Hawaii is truly a magical vacation destination. From snorkeling and sailing to beachside relaxation, there’s an adventure for everyone in this tropical paradise.
Owning a vacation rental in Hawaii can feel magical too, as properties of all shapes and sizes are well-suited to house the more than 10 million tourists who visit annually.
Since each island has its own flair, below is a breakdown of the unique features and benefits for the best places to invest in Hawaii — Kauai and the Big Island’s Kona Coast — to help you decide where your investment dollars should go.
We’ve also created free, downloadable vacation rental market analyses for each area, so you can take a closer look at your investment opportunities. These reports include:
The findings in these analyses are based on Evolve’s Hawaii market averages over the last year, and provide a general baseline for performance potential. They’re designed to help inform smart decisions when buying a vacation rental in Hawaii.
Note: This article was modified on August 16th, 2023, removing Maui as a result of Maui wildfire impacts.
While Kauai and the Big Island each have unique draws, many pros and cons of a Hawaii investment property stand true in both popular destinations. Consider these key factors no matter which market you decide to zero in on.
With warm weather year-round, Hawaii sees solid demand for the better part of the calendar. Peak travel season starts in late spring and carries through the summer (May to August), as families often escape to this beachy paradise during school breaks. Occupancy rates stay high from September to December, too — which can translate to consistent bookings and rental income.
Hawaiian islands only experience notable demand dips in January and February, but the bounce back is quick. Consider those months an ideal time to get a new vacation rental five-star ready, and to plan for any annual maintenance down the line.
Between the heat and high humidity in Hawaii’s most popular travel seasons, our real estate experts say air conditioning is a hot commodity for a property on any island. Pools are also a major perk, as are outdoor spaces with large decks so guests can embrace the surrounding natural beauty without leaving home.
When it is time to explore, your vacation rental’s location should make that easy. Nearby beach access or true waterfront status are highly sought-after in Hawaii, and beach-friendly amenities (like umbrellas and snorkeling gear) can go a long way toward getting five-star reviews from guests. Consider proximity to local attractions as well (like Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, or Kauai’s Hāʻena State Park). This gives your rental a stronger chance of becoming a highly-bookable home base for adventure.
Also, no matter what property type you go for (say, a quaint inland cottage or a tried-and-true beach house), Hawaii travelers love resort-style vibes. It’s wise to upgrade spaces with luxe touches like smart TVs and WiFi, and to bring local charm to your indoor decor so guests can have a more authentic vacation. You can also provide welcome gifts, along with kid-friendly amenities to up the ante on your top-notch service.
Our experts say short-term rental regulations have intensified across many of the Hawaiian islands over the last few years. So it’s important to research market-specific restrictions and work with local agents who specialize in vacation rental to prepare for the process.
The Big Island, for instance, restricts rentals in certain zones, while Kauai puts parameters on lengths of stay and requires at least three or even four permits before giving approval to operate.
Honolulu has a full ban in place on all new short-term rentals. This is why — despite common interest in Honolulu investment properties — we’re not recommending a vacation rental investment on the island of Oahu.
Though regulations can introduce more legwork upfront, a Hawaii investment property — particularly on the islands of Kauai and Big Island — can be worth the effort with the right due diligence and vacation rental experts on your side.
Kauai is an adventurer’s paradise. With a bit less tourism infrastructure than other Hawaiian islands, the Garden Isle feels more untouched and rugged — making it ideal for travelers wanting to go off the beaten path and escape crowds.
The island has also had some serious silver screen time in the Jurassic Park series, so it’s easy to see how Kauai offers an almost other-worldly experience.
When considering a Hawaii investment property in Kauai, note that there’s a two-person limit on every vacation rental bedroom. As a result, you won’t be able to maximize your guest capacity with things like multiple bunk beds or futons here. It can also take up to 180 days to get vacation rental licenses approved, so it may not be a fast turnaround from your date of purchase to when you start earning vacation rental revenue.
Kauai’s average home price currently sits around $930,000. Though expensive, Kauai has the highest ceiling for annual income of any Hawaiian market. That means owning a vacation rental here can be especially lucrative in the long-term.
While five-bedroom homes tend to see the most annual revenue, one-bedroom properties take the lead in year-round occupancy (with two- to four-bedroom properties following close behind). This trend gives investors a wider range of profit potential across home sizes.
The island is small enough that proximity to great sites isn’t an issue — you’re likely to be a stone’s throw away from a hotspot like Hāʻena State Park or one of Kauai’s nine forest reserves no matter where you buy. But keep in mind that beach-view homes are always a bonus in such a beautiful place. Movie buffs also love Kauai’s connection to the Jurassic Park series, so searching for properties near classic film locations (or decorating in a way that nods to the franchise) can help you capitalize on that interest and maximize earnings.
With stark volcanic cliffs and black sand beaches, the Big Island is sure to inspire awe. Perhaps the most well-known in Hawaii’s island chain, there’s one region along its western shore that follows suit as its most popular vacation spot: the Kona Coast.
Naturally, that makes the Kona Coast the prime Big Island location for a Hawaii investment property. It sees a small demand slump in early fall that other islands don’t, but it has a high peak for occupancy rates — second only to Kauai. That can mean major cash flow opportunities for owners in busy seasons, with an end-of-summer breathing period that’s perfect for getting your own getaway on the books.
This island’s caveat: short-term rentals on the Kona Coast are restricted to hotel, resort, commercial, and multi-family commercial zones. It’s important to reach out to the county before buying a Big Island vacation rental to double-check which zone your potential property sits in, and that it complies with local regulations.
Kona Coast home prices average in the lower $800,000s, making the area more affordable than its Kauai neighbor.
Bigger properties see the highest daily rates here. Four- and five-bedroom homes earn the most annual revenue on average, and Evolve’s highest-earning Kona Coast property is a four-bedroom.
Like Kauai, however, one-bedroom homes on the Big Island’s Kona Coast can also be hugely successful. In fact, one- and four-bedroom homes tend to see an identical average number of nights booked in the calendar year. This really just highlights the broader traveler appeal of this Hawaiian market.
Since the Big Island’s unique terrain is what sets it apart, our experts say proximity to local attractions can have a massive impact on Kona Coast rental success. Look for homes near the recently-expanded Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, or by the black sands of Punaluʻu Beach. Coffee is also a big part of Kona’s culture, so offering an easy commute to the best places to enjoy it (and outlining those recommendations in your welcome book) can make guests buzz.
As a dream destination for travelers of all types, a Hawaii investment property can be really ideal for investors in search of massive demand in unmatched island landscapes.
To get a closer look at the best places to invest in Hawaii, download our complete Vacation Rental Market Analyses for Kauai and the Big Island’s Kona Coast today.
Each report includes helpful insights like:
Use our reports to equip yourself with the tools and knowledge needed for vacation rental investment success, and make your entry into the market a total breeze.