It's pretty hard to go wrong when planning your trip to Kauai. But staying in certain areas may give you an advantage over others. We've traveled up and down Kauai and found the ideal place to make your home base for adventure and relaxation: Wailua. It's a lush, quiet neighborhood with all of the amenities you need, and is part of the broader area of Kapa'a. Here's why it's not to be overlooked.
When it comes to exploring all of Kauai, you can't find a better jumping-off point than Wailua. It's located on the island's eastern coast, about halfway between the attractions to the northwest and the attractions to the southwest. With the main highways making a broken ring around the island, Wailua is centrally located on the ring.
It also happens to be just 11 minutes from the Lihue Airport by car. So, if you don't plan to rent a car, it's short enough that you can call up an Uber, Lyft, or taxi without breaking the bank. From Wailua, you can drive 40 minutes to the bustling towns of Princeville and Hanalei, an hour to the iconic Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, or just over an hour to Waimea Canyon State Park – plenty of accessible day-trips right at your fingertips.
The other wonderful thing about Wailua is that if you don't want to drive to other locations on Kauai, you don't have to. There's plenty of adventure to fill your days right in Wailua. Wailua River is easily the area's central feature, its gentle waters surrounded by lush, green palms.
Rent a paddleboard or kayak from one of the outfitters and paddle downriver to one or more destinations on the river. Fern Grotto is a lush, fern-covered cave set amidst a tropical garden that can be reached from the Wailua area. You can also start from Wailua River State Park and paddle to the Uluwehi (Secret Falls) Trailhead, where you can get out and hike a half-mile to a simple, delicate waterfall. If you're looking to explore this scenic river on foot, head to Wailua River State Park to explore the area's several scenic waterfalls that Hawaiian dreams are made of.
Wailua Beach is also a popular spot for kiteboarding and surfing, especially for those looking for larger swells. For a scenic overlook hike, try Sleeping Giant Mountain, a moderate trail that leads to rewarding views of the coastline.
Wailua is one of the most storied places in Hawaii, and its history is we--documented. In fact, Native Hawaiians consider this area to be one of the most sacred and culturally significant places in the islands. According to the Historic Hawaii Foundation, Wailua was "the seat of power for several generations of ali'i [chiefs]. Wailua was the political, religious, and social center from the mid-13th century through the reign of Kaumuali'i [ending in 1810]."
To view historical remnants of these generations, you can visit the Wailua Complex of Heiau, the previous central seat of power on the island. It includes places of worship, places of refuge, prehistoric rock carvings, and birthstones in various locations in Wailua, next to the river and along the beach.
Wailua is fun to explore for all ages – including young children. Both at Lydgate State Park and Lae Nani Beach in Wailua, you'll find large, protected rock pools right along the beach, perfect for little ones to take a swim without the dangers of the swells. Kids can also enjoy the Smith Family Garden Luau, an island tradition of music, dancing, and feasting on traditional Kahlua pig roasted in the earthen imu oven. It's an experience the whole family will remember.
Ready to start planning your adventure in Wailua? Check out 17 Palms Kauai Vacation Cottages, just a short walk from Wailua Beach and Wailua River. These two cottages have a homey, island vibe, a botanical garden, and plenty of beach towels, chairs, and boogie boards to make yourself at home in Wailua.