UPDATE: In April 2018, Kauai experienced record setting flooding especially on its north shore. As a result, the road west of Hanalei town is currently closed cutting off access to the popular Kalalau Trail, Ke’e beach, and snorkeling at Tunnels. I encourage you to check local news coverage before your trip to obtain the most current conditions, and I will also update this as things reopen.
Most people come to Kauai for sunshine and beaches…and these beaches sure don’t disappoint! Kauai’s beaches have some of the most gorgeous backdrops you’ll find anywhere in the world.
A word about Kauai’s beaches though…surprisingly, many of Kauai’s beaches aren’t considered swimmable or they have rough currents and rip tides that you need to watch out for. Always check conditions before you get in the water!
With that being said, here are 10 Kauai beaches that I think you really need to check out:
The north shore is my favorite part of the island and it’s where many of my favorite beaches are located. This is the lushest part of the island but that’s because it’s the wettest. That means beautiful beaches but not always the best beach weather.
Ke’e Beach: This is as far as you can go on the north shore. It’s a beautiful little spot but it has minimal parking (unless you arrive early you’ll have to park on the side of the road). This is an excellent snorkeling and swimming beach as it’s completely protected by a reef. It also has great amenities (restrooms, showers, picnic tables, etc.) and it’s the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail (the famed Napali Coast hike). If part of your group wants to opt out of the four-mile hike, this is an excellent place to hang out.
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Ha’ena State Park: Just around the corner from Ke’e (and actually this whole stretch is one long connected beach), this may be the most picturesque spot in Kauai. The beach is wide and gorgeous and the green mountains form the perfect backdrop down at the west end. There’s a lifeguard here and a decent sized parking lot. This isn’t my favorite spot to swim, as it’s open and unprotected so pay attention to warnings before getting in.
Tunnels: A little ways down from Ha’ena State Park is what’s probably the best snorkeling on Kauai. It’s hard to find the entrances (two dirt roads with minimal parking), but what you’ll notice are all the “no parking” signs. That’s how you know you’re near. If there’s no parking (or you can’t find the entrance), park at Ha’ena State Park and walk to the right.
Lumahai Beach: South Pacific made this golden stretch of sand famous and it’s a stunner but not much good for swimming.
Hideaways: Just finding this beach is an adventure in itself. It’s in Princeville (make the turn into the resort area where you see the sign for the St. Regis off the main road). You’ll go about two miles through Princeville and then turn right into a tiny little parking lot just before you reach the St. Regis’ guard shack. Just outside the parking lot, you’ll see a small pathway between the two fences. You’ll need good shoes to do this little trail (not flip flops!). There’s a pretty sketchy staircase you have to navigate before you get to the series of rope handles that will lead you to the hidden beach. Don’t miss this one!
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The beaches on the east side are a lot more open and easy to spot. They also tend to be longer stretches that are good for strolling.
Lydgate Beach: This is the major beach on the east side and has a ton of amenities. You’ll find restrooms, picnic facilities, playgrounds, showers, and a couple of protected ponds that are great for swimming.
The south side as some of Kauai’s most swimmable beaches and always has nearly perfect weather (hot and sunny).
Poipu Beach: Poipu beach is the central beach hub in South Kauai. It’s a beautiful golden beach with perfect facilities (plus food and beach rental places across the street). This is probably the best spot in south Kauai to spend a beach day, as it’s so easily accessible, it has nice snorkeling, and it’s a popular spot to see sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals.
Maha’ulepu Beach: This is my favorite “adventure” beach in south Kauai, meaning getting here is half the fun. It’s a hidden little spot and it takes a little trek to get to so it’s likely you’ll have it all to itself. To access Maha’ulepu, go down Poipu road past the Hyatt (the road will turn to dirt) and park at a little pullout right before you get to the stables. Take the dirt road to the left and it’s a short hike down to the beach. There’s also a trail to Makauwahi Cave. Many days it’s open for tours, but if it isn’t you can still view it from above (it’s an open roofed cave).
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Kauai’s west shore is pretty much one continuous beach but conditions seem a little harsh to me (it’s arid and sunny with pretty much no shade in sight). But if you’re on the west side, there are a couple of spots you should see.
Glass Beach: This is more of a novelty than anything. Located at the end of Aka Ula road in Port Allen, this spot (actually located right behind an industrial park) features the remains of broken up bottles and other glass. It’s a good spot for beach combing but not much else.
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Polihale Beach: This is the gem of the west side (and possibly all of Kauai). This 12-mile stretch of sand runs into the Napali Coast so you’ll have some lovely views. You’ll have to go out of your way to get here (it’s pretty isolated) and it can be brutally hot, so plan to pack it all in (chairs, shade, drinks, snacks, etc.) and pack it all out.
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