Hawaii is a dream destination for many travelers. They head west for sunshine and blue waters, leisure and outdoor recreation. But Kauai is different from the state’s other tourist-savvy islands.
Known as the Garden Isle, Kauai is the least developed. It is home to untouched peaks and valleys, drawing nature-loving travelers to revel in its verdant landscapes and pristine beaches.
So it makes sense that the westernmost Hawaiian island has a smaller variety of accommodations, and fewer resorts overall than the rest of the archipelago. Visitors can plan plenty of activities to enjoy Kauai’s natural beauty, from ziplining across wilderness parks, to sailing along the Na Pali Coast, to bike riding in Waimea Canyon — the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
But at the end of those adventuresome days, travelers want to relax in their home base with choices that span enticing dining and cocktail options, luaus and live music, and of course, proximity to the beach.
This is where Kauai’s handful of resorts become welcome territory for visitors. While small inns dot the island, the larger properties are centralized on the north, south, and eastern shores. (Note that the western shore’s rugged terrain has left it largely untouched.) Here’s a look at the leading, brand-name properties for each coast.
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa
1571 Poipu Rd., Koloa
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa serves as a hospitality anchor for the South Shore. Situated down a winding road from central Koloa, it is the island’s largest resort, with 602 spacious, modern guestrooms (37 of them suites), each with ocean-facing balconies or patios. The resort is along a sandy beach, and devotes 1.5 acres to its multiple pools that include a saltwater lagoon, freshwater swimming pools (one of which is adults-only), hot tubs, and an impressive all-ages waterslide.
The 18-hole Poipu Bay Golf Course is next to the property, while visitors can also enjoy on-site tennis courts, plenty of flower-laden landscaping, a koi pond, and resident parrots. The on-site Anara Spa has its own lap pool, Jacuzzis, and a full treatment menu.
Nearly a dozen restaurants, cafés, and bars provide ample dining options and live entertainment. Through the resort tour desk, guests can book a wide variety of off-site excursions.
View of the pool area at Kauai's Grand Hyatt.
Sheraton Kauai Resort
2440 Hoonani Rd., Koloa
Perched on a quarter-acre of Poipu Beach is the 380-room/11-suite Sheraton Kauai Resort. The resort is a family friendly option with two garden-side and oceanside wings extending from a central hub. There are fine-dining and casual restaurants, along with the Hawaiin Rainforest Spa and a full slate of resort activities (some included, some at an additional cost), from hula and ukulele lessons, to lei making, to scuba classes. Guests can look forward to nightly entertainment, and can add the Aulii Luau to their on-site experiences for a dose of local culture and culinary traditions.
Outdoor walkways at the Sheraton in Kauai.
Kauai Marriott Resort
3610 Rice St., Lihue
Kauai’s East Shore, called the “Coconut Coast,” is home to the Lihue (“Lee-hoo-ee”) Airport and the cruise harbor, making it the island’s main commercial hub. Tucked into Nawiliwili Bay is the Kauai Marriott Resort, a 356-room (including 11 suites) hotel complex that shares amenities with the Marriott’s timeshare Vacation Club.
The resort has a large central pool area with five hot tubs and private-rental cabanas and “cocoons,” plus direct access to Kalapaki Beach (which is open to the public, like all of Kauai’s beaches). Rooms face the bay and almost all have balconies and terraces; and are slated for “soft goods” renovations (beds, pillows, etc.) in late 2018. The on-site Alexander Spa, Jack Nicklaus-designed Hokuala Golf Course, and retail shops in the garden courtyard offer worthy diversions, as do onsite paddleboard, kayak, and surfing lessons.
Six restaurants invite diners to enjoy a range of cuisines, top among them are the local and fresh-catch dishes served in the open air of Duke’s Kauai.
The Marriott in Kauai has a large central pool area with five hot tubs and private-rental cabanas.
Hilton Garden Inn
3-5920 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa
Located a few miles north of Lihue in the happening little town of Kapaa (“Kapa-ah”) is the Hilton Garden Inn, a small-scale, beachfront resort on the edge of both the Wailua River and Lydgate State Park. The resort offers 216 spacious guestrooms with either ocean or garden views, and many can be combined with an array of special offers that sweeten already appealing rates — including deals that include daily breakfast, discounts for AARP or military members, dining credits, and early booking discounts.
The Garden Grille is the property’s go-to restaurant, though the hotel is near a number of Kapaa eateries; one of the best is Hukilai Lanai, serving memorably delicious seafood hooked daily by local fishermen, plus an excellent drink menu. The Garden Inn’s two pools are inviting; and guests can check out bicycles, coolers, and mats from the concierge to spend a day at the beach.
One of the Garden Inn's two pools.
St. Regis Princeville Resort
5520 Ka Haku Rd., Princeville
The North Shore is known to be the more posh area of Kauai, so it is fitting to find the upscale St. Regis Princeville Resort along its picturesque coast. The property’s 251 guestrooms (51 of them suites) face either Hanalei Bay or the lush green mountains, and all come with the brand’s famed butler service.
Four restaurants offer an array of cuisines, all with lovely water views and options for open-air seating; plus, each day brings Afternoon Tea (reservations required) and evening jazz shows in the St. Regis Bar. The Halele’a Spa is open for a range of treatments, while the resort also hosts yoga and fitness sessions, and a full calendar of on-site activities.
The resort’s signature feature is its 5,000-square-foot infinity pool overlooking the ocean set amidst a tropical garden. But with the ocean and soft-sand beach nearby, guests may prefer to dive in for open-water snorkeling without leaving the resort; or hop over to play 18 holes at the picture-perfect Makai Golf Club.