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 ocean conditions in summer are on the North Shore. If you plan to hike more than a day in Waimea Canyon or Kokee, or want to experience the island’s low-key lifestyle, the West Side will suit.
Taxes of 14.42% are added to all hotel bills. Parking is free, and pools are outdoors unless otherwise noted. Parking, Wi-Fi, 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 often available for an additional fee for condos and other vacation rentals.
Convenient to all parts of the island (except during rush hour), Lihue and the Coconut Coast have the greatest number of budget motels and moderately priced beachfront hotel rooms and condos, along with a couple of posh resorts. Rural Anahola and upcountry Kapaa are outside the official “visitor destination area,” so their B&Bs and vacation rentals may not be licensed. Note: Much of the East Side’s most iconic hotel, the Coco Palms (of Blue Hawaii fame), was demolished in 2017, 25 years after Hurricane Iniki forced its closure. Plans to rebuild it as a Hyatt Unbound resort have slowed due to permit and ownership disputes.
In addition to the properties below, consider a condo at one of two oceanfront complexes in Kapaa. At the 84-unit Kapaa Shore ★, 4-900 Kuhio Hwy., the nine condos managed by Garden Island Properties (www.kauaiproperties.com; 800/801-0378 or 808/822-4871) start at $145 a day for a one-bedroom, one-bath unit to $185 for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit (plus $115–$130 cleaning and $85 in other fees). At the more upscale Lae Nani ★★, 410 Papaloa Rd. (off Kuhio Hwy.), Outrigger (www.outrigger.com; 866/956-4262 or 808/823-1401) manages about a quarter of the 83 one- and two-bedroom units ($209–$369 nightly; cleaning $175–$225); perks include a lighted tennis court, pool, and beach with child-friendly, rock-walled swimming area.
For more privacy, check out the two elegantly furnished cottages in a leafy setting known as 17 Palms Kauai Vacation Cottages ★★ (www.17palmskauai.com; 888/725-6799), a block away from Wailua Bay. Rates for the one-bedroom, one-bathroom Hale Iki (sleeps two adults, plus a small child) start at $189 a night, plus $110 cleaning; the two-bedroom, one-bathroom Meli Meli (sleeps four adults, plus a small child) starts at $239, plus $145 cleaning. Tucked off busy Kuamoo Road in Kapaa, but with easy access to the Wailua River (kayaks provided), the pleasant Fern Grotto Inn ★ (www.ferngrottoinn.com; 808/821-9836) has six quaint cottage units (most sleeping two), for $200 to $275 a night, plus $100 to $150 cleaning, and the upscale, three-bedroom, three-bath Ohana House ★★ (sleeps up to six), from $325 nightly and $250 cleaning; check online for last-minute 25% discount.
Young backpackers and adventurous adults on a shoestring budget should consider Honuea International Hostel Kauai (www.kauaihostel.com; 808/823-6142) in historic Kapaa. Bunks in the three, 10-bed single-sex and mixed dorm rooms (one bathroom per dorm) start at $31 per person, including taxes; for the three female and mixed private rooms, rates range from $53 to $66. The two deluxe private rooms, which share a bathroom, have the nicest setting, in the main house, for $79 a night.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 vacation rentals may be unlicensed, and unhappy neighbors have been known to report them to authorities, leading to at least one abrupt shutdown. If you’re not staying in a hotel, I recommend booking through one of the following agencies, which manage only licensed properties, or checking closely for the permit number in online listings on VRBO.com or other platforms.
Kauai Vacation Rentals (www.kauaivacationrentals.com; 800/367-5025 or 808/245-8841) has managed well-maintained homes and condos across the island since 1978, with the majority (91 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, when rates also rise. You can search online listings by location, size, view, air-conditioning (not so common where trade winds blow), and swimming pool; agents can also help you find the perfect match. In Haena, for one example, the standard rate for Hale Pua Kai, a one-bedroom, one-bathroom garden-view cottage that’s a short walk to Makua (Tunnels) Beach is $235 a night; for Nakea Cottage, an oceanview, two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom cottage across the road from Anini Beach, it’s $380 a night, discounted to $1,900 for a weekly stay—a good deal if you’re splitting the expenses with another couple. For all rentals, you’ll also pay a $35 reservation fee and one-time cleaning fee, anywhere from $90 for a studio condo to as high as $565 for a five-bedroom house.
Parrish Collection Kauai (www.parrishkauai.com; 800/325-5701 or 808/742-2000), represents 10 homes and cottages from Kilauea to Haena and 40 properties (nearly all 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 $209 a night (3-night minimum) for a gardenview one-bedroom with two baths (sleeps four). 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 $150 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit. Not included in Parrish’s rates are the $50 “processing” fee and cleaning fees, starting at $94 for a studio and increasing by size.
Coldwell Banker Bali Hai Realty (www.balihai.com; 808/826-8000) manages about 75 luxury vacation rentals, all of them licensed. Expect a 7-night minimum June through August and December 15 to January 5; otherwise, it’s 4 to 5 nights. Princeville properties include nine 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 $135 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom mountainview unit, and $200 for a similar unit with ocean view. Its lowest rate at Puu Poa is $330 a night for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom oceanview penthouse unit, ideal for couples to share. Add a reservation fee of $50 and a cleaning fee of $200 to $250 to bookings.
A frequent resource for Hollywood film crews, Mike Lyons of Kauai Style Vacation Rentals (www.kauaistyleconcierge.com; 808/482-1572) specializes in exquisite, high-end properties on the North Shore; only three (starting at $1,200 a night) are listed online 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.
In addition to the listings below, consider the posh, residential-style Cliffs at Princeville ★★ (www.cliffsatprinceville.com; 808/826-6129), on the northern edge of the Princeville bluff. Its 202 one-bedroom, two-bathroom units (sleeping four) offer a full kitchen, living room, and two lanais starting at $375 ($435 for loft units that sleep six), plus a weekly resort fee of $75. The three-story Cliffs has no elevators or A/C, but it does have two tennis courts, fitness center, playground, pool, two hot tubs, and a mini putting green, among other amenities.
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. Larger groups should consider splitting costs in the new oceanfront Orchid Point triplex, where the top floor’s three-bedroom, 3½-bath unit includes a guest studio with kitchenette (www.vrbo.com/998642); rates average $325 a night, plus $225 cleaning and $142 VRBO fee. Also peruse updated units at the dramatically perched, 22-acre Hanalei Bay Resort ★★ (www.hanaleibayresort.com; 877/344-0688), known for its fantasy pool. It participates in timeshare and rental programs but offers direct bookings, too, from $149 for a studio (512 sq. ft.) with kitchen, lanai, and pull-out sofa bed (but no other bed); one-bedroom suites (1,091 sq. ft.) sleep four and start at $269. Rates exclude the $20 daily resort fee.
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, B&Bs and vacation homes.
Finding a Perfect Place in poipu
The best way to find a high-quality, licensed vacation rental in Poipu is through The Parrish Collection Kauai (www.parrishkauai.com; 800/325-5701 or 808/742-2000). Parrish manages more than 300 units for 25 different island-wide condo developments, plus dozens of vacation houses ranging from quaint cottages to elite resort homes; about three-quarters are in Poipu. The company maintains resort-like standards, classifying its lodgings into four categories (“premium plus” is the highest, for new or completely renovated units), sending linens for professional laundering, and providing luxe bathroom amenities. Waikomo Stream Villas ★, Nihi Kai Villas ★★, and Poipu Kapili ★★, where the company manages about half the condos (100 in total), each has a concierge desk—with no kickbacks for referrals, according to owner J. P. Parrish. “Our staff knows the island really well and has no agenda; we only recommend what works for each guest,” he notes.
Each well-equipped rental offers a full kitchen, washer/dryer, TV/DVD, phone, and free Wi-Fi; you’ll pay a one-time cleaning and $50 to $100 in reservation fees. At Nihi Kai Villas, which has a heated pool (a rarity here) and large floor plans, off-peak nightly rates start at $175 for a two-bedroom condo (sleeps six), plus $166 cleaning; at Waikomo Stream Villas, a garden-view one-bedroom condo (sleeps four) starts at $125 a night, plus $136 cleaning. The more luxurious Poipu Kapili, overlooking the ocean, offers a saltwater pool and two tennis courts; one-bedroom, two-bath units (sleeps four) start at $250 a night, plus $199 cleaning; two-bedroom, three-bath units from $350, plus $259 cleaning. The recently built Nalo Bungalow, a cheerily decorated 3-bedroom, 3 1/2 bath, two-story cottage with ocean views, is perfect for multifamily rentals, starting at $400 a night, plus $420 cleaning.
Parrish is also the exclusive agent for the luxuriously appointed villas, cottages, and bungalows of the heavenly Lodge at Kukuiula ★★★. Guests gain access to the sprawling, residential Kukuiula resort’s private, ultra-posh spa, championship golf course, pool, farm, ocean activities and superb clubhouse dining (from $750 a night, plus $250 cleaning; see http://lodgeatkukuiula.com for details).
Condos typically have a 3-night minimum stay and houses, 5 nights. Ask about the Frommer’s Preferred Guest Discount, good for 5% to 10% off of 5-night or longer stays; Parrish also offers a price-matching guarantee.
Besides the listings 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; 808/742-6411) manages more than half of the units, but only those rented from Castle Resorts (www.castleresorts.com; 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 one-bedroom rates start at $169 gardenview and $199 oceanview, plus $175 cleaning, while Castle’s equivalent units start at $149 and $209, respectively, plus $50 to $120 cleaning (depending on length of stay). Both Outrigger and Castle include free Wi-Fi and parking in their rates.
Among other options outside of Poipu, Kauai Banyan Inn ★ (www.kauaibanyan.com; 808/645-6527) in rural Lawai offers three airy vacation suites, all with gleaming wood floors, Hawaiian quilts, and kitchenettes or full kitchens. Co-owners Lorna and John Hoff, who live on the 11-acre compound that they helped build years ago, offer detailed advice as well as make-your-own breakfast fixings; rates range from $155 to $230 per night, plus $45 to $55 cleaning.
In pricey Poipu, staying anywhere under $200 a night—especially if fees and taxes are included—can be a challenge. Kauai Vacation Rentals (www.kauaivacationrentals.com; 800/367-5025 or 808/245-8841), located in the well-kept Prince Kuhio ★★ complex across from Lawai Beach, manages 10 garden- and oceanview studios that start at $165 a night (3-night minimum), including taxes, reservation and cleaning fees. It also has eight one-bedroom/one-bathroom units (some sleeping four) that cost, all told, about $198 a night. During spring and fall, Suite Paradise (www.suite-paradise.com; 800/367-8020) frequently has gardenview one-bedroom/one-bathroom units in the Kahala ★ condominium on the 70-acre, verdant Poipu Kai resort for $133 a night, plus $150 cleaning and $9 daily resort fee.
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 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. B&Bs and vacation rentals 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, have arrived on island only to discover their unit belongs to somebody else; they had no place to stay and no recourse to recover their payments.
For condos, 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. Happily, more management companies are now advertising their listings on VRBO.com, Airbnb.com, and other DIY sites—but they are eliminating daily maid service and other niceties to remain competitive. Always read the fine print before you arrive to know what to expect.
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.