The most stunning of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is a haven for visitors seeking to experience the great outdoors. But apart from memorable hiking trails and unforgettable vistas, the “Garden Isle” boasts some of the finest beaches in the remote Polynesian archipelago. I spent 10 days exploring all four corners of the island and in this post, I’ll share with you the very best beaches in Kauai.
Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the top islands, and must-see highlights await you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
This extensive list of the best beaches in Kauai covers most of the accessible and less accessible beaches on the island. Feel free to pick and choose the ones that best fit into your Kauai itinerary. Keep in mind three things:
- Some beaches have facilities (showers, toilets, etc.) and lifeguards while others don’t.
- Beaches inside official state or county parks may have opening hours so have a look at the signs before entering. Some allow camping.
- Some beaches lie inside state parks that require advanced reservations.
Map of the Best Kauai Beaches
This map features all the places mentioned in this guide to Kauai’s top beaches. Click on the image to open in Google Maps.
Best Kauai North Shore Beaches
Kauai’s north shore is blessed with the island’s best beaches. On its eastern side, the beaches are wilder and open to the elements. The further west you head, the more protected and stunning they get.
This raw and secluded beach on the northeastern shore is one of my favorites. Few visitors head to Larsen’s Beach since access is via a dirt road and a 5-minute hike down a steep(ish) trail. Named after former sugar company manager – L David Larsen – the beach boasts a long stretch of golden sand and low-lying trees in the back. Larsen’s Beach is more of a chillout beach, a place to contemplate or simply enjoy life. Swimming can be hazardous, especially during winter. Unfortunately, this is the only available photo due to a camera malfunction.
Kauapea (Secret) Beach
Visible from the historic lighthouse at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Secret Beach might not be such a secret anymore, but as with Larsen’s Beach, it requires a bit of an effort to reach, which thankfully turns off a lot of tourists. This beach offers a vast expanse of soft sand squeezed between the bluest waters and towering cliffs. There’s plenty of room for everyone: locals, surfers, the occasional nudists, and even spinner dolphins.
The Queen’s Bath
Not really a beach but more of a natural swimming pool, the Queen’s Bath is fed by a freshwater stream and the Pacific Ocean. It’s beautiful to stare at but deadly to swim in throughout the year. Powerful waves that lash without warning have been known to suck swimmers out to sea literally. Nonetheless, if the trail is not too muddy and slippery (as it often is), it’s still a pretty sight, but only when the seas are calm. Access to the Queen’s Bath is sometimes restricted due to trail conditions.
One of the cutest beaches in Kauai, Pali Ke Kua – better known as Hideaways Beach – is a cove with a tiny sliver of golden sand dwarfed by the cliffs of the Princeville resort area. Unless you’re a guest of the St. Regis, parking is very difficult with just eight spots allocated to the public. Once you’ve scored a parking spot, follow the trail to the beach. There are wonderful views to the west and the east from the beach, and sea turtles often don’t mind sharing the limited sandy real estate with humans. Swimming and snorkeling are both good when the ocean is calm.
The largest and most impressive bay in Kauai, Hanalei Bay is a playground for all age groups. It’s where George Clooney went for a morning jog in The Descendants and where you’ll simply want to park it for the day. The bay is so large that when it comes to beaches, there are quite a few of those dotting the creamy soft sand.
On the calmer eastern end, Black Pot Beach and the famous pier offer shallow swimming, nearby picnic grounds with facilities, and of course, the opportunity to “sit on the dock of the bay”. In the center of the bay, Hanalei and Waioli Beach Parks are popular with beachgoers and paddlers heading out to the deeper parts of the bay. The further west you head, the more secluded things get and there’s a good chance of finding your own spot on an unofficial beach.
Easily one of the top 3 beaches in Kauai, Lumahai Beach is a top choice for locals. Though swimming is very dangerous, the scenery is so beautiful that you’ll totally enjoy your day even without getting wet. Lumahai Beach reached cult status following its feature in the classic 1950s film South Pacific. To this day, it is featured in countless travel brochures promoting Hawaii’s tropical beaches. To reach the beach, park on the side of the coastal road and pick up the footpath leading down via the ironwood trees.
Deserving the title of “ the best beach in Kauai”, Makua Beach – better known as Tunnels Beach – even ranks at the top of my list of the best beaches in Hawaii. With crystal clear waters and the “Bali Hai” cliff looming in the background, you won’t want to leave this place. On a clear day when the ocean is calm, don’t forget to bring your snorkeling gear as Tunnels Beach has some of the best snorkeling in Kauai.
Tunnel Beach’s lesser-known sibling, Kepuhi Beach is right around the corner from the legendary north shore beach. Being off the tourist radar and since swimming is possible only on calm days, Kepuhi Beach manages to keep a very low profile, meaning it can practically be deserted on weekdays.
Marking the end of the super scenic north shore road, Ke’e Beach is a popular spot for Kalalau Trail hikers returning to civilization, snorkelers, and sunset chasers. Expect large crowds in the afternoons as folks return from the hike and regroup, but if you simply follow the beach as it curves back east, you’ll find more seclusion. Swimming conditions may be very dangerous in winter so look for the signs by the lifeguard tower. For fabulous views of the beach, hike for about 15 minutes on the Kalalau Trail to a scenic overlook. Ke’e Beach is part of Ha’ena State Park and requires advanced reservations to enter.
Rugged, remote, pristine, and nestled at the base of the spectacular eroded Na Pali Cliffs – to experience Kalalau Beach, you’ll need to either hike for 11 miles on the Kalalau Trail (and somehow score a camping permit) or join a scenic boat cruise.
Best Kauai South Shore Beaches
Kauai’s south shore beaches may not have the jagged, lush peaks for a backdrop as the beaches up north, but what it lacks in dramatic scenery, it makes up with a whole lot of sunshine.
There’s a very high probability of being the only ones at this remote and wild beach. To reach Haula Beach, you’ll either need to hike from the nearby bay (the end of the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail) or drive a 4WD to get to the beach as close as you can.
Located more or less at the finish line of the highly recommended Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Mahaulepu Beach is another top choice if you’re looking to somewhat get off the grid in Kauai. There’s excellent snorkeling when the seas are calm at its eastern section, but be advised that bacteria from the nearby stream sometimes create unhealthy swimming conditions (there will be signs on such days). The beach is a favorite amongst nudists and is a no-brainer-stop after exploring the nearby Makauwahi Cave – one of the richest fossil sites in Hawaii.
Marking the starting point for the Mahaulepu Coastal Trail, though Shipwreck Beach is, unfortunately, ‘decorated’ by the Grand Hyatt in the background, it is still one of the prettiest beaches in Kauai. A perfect crescent of soft golden sand, it’s often too risky to swim here, but it’s a lovely spot to work on your tan and relax. On its eastern end, it’s worth scaling the limestone cliff for stunning panoramic views of the bay and its surroundings.
Poipu Beach Park
Really more of a family-friendly beach, Poipu Beach Park is a neat and tidy sort of beach. There’s decent snorkeling for the kids and monk seals often come ashore to woo the crowds. If you’re looking for a quiet place devoid of any man-made cement structures, head elsewhere. However, if you’re traveling with kids, this is an excellent choice (though Salt Pond Beach is better).
This isn’t technically a beach but more of a rocky harbor. It’s the best snorkeling spot on the south shore and a favorite site for shore divers – worthy of a visit if you fancy seeing a lot of fish. Though conditions might be choppy, it’s still pretty safe as long as you stay inside the harbor. Expect to see large schools of fish and maybe even turtles if you’re lucky.
Not much of a beach but rather a peculiar photo op, Glass Beach gets its name from the tiny colorful specks of glass that have pretty much replaced the sand. Don’t get your hopes up, though; this isn’t a natural phenomenon, just proximity to a glass recycling station. Nonetheless, this can be a fun, quick stop, especially after returning from a Na Pali coast boat tour departing from nearby Port Allen.
Salt Pond Park
This gorgeous beach gets its name from the adjacent salt ponds, still in use today. A favorite hangout spot for locals, you’ll likely share the beach with folks coming to chill with some “herb” to share, families, taking advantage of the natural tide pools, and native Hawaiians proudly displaying the original kingdom’s flag on the back of their American-made pickup trucks in an act of defiance. The beach is perfectly positioned for magical sunsets, and you can even see the forbidden island of Ni‘ihau from here on a clear day.
Best Kauai West Coast Beaches
Kauai’s west coast is wild and uninhabited with the ‘exception’ of the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands.
Part of Polihale State Park, this is where locals come to get off the grid, with miles and miles of golden sand and the Na Pali cliffs providing the shade. You need a 4WD to reach Polihale Beach, as the paved road ends at the missile range facility, with five more miles of rough road to the beach. Note that car rental companies prohibit visitors from driving a 2WD to Polihale. It’s possible to camp at Polihale Beach with a permit.
Best Kauai East Coast Beaches
The east coast of Kauai is the most populated, though its beaches are by no means overcrowded. Always a short distance from a tourist town or the main highway, the east coast beaches are great for a picnic stop or when staying at a nearby accommodation.
A sandy beach at the base of a deep cove that looks more like a natural harbor, Kalapaki Beach is backed by a fancy resort and protected on one end by a mammoth cliff sprinkled with million-dollar homes. If you’re traveling with children, this is a good option to consider. Keep in mind there’s a small shopping center just 5 minutes away, as well as Duke’s Barefoot Bar for sunset drinks.
Kapa’a Beach Park
Another family-friendly east coast beach, Kapa’a Beach Park is backed by row after row of resorts and condos. However, the beach is just a stone’s throw away from main street Kapa’a – where you’ll find decent shops and restaurants, and it also marks the starting point of a paved coastal path that runs North to Kealia Beach and beyond.
This is east Kauai’s best beach, and despite its proximity to Kapa’a and the coastal highway, the beach retains its sense of raw beauty.
This list of the best beaches in Kauai will certainly keep you busy and wet during your adventure on the Garden Isle. Visiting other Hawaiian islands? Sample itineraries, guides to the best islands, and must-see highlights await you in the Hawaii Travel Guide collection. Aloha!
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