Kauai Beaches

When you think of Hawaii, what comes to mind? Warm tropical water and relaxing beaches? Delicious seafood and colorful drinks with tiny umbrellas?

Kauai is Hawaii’s Garden Island. You can get all the above-mentioned things here, but you also get a little something else–lush vegetation, beautiful waterfalls, and even a verdant canyon. In this series of posts, I’ll share my favorite spots in Kauai!

Let’s talk about the beaches–after all, this is probably the thing you most look forward to on your Hawaii trip. There are many good beaches on Kauai. Some you can swim in to your heart’s content. Others are better for lounging and admiring the view. Here are some highlights, starting from the top of the island clockwise!

North Kauai Beaches

Ke’e Beach

This is as far north on Kauai as you can go on the highway. This beach is not for swimming. The Pacific Ocean travels unchecked for hundreds of miles until it hits Kauai’s north shore, and there is very little shore break. Waves here are rough. So rough, in fact, that they are part of what created the famed Na Pali Coast–a jagged series of cliffs created by thousands of years of erosion. If you walk far enough along the beach (keep the sea on your left), part of the Na Pali Coast is visible behind you.

A note on the Na Pali Coast… part of what makes it so amazing is its inaccessibility. You can see the coast via boat or an all-day kayak trip. But the inland Kalalau Valley can only be reached by air or by foot. The hike is a grueling 11 hours (each way!). The sights, I hear, are worth the journey. If you feel like attempting it, the trail head is at Ke’e Beach’s parking lot.

The shore on Ke’e Beach is rocky, so even wading in the water is not advisable. However, the beach is wide, and lined with trees for cover. It’s an excellent spot for strolling and relaxing on the sand.

Facilities: restrooms, showers, parking lot, lifeguard.

Lumaha’i Beach

Yet another beach not for swimming–that goes for most North Shore beaches, really. The southeastern side of Lumaha’i can be okay to swim in, but only in the best of conditions (usually summer, when seas are generally calmer). You could, however, wade in the Lumaha’i River west of the beach. This is where the river meets the ocean.

However, this is a fun beach to frolic in. The waves made a small but fast-flowing stream in the middle of the wide beach. I stood akimbo in the middle of the flow and David attempted to float small twigs and seeds between my legs. We also dug the deepest holes we could in the beach only to see them filled in by the next wave.

It was a bit stormy when we first arrived, which was awesome–we were by the river, and could see the rain approaching from the east side of the beach. Only in Kauai have I ever seen the rain actually coming at me. And when the showers stopped, rainbows everywhere!

Facilities: none at all. Informal parking underneath the trees.

Hanalei Bay

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Hanalei Valley

Hanalei is a cute, slightly kitschy town on the North Shore. Where nearby Princeville has expensive resorts and condos, Hanalei has more of a hippie feel.

Hanalei Bay is a large crescent-shaped bay. On its east side is Hanalei Pier. The beach itself is large and a popular spot for surfers due to strong waves. Swimming is possible, but could be dangerous when the tide is high. There are lifeguards here, so check with them if it’s safe.

Facilities: parking lot, restrooms, showers, lifeguard, BBQ grills, picnic tables.

Secret Beach

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Secret Beach, with Kilauea Lighthouse in the distance

Just west of Kilauea, Secret Beach is so called because it requires a little bit of work. It’s unmarked, and access is through a 10-15 minute hike from a dirt parking lot off Kalihiwai Road.

Once you get to the bottom of the trail, the payoff is immediate: huge golden sand beach with few people. The beach stretches a little west, and much farther to the east (but broken up into 3 separate beaches due to some rocks in the path). We hiked along the sand to the further beaches, but watch out for the tide: if it’s high, you may be unable to climb the boulders to get back. Also, some people like to skinny dip here since it’s so remote, so if you’d rather not see any nude bodies, stick to the main beach closest to the hiking path.

The views here particularly of Kilauea Lighthouse are amazing, and the hike plus the remoteness means you don’t have to worry about crowds. There are no facilities, so be sure to come with water and snacks. Also, be wary about leaving too late: our car got broken into in the parking lot because we ended up not making it back until dark. Make sure all your possessions and valuables are out of sight!

Facilities: none at all. Informal parking in a cul de sac at the end of a dirt road.

East Kauai Beaches

Kealia Beach

Just north of Kapaa, Kauai’s main town, Kealia Beach is a nice stretch of golden sand. Swimming is okay here, as well as boogie boarding and surfing. However, it can be fairly crowded. This is because of a well-maintained bike and jogging path leading from Kapaa. It’s a great opportunity to cool off after a workout though!

Facilities: parking lot, restrooms, lifeguard, picnic tables.

Lydgate Beach State Park

This is the gem of the east shore. It’s right in Kapaa, just south of the main hotel drag. This beach is long–over 2 miles of fairly protected swimming and soft sand. There are two saltwater wading pools enclosed by rocks, so this is possibly the best beach for kids in the entire island. There’s also a paved walking/running path along the beach. All in all, a great beach to spend a whole day on Kauai!

Facilities: parking lot, restrooms, showers, lifeguard, BBQ grills, picnic tables.

South Kauai Beaches

Mahaulepu Beach/Gillin’s Beach

This is really a 3-part beach consisting of Gillin’s Beach, Kawailoa Bay, and Haula Beach. I’m going to focus on Gillin’s–I’ll talk about Kawailoa Bay and Haula Beach on a future post about hikes on Kauai.

Gillin’s Beach is accessible via a very rough dirt road. A short hike through the trees leads out to the beach. Its western side (to your right if you walk along the shore and keep the sea on your left) is too rocky to swim in, but is fun to wade through if you bring your water shoes. The other direction continues on to the other beaches, and has the most likelihood of good swimming.

Facilities: none. Dirt parking lot at the end of a dirt road.

Poipu Beach

The most popular beach in south Kauai. The southern part of the island, in general, has calmer seas, and Poipu seems the calmest of all. A good shore break makes this beach popular with families as well.

The sand is super soft and white, snorkeling is decent, and there are lots of facilities. That said, this beach is always pretty crowded.

Facilities: parking lot, restrooms, showers, lifeguard, BBQ grills, picnic tables.

Salt Pond Beach Park

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We’re heading west now. Great protected shore break, huge parking lot, great facilities–Salt Pond Beach Park is a gem in the south shore. The sand can be a little rough near the trees due to the grass and stuff, but the water is perfectly fine.

If Poipu is just a little too crowded, Salt Pond is likely to be less so, and it’s more of a locals place.

Facilities: parking lot, restrooms, showers, lifeguard, BBQ grills, picnic tables.

West Kauai Beaches

So…here’s the deal. West Kauai is really just one huge beach. The line gets very blurry on where one ends and the other begins. But I guess I’ll break it down anyway, because it’s so long that the experience is quite different on either side.

Kekaha Beach

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Remember, we’re going westward from the Poipu area now… Kekaha starts at the edge of Kekaha town, the last big one in the area and west of Waimea. Again, this is just one long stretch of soft gold-white sand. You can pull over and basically tumble out into it.

People are very casual here and will drive up close to the water with their trucks–we even saw a truck tricked out with a shower (awesome!). This is the driest side of normally wet Kauai, so you’ll get the best weather here. Plus this is the closest you’ll likely get to the private island of Niihau.

If you want a spot with some facilities, look for MacArthur Park (right before the bunker-like facilities of the Missile Range Facility). There’s a tiny parking lot, cold shower, some grills, a few pavilions, and a lifeguard. Port-a-Potties too, but no real restrooms.

Facilities: parking lot, restrooms, showers, lifeguard, BBQ grills, picnic tables.

Polihale State Park

Polihale State Park

The road here is rough. Really rough. You drive to the west end of the highway 50 and follow the signs onto a badly-maintained dirt road, where you’ll drive for an agonizing 20 minutes. Then you hit sand (do NOT stop or slow down, or you might get trapped in it) and finally, the road ends in a parking lot.

If you’re looking for isolation, though, this is probably the answer. Closer to the parking lot and the facilities, not so much. But head back down the way you came and there are miles and miles of sand. Go far enough and you won’t need to share the beach with anyone.

This sand is super soft and white. People with big trucks occasionally ride the tall dunes here for fun. Note there’s no lifeguard here, and you’re more north than south so the waves can be rougher. The view inland is amazing though…

At the north end of this beach is the Na Pali Coast, and now we’ve come full circle.

Facilities: parking lot, restrooms, showers.

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2 thoughts on “Kauai Beaches

  1. Pingback: Things to See in Kauai | World and Time Enough

  2. Pingback: Hanakapiai Falls Hike | World and Time Enough

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