The island of Kauai is famed for its beautiful outdoors, activities for all kinds of thrills, and incredible Hawaiian culture.
Although referred to as the ‘Garden Island’ due to the amount of rainforest here, Kauai is also known for its breathtaking beaches. Boasting pristine shores of golden sands, turquoise waters, and endless snorkeling and dive sites, the beaches on this island have so much to offer.
The waters around Kauai are home to a wealth of marine life, including tropical fish, dolphins, turtles, sharks, and whales, so take your time exploring everything underneath the waves.
Another reason to visit Kauai’s beaches is the number of watersports on offer. Here, you can try paddleboarding, surfing, kayaking, and parasailing, among others.
Of course, you can simply relax too while sitting on a beach chair or hammock. The opportunities are endless, so let’s go through the best beaches in Kauai!
1. Poipu Beach
Poipu Beach is thought to be one of the most beautiful beaches on Kauai. It’s located on Kauai’s South coast and is actually made up of two bays, which are separated by a sand spit.
Poipu Beach is one of the most family-friendly options on the island with lifeguards that watch over the swimmers. Thanks to the sand spit, there’s a shallow area where children can play in the water.
Aside from its obvious beauty, Poipu is also a favorite spot for watersports. Bodyboarding tends to be one of the most popular options, but you can rent surfboards and snorkeling gear too.
Poipu Beach is also a wonderful destination for wildlife lovers, as there’s a group of Hawaiian monk seals that call these waters home and will sometimes lay in the sand.
If you’re lucky, you might get to spot humpback whales in the distance from December to April. The reefs of the coast of Poipu also allow you to spot a variety of other underwater life!
With toilet and shower facilities, beautiful surroundings, and plenty of awesome things to do, it’s no surprise that Poipu is so popular.
2. Hanalei Bay Beach
Located on the north shore of Kauai, Hanalei Bay Beach is the place to go if you’re after dramatic scenery. With a striking backdrop of Jurassic Park-style mountains and swaying coconut palms, the vistas here are breathtaking.
This two-mile beach is also home to beautiful golden sand, clear waters, and the iconic Hanalei Pier. Covering an area of two miles, Hanalei Beach is situated in the town of Hanalei and has plenty to do.
It’s the perfect place for beach photographs as many weddings take place on the beach and it’s not hard to see why. Aside from its outdoor landscapes, you also got plenty of awesome watersport opportunities.
Hanalei Bay Beach is most famous for surfers as it’s one of the island’s top surfing spots and you’ll find plenty of surf schools that offer surfing lessons here. However, if surfing isn’t your thing, you can partake in other water activities that include boogie boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and standup paddle boarding.
There are also lifeguards on stations, but since the beach has plenty of waves the water conditions might not always be safe for non-experienced swimmers.
Travelers can also just relax on the shore, play a volleyball game or catch some sun. It’s easy to simply admire the spectacular scenery.
3. Kalihiwai Beach
Kalihiwai Beach isn’t as well known as some of the other beaches on the island, which is one of its main draws! It’s incredibly secluded and is sandwiched between the Kalihiwai River and Kauai rainforest. It’s much less busy than it’s neighbor, Anini Beach.
During the winter, Kalihiwai is a great spot for expert surfers looking to catch some big waves. However, in the summer, it’s the perfect place to sunbathe and escape the crowds.
One of the best things about Kalihiwai Beach is that it’s surrounded by trees, so there’s plenty of shade if you need a break from the heat. There are also picnic tables you can use for lunch with a view.
Popular activities include bodyboarding, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, and surfing. Just keep in mind that strong undercurrents can be found here so you’ll want to be really cautious when swimming. For this reason, stick to the shallows near the riverside!
Due to its sandy bottom, there isn’t much in terms of snorkeling at Kalihiwai Beach. There’s also no reef here so if you’re looking to spot marine life, maybe try one of the other options like Tunnels Beach or Larsens Beach.
Kalihiwai is one of the lesser-developed beaches, but there still are public toilets and tables here. You can also head on over to Anini Beach which is nearby.
4. Shipwreck Beach
Although there is no longer a shipwreck here, there used to be one that eventually disappeared in the 1980s after a storm.
This beach is situated along the Southern Coast of Poipu and sits just in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. With toilets and showers, it’s well-equipped to visit.
Possibly the most iconic thing to do at Shipwreck Beach is jump off the cliff that’s located at the end of the beach. Made famous in the Six Days, Seven Nights movie, this cliff jump is now extremely popular.
However, due to frequent injuries, there’s now a sign here to warn people of the dangers. If you’re looking to make the most of your holiday in Kauai, it’s probably an activity that should be avoided but of course, the choice is yours!
Shipwreck Beach also marks the start of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, so you can always take a wander along the coastline. Keep your eyes peeled for whales too as it’s one of the few south shore beaches where you can see them.
Swimming is difficult due to the large breaks so it’s best to be extremely careful if you choose to get in the water since there are also no lifeguards present.
5. Hanakapiai Beach
Hanakapiai Beach is reached via a two-mile hike on the first part of the Kalalau Trail on the Nā Pali Coast. This part of the trail is also called the Hanakapiai Trail but a permit is now needed to hike to Hanakapiai Beach. The permit also allows access to Hanakapiai Falls, reached via another hike inland.
Also, read our hiking trails in Kauai guide for more hikes with scenic views.
Hanakapiai Beach has a magical, mystical vibe and is one of our favorite places on the entire island of Kauai. Bookended by dramatic rocky points, backed by a verdant tropical forest, trimmed with rounded stones, and with a refreshing stream emptying into the ocean, this is the beach dreams are made of. ‘
A shallow lagoon forms behind the beach during the summer months. You can see Hawaiian Monk seals enjoying Hanakapiai Beach and the backdrop of the beach is stunning.
Hanakapiai Beach is known for its beauty, remoteness, and tranquility. We often pack a lunch and head to Hanakapiai for an hour or two of rest and relaxation. Though the beach receives a steady stream of visitors hiking from Ke’e Beach, the beach is big enough to never feel crowded. In the summertime, there’s a small cave at the end of the shoreline for lunch.
Plan on an hour, or even two, for your hike to Hanakapiai (from Ke’e) if it’s your first time and you want to see the sights along the Hanakapiai Trail.
6. Mahaulepu Beach
Mahaulepu Beach is another remote option if you want to stay away from the tourist crowds. You can hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, which is quite idyllic.
Unlike other swimming-friendly options like Lydgate Beach and Poipu Beach, only experienced swimmers should get in the waters at Mahalepu Beach. Although the bay provides some protection, the waves can be rough further out so make sure to take care.
Caution should be extended to surfers as well since there are no lifeguards. So if you’re looking for a family-friendly beach where your little ones can swim, this isn’t the place.
But it’s an excellent spot for sunbathing as you won’t have to fight the crowds to get a space. As the beach is also tree-lined, you’ll have plenty of areas where you can use the shade.
While at Mahaulepu Beach, spend some time beach-combing. As you wander along, you can find some pretty unique landscapes including blow holes and coves.
This southern shore beach is a favorite among fishermen, especially right to the east of the beach where there’s a rocky outcrop. To get here, drive along a bumpy dirt road that’s located on private property which is only open during the day.
7. Tunnels Beach
Often referred to as Makua Beach, Tunnels Beach is one of the most famous spots along the island’s north shore. The first thing you’ll notice about this place is its sheer beauty, as it’s surrounded by forested mountains and swaying palm trees.
Tunnels Beach is a good place in Kauai for snorkeling since you can spot various marine life. This includes everything from fish, sea turtles, and seals, so don’t forget to bring your underwater camera. The water is crystal clear, which is why it’s also a popular spot for scuba diving!
It’s not just the wildlife either. Unique landscapes, like lava tubes can be found in the water. Aside from snorkeling and scuba diving, Tunnels Beach also offers a variety of other watersports including surfing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing. It’s a great spot for simply relaxing, and lifeguards are typically always on duty.
If you get a chance, give yourself time to watch one of Kauai’s epic sunsets. The jungle and mountain backdrop make for incredible photos and the colors will blow you away!
The one thing to note is that parking can be an issue here as it’s typically busy. For the best experience, try to arrive relatively early so you can secure your parking spot.
8. Salt Pond Beach
Salt Pond Beach is a local favorite and a good beach visit if you bring children. It has shallow pools where children and less experienced swimmers can snorkel without the dangers of the open ocean.
These pools offer the chance to look for marine life. Due to the beaches’ location in Hanapepe, there’s also a lagoon protected from rough waves where you can swim.
Salt Pond Beach doesn’t seem to attract crowds, making it a good place to relax and enjoy a nice picnic. The beach facilities include everything from bathrooms, pavilions and showers. You’ll find lifeguards watching the waters from 9 am to 5 pm each day.
Salt Pond Beach can get pretty hot during the day but luckily, there are some places for shade. There’s also a grassy area behind the beach where children can play and where people will routinely play sports.
If you’re looking for an escape, then Salt Pond is one of the quietest beaches on Kauai. There’s even a campground for travelers who want to camp overnight, but you’ll just need to get a camping permit.
9. Lydgate Beach
Located along the east side of the island, Lydgate Beach is another family-friendly spot. Thanks to its two enclosed lagoons, children can play safely in the water as they’ll be away from the ocean.
These lagoons are man-made and they’re separated by rock walls. However, tropical fish still swim in, so you have a great chance of spotting them! It’s the perfect location for beginner snorkelers and younger kids.
Aside from the lagoons, Lydgate Beach also offers a large playground where kids can play together. A lifeguard is also typically always present.
The beach facilities are extensive with restrooms, showers, and ample parking. There’s a 2.5-mile coastal path for walking and appreciating the scenic Hawaiian views.
Hawaiian culture is prominent at Lydgate Beach as two important historical sites are found here: The Hikinaakala Heiau and the City of Refuge (Hauola). Just make sure you don’t disturb the sites as they’re sacred.
10. Larsen’s Beach
Larsen’s Beach Kauai is often referred to as Ka’aka’aniu Beach. This place is undeveloped and secluded making it the perfect escape from the island’s busy sections.
Due to its off-the-beaten path location, access to the beach is limited as no road leads all the way here. There is a dirt road, but you need to park up and then hike along a short trail to get here.
It might not be the most family-friendly, considering that one of the unique attributes of Larsen’s Beach is that clothing is optional. So be prepared to see more than epic scenery and rolling waves.
Due to the rough wave conditions, this isn’t the beach for you if you’re looking for watersports or to swim/snorkel. However, you can sunbathe and have it all to yourself the vast majority of the time.
Keen nature lovers can spot sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, and a variety of birdlife. This beach may not be one of the most picturesque but certainly one of the more unique ones!
11. Ke’e Beach
Set against the dramatic green Makana Mountain (Bali Hai) in the north shore, with epic views down the Nā Pali Coast, Ke’e Beach has clear blue waters and is one of the crown jewels of Kauai.
We recently visited the spectacular beach after a year-long closure. Torrential rains and flooding will sometimes close off some of the beaches. The old dirt parking lot is recently renovated and a shuttle system was set up to better manage visitors to the beach and adjacent Kalalau Trail.
The beach is as beautiful as ever, with even less visitors than before. And if you stroll down the beach a bit there’s a good possibility you will have it all to yourself. Ocean conditions aren’t always the safest since there is high surf at certain times. You also won’t see any sort of restaurants or rental shops here. Still it’s one of the best north shore beaches in Kauai.
There is plenty of sun at Ke’e Beach and also plenty of shade! The Nā Pali Coast comes into view with a walk down the beach! Above it you can find a beautiful meadow.