Kauai is a remarkable island. Known as the Garden Isle, Kauai is the oldest of all of the Hawaiian Islands. It sits to the far west side of the Hawaiian islands and is far less visited than Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.
If you are looking for peace, serenity, lush tropical forest, and unbelievable beaches - then Kauai is the island for you. Kauai is not for the faint of heart. This island is entangled with rigid mountains, rocky canyons, jungle-like hiking trails, caves, and hidden beaches. The currents and tides are strong on Kauai, attracting surfers. However, quite a few beaches are unsafe to swim due to these currents, so please exercise caution.
Beaches in Kauai
Kauai is home to some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my entire life, and I've traveled A LOT. Some of the beaches are only accessible via hike, and others offer cliffs you can jump from (if you dare!). There are also a few beaches that are family-friendly and offer great swimming, snorkeling, and surfing.
This list below comprises the Top 10 Must See Beaches in Kauai based on three different categories: Sheer beauty, accessibility, and family-friendly. These beaches are placed in order beginning at the Northshore (Haena State Park) and move clockwise around the island to the south shore (near Poipu).
Lastly, this list is comprised of beaches on the North, East, and South Shores. Beaches on the West Shore are not often visited and parts are protected by the Military. Additionally, it is very difficult to get to, so none are listed here.
Top 10 Must See Beaches in Kauai - 2021
1. Haena Beach Park
Located on the North Shore and the most northwestern point on Kuhio Highway before you reach Haena State Park (which requires a visitor pass - more on this at the end of the Article). Haena Beach is great for beach camping, surfing, swimming, and beach lounging. Two great things about Heana Beach Park:
1. It is not super packed since it's further away from tourists, so it's more relaxing.
2. Maniniholo Dry Cave is directly across the street and a really awesome landmark to see while you are in Kauai
Additionally, there is also a fresh fruit and shave ice truck that pulls up in the parking lot and it's delicious! Lastly, pease be aware that the surf break during the winter months can be extremely dangerous and only expert local surfers should attempt to surf during the winter months. The currents can also be very strong so be sure to check with the lifeguard tower and look for any warning flags. Be Safe.
2. Tunnels Beach (Makua)
Located on the North Shore, just a few minutes east of Haena Beach, Tunnels Beach is one of the more popular beaches in the area. And for good reason - look at all of that sand! Golden sand, gorgeous water, and the backdrop of lush mountains on the other side. This beach is the ultimate snorkeling and scuba divers beach. It's great for surfing, wind surfing, and even kids! There is a natural tide pool that is blocked by rocks and keeps the water very calm. Shallow water make it a great spot for toddlers and babies to splash and play. There are picnic tables here, some shaded areas, and plenty of water activities to do. Parking fills up quickly and there isn't much of it - so be prepared to arrive early or park at Heana Beach Park and walk over. Keep in mind that this beach is not ideal to swim in the winter months, as surf break and rough currents make it very dangerous.
3. Lumaha'i Beach
Located on the North Shore, in between Tunnels Beach and Hanalei Beach. Lumaha'i beach is a very popular, picturesque beach. You may recognize this iconic beach from the movie 'South Pacific.' Many visitors stop by this beach just to snap a few pictures. NOTE: Lumuha'i beach is labeled as one of the most dangerous beaches for drowning and swimming, so please do not attempt in the winter months. In the summer months, please use extreme caution, as the conditions are still not ideal, as it is exposed to open ocean and strong currents. There are no public facilities and no lifeguard on duty at any time.
To the far east there is a little beach/cliff area called Kahalahala Beach and a 20 foot black rock lava cliff stands here. You may see many brave swimmers cliff jumping from here. Please exercise caution. Only on the calmest, summer days should swimming ever be attempted here.
4. Hanalei Beach (Hanalei Bay)
Located on the North Shore, just a few minutes from Princeville. Hanalei Beach is the most populated North Shore Beach for many reasons. It's close to Princeville, which is where a majority of resorts, hotels, and other accommodations are located. It is very family friendly, providing restrooms, showers, and picnic areas. It is also great for swimming, fishing, body boarding, and other water activities. Hanalei Bay has absolutely breathtaking views of the rigid mountains behind the beach with more than 180° views! There is a long pier near the mouth of the Hanalei river where it empties into the bay. This area is very calm and great for kids to swim. You can also rent kayaks here to kayak down Hanalei river. Additionally, there is a 1.6 mile hike from Princeville to Pu'u Poa Beach with the most delicious juice/smoothie spot at the top called Nourish Hanalei. Pu'u Poa Beach is just north of Hanalei beach, so it's easy to get to
5. Anini Beach
Located on the north shore, in between Princeville and Kilauea. Anini Beach is considered one of the more safer beaches to swim in the summer months, even though there is no lifeguard on duty. There are restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and plenty of parking. Anini beach is less crowded than Hanalei, and just as beautiful. It boasts the longest and widest fringing reef in the Hawaiian islands, allowing for well protected, relatively calm waters. Great for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding, and more. If you keep driving past the initial parking area, you'll find the far end of Anini beach, which is where more of the locals hang out. Here you'll find unique rock formations in the water. There is also a hiking trail from Princeville that leads down to Anini beach, so you may see some hikers in this area as well.
6. Kealia Beach
Located on the East side of the island near Kapa'a. Kealia Beach offers a long stretch of beautiful sand, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, cement walking path, a life guard and a great spot for families. This beach is subject to open ocean swells and wind swells, but in the summer months the water can be relatively calm, making it a great spot for swimming, surfing, and boogie boarding. We were here in the summer and many kids were having a blast body surfing, splashing in the waves, and playing in the sand. In the winter months, it is not advised to swim here, but it is an awesome destination to whale watch! Additionally you'll see many surfers here in the winter months, which is always fun to watch. There is plenty of parking too, which is a huge plus. This is also a great spot to watch the sunrise!
7. Lydgate State Park Beach
Located on the east side of the island, right next to the Wailua River. Lydgate State Park Beach is by far the most family friendly, safe beach on the entire island. There are two rock enclosed pools for visitors to safely swim in calm waters without being exposed to the open ocean and protected from large waves. The pool to the right is great for adults and children, with the deepest areas being 6-7 feet. The smaller pool to the left is perfect for toddlers and even babies, with the deepest area being only 2 feet. There are restrooms facilities, showers, picnic areas, a life guard, and plenty of beach activities. Additionally there is a huge lawn for kite flying, two amazing playgrounds for kids, and maze-like bridge designed by kids from the island that is a fun spot for hide and seek! Part of the beach is open and exposed to the oceans pull, but stays relatively calm during the summer months. In the winter, the currents are strong so please exercise caution. If you are traveling to Kauai with children, this is for sure the beach you want to visit at some point on your trip.
8. Shipwreck Beach (Poipu)
Located on the south shore of the island in Poipu, not far from Poipu beach. Shipwreck Beach got its name from an old wooden ship that sank off the shore. Shipwreck Beach is not ideal for swimming, as the currents and crashing waves are very strong year round, but it is a gorgeous beach to visit, especially at sunrise and sunset. You can find the start to the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, leading up to Makawehi Point, which is a lithified sand dune. This hiking trail leads you to otherwise inaccessible areas of the beach, overlooking the ocean on top of a cliff. It continues on an extends for several miles, offering a lot to see. Shipwreck Beach is located behind the Grand Hyatt Hotel, and parking is scarce. There are restroom facilities, a few picnic tables, and shaded areas. No lifeguard on duty. Arrive early or be prepared to park a decent walk away from the beach.
9. Poipu Beach
Located on the south shore of the island, Poipu Beach is a very popular, family friendly beach. Poipu beach has been named one of the top 10 beaches in America. There are restrooms, showers, picnic areas, a lifeguard on duty, and swimming areas for children. Poipu beach is actually two beaches in one. A narrow sand split (shown in the photo above) separates the two bays. Here you can spot endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals resting on the beach and during the winter months, you can even spot whales off the coast. The sandbar creates a great barrier for large waves and a fun, safe play area for kids. To the left of the sandbar is a shallow swimming area protected by lava rock, another great, calm swimming area for kids and babies with protection against the strong ocean currents. There is also a playground near the beach for additional play. Plenty of parking nearby, as well as snorkel and surf rental gear. If you are traveling to Kauai with small children, this is definitely a beach you'll want to visit!
10. Kiahuna Beach
Located on the south shore of the island, just a few minutes west of Poipu Beach. Kiahuna Beach is a great beach for families, kids, snorkeling, boogie boarding, and body surfing. It is also a great spot for beginner surf lessons, and you can find surfing rental gear as well as instructors nearby. The reef barrier keeps the waters relatively calm, and beyond the reef you'll spot experienced surfers, which are fun to watch. Sunset on Kiahuna Beach is absolutely stunning - so even if you stop by for a quick pit stop, plan for sunset! There is a delicious restaurant called Lava's on the Beach. Tip - order carry out and bring it to the beach to watch the sunset. Restrooms are available, but there is no life guard on duty. Parking is limited, but you can park at Poipu Beach and walk over.
Honorable Mentions: Hikes to Hidden Beaches
1. Secret Beach
Located on the north shore of Kauai, near Kilauea. Secret Beach is by far the most beautiful, picturesque beach I've ever seen. It is simply stunning. Because you have to hike to get here, it is not populated. We were the only ones here, other than someone camping under a self-built tiki hut! The lava rocks were unreal, and the waves crashing on shore were incredible. Not a swimming beach - there is even a warning before you hike down that drownings have occurred here. The hike down is rated as easy and good for all skill levels, but I would personally rate is as moderate and most definitely not for small kids or the elderly. It is a short hike, but very steep at the beginning. Depending on the time of year and time of day, this steep hike can be very muddy and slippery. My 66 year old mother had to turn back around due to the instability from how slippery it was - so just a heads up. Here is the All Trails link to the hike: CLICK HERE
2. Queens Bath
Located on the north shore in Princeville. Queen's Bath is an absolute must-see while in Kauai. It is a large, natural pool that has been carved out of lava shelf. However, there are only certain times of year that is it safe to hike down and explore. Queen's Bath is considered the most deadly attractions to visitors due to its exposure to spontaneous waves ripping over the shelf as the tide approaches. There have been many deaths over the past few years, but if you are smart and read the trailhead warnings, it is absolutely safe to hike down and swim. Summer months are ideal, where the water is more calm. If the gate is closed to this trail, do not attempt. All Trails has this hike rated as moderate - I would rate it as moderate most days, but difficult during rainy season, as it is very steep, slippery, and mud can be up to your calves. Wear hiking shoes, and do not attempt in sandals (please!). Click HERE for the All Trails hiking link.
Follow these three tips for a safe experience:
Check the rain forecast the day before - if rain is expected or there was fresh rainfall, do not attempt this hike. It is steep and slippery. One slip on a rock can send you down into an unwanted pool of open ocean with strong currents
Check the wave reports - if waves are anticipated to be 4 feet or above, DO NOT attempt to swim in or go near Queen's Bath. Waves 4 foot and above can knock you off of the rocks and sweep you out to sea
Check the tides - Only go during low tide or you won't even be able to swim in Queen's bath. Low tide is perfect because the pool has a larger rock barrier and the water is much more calm
We hiked to Queen's Bath at 6:30am, arriving to the pool by 6:45am in the summer. The tide was at its lowest point, but quickly filling up the pool while we were there. There was light rainfall the night before, so the trail was a little muddy but not too bad. Wave report said 1-2 feet, which was accurate. Although by 7:30am, the waves were definitely increasing in size. We were the only ones there and able to swim in Queen's Bath, jump off the rocks, and relax. Be SMART.
Ha'ena State Park & Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
Ha'ena State Park & The Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park are located on the far west side of the North Shore of Kauai. During times of Covid, the park only allowed 100 visitors a day. As of July 8, 2021, the park began to run the shuttle buses again, allowing for more visitors. However, because capacity is still limited at this time, you will need to visit the Division of State Parks Website to reserve your parking and entry dates and pay the fees. Reserve up to a month or more in advance to guarantee specific dates, or you may be out of luck. Ha'ena State Park is absolutely beautiful, and some of the best hikes on the island are within this parks boundaries. It is also the only way to experience the Na Pali Coast by foot, which is by far one of the most scenic areas in all of Kauai. If you wish to camp inside Ha'ena State Park, be sure to reserve a camping permit and parking permit a few months in advance.
That's it folks!
I hope you are able to visit as many of these Top 10 Must See Beaches in Kauai as you can! Kauai is such a unique, beautiful island. It has stolen our hearts for sure and we will definitely be back one day to do the 4 day Na Pali Coast backpacking trek.