Top Beaches on Kauai
Best Beaches by Region
Kauai has some of the best beaches in the world, and the most of any major Hawaiian island. Some of Kauai's beaches are accessible only by trail, others by helicopter, or solely by the sea, but most are available to all visitors. One thing is certain, Kauai has the perfect beach for every type of beachgoer.
There are beaches full of drama with crashing waves while others are calm and tranquil. Some Kauai beaches are nice year round while others fade away in the winter months, leaving nothing but rocks behind. But which beaches are the very best on Kauai? Which are worth a visit and which can be skipped? Our ratings consider several key things: sand quality, waves, year-round consistency, crowds and popularity, accessibility, and the beaches' surroundings as a whole. Let's take a look at Kauai's best beaches.
Hanalei Bay Beach
On an average day, this is by far the best beach on the island. It's family friendly and the sand is pristine. At 125 ft. wide and with over two miles of sand along the crescent-shaped bay, the surroundings are superb with views of the verdant mountains rising in the background. Hanalei Bay Beach is bordered by the Hanalei River to the east, the Waipa River to the west, and there are two large coral reefs at both ends of the bay.
For those seeking ocean fun and diversity, the beach has a little of everything. The right side of the bay features a reef that creates ideal surfing conditions for those looking to catch some waves. Near the pier the waves are much more gentle, making it an ideal location for those new to the ocean or rookie wave riders. Boogie boarding is reliable along the central portion of the bay, and even some intermediate surfing is possible here. The crowds don't flock to this beach; most visitors instead head for Ke'e at the end of the road or stay close to their resorts in Po`ipu to the south. There's plenty of room for everyone at Hanalei Bay. Visit Hanalei Beach Park.
Tunnels beach offers some of the best snorkeling anywhere in Hawaii during the calm summer months. The backdrop is similar to that of Hanalei Beach; the mountains rising up behind the beach are gorgeous. Tunnels Beach has one major downside- parking. This is one reason we've often rated this beach as "Overrated", but you can usually find parking at Haena Beach Park and then walk (to the right) to access Tunnels Beach. Surfers also will enjoy the outermost portions of the reef where waves are larger. Visit Tunnels Beach.
Ke`e Beach is located at the end of Highway 560 and is one of the island's most popular North Shore beaches. The beach is almost always crowded and parking can often be difficult after 10 AM. So why rate this beach so high? Because if you want a beach with a view, you're going to be hard-pressed to find a better view than the NaPali Coast as seen from the far right end of Ke`e Beach- it's simply jaw-dropping. Situated between NaPali and Limahuli stream, the lagoon-like beach is also popular for snorkeling. The water here is very clear and reef fish are abundant. The chickens are part of the local scene, and it makes us wonder, where else will you find chickens on a beach? Visit Ke`e Beach.
Poipu Beach is the star when it comes to the south shore of Kauai. This beautiful curve of white sand is 50 ft. wide by approximately 1,000 ft. long. The beach is actually split into two small bays; one section is ideal for small children and beginner snorkelers while the other section is better suited for swimming, snorkeling, and even surfing when the surf is up. The sandbar separating the two bays is often home to the endangered monk seal; however, we encourage you not to approach them. Next door to Poipu Beach is Kiahuna beach, another great South Shore beach that's even better for beginners than Poipu. Poipu Beach makes this list due to its diversity and popularity. Visit Poipu Beach.
This long stretch of sand is protected by an equally long stretch of the reef which makes it one of the most protected beaches on Kauai's North Shore. With 2 miles of sand ahead of you, there is plenty of time for beachcombing. Anini has great swimming, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and windsurfing during the summer months and also features showers, restrooms, and camping (with a permit). Visit Anini Beach.
West Kauai / NaPali Coastline
The road to Polihale may seem less like a tropical island and more like a desert highway. On a bright sunny day, the flat stretch of Highway 50 between Highway 552 and Polihale Beach can resemble a scene that looks more suited to Arizona than Hawaii. Polihale Beach is not the easiest beach to reach, but oh, what a beach it is! At over 12 miles long, it's the perfect beach to stake your own secluded spot. Swimming is dangerous here and a military base actually occupies over seven miles of the beach, but the view of NaPali's ending cliffs is more than enough to make up for it. If you've got the right kind of vehicle, or if the road has been graded recently, then make sure to head out to this beach. Visit Polihale Beach.
Located in Poipu, this beach got its name from an old wooden ship sunk off the coast that has long since faded into the deep blue. The swimming at this beach is often far from ideal because of strong currents and high surf, but it's raw, natural scenery, relative seclusion, and romantic atmosphere make up for the lack of good swimming. Shipwreck Beach (often referred to as "Shipwrecks Beach") is a great place to catch some sun on a beautiful (and relatively quiet) beach, to hold a private and romantic ceremony, or just to explore the surrounding terrain.
In fact, one of the beach's main highlights is its proximity to Makawehi Point, which is a lithified sand dune. From the east end of Shipwrecks Beach (far left when facing the ocean), there is a trail that leads up to the top of the hill. The trail continues for several miles, following oceanfront cliff tops, skirting the golf course and stables, and finally delivering you at the near end of Maha Ulepu Beach. These cliffs can be a popular area for locals to fish. Visit Shipwreck Beach.