Finding the best place in Kauai for the ultimate tropical getaway isn’t always easy. The island itself is somewhat of a hidden gem, so much so that 90% of it cannot be reached by road.
Fondly nicknamed as “the Garden of the Isle,” Kauai is home to a beautiful tropical rainforest that can be explored at many points around the island.
While relatively small in size, Kauai proudly boasts golden-sand beaches, emerald mountains, rare plants and birds, balmy temperatures all year-round, incredible food and a distinct culture.
The hiking and sight-seeing is superb and diverse, filled with geographic marvels and ancient Hawaiian villages, as well as extraordinary beauty along the Napali Coast.
There are opportunities to kayak, hike, snorkel and zipline at many areas around the island. But beyond this, Kauai is simply a beautiful place to sit back, relax and marvel.
Where to stay in Kauai : 9 Best Areas
When you’re ready to visit this magical place and experience the allure those have talked about for centuries, you’ll probably wonder where the best place to stay in Kauai is.
After all, with so much to see and do and probably not enough time to discover it all, you’ll want to find a good accommodation spot that is within close distance to the things on your itinerary.
Luckily, thanks to a tourism boom in recent years, more and more hotels, motels, AirBnB’s and smaller inns are popping up each year, many with incredible Pacific views.
So take advantage of the laid-back spirit of the island, book your tickets and read on to discover the best nine areas to stay in Kauai, spread out across the island.
1. Poipu – Koloa, where to stay in Kauai for first time
Aptly named “crashing waves” in Hawaiian, Poipu is located on the sunny southern side of Kauai.
Centered around a stunning, white-sand beach that is internationally-regarded as one of the best in the world, Poipu is also home to welcoming residents, fun attractions, sights and incredible restaurants, hotels and wildlife.
The waves here are white-washed and large, making Poipu a popular spot for surfers. But the area also has a calm, distinctly-Hawain air about it that separates it from other areas on the island.
If you enjoy outdoor activities, Poipu is an amazing place to stay in Kauai and explore. Give yourself a good amount of time to enjoy everything this area has to offer, including some incredible culture.
While the area has experienced significant growth, it still retains a humble, subtly luxurious charm, and the residents would like to keep it that way.
Poipu’s dynamic and extensive coastline is filled with a lush green landscape and amazing views.
Start by exploring the waters and the mountains off in the distance by snorkeling at Poipu Beach. Kids will love the crystal clear waters and colorful fish always swirling around and parents will love the calm, lapping waves. You may even catch a rare Hawaiian sea turtle or two.
If you’d like to see the water from a boat, there are several charters you can rent out for a half or full day, complete with a dedicated and knowledgeable crew.
If you enjoy hiking and are ready to put in the work for amazing coastline views, secret waterfalls and unique ecosystems, Poipu is your place. You can hire a private guide or venture out on your own.
The Koala Heritage trail is a 10-mile hike that takes you along 14 historical sites through Poipu and Old Koloa town. You’ll pass the famous Spouting Horn, a blowhole shooting water high into the air, as well as the expansive Makawehi Sand Dunes in Keoneloa Bay.
The 4-mile round trip hike to Mahaulepu beach, part of the Koloa Heritage Trail is a fan favorite.
When you’re ready for a little shopping and eating, check out The Shops at Kukui’ula, an impressive outdoor shopping center with several smaller boutiques, restaurants and home decor and clothing stores selling traditional Hawaiian products.
If you’re a coffee lover, you’ll also want to check out Kauai Coffee Plantation, the largest coffee grower in the entire United States. You can also explore their museum and get a few free delicious samples.
The area is extremely safe and kid-friendly, but also has some after-dark lounges and dance clubs for exotic, tropical fun.
Poipu has several larger chain hotels that offer luxury services and stunning beachfront views. Many also have private pools and fully-stacked bars for an afternoon cocktail.
There are also more lowkey-options, specifically private, ocean-front condominiums that offer full kitchens and bedrooms, as well as charming B&Bs that pay homage to the history of the area.
2. Lawai, serene, rustic and tucked in a tropical garden
Small, tropical and best described as a glittering hidden gem in the Kauai crown, Lawai is an oasis amongst the tourism that has taken over much of the island.
If you’re looking for lush tropical gardens and scenery, amazing views, great things to do, see and eat or even just some peace and quiet on your vacation, Lawai is a great place to stay in Kauai.
Scenic and rural, Lawai isn’t home to a huge population, crazy nightlife or major resorts.
But what you will find are authentic locals proud of their home and culture as well as great shopping and dining.
While many decide to pass over Lawai for greater attractions, the area is definitely worth a stay in Kauai. You’ll get to explore and hide away from the world for a little while.
Located on the southern side of Kuai, Lawai enjoys the temperate, mild and sunny conditions of other areas on the coastline.
There are incredible gardens here with native Hawaiian floral and fauna and the scenery of this area as a whole is bright, serene and peaceful. If you enjoy rugged and rustic living and adventure, Lawai offers several activities to truly immerse yourself in this dynamic atmosphere.
The gardens are truly a spotlight, with McBryde Garden drawing in many of the area’s tourists. Sitting in a valley adjacent to the Lawai Stream, McBryde Garden stretches over 200 acres of tropical paradise.
Be sure to book a tour ahead of time and explore an extensive collection of palms, rubiaceae, heliconias, orchids, and flowering trees that botanists around the world have carefully curated.
The nearby Allerton Garden is also wildly popular. With stunning views of the ocean and marble fountains, Allerton Garden is idyllic and picturesque.
Both gardens are protected by the National Tropical Botanical Garden group, which helps keep the gardens’ natural beauty alive and thriving.
Lawai Beach is another popular spot within the area and is a few miles away from the main village. Long considered to be a refuge from Kuai’s most popular (and crowded beaches) Lawai Beach has incredible coral and marine life and is a great place for snorkeling.
The main reef here is about 500 feet out from the beach, so grab your goggles (available for rent at dive shops in town) and be dazzled by species of tropical fish and smaller turtles who call the reef home. Come when the tide is low for the best sealife views.
In terms of dining and shopping, Lawai has a surprising amount for a small village. Kickshaws is a popular, unassuming mobile food truck serving up gourmet diner food from locally-sourced ingredients.
For souvenir shopping, check out the Hawaiian Trading Post to get an authentic trinket, piece of jewelry or hand-woven quilt. Hotels in Lawai are pretty small and blend seamlessly into their natural surroundings.
As this area is smaller and doesn’t capture the same popularity as Hanalei Bay for example, you’re more likely to find cheaper accommodation deals here.
3. Princeville, where to stay in Kauai in a regal and secluded area
Charming, picturesque and framed by stunning ocean views, Princeville is a testament to Hawaii’s natural outdoor beauty. So much so that many of the restaurants, shopping areas and activities are all based outside to accentuate the stunning tropical beauty all around.
The area is named for Hawaii’s Crown Prince Albert, who ruled in the 17th century, and has become a haven for tourists ready to explore, refresh and reset.
In the past, Princeville initially became a coffee plantation and then was planted with sugarcane. Then, cattle ranching and farming boomed in the area.
Remnants of that life can still be found today in the form of horseback riding and family-owned farms who harvest crops such as fruit and coffee beans.
The area stays fairly warm year round and enjoys light breezes blowing in from the Pacific. In addition, the sunsets and beaches here are some of the best on the island. The sense of community here is strong, but residents are still extremely friendly and welcoming to locals.
Make sure to start by checking out the Princeville Center, a one-stop-shop for handmade local goods, arts and crafts, as well as incredible, world-class dining.
If you’re looking for souvenirs or are scouring the perfect floral Hawaiian shirt, you’re sure to find it amongst the many small vendors who operate here.
The food here is great and you can’t go wrong by visiting Lappert’s Hawaii Ice Cream and Coffee for a sweet treat on a hot day.
After eating, embark on the Princeville Path, a 2-mile walk which starts near the mall and leads down Ka Haku Road. You’ll see the majestic Namolokama Mountain in the distance and probably see some native Hawaiian wildlife as you go.
Two great beaches to check out are Hideaways Beach, located just a 20-minute walk from Princeville Center, or Pu’u Poa Beach, located near Princeville Resort.
Hideaways has incredible snorkeling and is fairly secluded, with stunning views all around. Pu’u Poa Beach has beautiful sunset views and is just small enough to not feel overwhelming.
To see more nature, check out Queen’s Bath, a favorite site amongst locals and tourists. This natural tide pool is home to lava rock and fish and you’ll also see a cascading waterfall near the site.
The Princeville Resort Kauai is a popular, 5-star hotel located on a secluded beach cove. The resort owns a private pool and enjoys stunning sunset views from the Princeville Bar, which is a great place to unwind after a day of sight-seeing.
The Princeville Makai Course, also located at the Princeville Resort, is a world-class golf course, often topping many “best-of” lists for its scenic views and challenging design.
Many have called it the best golf course in Hawaii for its unique rolling terrain, which pays homage to the wavy nature of the Pacific over 18 holes.
In terms of nightlife, Princeville does offer a few local spots, but no major clubs. Tiki Iniki is a popular bar and grill serving up incredible seafood and cocktails and often has live music and dancing late into the night.
But, overall Princeville is primarily a residential community famous for its unparalleled beauty and adventure.
If you’re looking for a way to unwind after golfing and hiking, you’re far more likely to find peace and quiet rather than fist-pumping partying, but see it as the perfect opportunity to reset in an incredible atmosphere.
Read also: Where to stay in Hawaii, where to stay in Maui, where to stay in Oahu
4. Hanalei, where to stay in Kauai for families
Surrounded by natural beauty in the form of glittering waterfalls, verdant mountains and some of the best surf breaks on all of Kauai, Hanalei Town is a popular spot where to stay in Kauai that is growing with tourists every year.
But, this area still retains its “hidden gem” quality, introducing a quiet magic to all who visit here. Located on the North Shore, Hanalei Town is filled with historic sites, incredible beaches, great dining and shopping, art galleries and a welcoming spirit.
Charming and peaceful, this is one stop on the island that can’t be missed, especially if you love to surf and be outdoors.The beautiful, crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay is what frames the town and transforms this area into an ocean getaway.
In addition, with a major resort and several other smaller boutique hotels, you’re more than likely to find a great place to stay during a trip to Kauai.
To get started here, start at the beach at Hanalei Bay, the largest bay on the north shore of Kauai. Nearly two miles of beach are surrounded by large mountains and situated between two rivers.
This ocean playground is perfect for kids and those of all ages, especially surfers, swimmers, snorkelers, paddle-boarders and sailboaters, especially during the summer.
With a stunning backdrop of emerald green mountains, it’s no surprise that Hanalei Bay is often considered one of the best beaches in America, as well as a filming spot for movies like South Pacific and The Descendants.
The famous Hanalei Pier, part of Black Pot Beach, is located at the mouth of Hanalei River. Built in 1862, this has long been a community gathering point to fish, dance and swim. It’s also an optimal place to watch the sunset, so get there before it gets too crowded.
To get in some classic Hawaii culture and history, head to the Waioli Mission House and Church. Built in 1837, this was originally the home of two Christian missionaries and is an official landmark within the area.
Exquisitely decorated with stained glass windows and green exteriors, you can still catch a service, where congregation members sing hymns in native Hawaiian. You can explore local art, pick up souvenirs and local jewelry as well as carvings sourced from the native woods.
You’ll also want to check out the Hanalei Valley Lookout, a scenic spot with sweeping views of the emerald green taro fields and cascading waterfalls.
If you really want to explore the Hanalei Valley up close, you can luckily book multiple different types of tours, from ATVing, hiking, kayaking and much more.
It can help to have an experienced guide take you to all the less-traveled spots and truly take in all that Hanalei has to offer.
Hanalei is fairly popular as an area, so luckily there are several great restaurants near the water ranging from lowkey to upscale.
Accommodation works this way here as well and the Hanalei Bay Resort is a popular option for a stay in Kauai.
5. Kilauea, humble and charming
Kilauea rose from humble beginnings into the booming business ecosystem it is today partly in due to the rich soil for planting sugar cane. But even more so, the ethnically-diverse group of people who live here have contributed to Kilauea’s growth and placement on the map.
The town is small but mighty and has a lot to see and do. The lines between past and present are blurred here, as modern fixtures and accommodations pop up next to ancient artifacts and the area’s natural beauty. Kilauea is definitely worth a stay in Kauai or even just a visit for a couple days.
Stop by Anaina Hou (literally, “gathering place” in Hawaiian) Community Park, a relatively new, 30 acre park and attraction amazing for both kids and adults.
There is an 18-hole mini-putt course and a 17,000 square foot playground, complete with play volcanos and a sugarcane train sure to thrill those of all ages.
The Wai Koa Loop trail is truly a majestic 5-mile walk through a lush green forest, located within Anaina Hou. Make sure to bring your bathing suit and take a dip in a secluded swimming hole located on the trail.
You’ll wind through the Wai Koa Plantation, a working farm, passing by blue lagoons with stunning views of Mount Namahana in the distance. Bring good walking shoes as you may traverse through muddy spots from Kauai’s latest rain.
The park also holds a weekly farmer’s market with local produce, freshly-baked goods and sweet treats. You’ll also have to catch a live music performance here during the evening to be awe-inspired by some traditional Hawaiian fire dancing.
To get in some eating and shopping, visit the Kong Lung Historic Market Center. This market is truly a fixture in Kilauea and has lasted the test of time.
Here you can pick up Aloha clothing gear, home decor, textiles, island soap and much, much more, as well as get a great meal at fan-favorites like the Bistro and Palate Wine Bar and Restaurant.
In addition, you’ll really get a good idea of just how many ethnic groups made an impact on this area when they migrated to Kilauea to work in the sugarcane fields.
End your day here by watching a sunset over the famous Kilauea Point Lighthouse, a regional landmark built in 1913. This lighthouse played a unique role in Kilauea history and you can book a tour to learn of this fascinating history.
You’re not likely to find major hotels or resorts here as the area likes to keep its quaint and charming qualities. But you will find smaller cottages and farms-turned-BnB’s dedicated to preserving the delicate ecosystem on the island.
For the same reason, nightlife here is a bit on the slower side, so look elsewhere for packed bars.
6. Kapaa, where to stay in Kauai on a budget
Perfect for shopping, eating and exploring, Kapaa Town is situated just north of Wailua on Kauai’s east side.
Meaning “solid” in Hawaiian, Kapaa is a small town located at the base of Nounou Mountain (or sleeping giant) and is extremely welcoming to tourists and those from all walks of life.
Even though the town isn’t large in size, some of the best shopping in Kauai is here in the form of two popular plazas. In addition, Kapaa carries great historical significance to Kauai.
If you’re a hiker, you’ll love the Sleeping Giant Trail, a 3.2 mile hike with beautiful native flowers and a stunning mountain view from the top lookout point.
According to local legend, it’s said that a giant decided to take a nap on the mountain side after feasting too much at a party. He never woke and you’ll see that the mountain itself resembles a sleeping giant.
You’ll probably catch a glimpse of Kapaa’s exotic plant and bird life as you walk along, along with some sunny Hawaiian rays.
The Kalalau is another incredible trail, but be forewarned that it isn’t for the faint of heart.
The trail winds for 11 miles through the dense Napali Coast and passes along heart-stopping cliffs, muddy grounds and often, torrential rains.
Make sure to be prepared for every possible weather condition if you’re planning to embark on this demanding trail, but also be prepared to see incredible views of the Pacific if you can make it all the way through.
Kapaa also has two beaches: Kapaa Beach and Anahola Beach. Kapaa has a rocky coastline and isn’t ideal for swimming, but is great for picnics, fishing and sunset-watching. Anahola is great for kids due to its safe surf conditions and is a great spot to swim.
When you get hungry, be sure to check out Pono Market for all your fresh food needs. If you enjoy poke bowls and fresh fish, you can grab great picnic fixings here and friendly staff ready to serve. Wailua Shaved Ice also serves some of the best gourmet shaved ice in town.
For souvenir shopping, check out the Kinipopo Shopping Village. This shopping complex has a ton of eclectic shops and restaurants, as well as a water sports shop where you can pick up water skiing and kayaking gear.
Wailua Shopping Plaza and Coconut Marketplace are two other places to find fine Hawaiian jewelry, carvings and antiques.
For some live music and nighttime fun, on the first Saturday of every month, old Kapaa town holds a community festival filled with dancing, food and much more.
There aren’t as many accommodation options here, but you’re likely to find historical homes and inns with inspired furnishings and decorations.
7. Wailua – Waipouli, best place to stay in Kauai framed by spectacular nature
Known primarily for the Wailua River that stretches through the community, the Wailua – Waipouli area is a blink-and-you-may-miss-it kind of town.
As you walk along, you’ll understand why this part of Kauai is known as the Coconut Coast. Spread all around are flowering coconut trees that Hawaii is known for, along with several great dining and shopping options.
While there isn’t a ton in the way of touristy activities, you’re still bound to get in incredible sight-seeing and recreational activity here.
The lush, 30-acre Smith Family Garden Luau is located quite close to this area. A tropical oasis full of botanical gardens, walking peacocks and leafy palm trees, the real attraction here is the classic Hawaiian luau and feast.
Pick an evening and be prepared to immerse yourself in an incredible, authentic ceremony complete with a traditional Kalua pig roasted over an oven, haunting Hawaiian chants and hymns called mele, Tahitian drum dances and a Samoan fire knife dance.
The Smith Family has ensured the ceremony sticks as closely to tradition as possible, so you’ll be sure to leave feeling the full impact of the Hawaiian spirit.
Also be sure to book a tour of Fern’s Grotto, a true geological feat. After going up the river, you’ll embark at Fern’s Grotto landing. Here you’ll see verdant ferns hanging upside down from the roof of the grotto, as well as flowering plants all around.
Be sure to check out the 20-mile long Wailua River and see what all the fuss is about. This magical feat of nature runs by two cascading waterfalls (Opaekaa and Wailua Falls) jungle foliage and once, seven different heiau (temples).
You can kayak, canoe or even take a boat tour down the river to explore it up close. This river once had great historical value to the Hawaiian people and is a great way to immerse yourself in their heritage.
Wailua has several bigger hotels, including a Hilton, as well as Fern Grotto Inn, which pays homage to the natural wonder. There’s a larger resort just outside the city’s center, but also smaller inns and cottages for more low-key living.
8. Lihue, a convenient base to explore the island
Referred to as the governmental and commercial center of the island, Lihue has held great historical significance to Kauai for centuries.
It is a heavily trafficked area due to the presence of Lihue Airport, as well as Nawiliwili Harbor, a major cruise ship port and shipping center. But Lihue is more than just a place where tourists enter into Kauai.
The area itself has several great sites and natural wonders to check out, as well as several historical spots that hold great significance to the island. If you’re a history buff and interested in learning more about the culture of Kauai, this is the place to do it.
Lastly, if you’re into adventure and watersports, Lihue is an amazing place to bodysurf, swim, paddle board and snorkel amongst incredible, palm-tree lined beaches.
Lihue was once a booming hotspot for the sugarcane industry. Although those days have faded away, you can still see many abandoned sugar mills now open to the public for exploring.
Grove Farm Homestead Museum, built in 1864, is a great place to tour a former plantation home of a sugarcane owner. A tour provides a true, authentic experience into Kauai’s sugarcane heritage and you’ll be able to see a working farm flourish in modern day.
The Kauai Museum, the official repository for all things Kauai history, is also located here. You’ll also learn about how Lihue played a pivotal role in modern-day Kauai, as well as how indeginous Hawaiians contributed to a dynamic heritage not found anywhere else.
You’re also likely to see exhibitions and galleries featuring local artists from around the area.
When you’re ready to get in some natural views, check out the majestic Wailua Falls. This double-tiered waterfall has been featured in multiple publications and on the big screen for its stunning, ethereal-like quality.
In a bit of lore, it’s said that Hawaiian chiefs used to prove their bravery to their tribe by jumping off the falls – an incredibly dangerous feat, as the falls are 85-feet high.
Another popular spot with tourists and locals is Kalapaki Beach, perfect for swimming and digging your toes in the soft sand. The beach is incredibly safe for kids and great for sports junkies looking to surf and paddle.
To cool off from the heat, hit the nearby Kalapaki Beach hut for a famous Hawaiian shaved ice. There are also several volleyball courts around as well as dining options near the water to relax and have a drink.
The narby Fish Express is an amazing option for incredible seafood and traditional island-style fare.
If you enjoy rum and want to explore how a working distillery functions, check out the Koloa Rum Company. You’ll be able to do a tasting of rum created from local sugarcane and take home your favorite bottle from the shop.
The nightlife in Lihue far exceeds other areas on the island, but mostly centers around the resorts and hotels.
Because Lihue has its own airport, there are several resorts and beach clubs offering classy accommodation, as well as a cheaper motel and inn.
9. Waimea, large waves on a stunning bay and classic cowboy culture
Unique, vibrant and rustic, Waimea is unlike any other spot on Kauai. It has a unique farm and cowboy heritage that still thrives on vast pasture lands and in horseback riding all around the area.
But the area is also a historic seaport town and in the past ships used to dock here to sell their goods and restock. In fact, Captain James Cook first landed close to here in 1779 when he set foot in Hawaii for the first time.
You’ll even find a statue of him erected in the town’s center. Although Waimea has a vast and interesting history, the area is also increasingly modern and well-developed.
You’ll find a growing tech presence here and several local businesses enjoying both the tropical vibrancy of Kauai while still making global power moves. This is an amazing area to stay in Kauai to get a little bit of everything.
Start off a day here by grabbing breakfast at the local Waimea farmer’s market, open early on Saturdays. You’ll find farm-fresh produce, locally-sourced eggs, delicious coffee and quality bread, as well as friendly locals.
Next, hit a private lei-making class, an amazing way to explore Hawaiian culture up close. You’ll get to make leis with classically-trained craftsmen and take home your creations with you to enjoy forever.
If you enjoy hiking, check out the famous Waimea Canyon. This nearby state park, also referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is approximately 10 miles long and around 3,000 feet deep.
With vibrant red and orange soil, Waimea Canyon has several amazing lookout views for prime canyon views. You’ll traverse through the canyon trails and end your journey at Kokee State Park.
With tropical cliffs and even a rainbow or two, this is one site you won’t want to miss. Polihale State Park is another amazing place to explore, complete with its own beach and sand dunes.
Waimeia has several more country-style lodgings and inns that offer rustic accommodation. B&Bs also rule here, so don’t expect to find major hotels.
Many places offer guided tours of Waimea, specifically horse-back riding, which is a popular attraction here.
You’ll also get to see a ranch up close and discover why Waimea still holds on to its rough and tumble roots.
When planning your next vacation to Hawaii, you’ll want to be sure to hit the island of Kauai. With a dynamic culture and heritage, stunning tropical views and an overall relaxed vibe true to the classic Aloha attitude, Kauai is a place you’ll be talking about for years.
And, you can’t go wrong by staying in an area on this list. Come visit Kauai today and: Aloha!