Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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Every year, tens of thousands of visitors flock to the island paradise of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands.
Known as the “Garden Island,” it’s full of lush greenery and gorgeous tropical flowers. This island appeals to nature lovers and beach bums alike — it has some of the most incredible landscapes in the entire world.
Today we’re going to talk specifically about Kauai’s beaches — the island has numerous coastal stretches, but they’re far from the same.
Depending on where you are on the island, you may have completely different beach experiences, and deciding where to go can be an overwhelming task. But, we did the research for you — we looked at all the beaches on Kauai and weighed the pros and cons of each.
Here’s a look at the island’s top 15 beaches!
Hot Tip: Check out our ultimate Hawaii travel guide to Maui and Kauai!
Also called the “End of the Road” beach, Hā’ena State Park is an oasis that opens up at the end of the Kuhio Highway. The beach takes a little hiking to get to, but it’s worth the effort. The trail isn’t terribly difficult, and it’s generally even, making it easy for most people to walk on.
As you make your way down to the beautiful blue water you’ll be shaded by the trees that line the trail. The currents can be strong in the water. If you see waves, keep children near the shore so they can splash around safely.
Since it’s a state park, there aren’t usually many lifeguards posted unless there are a lot of crowds. So, make sure you stay vigilant while you swim. Don’t worry, though. The water is by and large safe as long as you’re careful and mindful of your surroundings.
This secluded beach in the northern part of the island is often known by its nickname, “Secret Beach.” Often, if a beach is secluded, it means it’s small, like an alcove. That’s not the case with the Kauapea Beach Trail Head.
This beach is ample both in length and width, giving you tons of room to spread out. The only way to get to the beach is via an unmarked trail. If you ask around and keep an eye out, you’ll be able to see where to go without getting lost.
The hike is short and rewarding. After just a few minutes, you’ll be treated to soft sand as far as the eye can see. Since it’s partially hidden, there aren’t usually many crowds here.
Hot Tip: Tourists typically forgo Kauapea for more popular and easier-to-access stretches of coastline. That means you’ll likely only be sharing the sand with locals.
This is the best beach for families who are interested in vacationing on the north side of the island. The currents in this area are usually gentle, but even when the ocean is more agitated, the water stays shallow for quite a distance, so children should be able to keep steady.
The water is also clear enough for snorkeling. You don’t have to go far from the shore to find colorful fish and underwater plants to admire — and there’s even a reef. If you’d prefer to stay on land, you can go on long, relaxing walks thanks to the soft sand and the trees that line the beach.
During the off-season (typically the spring and the fall), you’ll be able to find more shells on the beach as well, thanks to fewer people visiting.
Wainiha Beach is definitely worth visiting, but you can forget your swimsuits. It’s one of the only beaches on the island that’s always off-limits for swimming.
Since there’s no reef off the shore, there’s no barrier between the beach and the open ocean water. Currents can change quickly here and are often too strong for most swimmers to handle. That being said, the beach is still beautiful. The sand is soft, and it’s lined with a thick layer of trees.
While you won’t be swimming, you can work on your tan, go on a long walk, or just sit and relax while you listen to the water. It truly is one of the best places to unwind on Kauai.
Glass Beach is one of the most unique beaches on Kauai. You won’t find sand lining the water here. Instead, you’ll be spending your day on a pebble beach that’s mixed with sea glass.
The shiny glass is rounded and smooth, so you don’t have to worry about getting injured while you walk. Make sure you visit on a sunny day to see the glass shimmering in the sunlight.
This isn’t the best beach for swimming, though. The terrain is a little too rocky to comfortably walk on without shoes, and there are rocks under the surface you’ll have to be careful of. If you want to visit this beach, plan to stay on dry land and pack some comfortable shoes so you can walk around. Local authorities ask that you don’t take any glass with you.
Poipu Beach is great because there’s something for everyone. Surfers and body-boarders will be able to catch a few waves, especially on days when the forecast predicts the ocean to be more agitated.
People who just want to go swimming or snorkeling with turtles will also be able to enjoy themselves thanks to the clear, clean water. There are many shallow areas and the ocean gets gradually deeper, so children or unsure swimmers can go at their own pace.
The beach is near multiple resorts, allowing you to walk from the room right to the sand. And some have private stretches of beach, keeping crowds to a minimum.
Salt Pond Beach is the place to go if you have a group of all ages. There are plenty of shallow areas for small children or amateurs to splash, wade, and swim in. This beach is known for being quiet and for its calm waters, so it’s not the best place to ride the waves or for thrill-seekers.
However, the beach makes up for its lack of adventure with its seclusion. It’s mostly locals who come to this part of the coast, so you’ll have space to spread out and walk around without large crowds.
During the summer months and on busy weekends throughout the rest of the year, there will usually be a lifeguard on duty, making this a safe place for carefree swimming.
Also known by its traditional name, Kaiolohia, Shipwreck Beach is an 8-mile expanse of coastline. Throughout its history, many boats sank near the shore here due to the rocky ocean bed and rapidly shallowing water.
Today, you can still see some remnants of some of those ships, which give the beach an interesting ambiance that anyone who has ever been interested in pirate lore will love.
This beach is also excellent for surfing due to the fact that it’s curved and tucked into a channel, making waves larger and more frequent. And, you’ll catch amazing sunsets here!
Anahola’s reef protects it from the open water, making it a prime spot for safe and relaxed snorkeling and swimming. The current isn’t strong, so you don’t have to worry about your swimming abilities if you’re not an expert.
The beach is lined with soft, white sand — if you’d prefer to lay out in the sun or go for a walk, you’ll be able to do so comfortably. The beach also offers you the picturesque views that people travel from all over the world to see in Hawaii. The sand has palm trees and bright blue water that contrast dramatically in photos.
During the summer, the beach can get busy. But if you visit during the week or during the spring or fall, you’ll likely have the beach virtually to yourself.
Despite the name, you won’t actually encounter any donkeys while you’re on this beach. The name comes from the nearby fields that used donkeys to transport sugarcane.
The beach is wide and has a lot of space for walking and laying out. It’s also a great place for experienced surfers to catch some waves. The current here is strong, making it a sought-after surfing locale. On the flip side, if you’re not a pro at swimming or other water activities, you may want to stay on the sand.
You’ll also want to make sure you don’t have too much to carry if you want to spend a day at this beach. While it’s easy, there is a 10-minute walk from the parking area to reach the sand, so it can be cumbersome if you’re visiting with a lot of stuff.
Keālia Beach might be more popular during the winter than it is during the summer. During the winter months, you can sit on the beach and observe whales swimming and breaching in the distance.
It doesn’t get too cold, either, so you can go for nice, comfortable walks and even wade in the water a bit. All of this isn’t to say that visiting during the summer is bad — you can still do all the traditional beach-vacation things if you visit during the warmer months, as well.
You can swim, especially near the shore, and you can lay out to get a tan. But note that there isn’t much natural shade, so you’ll want to bring either an umbrella or a hat with you when you visit.
Lae Nani Beach can provide a drastically different experience depending on when you visit. When there aren’t many waves and the tide is low, you can wade and snorkel if you’re fairly proficient at swimming. During these times, you can see the vibrant underwater life that lives beneath the surface of the crystal-clear water.
And when the water is choppier, you can sit on the beach and listen to the waves come crashing in. You can also walk around and look at the driftwood that washes up on shore, which gives the rocky beach a more wild look.
Since this isn’t always a great swimming beach, you’ll likely encounter locals but not many tourists, so you’ll have some privacy.
Measuring 12 miles, Barking Sands is one of the longest beaches in Hawaii and is located within Polihale State Park. It’s perfect for people who love long walks or jogging on the beach.
Accessing this beach takes a little planning, though. You can access Barking Sands via Major’s Bay Beach, which is part of the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF). If you want to access Barking Sands this way, you’ll need to have an MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) guest card. You can apply for that ahead of time without a problem, but it does mean you might not be able to visit on a spur-of-the-moment decision.
It’s worth the effort, though. Even if you don’t go in the water, you’ll be able to spend hours exploring the huge sand dunes you can find on the shore.
Hot Tip: If you listen closely, you’ll hear a “barking” sound that gives the area its name, caused by friction in the sand.
Kekaha Beach is gorgeous to visit but can be dangerous if you’re not careful. You’ll get some of the best vacation photos in all of Kauai on this beach. It’s also wide and spacious if you want to lay out or have a picnic.
However, even though the water might be tempting, it’s not a great idea to swim here if you’re not proficient. Kekaha doesn’t have a protective reef, so the current can change quickly and become very strong. It’s also more prone to riptides.
That being said, it still routinely tops lists of the best beaches on the western part of the island. If you’re looking for a place to unwind, this secluded beach could be a great option for you.
Polihale State Park is the place to go if you want to camp on the beach. There are campsites available in various areas of the park where you can set up for a night — or a weekend — in nature. If you decide to stay at the park, you’ll never be more than just a few steps from the water.
You don’t have to camp to visit, though. Visitors are welcome to sprawl out and explore the park and its beach every day from early in the morning until the evening.
Though the current can be strong if you stray too far from the shore, it’s generally considered perfectly safe to swim here.
There’s no shortage of beaches in Kauai, but the beach you should plan to visit will depend on what you want to get out of your trip. Whether you’re interested in a natural landscape or you want a variety of amenities, there’s a beach on this tropical island paradise for you.
Kauai has miles and miles of white-sand beaches. However, there are also other types of beaches you can visit while you’re on the island. It even has rare volcanic black-sand beaches and a few pebbled stretches of coastline as well.
There are numerous swimmable beaches on Kauai. Even beaches that are more secluded are generally open for swimmers and surfers. To make sure you don’t break any rules, check with local authorities to be aware of any safety precautions before you head to the shore.
Kauai boasts terrific weather year-round. Summer is considered the “peak season” because most tourists visit when kids have time off from June until August. Winter can sometimes see more rain as well. Spring and fall are generally excellent times to visit.
Kauai has miles of beautiful coastline all around the island. There’s no objective way to decide which side of the island has better beaches. However, the southern part of the island is home to the area’s most famous beaches.
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