13 Best Beaches on Kauai: Details + Map (2024)

Looking for the best beaches on Kauai? On my last trip there, I explored beaches all over the island and I want to tell you all about the best ones! 

Kauai is a true paradise. Most of the island is a tropical rainforest, so it gained the nickname of the Garden Isle. 

It’s also the second oldest of the Hawaiian islands, so it has a unique rural, old-school Hawaiian charm. Some parts of it don’t even look real, like it’s part of a movie! 

The beaches are no exception. And actually, a couple of the beaches on Kauai WERE the scene of a movie. More about that later… 

Anyways, during my trip to Kauai I was excited to visit as many beaches as I could. I wanted to see what everyone was raving about. Now I’m here to tell you about which ones are the best! 

Whether you’re looking for family-friendly spots, amazing snorkeling, surfing, or even hidden beaches, I gotchu! 

Keep reading for all the details of each, and check out the map to see where all of them are located as you plan your trip. 

Key Takeaways

  • Kauai offers beaches for every type of beach goer. Whether you need family-friendly, surfing or snorkeling spots, best swimming beaches, or even hidden beaches, you will find them on Kauai. 
  • The South Shore beaches are more popular with families and you’ll find more options for food and activities nearby. The North Shore beaches are more tranquil with gorgeous scenery. East Side beaches are convenient with the finest sand.
  • For families, Poipu Beach on the South Shore and Hanalei Bay Beach on the North Shore are best. For beauty, Haena Beach on the North Shore can’t be beat. For swimming, Anini Beach on the North Shore and Salt Pond Beach on the South Shore are safe and fun. 

Table of Contents

Kauai's Best Beaches

I have separated the best beaches by region–South Shore, North Shore, and East Side. I also added another section just for hidden beaches. 

I include what the beach is best for, what types of amenities are offered, plus activities you can do there. 

1. Poipu Beach (South Shore)

Best for: families, water activities
Beach type: crescent shape
Amenities: lifeguard, bathrooms, showers, picnic tables, parking lot
Activities: swimming, snorkeling, boogie boarding, playground

Poipu Beach is the ultimate Kauai hangout. It’s family-friendly and has everything you need for a great beach day.

We visited Poipu every day on our Kauai trip! We loved how much there was to do and how fun the vibes were there. Being there is like hanging out in a familiar place—it’s like the Cheers of Kauai beaches.  

Alright, let’s talk activities. First off, snorkeling here is a treat. Head to the western end and you’ll get the perfect waters to see all types of underwater creatures—including sea turtles! To add to that, Poipu’s got waves that are just the right mix of friendly and fun, whether you want to surf or boogie board.

If you’d rather swim, the water is protected by offshore rocks and reefs, so it’s calm like a natural wading pool.

There are plenty of nearby family-friendly spots to get something to eat. Or bring your own food and stake out one of the picnic tables on the grassy area next to a small playground! 

one of the best beaches on kauai is poipu beach park

2. Kiahuna Beach (South Shore)

Best for: families, water activities
Beach type: crescent shaped
Amenities: restrooms, showers, picnic tables
Activities: swimming, snorkeling, surfing, boogie boarding

Kiahuna Beach is Poipu Beach’s friendly neighbor. It has the same soft sand, swaying palm trees, and fun, laid-back vibes. Very quintessential Hawaiian. It’s right next to the Sheraton, but the beach is public so anyone can visit.

Kiahuna has a protective reef that makes the waters calm, like a giant crystal-clear pool, perfect for little beach bums to splash around in.

Snorkeling is also popular here—the water is clear, and the reefs create amazing views of sea life. On the other, unprotected side of the reef, surfing is a popular activity. Surfing lessons are even offered here.

There are picnic tables and shaded areas if you decide to bring food, but Kiahuna is within walking distance of so many of Poipu’s yummy dining options, so you have options! You can easily spend the whole day here (and you should!)

kiahuna beach

3. Salt Pond Beach (South Shore)

Best for: families
Beach type: long, crescent-shaped
Amenities: lifeguard, bathrooms, outdoor showers, BBQ grills, drinking fountains, outdoor sink, shaded picnic tables
Activities: swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking

On Kauai’s southwest side near Hanapepe, Salt Pond Beach gives off pure island vibes. It’s a relaxing atmosphere but still fun for everyone. It was my favorite beach that we visited in Kauai!  

The beach is large and usually not too crowded, so you’ll have plenty of room. There is also a natural rock barrier that creates the perfect calm conditions for swimming and splashing around. Because of these conditions, you’ll probably see families with small kids if you visit.  

Salt Pond Beach is also a great snorkeling spot. The waters are clear and plenty of colorful marine life swimming along the boulders on the outer edge. Snorkeling is best here in winter, like other South Shore beaches.

And if you want to just take in the sun and enjoy the vibes, there are plenty of palm trees to sit under. There’s also a shaded picnic area and beachside grills if you want to bring your own food. If you’re in the mood for local food, you can explore the nearby towns for tasty treats on your way out.

salt pond beach

4. Hanalei Bay Beach (North Shore)

Best for: families, water activities
Beach type: crescent-shaped
Amenities: lifeguard, bathrooms and showers, picnic area
Activities: swimming, surfing, boogie boarding

Hanalei Bay Beach is the crown jewel of Kauai’s North Shore. It is by far the most gorgeous beach on Kauai.

The beach is 2 miles long with fine, light sand, turquoise water, and a backdrop of mountains, dramatic cliffs, and waterfalls.

Hanalei is packed with family-friendly activities. It doesn’t have a reef like other beaches, but swimming conditions are usually calm and safe for children. 

It’s also an excellent place to learn to surf, arguably the best on the island. Waves are generally beginner friendly, and there are surf schools in town.

And if you love views, walk over to Hanalei Valley Lookout. Rolling hills, taro fields, and waterfalls create a picture-perfect scene.

Once hunger strikes, you can walk over to Hanalei town. It’s an adorable village with a laid-back atmosphere and plenty of options of local food.

Movie alert! Remember when I told you some beaches were the scene of a movie? Hanalei Bay was featured in the movie The Descendants!

hanalei bay

5. Haena Beach (North Shore)

Best for: water activities, beauty
Beach type: long, wide
Amenities: lifeguard, bathrooms, showers, picnic tables
Activities: swimming, surfing, snorkeling

Haena Beach is mesmerizing—as soon as you step on the beach and look around, you’ll be shocked by the sheer beauty.

The sand is golden, water is a clear turquoise, and the backdrop is like a Bob Ross painting of lush mountains. 

And that’s not even the draw—Haena is known for water activities.  It’s a favorite spot for surfers—kite and wind surfers included. And thanks to large reefs, snorkeling is great too during the summer. But in the spring and winter, the waves are too rough. (I visited in March and can vouch for the huge waves in the spring!)

If you want to take it easy, there’s plenty of room to lay your towel out and enjoy the vibes. A fun added bonus—if you’re into cave exploration, there’s both a dry cave and wet cave within a mile of each other nearby!

Another movie alert! Neighboring Tunnels Beach was one of the spots the movie Soul Surfer was filmed!

haena beach

6. Anini Beach (North Shore)

Best for: families, water activities
Beach type: long, crescent-shaped
Amenities: bathrooms and showers, picnic area with pavilion
Activities: swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking

Anini Beach is a gem on Kauai’s North Shore. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle, Anini goes on for 2.5 miles and is surrounded by lush greenery and bordered by a reef that creates a tranquil lagoon.

The calm waters and shallow lagoons are what makes this beach a local favorite—so you KNOW it’s good.

The long and shallow protected lagoon, plus the fact that the sandy bottom gradually slopes down, make it an excellent spot for small children to enjoy the water.

It also boasts some of the clearest waters for snorkeling. It’s good year-round but is the best in the morning before the day’s winds blur the visibility.

Windsurfing and kayaking are fun activities here too.

When you’re pooped from all of that fun, nearby Hanalei offers a variety of dining options, from casual to fine dining. Or, you can pack a picnic and enjoy your meal with a postcard-worthy view.

anini beach

7. Polihale Beach (North Shore)

Best for: remote, relaxation, beauty
Beach type: large, remote
Amenities: shaded picnic tables
Activities: relaxing, swimming in calm conditions, camping

Want some adventure? Remote Polihale Beach is your spot. It’s wild, rugged, an off-the-grid journey.

It’s Kauai’s best-kept secret with seven miles of golden sand, a backdrop of towering cliffs of the Napali Coast, and deep cobalt blue water.

Getting there is a little bit of a trek. It’s located at the very end of the road all the way on the west side of the island, accessed by a long dirt road. Walk down the beach, away from the cliffs, and find your perfect slice of sand. 

Coming here is for enjoying solitude, quiet, and sheer beauty.

You probably won’t be able to get in the water because the ocean here is not safe for swimming, but you might get lucky in the summer with calmer conditions.

polihale beach

8. Ke'e Beach (North Shore)

Best for: secluded beach
Beach type: crescent shaped
Amenities: lifeguards, restrooms, showers
Activities: snorkeling, swimming (summer), hiking

Ke’e Beach is a tropical paradise at the end of the road on the North Shore. (It’s literally one of the last beaches reachable by car.) It’s lush and serene, perfect for a dreamy beach day.

Getting to this beach requires a Haena Park Pass. But because of that, you’ll get a more private beach experience!

Ke’e Beach offers golden sand with clear waters, views of the Na’Pali Coast, and and lush, green backdrop. The vibes are laid back and there are plenty of trees to find some shade.

Activities-wise, the beach offers great snorkeling during the summer. It’s protected by a reef so the water is calm, the coral is vibrant, and the water is crystal clear.

If you’re into hiking, Ke’e Beach is the starting point to the Kalalau Trail. If you hike up just a little, you’ll be stunned by the views. If you keep going, you can explore the Na Pali Coast full of views, lush valleys, and waterfalls.

kee beach

9. Lydgate Beach (East Side)

Best for: families, water activities
Beach type: large, wide
Amenities: lifeguard, bathrooms and showers, picnic area
Activities: swimming, snorkeling, hikes

Lydgate Beach Park offers a little bit of relaxation mixed with a little bit of adventure.

It’s THE spot on the East Side for families—there’s a rock wall that creates a calm ocean pool, a huge playground, and tide pools. Lagoons and small tide pools are also an added treat.

Lydgate’s protected ocean cove also makes it a snorkeler’s paradise.  You’ll be able to spot all kinds of fish, and sometimes even see them swimming through the holes in the rock.

When the kids need a change of scenery, they can hit the epic playground. It has swings, slides, a castle-shaped jungle gym, and tables with chessboards painted on them.

There aren’t food spots on the beach, so bring a lunch and enjoy it on one of the picnic tables. 

lydgate beach

10. Kalapaki Beach (East Side)

Best for: water activities, crowd pleaser
Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables
Activities: swimming, paddle boarding, boogie boarding, surfing, volleyball

Kalapaki Beach is a crowd pleaser on the East Side of Kauai. It has some of the finest sand on Kauai and is a full of activities.

If you want to get in the water, this is a great spot for swimming and paddle boarding. Depending on the waves, boogie boarding and surfing are fun here too!

If you want to stay on the sand, you can play volleyball or just enjoy the beach vibes. The beach is next to the harbor, so you can watch ships said away. (But that can also make the water murky, just FYI).

Kalapaki is surrounded by many hotels like the Marriott Beach Club, plus near downtown Lihue, so there are plenty of options of restaurants and shops to choose from. And if you stay until dinner, it’s also one of the best Kauai beaches for sunset watching!

kalapaki beach

11. Kealia Beach (East Side)

Best for: surfing (year round), swimming, boogie boarding (summer)
Beach type: large, crescent shaped
Amenities: lifeguard, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, parking
Activities: swimming, boogie boarding, surfing 

The East Side’s Kealia Beach offers activities for everyone. It’s large with golden sand, a backdrop of lush mountains, beautiful turquoise water, and all types of activities.

The biggest draw is the surfing. A sandbar off the beach creates awesome surf breaks, so it offers some of the best surfing in Kauai. The waves are no joke though, so advanced surfers only!

In the summer, the waters are calm and Kealia is great for swimming and boogie boarding. On the north end of the beach, the water is protected by a jetty so head that way if you want to take a dip.  

Added bonus—during the winter, Kealia Beach is the ideal spot for whale watching. No cruise needed; you’ll see them in the distance right from the beach! Heading that way in the early morning will be your best bet.  

Movie alert! Kealia Beach was another filming spot for the movie The Descendants!

kealia beach

Best Hidden Beaches

12. Hanakapiai Beach

Best for: adventure, hidden beach
Beach type: cove
Amenities: none
Activities: relaxing, hiking

If you are up for a real deal adventure, this is your beach. Hidden and rugged Hanakapiai Beach on the Na Pali Coast is reachable only by taking a 2-mile hike there, and getting a Haena Park pass. If it takes so much effort to get there, it must be good… right?

Right! The breathtaking, raw beauty of the beach is worth every step to get there. It’s even said that the hike to this beach is the most beautiful hiking trail on the whole island. 

The beach is secluded, empty, and gorgeous. There’s even a lagoon-style stream where cool water flows from Hanakapiai Fall. While the river is shallow and safe to cool off in, the beach is not swimmable. There are powerful, dangerous rip currents, but you can dip your toes in to see how the middle of the sea feels.

There aren’t any activities here, it’s just a place to really appreciate your surroundings. 

hanakapiai beach

13. Secret Beach

Best for: adventure, hidden beach
Beach type: long, narrow
Amenities: none
Activities: relaxing, hiking

Up on the North Shore is Secret Beach (or Kauapea), a secluded stretch of soft golden sand and the bluest water you’ve seen. Dramatic cliffs surround this beach, it’s lined with palm trees, and it has a stunning quiet beauty to it.

The only way to get here is to walk a semi-steep, unmarked dirt trail for about half a mile.  Once you hit the beach, you’ll know it was worth it. No big crowds or fancy hotels, just you and the beach.

The waters are rough here though, so water activities shouldn’t be on your to-do list. Just lay your towel down and lounge. You might spot a sea turtle next to you!

It’s a pretty well-kept secret, and since it requires a bit of a hike, you might get the whole place to yourself!

secret beach

Map of Kauai's Best Beaches

FAQs: The Best Kauai Beaches

Which side of Kauai has the best beaches?

Each side of Kauai has amazing beaches. The most beautiful and serene beaches are on the North Shore. The more family-friendly, swimmable beaches are on the South Shore. And the more convenient, crowd pleasing beaches are on the East Side.
 

What is the most scenic beach on Kauai?

The North Shore is packed with scenic beaches. While picking one is too difficult, there are a couple that stand out. Hanalei Bay Beach and Haena/Tunnels Beaches are two of the most awe inspiring beaches on the island. 
 

Are there swimmable beaches in Kauai?

Yes, there are plenty of swimmable beaches in Kauai! On the North Shore, Hanalei Bay Beach and Anini Beach are best for swimming. On the South Shore, Poipu Beach and Salt Pond Beach are the most swimmable. On the East Side, Lydgate Beach and Kalapaki are swimming spots. 

Wrapping Up: The Best Kauai Beaches

Are you getting excited now? As you can see, no matter what you’re looking for in a beach, you’ll be able to find it on Kauai! 

Whether you want family-friendly, swimmable beaches like Poipu or Hanalei, surfing spots like Haena and Kealia, or remote beaches like Polihale and Secret, it’s all here. 

I hope this has helped you plan your beach excursions on your time on Kauai. 

And if you need a little more help planning, check out my Kauai with kids guide by clicking here! 

Aloha! 

MEET BESA

Your Go-To Girl for Beach Travel

Hi! I’m Besa. I’ve always been a travel-loving beach bum… and then I had kids. Two boys, born 19 months apart. But I didn’t let that stop me. I still travel, even with a couple little boys in tow – and I want to help other parents like you do the same!

I’ll be sharing all my travel tips, beach hacks, and guides for some of my favorite family vacation beach spots.

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Besa has been a frequent traveler for almost 20 years, and the last five years of her travels have included her two toddler boys, 19 months apart.
Years of flying and beach bumming with her kids has given her plenty of hard-earned experience in the travel world.

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