Attractions

The 12 Best Beaches in Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai and is the oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Also known as the “Garden Island,” Kauai is covered in lush rainforests, as well mountaintops, cliffs, and canyons. Within the island are some of the most diverse flora and fauna in Hawaii. Surrounding this natural beauty are spectacular beaches that are relatively pristine. Today, let’s look at the best beaches in Kauai.

Best Beaches in North Shore, Kauai

North Shore can be summarized in one word: Paradise.

Rugged mountains, breathtaking cliffs, verdant rainforests, flourishing taro fields, tropical flowers, and marine wildlife; it’s amazing how much natural beauty can be found in one area.

1. Hanalei Bay – Hanalei

01 Hanalei Bay - Hanalei, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Christoph Strässler

Known as: The best all-around beach offering a little of everything

Hanalei Bay is a crescent-shaped, protected cove with two coral reefs at both sides and deeper water with higher waves in the center.

Hanalei Beach is thus known for having a wide variety of activities available to beachgoers of every age. The two main beach parks offer plenty of amenities, making for a comfortable time on the beach.

The view of the mountains to the left is simply amazing, especially at sunset.

Beginner surfers can practice on the tranquil waters in the summer, while more experienced surfers prefer the higher waves in the winter. Divers can explore the reefs, as well as an old shipwreck that still sits on the seafloor.

Essential Information
Location: Hanalei, HI 96714
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, diving, body surfing, body boarding, surfing, stand-up paddling, boating, kayaking, beach lounging, picnicking
Public access points: Waioli Beach Park, Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park, Black Pot Beach Park
Lifeguard? Sun–Mon 9am–5pm
Nearby services and amenities: Parking, restrooms, showers, picnic tables
Nearest town: Hanalei, HI
Nearby places of interest: Hanalei Pier, Queens Bath, Hanalei Valley Lookout, Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, Princeville Botanical Gardens
More information:
Hanalei Beach Park | GuideofUS Hawaii

2. Makua Beach/Tunnels Beach – Ha’ena

02 Tunnels Beach - Hanea, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Garden State Hiker

Known as: The best beach in Kauai for snorkeling and diving

Its golden sand against a backdrop of green jungles and mountains makes this beach one of the most photogenic beaches in Kauai.

But the real star is the massive coral reef teeming with life, along with the underwater caverns and tunnels that give the beach its name. These plus the calm waters make Tunnels Beach one of the best beaches in Kauai to snorkel and dive.

Parking can be a problem during peak months, but you can park at nearby Ha’ena Beach Park and walk to Tunnels Beach.

Essential Information
Location: Ha’ena, HI 96746
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, kite surfing, surfing, beach lounging, picnicking
Main access point: Mile Marker 8 on Highway 560
Lifeguard? Sun–Mon 9am–5pm
Nearby services and amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables
Nearest towns: Ha’ena, HI; Hanalei, HI
Nearby places of interest: Hāʻena State Park, Limahuli Garden and Preserve, Maniniholo Dry Cave
More information:
Tunnels Beach | GuideofUS Hawaii

3. Ha’ena Beach Park – Ha’ena

03 Hanea Beach - Hanea, Hawaii
Photo Credit: penjelly

Known as: A favorite of advanced surfers during the winter

Mount Makana (also known as Bali Hai from the movie South Pacific) provides a stunning backdrop to the golden sands of Ha’ena Beach.

During the summer, the waters are calm enough for swimming and snorkeling, but in the winter, the giant waves and strong currents make this beach popular among experienced surfers.

Essential Information
Location: Ha’ena, HI 96746
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, surfing, beach lounging, sunset watching, beach walking, picnicking, camping
Main access point: Mile Marker 9 on Highway 560
Lifeguard? Sun–Mon 9am–5pm
Nearby services and amenities: Parking (advanced reservations required), restrooms, showers, picnic tables, campgrounds
Nearest towns/cities: Ha’ena, HI; Hanalei, HI
Nearby places of interest: Hāʻena State Park, Limahuli Garden and Preserve, Maniniholo Dry Cave, Wet Cave/Blue Room
More information:
Haena Beach Park | GuideofUS Hawaii
Ha’ena State Park | Division of State Parks

4. Ke’e Beach – Ha’ena

04 Kee Beach - Hanea, Hawaii
Photo Credit: screaming_monkey

Known as: Where the trailhead for the popular Kalalau Trail is located

The last beach accessible by car on the North Shore, Ke’e Beach is known as the beginning of the Kalalau Trail, which extends along the coast through the Hono’Onapali Natural Reserve and then into the stunning Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.

This reef-enclosed lagoon has crystal clear water during the summer months, and you might see a Hawaiian green sea turtle or two.

Fair warning: wild chickens may snatch your snacks while you’re picnicking on this beach.

Essential Information
Location: Ha’ena, HI 96746
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, beach lounging, sunset watching
Main access point: End of Highway 560
Lifeguard? Sun–Mon 9am–5pm
Nearby services and amenities: Parking (advanced reservations required), restrooms, showers, picnic tables
Nearest towns/cities: Ha’ena, HI; Hanalei, HI
Nearby places of interest: Hono’Onapali Natural Reserve, Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Kalalau Trail, Hanakapi’ai Falls, Limahuli Falls, Hāʻena State Park, Limahuli Garden and Preserve, Maniniholo Dry Cave, Wet Cave/Blue Room
More information:
Ke’e Beach | GuideofUS Hawaii
Ha’ena State Park | Division of State Parks
Kalalau Trail

5. Anini Beach – Kalihiwai

05 Anini Beach - Kalihiwai, Hawaii
Photo Credit: jockrutherford

Known for: Its calm, well-protected waters

Anini Beach is a long beach with an equally long reef stretching two miles along the shore, making it one of the most protected beaches in Kauai.

Because of its uniquely calm waters, Anini Beach is perfect for windsurfing and paddleboarding lessons. The reef is also a popular place to snorkel, but it turns dangerous where the reef ends.

Essential Information
Location: Kalihiwai, HI 96754
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, fishing, boating, kayaking, bodyboarding, paddle boarding, windsurfing, beach walking, picnicking, camping
Main access point: Kalihikai Park | 3727 Anini Rd, Kilauea, HI 96754
Public access points:
Lifeguard? No
Nearby services and amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, campgrounds, boat ramp
Nearest towns/cities: Kalihiwai, HI; Hanalei, HI; Kilauea, HI
Nearby places of interest: Kalihikai Park, Queen’s Bath, Kilauea Lighthouse, Hanalei Valley Lookout, Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, Princeville Botanical Gardens, Garden Island Chocolate
More information: Anini Beach | GuideofUS Hawaii

Best Beaches on the East Side of Kauai

East Kauai is sometimes called the Coconut Coast for the groves of coconut palms that grow in the resort areas. Among the coconut trees, you’ll find historic places, memorable natural attractions, and of course, beautiful beaches.

6. Lydgate Beach – Lihue

06 Lydgate Beach - Lihue, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Fuzzy Gerdes

Known as: One of the most family-friendly beaches in Kauai

Lydgate Beach Park features two manmade rock-enclosed pools that create a safe haven from open ocean waves and currents while still allowing small tropical fish to swim in and out through the crevices.

Aside from the pools, features a playground, bike trail, a lawn, soccer fields, a pavilion, and a play bridge near the end of the park grounds.

All these amenities make Lydgate Beach a great destination for families with small children.

While you’re here, try to make a side trip to Wailua Falls, considered one of the best waterfalls in the US.

Essential Information
Location: Lihue, HI 96766
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, surfing, windsurfing, body boarding, beach walking, camping
Main access point: Lydgate Beach Park
Lifeguard? Sun–Mon 9am–5pm
Nearby services and amenities: Parking, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, campgrounds
Nearest towns: Lihue, HI; Wailua, HI
Nearby places of interest: Wailua River, Wailua Complex of Heiaus, Wailua Falls, Smith Family Garden Luau, Kamokila Hawaiian Village
More information:
Lydgate Beach | GuideofUS Hawaii
Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park

7. Anahola Beach – Anahola

07 Anahola Beach - Anahola, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Christoph Strässler

Known as: A favorite among the locals

Anahola Beach is a secluded half-mile stretch of white sand with picturesque views of the Kalelea Mountains and ironwood trees that provide natural shade.

A reef breaks incoming ocean waves such that the water near the beach is suitable for swimming and provides a great snorkeling spot.

Locals love this beach and the fact that it’s hidden from the highway. Children love playing in the river on the north side of the beach while adults do their pole fishing.

Essential Information
Location: Anahola, HI 96703
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, surfing, boogie boarding, beach walking, picnicking, camping
Main access point: Anahola Beach Park
Lifeguard? Sun–Mon 9am–5pm
Nearby services and amenities: Parking, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, campgrounds
Nearest town: Anahola, HI
Nearby places of interest: Anahola Stream, Kuaehu Point, Lae O Kailiu
More information:
Anahola Beach | GuideofUS Hawaii

Best Beaches in South Shore, Kauai

Sunny South Shore is a favorite winter destination, as its waves aren’t as dramatic as the North Shore’s waves are during these months. Plus, the accommodations here have easier access to the beach.

8. Shipwreck Beach – Poipu

08 Shipwreck Beach - Poipu, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Mary and Andrew

Known for: Its view of Makawehi Lithified Cliffs

Shipwreck Beach was named after an old wooden ship that sank off its coast. The ship has faded away but the name stuck.

It’s famous for its spectacular view of the Makawehi Lithified Cliffs to the left of the beach. These limestone cliffs can also be accessed by hiking the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail.

This beach isn’t lifeguarded and the waves are rough, so swimming is not recommended. The waves attract surfers, though.

The golden sands are perfect for strolling and hanging out to view the sunset. You might see the occasional wedding, as this is a popular beach to get hitched.

Essential Information
Location: Poipu, HI 96756
Activities: Surfing, body surfing, beach walking, beach lounging, sunset watching
Main access point: Ainako Street
Lifeguard? No
Nearby services and amenities: Parking (off the Grand Hyatt entrance), restrooms, showers, picnic tables
Nearest towns: Poipu, HI; Koloa, HI
Nearby places of interest: Makawehi Lithified Cliffs, Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, Makauwahi Cave Reserve, Poipu Bay Golf Course, Allerton Garden, Koloa Zipline
More information:
Shipwreck Beach | GuideofUS Hawaii

9. Poipu Beach – Poipu

09 Poipu Beach - Poipu, Hawaii
Photo Credit: TLPOSCHARSKY

Known as: The most famous beach in South Shore

Poipu Beach is actually two crescent beaches separated by a sand spit, called a tombola.

Near this tombola is a rock-protected shallow area for swimming, ideal for kids. The gentle waves are perfect for surfing and body-boarding beginners.

Poipu Beach is not only a local and tourist favorite; the tombola is also favored by Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles to lounge and nap.

Essential Information
Location: Poipu, HI 96756
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, diving, body surfing, body boarding, surfing, beach lounging, picnicking, sunset watching
Main access point: Poipu Beach Park
Lifeguard? Sun–Mon 9am–5pm
Nearby services and amenities: Parking, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, playground
Nearest towns: Poipu, HI; Koloa, HI
Nearby places of interest: Poipu Shopping Village, Allerton Garden, Koloa Zipline
More information:
Poipu Beach | GuideofUS Hawaii

10. Kiahuna Beach Koloa

10 Kiahuna Beach - Poipu, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Ernest McGray, Jr.

Known as: A favorite of beginner surfers and bodyboarders on the South Shore

Locals call this beach Kiahuna, while tourists call it Sheraton. Whatever it’s called, this relatively secluded cove is protected by an offshore reef and is thus well-loved by students learning to surf, snorkel, and boogie board.

Experienced surfers like to venture beyond the reef to catch higher waves.

If you find Poipu to be a bit crowded, Kiahuna Beach is a short walk away (find the walkway in front of the Marriott).

Essential Information
Location: Koloa, HI 96756
Activities: Swimming, surfing, body boarding, boogie boarding, beach lounging, beach walking
Main access point: Hoonani Road
Lifeguard? No
Nearby services and amenities: Parking, restrooms, showers
Nearest towns: Poipu, HI; Koloa, HI
Nearby places of interest: Poipu Shopping Village, Kiahuna Golf Club, Allerton Garden, Koloa Zipline
More information:
Kiahuna Beach | Kauai.com

Best Beaches on the West Side of Kauai

Of the regions in Kauai, the west side is the most secluded and the closest you’ll get to experience old Hawaii with its small-town charm.

11. Salt Pond Beach – Hanapepe

11 Salt Pond Beach - Hanapepe, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Dennis Yang

Known for: The natural salt ponds in the area

Salt Pond Beach is named for the nearby wetlands that Hawaiians use to produce salt for cooking and other purposes. Though they’re nice to visit, they’re solely for the locals’ use. Don’t walk up to the salt beds unless you’re invited in.

It features three different swimming areas: the main bay, the baby pond, and the airport side. The main bay is where the beach park is located and where adults tend to swim, the baby pond is protected by a reef and where small kids splash around, and the airport side near a landing strip is the best for snorkeling.

Essential Information
Location: Hanapepe, HI 96705
Activities: Swimming, snorkeling, beach walking, beach lounging, picnicking, sunset watching, camping
Main access point: Salt Pond Beach Park
Lifeguard? Sun–Mon 9am–5pm
Nearby services and amenities: Parking, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, campgrounds
Nearest town: Hanapepe, HI
Nearby places of interest: Hanapepe Salt Ponds, Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, Manawaiopuna Falls
More information:
Salt Pond Beach Park | GuideofUS Hawaii

12. Polihale Beach – Waimea

12 Polihale Beach - Waimea, Hawaii
Photo Credit: Garden State Hiker

Known as: The most remote beach on the west side in Kauai that can be visited by road.

Polihale Beach is located at the end of Highway 50 and where Napali Coast begins. The road to this beach is very rough and can only be handled by a 4WD vehicle.

This 17-mile stretch of white sand beach and sand dunes is nice to walk on and enjoy remarkable sunsets.

Swimming is highly discouraged because of the strong currents and the absence of lifeguards. Don’t forget to bring your own food, water, and umbrellas; there’s nowhere to purchase anything nearby.

Essential Information
Location: Waimea, HI 96796
Activities: Beach walking, sunset watching, shore fishing, camping (permit required)
Main access point: Polihale State Park
Lifeguard? No
Nearby services and amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, campgrounds
Nearest towns/cities: Waimea, HI; Kekaha, HI
Nearby places of interest: Barking Sands Beach, Queen’s Pond, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary
More information:
Polihale State Park | GuideofUS Hawaii
Polihale State Park | Division of State Parks

Tips for Traveling to Kauai

Here are some more tips to remember when planning your trip to Kauai.

Getting to Kauai

The main airport on Kauai is Lihue Airport (LIH). Most flights into Lihue Airport come from the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) just outside Honolulu, though it services a number of flights from the US mainland (most frequently from Los Angeles) and Canada.

Getting Around Kauai

Although over 90% of the island cannot be reached by road, there is one major highway encircling almost the entire island.

Rental cars are the main transportation for tourists. Tour companies often use motor coaches, mini-buses, vans, and limousines.

Taxis and a limited bus service are the main public transportation.

Best Time Of Year To Visit Kauai

Hawaii mostly has two seasons: the wet season (more rainfall, slightly cooler) from October to March, and the dry season (little rainfall, slightly warmer) from April to September. The temperatures in Kauai are mostly stable all year round, so the best time of the year to visit really depends on your planned activities and your preferences.

Whale-watching season begins in December and ends in May. Surfing season begins in November and ends in February, so this is when advanced and pro surfers flock to the beaches in North Shore.

Crowds are thin from April to May, as well as September to early December, and airfare and accommodations are generally less expensive during these months.

Temperatures are warmest from July to August, and this is when the island is most crowded.

What To Wear

No matter what month you plan to come, your must-haves are light clothing, swimwear, reef-friendly sunscreen, and an umbrella.

Kauai’s wet season is considerably wetter than the other islands, so make sure to bring a light, waterproof jacket, a rain poncho, and an umbrella.

Suits and ties are very rarely worn here; same for too-formal dresses. Casual dress clothes or resort wear are acceptable for fine dining.

Dos and Don’ts When Visiting Kauai

Do remember that Hawaii is one of the 50 states of the US. Talking about “the States” when you mean the continental US may be taken as rude or disrespectful; Hawaii is not a foreign country to the US. Remember to use “the mainland” when referring to the continental US.

Don’t take shells or sand from the beaches. It’s technically legal to take very small amounts of sand, dead coral, shells, or other marine deposits for personal use.

But consider the number of visitors to the island (in the millions). If each of them takes even just a tiny bit of sand, the damage to the ecosystem is going to be huge.

Don’t ignore ocean safety. Beyond its stunning beauty, the ocean can be unpredictable and therefore dangerous.

The number one rule: never turn your back to the ocean. Familiarize yourself with Hawaii Beach Safety and Hawaii Ocean Safety.

What To Eat in Kauai

Aside from the traditional Hawaiian food unique to the islands, Kauai has its own local cuisine that you shouldn’t miss.

Hawaiian shave ice is a popular dessert made with shaved ice, syrup, and other sweet ingredients. Shave ice in Kauai often has fresh fruits in it, fitting for a place called “Garden Island.”

Lilikoi pie is another uniquely Kauai dessert made from passion fruit (lilikoi) and meringue.

Loco moco is a bowl of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy.

Hawaiian Loco Moco
Photo Credit: Danny Luong

Poi is taro root pounded using a mortar and pestle traditionally, mixed with water to make a paste, and then fermented.

Lomilomi salmon is a fresh salad made from salmon “massaged” (lomilomi) with salt and onions and then chopped, tomatoes, onions, and scallions, served chilled.

Visit the best beaches in Kauai soon!

With over 110 miles of shoreline and more than 70 beaches, narrowing it down to this list is no easy feat. Use this list of the best beaches in Kauai as your starting point when planning your next vacation!

Other Places to Visit in Hawaii

Kauai is lovely, but it’s by no means the only island in Hawaii worth visiting.

Check out the best beaches in Oahu, as well as all the best places to visit in Hawaii.

Other Beaches In the Mainland

Not quite ready to fly to Hawaii? These road trips to beach destinations are perfect to get your feet wet.

East Coast: Florida Keys Road Trip
West Coast: Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Which of these beaches in Kauai looks intriguing? Did I miss your favorite beach? Tell us in the comments!

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