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Kapaa vs. Honolulu: A Hawaii Travel Guide

Sunset over Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii

Kapaa vs. Honolulu: A Hawaii Travel Guide

If you’re trying to pick between Kapaa vs. Honolulu for your next Hawaiian adventure, keep on reading. While both are beautiful places to go, there are some major differences worth knowing. Kapaa is located on the island of Kauai while Honolulu is on the island of O’ahu. While O’ahu is larger than Kauai, the islands themselves provide different opportunities for vacationers.

Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii, which means it is inherently more developed than Kauai, which is known for its natural beauty and lots of undeveloped lands. Depending on what kind of vacation you are looking for, these two locations can each present unique vacation opportunities.

So, as we do a deep dive into Kapaa vs. Honolulu, we’ll look at the history, the attractions, and the amenities of each of these islands. Learn more about the must-do things in these areas of Kauai compared to O’ahu. By the end of this, you’ll know for sure which spot to pick while planning your next Hawaiian getaway adventure. Will it be the capital of Hawaii? Or the “Garden Isle” of Kauai?

Kapaa vs. Honolulu: How Are They Different?

Kapaa is a town on the southeast shore of Kauai. It is known for its main street of restaurants, shops, and local museums, nestled into the mountainous landscapes and lush greenery of Kauai. Honolulu is the capital of the Hawaiian islands, located on the southeast coast of O'ahu. It is the most populated area of the island of O'ahu, which provides a stark contrast to Kauai, which is one of the more underdeveloped of the Hawaiian islands. You'll get two very different tourist experiences between Kapaa vs. Honolulu.

Wondering what's the best Hawaiian Island to visit? Here's a Hawaiian Islands Map and a Comparison of all the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii Islands, Big Island - Hawaii Islands, Map, Vector, Oahu
Honolulu is the capital city of O'ahu, while Kapaa is located one island to the left on Kauai.


The History of Kapaa

Kapaa, also spelled Kapa'a, means “held fast.” It was named this due to the thriving community that grew in relation to the sugar plantation in the early days of the island. The region is known for its sugar cane plantations, as well as its rice fields, and pineapple production. In terms of the tourism industry, Kauai made a shift after World War II when the sugar plantations closed. The stores in Kapa'a have expanded to include all kinds of tourist gems, local restaurants, artisan shops, and more. Take a stroll through this sleepy beachside town and you'll pass all kinds of historical sites, and a handful of museums. This region is also known for the nearby Nounou mountain formation, upon which there are some incredible hiking opportunities that will take you through mountain landscapes and by the sea (via Brittanica).

Things To Do In Kapaa 

While less developed than other islands, Kauai, and specifically Kapaa, is well worth a visit. There's a reason this town is a popular spot for vacations on the island of Kauai.

  • Starting with some of the natural wonders near Kapaa, check out the hiking opportunities by Nounou, the sleeping giant mountain. There's Kuilau Ridge and lots of family-friendly hikes.
  • The Ke Ala Hele Makalae bike path is great for exploring. It goes between Lydgate Park, which is also worth a stopover, all the way through to Donkey Beach.
  • For other beachfront parks check out Kealia and Wailua Beach. There are plenty of seas to swim and you can often catch some wildlife enjoying the beachfront as well.
  • Cultural sites in Kapaa include Poliahu, Holoholoku, and Kukui heiau. Learn about the island while you spend time exploring it in all its beauty.
  • Wailua Falls is a bit outside of Kapaa, but well worth a visit to see this magnificent waterfall.
  • There's also the Kauai Hindu Monastery. This temple was built in India and reassembled in Kauai. There are quite a few temples and lots of history here.
  • Restaurants are prominent in Kapaa, along with all kinds of local stands, and don't forget to try the shaved ice! For waterfront dining, check out Oasis on the Beach or the Bull Shed. Some of them even have live music on certain evenings!
Kapaa Kauai Hawaii City Landscape Beach Valley Mountain Ridge
Kapaa is a beautiful beachfront town with lots of opportunities for all kinds of tourists.

©Cascade Creatives/Shutterstock.com

History Of Honolulu

Honolulu was declared the capital in 1850 after it was returned to King Kamehameha III. Before this, the island was occupied by whalers, sandalwood traders, and French and British troops respectively between the 1100s til just before 1850. The earliest explorers described the landscape as a “protected bay,” which made it an ideal spot for shipping routes, and the future development of towns, cities, and more industrial, and commercial opportunities. In world history, Honolulu played a huge part in World War II after the Pearl Harbor aerial attack. There continues to be a huge military presence on the island. Today's Honolulu is full of manufacturing plants that include the export of canned pineapple, sugar refinement, clothing, aluminum, oil, cement, steel, and dairy. It is home to the University of Hawaii, and quite a few community colleges, as well as some important museum collections (via Brittanica).

Oahu Hawaii
Waikiki Beach is just one of the beautiful coastal landscapes of Honolulu on O'ahu.


Things To Do In Honolulu

In the city of Honolulu, you'll find a nice balance of activities and relaxation. Known for its dry climate, and warm, calm waters, Honolulu has so much to see and explore.

  • Head to Hanama Bay Nature Preserve to check out Nu’uanu Valley from the local lookout points.
  • Check out the attractions of Chinatown and Kaka'ako where you'll find street art, artisan shops, handmade leis, and great restaurants for good food. Take a look at some of Eater‘s top spots.
  • The Lyon Arboretum has 200+ acres of Tropical rainforest, where you can experience all kinds of unique flora and fauna adjacent to Honolulu.
  • The Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo are wonderful opportunities to see local wildlife.
  • No trip to Honolulu would be complete without a stop at Iolani Palace. It is the only royal palace on U.S. soil and was home to King Kalākaua and eventually Queen Liliʻuokalani. It remains a historical site for the many changes that have occured since the early days of Hawaiian history.
  • For more history, check out the Pearl Harbor Museum. Here you can check out vintage aircraft, old hangars, and other sites that were integral to this devasting attack on U.S. soil.
  • Waikiki and Lanikai beaches are well worth a stop, as well as the Diamond Head State Monument. Both will provide you with gorgeous views of sand, sea, and the local landscapes of Honolulu.
  • And for one last hiking suggestion, try to catch a rainbow over at Manoa Falls (150-foot waterfall!)
Manoa Falls in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
Manoa Falls in Honolulu is truly a sight to behold in Honolulu, HI.

©David Schueller/Shutterstock.com

Trip Things To Consider

When comparing Kapaa vs. Honolulu, it's important to consider how the budget for these varying trips may impact your enjoyment. Kauai is generally less expensive because it's not as touristy as some of the other islands. That being said, island living does come with more import taxes on basic groceries and amenities. So while Kauai may be more budget-friendly, it also may have less access to certain things you're used to. Honolulu is the capital city of O'ahu and is highly populated. This means that as a shipping port, it has lots of amenities but also is very popular with tourists. You may find yourself fighting crowds in high season, and the cost of things will also likely be higher due to the increased vacation demand. Whichever place you pick, you're sure to have a wonderful time. After all, who can't enjoy themselves while surrounded by sunshine, sandy beaches, and that beautiful blue sea?

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