1. Hawaii
  2. The essentials
  3. Where to stay in Hawaii? Our hotel recommandations
Written by Sandrine Updated on 27/02/21

That's it, you decided to go to Hawaii! Your plane tickets probably in your pocket, it's time to organize the whole trip and book your accommodations. In this article we will help you to ideally choose your places of residence so that you can choose the most suitable locations according to your way of travel. So let's explore the four main islands of Hawaii.

1Where to stay in Kauai?

Kauai Island is the smallest of Hawaii's 4 large islands. Rather round in shape, it measures only about 50 km long by 40 km wide. We would think that the trips there will be very limited, but this was without relying on the fact that the main road does not make the entire tour of the island!

Indeed, the magnificent landscapes of the impressive Na Pali coast located in the northwest of the island are impassable. There is no road between Kee Beach in the north (starting point of the Kalalau trail) and Polihale State Park in the extreme west of the island. It will therefore be necessary to pass over the eastern coast of the island again and again, as the section between Lihue and Kapaa is very often congested in the morning and evening.

Because of this rugged topology, you will have 3 solutions to choose your accommodation locations in Kauai.

Choose a single location between Lihue and Kapaa

If you are not worried about driving a little bit every day, the ideal is to find a single residence for your entire stay on the island geographically located between the cities of Lihue and Kapaa. This area is quite urbanized and offers many choices of accommodation. You will also find many shops, especially in Lihue, the main city of the island.

The advantage of this central location is that you will be located midway between the north and south sides of the island. You will be 1h30 from Kokee State Park (farthest point south on the island) and 1h00 from Kee beach (farthest point north on the island). However you will have to expect to drive a little every day to reach the various points of interest of the island, with a maximum of 3h round trip the day you decide to explore the Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks.

However, the benefits are still very interesting:

  • You will only have one location for your entire stay, which will allow you to be flexible and adapt your days according to the weather (Kauai is a rather humid island where the weather varies a lot).
  • Finally it will generally cost you less to spend all your nights in the same place rather than split your stay in two.

We chose this solution for our first trip to Hawaii and were very satisfied with it. The roads are pleasant and the journeys pass quickly despite the light daily traffic jams around Lihue every morning and evening.

Here is a selection of hotels that we recommend in the vicinity of Lihue and Kapaa.

For couples

Kauai Palm Hotel$

Located in Lihue, this small clean motel with comfortable bedding is a good compromise for a cheap stay in Kauai.

Kauai Inn$$

Very warm welcome in this small human-sized hotel located near the port of Lihue in a green setting.

The ISO$$

This friendly, fully renovated hotel is ideally located on the seafront near the center of Kapaa.

For families

Kauai Beach Villas$$

Here is a pleasant complex of small apartments located on the seaside, quietly between Lihue and Kapaa.

Kauai Coast Resort at the Beach Boy$$

This residence located in Kapaa by the sea offers comfortable apartments and a beautiful swimming pool area.

Marriott Kauai Lagoons$$$

Ideally located near the famous Kalapaki beach in Lihue, the Marriott offers chic, comfortable and spacious apartments.

Choose two accommodation areas to the north and south of the island

If you don't want to drive at all, you can choose to split your stay in two by choosing a first accommodation for example in the north of the island, towards Princeville, then a second one in the south of the island, towards Poipu.

Landscape near Princeville - Kauai
Landscape near Princeville in North Kauai.
Shipwreck beach - Poipu
Shipwreck beach near Poipu.

In our opinion, these two areas are the most interesting because they both offer a good number of hotel complexes or rental residences. On the other hand you will not find there big supermarkets such as in the sector of Lihue, but only small mini-markets.

  • The advantage will be to reduce all the trips and to vary your holiday locations.
  • The disadvantage will be to be less flexible on the weather side and probably to pay more for your two accommodations (for rentals, the cleaning fees, often up to 100$, are the same whether you stay 3 or 10 days).

Here is a selection of hotels and villas that we have tested or that we find interesting and recommend in the vicinity of Princeville.

For couple

1 Hotel Hanalei Bay$$$

Here is the must see large resort of Princeville with its breathtaking ocean view and direct access to the ocean with a small beach, ideal for swimming. The complex ( previously Saint Regis then Princeville Resort) has recently been bought by "1 Hotel" and is under complete renovation. The reopening is scheduled for 2022.

For families

Hanalei Bay Villas$$

We rented one of his villas for our wedding in Kauai, the location is very quiet and the view over the ridges is just beautiful!

The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas$$$

If you are looking for the luxury of a small villa, you will be charmed by the setting and the services offered!

Finally, here is a selection of some hotels and apartments for rent that we find interesting and recommend in the surroundings of Poipu and Waimea.

For couple

Castle Kiahuna Plantation & The Beach Bungalows$$

Here is a complex of comfortable small apartments with kitchen located in Poipu in a large park by the sea.

Koa Kea Hotel & Resort$$$

An exceptional hotel perfect for a honeymoon in Poipu, all in a quiet seafront location with beautiful amenities.

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa$$$

Large and chic hotel complex in Poipu. Its Tidepools restaurant offers an exceptional setting on the water.

For families

Appartements à Poipu Kai$$

The Poipu Kai area offers many nice and well-equipped apartments in small buildings near Poipu Beach.

Waimea Plantation Cottages$$

You will inevitably be seduced by these small cottages for 2 to 6 people located in the heart of a park by the sea in Waimea.

Whalers Cove in Poipu$$

Large and comfortable luxury apartments ideally located facing the ocean, in a charming setting in Poipu.

Choose an accommodation in the north of the island

If you prefer to stay in a unique accommodation to easily adapt to the weather and reduce your budget, but you do not like the Lihue to Kapaa area, you can always choose to spend your entire stay in a location in the north of the island. This is the option we chose for our return to Kauai in 2018 where we decided to rent a large house in Princeville, a chic and very nice little town on the north coast.

The disadvantage is that the distances to reach the points of interest on the opposite side of the island will be much longer.

If like us you want to choose a base in Princeville, know that the farthest point of interest will be the Kokee State Park, accessible after 2h drive. This will require a big day to leave early in the morning, knowing that with its neighbour, Waimea Canyon, these are the only really remote points if you decide to stay in the north of the island. The seaside resort of Poipu is for example only 1h from Princeville, which remains reasonable.

However, we advise against spending all your nights in the south of the island simply because there are far fewer points of interest in the south than in the north. Unless you want to do all the hiking in Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon, you will spend most of your days north of Lihue (Wailua river, northern beaches, Kalalau Trail...)

2Where to stay in O'ahu?

O'ahu is the second smallest of the 4 big islands, just after Kauai. The island is a little bigger than its little sister with its 70 km long by 45 km wide, but it has a good road network that allows easy access to the 4 corners of the island. Thanks to the development of its road infrastructures, you will be from one end of the island to the other in 1 hour (except traffic jams). We therefore recommend you only have one accommodation for your stay in O'ahu.

Different areas are interesting for a stay in O'ahu, all with their advantages and drawbacks.

Honolulu from Diamond Head
Honolulu from Diamond Head

Sleeping in Honolulu

Waikiki beach - Honolulu
Atmosphere at the edge of Waikiki beach in Honolulu.

If you like the atmosphere of the city and its lively evenings, do not hesitate to choose Waikiki in Honolulu. You will find a lot of hotels or small apartments for rent (but more generally located a little further back).

Honolulu's advantage is its central location, entertainment and shops. You will be just steps away from the famous and trendy Waikiki beach. However, there are many disadvantages to staying in Honolulu.

Don't forget that the city is very big (Waikiki is only a district of Honolulu) and you will be allowed to take almost daily the huge 5 lane highways to get out of the city, without forgetting the traditional traffic jams from 6h30-7h00 in the morning and from 16h00 at the end of the day. Finally, there is very little accommodation with free parking in Honolulu. You will have to find a parking place for the night, and most of the parking lots are paying (count 20$ to 30$ the day of parking).

Double room

Ilima Hotel$$

This is one of the few hotels in Waikiki to have free parking! That's why we chose this hotel during our first stay in 2017. We had appreciated the spacious rooms with kitchenette in spite of the old-fashioned decoration. Note that the hotel is located towards the canal side in Waikiki, convenient for car access but the surroundings are less attractive. Despite this, we quickly reach the seaside by foot.

Aqua Oasis$$

The location of this hotel is very convenient near Kalakaua Avenue, the main street of Waikiki, but you can expect some activity at the beginning of the night. The rooms are spacious and a basic breakfast is included in the price.

Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort$$$

This hotel overlooks the famous Waikiki beach and therefore offers rooms with direct ocean view, feet in the water! You will have to expect here again a rather kitsch decoration of the rooms.

Hokulani Waikiki by Hilton Grand Vacations Club$$$

This hotel resort offers very nice modern facilities. The rooms are spacious with a sitting area and kitchenette, and the hotel has a small rooftop swimming pool. The location is excellent in the immediate vicinity of Kalakaua Avenue.

Prefer the calm of Haleiwa

Beach near Haleiwa - Oahu
Beach and waves near Haleiwa.

Haleiwa is a small surfing town located on the north coast of O'ahu. Here you will find peace, the sound of the waves and meet some turtles. Nothing to do with Honolulu's effervescence! If you prefer a little more quiet, Haleiwa, Mokuleia et Waialua offer an ideal spot to discover O'ahu.

From the north coast, it will take you about 35 minutes to reach Honolulu and at most 1 hour to reach Makapu'u Lookout located opposite the island. You can easily take Highway 3 which crosses the impressive ridges of the island thanks to some tunnels to easily find you in Kailua without crossing Honolulu. There are no large shopping complexes near Haleiwa, but there are large shopping malls and outlets at Ewa-Schofield Junction, 25 minutes from Haleiwa.

Relax to Kailua or Kaneohe

View of Kailua and Kaneohe from Nu'uanu Pali lookout
View of Kailua and Kaneohe from Nu'uanu Pali lookout.

Located about 20 minutes from Honolulu to the east of O'ahu Island, the resorts of Kailua et Kaneohe are very pleasant! They have the advantage of being close to the most beautiful beaches on the island and are well served by the road network. From here you will be well positioned to reach the whole island, with travel times of 20 minutes to Pearl Harbor, and 45 minutes to Haleiwa.

3Where to stay in Maui?

Maui is the second largest island in Hawaii. The island is 80 km long by 20 km wide and has a slightly original shape, narrowed in its center. With such a surface, the 4 corners of the island seem easily accessible but it is nothing of it. This is due to the rugged relief of the island which consists of 2 large peaks. On the western part we find Pu'u Kukui and on the eastern part Haleakala.
Because of these two imposing reliefs which cannot be crossed on either side by the road, you will have to go around them to each end of the island, which will have for main consequence to increase considerably your travel times, without speaking of the small winding roads sometimes with only one lane which are generally prohibited by the rental car agencies. These include roads 340 north of Pu'u Kukui and Highway 31 south of Haleakala.

In all honesty, to have driven these two roads of which you can have a preview in our videos of Maui, they are no more dangerous than some mountain roads that we have in France. It's just that most Americans are used to wide straight roads and are not used to this more winding and narrow type of road.

So what are our options?

Staying in Kahului

Kahului is the main city of the island. Located on the north shore at the narrowing of the island, Kahului has the advantage of being central to radiate throughout Maui. It takes 1h10 to climb to the top of Haleakala, 2h to reach Hana, 30 minutes to reach Lahaina and 25 minutes to Makena. It is thus a very practical city for a stay in the island and you will find there a good number of shopping malls and restaurants. Prices will also be more accessible than in seaside towns.

The negative point of Kahului is that the city does not enjoy a very pleasant location. The relief is flat and the landscapes are honestly not very charming. Kahului remains in our eyes more a strategic point than an exotic place.

Lodging along the Kihei coast in Makena

If you are looking for a more pleasant place to stay in Maui, the area between Kihei and Makena will offer you the holiday atmosphere you may be looking for. Here the coast is teeming with many properties and resorts located along the huge beaches of fine sand sometimes lined with coconut trees.

Kihei - Maui
Seafront in Kihei. Photo: Bettina Damgaard

The zone remains well positioned because central in the island. Nevertheless, you will notice that the road does not continue very long after Makena. To reach the east of the island you will always have to go up through Kahului which will extend your travel time to explore the eastern part of the island (access to Haleakala and Hana). It takes 2h30 to reach Hana, 1h30 to reach the summit of Haleakala and 35 minutes to reach Lahaina. The area is however interesting if you wish to do a little idleness by the sea or join the west of the island.

Prefer the calm on the heights of Pukalani

If you wish to recharge your batteries in peace, we advise you to choose accommodation in Pukalani or Makawao. These two small towns are located on the slopes of Haleakala at low altitude, only 15 minutes from Kahului. Here you will be quiet, far from the hustle and bustle of the city or the seaside neighborhoods. The location is really interesting to radiate throughout the island. You will be 1h50 from Hana, 30 minutes from Makena, 45 minutes from Lahaina and 1h from the summit of Haleakala, all in a pleasant environment, but 10-15 minutes from the sea.

Stay on the west coast, from Lahaina to Kapalua

The western periphery of Maui also has a particular charm! Here, the vegetation is greener and the ocean takes on magnificent turquoise shades that are not found anywhere else on the island. It is good to stroll in Lahaina, either during the markets under the impressive Banyan Tree of the small town, or in the evening along the sea. A little further north, between Kaanapali and Kapalua, the cities are chained along the seashore offering impressive resorts and rental residences ideally located facing the ocean.

We will regret here the over-concrete side of the seashore, but the place is to be preferred if you are looking to relax facing the sea in idleness mode. The disadvantage is the off-center side to radiate throughout the island. By being based at one end, the distances will be much longer. So it will take 40 minutes to reach Kahului, 1h40 to climb to the summit of Haleakala, 50 minutes to reach Makena and 2h30 to reach Hana at the other end of the island.

During our first stay we opted to rent a small condo in Napili-Honokowai. The seafront setting was just idyllic! We really didn't regret choosing this location in the West Island. Nevertheless, the road was really long when we reached Hana. You have to be prepared to drive a lot to move around the island unless you just want to enjoy the pleasant surroundings of this corner of the island.

Seaside to Napili Honokowai
Seaside to Napili Honokowai.
Seaside to Napili Honokowai
Another view north of Napili.

Spend one or two nights in Hana

Considering the geography of the island, it might be interesting to have 2 drop points at each end, but we think it is a bad idea.

Indeed, as much as you will find activities to do around Lahaina, as much you will be very isolated towards Hana, small town located at the extreme east of the island. Although very nice, the small town of Hana is quite difficult to access. To reach it, you will have the option to take Highway 31 via the south, but often banned by car rental companies (some passages are only one lane to the sea side, but they are not long), or to take the famous Hana road to the north with its 650 bends and bridges. In other words, you will need at least 2 hours to reach Kahului from Hana.

Hana is therefore in our opinion not a good location unless you spend only one or two nights maximum to make a stop after having covered the long road of Hana. You can enjoy hikes like the Pīpīwai Trail to the south of the island and some beaches at the eastern end. Always with a view to not having to pay heavy cleaning costs, prefer hotel accommodation.

You will therefore have many possibilities to choose your accommodation in Maui. The key is to find the area that best suits your wishes and your way of travelling.

4Where to stay on Big Island?

The last of Hawaii's 4 large islands is the largest. She is nicknamed "The Big Island". With its 150 km long and 130 km wide, you will need to position your accommodation cleverly to take full advantage of the island's various attractions.

Two options seem interesting to us to discover Big Island.

Spreading his nights between Kona and Hilo

Kona and Hilo are the island's two big cities, both located at one end of the island, Kona to the west and Hilo to the east. It is thus the ideal to radiate on each side of the island.

We opted for this option during our first stay in The Big Island, and we found it very practical, reducing travel time.

The advantage is therefore in the fact of limiting its trips and also makes it possible to discover two very different climates of the island, Kona being located on the leeward coast, thus with a rather dry climate to even arid, whereas Hilo is very wet, with a luxuriant vegetation.

Lapakahi north of Kona
Drought in Lapakahi north of Kona.
Lush vegetation near Hilo
The vegetation is dense and lush north of Hilo.

Nevertheless, with 2 accommodation points, we will lose flexibility when faced with the often capricious weather in Hilo and in the north of the island. This solution is also only recommended if you spend at least 6 days on the island. Below, you won't have the time to walk the 4 corners of the island and in this case, it's better to concentrate on a particular area to discover it fully.

To give you an idea of the itinerary times, here are the journey times from Kona:

  • Polulu Valley: 1h20
  • Waipio Valley: 1h30
  • Hilo: 1h20
  • Mauna Kea Visitor Center: 1h10
  • Captain Cook monument: 25 minutes
  • Green sand beach: 1h30

And those from Hilo:

  • Waipio Valley: 1h00
  • Mauna Kea Visitor Center: 50 minutes
  • Kona: 45 minutes
  • Volcanoes NP: 40 minutes
  • Green sand beach: 1h45

If you stay more than 7 to 8 days, you can also take the option to have intermediate accommodation in the north of the island to easily access the Waipi'o Valley and/or Polulū Valley or make a stop at the Volcano Village which will be useful if you want to quietly discover the Volcanoes National Park or explore the south of the island.

Finally, to define as precisely as possible the distribution of your nights between Kona and Hilo, we advise you to define beforehand the points of interest which interest you. If you are more attracted to the beach, it will make more sense to spend a little more time around Kona. If you are interested in hiking, you will find trails in the north of the island but also in the volcanoes of the center and Volcanoes NP, a central position (see option 2) or a 50% split between Kona and Hilo will be interesting in this case, and maybe consider one or more nights at Volcano Village will be interesting in this case.

If you have to go soon to Big Island, do not forget that the Volcanoes NP will probably still be closed and that the area of Puna is still difficult to access, which will reduce the time to dedicate to the southeast part of the island. Thus, 2 to 3 nights in Hilo will be enough to discover the points of interest of the eastern part of the island.

Choose a single central accommodation to radiate from Waikoloa

Waikoloa village is a small residential town in the north of the island whose geographical location is interesting because located near Saddle Road which allows to cross the island to reach Hilo in 1h10 and Kona in 40 minutes. It is not the most practical place, but the advantage resides in the fact of having only one accomodation and thus being able to adapt its days to the weather, without constraints. This will also be a slightly more economical option.

There are large shopping centers on site and the beach is only 10 minutes away by car. Along the sea, you will find beautiful sandy beaches and the famous Big Island resorts such as the Hilton and its dolphin bay, accessible even if you do not stay at the hotel.

The disadvantage is that the area is a little off-center of everything and that it will be necessary to make more road to radiate in all the island. To give you an idea, here are the main travel times:

  • Polulu Valley: 50 minutes
  • Waipio Valley: 1h00
  • Hilo: 1h10
  • Mauna Kea Visitor Center: 45 minutes
  • Kona: 40 minutes
  • Captain Cook monument: 1h00
  • Volcanoes NP: 1h50
  • Green sand beach: 2h10

It is understood that this option will only be used if driving is not a problem for you and you prefer to stay in the same place for more flexibility in your program.

This solution seems to us to be a good alternative at this time given the current conditions with the closure of Volcanoes NP.

We are coming to the end of this article and we hope we have helped you to decide in the choice of your accommodations :-)

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