Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase through my links we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Read about our affiliate policies here.
Kauai has the most coastline of any other Hawaiian island. That’s 50 miles of seemingly never ending gold sand beaches and turquoise lagoons to splash around and swim in. Known as the “Garden Isle”, Kauai is thick jungle at its interior and striking mountain views with swaying palms along its coasts. Whether you want to simply soak up the sun in the sand or snorkel with sea turtles, here’s our list of the 10 best beaches on Kauai.
If you’re heading to Kauai be sure to take advantage of these great planning resources:
– Our Kauai Travel Guide has everything you need to know about the island for your trip.
– We’ll help you decide when to plan your trip to Kauai.
– No matter what part of the island you want to visit, our Where to Stay database has you covered.
– See more than beaches with the best activities and tours Kauai has to offer.
Kauai Beach FAQS:
What are the best swimming beaches on Kauai?
The best beaches for swimming on Kauai largely depends on the season. While some of Kauai’s most beautiful and equally fun swimming beaches are located on the North Shore, winter swells make these beaches off limits for half of the year and summer swells in the south can make swimming prohibitive there as well.
Overall, one of the best beaches for swimming during summer on Kauai is Ke’e Beach on the North Shore. In the winter, head down to Poipu Beach for lazy days of swimming and splashing around.
What side of Kauai has the best beaches?
The award for the most stunningly beautiful beaches on Kauai has to go to the North Shore for its striking cliffs, sprawling golden sand coastline, and turquoise water. Unfortunately, the beaches on Kauai’s North Shore become treacherous in winter due to rough currents and large waves.
We cover more about the waves and rain in the Best Time to Visit Kauai. It’s a must-read before booking your trip.
If you’re looking for more to do on Kauai, we have you covered:
The 12 Best Things to Do in Hanalei: Kauai’s Rugged North Shore
The 20 Best Things to Do in Poipu: Kauai’s South Shore
What is the best snorkeling beach on Kauai?
Kauai is well known for its snorkeling, offering options for everyone from beginners to pros. Lydgate Beach has a calm lagoon that’s great for the novice snorkeler while those with more experience will love the abundant sea life and striking reef at Makua (Tunnels) Beach.
Check out our favorite snorkeling spots on Kauai.
What are the best public beaches on Kauai to watch sunrise and sunset?
All beaches on Kauai (and in Hawaii) are public! Even those that are situated in front of resorts. The best sunset beach is Salt Pond Beach Park which also happens to be a great place to bring children swimming. And if you’re really excited to see the sunset from the west side of Kauai, consider a sunset sail.
Poipu Beach is another alternative for sunset views and glimpses of the monk seals playing in the ocean but it can get very crowded. For sunrise, head to Lydgate Beach Park or back to Poipu.
Map of the Best Kauai Beaches
The 10 Best Beaches on Kauai
After exploring Kauai’s beaches, from the South to the North Shore, and most in between, these are 10 of our favorite beaches that we keep returning to!
1. Ke’e Beach
The best beach on Kauai in our opinion? Ke’e Beach! Somewhat hidden away inside the Ha’ena State Park, Ke’e Beach is where Kauai’s notoriously lush jungle and craggy cliffs meet the sea.
You’ll need to be prepared with a reservation for the Ha’ena State Park if you plan on visiting Ke’e Beach, but this extra step, which limits the amount of visitors each day, means that this beach is much less crowded.
The price to enter varies from $35 for an adult shuttle pass to $5 for walkers and bikers, but you’ll need to be quick to snag the less expensive options. You can reach Ke’e Beach by a short walk along a raised pathway through taro fields and dense jungle before revealing this beautiful swim spot.
Protected by a serene lagoon in the summer, be aware that Ke’e Beach, like all North Shore beaches, becomes quite dangerous in the winter due to swift currents and swells. If you enjoy hiking, Ke’e Beach also happens to be the start of the Kalalau Trail, an 11 mile hike that follows some of the most stunning scenery of the Nāpali Coast.
2. Makua (Tunnels) Beach
Often touted as the best beach for snorkeling on Kauai, Makua Beach (also known as Tunnels Beach) offers up breathtaking views of the iconic Nāpali Coast, great sunsets, and crystal clear water. Visitors will love walking along this wide, sandy beach, taking in the scenery and enjoying Kauai’s ever abundant greenery. They don’t call this Hawaiian island the “Garden Isle” for nothing after all!
Makua Beach got its nickname of “Tunnels Beach” because of the lava tubes that have formed beneath the surface of the water. This is just one of the reasons why Makua Beach is such a wonderful snorkeling spot on Kauai. Abundant wildlife, like sea turtles (also known as honu in Hawaiian), monk seals, and colorful fish can be seen swimming along the reef and just beyond the drop off.
There are a few things that make Makua (Tunnels) Beach a bit trickier than most on Kauai. First, you’ll need to plan ahead for parking. It can be difficult to find a spot, especially in high season, although you can read these tips for finding parking at Makua Beach.
The second thing to keep in mind when planning a trip to Tunnels Beach is that winter swells create dangerous swimming conditions meaning that this beach is essentially off limits from November to March.
3. Poipu Beach
Located in Kauai’s southern resort town of Poipu, Poipu Beach is one of the most popular beaches and is world renowned for its golden sand and unique, double crescent shape known as a tombola. Many Kauai vacationers flock to Poipu for its snorkeling and ideal swimming conditions – especially in the winter when many North Shore beaches are dangerous due to intense surf.
One of the star features of Poipu is the fact that there’s just so much to do! Want to catch a few waves? Check. Looking to snorkel with tropical fish along a vibrant reef system? Check. Dreaming of floating in peaceful water or swimming some laps? Check.
You also have a very good chance of getting a glimpse of Hawaiian Monk Seals, an endangered species.
Because Poipu Beach is in the heart of Poipu itself there are lots of options for food and drink nearby and there’s plenty of parking. One thing to keep in mind is the summer swells which can get a bit intense. Luckily, there’s usually a lifeguard on duty and the reef system helps to protect the beach.
4. Kiahuna Beach
Do you picture your Hawaiian vacation beneath palm trees swaying in the breeze and swimming in beautiful, turquoise waters lapping the sandy shoreline? Then Kiahuna Beach is for you!
Located right next to Poipu Beach, Kiahuna Beach makes for a great alternative should Poipu be crowded with an onslaught of tourists. Come summer this is also a great spot for surfing and bodyboarding/boogie boarding.
Kiahuna Beach has an extra amenity due to its proximity to the Sheraton – a bar. That’s right, you can sip a Mai Tai while watching the waves roll in with your toes in the sand.
And if you want to stay just steps from Kiahuna Beach, there are two great vacation rental options to consider:
- Poipu Kapili is a short 5 minute walk to Kiahuna Beach
- Kiahuna Plantation resort is beachfront on Kiahuna Beach!
Looking for a place to stay on Kauai?
Where to Stay on Kauai (It’s a Complicated Decision)
7 Best Resorts on Kauai for Families: our kids approve!
The 7 Best Kauai Hotels for Couples
5. Ha’ena Beach Park
There’s no doubt that the North Shore has some of Kauai’s most stunning beaches and Ha’ena Beach Park is no exception. Jungle truly meets the sea along this pristine stretch of sand that is ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing during the summer months.
This is also a great spot for simply lounging in the sand, taking in the views, or for strolling along the beach. Although it’s in a more remote location than other beaches, Ha’ena Beach isn’t lacking in amenities with lifeguards on duty, bathrooms, picnic tables, and showers.
This is one of the best spots on the island for sunset and you won’t want to miss watching it dip into the ocean in a fanfare of sherbert colors. For an added activity for kids and adults alike, head just across the street from the parking lot to explore the dry caves. As with all North Shore beaches, there are strong currents in winter that make it otherwise inaccessible. Keep this in mind if you plan on visiting Kauai from November to March.
6. Anini Beach
Another of Kauai’s North Shore beaches, Anini Beach is tucked away down a secluded road. Here you’ll find peaceful sea and one of the longest reefs in all of Hawaii, making it wonderful for spotting sea turtles.
Come for calm waters in summer that are perfect for splashing around – especially with kids. In fact, Anini Beach’s abundance of shade and shallow water make it a great spot in northern Kauai for bringing children to swim and enjoy the ocean.
Anini Beach is also one of the very few beaches on Kauai’s North Shore that can sometimes be safer for swimming in winter. A long reef protects the beach from the brutal waves that grace Kauai’s northern beaches come November. Note that this beach does not have lifeguards so you’ll need to be extra mindful of ocean conditions.
7. Hanalei Beach
Hanalei Beach is a stunning, wide stretch of sand in the town of Hanalei along Kauai’s North Shore. This beach is perfect for taking a sunset stroll with beautiful views of emerald mountain scenery in the background. It’s also a wonderful swim spot in summer and great for surfing and snorkeling. You might recognize this beach from popular movies like The Descendants.
Jumping off the Hanalei Pier is a great way to end (or start) your day at Hanalei Beach. Walk back from the Hanalei Pier for stunning views of the jagged Nāpali Coast, framed by white sand and cerulean water. As with most of the North Shore beaches, Hanalei Beach can see massive swells in winter and currents are often downright dangerous.
Related read: the best things to do in Hanalei!
There are a few Napali Coast tours that leave right from Hanalei Bay:
Napali Coast from Hanalei for a Catamaran Sail & Snorkel (Mar-Oct)
Napali Coast from Hanalei: Snorkel and Rafting
If you’re staying on the south shore, these 5 Napali Coast tours won’t disappoint.
8. Lydgate Beach Park
The only beach on our list that isn’t in the south or north of Kauai, Lydgate Beach Park is along the island’s eastern coast, also known as the “Coconut Coast”. Most visitors come to Lydgate Beach for its gorgeous lagoon, perfectly protected from rough waves by lava rock, it’s a great place for windsurfing and snorkeling.
Lydgate Beach Park is a wonderful spot for kids with an awesome park and super calm swimming area. Easy access to restrooms, showers, and picnic tables, with an expansive green space to run around in, are the cherry on top.
9. Salt Pond Beach Park
Southern Kauai’s Salt Pond Beach Park is another ideal swimming spot for the kiddos with its protected lagoon, lifeguards, bathrooms, and showers.
Located next to the natural salt ponds (can you guess where it got its name?), getting to this beach provides an added adventure if you’re interested in seeing this natural wonder. These salt ponds can only be utilized by native Hawaiians and are unique as they are naturally occurring, unlike most of the manmade salt ponds around the island.
10. Shipwreck Beach
Shipwreck Beach is one of the most striking, and interesting, beaches on Kauai’s South Shore. Named for a ship that quite literally sank off its shores, Shipwreck Beach is best for sunbathing and swimming in the winter and it’s a popular spot for surfers. As this beach is located at the end of the Poipu strip, it’s also typically more peaceful with few other beachgoers around.
The parking lot for Shipwreck Beach happens to be the trailhead for the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, a beautiful 3.8 mile hike along the coastal cliffs. In contrast to Kauai’s North Shore beaches, Shipwreck Beach becomes dangerous in the summer months. You’ll want to avoid swimming here from May to September.
Ready to plan the rest of your trip?
Grab a Kauai Itinerary to shortcut the rest of your vacation planning. Packed with excursion days, the best restaurants, amazing places to stay, all the way down to where to park, we haven’t missed a beat.
We bought the wayfinder itinerary from The Hawaii Vacation Guide. Highly recommend — super organized daily plans for every part of the island. Even includes google map directions to the best parking spots and what to pack for each day of fun!Laura M.
Get The Kauai Itinerary
The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.
Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Kauai.