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The 10 best swimming beaches in Kauai

With its luxuriant gardens, jagged sea cliffs and yawning canyons, there’s no question that Kauai is one of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world.

Naturally, there are tons of things to do in Kauai (from tubing old sugar plantation canals to hiking).

But the best news for beach lovers?

This Hawaiian island (nicknamed the “Garden Isle”) is also blessed with 50 miles of sandy coastline.

That means miles and miles of beaches in Kauai!

Best Swimming Beaches in Kauai

Not all Kauai beaches are swimmable though. (This is one of the main differences between Mauai and Kauai.)

Some are best for surfing, others for snorkeling. And some aren’t safe to swim in at all during certain times of the year.

So if you’re looking for the best swimming beaches in Kauai, you’ve come to the right place!

We’ve vacationed in Kauai several times over the years (both in the summer and in winter).

We’ve swum at pretty well all the top beaches on Kauai – and know which ones are normally safe for swimming.

What are the best swimming beaches in Kauai, Hawaii?

Best Kauai Beaches For Swimming

The first point to note is that different beaches in Kauai are calm and good for swimming at different times of the year.

This is important to remember when planning your Hawaii island holiday, especially if you want to stay close to beaches where you can swim.

In general, the South Shore beaches in Kauai are better for swimming in winter (November to March).

Beaches on the North Shore of Kauai are best in the summer months (June to August).

The North Shore gets more rain than the southern coast, and this is especially true in the winter months. Rain doesn’t bode well for good beach days!

During the winter, the North Shore also sees strong ocean currents and swells – great for surfing, but not so for swimming.

For convenience, we’ve separated out the following 10 Kauai swimming beaches by area into:

  • Best swimming beaches – North Shore Kauai
  • Best swimming beaches – South Shore Kauai
  • Best swimming beaches – East Kauai

Contents: 10 Best Kauai swimming beaches

Best Kauai North Shore beaches for swimming

  • Hanalei Bay
  • Ke’e Beach
  • Anini Beach
  • Kalihiwai Beach

Best beaches in South Kauai for swimming

  • Poipu Beach Park
  • Kiahuna Beach
  • Salt Pond Beach Park
  • Baby Beach

Best Kauai East Side beaches for swimming

  • Lydgate Pond
  • Kalapaki Beach

Best Kauai North Shore beaches for swimming

1) Hanalei Bay

An aerial view of Hanalei Bay

Anchored by two large coral reefs at either end, Hanalei Bay is right at the top of the list of the best beaches in Kauai.

It’s a postcard-perfect setting.

Nestled against a backdrop of 4,000-ft-high emerald mountains, the crescent-shaped bay boasts two miles of soft powdery sand.

And when the sea is ripple-free and sunbeams are dancing on the water, you’ll be convinced you’ve won a ticket to heaven.

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami was so enchanted he wrote a short story about it called Hanalei Bay. (The story features a shark attack, but it is a fictional story!)

There are three Hanalei beaches within the bay:

  • Black Pot Beach (near the Hanalei Pier)
  • Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park
  • Waioli Beach Park (aka Pine Trees)

In winter, Waioli is a popular surfing spot.

Hanalei Bay is one of the best swimming beaches in Kauai.

Bottom line?

Hanalei Bay Beach is where you want to hang out in summer for swimming, as the ocean is calm this time of year.

(Because the bay is generally placid, especially near the pier, it’s also one of the best places to go stand-up paddleboarding in Kauai.)

In winter, however, Hanalei Bay is exposed to high surf and strong currents, so the water is often rough and swimming isn’t possible.

There’s lots of room to shake out your towel in Hanalei Bay, and the beach never feels crowded.

Don’t take the sand!

You might be tempted to take some sand home with you as a little Hawaiian souvenir.

But you may want to think twice about this.

Legend goes that if you take any lava rocks or sand away from the Hawaiian islands, you’ll be cursed by the Hawaiian goddess Pele and have bad luck. And who wants to risk that!

Hanalei Bay, Kauai

Location: Hanalei, North Shore

Parking: Yes

Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic areas and lifeguard

Snorkeling: No

Nearby restaurant: After your beach time, drop in at JoJos Shave Ice in Hanalei town for some mouth-watering rainbow ice over macadamia nut ice cream (other flavors available too)

TripAdvisor reviews of Hanalei Beach

2) Ke’e Beach

Viewpoint overlooking Ke'e Beach, Kauai

Part of Ha’ena State Park at the end of Highway 560 (the end of the road on the North Shore), Ke’e Beach is one of the most beautiful Kauai beaches for swimming.

It’s also one of the most popular beaches of Kauai for taking wedding shots – it’s a favorite wedding photography spot in Kauai.

Heck, it’s one of the all-round best beaches on Kauai, period!

That’s partly because Ke’e Beach is so close to the spectacular Na Pali Coast.

In fact, you get gob-smacking views of the Na Pali Coast to your left when you’re facing the ocean.

(You might remember the Na Pali Coast and its lush saw-toothed sea cliffs featured as a Jurassic Park filming location? It was Isla Sorna in Lost World.)

The lagoon-like sandy beach is also very beautiful with its crystal clear waters.

As an added bonus, a small coral reef offshore offers some great snorkeling in summer too. (Swim out to the left side of the beach.) It’s the ideal spot to spy green sea turtles!

You might spy sea turtles at Ke'e Beach, Kauai.

You can also see schools of tuna, triggerfish, butterfly fish and other colorful reef fish.

Oh, and if you want to experience one of the prettiest sunsets in Hawaii, this is also the place!

One of the best places to view a spectacular Kauai sunset is Ke'e Beach.

Bottom line?

Ke’e Beach is one of the calmest swimmable beaches in Kauai in summer. Bring your lunch and enjoy the day sunning, swimming, snorkeling and just chillaxing.

Be careful in winter though. The currents are strong and the waves can be crazy (though the off-shore reef slows down some of the surf).

Visiting Ke’e Beach:

The park is open daily from 7:00 am to 6:45 pm.

There’s a maximum daily number of people who can visit Ke’e Beach (and Ha’ena State Park), and you need advance reservations to enter the park.

The cost is $5 USD p.p. or $10 USD per vehicle (which includes park and beach entry for the driver and passengers).

For more information and park reservations see the Hawaii State Parks webpage on Ha’ena State Park.

Note you have to walk ¼ mile on a wooden boardwalk to reach the beach.

Ke’e Beach, Kauai:

Location: Ha’ena, North Shore

Parking: The onsite parking lot is limited to 100 stalls (or you can park further out and reserve a pre-paid shuttle to get to Ha’ena State Park and Ke’e Beach)

Facilities: Restrooms, showers and lifeguard station

Snorkeling: Yes

Nearby restaurant: No

TripAdvisor reviews of Ke’e Beach

3) Anini Beach

One of the best beaches in Kauai for swimming on the North Shore is Anini Beach.

Another of the best beaches in Kauai for swimming on the North Shore is Anini Beach.

A long sliver of beach, Anini is a bit out of the way, so it’s less busy than Hanalei Bay (#1).

Anini has an easy sandy beach entry – and you can walk out for quite a distance in warm shallow water before you can no longer stand.

Anini Beach, Kauai

A 2-mile coral breaker further out prevents the big waves from rolling in. Even when the North Shore experiences winter swells in the winter months, Anini tends to be calm much of the time.

You can snorkel near the coral reef. While most of the coral is dead, the snorkeling is still sweet enough that you may spot sea turtles and other tropical fish.

Another feature we like about this Kauai beach is that it’s fringed by palms and kamani (Indian almond) trees, so it offers lots of natural shade.

Almond trees line the white sand beach at Anini Beach, Kauai

Bottom line?

Because Anini Beach is so shallow and calm, this is one of the best beaches for kids in Kauai – they can build sand castles by the water’s edge and splash about in safety.

Child building a sand castle on Anini Beach

Note:

While Anini is one of the safest swimming beaches in Kauai, you should still be careful when getting close to the coral breaker.

Channels within the reef allow ocean water to surge through, creating currents that can overwhelm swimmers and snorkelers.

Anini Beach, Kauai:

Location: Princeville, North Shore

Parking: Yes

Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables and patches of lawn

Snorkeling: Yes

Nearby restaurant: No

TripAdvisor reviews of Anini Beach

4) Kalihiwai Beach

Kalihiwai Beach is one of the best beaches in Kauai to swim and go boogie boarding in summer, when the water is calm.

Drive down Kalihiwai Road and you see this sweet cove of beach, lined by leadwood trees, at the end.

The long wide beach is bordered to the left (as you’re facing the ocean) by the mouth of the Kalihiwai River.

A mix of salt and fresh water gets trapped in a lagoon area, heating up and drawing children who love to play in the warm water.

Bottom line?

With lots of shade, this is a pleasant peaceful beach. It’s one of the best beaches in Kauai to swim and go boogie boarding in summer – when the water is typically calm.

Note:

Be mindful when swimming in the river. The leptospirosis bacteria has been found in freshwater rivers and streams in Hawaii. It can enter through open cuts or breaks in the skin.

Putting your head underwater also increases the risk of infection (through the eyes, nose and mouth).

The water in Kalihiwai Bay can get murky from run-off from the river after it’s rained heavily, and for shark safety, it’s always best to swim in clear water.

Kalihiwai Beach, Kauai

Location: Princeville/Kilauea, North Shore

Parking: Yes

Facilities: Port-a-potty restrooms and picnic tables

Snorkeling: No

Nearby restaurant: It’s worth driving the 2+ miles from the beach to Kilauea Bakery & Pizza for lunch afterward (or stop for breakfast here first)

TripAdvisor reviews of Kalihiwai Beach

Best Kauai South Shore beaches for swimming

5) Poipu Beach Park

Poipu Beach Park is one of the most popular beaches in Kauai for swimming.

On the south shore, Poipu Beach was named by the Travel Channel as one of “America’s Best Beaches.”

Indeed, we think it’s one of the nicest beaches in the world! And it’s a great hot spot in winter.

Dry and sunny, the Poipu area has its own micro-climate. Even when the rest of the island is cloudy or drizzling with rain, you can often count on Poipu to be sunny with blue skies.

Poipu Beach Park consists of two large golden sand coves, separated by a long sandbar.

Protected by a reef, the crescent to the left (as you’re facing the water) has a large, shallow sandy-bottom swimming area that’s perfect for wee ones to splash about in.

The larger bay to the right is great for swimming and boogie-boarding in the waves.

The whole beach area is some 1,100 feet long – about the length of three football fields – so there’s plenty of room for everyone to stake out their own patch of sand.

Hawaiian monk seals are often seen slumbering on the sandbar. Give them a wide berth, however. Monk seals are endangered, and you don’t want to disturb them.

A monk seal and pup at Poipu Beach Park, Kauai

If hunger strikes, make your way to Brennecke’s Beach Broiler.

Just across a little road, Brennecke’s has a cool surfer-hip vibe and is the ideal place for a casual lunch (or dinner) with an ocean-view.

Bottom line?

With coconut trees offering lots of shade and a huge expanse of lawn, Poipu Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Kauai.

It’s a great place for kids to swim – and for adults to feel like kids again by playing in the waves. It’s the perfect beach!

Poipu Beach, Kauai

Location: Poipu, South Shore

Parking: Yes

Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, grassy lawn and lifeguard

Snorkeling: Some

Nearby restaurant: Brenneke’s Beach Broiler

TripAdvisor reviews of Poipu Beach

6) Kiahuna Beach

Kiahuna Beach is one of the beaches in Poipu, Kauai.

Kiahuna Beach is a long crescent of soft golden sand fronting Kiahuna Plantation and the neighboring Sheraton Kauai. As you’re facing the ocean, it’s about a 10-minute walk to the right of Poipu Beach Park.

Since we love to stay at the Kiahuna Plantation Resort (among the best Kauai resorts), this beach is our favorite beach in Kauai – it’s so easy for us to just cross the lawn from our condo and then we’re right on the beach!

Walking the beach is a bit of tough slog though – the sand is so thick, you sink almost to your ankles! (But who’s complaining?)

One of the most beautiful beaches in Kauai, Kiahuna Beach is blessed with thick thick sand!

Interestingly, the proper name for this beach is supposedly Poipu Beach, but that gets confusing, what with Poipu Beach Park sharing the same name.

In winter, we’ve found the water is often a bit choppy – not exactly friendly for swimming laps, but very popular for boogie boarding and jumping up and down in the waist-high surf. Some days, the water has been very calm though.

There’s no shade, so bring your own umbrella (or at least wear a big sun hat).

Bottom line?

Boogie boarding at Poipu Beach, Kauai

Kiahuna Beach is one of the best beaches in Poipu for swimming, playing in the surf, sunning and people-watching.

And if you want to see a monk seal, chances are great you will at this beach. Monk seals commonly haul themselves out to sun on the sand.

Kiahuna Beach, Kauai

Location: Poipu, South Shore

Parking: Yes (better availability at Poipu Beach Park)

Facilities: Restrooms

Snorkeling: Limited

Nearby restaurant: Yes (at Brenneke’s Beach Broiler)

TripAdvisor reviews of Kiahuna Beach

7) Salt Pond Beach Park

Salt Pond Beach Park is one those out-of-the-way, natural-feeling Kauai beaches.

Salt Pond Beach Park is found on the southwest side of Kauai, just west of Port Allen (where boats leave for Na Pali Coast sightseeing day trips).

Here, a wide cove of reddish-gold sand hugs a naturally enclosed lagoon. The lagoon is created by a rock ridge offshore, stretching between rocky outcroppings at either end of the beach.

The park is named after the traditional Hawaiian salt-collecting ponds adjacent to the left side of the beach. In summer, native Hawaiians still gather the salt that remains (after the sea water evaporates) for cooking and their own use.

You’ll find three different sections at the park. As you’re facing the water, there’s a:

  • large main beach area
  • small baby pond (calm and shallow for toddlers) to the right
  • another small pond to the left (near the salt ponds) for snorkeling

Don your snorkeling gear and you may see goatfish, butterfly fish, Moorish idols and other colorful fish.

Monk seals are also often spotted basking in the sun.

Camping is allowed in tents, which campers set up along the lawn at one end of the beach park.

Bottom line?

With no hotels or condos around, this beach has a more natural, out-of-the-way feel than other Kauai beaches. It’s rarely crowded.

The main pool area is perfect for swimming laps.

Families with kids will also find this to be a safe beach on Kauai for swimming.

Be sure to bring lunch or snacks with you. (Pack some juicy Hawaiian fruit like sliced pineapple – great for getting the salty sea taste out of your mouth!)

Salt Pond Beach, Kauai:

Location: Hanapepe, southwest coast of Kauai

Parking: Yes

Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, patches of lawn and lifeguard

Snorkeling: Yes

Nearby restaurant: No

TripAdvisor reviews of Salt Pond Beach

8) Baby Beach

Child playing in the sand in Hawaii

Baby Beach is a great beach for wee ones to splash about, without getting knocked over by large waves. Hence its name!

There’s also some good snorkeling – you’re likely to see turtles. If you’re going snorkeling or for a cool-down, water shoes are helpful for getting in the water as the entry is a bit rocky.

The water is a bit shallow for an actual swim for adults, however.

Bottom line?

This is a very small beach, with a natural rocky breakwater offshore that creates a safe shallow area for kids to swim and play.

If you’re staying nearby, it’s also a great spot to walk to and watch the sunset.

Baby Beach, Kauai

Location: Koloa, South Shore (the public beach access is between the homes at #5142 and #5152 Hoona Road)

Parking: Limited parking along the road (park near the lava rocks, then walk to the beach access)

Facilities: None

Snorkeling: Yes

Nearby restaurant: The Beach House (splendid sunset views!) is about a 7-minute walk away

TripAdvisor reviews of Baby Beach

Best Kauai East Side beaches

9) Lydgate Beach Park

Lydgate State Park is one of the safest year-round beaches in Kauai for swimming.

If you’re looking for one of the safest year-round places in Kauai to swim, say hello to Lydgate State Park!

Near the mouth of the Wailua River, this beach area was created in 1970. Huge boulders were deposited in a semicircle facing the beach, forming a breakwater.

Inside the breakwater, a rock wall divides the area into one large deep pool (about 5 feet deep) and one small shallow pool (about 3 feet deep).

The water is usually very calm, and it’s fun to watch the outside waves hit the breakwater boulders.

You can usually see small reef fish darting about in the water – so this is also a safe place for kids to snorkel.

Beside the two ponds, there’s a very long beach and a 2½-mile paved coastal path, perfect for walking and jogging.

Bottom line?

One of the safest swimming beaches in Kauai – and with a playground at the park – Lydgate Pond is a great choice for families, especially those with small children.

Note:

Storms do occasionally dump debris into the ponds.

Also, when waves crash through and over the breakwater, they stir up sand, and the water then isn’t as clear.

Lydgate Pond, Kauai

Location: Wailua, East Kauai

Parking: Yes

Facilities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, grassy areas and lifeguard station

Snorkeling: Some

Nearby restaurant: No

TripAdvisor reviews on Lydgate Beach

10) Kalapaki Beach

Kalapaki Beach is one of the top Kauai beaches for swimming, SUP and just hanging out.

Another top beach in Kauai for swimming is Kalapaki Beach, which fronts the Royal Sonesta Kauai Resort Lihue, formerly the Kauai Marriot. (We’ve stayed here several times.)

Just a short walk from Nawiliwili Harbor (where cruise ships dock), this gold sand crescent is clean, with comfortable grass behind it to lie on.

Protected from the surf, its usually calm waters are ideal for swimming and boogie boarding at the surf’s edge.

Kalapaki Beach is also a popular spot for stand-up paddleboarding. You can rent a board from the Kauai Beach Boys hut. They also offer lessons if you’re a newbie to the SUP sport.

Boogie boarding is fun at Kalapaki Beach, Kauai.

Bottom line?

This is another one of our favorite Kauai beaches for swimming, SUP and just hanging out.

And when the cruise ships are sailing, it’s fun to watch them pass by (usually late in the afternoon or at sunset).

Kalapaki Beach with cruise ship passing by

Kalapaki Beach, Kauai

Location: Lihue, East Kauai

Parking: Yes

Facilities: Restrooms, showers and lawn areas

Snorkeling: No

Nearby restaurant: Sit out on the deck at Duke’s Kauai (right at one end of the beach) for a leisurely civilized lunch with a view – be sure to order the Hula Pie for dessert! (you can also get a take-out lunch)

TripAdvisor reviews of Kalapaki Beach

Tell us your favorite Kauai, Hawaii, beaches!

Did we hit your top 10 beaches in Kauai? Where do you like to go for a beach day on this Hawaiian island? You can let us know in the Comments section below.

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Best beaches for swimming in Kauai

Photo Credits: 16, 23 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Larry

Wednesday 18th of May 2022

Since my mom was born in Kauai and raised in Anahola, I'm more partial to that area of the island. I remember visiting with my mom and trying to help with the family farm, trying to catch papayas that came off the long suction cup pole before they hit the ground.

I've always enjoyed Smith's Beach, mainly because it doesn't get a lot of traffic as the ones on your list. I guess it's more of a kamaʻāina family beach than a tourist beach.

When the tide's right, the mouth of the Anahola river turns into a small shallow set of rapids that you can sit in and get pushed along for a short distance.

My family would also go to Kalapaki Beach on the days that we would deliver papaya to the harbor. We'd pack up the musubi, onigiri with omeboshi (too salty for me), and mochiko chicken and have a picnic at the beach.

Its been 15 years since I've been there and I know that it becomes more developed as time passes - long gone are the days of sliding down Waipahe slippery side, picking mountain apples on Anahola mountain, or picking opihi off the surf rocks for grandma's miso soup.

Janice and George

Thursday 19th of May 2022

Hi Larry, Wow! What special memories of your youth you have to treasure. It sounds like an idyllic time :-). Thanks for sharing :-).

Haile

Thursday 31st of March 2022

Hello!

Soooo pretty, where was the first picture taken with the coconut trees and rocks? Any tide pools other than Queens Bath that are pretty on Kauai?

Janice and George

Sunday 3rd of April 2022

There are pretty tide pools at various other beaches on Kauai, like Salt Pond Beach Park and Poipu Beach Park (and to the left of Baby Beach). But the Queen's Bath is, well, the queen of tide pools!

Ashley

Tuesday 22nd of February 2022

Hello! FYI, we’re headed to Kaui on 3/1/22 and haven’t booked our stay yet. So, one, thank you for the most informative blog about Kaui beaches. I’ve been scouring the net to find something as straight forward and informative as your writing. Two, how easy is it to get around? I ask because we really want to stay on the north side (I’ve been wanting warm sun and the view of mountains), but we also have a toddler who we think will do better swimming in calmer ocean waters, so now you have me thinking we should stay on the south side of the island?? Please help! TIA!

Janice and George

Tuesday 22nd of February 2022

Hi Ashley, Thanks for the kind comment on our Kauai beaches post! Yes, Kauai's North Shore is drop-dead gorgeous, but all that lush beauty is rain-fed :-). In March, you're likely still to have more days of sunshine down in the southern part of the island. And the beaches in Poipu and around that area are likely to still be calmer than the North Shore beaches. Poipu Beach and Baby Beach are great beaches for little ones :-) Hope this helps -- and have an awesome Kauai vacay!

Grant Price

Sunday 16th of May 2021

I love "secret beach" in Kauai.

Janice and George

Sunday 16th of May 2021

Ahhh, yes, Secret Beach, aka Kauapea Beach, between Kalihiwai Bay and Kilauea Point – also Kauai's topless or nude beach :-). Another beautiful beach for sure!

John Elwell

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Perhaps I missed it, but I didn't see my favorite Kauai beach in your article. This beach is at the end of the road that goes by Waimea Canyon and has the Napali Coast on its right (facing ocean). I haven't been to Kauai since the early 90s, and things could have changed drastically. However, this was a State Beach equipped with A-frame sleeping structures for two people and fireplaces for cooking. The sand was deep and white, and the surf was mild.

Janice and George

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Hmmm... Wonder if you're talking about the beach at Polihale State Park? It's quite isolated and reached via a rough road (best to have a 4-wheel drive). Your memories of the beach sound idyllic :-)