You’ve decided to take a trip to Kauai, the Garden Isle, and enjoy the lushest of the Hawaiian islands. While a trip to Kauai is a great decision, deciding where to stay can get a little tricky. The weather, beaches, and accommodations vary greatly from side to side. 

There are four distinct areas of Kauai to choose from on your stay: 

  • The North Shore: lush, but rainy, you’ll find a mix of small inns and large resorts with water that is calm in the summer but fierce in the winter.
  • The East Shore: conveniently located between the north and south, you’ll find more budget-friendly hotels.
  • The South Shore: sunny and dry for most of the year, you’ll find big resorts and stunning beaches.
  • The West Shore: the best spot for the outdoor enthusiast, you’ll find mostly tiny towns and small inns. 

Ready to figure out which is best for you? Here’s our guide to help you decide. 

 

Where to Stay in Kauai

Choosing a location comes down to the type of vacation you want. Do you want to enjoy a large resort and beautiful weather, no matter what time of year you visit? Or are you ready for more outdoor adventures? 

North Shore: Princeville and Hanalei

The North Shore of Kauai is simply stunning. From the lush landscape to the crescent-shaped beach in Hanalei, the North Shore looks exactly like what you’d expect from the island where so much of Jurrasic Park was filmed. 

When choosing your location on the North Shore, you have two main options: Princeville and Hanalei. 

Princeville sits high upon a cliff overlooking the ocean and has numerous housing communities, vacation rental options, and resorts. There is no downtown, but you’ll find most of what you need at the Princeville shopping center. Beach access can be a bit tricky with young kids as most beaches involve a steep walk down the bluff. 

Hanalei is a quick 10-minute drive from Princeville, but you’ll feel as though you’re in a different world. A charming downtown welcomes visitors and Hanalei bay stretches for nearly two miles, making a beach day easy with kids (during the summer). There are plenty of options for food and outdoor activities, but the town lacks large resorts. You’ll find a few charming inns, but not many other options for accommodations. 

Why stay on the North Shore of Kauai? A charming town, outdoor adventures, and lush landscape.

Why skip the North Shore of Kauai? A bigger chance of rain and rough oceans in the winter. 

Is the North Shore calling your name? These are some of our favorite accommodation options. 

what side of kauai is best Hanalei Bay North Shore Princeville

The tropical island view of Hanalei Valley from the Hanalei Lookout in Princeville, Kauai.

 

The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas

One and two-bedroom villa options are available at this resort perched atop a bluff overlooking the ocean. Enjoy the amenities of a big resort, including four pools and farm to table resort dining. 

1 Hotel Hanalei Bay

Debuting at the end of 2021, this hotel will be worth the wait. Formerly the Princeville Resort, new management is completing a massive renovation to turn it into a wellness destination. 

Hanalei Colony Resort

This low-key resort offers a casual, ocean-front option just outside of Hanalei. Rather than just getting a hotel room, you’ll get a full condo, but there are some amenities missing. You won’t find TVs, phones, or stereos in the rooms as the hotel aspires to help you truly “unplug.” 

where to stay on Kauai north shore Hanalei Bay

 

South Shore Kauai

If you’re heading to the South Shore, you’re not alone. This is one of the most popular areas with tourists, thanks to its mostly sunny weather and beautiful beaches (specifically, Poipu). You’ll find a number of resorts and vacation rentals here to choose from. 

Why stay on the South Shore of Kauai? Big resorts, sunny weather, and easy access to the west side (hiking and boat tours).

Why skip the South Shore of Kauai? If you’d like a more unplugged experience, you won’t find it here. 

On the South Shore, you’ll find Poipu, with a number of hotels available, Old Koloa Town, and Lawai. 

Sheraton Kauai

There are two Sheraton properties on Kauai — one on the East Shore and this one on the South. Stay at this one and you’re staying on one of the best beaches on the island. The pool here might get a little crowded, but you’re just steps from the beach. In the evenings you can enjoy the firepits or the chairs set up to watch the sunset. 

Grand Hyatt Kauai

Located near Shipwreck beach, the Grand Hyatt offers a traditional big resort experience on the South Shore. The beach isn’t great for young kids (the break can be strong and close to shore), but there is a great hike and you’re just down the road from some great family-friendly beaches. 

The Villas at Poipu Kai

If you’re traveling to Kauai with a large group, this is the place to stay. You can book one to five-bedroom villas, which come with full kitchens and private lanais. The resort offers eight tennis courts, a gym, on-site dining, and a pool. The resort is located near Brennecke’s beach and is a short walk to the other nearby beaches, like Poipu, which is great for kids. 

what side of kauai is best to stay on - south shore kauai

Poipu Beach on South Shore Kauai is named as the Best Beach in America by multiple travel sites, ours included!

 

East Side Kauai

Welcome to the East Side, or, the Coconut Coast, named after the coconut palms that dot the resorts. Staying here, you’ll be in a central location, nearby the airport, the South Shore and the North Shore. You’ll also have the chance to see waterfalls up close without a long hike and enjoy the golden sand beaches.  

The East Side is the most densely populated, but it also has a large selection of hotels. For anyone traveling with their budget in mind, you’ll find the most affordable hotels in this region. 

Why stay on the east side of Kauai? Centrally located with tons of budget-friendly accommodation options.

Why skip the east side of Kauai? The beaches are a bit more crowded and you’re more in the center of it all. 

Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach

Stay on an old 10-acre coconut grove, located directly on the ocean. Its central location means you’ll be within walking distance to both restaurants and hotels. Plus, enjoy a heated pool in the winter, complete with a lovely pool bar. 

Hilton Garden Inn Wailua Bay

South of Kapaa town, you’ll find this hotel, within walking distance to both Lydgate Park and Wailua Bay. In addition to the standard rooms, if you need a little more space to spread out, you can book one of their cottages. 

Marriott’s Kauai Lagoons

Enjoy two and three-bedroom villas at this ocean-front resort, which gives you plenty of room to spread out and enjoy. A fitness center, two pools, and ocean views greet you at this full-service resort. 

 

West Side Kauai

If you really want to get away from it all, this is the place to stay. The West Side is remote — so remote that much of it is only accessible by boat or by hiking in. This is the dryer side of the island, where you’ll find Waimea Canyon for incredible hiking. If you do a boat tour of the Na Pali Coast, your boat will be leaving from this side of the island. 

Why stay on the west side of Kauai? You’re here to hike and boat and get away from it all.

Why skip the west side of Kauai? Limited accommodation options and it’s remote, making it harder to explore other areas. 

Your choices for resorts here are pretty limited, but this is a good option to fit what you’re looking for:

Waimea Plantation Cottages

Located on the edge of downtown Waimea, these early 1900’s style plantation cottages are set on a picturesque and sprawling property. The cottages come with multiple bedrooms, fully stocked kitchens, and are a short walk to a quiet, private beach. This resort is peaceful and quiet. 

what side of kauai is best to stay on - west side Kauai hotels

Salt Sand Beach outside of Hanapepe is a local’s favorite and very kid friendly.

 

Where to Stay on Kauai? FAQs to Help You Decide

Still not sure what side of the island is best for your trip? These FAQs may just help you figure it out:

Which Side of Kauai is Best?

That depends on what you’re looking for. Each side of Kauai offers something different and you should choose based on what will make your vacation the best. Here’s a quick summary to help you decide: 

  • Want access to outdoor adventures and a cute town? Head north. 
  • Are big resorts calling your name? Head south. 
  • Want the best bang for your buck? That’s going to be the east side. 
  • Rugged adventurer that loves to hike? See you on the west side. 

Which Side of Kauai has the Best Beaches?

Kauai has gorgeous beaches, but the trick to finding the best beaches depends on the season.

In the summer, the north shore has calmer waters. You can swim in Hanalei bay or Tunnels beach without worry. But the south shore has slightly rougher waves during the summer, though usually still swimmable. 

In the winter, the beaches are completely different. The south shore has calm waters, great for swimming and snorkeling. But you’ll want to stay out of the water on the north shore, which has huge ocean swells, rough waves, and a lot of rain. 

 

Which Side of Kauai Gets More Rain?

The North Shore of Kauai gets the most rain on the island. According to data, Hanalei on the north shore gets an average of 239 mm (9.4 inches) of rain in December. Poipu, on the south shore, gets an average of 131 mm (5.2 inches) of rain in December

 

If you’re planning a trip to Kauai, you might also want to read:

Maui vs Kauai: Pick the perfect island for your honeymoon

What is the best Hawaiian Island for kids?

The best honeymoon itinerary

 

Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman

Author

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. You will most likely find me on the water on a SUP or swimming in the waves.

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