From the magical shores of Hanalei Bay to stunning sunsets on the remote beach at Polihale State Park, Kauaʻi boasts some of the world’s best beaches.

Often described as the Garden Island, Kauaʻi is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, with lush rainforests and emerald valleys that contrast brilliantly with its bright, sunny shores. Some beaches cater to families, others to serious surfers, but all are as lovely as you've been led to believe.

You won’t find much black sand on Kauaʻi, though black-sand beaches are common on Maui and Hawaiʻi's big island. Instead, it's palms and blonde sand all the way in Kauaʻi. You won’t find lovelier stretches of golden sand and secluded shoreline anywhere else in Hawaii.

Here's a guide to Kauaʻi's nine best beaches.

1. ʻAnini Beach

Best for families

Located on Kauaʻi’s north shore, hidden away in a small residential neighborhood, scenic ʻAnini Beach is protected by a long fringing reef that prevents large waves — yes, even the island's famous winter swells – from reaching the shore, making this one of the safest beaches on the island for families. The calm and shallow lagoon is perfect for swimming and snorkeling and excellent for kids. 

Adding to the family vibe, there are grassy areas for picnicking and long stretches of sand for sunbathing and beachcombing. You can sometimes find rare and coveted Niʻihau shells here. And because this beach is located off busy Kūhiō Highway (Highway 56), it doesn’t attract as many beachgoers as other, more accessible beaches. There’s a government-run campground here, too, with bathrooms and showers.

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2. Hanalei Bay

Best for an all-day beach outing

You could spend an entire day – maybe even your whole trip – in the beachy town of Hanalei on Kauaʻi’s north shore. This agreeable town has charming boutiques and art galleries, great coffee shops and food trucks, and some of the island’s best restaurants and bars. Stop at the famous, family-run Tahiti Nui for its truly famous mai tai, the recipe of which is a carefully guarded secret.

But the real reason visitors (and residents) flock here is for Hanalei Bay, a gorgeous crescent-shaped sweep of sand that’s breathtaking at any time of day. Find a secluded spot on this 2-mile stretch of golden sand, surrounded by sheer volcanic cliffs, and catch some rays, lounge with a book or jump into the sea from historic Hanalei Pier (featured in the classic 1958 movie version of South Pacific).

Swimming is best in the summer months when conditions are calmer, but sunrises and sunsets here are stunning at any time of year. Plenty of people come specifically to catch a wave at one of the reliable surf breaks here. First-timers can learn the art of surfing from Native Hawaiian professional surfer Titus Kinimaka at the Hawaiian School of Surfing.

People enjoying the sun & views on the beach at Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay is everyone's vision of Hawaiian sun, surf and sand © Chase Clausen / Shutterstock

3. Poʻipū Beach

Best for sipping cocktails at sunset

Located on the perpetually sunny shores of Kauaʻi’s south coast and dotted with stylish resorts, Poʻipū Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the island – and for good reason. You can do just about anything here, from snorkeling its crystal-clear waters (and spotting the occasional sea turtle) to surfing the fun-filled waves offshore.

Kids will enjoy the shallow tidepools and playing on the open grassy area with its fun play structure; there are lifeguards and restrooms to put parents at ease. Endangered Hawaiian monk seals love to hang out here, but if you do spot one, stay at least 50ft away – it’s a felony to touch or harass these threatened creatures. 

Poʻipū Beach is also one of the best spots on the island to view Hawaiʻi’s spectacular sunsets, ideally with a tropical cocktail in hand. Sip on a Monkeypod Mai Tai made with local rum and a house-made macadamia nut syrup at the oceanfront Beach House and soak up the unforgettable view.

4. Kēʻē Beach

Best for viewing the Nāpali Coast

At the end of Highway 560, fronting Hāʻena State Park, Kēʻē Beach is an idyllic sandy beach with views of the stunning Nāpali Coast. This is also the start of the grueling 11-mile Kalalau Trail, but plenty of visitors are happy just to kick back on the lovely sands. A small, sand-bottomed lagoon off the beach is protected by an offshore reef and offers great snorkeling on calm days (longnose butterflyfish and parrotfish are often spotted here).

Winter months can bring crashing waves and strong currents, so you'll be glad to see lifeguards on patrol. West of the main lagoon and around a corner are two sacred heiau (shrines) honoring the Hawaiian goddesses Pele and Laka. The rock altars are often draped with flower and ti leaf lei (garlands) – these are left by hula practitioners, so don’t touch, remove or add your own flowers here.

Note that as of 2021, you must make a reservation in advance and pay parking and entry fees to visit Hāʻena State Park. 

Couple stand up paddleboarding off Kaua'i
If you don't feel up to tackling Kauaʻi's big breakers, stand-up paddleboarding is a gentler alternative © FatCamera / Getty Images

5. Mākua Beach (Tunnels Beach)

Best for snorkeling and diving

If snorkeling or diving off Kauaʻi is on your bucket list, Mākua Beach should definitely be on your itinerary. More commonly known as Tunnels Beach, this snorkeling sanctuary is about 9 miles from Princeville, with pristine waters, an expansive reef, underwater lava tubes and tons of marine life.

Parrotfish, Moorish idols, convict tang, yellow tang and bluefin trevally are common here, but novice snorkelers should stay closer to shore (in sight of the lifeguards) as there can sometimes be strong currents, especially in the winter.

Advanced snorkelers can swim out further and see the towering coral formations on the beach’s outer reefs, which are also popular with divers. Dive centers in Hanalei can arrange trips – Kauai Down Under Dive Team and Fathom Five Divers are both reliable operators.

Don’t just focus on the water – the mountain backdrop is just as stunning. You'll immediately spot the looming buttress of 1115ft Makana, which stood in for Bali Ha'i in the South Pacific movie. The challenge here is parking: spots are limited, and they fill up quickly.

6. Lydgate Beach Park

Best for a family beach day

Right off the Kūhiō Highway in Līhuʻe, Lydgate Beach Park is one of the most popular beaches on Kauaʻi and great for all sorts of outdoor fun, from swimming and snorkeling in the calm pool created by the breakwater to larking around on the immense, fort-like wooden play structure at Kamalani Playground. Locals fish and surf here, too – the beach is a real all-rounder.

The beach park has a parking area, picnic tables, barbecue grills, campsites, outdoor showers and restrooms, and you can access a 2.5-mile stretch of the Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal trail for a run, cycle ride or stroll. Grab a Nutella cruffin and iced coffee from nearby Aloha Roastery in Līhuʻe when it opens at 6am and spend the whole morning here.

Reef fishes off the shore of Kauaʻi
Meeting the underwater inhabitants of Kauaʻi with a mask and snorkel is all part of the beach experience © YinYang / Getty Images

7. Polihale State Park

Great for getting away from it all

Stretching for 17 languorous miles along the island’s wild western coast, Polihale State Park is one of the longest beaches in Hawaiʻi. Getting here takes some effort – access is via a 5-mile unpaved dirt road that some car rental companies expressly prohibit renters from driving ib – but the payoff is worth it.

The beach is rarely crowded, and even on busy days, you can always find a secluded spot somewhere. Walk to the northern part of the beach for views to the edge of the Nāpali cliffs. It’s not the safest beach for swimming – the only spot safe enough to swim is at Queen’s Pond – but Polihale is excellent for long walks, beachcombing, lounging and picnicking.

Even on a day trip, pack a lunch and spend the day enjoying the natural beauty of this place. Sunsets here are epic, but you don't want to drive out at night unless you really have to.

8. Kalapakī Beach

Best for a vacation vibe

Kalapakī Beach is located near beach hotels and a cruise port, but don't let that dissuade you from coming to this appealing Līhuʻe beach. With a crescent of fine golden sand, Kalapakī boasts calm water conditions almost year-round. A jetty and breakwaters shelter the beach from large waves, making this a great – and safe – spot for swimming and paddleboarding (rent boards from Kauaʻi Beach Boys right on the beach).

Being so close to hotels means you have easy access to shopping, spas and restaurants, including the popular Duke’s Kauaʻi at the Kauaʻi Marriott Resort, where you can indulge in top-notch coconut shrimp, ʻahi (tuna) poke bowls and Kimo’s Original Hula Pie (macadamia nut ice cream with a cookie crust).

Ke'e Beach backed by palm trees on Kauai
Kēʻē Beach is a vision of palm-backed perfection, with great views of the Nāpali Coast © Shane Myers Photography / Shutterstock

9. Salt Pond Beach Park

Best for a quick escape

Away from the big resorts and visitor attractions, Salt Pond Beach Park in Hanapēpē is a place to relax and unwind. There’s a large lagoon that's calm enough for swimming and splashing and also lots of sandy shoreline to lounge about. It’s also a popular surfing and windsurfing spot.

The park is named after a set of salt-collecting ponds that are still used for paʻakai, traditional Hawaiian salt-making, a centuries-old tradition on Kauaʻi. Salt forms naturally in these briny ponds and is harvested by Native Hawaiians in the summertime.

Camping is allowed at Salt Pond Beach – you need a $3 per adult camping permit, but they're easy to obtain from the County of Kauaʻi offices in Līhuʻe, or you can apply online – and the sunsets are spectacular. Combine a trip with some time in Hanapēpē, with its cool shops, art galleries and restaurants.

You may also like:
10 essential hiking trails on Kauaʻi for exploring the Garden Island
The best things you can do for free in Hawaii
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