valleys before flattening to wide swampy plains and finally miles of beach.
Waimea Canyon State Park is the definition of a must-see attraction. Visitors will be equally astounded by this compact look-alike nestled in the heart of the West Side of Kauai. It’s conveniently located near Waimea, so if you need to stock up on supplies for a visit you won’t have to travel far.
If you want to go even further into the wilderness, you can access multiple state parks, reserves, and miles of hiking trails by continuing past Waimea Canyon. Check out Koke’e State Park, Na’ Pali Coast State Wilderness, and the Ku’la Natural Area Reserve.
This beautiful, remote location doesn’t have many services but it provides unfettered views of everything Kauai is famous for.
The West Side also features Barking Sands Beach which wraps the southwest side of Kauai and is essentially uninhabited. There are portions of this beach near Polihale State Park that can feel like your own private beach, secluded from the crowds of some of the more densely populated areas.
The fact that the West Side is so rugged means that accommodations are fairly limited and this can be seen as a downside. If you’re staying in another corner of the island you won’t be far from here, but you will need to arrange for transportation or have a rental car to best explore.
Places To Stay In West Side Kauai
If you’re looking for the best place to stay on the west coast of Kauai, check out Waimea Plantation Cottages. These cottages provide you a home away from home with thoughtful touches that can make you feel at ease steps from the beach.
Polihale State Park has open camping and is a budget-friendly option for people who are visiting this side hoping to truly connect with nature. This beach-front state park is miles from anyone and any cares in the world.
Stay at the West Kauai Lodging in Waimea for a no-nonsense and rustic cabin in the heart of this small coastal town. The property is situated conveniently near the coast, surrounding woods, and the conveniences of town.
What’s The Best Area To Stay In Kauai?
Kauai might seem like a typical island in the Pacific and in many ways it is. The charm of the place is punctuated by small towns and an abundance of warm hearts and welcoming people. There is something for everyone no matter what kind of vacation you’re planning.
The North Shore is an amazing spot for the traveler who wants to experience a sample of everything on offer in Kauai. Small-town living meets rugged nature, meets watersports, meets recreation hotspots.
If you want to enjoy creature comforts and relax, visit the South Shore, where resorts, shopping, and beaches line the coast.
If you want to be where all the buzz is, visit the East Side and be sure to check out Lihue, Wailua, and Kapa’a. It’s how Kauai does big city living.
The West Side is an excellent spot to go if you want to connect to the unrivaled power of nature and disconnect from the world. You’ll love this side of Kauai if you’re a light traveler who is big on surrounding themselves with nature.
Choose the side of the island that suits you best, but rest assured there are few, if any wrong answers. Kauai is a treasure trove waiting for the taking.