Kauai is known among the Hawaiian island chain as The Garden Island due to its lush greenery and stunning mountain views. But its beaches are wonderful too. Compared to the quiet beaches on Bahamas’ Paradise Island, Kauai’s beaches offer a wider variety of experiences ranging from snorkeling to bike paths to hidden spots visited mainly by locals. Below is a list of the best beaches on Kauai for all types of activities.
Anahola Beach Park
Anahola Beach Park, located on the east side of Kauai, halfway between Hanalei and Lehui airports, captures the classic beauty of an island in paradise with its pearl-toned sand and cup-shaped cove featuring shallow waters that are safe for young children. The shallow tide makes perfect conditions for body and boogie boarding onto the shore, a favorite activity of locals.
If you follow the Anahola River north, you’ll discover another area with scenic views, a popular spot for shell hunting, fishing, and photography. Like all beaches in Hawaii, the ocean currents can be strong, especially during winter. A lifeguard is stationed at the main beach park area but not further upstream. So be cautious about limiting swimming to the designated areas with a lifeguard station.
To get there, follow Highway 56 to Kuikuihale Road from the South or Anahola Road from the north. From both directions, the road merges into Mana Road, which leads to well-marked signs for the parking lot.
While the beach is secluded and not viewable from the highway, the drive from Highway 56 takes no more than 10 minutes. Once you arrive, be sure to check out the breathtaking Kalalea mountains in the background.
Hanalei Beach Park
No visit to Kauai would be complete without a visit to Hanalei Beach. Located on the island's north side, Hanalei Beach is thought to be the most visually stunning beach, with a crescent-shaped bay topped with sparkling white sand, crystal clear water, and swaying palm trees.
Driving along Highway 56, pass through the town of Princeville, and you will see Hanalei Bay clearly before reaching the town of Hanalei. Simply following the signs to three different parking areas to access the beach.
Kapa’a Beach Park
Kapa’a Beach Park is one of the focal points of Kapa’a, the most populous town on the island's east side. During the summer months, when the trade winds are calm, families with children can be found wading in the shallow areas. The tide on the east end of the beach can be rough, so swimming is not recommended in general. However, an offshore reef does break the surf from swelling close to shore.
One of the highlights of this beach is the pedestrian and bike path called the Kauai Multiuse Path that starts at Waipouli Beach further south and runs northeast along the coastline for several miles toward Anahola. A canal called Waika’ea connects this beach park's east and north ends. The canal itself features a small marina where local boat owners launch their vessels for sailing expeditions.
A footbridge that connects both sides of the canal is a popular spot for local fishermen to practice shoreline fishing. On the other side of the canal, you’ll find a smaller, calmer beach area called Waipouli Beach Park, also known as Baby Beach or Fuji Beach. Known for its protected swimming area, Waipouli Beach is a favorite spot for local families. The beach is not well known by tourists and has no pristine look.
These beaches, which are part of Kapa’a Beach Park, can be seen from Highway 56, with generous parking and beach access.
Kalihiwai Beach, located in Kilauea on the Northshore of the island, offers a jungle-inspired backdrop for active travelers who enjoy paddleboarding and kayaking. The beach itself is actually a mere pocket of sand within a secluded bay called Kalihiwai.
Once you arrive, you will feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from Jurassic Park. The stretch of sand is narrow and is cupped by a lush shoreline on both sides. The private, verdant environment is perfect for paddle-boarders and kayakers to explore and for families and dogs to wade in the shallow areas.
There is no lifeguard on duty, and currents can be strong, so it is not the ideal location for deep-water swimming or snorkeling. Worth noting kayaks and paddle boards are not available on sight to rent. Visitors need to rent this equipment in town and transport it there by car.
No direct road leads to the beach; from Highway 56, take Kalihiwai Road from either the north or the south, which winds around in a Y shape for a mile or so before reaching the beachfront.
If you’re fantasizing about soaking in a natural pool of ocean water surrounded by lava, seek out Queens Bath on the north end of the island near Princeville. The shallow, egg-shaped pool surrounded by char-toned boulders sits on the precipice of a rocky coastline bordering the Pacific Ocean. The bath is continually replenished by the ocean as the tide pushes gushes of seawater into the pool.
While not exactly a beach, visiting this natural watering hole is worthwhile. The view is stunning—the pool faces the vast stretch of ocean, with Kauai’s jagged, emerald-colored coastline that can be seen in both directions to the north and south.
Because the natural pool is located a mere few feet from the ocean without a reef or cove to block the tide, large waves crash on it during the late fall, winter, and early spring months. For this reason, the bath is closed from October to varying times in the spring.
Conditions are very hazardous during these times of the year, and visiting is prohibited. According to Hawaii Guide, many visitors to the bath have been swept out to sea and drowned. Visitors are warned to proceed at their own risk.
Queens Bath can be reached via a 20-minute rocky hike. from Princeville, drive along Ka Haku Road. Take a right onto Punahele Road for half a mile until you reach the marked trailhead.
Poipu Beach, located on the south shore, is arguably the most popular beach on the island, partly due to its location near the large upscale resorts, including the Grand Hyatt, Sheraton, and Marriott Koloa Landing.
This beach features a cove shape similar to that at Kalihiwai but is wider and narrower, with a long stretch of shallow reef located directly along the shoreline. The reef extends several hundred feet toward the ocean, which protects the shore from strong tides and large swells.
Most days of the year, including during the winter months, you’ll find large crowds snorkeling and swimming. The conditions are ideal for snorkeling because of the calm waters and the fact that the reef attracts incredible sea life, including fish of all sizes and colors and even sea turtles, which are spotted regularly.
Most visitors bring their own snorkels that are either provided at the resorts or can be rented at nearby shops. The reef-studded swimming area is rocky, and difficult to walk barefoot. While fins are used to navigate the waters while snorkeling, bringing a pair of waterproof shoes for walking is helpful.
You can access a small isthmus or patch of sand in the middle of the reef, where swimmers emerge from the water to explore by foot. Lifeguard stands are situated on each end of the beach. The lifeguards play an active role in supervising the crowds by announcing warnings regularly that swimmers should remain between the two lifeguard stands.
The park portion of the beach is equipped with picnic tables, where you can store your belongings and even pack a lunch. Directly across the street, you’ll find a casual restaurant open for lunch and dinner with the epitome of local Hawaiian vibes called Brennecke’s Beach Broiler. The dining area is located upstairs, with open-air seating facing the ocean and cool island décor.
While the venue accepts reservations and tends to get fully booked in advance, drop-ins are welcome. Below the dining area on the ground floor, you’ll find a sweet shop where you can purchase shaved ice, the iconic Hawaiian version of ice cream: a scoop of ice shavings topped with your choice of flavored syrup.
The highway from the north and east sides of the island changes from 56 to 50 and then 520. Following 520 through the town of Koloa to Poipu Road. Less than one mile past the town of Poipu, follow the signs to reach the Poipu Beach parking lot.
RA McLean is an editor, freelance writer, and founder of the healthy lifestyle blog her healthy passport. You can find her on Instagram @herhealthypassport.
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