The Hawaiian island of Kauai is home to an exquisite coastline and pristine white and black sand beaches. Some people make a point of finding "hidden" beaches on Kauai, while others enjoy popular locations linked with small hotels or remote towns. Garden Island has plenty of space to spread out a towel and relax, snorkel, surf, sail and become one with nature. These are some of the best beaches in Kauai, which makes them some of the best in the world. They are also the right destinations in the Hawaii Islands to enjoy beautiful spaces on your own terms.
Kauai is towards the northern end of the Hawaiian Islands with only Niihau further north. Flights to the island arrive in Lihue, and it's often a long drive to your destination from there. Haena and access to the Na Pali Coast is about an hour and fifteen minutes' drive, for instance. Poipu is 25 minutes away, black sand Waimea beaches are almost an hour away and Hanalei 50 minutes.
From Kapaa, if you're in fairly good shape a trip up the Nounou trail to Sleeping Giant will give you an excellent view of the area. A trip down the Kapa'a Shoreline Trail, on the other hand, takes you down to hidden but popular Donkey Beach with a possible whale sighting along the way. It's a good sunbathing beach and the waves draw surfers. About a mile and a half away is Kealia beach, a bit better for swimming and good for whale sightings in winter. As with all beaches here, be mindful of the currents year-round, but especially in winter.
Sailors can anchor along the Na Pali Coast and enjoy beaches which are otherwise unreachable by land. Commercial services offer catamaran and raft transportation along the beautiful, wild shoreline. This is a great way to access remote beaches along the Na Pali Coast rather than hiking the difficult coastal trail. In the summer, the waters are often calm enough for kayaking.
Beautiful reef fish and other delights can be seen when snorkeling from some beaches. Each beach on Kauai has its own characteristics based on the season, the location around the island and the local ocean currents and the weather patterns in effect. Since Kauai snorkeling can be a bit more challenging, beginner beaches like Poipu Beach Park in the south and Lawai or Beach House Beach are a good place to start. For more experienced snorkelers, Tunnels and Hideaways Beaches on the north side are good bets.
On the south shore of Kauai in Poipu, Shipwrecks Beach is great for surfing, has good facilities and is just in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel -- not hidden at all, in fact it has good parking. It's a surfing and body surfing beach since the water is too active for swimming and other activities. Plus, there's the wildlife.
An ancient Hawaiian sport, paddleboarding also has a side benefit of providing core body strengthening while you're enjoying light ocean waves. Called Stand Up Paddling or SUP, it has evolved along with surfing from common origins. The Wailua River is an excellent location for SUP, and Anini Beach Park in the north has reef-based ocean life from fish to sea cucumbers to watch while you paddle above. Hanalei Bay is a natural location for SUP and if you're ready for it, the waves off of Wailua are good for a ride.
Even at the most secluded beaches you may have unexpected company. As with some of the SUP (stand-up paddling) reef-based destinations, there are plenty of ocean creatures to observe while in and on the water but some of them, such as the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, may come ashore to visit you. Experts ask that you stay at least 150 feet away to encourage them to consider the beach their home so they will return. Offshore, especially in winter, you may see whales passing by. Poipu Beach and along the Na Pali Coast are good places to watch for both these creatures and many more.
Ke'e Beach is reef-protected which makes it a relaxing place to swim and snorkel. At the start of the Na Pali Coast, if you stay until evening a romantic sunset is likely. There are basic facilities including restrooms, but visitors have noted that there's no cell reception, just a payphone. Parking is shared with hikers so it fills quickly in the morning. Turbulent in the winter, this unique spot can feature glass-smooth water in the summer.
Poipu Beach combines snorkeling and surfing with an active nightlife. Though Kauai is more of a daytime destination than some other islands, the South Shore has diverse clubs and hotel-based entertainment which spills over onto the beaches at times, and Poipu Beach with its adjoining park are at the nexus of much of it. It has been voted America's Best Beach on the Travel Channel. Later in the evening, major hotels along the beach provide a comfortable social setting before bedtime.
Vogue magazine has called Hanalei "the hippest town on Kauai" and it does have a lot going on from sailing to boogie boarding. Hanalei Bay is a north shore beach destination which means wilder waves, especially in winter. One reason Vogue noted was the food truck scene, which hopefully is now benefiting the four beaches which ring the bay. The scenery here is dramatic and while the beaches are anything but secluded, it's definitely a highlight of any trip to Kauai.