Top 5 Can’t-Miss Kauai Beaches
There’s always a lot to do when planning a vacation, so we’ve taken the guesswork out of the Kauai beaches for you. Here are our top 5, in no particular order – just like relaxing island time should be.
I love this beach because it feels wild and remote. Ke’e is the last of the north shore Kauai beaches you can reach by car, and the sand is bordered by a mosquito-laden forest. (You don’t have to go through the woods to make it to the beach, but I did, and my takeaway from that experience is to bring bug spray.) The Garden Isle has just one main road traversing three-quarters of the circumference of the island, and the road ends here – where the famous Kalalau Trail begins. I drove there early in the morning, as I’d heard it might be difficult to find a parking spot. The parking area is at the end of a beautiful and muddy dirt road, and it does its best to accommodate swimmers, snorkelers, and hikers alike.
If you’re planning a trip to Kauai (as opposed to buying a ticket and flying by the seat of your pants, which can be tons of fun) you may have heard of the Na Pali Coast. The northwestern edge of Kauai is home to verdant, rain-sliced mountain peaks that tower above aquamarine waters, where Hawaiian spinner dolphins rest and socialize throughout the day. Ke’e is slightly south of this famed coastline; you can even see part of the mountain range from the beach!
When it comes to snorkeling at Ke’e Beach, there isn’t much coral, but the landforms beneath the surface are interesting, and some lovely fishes live there. The strongest aqua-draw here is the fact that you can see the Na Pali Coast while you’re floating. There is a lifeguard, and if you choose to go into the water to snorkel or swim, it is extremely important that you first talk to the tower. The currents change with the tides, the weather, and the seasons, and you can be whisked out to the Na Pali Coast in no time flat (and not in a romantic, “Julia Roberts being taken to the opera” sort of way). I like the idea of your being entertained, but above all I want you to get back to shore in one piece, to rejoin your young children as they ask the same questions over and over (Yes, my love, we are indeed here yet. We’re on Kauai now!), and to savor another island dinner with the ones that you care about.
Kekaha Beach Park
You know how nice it is when you’ve been reading the words on a screen, and then you shift your focus to look at something natural instead? (Do it right now, if you would. It feels good, doesn’t it?) Well, Kekaha Beach on Kauai’s west coast gives a fresh new meaning to the phrase, “A sight for sore eyes.” Compared to many other Kauai beaches, this one is mostly deserted, perhaps because reaching it takes a bit of a drive.
The enormous white sand here rolls on forever, and tremendous waves whoosh in constantly. At times fierce, chaotic, and exciting, the endless parade of salt water is certainly something to witness, but nothing to set foot in. Feel free to wear your bathing suit for tanning, but not for swimming; the turbulent ocean here is far too dangerous.
The “Forbidden Isle” of Ni’ihau rests quietly just 18 miles off the coast. Just an FYI, unless the owners invite you to visit, the Hawaiian island of Ni’ihau is indeed forbidden.
All you bird lovers out there will be pleased to know that Kekaha attracts several species of water birds! Depending on the weather and the seasons, you may see endangered Hawaiian stilts, gray-backed terns, golden plovers, and wandering tattlers, among many other fine feathered friends. While you watch the birds, a single lifeguard is available to watch all the people on this massive shoreline. There is no shade here to speak of, so you’ll want to rent a beach umbrella or three.
Lydgate Beach Park
I loved snorkeling at Lydgate, which is one of the best Kauai beaches for beginners to the sport. A stone wall frames a large pool of ocean water to splash around in. It’s protected from the open sea, so there are no currents to deal with, and you can’t be swept out. The water is populated by interesting fish that come and (presumably) go, and the maximum depth is only about ten feet. Both seawater and fishes are constantly being refreshed by the waves that tumble over the wall; it’s like a giant tidepool of sorts! One visitor tipped me off while I was swimming. He said if I spent enough time floating quietly in the center of the pool, a school of yellowfin surgeonfish would come over to check me out. He was right! You can see them strolling by at 1:37 in our compilation video, above.
Lydgate Beach Park is perfect for families. A lifeguard keeps watch over the comparatively comfortable waters, and Kamalani Playground is right across the road. You and the kids will love making use of the swings, slides, climbing structures, and even chess boards available for everyone. As a kid at heart myself, I must say I was impressed. Plus, the ample parking and the choice to rest on plenty of sand or plenty of lawn also helps.
Out of all the Kauai beaches, I wouldn’t have missed seeing this place for the world. Apart from the Na Pali Coast, Hanalei is easily the most recognizable landscape on Kauai. If you’re into “Lord of the Rings,” “Game of Thrones,” or even Sean Connery’s voicing of big-screen reptiles, a visit here will give you something extra to smile about. The land to the north – Makahoa Point – is in the shape of a dozing dragon! In addition, the sky, the bay, and the two-mile-long beach are so pretty, you might forget about your problems and simply surrender to the beauty of it all.
In the wintertime, this is one of the best Kauai beaches for professional surfing. In fact, surf contests are frequently held at Hanalei Bay during winter swells. When the water is calm, however, it is a wonderful place to swim, catch gentle waves, and watch the small boats as they sail to and from Hanalei Pier. You can also wade into the cool Waioli Stream, which flows into the bay. The ocean water is quite warm, and the stream provides a fantastic counterpoint in temperature.
Do not plan to snorkel here, because there is no coral reef. Bring your friends, a volleyball for the nets provided, and some portobellos or burgers to toss on the grills. If you have questions, lifeguards are on duty at Hanalei during most daylight hours.
Poipu has some of the best snorkeling of all Kauai beaches. The water is shallow, and the lovely sand-forms change throughout the day. Sea turtles often come close to shore, and schools of needlefish glide by an inch below the surface. If you wait calmly, these fishes may swim near to look you over. You will notice that they they are shaped like itty bitty barracuda. Confessing my anthropomorphic tendencies to you now, I also think that needlefish look perpetually frustrated.
Poipu Beach has plenty of parking – the opposite of frustrating – and you can settle down on sand or lawn. Please speak with the lifeguards before you go in to snorkel or swim. They’ll know what to look for, where to go, and if there are any places to avoid that particular day.
Do you know what I think is so incredible about snorkeling? Thankfully, you’re a captive audience who cannot interrupt me, so I’ll go ahead and tell you!
When you look out at the ocean’s surface most of the time, you have no idea that anything at all is going on beneath it, but so much is happening – all the time, and we get to witness it! It’s similar to the feeling I have when a person who has been quiet suddenly bursts into beautiful song. We are so privileged to have the time and ability to use snorkeling gear and discover marine life, don’t you think?
There were no snorkel masks in ancient Hawaii, of course, nor were they needed. Fishermen developed an ingenious method to view their potential catch. In order to observe the goings-on beneath his canoe, a fisherman would chew kukui nuts and spit the resulting oil onto the surface, thus creating a calm, glassy viewing window. Cool, right? Absolutely!
I first visited Kauai with family in 2002 (not quite ancient history, but some time ago). We snorkeled at Poipu for a while, and about the time we decided to get out, I had a gut feeling that something big was coming. Not necessarily a large animal, you know, but something important. I ignored my feeling and got out of the water with everyone (pier pressure?). Right after we settled onto our beach towels, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal cruised up to the shoreline and lifted herself onto the sand! Needless to say, I was thrilled, and to this day I believe I had somehow been sensing her approach. Whether that is true, seeing a Hawaiian monk seal is a rare occurrence; there are only 200 of them living in the main Hawaiian Islands at this time. Please report monk seal sightings to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at firstname.lastname@example.org Mahalo!
If you choose to spend time at Ke’e, Kekaha, Lydgate, Hanalei, Poipu, or all five, you are bound to make some special memories on these Kauai beaches.
Enjoy yourselves, and aloha for now!
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