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Kauai Vacation Guide – Which Side Of The Island Is Best For You?

Once you have your mind set that you want to vacation on Kauai, the next step is to figure out where you’re going to stay. Kauai is pretty small in size, so regardless of where your vacation rental is located, you’ll be able to visit every side in your rental car. However, each side of the island has its own highlights, great beaches to visit, and weather variations.

So before you pack your bags and hop on a flight to Kauai, we’ll help you decide which side of the island is the best for you. For simplicity’s sake, let’s start with the North Shore and work our way around to the West Side.

Kalalau Beach

Hanalei Beach

Polihale Beach

Wai`oli Hui`ia Church is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places


North Shore

Haena, Wainiha, Hanalei, Princeville, Kilauea, Moloaa
  • Known For:​ Beaches, Sightseeing, Na Pali Coast, Waterfalls, Surfing, Botanical Gardens
  • Highlights:​ Anini Beach, Kilauea Lighthouse, Queen’s Bath, Hanalei Bay & Town, Ke’e Beach,
  • Limahuli Garden, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast, Na Aina Kai Botanical Garden & Sculpture Park
  • Weather:​ Rains Most Nights, Cooler, Breezy
  • Activities:​ Golfing, Kayaking, SUP, Horseback Riding, Snorkeling, Scuba Diving, Surfing, Hiking,
  • Exploring, Helicopter Tours, Whale Watching Tours, Boat Tours, Ziplining
  • Best Beaches:​ Anini Beach, Secrets Beach, Hanalei Bay, Pukas, Tunnels, Ke’e
  • Best Restaurants:​ Kilauea Fish Market, The Bistro, Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza, Nanea Restaurant & Bar, Hanalei Dolphin & Fish Market, BarAcuda, Kalypso, Tropical Taco, Wake-up Cafe, Hanalei Gourmet, Mediterranean Gourmet

East Side

Anahola, Kapaa, Wailua, Nawiliwili, Lihue
  • Known For:​ Nawiliwili Harbor, Wailua River, Restaurants, Shopping, Kite Surfing, Hiking Trails
  • Highlights:​ Kapaa Bike Path, Ho’opi Falls, Wailua River, Fern Grotto, Opaekaa Falls, Sleeping
  • Giant, Lydgate Beach Park
  • Weather:​ Coastal, Warm, Nice Trade Winds
  • Activities:​ Hiking, Kayaking, SUP, Kite Surfing, Exploring, Boat & Fishing Charters
  • Best Beaches:​ Anahola Beach Park, Kealia, Baby Beach, Lydgate Beach Park, Kitchens
  • Best Restaurants:​ Duane’s Ono Char Burgers, Kauai Juice Company, Al Pastor Tacos, Oasis on the Beach, Monico’s Taqueria, Brick Oven Pizza, Ono Ono Shave Ice, Olympic Cafe, Mermaid’s Cafe, Kountry Kitchen, Bubba Burgers, Kintaro Sushi Restaurant, Sushi Bushido, Smith’s Luau

The bike path in Kapaa

Waipouli Beach Resort

Wailua Falls

Kauai has delicious island produce that can be found all over the island

The Sleeping Giant

Main street downtown Kapaa Town, Kauai

Koloa Rum Company

Plumeria Flowers

Spouting Horn is one of the most photographed locations on Kauai

Come relax at one of Kauai’s elegant spas

South Shore

Poipu, Koloa, Lawai, Mahalapu Nawiliwili, Lihue
  • Known For:​ Tunnel of Trees, Shopping, Spouting Horn
  • Highlights:​ Spouting Horn, Alertons Gardens, Spouting Horn
  • Weather:​ Sunny, Warm
  • Activities:​ Boat & Fishing Charters, Whale Watching Tours, Golfing, Kayaking,
  • SUP, Waterfall Rappelling, Shopping, ATV tours, Resort Activities
  • Best Beaches:​ Mahalapu
  • Best Restaurants:​ Plantation Gardens Restaurant & Bar, Keoki’s Paradise, Red Salt


Hanamaulu, Lihue, Puhi, Kipu
  • Known For:​ Nawiliwili Harbor, Shopping, Business, Kauai Community College
  • Highlights:​ Kalapaki Beach, Kukui Grove Center, Kilohana Plantation, Kauai Museum
  • Weather:​ Pleasant, Warm
  • Activities:​ Boat & Fishing Charters, Helicopter Tours, Whale Watching Tours, Golfing, Kayaking,
  • SUP, Waterfall Rappelling, Shopping
  • Best Beaches:​ Kalapaki Beach
  • Best Restaurants:​ Deli & Bread Connection, Gaylord’s Restaurant, Hamura Saimin, Kauai Pasta, Kauai Beer Company

West Side

Eleele, Waimea, Kokee, Hanapepe, Kekaha
  • Known For:​ Historical Sites, Natural Attractions, Cultural Activities, Art Galleries, Tours
  • Highlights:​ Waimea Canyon, Polihale, Kokee State Park, Kalalau Lookout, Puu okila Lookout,
  • Alakai Swamp, Fort Elizabeth, Captain Cook Monument, Salt Pond Beach Park
  • Weather:​ Dry, Warm, Sunny
  • Activities:​ Sightseeing, Bird-watching, Boat & Fishing Charters, Surfing, Kayaking, Hiking, Sky
  • Diving, Exploring, Whale Watching Tours
  • Best Beaches:​ Salt Pond Beach Park, Kekaha Beach Park, Polihale Beach
  • Best Restaurants:​ Wrangler’s Steakhouse, JoJo’s Clubhouse, Little Fish Coffee House, Hanapepe Cafe

Which Side Of The Island Reigns Supreme?

Voted by readers of USA Today as one of the top 10 islands to visit in the United States, Kauai truly is a desirable place to vacation to. As mentioned above, each side of the island offers a little something different. There’s a great selection of vacation rentals, farmers’ markets, luaus, and great activities for all skill levels and ages. Your budget, activity preferences, and personality will help you determine which side of the island reigns supreme. After exploring the island for yourself, you’ll find that the entire island, with all of its uniqueness and diversity, makes it enjoyable, no matter what side of the island you choose to stay on.

So, Where Should You Stay?

When determining where you would like to stay, ask yourself (and then refer to above Table of Contents):

  • What is the purpose/goal of this trip?
  • What do I want to be close to?
  • Do I want access to a store 24 hours a day?
  • How much time do I want to spend driving to the activities and places that interest me?
  • How secluded do I really want to be?

Here at Kauai Exclusive, we have accommodations to meet everybody’s budget. Whether you’re looking for rooms for $100/night or you want to rent an entire house, we have you covered. We have a selection of rooms on the north shore, east side, and south side.

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