Skip to main content

Top 10 Beaches on Kauai, Hawaii

Rose West has been an online writer for more than 10 years. She often writes about England, Hawaii, and books.

Hanalei Bay looking at Bali Hai

Hanalei Bay looking at Bali Hai

Kauai Beaches

Kauai, Hawaii isn't called the "Garden Isle" for nothing. This island is home to some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. With the climate of the tropics, but the convenience of being part of the United States, Kauai makes an ideal vacation spot for the perfect getaway, whether you are planning your honeymoon or a family vacation. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, Kauai is home to many incredible beaches that are perfect for all activities from snorkeling to surfing to sunbathing. Here's my Top Ten List!

catamarans and boats on Hanalei Bay

catamarans and boats on Hanalei Bay

1. Hanalei Bay

Best for: Summer Sunsets, Learning to Surf, Long Walks, Paddle Boarding, Catamarans

Hanalei is the most popular seaside spot on the North Shore of Kauai. The small town has local charm, with only one road in and out. The bay scoops into the shore, creating a crescent beach of soft sand perfect for long walks. Hanalei Bay, while being a beautiful swimming spot, is also great for surfing and learning to surf. Several companies provide lessons over by the pier on the east side of the bay. Stay all day, bring a picnic, and (if it's summer time) sit on the pier and watch the sunset orange and gold on the calm water behind the boats and catamarans.

Poipu Beach by the Marriott

Poipu Beach by the Marriott

2. Poipu Beach Park

Best for: Winter Sunsets, Families, Snorkeling, Picnics, Whale-watching

Poipu Beach Park is the hot spot of the sunny South Shore. There's something for everyone here. To the east lies Brennecke's Beach, a short strip of beach by the restaurant of the same name. Because of the strong surf that breaks close to shore, this is the place to be for body surfers and boogie boarders. Farther to the west is Poipu beach, which includes a protected shallows area that is perfect for families with small children. Continuing on the beach will bring you to the Marriott hotel area, the happy medium between the roughness of Brennecke's and the calm of Poipu. Snorkeling spots can be found along Poipu and the Marriott. Poipu Beach Park includes a number of pavilions great for parties and picnics, as well as a playground for children. If it's the wintertime, you can catch a beautiful water sunset and perhaps some whales spouting in the distance. Whales, monk seals, and turtles love to hang around Poipu, so keep an eye out!

Anini Beach

Anini Beach

3. Anini Beach

Best for: Camping, Kayaking, Families

Anini Beach Park on the North Shore is a favorite spot for campers. Because the reef comes so close to the shore here, causing shallow water, it isn't the best place for serious swimmers, but Anini is a great place for wading and lounging in the cool water. There are also plenty of shade trees to relax under. Bring a kayak if you can, and paddle out near the surf break: it's a great place to kayak among the turtles.

Polihale Beach, looking out to the Na Pali Coast

Polihale Beach, looking out to the Na Pali Coast

4. Polihale Beach

Best for: Camping, Day Trips, Sunsets

Polihale Beach is the last beach on the West Side accessible by road coming from the South. Above the beach, towers the formidable (and undriveable) Na Pali Coastline, sheer cliffs that face the setting sun. Polihale is a little hard to get to, since it is so far from most places and because the only way to drive there is down a never-groomed dirt road. But the drive is worth it. Polihale is one of the widest beaches on Kauai, filled with golden sand that can get very hot in the endless sunshine of the West Side (so bring your shoes!). The beach is a favorite for campers. If you can, and if you don't mind driving in the middle of nowhere in the dark, stay for a head-on sunset with a view of the Forbidden Isle Ni'ihau.

picnic at Kalapaki Beach

picnic at Kalapaki Beach

5. Kalapaki Beach

Best for: Convenience, Picnics, Paddle Boarding

Kalapaki Beach at Nawiliwili Harbor is one of the most popular beaches with visitors because of it's proximity to the cruise ship dock, the airport, and a Marriott hotel. Kalapaki is protected from very strong surf, but it still gets some good waves. Surfers like to take on the waves closer to the barrier near the docks. While the water at Kalapaki is not exactly the cleanest, it still provides good swimming and is a favorite place with paddle boarders. This is also a good place for picnics, as it has plenty of grass and some shade.

Ke'e Beach looking out to the Na Pali Coast

Ke'e Beach looking out to the Na Pali Coast

6. Ke'e Beach

Best for: Snorkeling

Ke'e Beach on the rainy North Shore is a place you won't want to miss. This is the furthest you can drive on the North Shore, and the Na Pali Coast provides a gorgeous backdrop to swimmers and snorkelers. Ke'e is also a location where several movies have been filmed, including Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Near the beach is the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail, one of the most beautiful hikes on the island. Also close by are the tourist-favorite wet cave and dry cave.

fishing at Waimea Beach

fishing at Waimea Beach

7. Waimea Beach

Best for: Sunsets, Weddings, Fishing

Waimea Beach on the West Side isn't a great place for swimming or surfing, but it is the only black sand beach on Kauai. A walk down the pier is a relaxing way to enjoy the sea breeze, and many fishermen make use of the pier with their nets and lines. The black sand causes the water here to be very dirty, which makes swimming a bit dangerous because sharks can't see whether you're a fish or not. But Waimea is still beautiful to see, especially at sunset. The nearby Waimea Plantation homes are a great place for group vacation rentals and weddings as well.

sunset at Secret Beach

sunset at Secret Beach

8. Secret Beach

Best for: Swimming in the Summer, Sunsets

Secret Beach is hardly a secret anymore, but it can be difficult to find if you don't know where to go, because of the lack of signs. Once you find the parking area, you will have to hike down a steep hill (be prepared for the hike back up) that leads to one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. The beach stretches far down the coast, but beware that the farther east you walk, the more likely you will run into an occasional nudist. With a view of Kilauea Lighthouse in the distance, Secrets provides excellent surfing and swimming but very strong currents. The water is open ocean here, and can be dangerous for those who aren't strong swimmers. Winter often brings the heavy surf of the north swell, so you'll want to stay out of the water then.

the cliffs near Shipwrecks Beach

the cliffs near Shipwrecks Beach

9. Shipwreck Beach

Best for: Boogie Boarding, Weddings, Walks

Shipwrecks Beach is on the South Shore by the Grand Hyatt. The surf here is great for boogie boarders, and those who are brave and know what they're doing, will enjoy jumping off the cliff on the east end of the beach. Many people choose to get married on the wide beach beneath the cliff. A hike along the gorgeous cliffs will eventually bring you to Mahaluepu Beach.

sunset at Kekaha Beach

sunset at Kekaha Beach

10. Kekaha Beach

Best for: Swimming, Bonfires, Picnics

Kekaha Beach, looking out to the west and Ni'ihau, is a great place to watch the sunset. The shore is on open ocean, causing strong surf which is good for adventurous swimmers. The beach is long and wide, and people often like to drive their trucks on it. If you bring your own wood, Kekaha is a great place for a bonfire and star-gazing. The pavilion area is good for picnics.

The Best Beaches on Kauai for

  • Swimming: Hanalei Bay
  • Families: Poipu Beach, Anini Beach, Hanalei Bay
  • Snorkeling: Lydgate Beach, Ke'e Beach, Poipu Beach
  • Body boarding: Brennecke Beach, Kealia Beach
  • Surfing: Hanalei Bay, Poipu Beach
  • Paddle boarding: Kalapaki Beach, Hanalei Bay
  • Summer sunsets: Ke’e Beach, Hanalei Bay, Secret Beach
  • Winter sunsets: Polihale Beach, Waimea Beach, Kekaha Beach
  • Sunrises and Moonrises: Lydgate Beach
  • Whale watching: Poipu Beach, Kealia Beach
  • Long-distance walking: Hanalei Bay, Mahaulepu Beach
  • Black sand: Waimea Beach
  • Crowds: Poipu Beach, Lydgate Beach, Ke'e Beach
  • Seclusion: Mahaulepu Beach, Secret Beach, Polihale Beach
  • Sea glass: Glass Beach (known to locals as Rubbish Beach)
  • Niihau shells: Hideaways Beach, Anini Beach
  • Celebrity spotting: Ke’e Beach
  • Hiking access only: Secrets Beach, Hanakapiai Beach
  • Camping: Anini Beach, Polihale Beach
  • Dining out: Kalapaki Beach