Top 5 Kauai beaches
This popular question is often asked when folks are planning their Kauai vacation activities. Which beach is the ‘best’ beach on Kauai? Honestly, that’s a tough question to answer, because every beach on Kauai is generally stunning. However, depending on what you’ve got planned, if it’s with the family, on a honeymoon, or on a solo day excursion in Kauai, there is a perfect beach for your specific outing. ActivityKauai.com has chosen the top 5 Kauai beaches for you to choose from. We believe these are some of the best on our island. As you are making your Things to do in Kauai list, put these beaches on that list, and you will be a happy sand baby.
#1 Hanalei Bay
Not only has Hanalei Bay gotten nationwide recognition for being one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it is actually one of the best Kauai beaches for family members of all ages. Hanalei Bay is a mile long stretch of mountain-framed beach beginning at the river mouth section of the beach called “Black Pots”. Black pots was named after a big black pot left at the beach for community cookout in the late eighteen hundreds. This portion of the beach is generally flat and many residents and tourists will park their vehicles here and set up day camp next to their cars so that they have easy access to their coolers, surf boards, kid toys, etc.… In the summertime, the ocean here is generally flat and ideal for water activities. However, due to the extreme seasonal changes in ocean conditions, we advise you to look at our ocean safety tips. Winter, spring, and fall ocean conditions are generally dangerous on the north shore. As you head away from the river mouth, you will see the newly remodeled Hanalei Pier. This is one of the oldest existing piers on the island and it had important historical influence on the island’s commerce industry. The waters around the pier are generally calm and you will find many tweens, teens and young adults jumping off the pier regularly. The pier is a fun place to recreationally fish from as well.
As you stroll further, the beach continues to be a long stretch of flat sand, occupied by families with children, couples and beginner surfers taking a shot at catching a wave. You will pass a section called “Pavilions.” Here you will see a lifeguard stand and a cement pavilion where many local families will have small get-togethers and cookouts.
Continuing along the beach, you will come to a section of beach with tall pointy trees that look similar to Northwestern mainland evergreen trees. The trees are actually Ironwood trees; however, locals call this section of the beach “Pinetrees.” It has easy access to parking for surfers looking to catch a bit bigger wave when the surf is right.
As you walk to the remaining part of Hanalei Bay, you will pass a stream and end up at a small rock retaining wall. The beach here has a bit more slope and usually less people. This far end of the bay provides shade and easy access to the beach directly off Kuhio Highway. Hanalei Bay is a great place to walk or jog the length of the beach. It is a friendly environment for anyone who wishes to take a nice long stroll along a sandy beach. This beach will accommodate your ‘ideal’ Hawaiian beach day for those wanting a picture perfect day on Kauai…. warm water, sandy beach, beautiful landscape and the backdrop of lush green mountains!
#2 Secret Beach
These days, Secret Beach is not quite the secret beach it once used to be. However, the long ¾ mile stretch of beach makes any beachgoers feel like they may be the only ones there. Once you park at the end of the long dirt driveway off of Kalihiwai Rd., just beyond Kilauea prepare for a brief 5-10 minute walk down a medium-steep trail, lined with Hala, Java Plum and Tropical Almond trees. Once at the bottom, the soundtrack from the movie Titanic may enter your mind as you walk out onto a series of breathtaking beaches. Take precaution when going into the waters here as oftentimes the waves are large and the currents are strong. Lifeguards are not on duty at Secrets. (See ocean safety tips)
If you head to the left, you will come across a series of lava rock that you can walk over. However, keep your flip-flops on because lava rock may be sharp and you wouldn’t want to catch a toe on this unforgiving stone. You may witness small tidal pools depending on the time of the year. In the winter months or when large waves are present, this side can be extremely dangerous and it is not recommended that you adventure further due to the powerful nature of the Hawaiian waters.
If you head toward the right at the bottom of the trail, you will see three stretches of beach. Locals typically call these stretches of sand first, second, and third beach. As you move further away from the beach entrance it seems that clothing becomes less important. The 3rd part of the beach is a local favorite due to the nature of it being somewhat clothing-optional. The beach is not advertised this way, however, you will find out for yourself, if you had not otherwise known. Each beach offers plenty of space to claim a tract of sand with no close neighbors.
At any point along beach one, two, or three you can see the Kilauea Lighthouse and the ocean melding into the view of the horizon. It will give you that true get-away-vacation feel. During the winter months you may witness humpback whales (‘kohola’) spouting off in the distance. In the summertime, dolphins (‘naia’) love to play near Secrets, and it is not uncommon to see a turtle [‘honu’] in the waves just off shore. At anytime of the year, Secret beach is a special place to be and if you get lucky, you may even see a bride and groom exchanging vows in this picturesque setting.
Tunnels beach has been one of the most popular beaches on Kauai for a long time and for good reason. The one challenge of getting to Tunnels is the parking. There is extremely limited parking which is usually occupied by early morning arrivals, or those with good-parking karma. The first road is located about ½ mile after Mile Marker 8, and the second road is located further north, between the first dirt road and Haena Beach Park. You will probably have to park at Haena Beach Park and walk back to Tunnels (if you park on the road you will be ticketed or towed).
Once you arrive and get settled, it won’t take long before you’ll want to put on your snorkel mask and peruse the waters (only in the summer months, and then weather and ocean dependent). Tunnels’ large reef system creates the perfect habitat for a variety of fish species. Colorful groupers, reef fish, sea turtles, and the occasional ray can be viewed from the surface. However, the most spectacular fish and sights on the reef are found below in the 35-55 ft. range.
Only scuba divers will see these deeper sea sights and there are many companies who specialize in providing training for people who desire to do this type of adventure (for more information) Often times at Tunnels you may find beautiful shells or parts of shells littered across the beach and it is a fun way to keep children safe and actively engaged. The beach is lined with a few local-resident homes; however, you will generally meet an interesting array of travelers from around the world populating this beach. Bring binoculars in the winter, and you may witness expert surfers getting barreled on the outer reef, and on windy days, it is a place for advanced kite boarders and wind surfers. The waters here are a dream for them on windy days.
Generally Tunnels beach is a winner all the way around and when someone asks what beach should I go to on Kauai? Our answer is Tunnels.
Kealia beach is an Eastside favorite. You will come across this long stretch of beach as you are heading north out of Kapaa town. There are a couple of turn offs into the parking lot, which follows the length of Kealia beach. If you drive to the North end of the parking lot, you can park there and walk down to a family-friendly zone, where lots of locals will drive their 4-wheel-drive vehicles onto the sand and set up a pop- up tent for the day. You will find body surfers, boogie boarders, and kids jumping into and riding the waves, as always if the conditions allow.
As you walk down the beach you will notice a lifeguard perched in his station watching swimmers and surfers. The rip currents can be swift on most of Kealia so be aware of the red flags in the sand that indicate where the currents are. (ocean safety tips)
This is a great beach to go for walks. You will run into the concrete bike path where you will see people of all ages out for their daily walk, jog, baby stroll, or maybe watering their dogs. You will cross a river mouth where the crisp waters are running down from Keapana Valley, and soon come to the end of the beach. You will often witness fishermen throwing their lines into the ocean at this end of the beach -Remember to keep in mind to walk around their fishing poles and not under the lines as a measure of cultural respect to these fishermen.
One of the best aspects of Kealia is the bike path that runs the length of the beach and beyond (ke ala hele makalae-shared use path). Skaters, bikers, walkers, joggers, families, couples, friends take advantage of this unique path, as it is the only safe shared-use path on the island. The path is now an 8-mile stretch of concrete running from Kumukumu [Turn-out and parking north of Kapaa] to Lydgate. It is a great way to integrate some exercise into your Kauai excursion.
Although Kealia can be crowded and busy at certain times of the year and especially on weekends and holidays, at Activitykauai.com we think it is well worth adding to your “best beaches on Kaua” list. It is a local and traveller favorite.
At the furthest point at the West end of the island in a far, far away place, there once lived a secluded little beach who loved it when people came to visit. Well, turns out, that beach still exists and it isn’t so little or lonely any more.
Polihale is definitely on our top 5- list, because it is unlike any other beach in the world. This 6-mile stretch of beach is the longest sweep of any beach on Kauai. Although it is the ultimate place for a getaway, it is popular and you won’t be alone.
Preparation for this adventure is a must! Getting to Polihale is a trek in and of itself. As you venture down a long unpaved road for 30-45 minutes you can expect a highly bumpy ride until you reach your destination. It is advised to have a 4-wheel drive getting stuck in the sand with a two-wheel drive is witnessed as a daily occurrence.
Once you reach the first rest area, you will note a number of pavilions, which are often occupied by locals and their families during the summertime. There is a restroom here and a good place to get out of the car and check the scenery.
If you choose to venture out onto the beach from here, make sure you have shade, water, sunblock and plenty of it! There are no trees to cover you from the harsh UV rays, and people desiring to get a tan generally leave with a hefty burn, unless applying multiple layers of sunblock and taking shade breaks throughout the day. You can enjoy the vastness of this beach, the soft sand and the luxurious view.
The waters at Polihale change quickly throughout the year. Like most beaches on Kauai, the conditions are not usually great for swimmers. Staying along the shore is the best bet, as you can cool off by simply getting your feet wet. Polihale offers many ice cold, crisp mountain-fresh water showers just off the sand line.
Bring plenty of drinkable water and some snacks. If you plan to spend the day out here, keeping hydrated is a must, as there are no drinking fountains or snack shacks. A cooler with a couple bags of ice is the best plan of attack and a tip to keeping your ice solid is to dig a hole in the sand and bury the bottom ½ of your cooler!
If you choose to walk down the beach from your vehicle, it’s not hard to recognize where the Napali Coast begins. This is the towering 2000-foot cliff jutting out of Polihale’s north end. In the summertime, Napali Coast kayak tours are often seen landing their kayaks here after a long 14-mile paddle
If you walk in the other direction toward Waimea town, the beach just carries on in its own unique way for miles and miles. You will often see locals with 4WD trucks parked on the sand and set up at various locations with their families.
Many travellers and residents will camp at this state beach park overnight however there is a camping permit required to do so. (State Permits). Spending time at Polihale is a treat and the local culture considered this beach a sacred place. You can feel the MANA (spiritual energy) of Kauai at Polihale Beach, so prepare, partake and appreciate this unforgettable place. Please pack your trash!