Family Travel


Kapaa vs. Hilo: A Hawaii Travel Guide

Aloha written in the sand on the beach of Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii

Kapaa vs. Hilo: A Hawaii Travel Guide

If you are considering a vacation in Hawaii, you might be wondering about the best places to stay. You might be thinking about Kapaa on the island of Kauai or Hilo on Hawaii's Big Island. Both offer unique vacation experiences. Kauai is a popular tourist destination known as the “Garden Isle” for its beautiful landscapes. Kapaa, in particular, is famous for its beautiful beaches, outdoor activities, and proximity to popular attractions.

On the other hand, the Big Island's lush landscapes, dotted with rainforests and waterfalls, make it an appealing vacation spot. Hilo is the biggest town on the island and is a great place to stay to explore the Big Island's natural beauty. Hilo also offers a unique blend of cultural attractions for visitors to explore. So, let us delve into the best that each of these beautiful Hawaiian towns has to offer.

Kapaa vs. Hilo: Kapaa

Kapaa, which is sometimes spelled as “Kapa'a,” is a popular tourist town located on the eastern side of Kauai. The name Kapaa means “solid,” which is an apt description of the place, as it offers plenty of exciting things to see and explore. The city is only eight miles away from the Lihue Airport, making it a quick and easy trip. Although Kapaa's beaches are less crowded than others in Hawaii, swimming there can be dangerous due to strong currents. Above the city, you can witness the beauty of the Nounou mountains. There, a rock formation called the “Sleeping Giant” can be easily spotted from Kapaa.

There are many guided tours that you can sign up for to explore the natural beauty of the area. Some of the most popular tours are the Kauai Movie Adventure Tour and the Secret Falls Kayak Hike in Kauai.

Beautiful nature on the Kauai island, Hawaii, USA. Panoramic view on mountains, rivers, fields and waterfalls.
Kapaa is the perfect base from which to explore the beautiful natural landscape of Kauai Island.

©Pandora Pictures/Shutterstock.com

Beaches and Swimming in Kapaa

If you plan to spend some time at the beach, you have many different options to choose from, depending on your interests. Poipu Beach Park is an excellent spot for swimming because of its calm waters and the presence of a cove and reef area. If you have small children, Baby Beach is a great choice, as it has gentle waves, making it a safer option for kids. For those interested in kayaking or boogie boarding, Shipwreck Beach is the perfect spot. It also has a forty-foot cliff that you can jump off of into the water.

On the flip side, Polihale Beach, while the longest beach in Hawaii, has strong currents. It is not an ideal beach for swimming. Additionally, there are no lifeguards. Kalapaki Beach is also a beautiful place to visit. However, cruise ships dock there, so it gets crowded quickly. Lastly, Kekaha Beach is a good choice for picnicking, but the strong winds and muddy beach make it less ideal for swimming.

Other Beaches to Consider Near Kapaa

It would be impossible to cover all of the great beaches in this area, but here are a few more suggestions.

  • Donkey Beach – While not a great spot for swimming, this white sand beach is more secluded than other beaches near Kapaa. It also has a beautiful tree tunnel path leading down to the beach.
  • Kealia Beach – This beach is good for swimming, surfing, and bodyboarding. This white sand beach is also a wonderful place to go for a stroll or watch the sunset.
  • Lae Nani Beach – This beach is another great spot to enjoy a stroll and watch the sunrise or sunset.
  • Lydgate Beach Park – This beach is ideal for families. A rock wall blocks off the swimming zone, and the waters here are very calm.
  • Tunnels Beach – Also known as Makua Beach, Tunnels Beach is a popular snorkeling spot due to the abundance of sea life.

Dining and Shopping in Kapaa

Here are some of the best restaurants and markets to check out while visiting Kapaa.

  • Baracuda – Baracuda, located off Kuhio Highway, serves locally sourced tapas entrees alongside a wide selection of drinks and wine. They are open from 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM, Tuesday through Saturday.
  • Pono Market – If you are hungry, definitely check out this popular local market where you can pick up poke and Japanese pastries. Their prices are cheap and the food is delicious. Pono Market is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Sam’s Ocean View – A restaurant with oceanfront outdoor seating overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Sam's Ocean View restaurant serves fusion food that combines Spanish, Indian, and Italian flavors. They also have a Happy Hour menu and a Sunday brunch.
  • Tiki Taco – It may sound strange, but this taco place with a Hawaiian influence is a popular dining spot. If you have a special diet, they offer organic, vegetarian, vegan options, and gluten-free options.
  • The Unique Gift Shop – The Unique Gift Shop is located in the Anchor Cove shopping center. You can find pens and keychains with both your real name and Hawaiian name on them. Additionally, they offer an extensive collection of Hawaiian shirts, which is the ultimate souvenir from Hawaii. According to online reviewers, this shop has better quality souvenirs than most other places. Customers also appreciate the convenience of this shop being located right next to the ABC store.
Kealia Beach, Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
There are many beautiful beaches to explore, such as Kealia Beach in Kapaa.

©Ventu Photo/Shutterstock.com

Where to Stay in Kapaa

Trip Advisor lists twenty-eight accommodations in Kapaa. Here are three of the highest-rated hotels.

  • Kauai Shores Hotel – Kauai Shores Hotel is the best value for your money in Kapaa. This hotel receives high marks for its calming atmosphere, beautiful landscaping, and friendly staff. Additionally, there is complimentary valet parking. The hotel restaurant also gets good reviews for the quality of its meals.
  • Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort – This hotel sits near Wailua Falls. It boasts an infinity pool, as well as three restaurants to cater to your dining needs. It also features a game room equipped with vintage arcade games and pool tables. Online reviews suggest that the hotel is conveniently located near Kapaa's shopping and dining district. Moreover, it offers breathtaking beach views.
  • Aston Islander On The Beach – This hotel offers private balconies that provide breathtaking views of the ocean. Each room is equipped with a kitchenette that features a microwave and refrigerator. This amenity is convenient for guests who plan to dine in. Additionally, the hotel has an onsite sand bar that is a popular spot among guests.

Kapaa vs. Hilo: Hilo

Hilo is a city located on the northeastern side of the island of Hawaii. Moreover, it is the largest town on the Big Island. Travelers can reach this destination through the Hilo International Airport. Hilo boasts a crescent-shaped bay and a variety of stunning gardens, rainforests, and waterfalls. The village of Hilo was once a thriving farming and fishing community, but it was transformed into a sugar cane plantation later. Today, it is home to around 44,000 people.

Although Hilo is a slightly less popular tourist destination than some other Hawaiian locations, visitors find more affordable accommodations here. With its beautiful surroundings, Hilo is an ideal destination for outdoor activities such as ziplining or hiking. If you are seeking outdoor adventures in Hawaii, rather than just beach lounging or souvenir shopping, Hilo may be the perfect spot. For instance, you can reach the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park by driving forty-five minutes south of Hilo. Or you can make a trip to the nearby Akaka Falls, where you can witness the beauty of a 442-foot waterfall. Hilo is also close to Rainbow Falls in Wailuku River State Park. The options are endless.

A couple at The Rainbow Falls, Hilo, Wailuku River State Park, Big Island, Hawaii
Hilo is close to many places of natural beauty, such as the Rainbow Falls in Wailuku River State Park.


Outdoor Adventures in and Near Hilo

Here are some of the top destinations to explore near Hilo.

  • Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden – The Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden is a beautiful nature reserve that covers more than seventeen acres of land. It is home to over 2,000 amazing plant species. To get there, take a fifteen-minute drive along the Scenic Route (Old Mamalahoa Road) from Hilo. Remember to wear comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen, insect repellent, snacks, and water.
  • Hilo Zipline Tour with Umauma Falls Tour – Umauma Ziplines offers a thrilling nine-line zipline tour through beautiful botanical gardens along the Umauma River. Located about thirty minutes from Hilo, you will need to bring your gear for the tour. However, the Umauma Ziplines staff offers training and tips to ensure you have the best experience. Additionally, they provide GoPro helmet cameras to capture your adventure, and you get to keep the SD card.
  • Kaumana Caves – Since most underground caves in Hawaii are on private land, Kaumana Caves Park provides a unique opportunity to explore caves. Formed 150 years ago from the lava flows from Mauna Loa, these caves are dark rock caverns that can be explored on your own. However, Lava Tube Adventures provides guided tours complete with a tour guide, flashlights, and knee pads.
  • Krishna Cow SanctuaryKrishna Cow Sanctuary offers a unique opportunity to cuddle a baby cow. The sanctuary, which spans approximately ten acres of land, is home to around 200 bovine animals. For just twenty dollars, you can enjoy a cow cuddle therapy session.
  • Richardson Ocean Park – This ocean park, which the locals just call “Richardson,” is an ideal place to snorkel with kids. The area is not only protected by a seawall but also has a lifeguard on duty. Additionally, it has a black sand beach. Finally, it is a great place to see green sea turtles and monk seals.

Food and Drink in Hilo

After all of your adventures, you will probably work up an appetite. Here are some of the best places for food and drink in the Hilo area.

  • Café 100 – If you are in the mood for some comforting and filling food, check out Café 100. This take-out restaurant offers large portions that can feed your whole family. They specialize in serving the Loco Moco, a dish that features a hamburger patty on a bed of rice, topped with brown gravy and a fried egg. Café 100 is famous for this burger. They now offer over thirty different variations on the classic Loco Moco.
  • Hilo Brewing – This brewery has an indoor and outdoor tasting room. They also offer around ten different kinds of beer, including the Volcano Red Ale and the Hilo Breakwall IPA. You can also order a sampler to try a variety of local beers.
  • Hilo Farmer's Market – The Hilo Farmer's Market is open every day from 7 AM to 3 PM. It is located in downtown Hilo and offers a wide variety of local produce, sweets, and souvenirs. With around 200 vendors, you can find everything from fruit, coffee, flowers, and vegetables to clothing. There are also plenty of food options available so that you can treat yourself to a delicious poke bowl after shopping.
  • Jackie Rey's Restaurant– Jackie Rey's offers locally caught fish paired with organic vegetables. They also have an impressive selection of cocktails and microbrews available for dine-in or take-out.
  • Takenoko Sushi – With a reservation list of six months to a year, you will need to plan your fine dining experience at Takenoko Sushi well in advance. However, online reviewers swear this restaurant is worth the wait. They also praise the excellent service and cozy atmosphere. Online reviewers insist that the sushi is some of the best and most authentic in the world.

The Best Accommodations in Hilo

  • Aaron's Cottage – If you are searching for a peaceful and less crowded place to stay in Hilo, consider Aaron's Cottage. It offers small bungalows for accommodation that are perfectly situated and close to various parks and beaches. Each room is equipped with a balcony that provides a beautiful garden view, a flat-screen TV, and free WiFi. According to online reviews, this is an ideal place for two people to stay.
  • Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel – The hotel comprises 286 rooms, each equipped with flat-screen TVs and refrigerators. There is also a beauty salon on-site, as well as dry cleaning and laundry services, and a beautiful garden. The hotel is conveniently located near popular tourist attractions in Hilo. Additionally, you may rent bicycles to explore the surrounding area.
  • SCP Hilo Hotel – US News and World Reports ranked SCP Hilo Hotel as the best hotel in Hilo. Additionally, they ranked it as the seventeenth-best hotel in all of Hawaii. This hotel boasts 128 rooms, including poolside rooms. They also provide “peaceful” rooms for the ultimate relaxation and sleep experience. Guests can take advantage of the hotel's fitness room and provisions market, which offers organic and locally sourced snacks.
Akaka falls in Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii
Typically less expensive than other places in Hawaii, Hilo offers a variety of accommodation options to suit your family vacation needs.


Final Thoughts

How do you decide between Kapaa on Kauai and Hilo on the Big Island for your next vacation? Both places offer unique experiences. Many beautiful, unique beaches are close to Kappa. Additionally, Kapaa provides excellent options for dining and luxury hotel stays. It also has exceptional tours, such as the Kauai Movie Adventure Tour, that the whole family can enjoy.

On the other hand, Hilo on the Big Island is famous for its lush landscapes, rainforests, and waterfalls. People who love outdoor activities such as hiking, ziplining, and playing water sports will find it a perfect destination. As the largest town on the island, Hilo offers a unique blend of local history and tourism. Additionally, hotel accommodations are more affordable here. Ultimately, your choice between the two destinations depends on the type of Hawaiian vacation you want to have.

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