Updated October 19, 2019
The “garden isle” as Kauai is called, just might be my favorite Hawaiian island to visit. My parents have always loved Hawaii (lucky for me) so I’ve traveled there frequently since I was young. Chad and I took Eli on his first trip to Kauai when he was only nine months old and we’ve been back with him several times since.
Where to Stay on Kauai With Kids
The question of where to stay on Kauai with kids is difficult to answer because the three main areas with the most lodging options are all fabulous in their own (completely unique) way. We’ve stayed in all three of the main tourist areas and found them all to be extremely family-friendly. I couldn’t even tell you which area is my favorite because I love them all for different reasons.
If you are wondering where to stay on Kauai read on to find which area best suits your family.
Most of the Lodging Options on Kauai are in These Three Areas-
- The North Shore – Princeville, Hanalei, Kilauea
- The East Shore – Lihue, Wailua, Kapaa
- The South Shore – Poipu and Koloa
Of the three areas, the North Shore gets the most rain. Luckily, most of the rain storms come at night. When it does rain during the day the storms usually pass quickly. Occasional rainstorms are well worth the exquisite green landscape and waterfalls the rain provides.
These are my three favorite family-friendly North Shore beaches:
The beach in Hanalei Bay is often described as the most beautiful beach in Hawaii. It is by far my family’s favorite beach. The white sand stretches for two miles with steep mountains covered in lush vegetation and towering waterfalls as a backdrop. Even if it’s a busy day at the beach there is plenty of room and it never feels crowded. In the summer the waves are generally calm on the North Shore and perfect for kids to play in the ocean. In the winter the waves can be huge. Even so, calmer water, generally safe for kids to swim in, can often be found between the pier and the mouth of the Hanalei River.
Anini Beach is another beautiful two-mile stretch of beach on the North Shore. It is located between Kilauea and Princeville. The waves break on the offshore reef so the water is extremely calm even when the rest of the North Shore is experiencing huge winter waves. It is perfect for toddlers and young kids but older kids might wish for the waves to play in. There is plenty of parking and big trees that provide ample shade. The only drawback to Anini Beach is the sand isn’t as fine as Hanalei Bay.
Located at the end of the Kuhio Highway several miles past Hanalei you will find Ke’e Beach. This is an absolutely beautiful beach with soft sand and shade trees framed by steep mountains. Ke’e is a protected lagoon that’s perfect for swimming in the summer. In the winter the lifeguards will let you know if it’s safe to swim.
Heavy rainfall in April of 2018 caused massive mudslides and flooding on the North Shore of Kauai. As a result of the storms, the Kuhio highway between Hanalei and Ke’e Beach has been closed. It is expected to be re-opened in June or July of 2019. When it re-opens the shortage of parking (which has always been a problem) will be addressed by a reservation system for paid parking and a shuttle bus.
North Shore Activities
My favorite kid-friendly activities on the North Shore all center around the beautiful ocean and beaches. Swimming and playing in the sand, snorkeling, and boogie boarding are all fun options. Families with older kids can rent stand-up paddleboards in Hanalei and journey up the Hanalei River or down-river to the ocean. Surfboard rentals and surf lessons are also available in Hanalei.
Hiking is another family-friendly activity on the north shore. The Kalalau trail along the Na Pali coast is one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done. You need a permit to hike past the two-mile point but the first two miles are a great family hike. The trail and the road from Hanalei were both closed from April of 2018 until August 2019 because of major damage caused by flooding. The trail is now open but new rules have been established regarding the parking at the trailhead. Visit Napali Coast State Wilderness Park’s website to reserve a parking spot. The Kilauea Lighthouse is another great option for a family-friendly hike/walk.
Lodging Options on the North Shore
Everyone has heard of Hanalei from the song “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Hanalei lives up to its fairytale reputation. It is one of the most picturesque towns in Hawaii. Hanalei is a picture-perfect small town with a few small grocery stores, plenty of restaurants, and delicious shave ice (in Hawaii it’s called shave ice, not shaved).
*If you are staying in town, everything is within walking distance. You won’t have to load the kids up in the car to go to the beach or out to eat.
Lodging in Hanalei is extremely limited. There are no big hotels and only a few small inns and vacation cottages. You can find private home rentals through local property management companies or VRBO and Airbnb. The one and only drawback I’ve found to Hanalei is the steep price of lodging. You really do have to pay to stay in paradise.
Princeville is a golf course community made up of mostly condos, located on a bluff overlooking the ocean. There are plenty of lodging options from fancy expensive hotels, to reasonably priced condos, and everything in-between.
My favorite thing about staying in Princeville is the ample sidewalks and walking paths. The whole community is very walkable. There is a huge park near the entrance along with a small (really expensive) grocery store and a few restaurants.
Kauai’s East Shore is a nice balance between the wetter North Shore and the drier South Shore. The towns close to the coast get less rain than the nearby mountains.
Although the beaches on the West Side of Kauai are beautiful, there aren’t many that are family-friendly for swimming due to big waves or rocky shores.
Paliku Beach (aka Donkey Beach)-
There is no lifeguard at Paliku Beach so I wouldn’t recommend swimming there. But, if you are looking for a beautiful beach that is most-often deserted, Donkey Beach is for you. You can access Paliku beach via a steep trail from the bike path or an even longer trail from a parking lot near the highway. The steep trail and lack of bathrooms are the main reasons you won’t see many people there. It is the perfect spot for a picnic but not an ideal beach to bring the family to spend the whole day.
Hands down the best family-friendly beach on the East Shore is Lydgate Beach. A crescent man-made rock wall serves as a wave break and creates a pool. The water is calm and suitable for all ages to swim and snorkel. Lydgate Beach is in a state park and the beach is well equipped with picnic tables and a lifeguard. The only drawback is the swimming area at Lydgate Beach is small and it tends to get crowded. There is plenty of beach on either side of the swimming area but the waves can be huge and not suitable for swimming.
East Shore Activities
There is no shortage of things to do on the East Shore of Kauai. Lydgate state park has an amazing playground. Eli loves it! You can also find a huge grassy area and lots of picnic tables. Lydgate Park is the perfect place to spend the whole day.
Kayaks and paddleboards are available to rent on the banks of the Wailua River. The river is slow-moving and wide so you don’t need to be an expert paddler. Or you can book a guided kayak tour to the base of Opaekaa Falls. If you aren’t feeling adventurous or have young kids you can check out the falls from the viewpoint right off Kuamoo road.
There are almost eight miles of paved bike paths on the East shore of Kauai. Kapaa has several bike-rental shops or you could enjoy a nice walk on the path. Kapaa is a pedestrian-friendly town and there are plenty of shops and restaurants to check out.
Lodging Options on the East Shore-
Lihue is the “big city” of Kauai. Most of the lodging in Lihue consists of a few big hotels located near where the cruise ships dock with access to Kalapaki beach. I stayed there years ago but must admit it was my least favorite place to stay on Kauai and I haven’t stayed there again since. It is super touristy and you don’t get the real feel of Kauai in that area.
There are several big hotels and some vacation rentals in the Wailua area. Although Wailua doesn’t have much of a town center, it’s in a perfect central location; close to Lydgate State Park, Wailua River, hiking, and beaches.
One of my favorite towns on Kauai is Kapa’a. It’s close to Wailua, so a great central location, but it’s also a fun little town. There are great restaurants, shops, food trucks, shave ice, and grocery stores. You can access the paved bike path a few blocks from the main street of Kapa’a and rent bikes in town. Kapa’a has a variety of vacation rentals, mainly condos, that are right on the ocean.
Of the three areas, the South Shore gets the least amount of rain. That’s not to say it doesn’t rain there, just not as often; and when it does rain the storms pass quickly. The South Shore is known as the place to stay on Kauai if you are looking for sunny weather.
The South Shore has a variety of beaches that are a good fit for the whole family.
Poipu Beach –
Poipu beach park has something for all ages. The wide beach is covered with fine sand perfect for building sandcastles. There’s an area safe for swimming with waves to play in, and a protected area with fewer waves safe for snorkeling. Poipu Beach has the perfect beach spot for babies and toddlers; the waves are blocked by a man-made lava rock wall and the water is shallow, warm, and very calm. Behind Poipu beach is a large grassy area with picnic tables, shade trees, bathrooms, and showers. An added bonus on Poipu beach is that you can often see turtles and monk seals.
Brennecke Beach is right next to Poipu Beach and it’s a fantastic spot for boogie boarding with good-sized waves.
Kukuiula Bay Beach
Although there is no lifeguard, Kukuiula Bay is another protected beach that’s great for swimming with young kids. When the waves are big in the winter, you will almost always find calm water in Kukuiula Bay. The snorkeling isn’t great but it’s a good place for beginners to learn how to snorkel. The bay is equipped with parking, bathrooms, and also a big grassy area behind the beach. The best thing about this beach is that it’s never crowded.
South Shore Activities
The South Shore of Kauai is a wonderful place to spend long sunny days hanging out at the beach. When you get tired of the beach you can take a short drive from Poipu and check out the Spouting Horn blowhole. Here you can watch water shoot up to fifty feet in the air through a blowhole in the black lava rock. The Spouting Horn is caused by the ocean waves pushing water into a natural lava tube. The result is amazing to watch and it also makes a creepy moaning sound.
If you are staying in Poipu there is a great walking path connecting Poipu Beach to Shipwreck Beach (another beautiful south shore beach). Walking on the path is a fun way to start your morning when staying in Poipu.
Waimea Canyon State Park is a must-see when on Kauai. Although it’s on the East side of the island, it’s an easy drive from the South Shore. You can definitely spend a whole day exploring and hiking around Waimea Canyon.
There are also plenty of shops to visit in Old Koloa Town or the shopping area in Poipu. Koloa Town has a weekly farmer’s market that is a great place to buy fresh fruit and veggies.
Lodging Options on the South Shore
Poipu has a variety of lodging options from high-end hotels to basic condos, and everything in between. There are very few lodging options in Koloa Town but Poipu is only a few miles away so you can drive to Koloa to walk around the shops, eat at one of the great restaurants, or go grocery shopping. Poipu has its own shopping center with restaurants and shopping. There is even a grocery store in Poipu but it’s really expensive. Most of the condos and hotels in Poipu are within walking distance to the ocean.
Kauai is such a family-friendly island to visit. You really can’t go wrong with any area you decide to stay in.
If you are torn between two areas, keep in mind that Kauai is a very small island (only 552 square miles). No matter where you decide to stay, you can always get in your car and drive to a different part of the island in a matter of hours.
If you also plan to visit the island of Maui on your Hawaii vacation, read this post about Wai’anapanapa State Park Cabins.
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