When gathering information about where to stay in Hawaii, I was surprised by two things: (1) How much even basic accommodation cost, and (2) the limited amount of independent information about budget lodging options on the islands. A few sites did provide some useful starting points and a basic look at the options on various islands, including Andy’s Hawaii Hostel Review and Hawaii Hostel Guide, but nothing really helped on the order of budget accommodation review sites covering other parts of the world. A person could come away with the idea that there really isn’t any kind of quality budget accommodation in Hawaii, but that conclusion is incorrect. There are places to stay that provide good value, as long as you book sufficiently ahead (recommended 2-3 months, particularly in the winter).
This review covers the places we stayed in Hawaii on a recent trip, and in order to take advantage of these places and also see the good sites, you will need a car. You probably already knew that, but I’m just making sure. My hope is that a fellow traveler that appreciates budget accommodations and the fellowship (and common areas) that you only find at a hostel will be able to use this information.
If you want the surfer dude experience and be incredibly near some of the best surfing the world (well, in the winter; the summer waves are pretty calm) without blowing all your cash, this is the place. The odd name really does describe this hostel: It really is a village. Located in Waimea (I don’t know why their address lists them in Haleiwa) directly across the road from such legendary beaches as Three Tables, Pupukea, Waimea Bay, Shark’s Cove, and the Banzai Pipeline, Backpackers is really collection of different styles of accommodations commonly managed. There are the two large structures, holding multiple rooms, the Beach House and the Brown House, as well as the Plantation Village, which is a collection of small private rooms on a common driveway. All are very close to the beach, though the two building groups are about 100 feet apart, separated by several private homes.
I liked this place, but my wife did not really care for it. We stayed in the Brown House, in one of the back rooms, which don’t get the good windward breezes, and our room was pretty warm. The common bathroom was less than clean, but it was far from disgusting. Basically, it was exactly what I imagined budget accommodations for surfers would be like, and I can recommend it as a great base of operations on the North Shore. You can easily get to Haleiwa for the famous shaved ice, and a Foodland grocery store is within easy walking distance down the Kam Highway.
I think we ended up paying around $70/night, which is probably as cheap as you are going to find on the North Shore, unfortunately. If you are going to stay at Backpackers, book early and ask for a private room that faces the sea (if staying in the Brown or Main House) or get a spot in the village.
The staff is really friendly and fun at Backpackers, and they go out of their way to help you. We stayed there over July 4th, and the staff put together a trip to local military base were we grilled out and watched fireworks. It was exactly the kind of experience you hope to have at a hostel, and they really pulled it off well.
Backpackers is also a good option if you don’t have a rental car, as they provide pick-up and drop-off for free from the airport or Waikiki, which is very handy. Recommended
When we were in Hilo and touring the north shore of Hawaii and Volcanoes National Park, it was a toss-up between Arnott’s Lodge and the Dolphin Bay Hotel. In the end, I’m not sure that we made the right choice (especially since Dolphin Bay organizes the lava chicken outings), but Arnott’s turned out to be, well, OK.
Like Backpackers Hawaii above, Arnott’s is more of a complex than a central building. There is a main structure, around which the various amenities, such as hundreds of movies on demand, reception, kitchen, outdoor dining area, and grassy camping area can be found. Private room featuring a bathroom are just across the road. We stayed for 2 nights in what they call a “semi-private” room for about $70 per night, which features a kitchen and bath you share with another room across the hall (and we didn’t have anyone in that room for the two nights, which was nice). On our way back through Hilo, we stayed in a “private” room for 10 bucks more, which are situated around a common kitchen with a private bath plus A/C. Free wifi is available throughout, and the fellow travelers we met while staying there were very friendly. You’ll be in good, laid-back company.
Arnott’s is a great place to base your Hilo related adventures, as it a bit out of town and away from the traffic. You can walk to a rocky beach (the only kind in Hilo), and the highly recommended Ken’s House of Pancakes is just down the road. Hilo is really comprised of two different towns: the historic downtown on the northwest side and the more modern, big-box retail and residential center on the east side. Arnott’s is sufficiently apart from both of these to let you get away from the hustle and bustle after spending all day exploring the nearby natural sites.
If there is one knock against Arnott’s Lodge, it must be the surly staff and the list of rules that you have to agree to in order to check in. This was the only place we stayed were the staff did not seem welcoming or even happy to see you. No real aloha spirit here. And it is obvious that Arnott’s has suffered in the past for poor guest behavior, and a long collection of rules and restrictions greet you at the check-in desk, instead of a smiling face. When we asked about how late we could check in, we were told that we would have to pay an extra $5, per person, to check in between 8 and 10 PM, and it was impossible to check in after 10. This, after Backpackers Hawaii left our key in a box next to the office, complete with a map of how to find our room.
If you don’t mind being treated less than kindly, Arnott’s is a good deal, and you will enjoy their clean, orderly place. Somewhat Recommended
This is a good place to explore the Kona region, on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. You’ll find Pineapple Park near the turn-off to Napo’opo’o Road in Captain Cook, which takes you down to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument. This is particularly good place if you are into the various adventure sports available in the area, especially kayaking, snorkeling (don’t forget the sunscreen!), and hiking. You can even rent a kayak the night before and be ready to hit the bay around 7 AM, when the Spinner dolphins are usually around and playful.
The staff is friendly and very helpful. They live on-site, so they are always eager to do anything to make your stay more comfortable. If you are looking to cook, whether to save money or try your hand with some of the local fish, the communal kitchen works well, and an gas bar-b-que is available.
Be prepared for some very busy traffic along Highway 11, with stop-and-go all the way from Keokea to Kailua-Kona, including the area just in front of Pineapple Park. Getting into and out of the place, as well as just moving around the local area, can take longer than you would think.
The only weird thing about Pineapple Park is that guests that pay for the private rooms are allowed to congregate on the upstairs patio, while folks that rent dorm or semi-private rooms have to stay down on the shaded lanai, near the BBQ grill. It isn’t clear why this is necessary, but it didn’t bother us much. Then again, we were allowed up on the patio. Recommended
Mindy’s Affordable Rental
West Kauai, Hawaii
Mindy’s is the best value we experienced in Hawaii. It was hard to leave this place. Located in Kekaha, Mindy’s is a second-floor apartment over a private home. You can walk 2 blocks to a deserted beach perfect for traditional Hawaiian paddle surfing. (Or, in our case, the perfect place to watch traditional Hawaiian paddle surfing.)
There are so many wonderful things to say about Mindy’s, but let me try to hit some of the highlights:
- Clean – This is no musty, over-used efficiency apartment. You get the feeling like you are staying a really nice guest house that is meticulously maintained.
- Breezy – Mindy’s doesn’t have AC, but you don’t need it. The coastal breezes keep the apartment comfortable.
- Great lanai – There is a BBQ grill, if you want to cook out, or if you just want to veg, the porch gets great sun in the morning.
- Great Internet access – OK, I know that you didn’t go on vacation to get online, but if you do want to email the folks back at home, Mindy’s has a fast, easy connection for you.
- Friendly hosts – You get the sense that Mindy and Dave really care and want you to enjoy your trip to Hawaii.
The south and west sides of Kauai have a lot of offer, and while most folks make a beeline for the north side or stay in the confines of their resort, only venturing to the west side to see Waimea Canyon, there is a lot more to experience that you might imagine. A place like Mindy’s puts you in the middle of the action, halfway between Polihale State Park with its wild beach in the west and the calmer, perfect waves of Poipu in the south. The towns of Waimea and Hanapepe are only minutes away, but the traffic is much calmer in Kekaha and the stars at night, well, they have to be seen to be believed. Highly recommended
Wainiha Oceanview Apartment
Wainiha, North Kauai, Hawaii
If you are staying outside of the east coast on Kauai, you are probably looking at staying in a guest house or a timeshare condo, particularly on the north side. If we learned one thing about finding lodging in Hawaii, it is book early, preferably months in advance of when you arrive. Needless to say, we did not book early on the north side of Kauai, but we did find a good place to stay (though at a pretty steep price).
If possible, try to stay west of the busy hamlet of Hanalei. As you drive toward the Na Pali coast from Hanalei, the road gets narrower and the number of 1-lane bridges increases. Unfortunately, the amount of traffic on the road, at least during the middle of the day, also increases, as folks cruise out to the end of the road in their Ford Mustang convertibles and other rental cars to go snorkeling at Ke’e Beach or Tunnels Beach.
There are two apartments on the same property at this location, one facing the ocean and the other in the back part of the lot. There is a beach just across the road, and you can look across huge breakers coming into a mostly sand beach to see Princeville across the bay. Just a beautiful spot, and you can see it all from your living room. Very sweet!
The ocean apartment features a hot and cold shower outside (very nice after coming back from an early morning swim), as well as a nice partly-shady front yard and laundry facilities. The drawbacks to this space are few: small kitchen with only a mini-fridge, somewhat uncomfortable furniture, and strange lack of any wireless signals there (no cell or radio signals were available – but you can get cell phone service on the beach across the road). These are minor annoyances, and once you take in the view from the front of the apartment, you will forget all about them. Recommended