- Where to stay in Hawaii? Our hotels recommandations
That's it, you've decided to go to Hawaii! Your plane tickets probably in the bag, it's time to organize the rest of the trip and book your accommodations. In this article we'll help you define the best locations for your hotels and offer a selection of the best establishments on each island.
1Where to stay in Kauai?
The island of Kauai is the smallest of Hawaii's 4 large islands. Rather round in shape, it measures just 50 km long by 40 km wide. You'd think getting around would be a breeze, but that's without taking into account the fact that the main road doesn't go all the way around the island!
Indeed, the magnificent scenery of the impressive Nā Pali coast located to the northwest of the island is impassable. There is therefore no road between Ke'e beach, at the very north (the starting point of the Kalalau trail) and Polihale State Park, at the extreme west of the island. So you'll have to keep going back via the island's east coast, where the stretch between Lihue and Kapaa is very often jammed in the mornings and evenings.
Because of this rugged topology, you'll have 3 solutions when it comes to choosing where to stay on Kauai.
Choose a single location between Lihue and Kapaa
If you don't mind doing a bit of driving every day, the ideal is to find one location for your entire stay on the island, geographically located between the towns of Lihue and Kapaa. This area is fairly urbanized and offers many choices of accommodation. You'll also find many shops.
The advantage of this central positioning is that you'll be located halfway between the north and south ends of the island. This means you'll be 1:30 from Kokee State Park (furthest point south on the island) and 1:00 from Ke'e beach (furthest point north on the island). On the other hand, you'll have to expect to do a bit of driving every day to reach the island's various points of interest, with a maximum 3h round trip on the day you decide to go and explore the Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks.
Finally, you'll have just one anchor point for your entire stay, allowing you to be flexible and adapt your days according to the weather (Kauai is a rather humid island where the weather varies a lot). It will also cost less to spend all your nights in the same place rather than splitting your stay in two.
We chose this solution for two of our 3 trips to Hawaii, and were very satisfied. The roads are pleasant and the trips go by quickly, despite the daily traffic jams between Lihue and Kapaa, which are unfortunately unavoidable.
Here you'll find many hotels and a few apartments for rent, most of which are close to the ocean. Here's a selection of some hotels we find interesting and recommendable in the vicinity of Lihue and Kapaa.
Choose two accommodation areas in the north and south of the island
If you don't feel like driving at all, you can choose to scind your stay in two by choosing a first accommodation for example in the north of the island, towards Princeville, then a second in the south of the island, towards Poipu.
In our eyes these two areas are the most interesting as they both offer a good number of hotel complexes or rental residences. On the other hand you won't find any big supermarkets like in the Lihue area, but small, slightly more expensive mini-markets.
The advantage will be to decrease overall travel and to vary your holiday locations. The disadvantage will be being less flexible weather-wise and probably paying more for both your accommodations (for rentals, the cleaning fee, often up to $100, is the same whether you stay 3 or 10 days).
Accommodation in Princeville
Princeville is a charming and luxurious resort area located in northern Kauai. In fact, it feels like you're entering a resort when you branch off onto Ka Haku Road, so well cared for are the green spaces! Finally the views over the Nā Pali Coast are magnificent, especially at sunrise and sunset.
There's plenty of accommodation on offer, but it's mostly resorts or rather upmarket rentals. Here's a selection of some hotels and villas for rent that we've tested or find interesting and recommendable in the Princeville area.
Accommodation in Poipu or Waimea
On the south side, the seaside resort of Poipu will be the ideal place to stay with the family or in one of the large hotel complexes in the small town. The setting is charming and the green spaces always very clean and well-kept, a hair less chic than in Princeville but still very classy! Poipu also offers a few beaches suitable for younger children.
It's also home to one of the best and most chic restaurants on the island: the Tidepools located at the Grand Hyatt. We tried it out on the evening of our wedding and loved the setting on the water (a little less so the price, but we were warned!).
A little further west lies the market town of Waimea. This time the setting is more authentic, the town being not really touristy. We'd choose Waimea for more authenticity, far from the posh atmosphere of the large resorts and residences. On the other hand, the accommodation on offer will be more extensive.
Here's a selection of some hotels and rental apartments we find interesting and recommendable in the vicinity of Poipu and Waimea.
Choosing accommodation in the north of the island
If you'd rather stick to one accommodation to easily adapt to the weather and lower your budget but don't fancy the Lihue to Kapaa area, you can always choose to spend your entire stay in a place that's close to your heart in the north of the island.
This is the option we chose for our return to Kauai in 2018, when we decided to rent a large house in Princeville, a chic and very friendly little town on the north coast.
The downside is that the journeys to access points of interest on the opposite side of the island will take much longer.
If, like us, you want to opt for a base in Princeville, you should know that the furthest point of interest will be Kokee State Park, accessible after 2h00 one-way drive (not counting possible traffic jams between Kapaa and Lihue). But it is, along with its neighbor Waimea Canyon, the only truly remote points if you decide to stay in the north of the island. The seaside resort of Poipu, for example, is only 1h00 from Princeville, which is still reasonable.
On the other hand we wouldn't recommend spending all your nights in the south of the island simply because there are fewer points of interest in the south, unless you just want to relax at the hotel in the Poipu area.
Camping in Kauai
Kauai is an island that offers great opportunities for camping, as it is still quite wild. My 3 favorite places on the island are:
- Polihale State Park: an immense sandy beach at the foot of the Na Pali Coast, accessible after a short drive (SUV or 4x4 recommended). Ideal for exploring the west of the island. No designated site, no need to reserve. No amenities. >> Info and reservations.
- Kokee State Park: small grassy campground at altitude, quiet but cool at night (it can even be quite cold in winter). Ideal for exploring the Kokee and Waimea State Parks. 30 pitch. No amenities. >> Info and reservations.
- Anini Beach Park Campground: free camping on the grass facing the ocean, a beautiful spot but very busy (WE can be noisy). The view over the small Anini lagoon is really beautiful and the immediate proximity of the beach makes it a very nice spot. Ideal for discovering the northern and eastern parts of the island. Showers and toilets. 3/adult. >> Reservations.
There are other campsites on the island, some of which are by the sea. If you opt for a campsite on the outskirts of a town, I'd advise you to check the number of visitors before settling in, especially around Lihue and Kapa'a.
2Where to stay on Oahu?
Oahu is the second smallest of the 4 big islands, just after Kauai. The island is a little larger than its little sister at 70 km long by 45 km wide, but it has a good road network that provides very easy access to all 4 corners of the island. Thanks to the development of its road infrastructure, you'll be from one end of the island to the other in 1h00 (barring traffic jams). We therefore recommend that you have only one accommodation for your stay on Oahu.
There are many different areas to visit on Oahu, all with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Sleeping in Honolulu
Accommodation in Waikiki
If you love the city atmosphere and its lively nightlife, definitely opt for Waikiki in Honolulu. There you'll find a whole lot of hotels or small apartments to rent.
Honolulu's advantage is its central location, its entertainment and shopping. You'll be just a stone's throw from the famous and trendy Waikiki beach. On the other hand there are still many drawbacks to staying in Honolulu.
Don't forget that the city is very big (Waikiki is just one district of Honolulu) and you'll have the right to use almost daily the huge 5-lane motorways to get out of the city, not to mention the traditional traffic jams from 6:30-7:00 in the morning and from 16:00 onwards at the end of the day. Finally, there are very few accommodations with free parking in Honolulu. So you'll need to find a place to park for the night, and most parking lots charge (count $20 to $30 a day's parking).
Accommodation on the outskirts of Honolulu
You can also opt for accommodation on the outskirts of Honolulu which will have the advantage of lowering the bill and making it easier to park your rental car if you have one.
On the other hand, you'll lose the liveliness of the city and the convenience of being in the center, which can please as well as displease. Remember to check the access time to the expressways from your accommodation, which can be quite long from certain neighborhoods.
Prefer the calm of Haleiwa
Haleiwa is a small surfing town located on the north coast of Oahu. Here you'll find quietness, the sound of the waves and come across a few turtles. Nothing like the hustle and bustle of Honolulu! If you prefer a little more peace and quiet, Haleiwa, Mokuleia and Waialua are excellent alternatives.
From the north coast, it will take you around 35 minutes to reach Honolulu and at most 1h00 to reach the Makapu'u Lookout located on the opposite side of the island. You can easily take the Highway 3 which crosses the island's impressive ridges thanks to a few tunnels to easily find yourself in Kailua without crossing Honolulu. Shopping-wise, you won't find any major complexes towards Haleiwa, but you will find big malls and outlets at Ewa-Schofield Junction, 25 minutes from Haleiwa.
The only downside is that the housing offer towards Haleiwa is rather restricted..
Relax in Kailua or Kaneohe
Located around 20 minutes from Honolulu on the east side of the island of Oahu, the resorts of Kailua or Kaneohe have the advantage of being close to the island's finest beaches and are well served by the road network.
From here you'll be rather well positioned to radiate throughout the island, with journey times of 20 minutes to Pearl Harbor, and 45 minutes to Haleiwa./strong> to reach Pearl Harbor, and 45 minutes to get to Haleiwa. You'll mainly find apartment rentals via Airbnb in these rather residential towns.
In conclusion, it's quite easy to find accommodation on Oahu, but it's probably price that will guide your choices. Note that we don't recommend staying in the west of the island, as some popular neighborhoods are not very welcoming with an inconvenient geographical location for radiating around the island knowing that you'll systematically have to go back near Honolulu to access the other corners of Oahu.
3Where to stay in Maui?
Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands. With a somewhat original shape narrowed at its center, the island measures 80 km long by 20 km wide. With such a large surface area, the 4 corners of the island seem easily accessible, but this is not the case. This is due to the island's rugged relief, which consists of 2 peaks. On the western side we find Pu'u Kukui and on the eastern side Haleakala.
Because of these two imposing reliefs that can't be crossed on either side by road, you'll have to go around them to get to each end of the island, which will mainly increasing your journey times considerably, not to mention the small, winding roads sometimes one-lane that are generally forbidden by car rental agencies. These include routes 340 north of Pu'u Kukui and Highway 31 south of Haleakala.
In all honesty, having ridden these two roads, which you can get a glimpse of in our Maui videos, they're no more dangerous than some of the mountain roads we have in France. It's just that most Americans are used to wide, straight roads and are not used to these more winding, narrow ones.
So what are our options?
Staying in Kahului
Kahului is the island's main town. Located on the north shore at the island's narrows, Kahului has the advantage of being central to radiate throughout Maui.
Count from Kahului:
- 1h10 to climb to the summit of Haleakalā
- 2h00 to reach Hāna.
- 30 minutes to get to Lahaina.
- 25 minutes to Makena.
The negative point about Kahului is that the town doesn't enjoy a very pleasant location. The terrain is flat and the scenery is honestly not very charming. In our eyes, Kahului remains more a strategic point than a change of scenery.
The hotel offer not being very developed on Kahului, we'll find mainly apartment rentals and small hotels.
Accommodation along the coast from Kihei to Makena
If you're looking for a more pleasant spot for your stay in Maui, the Kihei area of Makena will offer the vacation air you may be looking for. Here the coast swarms with numerous properties and resorts positioned along the immense sandy beaches sometimes bordered by coconut palms. This is the dry zone of the island, which is generally spared the rains. Some of the most beautiful resorts are to be found in Wailea, with northern Kihei being more popular.
The area remains well positioned as it is central to the island, nevertheless, you'll notice that the road doesn't continue for very long after Makena. To reach the east of the island you'll therefore still have to return via Kahului which will lengthen your travel time to explore the eastern part of the island (access to Haleakala and Hāna).
Timing-wise, count from Kihei
- 2h30 to reach Hāna.
- 1h30 to reach the summit of Haleakalā
- 35 minutes to reach Lahaina.
For us, this area remains the ideal place to stay in Maui, as it's pleasant without being too out of the way. Beware, however, if you go all the way down to Makena, the travel time will be all the more longer as you'll always have to turn back.
We stayed at Kihei for 15 days during our stay in 2019. We enjoyed a pleasant beachfront location that was quite convenient for radiating around the island.
The hotel offer is quite large in this sector of the island, which will offer both larges resorts and small apartments for rent (condo).
Enjoy the peace and quiet of the Pukalani heights
If you're looking to recharge your batteries in the peace and quiet, we recommend you opt for a drop-off point to Pukalani and Makawao. These two small towns are located on the slopes of the Haleakalā at low altitude, just 15 minutes from Kahului.
Here, you'll be in the quiet, far from the hustle and bustle of the city or the seaside districts. The location is really interesting for radiating all over the island, on the other hand it's more humid than on the coast. So you'll be 1h50 from Hāna, 30 minutes from Makena, 45 minutes from Lahaina and 1h00 from the summit of Haleakalā, all in pleasant enough surroundings, but 10-15 minutes from the ocean and therefore in a less "seaside" and more authentic setting.
The supply of accommodation remains quite limited in the area, where you'll mainly find only apartments on Airbnb.
Stay on the West Coast, from Lahaina to Kapalua
Maui's western perimeter also has a special charm! Here, the vegetation is greener and the ocean takes on magnificent turquoise hues. It's great to stroll around Lahaina, whether at the markets under the small town's impressive Banyan Tree, or in the evenings by the sea. A little further north, between Kaanapali and Kapalua, towns string together along the seafront offering impressive resorts and rental residences ideally situated facing the ocean.
We'll regret here the slightly too concrete side of the seafront, butthe place is to be preferred if you're looking to relax facing the sea in farniente mode. The downside is the outside to radiate all over the island. By being based at one end, the commute will be much longer.
We'll have to start counting from Napili:
- 40 minutes to reach Kahului.
- 1h40 to climb to the summit of Haleakalā.
- 50 minutes to reach Makena.
- 2h30 to reach Hāna 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 spot in the west of the island. Nevertheless, the road was really long when we reached Hāna. You have to be prepared to do a lot of driving to move around the island unless you just want to enjoy the pleasant surroundings of this corner of the island.
There are a wide range of hotels all along the west coast, as well as numerous small apartments (condos) for rent.
Spend one or two nights in Hāna
Given the island's geography, it might be interesting to have 2 drop-off points at each end, but this seems to us to be a false good idea.
Indeed, as much as you'll find activities to do around Lahaina, you'll be very isolated towards Hāna, a small town located at the far east of the island. Although very friendly, the small commune of Hāna is rather difficult to access.
To reach it, you'll have the option of taking the Highway 31 via the south, but often forbidden by car rental companies (some passages are single-lane on the seafront, but they're not long), or take the famous Hāna Road to the north with its 650 bends and bridges. In other words, it will take you at least 2h00 to reach Kahului from Hāna.
So, in our opinion, Hāna isn't a good stopping-off point unless you're only spending one or two nights maximum there as a stopover after traveling the long road to Hāna. You can then take advantage of hikes like the Pīpīwai Trail in the south of the island and some beaches on the eastern end.
When it comes to accommodation, the offer is rather limited in Hāna the town not being large. You'll find some hotels as well as rentals but whose budget is generally higher than elsewhere on the island due to its geographical isolation.
So you'll have many options when it comes to choosing where to stay on Maui. The trick is to find the area that best suits your desires and travel style.
4Where to stay on Big Island?
The last of Hawaii's 4 big islands is the largest. In fact, it lives up to its nickname of "The Big Island". With a length of 150 km and a width of 130 km, you'll need to position your accommodations cleverly to take full advantage of the island's various attractions.
We have two interesting options for discovering Big Island.
Split your 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. So it's ideal to radiate to either side of Big Island.
We opted for this option during our first stay in the archipelago, and found it very convenient, allowing shortened travel times.
The advantage therefore lies in limiting your travel and also allows you to discover two very different climates on the island, Kona being located on the leeward coast, so with a rather dry, even arid climate, whereas Hilo is very humid, with lush vegetation.
Nevertheless, with 2 accommodation points, we'll lose flexibility in the face of the often capricious weather in Hilo and the north of the island. This solution is also recommended only if you spend at least 5-6 days on the island. Below that, you won't have time to survey all 4 corners of the island, and in that case, it's best to concentrate on one area in particular to discover it properly.
Accommodation in Kaiula-Kona
Kaiula-Kona, more commonly known as Kona is a pleasant, human-sized town located on the west coast of Big Island. Its location is ideal for discovering the western part of the island, its beaches, snorkeling spots or taking advantage of sea excursions (manta rays, dolphins...). It's also possible to access Mauna Kea and the north of the island from Kona.
To give you an idea of journey times, here's how long it takes to get from Kona:
- 1h20 to reach Polulu Valley.
- 1h30 for the Waipio Valley.
- 1h20 for Hilo.
- 1h10 to Mauna Kea Visitor Center.
- 25 minutes to get to Kealakekua Bay.
- 1h30 to reach Green sand beach.
Accommodation is very abundant around Kona, where it's possible to find both hotels, resorts and apartments (condo or homestay). The prices are generally degressive as you move away from the seaside, with pitches on the heights offering beautiful views of the coast.
Accommodation in Hilo
Located northeast of Big Island, Hilo is the island's most populous town. This has become over the years a popular colonial-style burg whose building architecture is still reminiscent of its history today. Hilo is also home to many artists, art galleries and small shops, giving it a bohemian atmosphere.
Here are the journey times from Hilo:
- 1h00 for the Waipio Valley.
- 50 minutes to the Visitor center at Mauna Kea.
- 45 minutes to reach Kona.
- 40 minutes to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
- 1h45 to reach Green sand beach.
Accommodation at Volcano Village
If you're staying more than 7 to 8 days, you can also take the option of having an intermediate accommodation in the north of the island for easy access to the Waipi'o Valley and/or the Polulū Valley or make a stopover at Volcano Village which will be useful if, for example, you want to leisurely discover the Volcanoes National Park or delve deeper into the south of the island.
To define as accurately as possible the distribution of your nights between Kona and Hilo, we advise you to define beforehand the points of interest that interest you. If you're more drawn to the beach, it will make more sense to spend a little more time around Kona. If it's hiking that interests you, you'll find trails in the north of the island but also at the volcanoes in the center and at Volcanoes National Park, a central location (see option 2) or a 50% split between Kona and Hilo, seeing consider one or more nights at Volcano Village will be interesting in this case.
Choose a single central accommodation to get around Waikoloa
Waikoloa village is a small residential town in the north of the island whose geographical position is interesting as it is located near the Saddle Road, which allows you to cross the island to reach Hilo in 1h10 and Kona in 40 minutes. It's not the most convenient location, but the advantage lies in the fact that you only have one drop-off point and can thus adapt your days to the weather, without constraint. It's also a more economical option.
On site, there are big shopping centers and the beach is just 10 minutes away by car. On the seafront, you'll find beautiful sandy beaches as well as the big, well-known resorts of Big Island.
The downside is that the area is a bit off-center from everything and you'll have to do more driving to radiate throughout the island.
To give you an idea, here are the main journey times:
- 50 minutes to reach Polulu Valley.
- 1h00 for the Waipio Valley.
- 1h10 for Hilo.
- 45 minutes to the Visitor center at Mauna Kea.
- 40 minutes to Kona.
- 1h00 to go to Kealakekua Bay.
- 2h10 to reach Green sand beach.
- 1h50 for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
It's agreed that this option should only be used if the route is not a problem for you and you prefer to stay in the same place for more flexibility in your program.
We've come to the end of this article and we hope we've been able to help you make up your mind about where to stay :-)
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We are Sandrine and Flo, French thirty-somethings. In 2019 we quit everything to live our dream, become nomads and travel around the world. We left with our baby, Lena, who was only 5 months old at the time. After a first trip around the Pacific Ocean by plane and a long 3 months stay in Hawaii, we left to discover Iceland for 3 months on board our 4WD pickup truck and truck camper. Then we continued our adventure in North America.
Today, if we can continue this adventure, it is above all thanks to our blog, Smartrippers! We created it one day in 2016, with the desire to share our good travel tips, without thinking that it would lead us there! We have developed it a lot over the years and have become experts on our 3 favorite destinations: Hawaii, Iceland and the American West. We now guide you to these destinations to help you plan the trip of your dreams!
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