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If you’re planning a vacation to Kauai then you’re one lucky dog! It’s one of my favorite Hawaiian islands and probably the prettiest one at that. If you’re very far into the planning process, you’ve probably realized that picking the right place to stay is likely the trickiest (and most important) things you’ll have to do. Where you stay on Kauai can make or break your vacation and there are soooo many options that it can be overwhelming. Not to worry! I’m going to break it down for you, give you an overview of the island.
Side note: After you read up on the lay of the is(land) and know which part you want to stay on, check out these posts for specific recommendations:
Here’s everything you need to know about where to stay in Kauai:
Lay of the Land
Kauai is divided into four major sections (North Shore, East Shore, South Shore, and West Shore). Each section has its pros and cons and own individual personality. Depending on what you’re looking for and what’s most important to you (budget, convenience, stellar views, beautiful beaches, luxury resorts, etc.) one area of the island may be more desirable. Here’s a breakdown of Kauai’s four main areas:
North Shore: In my opinion, the north shore of Kauai is the most gorgeous place on the planet. It has beautiful beaches and the lush green mountainous landscapes that most people’s Hawaiian dreams are made of. As you might guess, it’s so lush because it rains more here than other parts of the island (especially in the winter). The north shore is home to the charming little surf town of Hanalei and some pretty spectacular luxury accommodations. While it’s stunningly gorgeous, it’s also a bit remote if you’re planning on exploring sites on the south and west sides of the island.
East Shore: The east shore is often referred to as the “coconut coast” and is the most developed part of the island. This is where you’ll find the most reasonably priced accommodations and it central location makes it a convenient location from which to explore the north and south shores. There are of course lovely beaches on the coconut coast (hello, this is Hawaii!) but you won’t find any awe inspiring backdrops as you will on the north shore and the amenities are usually not as convenient as those on the south shore. You’ll find more “local” beaches on the east side.
South Shore: Kauai’s south side is the driest and sunniest part of the island, which makes it very popular with tourists. There are plenty of big resorts so you’ll find plenty of shopping and dining options. You’ll also find a nice selection of beaches but expect them to be more crowded than beaches on other parts of the island. The south side is a convenient place from which to explore the west side (Waimea Canyon and Polihole beach) but not so convenient for seeing north shore sites.
West Shore: The west shore is definitely the least visited part of Kauai (except for visitors to Waimea Canyon) and not very many people stay here. It’s very barren, dry, and isolated, and not convenient to seeing the rest of the island. Really the only people who are going to be staying over here are hikers and backpackers.
RELATED: 15 Things to Do on Kauai
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So now that you’ve got the lay of the land, here are a few pointers on how to decide which part of the island is going to be best for you.
Stay on the north shore if…
- You want beautiful beaches with gorgeous backdrops.
- You want luxury accommodations.
- You’re a golfer.
Stay on the east shore if…
- Budget is the deciding factor.
- You want a convenient home base from which to explore the island.
Stay on the south shore if…
- You want sunny and dry weather.
- You like a resort feel.
- You want a lot of dining options.
Stay on the west shore if…
- You’re planning to do hikes on that part of the island.
- You want to spend a lot of time at Polihale beach.
My 2 Cents about Kauai
If you’re going in the summer (April to October), definitely stay on the north shore. Stay at the St. Regis if at all possible. It’s got the loveliest location of any resort in Hawaii. If you can’t swing the St. Regis, find a cute Airbnb in the area. Summer months will still get rain, but not as much in the winter and it’s worth it to stay on the prettiest side of the island.
If you’re going in the winter (November to March), stay in sunny Poipu on the south side. There are a bunch of great beach resorts as well as plenty of condos.
No matter what time of year you’re visiting, if budget is a priority and/or you’ll be spending most of your trip out exploring every day (not as much time lounging on the beach where you’re staying), then pick a spot on the east side. There are several really cute budget hotels that have great amenities.
My Three Favorite Places to Stay on Kauai
Below I’ve linked to ALL of my posts with specific recommendations for where to stay, but if you’re in a hurry, here are my three overall favorite places to stay on Kauai:
And don’t forget to check out these posts for specific recommendations on where to stay on Kauai: Kauai budget hotels, 12 Kauai beach resorts, 20 cool Kauai Airbnb rentals, most family friendly resorts on Kauai, and 5 best Kauai honeymoon resorts.
Feeling a little overwhelmed with trying to plan the perfect Kauai itinerary? I’ve got just the thing for you!
Kauai Bound! I’ve put together the BEST Kauai itineraries you’ll find anywhere! These are the itineraries I use on my trips to Kauai (plus a few tweaks because hindsight is 20/20 right?) and they’re perfect for first time and repeat visitors who want to see the very best of Kauai.
Check it out here.
I’ve included everything from the best snorkeling spots, beaches, and excursions and it’s all broken down by each part of the island so you won’t waste any time backtracking.
So what exactly do you get? With Kauai Bound, you’ll get FOUR six day itineraries: 1) classic Kauai itinerary, 2) Kauai honeymoon itinerary, 3) Kauai for adventure seekers itinerary, and 4) Kauai foodie itinerary. I’m not just talking about a bullet point list of to dos. Each itinerary comes with 10-15 pages of commentary explaining why I recommend doing certain things (plus various options to suit your interests). Each itinerary also comes with its own Google Map (broken down by day). You’ll also get an itinerary template that you can use to make your own, along with extensive tips on creating your own itinerary, a huge list of things to do on Kauai, and directions for making your own Google Maps.
This is basically vacation in a box, friend! Just add a bit of salt water and you’re in for the trip of a lifetime!
Click here to grab the Kauai Bound itinerary bundle.
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