Planning to visit Kauai for your next sun-and-sand vacation?
As well as seductive beaches, Hawaii’s “garden island” is also known for its lush, tropical and mountainous scenery – which means great hiking and kayaking!
But while Kauai has blossomed over the years, it has thankfully still managed to retain its old Hawaii feel.
The best hotels in Kauai
We’ve visited the island several times and stayed at most of the top Kauai hotels.
Here are our first-hand reviews to help you decide where to stay in Kauai…
1) Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa
Yes, it’s a large, sprawling, oceanfront resort in Poipu with 602 rooms and suites. But it’s gorgeous!
Think luxuriant grounds graced by koi ponds, waterfalls and tropical gardens. There are also three freshwater pools, including an adult pool and a lazy winding river and waterslide.
Everyone! The property attracts families, couples and multi-generational groups.
What we love:
Treat yourself to a massage at the Anara Spa (the largest spa on the island), and you can lather up afterward underneath an outdoor lava rock shower.
Daily parrot talks are fun – a wildlife handler takes a macaw from the lobby atrium for a daily show-and-tell by the beach.
And hiking the historic Maha’Ulepu Trail along soaring red cliffs starting just beyond the property’s edge is a great way to start the day.
We also like that the Grand Hyatt Kauai has gone to great lengths to be green.
You’ll find complimentary water flasks in your room, which you can refill with chilled filtered water, found throughout the property. Much of its power comes from solar panels. And swimming pools are heated with recaptured heat from the air-conditioning system.
The beach is too rough for swimming. (But there’s a huge saltwater lagoon with a man-made beach that’s especially popular with wee ones.)
2) Koa Kea Hotel & Resort
This is a delightful boutique-style property in Poipu on the sunny south side of the island.
(Poipu is a favored vacation spot in Kauai. Along with sunshine, you’ll find restaurants, shops and a farmer’s market all nearby.)
The hotel’s 121 rooms feature in-room Nespresso machines, marble showers with dual showerheads, deluxe bath amenities and free WiFi.
Each guestroom also sports a private lanai.
Koa Kea has won a slew of awards over the years.
Most recently, it was voted #5 in the 2019 Travel + Leisure reader survey of the 15 top Hawaii resorts and hotels.
Koa Kea is one of the best hotels in Kauai for couples, if not the best.
Most guests are couples – kids are discouraged. This is the place to book for a casually luxe adult getaway.
With few children, it’s also blissfully quiet. Honeymoon, anniversary or special occasion coming up? Think Koa Kea.
What we love:
The intimate feel is especially appealing – it’s mere steps from your room to the pool and sandy swimming beach.
And the hotel’s acclaimed Red Salt restaurant serves delicious, fresh and locally-sourced seafood in a casually elegant setting.
For breakfast, try the lobster Benedict.
We ordered it every morning of our stay at Koa Kea.
Oh, and have we mentioned the beach? Yes, Koa Kea is right on Poipu Beach.
Garden-view rooms have a darker color scheme and aren’t as light-filled as deluxe oceanfront rooms.
3) Hanalei Colony Resort
We’re so happy this beloved old-timer of a resort is back in business! Damaged by floods then a fire in 2018, it reopened its doors again in April of 2019.
Set on secluded groomed grounds on the north shore of the island, Hanalei Colony Resort is a condo-style property. It has 48 units – all with two-bedrooms and 850 square feet of space – scattered among several low-rise buildings.
Don’t expect glitz and glamor in the décor and furnishings here; think more understated Hawaiian style.
Guests come for the laid-back Kauai vibe of old – to destress, enjoy the peace and quiet, connect with nature and their loved ones, and unplug. (This is probably a good time to mention there are no TVs or phones. But you do get free WiFi!)
Oh, and we should add: Don’t expect turn-down service – units are cleaned every three days.
The resort suits easy-going, self-sufficient families perfectly.
What we love:
The bright full kitchens with lanais make it easy to vacation as a family.
All units have huge picture windows with great ocean views. But if you manage to snag a Premium Oceanfront suite, you’ll have sweeping views of the beautiful blue Pacific rolling up on a golden sand beach, just a few feet away from your lanai. Priceless.
A complimentary guest shuttle can take you to Hanalei, Princeville and area beaches.
The bathrooms are a tad outdated and could be modernized.
And the bedrooms aren’t completely separate from the living area. They’re divided by louvered pony walls rather than floor-to-ceiling walls – light sleepers may not get all their zzz’s if, for example, kids wake up early to play in the living room.
4) Kauai Marriott Resort
This big, beautifully landscaped, 356-room resort is found on the east coast of the island, very close to the airport (but don’t worry, you never hear planes take off or land).
Nicely decorated rooms are large and come with coffee makers; all have balconies.
Well maintained, the resort was spruced up recently, and waterfront fire pits were added in 2017.
Golfers love teeing off on the two adjacent courses designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Couples and families wanting five-star resort features for less find this and more at the Kauai Marriott.
What we love:
The large hibiscus-shaped pool with fountains and no less than five whirlpools is a winner.
The complimentary airport shuttle is also a plus (the airport is a five-minute drive away).
And let’s not forget that the Kauai Marriott fronts Kalapaki Beach, one of Kauai’s best swimming beaches!
Bathrooms are small, and we found the glass balcony doors sticky and hard to slide open.
5) Princeville Resort
When it comes to hotels in Princeville, Kauai, the 252-room Princeville Resort is the classiest. (It was previously known as the St. Princeville Kauai, before leaving the Starwood group in November, 2018.)
But don’t just take our word for it.
The reinvented Princeville was named one of the 30 best resorts in Hawaii in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2019 “Readers’ Choice Awards.”
Appearing to cascade down an emerald cliff-side, this Kauai luxury resort overlooks dreamy Hanalei Bay.
It’s ideal for luxury lovers with deep pockets – and those who love gracious glamor.
What we love:
Bathtubs have a view. And you can gaze at the sea while showering with mint-scented bath products from the French Remede line.
Rooms don’t have lanais or balconies.
And the north part of the island, where this Princeville hotel perches, gets more cloud and rain than Poipu in the south (but it’s also more lush and tropical).
6) Koloa Landing
After some six years of construction, Koloa Landing is finally finished.
It’s a luxury condo-style resort development in Poipu boasting deluxe studios (500 sq. ft) right up to huge four-bedroom villas. One-bedroom units are 800 sq. ft., while the largest villas are 3,600 sq. ft. in size.
Well-equipped kitchens with cupboards galore will appeal to your inner chef.
The grounds are lovely. And the resort has three pools, including a quiet adults-only pool.
Families who enjoy eating in and travelers who want all the comforts of home will feel, well, right at home at Koloa Landing.
What we love:
Sometimes, you just want to kick back after a day on the beach. You don’t want to dress up and go out for dinner.
At Koloa Landing, kitchenettes (in the studios) and full kitchens (in one-bedroom and bigger units) give you that option.
The resort also offers a free shuttle to nearby shops and restaurants in Poipu.
Koloa Landing is not on a beach. You have to drive (a few minutes) or walk (15 minutes) to get to Poipu Beach.
7) Sheraton Kauai Resort
An oldie but goodie, with a distinct Hawaii (though slightly dated) feel, the 4-star Sheraton underwent a “soft” revamp in 2017 and early 2018.
Almost all 394 rooms were renovated with new low-noise air-conditioners, soft blue-and-gray hues for furnishings and in-room refrigerators and coffee makers.
A more major renovation was subsequently completed in 2019. The lobby was revamped, along with the resort’s Garden Wing.
Rates are more affordable here than at the more upscale Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa.
The Sheraton Kauai is best-suited for families and couples who like a fun active vibe.
What we love:
The real draw is the Sheraton’s fabulous location on Poipu Beach, really a series of gold-sand crescents. You can swim, snorkel, do a little body surfing and sometimes see sleeping monk seals on the beach.
Guests have to pay a daily resort fee of $30 plus tax. (Extra charges are annoying!)
The fee covers self-parking, standard WiFi (which should be free, right?), local telephone calls, use of the gym and access to activities like yoga and hula classes.
The beachside pool can also get crowded in high season – but you can splurge on renting one of the eight luxury poolside bungalows, complete with cushioned loungers, TVs, coolers and table service.
8) Waimea Plantation Cottages
Want to stay in an authentic plantation cottage? Then Waimea Plantation Cottages is for you.
Located on the west coast of the island near the town of Waimea, this Kauai resort has 61 cottages, ranging in size from 1-bedroom to 3-bedroom cottages.
Built originally in the late 1800s to 1930s, the cottages have been updated and restored. They’re not fancy though. Decorated in floral patterns, they’re more homey in feel.
We haven’t yet stayed at this Waimea resort. (One day!)
But we know sunsets on the west coast are incredible. And you’ll fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves here.
Families and couples looking for the slower side of Kauai will be happiest here.
And because it’s quite close to Waimea Canyon, the resort also suits guests who love hiking.
What we love:
The place has an authentic retro charm.
It’s peaceful and quiet (except for the roosters – but the silly birds squawk all over Kauai).
The onsite restaurant – Chicken in a Barrell BBQ & Bar (quirky name!) – hands over all its profit to a free camp for Hawaii’s disadvantaged youth. Nice!
These Kauai cottages are not located on a swimming beach.
And the sand is black. (But the two-mile beach is beautiful for walking on.)
9) Kiahuna Plantation Resort Kauai
Once upon a time there was just one Kiahuna Plantation.
Now there are two resorts – Castle Kiahuna Plantation & Beach Bungalows and Kiahuna Plantation Resort by Outrigger.
But both share the same sprawling manicured grounds, which slope down to a dazzling stretch of Poipu Beach on the southern coast of Kauai.
Accommodations are privately owned condos, with full kitchens and large lanais.
Because they’re privately owned, each is differently furnished and decorated. So you could end up in a lovely renovated condo with hardwood floors and granite counters in the kitchen – or something quite outdated.
For layout and size, it doesn’t matter whether the accommodations are managed by Castle or Outrigger. The same configurations are offered by both management companies – so 1-bedroom units are 880 square feet in size and 2-bedroom units (which are split level) are almost 1,600 square feet.
Views range from garden to partial ocean to full-on ocean views.
The Plantation Gardens restaurant occupies a restored plantation manor on the resort’s gardens (lit by tiki torches). It’s very romantic, especially if you sit on the porch.
Note: Units don’t have air conditioning. Ceiling fans and lots of windows keep them breezy and cool. (The lack of air conditioning has never been a problem of us.)
Poipu Beach and the lawns here are very family-friendly, making Kiahuna Plantation perfect for all families – families with babies right up to teenagers.
Couples who want a laidback vacay (and the convenience of a kitchen) will also enjoy Kiahuna Plantation. (For guaranteed luxury, however, the Grand Hyatt Kauai covered in #1 above is a much better choice.)
What we love:
Kiahuna Plantation Resort is our favorite condo-style Poipu resort.
We’ve stayed here many times (once on a babymoon) and we just love the “cottage” feeling, the old Hawaiian vibe, the lush lawns and, of course, the perfect location on Poipu Beach.
The tennis courts, indoor/outdoor soccer courts, athletic club and pool are located across Poipu Road, so you have to stretch your legs and go for a bit of a walk to reach them. Not too much of a hardship though… The change of scenery is always nice.
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We stayed at these luxury Kauai hotels and resorts as media guests for review purposes, except for three properties, which we paid for. (And we haven’t yet stayed at the Waimea Plantation Cottages.) The opinions here are our own; as professional travel writers, we always write what we want, as we see it.
Photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase, except where noted | Lead image courtesy Princeville Resort