Let’s face it. You go to Hawaii to have a relationship with the beach. Technicolor reefs abundant with sea life, white sand, and water that you can see your toes—the beaches of Kauai are the number one attraction to the island–and for a good reason. Though all are open to the public, the land leading up to some beaches is often privately owned, so I have included only those that are safe and legal for you to dive in.
Here is a list of my favorite beaches of Kauai.
Best Beach to Pretend You’re on a Deserted Isle:
Moloa‘a Beach (Between Kuhio Highway mile markers 16 and 17, turn onto the first Ko‘olau Road, follow it to Moloa‘a Road then drive to the end). Though this is not a swimming beach, here you’ll find one of the most picturesque spots on Kaua‘i (which is probably why they filmed the beginning of Gilligan’s Island here). This very secluded crescent-shaped beach with a bit of lagoon on the northern tip is a place to get away from the crowds. There are no services here.
Best Beach For Families:
Lydgate Beach Park (On the south side of the Wailua River, off H 56). A lava rock barrier creates a natural swimming and snorkeling area, perfect for keikis. With a lifeguard on duty, showers, toilets, picnic areas, a gigantic play structure for the kids, BBQs, and pavilions, this is the perfect place to spend a day with kiddos.
Kauai’s Sacred Strands:
Maha‘ulepu Beach (Pass the Grand Hyatt, drive down the two mile unpaved (and very bumpy) Poipu Road, turn right on Maha‘ulepu Road and continue until it ends). The land leading up to Maha‘ulepu Beach is privately owned, yet this beach is a sacred site for Hawaiians, so people are allowed to visit it only during the day (the gates lock between 7pm and 7am). Please show respect for this land, as the owners can choose to close it to the public any time, which would be a shame because this is one of the most beautiful beaches on the south shore. There is a dune trail to get to this expansive white sand beach with turquoise water. Though there is a swimming spot with an enclosed lagoon, be careful, the currents get very strong and there are no lifeguards. Not recommended for inexperienced swimmers.
Best Beach For Sunbathers:
Poipu Beach Park (Where Ho‘owili Road meets Pe‘e Road). Voted one of America’s top beaches by numerous travel magazines, this is one of Kaua‘i’s best-developed beach parks. An expansive area that also includes the beach at the Sheraton, here visitors join ranks with the monk seals and whales, dolphins and turtles that frequent the area. You’ll find an enclosed lagoon for children to snorkel, access to the open sea for surfers and body boarders, a lifeguard, plus a playground, a grassy area for barbeques and picnic tables, showers and toilets. Recently, archeologists found the remains of an ancient sporting site for war games near the sea; they are working towards making this a heiau site.
Best Beach For BBQs:
Salt Pond Beach Park (In Hanapepe past the 17-mile marker off Lele Road). Families gather here to swim and barbeque. The beach has all services: a lifeguard, showers, bathrooms, and picnic areas. Monk seals hang out on the sand. The water is fairly calm for swimming because of the natural rock ridges protecting the eastern waters. On the western side, surfers and windsurfers practice. Along the road you might notice actual salt ponds that are still harvested to make sea salt.
Best Beach To Watch the Sunset:
Polihale State Park (Off H 50, turn left on the dirt road 200 yards past the Missile Facility). As you drive the four bumpy miles on the potholed road, keep in mind that Polihale Beach is one of Kaua‘i’s finest. White sand that stretches for 15 miles, butting up to the edge of the Na Pali Coast; rolling sand dunes, favored by locals in trucks and dune buggies; and clear blue seas. You can camp here with a permit: however the last time I was there, the bathroom and water pump were not working, so bring everything you need with you; it is about a half hour to the nearest services. Experienced surfers ride waves here, but the current is very strong and not recommended for beginners or even body boarders. However, if the sand gets too hot, Queen’s Pond, a reef-protected swimming area, is a nice place to get wet. This is the perfect spot to bring a picnic and watch the sunset. Note that driving out to Polihale Beach means that you are breaking your rental car contract. If you really want to go out here, make sure to rent a 4×4. The one time I drove out here in a regular car, we almost cracked the axel. It is a tough journey, no doubt.
Best Beach For Hikers to Decompress:
Ke‘e Beach (Head north on H 56 until it ends). Here you will find one of the most beautiful spots in all of Kaua‘i. This white sand lagoon, protected by a rocky reef, tucked in a mountainous nook, is great for snorkeling. You must be a decent swimmer, because the current is extremely strong in winter. Even if you don’t get more than your feet wet, come here: this is the only beach that offers a glimpse of those sought after views of the Na Pali Coast. For you photographers, the morning light rocks. The parking lot gets busy, so get there early. There are a couple of toilets here, and in 2008 the state added lifeguard services.
Best Beach For Experienced Surfers:
Makua “Tunnels” Beach (Just past mile marker 8 on Kuhio Highway). This snorkel/ dive spot and surf beach is hard to find. The best way is to park at Haena and walk along the beach, a half a mile back towards Hanalei. This is one of the best sunset viewing beaches around. There are no services here.
Best All Around Beach:
Hanalei Beach Park (Take Aku Road north from Hanalei and turn right on Weke Road). This crescent of beach in Hanalei Bay is hugged by mountains and filled with surfers. There are three main areas along the bay. The furthest west is the surf beach Pine Trees. Next is the Pavilion, which has lifeguard services, toilets, picnic tables, and grills. Though the surf can get big, this is where people swim. And finally, Black Pot (near the pier) is where kids learn to surf and on sunny days the water is crowded with swimmers. A grassy area with services and pavilions sits on the east side of Black Pot Beach.
Best Locals Beach:
‘Anini “Wanini” Beach (Coming from the east shore off Kuhio Highway, turn on the second Kalihiwai Road (it is the first Kalihiwai Road if traveling from the north), then turn onto Anini Road, drive till you see the big grassy area). One of the best (and safest) north shore beaches makes this popular with locals and tourists. The lengthy reef that spans the entire beach is a great spot for swimming, windsurfing, and snorkeling. With picnic areas, restrooms, and showers, you’ll find a way to spend the entire day lounging beneath an ironwood tree and wading in the knee-deep clear water that seems top stretch out into eternity.
OK, did I miss any? What’s your favorite Kauai beach? And why?