So you’ve heard all about the Garden Isle of Kauai and have decided to see for yourself what all the talk is about, but you’re not sure where to stay on the island. While the island is relatively small, it’s big enough so that your decision on where to stay can greatly impact your overall trip. But don’t worry, you really can’t go wrong with your decision, as Kauai is beautiful all over.
PHOTO ABOVE: The one-lane bridge before you enter Hanalei is a reminder to slow down and take it easy.
Though the island is small, Kauai does have distinct geographic and weather regions. Typically, in the north (Hanalei, Princeville) and east (Kapaa, Lihue) it’s green, mountainous, tropical and wet, in the south (Poipu, Koloa) it’s green, warm and sunny (perfect for a sunny day at the beach), and in the west (Waimea and Hanapepe) it’s browner, sunny and dry.
PHOTO ABOVE: The St. Regis Princeville Resort in all of its glory.
If accommodations are a factor, the Poipu area offers a host of mid-to-high range, inclusive-type resort hotels and a number of condos for rent, Kapaa offers a host of mid-range and economy hotels, and the Hanalei/Princeville area offers a multitude of condo rentals along with the exclusive St. Regis Princeville Resort favored by movie stars and the rich and famous.
PHOTO ABOVE: The Beach House Restaurant in Poipu
The Poipu area features some of the island’s best restaurants, including the Beach House Restaurant and several chef-connected restaurants at the Shops of Kukui’ula. Kapaa features a number of restaurants popular with families, as well as a number of food trucks. The Hanalei area, which is one of the farthest places on the island from the central area of Lihue, has restaurants you might find in a ski town, including the obligatory steak, seafood, pizza and hamburger joints, though they are all delicious.
For area attractions, Poipu is convenient to Port Allen, launching point for the majority of Kauai’s whale watching and boat tours, and Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Centrally-located Kapaa is near several scenic waterfalls, the Wailua River and a beach-front bike path. In fact, all Kauai attractions are within, at most, about 45-60 minutes from Kapaa. The Hanalei area features beautiful Hanalei Bay, famous beaches such as Tunnels and Ke’e, and the Na Pali coastline. Nearby, near the town of Kilauea, is the scenic Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and lighthouse.
PHOTO ABOVE: Puu Poa Beach, the beach at the St. Regis Princeville Resort.
Beautiful beaches surround the island. Beachgoers will enjoy Poipu area beaches where the sun is almost guaranteed. Magnificent Polihale Beach, in the far west past Waimea, is stunning in its expanse, though it’s only accessible via a dirt road. Kapaa area beaches, including locals favorite Kealia Beach, also promise much sun. North shore beaches, including Hanalei Bay Beach, Tunnels Beach and Ke’e Beach, have beautiful tropical mountains as backdrops. Frequent rains keep this area green upon green. The south side beaches (Poipu) and east side beaches (Kapaa) are generally more crowded than the north shore beaches, though crowds are seldom an issue. In fact, you may find only a few other people on your visit to many north shore beaches, including Tunnels and Anini Beach, though Hanalei Bay Beach and Ke’e Beach are well visited. For surfing and bodyboarding, Kealia Beach in Kapaa is always good, if a little rough. Hanalei Bay offers gently rolling waves for beginning surfers, as well as pro waves farther out. Hanalei Bay is also a great place for Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) and kayaking. Snorkeling is popular at many Kauai beaches with reefs, including Poipu beaches, Tunnels Beach and Ke’e Beach.
PHOTO ABOVE: The Hanakapiai Trail, the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail.
Various activities, including horseback riding, ATVs, zip lines and more, can be found throughout the island. The Kapaa area is a great location to stay if you are doing a number of activities across the island. Hiking, also, can be found all over the island, though the legendary Kalalau Trail starting at Ke’e Beach north of Hanalei is one of the most beautiful, and most dangerous, hikes in the world.
PHOTO ABOVE: Kalapaki Beach
Another area to stay (not mentioned above) is Kalapaki Beach in Lihue. Kalapaki Beach is the most convenient location to Lihue Airport and features the Kauai Marriott Resort and the popular Duke’s Kauai restaurant. This beach and hotel are popular with people who purchase two to three night hotel packages that include a shuttle from the airport. Kalapaki Beach is nice, and is a nice place to relax, but many people who stay here do not get to experience the overall beauty of Kauai as many don’t have a car or the days to venture out.
With all of the wonderful choices Kauai has to offer, the decision on where to stay is a tough one. If you are a sun worshiper, then Poipu is a great choice. From Poipu you can easily visit Waimea Canyon and take a boat tour from Port Allen. If you’re looking for a family-friendly place or a bargain, check out Kapaa. It’s also sunny and has a host of attractions nearby. But for the real Kauai experience, nothing beats the Hanalei area. It’s the area you see most often featured in travel photos. Hanalei is home to the Hanalei Pier and Bali Hai, made famous in the movie South Pacific. Legendary surfer beaches are nearby, and it’s close to the iconic Kalalau Trail that follows the incomparable Na Pali coastline. Just note that it can rain a lot in the Hanalei area, but that’s the price that must be paid for the stunning greenery that gives the Garden Island its nickname. For the best of Kauai, stay a few days in Poipu and see area attractions, then stay the rest of your time in the Hanalei area. Or stay in Kapaa, in the middle of it all!