Kauai, the “Garden Isle,” offers some of the most beautiful beaches, lush mountains and landscapes and can be a great family vacation destination. But because it’s such a perfect vacation destination, prices can be high! With some smart planning and insider tips, It is possible to explore this Hawaiian paradise on a budget. In this article, we will share budget-friendly travel tips that will help you make the most of your Kauai adventure without compromising on the fun!
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Where to Stay
Kauai is less developed than Maui or Oahu, so it looks and feels pretty different from those more traveled islands. Don’t get me wrong, Kauai is still a massively popular vacation destination. But there are deals to find on some great accommodations if you book early and search carefully. There are a few important things to consider.
1. Beach Access?
Kauai does not have a giant, famous beach like Waikiki Beach where everyone wants to go. Instead, it has many fantastic smaller beaches, many of which have no hotels located near by. So no matter where your hotel is located, you’re gonna want to drive to some of the other beaches to check them out.
Choosing a hotel without beach access can give you more lodging options, and save you money.
2. Hotel amenities
Big name resorts will offer things like massive pool complex, multiple onsite restaurants, room service, onsite shopping, etc. So when you look at smaller name hotels with a simple pool, no onsite restaurant, and perhaps even no air conditioning, it might feel a little disappointing at first.
But on the other hand, eating at resort restaurants often ends up being overpriced and disappointing. Dining at locally owned restaurants in Kauai is easy, casual, and typically delicious. Unlike Maui, reservations are not required for most restaurants. Kauai is full of beautiful, calm, swimming areas that will feel much more special than a massive pool complex. And even air conditioning isn’t always necessarily in Kauai thanks to its mild climate. But for families with younger kids who nap during the day and go to bed before the sun sets might find air conditioning to be important.
The mega resorts can be great- don’t get me wrong. But there truly are pros and cons to all hotels, big and small.
Kauai is a small enough island that you can easily take a day trip to anywhere on the island. Nevertheless, choosing the location of your hotel is important since you’ll probably want to spend most of your days close by.
- The south side is the sunniest and driest part of the island, and, as a result of more reliable weather, the most popular for visitors. There are tons of hotels and restaurants in the area. But you can expect mostly higher cost lodging
- The north side closely follows the south in popularity. Its perhaps the most beautiful and lush part of the island, but also rains more frequently. This is our favorite part of the island, but the frequent rain showers can put a damper on plans. Prices may be slightly lower as compared to the south.
- The east side of Kauai is located right in the middle of the north and south sides of the island so you can easily visit either. Plus, hotel prices are typically lower here. There are some swimmable beaches on the east side, but I’d say the east beaches are crowd favorites.
- The west side of Kauai is extremely rural with few lodging options. We’d recommend it really only for outdoor enthusiasts who plan to spend their trip hiking and exploring the wilderness on the west side.
Not sure what to pack for your trip Hawaii? Check out our post on packing for Hawaii here.
Deals on Lodging
When searching for budget friendly accommodations in Kauai, or any highly desirable destination, it’s best to start early, get creative, and keep an open mind. Luckily, there are still lots of budget friendly places to stay in Kauai
While Kauai is definitely a luxury destination with luxury prices, there are deals to find if you are willing to take the time to look.
Costco Travel often has some great deals on Hawaii hotels and Hawaii vacation packages. Check often because deals come and go quickly, and the best deals won’t last long! Costco allows you to book package deals including flights and car, or without the package. And often, it’s cheaper to book as a package deal (but not always so you will want to check on the price of booking separately).
When traveling to Kauai, consider smaller, independent hotels. Prices are often lower but service but many still have fantastic service. Many are locally owned, and will do much more to help the local economy than a huge chain hotel. It may feel like a gamble to check out an independent hotel, but it’ll also mean getting a better feel for real Kauai and having an extra special vacation.
A few great hotels to consider:
- On the east side, check out Aston Islander on the Beach because of its convenient location, beautiful grounds, and ocean views. We also love the Kauai Inn for its free breakfast, free onsite activities, and convenient location.
- On the south side, we love Kiahuna Plantation Resort Kauai by OUTRIGGER because of the huge rooms with full kitchens and tons of space to stretch out but note that rooms are not air conditioned.
- On the north side, Club Wyndham Ka ‘Eo Kai is a great option because its a roomy condo with full kitchen and lots of space and and great Princeville location, but again, no air conditioning.
For Kauai, and many popular vacation destinations, the key to finding a great vacation rental is to book early. That means 12 months out, or whenever the owner releases dates. Most of the best vacation rentals will book up pretty quickly and the rest may be overpriced or just an unimpressive rental.
You are going to want/need to rent a car in Kauai. Be sure to book early and check out Discount Car Rental Hawaii Car Rental, along with the regular companies.
You’ll also want to look for package deals. If you book through Costco, there are occasionally deals where the rental car is essentially free in a package deal with a hotel.
Unfortunately there is no one way to save money on rental cars, but there are deals out there if you are willing to look around.
Daily Activities and Expenses
One thing we love about visiting Kauai, and really anywhere in Hawaii, is that you really don’t have to spend a lot on daily activities to have a great time. The natural resources in Hawaii are phenomenal.
When you start planning your trip to Kauai, its easy to get sucked into the many, expensive and over-the-top experiences offered: helicopter tours, boat tours, guided foodie tours, etc. And, sure, they are amazing. But also totally unnecessary for a very Kauai-experience.
Kauai offers plenty of opportunities for budget-conscious families to keep themselves busy and immerse themselves in the island’s wonders!
Honestly, Kauai’s beaches are probably a big part of the reason anyone visits Kauai. But sometimes we need a little reminding that we don’t need to pay extra for a great day at the beach!
You could easily spend all day, every day your are on vacation at the beach (and many people do)! You’ll find a beach for everyone and every activity- snorkeling (even for little kids), swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, building sand castles, and anything else you enjoy.
While Maui often gets all the credit for amazing snorkeling spots, Kauai might be just as amazing. And because Kauai is a quieter island, you don’t have to compete with the crowds for great snorkeling.
Our favorite Kauai beaches are :
- Hanalei Bay because its absolutely beautiful and a great place to swim and explore (near the pier year round, or anywhere in Hanalei Bay in summer months
- Baby Beach because it has great, easy snorkeling even in shallow water- perfect for snorkeling with kids, and its a perfect spot for young children to relax and play safely in the water
- Poipu Beach because you can see sea turtles and seals every evening, beautiful sunsets, and its a nice place to swim, splash in the waves, and just hang out.
Waimea State park is one you’ll definitely want to visit while on Kauai. It does cost $5/person to enter, but for a day of amazing views and epic hiking, we think its well worth the money. Take your time making the drive up- there are view points and overlooks everywhere. Even just the views from the car are pretty impressive.
Many of the hikes in Waimea State Park are pretty challenging and will be too strenuous and dangerous for families with kids. We recommend stopping to see the Waimea Canyon Lookout. Then continue on to the Canyon Trail, including the Cliff Trail add on for another great viewpoint if you and your family are up for it. The trails are difficult and slippery, so come prepared with good hiking shoes or boots, snacks, water, and maybe spare clothes for little ones who may end up extra muddy.
Of course, there are plenty of great trails outside of Waimea State Park. The Sleeping Giant Trail, located on the east side of the island near Kapa’a, is a fun one with great mountain and ocean views. From Kapa’a, you’ll see the ‘sleeping giant’s profile making it such a tempting hike. The Kuilau Trail is also on the east side, but farther inland, and has some pretty amazing views of the Makaleha Mountains. And if you are still looking for more, this article covers tons more hiking trails on Kauai.
Exploring the Island
Kauai has tons of adorable little towns, with cute shops, tiny restaurants, and beautiful sights. Your time on Kauai is well spent just checking things out, getting shave ice and a coffee, and wandering around town. We love Hanalei, Waimea, and Kapa’a.
Definitely don’t miss getting shave ice at Wailua Shave Ice when in the Wailua/Kapa’a area. It’s made with real fruit and SO delicious and unforgettable.
Dining in Kauai can be pricey, but there are ways to save some money and still eat well!
Don’t eat at the resort
In Kauai, like anywhere in Hawaii, you’ll get the best quality and the best prices on dining if you move away from the heavily touristy areas. The great thing about Kauai is that there really isn’t a HUGE resort strip like Maui or Oahu, so its pretty easy to get away and get a great meal for a decent price.
Try food trucks and casual dining
A lot of the best food we’ve had in Kauai is casual, low key places. And when traveling with kids, casual dining is so much easier anyway. This article discusses many of great food trucks in Kauai and is full of helpful tips. But, some of the best local food trucks are becoming popular, so lines get long, and favorite items sell out quickly.
A few of our favorite spots:
Hanalei has a section of great casual dining restaurants at the Ching Young Village Shopping Center set up sort of like a food court, so everyone in your family can get food from a different restaurant, if they’d like.
Porky’s Kauai is a pretty famous, and pretty fun place that’s totally budget friendly.
Kauai Island Brewing is a great casual restaurant with delicious food, table service, a kids menu, and reasonable prices.
Read the menu ahead of time
Sometimes dining prices surprise us. A casual, family friendly restaurant may have super high prices, or a place that looks high end is totally reasonable. Its easy to google a restaurant and just get a feel for the prices, and make sure they have something you and your kids are excited about!
Stop by the grocery store or Costco
Yes, there is a Costco on Kauai! And Costco and other grocery stories have some amazing local produce and snacks that you can grab to keep in your room for snacking. And my kids have so much fun trying any kind of Hawaiian produce or Hawaiian-made snacks!
Also, for busy days out at the beach or hiking, we find its actually much more convenient to pack a small lunch. It helps us save money and time so we don’t feel like we are always in a rush leave so we can find lunch.
The real treasures of Kauai aren’t about how much cash you drop but about the laughs, the fun, and the tight bonds you’ve built along the way. So as you say “aloha” to this rad tropical paradise, carry those memories with you, knowing that Kauai’s magic will always be waiting to welcome you back for more unforgettable family adventures.