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!
Not all Kauai beaches are swimmable though.
(This is one of the main differences between Maui and Kauai.)
Some beaches 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?
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.
Best Kauai North Shore beaches for swimming
1) 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 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!
2) Ke’e Beach
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 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!
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.
3) 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.
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.
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.
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.
4) Kalihiwai Beach
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.
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.
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.
Best Kauai South Shore beaches for swimming
5) Poipu Beach Park
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.
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.
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!
Hanging out here is probably our favorite free Kauai activity!
6) Kiahuna Beach
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?)
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.
It’s not exactly friendly for swimming laps. But it’s 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).
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.
7) Salt Pond Beach Park
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.
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!)
8) Baby Beach
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.
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.
Best Kauai East Side beaches
9) Lydgate Beach Park
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.
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.
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.
10) Kalapaki Beach
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.
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).
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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Photo Credits: 18, 29 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase