Nov. 13, 2011 -- Kauai's 50 miles of beaches have been the stuff of warm-weather fantasies since Mitzi Gaynor washed that man right out of her hair in 1958's South Pacific, and the Hawaiian island is readying for yet another close-up with the Nov. 16 debut of The Descendants with George Clooney.
When the mainland turns cold and dreary, finding close-to-the-sand, better-than-basic digs for less than $150 a night (13.42% hotel taxes and fees included) can be a challenge here. (If you fancy the dreamy Hanalei beach house rental or St. Regis Princeville Resort featured in The Descendants, plan on spending more than $450 a night.)
But, notes Kauai-based Jeff Tucker of bargain-focused BeatofHawaii.com, there are deals to be had if you're willing to skip maid and room service at a condo, stay a while (cheapest rates often mean seven-night minimums) and can take advantage of specials that come and go.
Waikomo Stream Villas
The basics: The Parrish Collection is the on-site manager for 35 of 60 roomy (but un-air conditioned) condo units at this lushly landscaped complex in the Poipu resort area on Kauai's South Shore.
The vibe: A flurry of nearby construction projects have marred the ambience in recent years, but as of this summer, calm has returned (though you'll hear traffic noise from units facing Poipu Road). Next door, the new Shops at Kukui'ula features a weekly, upscale farmers market.
Nearest beach: It's about a 15-minute stroll to either Baby Beach (a small, protected swatch of sand tucked into a residential area) or Sheraton/Kiahuna Beach.
Amenities include: Free Wi-Fi, TV/VCRs, full kitchens, washer/dryer; complex has tennis courts and two pools.
The deal: High-season rates for a one-bedroom run $108.36 to $121.97 per night; $129.46 to $143.07 for a two-bedroom (seven-night minimum required).
Information: 800-325-5701; parrishkauai.com
Cottages at Poipu Kai
The basics: These 12 air-conditioned, single-story studio units in the Poipu Kai Resort were renovated last year (more minimalist Crate and Barrel than overtly tropical) and offer a compact, economical option for singles or couples. (Studios come with a single queen bed.)
The vibe: Poipu Kai is a 70-acre complex of condos and houses close to the Grand Hyatt resort; the cottages have a residential feel and back up to a manicured pathway that leads to Poipu Beach Park, a popular spot along Kauai's South Shore.
Nearest beach: Brennecke's, a magnet for bodysurfers, is a 5- to 10-minute walk.
Amenities include: Free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, BBQs and kitchenettes; access to Poipu Kai's pool
The deal: $101.74 a night for a one-week stay.
Information: 800-325-5701; parrishkauai.com
Hotel Coral Reef
The basics: This was one of the first hotels built along Kauai's central Coconut Coast, and the cheaper rooms close to Kuhio Highway are unrenovated and noisy. But 16 oceanfront units, with lanais overlooking a broad green lawn, have been spiffed up with jetted tubs.
The vibe: Aimed at visitors who don't want to be in a "resort bubble," the Coral Reef fronts a beachfront bike path (rentals for $5 per day). It's a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants of funky Kapaa; don't miss the ahi "poke," or raw tuna, at Pono Market.
Nearest beach: So close (50 yards) you can hear the waves.
Amenities include: Beach chairs, BBQ area, free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and refrigerators in most oceanfront units; free morning fruit, coffee and pastries in lobby
The deal: $149.71 a night for ground-level oceanfront rooms, based on availability and a five-night minimum through April.
Information: 800-843-4659; hotelcoralreefresort.com
Kauai Beach Villas
The basics: Two miles north of the airport and almost equidistant between the major draws of Poipu and Princeville/Hanalei, this 150-unit oceanfront condo complex is a mix of timeshares and vacation rentals laid out around a quiet central lagoon.
The vibe: Kauai Vacation Rentals manages 24 of 40 rental units; those in buildings G and H are closest to the beach. Condo guests also have access to the expansive pools at neighboring Kauai Beach Resort, managed by Aqua Hotels & Resorts (where regular nightly rates are more than $150, but through Dec. 24, a pool-view room goes for $109 per night plus tax).
Nearest beach: Though strong currents and a rocky bottom rule out swimming, adjacent Nukoli'i Beach is 2 miles long. Look for passing humpback whales and, if you're lucky, a tiny and rare Ni'ihau shell.
Amenities include: Beach chairs, full kitchens, washer/dryers, insulated lunch bag with Kauai coffee, cookies, macadamia nuts and bottled water.
The deal: Daily rates for a one-bedroom range from $128.46 (seven-night minimum) to $143.99 (four-night minimum).
Information: 800-367-5025; KauaiVacationRentals.com
The basics: One of the few budget options on Kauai's rural but pricey North Shore, this roadside inn offers four studios with kitchens and one without in a garden setting just a block from Hanalei Bay.
The vibe: While sun worshipers may be disappointed (it can rain here for weeks at a time), the North Shore is a staggeringly scenic stand-in for paradise. Laid-back Hanalei, just west of Princeville via a one-lane bridge, is also home to the thatched-roof Tahiti Nui bar, a local watering hole that plays itself in The Descendants.
Nearest beach: Horseshoe-shaped, 2-mile-long Hanalei Bay is less than five minutes away.
Amenities include: FreeWi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, kitchens
The deal: Studios are $149 plus tax, which is waived for stays of seven nights or longer.
Information: 877-445-2824; hanaleiinn.com