Known for its lush rainforests and dramatic coastal cliffs, the “Garden Isle” undoubtedly encompasses some of the world’s best beaches. Kauai’s laid-back attitude and spectacular landscapes makes it the ideal destination for lovers of watersports, snorkeling, hiking, or just lounging on the beach. So whether you’re looking for secluded stretches of sand or accessible spots with a selection of activities and accommodations, this island will deliver.
With miles and miles of beautiful shoreline to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down to just 10. The following beaches offer something for families, couples, and solo-beach goers alike, while taking full advantage of everything Kauai has to offer.
Poipu Beach Park
This south shore beach is unofficially divided into two sections, making it the perfect location for anyone to enjoy. On the western side of the beach, a protected cove with soft sand creates an oasis for small children and families. The other side to the east has more surf available for body boarding and surfing. For wildlife enthusiasts, the sand split in the center is a favorite lounging area for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Nearby, The Shops at Kukui'ula provide plenty of shopping and dining options for before or after a day on the beach. Lifeguards are present every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., another added bonus for families.
It may be more difficult to access than some of Kauai’s other beaches, but the spectacular views that await at Polihale are well worth the journey. The 17-mile stretch of beach on the west side of the island is the longest in the state, and can only be entered from a bumpy unpaved road previously used for hauling sugar cane. A favorite camping spot (by permit only) for locals, Polihale is not great for swimming due to the dangerous current and lack of lifeguard stations. The long beach doesn’t have much shade, so don’t forget an umbrella or canopy. The cliffs of the Na Pali Coast nestles next to the beach makes it perfect for catching a beautiful sunset.
Known as a popular snorkeling spot on the north shore of the island, Tunnels is best visited in the summer months when the water is calmest. The backdrop here is particularly scenic, with jungle rainforests, swaying palm trees, and some of Kauai’s famous green mountains visible behind the beach. The reef is close to shore and home to a large number of Hawaii’s native ocean life like sea turtles, reef sharks, and tropical fish. Tunnels got its name from the lava tubes which form unique caverns and caves under the water, and more experienced swimmers often choose to use these deeper areas as scuba diving spots.
There’s something for everyone along the two miles of beach that make up Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s north shore. There are larger waves for more experienced surfers on the outer reef and smaller, more beginner surf closer to the famous pier. The bay opens to Hanalei River, where conditions are ideal for kayaking or paddle boarding during the calmer summer months. On the east end of the bay on Black Pot Beach, camping is available by permit only. The Hanalei Pier was formerly used to load goods like sugarcane, but has since become a historic landmark and recreation spot for water sports.
The majestic section of coastal wilderness that makes up Mahaulepu Beach is a haven for adventure-seekers and experienced swimmers. While the land is privately owned, it is still open to the public until 6 p.m. every day. Do some hiking along the adjacent Mahaulepu Beach Heritage Trail or explore the quiet tidepools and coves near the shore. Expert kite surfers take advantage of the strong trade winds here as well. The area surrounding Mahaulepu is an important part of Hawaiian history, and is home to critically endangered animals and native Hawaiian plants. The beach is only a few short miles from Poipu, and is protected and preserved by the Malama Mahaulepu organization.
Not to be confused with Shipwreck Beach on Lanai island (where an actual shipwreck is still visible), Kauai’s Shipwreck Beach used to house an old wooden boat that was recently destroyed by storms. It’s located just before Mahaulepu on the island’s south shore. Shipwreck is popular for bodyboarding, windsurfing, and surfing when weather conditions permit, as the shore break can get very strong (and there is no lifeguard). If you’re not a strong swimmer, you can still enjoy stunning sunsets and peaceful beach walks. There are restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and parking available near the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Ke’e Beach is literally the end of the road for those traveling on the north shore of Kauai. It’s also the doorway to the famous Na Pali Coast and the Kalalau Trail. Despite its remote location, the beach gets crowded when the weather is nice, so it is best visited in the early morning or the evening for a spectacular sunset. During the summer, Ke’e is perfect for snorkeling due to its protected lagoon, but can get choppy when the waves pick up in the winter. Many hikers beginning their journey use the lot here for their cars, so parking can be limited during peak season too.
Located just 2 miles from the Lihue Airport, Kalapaki offers convenience and recreation in front of the Kauai Marriott Beach Hotel. A sandbar and gentle waters make it great for swimming and beginner paddle boarding. The beach is surrounded by various restaurants and hotels, providing accommodations for an entire day of activities. Surf lessons are very popular here, as well as beach volleyball and sunbathing. The neighboring Nawiliwili Harbor allows for views of cruise ships coming and going. Since it is in a more developed area the parking can be limited, so oftentimes the best option is to park in the Marriott lot and make your way down to the beach.
Anini Beach Park
One of Hawaii’s longest reef runs along Anini Beach — about 2 miles long! Because of this, Anini is one of the most protected and peaceful beaches around. It can be less crowded than the other popular beaches on the north shore like Hanalei, and facilities like restrooms, showers, picnic tables, a boat ramp, and campsites are available. The ocean conditions here are usually very calm, especially during the summer when locals enjoy camping and barbequing along the beach. Outside the reef, the currents are stronger and the surf is higher. Oftentimes you can catch windsurfers practicing their craft at Anini, and some companies even take their beginners for lessons.
The beach at Kalalau is as stunning as is it difficult to access. It is located at the end of a notoriously strenuous 11-mile hike past rolling valleys and waterfalls called the Kalalau Trail. Secluded coves, seemingly endless stretches of soft sand, and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure are some of the highlights of Kalalau Beach. Though the sea can appear as calm, the currents here can be very dangerous, so many recommend not getting in the water here at all (especially considering the isolated location). Camping is available by permit only, and the spots have been known to fill up a year in advance.