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Kauai is not only one of the most tranquil of Hawaii’s islands, it offers some of the most stunning beauty, with lush rainforest, countless waterfalls, flower-filled gardens, dramatic cliffs, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the state. It boasts 113 miles of shoreline and nearly 70 beaches, more than any other Hawaiian island. There are stretches for everyone here, whether you’re looking for a secluded spot for enjoying magnificent views, a beach with lifeguards and all sorts of activities on the water, or something in between, you’re sure to find a favorite among these options.
Tunnels Beach is often named the most beautiful on Kauai, a postcard-perfect stretch that served as the setting for the classic 1958 film “South Pacific.” Boasting a backdrop of palm and ironwood trees, it sits on the north shore a little under six miles west of Hanalei and is also one of the best places to snorkel on the island. It gets its name from the lava tubes that form caverns under the water which have created a haven for tropical fish large and small. Sea turtles occasionally make an appearance too. For the best experience, arrive early in the morning, ideally before 9 a.m., a time when you can avoid the crowds and find a place to park.
Made up of a series of three white crescent stretches of sand that are lined with palm trees and edge clear turquoise waters, Poipu is the quintessential beach in Kauai, often named among the best beaches in Hawaii. Ideal for families, the water is often calm, suitable for the little ones to splash around, and there’s a lifeguard on duty seven days a week. Snorkeling, swimming, boogie boarding, and surfing are all popular here. Or you can simply find a spot to soak up the sun and the scenery. Keep an eye out for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal as they enjoy sunbathing on this beach too.
A top attraction in Kauai, Hanalei is a two-mile swath of pristine sands along Kauai’s north shore which include several beach parks. A near-perfect semi-circle that’s framed by magnificent Hanalei Bay and backed by 4,000-foot-high emerald mountains with peaks often enveloped in mist, it was featured in George Clooney’s 2011 film “The Descendants.” It was featured when Matt (Clooney) confronts his rival, Brian Speer, but its striking beauty is what made it one of the most memorable scenes.
During the winter, Hanalei is popular for surfing but in calmer months, including summer, the water is ideal for a tranquil swim. At the end of every day, one of the most amazing sunsets can be enjoyed from the pier.
While Glass Beach isn’t the place you go to enjoy soft, powdery sand, it’s a lot of fun for those who like to search for beautiful pieces of sea glass. It sits along the island’s southern shore in the middle of an industrial area close to Port Allen Harbor. A garbage dump nearby gave birth to its existence with the waves of the ocean crashing against the shore turning broken bottles, windows, car windshields, and other trash into smooth, rounded pieces of glass. It’s more unique than most beaches of its kind with more shades of blue and numerous other hues, including red, brown, and clear.
Polihale Beach, located in Polihale State Park on the west side of Kauai, is a 15-mile-long, secluded strip of sand in a remote area, the final beach along the Na Pali Coast, guarded by the world’s tallest sea cliffs. It’s more challenging to access than many other beaches requiring a drive on a rough, five-mile-long road, but your reward is a place that’s wonderfully free of crowds. The water is a stunning turquoise blue, with great surfing on the outside and calmer water for swimming and snorkeling at Queen’s pond which sits at the northern end. Or just enjoy a peaceful stroll and the jaw-dropping views, which include Lehua and Ni’ihau islands.
Shipwreck Beach is located in the Poipu area and got its name from a small wooden boat that wrecked here and remained at the water’s edge for decades, deteriorating over time until a 1982 hurricane destroyed what was left of the vessel’s skeleton. It’s not the best place to swim due to the strong currents, but those powerful waves do make it popular among surfers. It’s also a wonderful place to simply sit and enjoy the scenery in relative seclusion. Couples like to enjoy its romantic atmosphere, something that’s led more than a few to say their “I dos” here.
A half-mile curve of white sands nestled along Anahola Bay, Anahola Beach is hidden from the main road, providing a beautiful secluded stretch with views of the Kalale mountains and plenty of shade when you need a break from the sun. It’s one of the best when it comes to swimming on the island – at the far right end, the water is calm and shallow in a protected area, ideal for little ones. There’s also a reef just offshore that’s great for snorkeling. At the other end near the mouth of the Anahola River, the beach is ideal for shelling and fishing.
Haena boasts stunning views and a picturesque backdrop of Bali Hai as well as being an ideal spot for watching the sun go down from the north shore. The golden sands are dazzling contrasted by brilliant aquamarine water. When the weather is calm it’s a great place to be for swimming and snorkeling, while winter brings powerful waves that challenge some of the world’s top surfers. Beachcombing and picnics are possible here, with facilities that include picnic tables, lifeguards, and showers. It’s also possible to camp with a permit.
A 2.5-mile-long white sandy beach on the north shore, Anini is gorgeous and it edges a vast shallow reef that helps protect the area, keeping the translucent blue-green water calm and clear, providing outstanding opportunities for snorkeling and swimming. On windy days, it’s a hot spot for kiteboarding and windsurfing. The area has become increasingly popular in recent years and you’ll see mansions owned by celebrities and others among the rich and famous on the cliffs above, but it’s still possible to find a few selcuded spots for quiet contemplation.
Hanakapiai Beach is your reward after hiking the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail in Haena State Park which traverses through lush, jungle-like terrain while bringing spectacular views of the Na Pali coast. The beach boasts thick, golden sands with plenty of room for relaxing or picnicking, with some good spots on the rocks. There are sea caves at either end that can be explored when the water is calm, but winter brings dangerous waves that crash onto the boulders. Swimming is not advisable at any time although you may see some expert surfers here. If you want to enjoy a refreshing dip, head to one of the river pools.
Kee Beach, tucked between the Na Pali coast and Limahuli Stream which flows through Limahuli Garden & Preserve out to the ocean, Kee Beach is so stunningly beautiful that it’s been featured in multiple films, including “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” Its crystal-clear blue waters, abundant reef fish, and sea turtles make it a favorite for snorkeling. But just enjoying the scenery is sure to be memorable with the stretch backed by mountains and fringed with coconut palms. There are several rocky areas with tide pools that are fun to search through and this is also one of the best spots for enjoying a sunset so you might want to arrive later in the afternoon or plan to spend the entire day.
Lydgate Beach is part of Lydgate State Park, located on the island’s east side adjacent to the Wailua River. It’s one of the most popular spots for snorkeling and swimming with a rich diversity of fish, calm, protected waters, and lifeguards. There are a number of ponds where some of the reef fish can be seen swimming in crevices between the rocks. Picnic areas, restrooms and showers, a playground, and a 2.5-mile coastal path make it a great place for families and visitors of all types to spend the day.