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  • Writer's pictureRose@WhereToGoTravelCo

What To Do and Where To Stay On Kauai

Updated: Jan 16

Why choose Kauai for your Hawaii vacation?

Kauai, often referred to as the "Garden Isle," is a mesmerizing gem in the Hawaiian archipelago. With its lush landscapes, breathtaking beaches, and vibrant culture, this island paradise offers an array of activities and accommodations that will leave you with lifelong memories. Whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or a combination of both, Kauai has something for everyone.

Once you've decided you need to experience Kauai, the next big decisions are where to stay and what you'll do once you get there. We're here to show you some highlights of this incredible Hawaiian island, and the best places to lay your head at night after a day of adventures.

What kind of traveler would enjoy Kauai?

  • Nature lovers! Much of Kauai is undeveloped, and you'll be surrounded by an abundance of natural wonders and breathtaking panoramic views

  • Travelers who enjoy quaint towns and getting to know friendly locals

  • Those who aren't looking for nightlife, an urban environment, or hustle and bustle

You'll want to know a little island geography to get a feel for the Garden Isle. This will help you decide where you want to stay.

The North Shore of Kauai

The north shore is the more lush and rainy side of Kauai. It's dotted with resorts, famous landowners, and grand homes. The furthest point you can go on the north shore (besides hiking the Na Pali coast) is Ke'e Beach (for which you'll need a permit). With the cliffs in the background and a lush jungle setting, you'll know you're in paradise when you arrive. The north shore is also home to the picturesque and charming town of Hanalei and Hanalei Bay. Hanalei is full of shops and local eateries. Hanalei Bay boasts one of the most delightful beaches to walk and enjoy the gentle lapping waves at your feet with giant emerald green mountains in the background. And if you've had enough activity for the day, head out to the end of the pier and watch the surfers ride the waves.

Ke'e Beach on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii
Ke'e Beach on the north shore of Kauai

The East Shore of Kauai

The east shore is home to Kapa'a and Wailua. Charming little towns with plenty of shopping and eating to fill an afternoon. You'll also find Lydgate Beach- a perfect place to take the Keiki (kids) to swim, as it's protected by a barrier to keep the waves at bay. Lihue, the island's capital, and the airport are also on the East Shore.

The South Shore of Kauai

The south shore is the sunnier, drier side of Kauai. Here you'll find many things to do and several fantastic resort options! The south shore is home to Poipu Beach, where we always find the giant sea turtles and endangered Hawaiian monk seals sunning themselves. (Make sure to keep your distance, they're protected by law!) It's the perfect place to spend an afternoon snorkeling and people/wildlife watching. The nearby Kakui'ula shopping center is a great place to enjoy the evening. Dine at Merriman's or one of the many other upscale restaurants, then browse the shops and galleries. Don't forget to grab an ice cream at Lapperts before returning to your resort!

The sunnier and drier south shore of Kauai
The sunnier and drier south shore of Kauai

The West Shore of Kauai

The west side is the quieter, much hotter side of the island. Here you'll find an uninterrupted 12-mile beach where you can often not see anybody else. The waves are huge and awesome to watch. However, most visitors don't stay long down here because there isn't much to do. There are just a few reasons you come to the westside: 1) passing through on your way to the canyon, 2) to go to Polihale State Beach Park, and 3) to get shave ice at Jojo's!

Where to stay on Kauai

Ask anybody where you should stay on Kauai, and there is a 50% chance they'll say the north shore and a 50% chance they'll say the south shore. Each option is appealing for many reasons. Let's dive in!

Where To Stay On Kauai's North Shore

We think the north shore is perfect for those looking to escape to a quintessential tropical island. If you're looking for a quiet place to unwind, read a book, have an ultimate escape from ordinary life- this might be the spot for you.

Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii
Sign welcoming you to Hanalei

Ke'e Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Ke'e Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
Hanalei Bay, Kauai

Taro fields on the north shore, Kauai, Hawaii
Taro fields on the north shore, Kauai

The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas

Located in Princeville, the Westin is a great option to explore the lush tropical north shore. The Westin is perched atop a sea cliff, giving it dramatic and expansive views of the ocean below. The often harsh and loud waves seem peaceful and calming from this vantage point. An ocean view room is a perfect place to check-in and then check out! Check out of everyday life and stress as you are engulfed in your tranquil surroundings. This resort is the ideal jumping-off point for exploring Hanalei. Go for a stroll through quaint Hanalei town and enjoy its shops and relaxed restaurants. Take a leisurely walk along Hanalei Bay to the end of the pier. After a day of exploring the north shore, head back to the resort to relax at one of their four heated pools.

Pro tip: There isn't a convenient nearby breakfast stop. Your best bet is to get the breakfast package or book a room with a kitchenette and stock your room with breakfast items. We recommend booking a breakfast package because the breakfast here is top-notch!

Where To Stay On Kauai's South Shore

Visitors who love the south shore crave sunshine, more friendly waters, and more to do and see. The south shore is a good option if you plan activities like visiting the Waimea canyon and the Na Pali coast by air or sea. With less rain on this side, you'll want to spend more time outside.

Brennecke's Beach on south shore, Kauai, Hawaii
Brennecke's Beach on south shore, Kauai

Hawaiian Monk Seals at Poipu Beach, Kauai
Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals

Turtle at Poipu Beach, Kauai
Turtle at Poipu Beach

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa

The Grand Hyatt has everything you could want in a Hawaiian resort. They have several great restaurants with island ambiance, a spa that will help you slow down and settle into "island time," and tropically inspired pools (including a saltwater lagoon and lazy river) you can unwind in. The grounds are lush with tropical foliage, palm trees, and even resident tropical birds.

Grand Hyatt Resort & Spa, Kauai aerial view
Grand Hyatt Resort & Spa, Kauai

Sheraton Kauai Resort

The Sheraton Kauai is one of our favorite resorts to match our clients with. We feel there is incredible value in their oceanfront rooms. The resort is very close to the water, and they have an actual beach (a lot of Kauai is a rocky shoreline). They have complimentary lounge chairs right by the beach where you can read a book, people watch, or simply lounge and soak up the sun. The view from the restaurants is gorgeous, and the coconut shrimp at Lava's is some of our favorite! The Sheraton also has a lawn with comfortable Adirondack chairs around firepits, they do a torch lighting in the evening, and it's THE place to be at sunset.

Koloa Landing Resort

Right next door to the Sheraton is the Koloa Landing. There are a few reasons why the Koloa Landing tops our list of Kauai resorts. The first reason is their pool. They have a HUGE saline pool with a waterfall you can swim under. The ambiance is very relaxing with the soothing lights and sound of the waterfall, especially in the evening after a long day of exploring the garden isle. We also love the rooms- they're spacious, clean, and modern. If you are traveling with family and need a two-bedroom, this is the place you want to be! The two-bedroom is the biggest on the island, and it has a kitchenette and a fabulous lanai.

What's There To Do On Kauai?

Kauai is the oldest of the major Hawaiian Islands, and most of the island is undeveloped. It's this rawness and untouched landscape that gives Kauai its pristine beauty.

See Na Pali by boat or helicopter

If there's one thing you have to do when you're on Kauai, it's see Na Pali. The western side of Kauai is made up of jagged sea cliffs and is only accessible by air or sea unless you do the insanely difficult hike for which you will need a permit. (However, getting a permit is even more complicated than the hike, so we'll skip talking about it.)

Na Pali by boat- a sunset dinner cruise is a perfect way to view Na Pali and the majestic, awe-inspiring Kauai sunsets. You can also explore the cliffs on a smaller boat that can get in and out of the smaller spaces and get you up close and personal to the towering cliffs.

Na Pali by helicopter- take a helicopter ride to get a bird's eye view of the whole island, including the Na Pali cliffs! You'll take in the geography and majesty of the island as you explore waterfalls (including Jurassic Falls), fly through the Canyon, and weave in and out of the sea cliffs. This is an adventure you'll remember for a lifetime. For an epic experience, we love getting our clients on the Jurassic Falls Landing tour with Island Helicopters. You'll land at the base of the iconic waterfall, explore, take some photos, and then hop back on board to see the rest of the island.

View from our helicopter
View from the boat

Hike & sightsee the Waimea Canyon

Nicknamed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," this is a must-see on your Kauai vacation. You can easily drive up to scenic lookout points or you can use the stops (with convenient parking spots) as starting places for hikes. There are hikes for every fitness level. For an in-depth tour, hire a private hiking guide!

Pro tip: start your ascent to the canyon early in the day. You'll have less chance of clouds ruining your views at the Na Pali lookout.

Waimea Canyon

Go mountain tubing with Kauai Backcountry Adventure

This activity combines adventure with history! You'll tube through Hawaii's old hand-dug sugar plantation canals. On the way to the launch point and throughout your journey, the guides will tell you about the history of the canals and Hawaii's sugar plantations. The tubing is pretty laid-back (the water moves about four mph). You go through several tunnels, so they'll outfit you with headlamps and helmets. You're sure to have a blast on this adventure! (Ages 5+)

Mountain tubing!

Kayak to a Waterfall

Hawaii has one navigable river- the Wailua River in Kauai. It's the perfect river for kayaking! Several companies will take you on a guided kayak tour that will end with a hike to "secret falls," where you can swim in a jungle waterfall. Make sure you bring a waterproof camera with you for this trip!

Eat Local

Kauai is becoming a foodie destination for good reason. Fresh fish and locally grown fruits and veg are artfully crafted into beautiful cuisine by some of the world's best chefs.

The best fish tacos at Kilauea Fish Market
Shave ice at the Fresh Shave

This is a small sampling of what Kauai has to offer. While Kauai is a small island, there are so many things to see and do that it can be hard to narrow down! To us, each vacation is as unique as each traveler's. We like to get to know our clients, what they envision, and the feelings they want to capture on their vacation so we can craft the ultimate vacation just for them. We ensure they're armed with all the knowledge they need to have a beautiful Hawaiian vacation. If you'd like to ensure you get the best of the best for your Kauai vacation, schedule a consultation with us and we'll create something special just for you!

Want to know more about the other islands?

You'll want to check out our Hawaii Travel Guide, where we dive into each island and highlight how they differ. This will help you decide if Kauai is right or if Oahu, Maui, or the Big Island is better suited for you.

Not quite ready to book or want to get to know us a little better? No problem! Join our email list, and you'll get our weekly planning tips and access to our exclusive perks and pricing.

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