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Where to Stay on Kauai

To avoid long drives, it pays to base your lodgings on the kind of vacation you envision, and consider dividing your time among locations. The island’s East Side makes the most sense for those planning to divide their time equally among island sights; however, the best resorts for families and winter weather are on the South Shore. The most gorgeous scenery and best summertime ocean conditions are on the North Shore. If you’re planning more than 1 day of hiking in Waimea Canyon or Kokee, or just want to experience the low-key island lifestyle, the West Side will definitely suit.

Taxes of 13.42 percent are added to all hotel bills. Parking is free, and pools are outdoors unless otherwise noted. Parking, Internet, and resort fees where applicable are charged daily; “cleaning” fees refer to one-time charges for cleaning after your stay, not daily housekeeping—the latter may be available for an additional fee for condos and other vacation rentals.

Hot-Button Issue: Vacation Rentals & B&Bs

As on other Hawaiian Islands, vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts outside of areas zoned for tourism have become a hot-button issue for many on Kauai. Since 2008, owners of all such rentals and B&Bs have needed permits to operate, with special restrictions on agricultural land; the benefit for guests is knowing that your lodgings conform to planning and safety codes, the taxes you’re paying are actually going to the county, and your stay won’t be in jeopardy of a surprise shutdown. At press time, the county was not enforcing the rules for B&Bs as much as for vacation rentals, which among other requirements must display their permit number (often starting with “TVR” or “TVNC”) on any online advertising, and post a sign on the premises listing that number, plus the name and phone number of an on-island emergency contact.

        The Kauai Visitors Bureau also urges special caution when booking a vacation rental online from sources other than licensed agencies, such as those listed here. Some visitors, usually those who paid by check or money order, arrive on island only to discover their unit belongs to somebody else; they have no place to stay and no recourse to recover their payments.

        When booking a condo, also keep in mind that companies that manage multiple properties in a complex may be able to find you another unit if you’re dissatisfied with your view or problems arise during your stay—generally not the case for a unit booked on VRBO.com and other do-it-yourself rental sites. However, some management companies are eliminating daily maid service and other niceties to remain competitive; read the fine print before you arrive to know what to expect.

East Side

Convenient to all parts of the island (except during rush hour), Lihue and the Coconut Coast have the greatest number of budget motels, affordable beachfront condos, and moderately priced hotel rooms, along with a couple of posh resorts. Bed-and-breakfasts and vacation rentals in rural and residential areas such as Anahola and upcountry Kapaa are outside the official “visitor destination area” and may not be licensed, although many have paid taxes and operated without complaints for years.

In addition to the properties below, consider renting a one- or two-bedroom oceanfront condo at one of two complexes in Kapaa. At the 84-unit Kapaa Shores, 900 Kuhio Hwy., the 10 unitsmanaged by Garden Island Properties (www.kauaiproperties.com; tel. 800/801-0378 or 808/822-4871) run from $800 to $1,050 a week (plus $100–$130 cleaning and $25–$50 reservation fees). At the slightly more upscale Lae Nani, 410 Papaloa Rd. (off Kuhio Hwy.), Outrigger (www.outrigger.com/laenani; tel. 866/956-4262 or 808/823-1401) manages about a quarter of the 83 spacious units ($189–$349 nightly; cleaning fees $95–$115); the beach here offers a rock-walled swimming area perfect for children.

If you prefer something more private, check out the two elegantly furnished (and licensed) cottages in a leafy setting known as 17 Palms Kauai Vacation Cottages (www.17palmskauai.com; tel. 888/725-6799), a block away from Wailua’s beaches. Rates for the one-bedroom, one-bathroom Hale Iki (sleeps two adults, plus a small child) start at $165 a night, plus $100 cleaning; the two-bedroom, one-bathroom Meli Meli (sleeps four adults, plus a small child) starts at $245 (discounted 20 percent for couples), plus $125 cleaning. Tucked off Kapaa’s busy Kuamoo Road, with easy access to the Wailua River, the pleasant compound known as the Fern Grotto Inn (www.ferngrottoinn.com; tel. 808/821-9836) comprises five quaint cottages (most sleeping just two), for $110 to $195 a night, plus $75 to $100 cleaning, and one three-bedroom house (up to six adults) for $250 to $350 nightly and $175 to $225 cleaning.

North Shore

Despite this magical region’s popularity with visitors, only Princeville is officially one of Kauai County’s “visitor destination areas”; it’s important to be aware that many rural bed-and-breakfasts and vacation rentals here are unlicensed. While the county may temporarily be leaving B&Bs alone, in 2014 the state abruptly shut down one longtime Hanalei B&B for building and operating in a conservation district, and unhappy neighbors of unlicensed rentals may report them to authorities. If you’re not staying in one of the few hotels, I recommend booking through one of the following agencies, which manage only licensed properties and are known for their integrity.

Founded in 1978, Kauai Vacation Rentals (www.kauaivacationrentals.com; tel. 800/367-5025 or 808/245-8841) manages well-maintained homes and condos across the island, with the majority—102 at press time—on the North Shore. Most have a 3- to 5-night minimum that expands to 1 week or 2 weeks from December 15 to January 6. You can search online listings by location, size, view, and amenities such as air-conditioning (not so common where trade winds blow), swimming pool, and high-speed Internet access (increasingly more common); agents are happy to help you find the perfect match. In Haena, the non-holiday rate for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom garden-view cottage that’s just a short walk to Tunnels (Makua) Beach is $250 a night or $1,250 a week; for an oceanview, two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom cottage right on Anini Beach, it’s $360 a night or $1,800 a week—a good deal if you’re splitting the expenses with another couple. For all rentals, you’ll also pay a $35 reservation fee and a one-time cleaning fee that starts at $90 for a studio condo and can go as high as $565 for a sprawling, five-bedroom house.

Parrish Collection Kauai (www.parrishkauai.com; tel.800/325-5701 or 808/742-2000), which has made a name for itself with high-quality Poipu vacation rentals , also represents 10 homes and cottages in Hanalei and nearly 50 properties (mostly condos) in Princeville. Many of the latter are in the Hanalei Bay Resort, which has spectacular views rivaling those of the St. Regis, air-conditioning in units, and a recently redone fantasy pool with waterfalls, slides, and so forth; rates start at $125 a night (five-night minimum) for a garden-view studio. If you can forgo an ocean view, Parrish’s best values are in the Plantation at Princeville, roomy two- and three-bedroom air-conditioned units in a complex built in 2004 with a pool, spa, barbecues, and fitness center; rates start at $130 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit. Not included in the rates are the $50 “processing” fee per booking and cleaning fees (starting at $100 for a studio and increasing by size).

Coldwell Banker Bali Hai Realty (www.balihai.com; tel. 808/826-8000) manages about 40 luxury vacation rentals, all of them licensed; expect a 7-night minimum June 1 to August 31 and December 15 to January 5, otherwise 4 to 5 nights. Its Princeville properties include 10 units at the desirable Pali Ke Kua and Puu Poa complexes, less than a half-mile from each other on the bluff above Hideaways Beach. At Pali Ke Kua, nightly rates start as low as $130 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom mountain-view unit, and $160 for an oceanview one-bedroom unit with sleeper sofa that sleeps four. Its lowest rate at Puu Poa is $290 a night for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom oceanview unit (ideal for couples to share). For condo bookings, Bali Hai charges a reservation fee of $25 to $50 and a cleaning fee of $150 to $180.

A frequent resource for Hollywood movie crews on the island, Mike Lyons of Kauai Style Vacation Rentals (www.kauaistyleconcierge.com; tel. 808/482-1572) specializes in licensed properties on the North Shore; you won’t find listings on his site because he prefers to work with clients individually. A passionate surfer, Lyons also enjoys escorting guests on ocean and trail adventures and can arrange private chefs and other services.

Moderate

The best values on the North Shore can be found among Princeville’s many condo complexes, which vary widely in age and amenities; check the listings of the brokers mentioned above. I recommend either the dramatically perched Hanalei Bay Resort (www.hanaleibayresort.com; tel. 877/344-0688) or the residential-style Cliffs at Princeville (www.cliffsatprinceville.com; tel. 808/826-6129); both participate in timeshare and vacation rental programs but also allow direct bookings; both were also undergoing renovations in 2014. Nightly rates at the 22-acre Hanalei Bay Resort, just west of the St. Regis, start at $149 for a hotel-style unit with king-size bed, plus a $12 daily resort fee. At the posher, more tranquil Cliffs, on the northern edge of the Princeville bluff, one-bedroom, two-bathroom units (sleeping four) with full kitchen, living room, and lanai start at $227 nonrefundable ($324 standard), plus a weekly resort fee of $75.

South Shore

The most popular place to stay year-round, the resort area of Poipu Beach is definitely a “visitor destination area,” with hundreds of rental condos, cottages, and houses vying with Kauai’s best luxury resorts for families and a romantic boutique hotel. Upcountry Lawai and Kalaheo brim with more modest, not necessarily licensed, bed-and-breakfasts and vacation homes.

Finding a Perfect Place in poipu

The best way to find a high-quality, licensed vacation rental in Poipu is through Parrish Collection Kauai (www.parrishkauai.com; tel. 800/325-5701 or 808/742-2000). Parrish manages more than 200 units for 20 different islandwide condo developments, plus dozens of vacation houses ranging from quaint cottages to elite resort homes; about three-quarters are in Poipu, in a wide range of prices. The company sets resort-like standards for decor and maintenance, classifying its lodgings into four categories (“premium plus” is the highest, for new or completely renovated units), sending linens out for professional laundering, and providing signature bathroom amenities. At Parrish’s flagship Waikomo Stream Villas and Nihi Kai Villas in Poipu, where the company manages about half the condos (75 in total), there’s even concierge service—with no kickbacks for referrals, according to owner J. P. Parrish. “Our guides know the island really well and have no agenda; we only recommend what works and has good customer service,” he notes.

        Each well-equipped rental offers a full kitchen, washer/dryer, TV/DVD, phone, and free Wi-Fi; condo rates in the introductory Value Collection start as low as $100 a night; you’ll pay cleaning but not resort or parking fees. At Nihi Kai Villas, which has a heated pool (a rarity here) and large floor plans, off-peak nightly rates start at $167 for a two-bedroom condo (sleeps six), plus $153 cleaning; at Waikomo Stream Villas, a one-bedroom condo (sleeps four) starts at $115 a night, plus $125 cleaning.

        Parrish’s vacation cottages range from $200 a night to $1,000-plus for sumptuous multimillion-dollar ocean estates and the cottages and bungalows at Kukuiula (exclusively rented by Parrish); the latter allow access to the exquisite and otherwise private Kukuiula spa, golf course, and clubhouse.

        There’s a 3- to 5-night minimum for condos, a 7-night minimum for houses, and no minimum at Kukuiula, except during winter holidays. For 5-night or longer stays, inquire about the Frommer’s Preferred Guest Discount, good for 5 to 10 percent off; if a better deal is available, agents will let you know. The company also offers a price-match guarantee.

Expensive

Besides the resorts below, the 35-acre, green-lawned Kiahuna Plantation Resort, on the sandy beach next to the Sheraton, is also worth considering, although its 333 individually furnished, one- and two-bedroom condos vary widely in taste; they also rely on ceiling fans (and trade winds) for cooling, and there’s no elevator in the three-story buildings. Outrigger (www.outrigger.com; tel. 808/742-6411) manages more than half of the units, but only those rented from Castle Resorts (www.castleresorts.com; tel. 800/367-5004 or 808/545-5310) receive daily housekeeping and access to the tennis courts and resort-style pool of the Poipu Beach Athletic Club across the street. Outrigger’s nightly rates for one-bedrooms start at $175 to $395 plus $70 cleaning, while Castle’s start at $171 to $285, plus $35 to $70 cleaning; both include free Wi-Fi and parking in their rates.

Moderate

Of the options outside of Poipu, Kauai Banyan Inn (www.kauaibanyan.com; tel. 888/786-3855) in rural Lawai offers six airy suites and a cottage, all with gleaming wood floors, Hawaiian quilts, and kitchenettes or full kitchens, for $140 to $230 per night plus $45 cleaning. Although the inn is not licensed, co-owners Lorna and John Hoff, who live on the 11-acre compound that they helped build and now run as a bed-and-breakfast, say it’s not in an agricultural zone, and accommodations taxes do go to the county.

Inexpensive

In pricey Poipu, staying anywhere for $150 a night—especially if fees and taxes are included—can be a real challenge. Kauai Vacation Rentals (www.kauaivacationrentals.com; tel. 800/367-5025 or 808/245-8841) manages 10 garden- and oceanview studios in the well-kept Prince Kuhio complex across from Lawai Beach that cost about $135 a night (5-night minimum), even with taxes and fees rolled in; it also has eight one-bedroom/one-bathroom units (some sleeping four) that, all told, cost about $170 a night. During spring and fall, Suite Paradise (www.suite-paradise.com; tel. 800/367-8020) frequently has garden-view one-bedroom/one-bathroom units in the Kahala condominium on the 70-acre Poipu Kai resort for $145 to $155 a night, all inclusive.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.