When choosing a hotel in Kauai, it's important to consider the vibe of each resort area. Poipu is a family-friendly stretch of mostly chain hotels (Hyatt, Sheraton) on the south shore; Hanalei, on the north shore, is a moneyed hippie enclave; Kapaa is a booming town on the eastern side, where you'll find the Outrigger Waipouli hotel.
Short-term private-home rentals are a popular option on Kauai, and in some cases a better value than a hotel. Plus, they give you a chance to live like a local. One rental property is Kauai Chill, a two-bedroom modern Hawaiian home right on the beach at Hanalei Bay with glass-tile bathrooms, an outdoor shower, a sleeping loft, a lanai, and an excellent view of the area's surfers. Maid service, catering, and massages can be arranged, but you'll need to book six months to a year in advance (4378 Hee Rd.; Hanalei; 808-826-7244; www.kauaichill.com). Another great rental is the Secret Beach Hideaway, three one-bedroom retreats, set well apart from each other on 35 acres, surrounded by another 60 acres of state-protected ironwood trees, ravines, and waterfalls. You're on your own for housekeeping and meals, although there is a gourmet kitchen (and catering can be arranged). The same company owns a three-bedroom villa with a media room, pool, and spa on five acres of land (2908 Kauapea Rd.; Kilauea; 808-635-6184; www.secretbeachkauai.com). Those who want the services of a hotel, but the privacy of a home should book instead with Pure Kauai.