What Are the Best Swimming Beaches in Kauai? The Garden Isle’s Top Destinations for Sun & Surf

Kauai is known for lush mountains and verdant valleys. It is called the Garden Isle, after all. But what would Kauai be without those classic Hawaiian beaches? Luckily, we don’t have to find out, as the Garden Isle boasts over 60 miles of accessible coastline. So, if you’re hoping to split your time between the dramatic cliffs and the sandy shores, we’ll take you through all the best swimming beaches in Kauai. From the tranquil waters of protected areas to the ever-changing open ocean, find where to have your perfect beach day on this unique Hawaiian Island.

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The 10 Best Beaches in Kauai for Swimming

While the Hawaiian Islands are known for their magnificent landscapes and stunning views, Kauai has dramatic beauty in spades. And though many might immediately call to mind the magnificence of Waimea Canyon or the grandeur of towering sea cliffs along the Nā Pali Coast, Kauai beaches are no slouch in the drama department. 

Here are ten must-see beaches in Kauai, perfect for swimming the day away and lounging under the sun. Just don’t forget your beach bag!

1. Hanalei Beach Park

Picture-perfect beach days in Kauai start with Hanalei Bay Beach. Though Hanalei Town may be sleepy and peaceful, the beach is anything but. One of the most popular Kauai north shore beaches, Hanalei Bay sits nestled between the Hanalei River to the east and the Waipa River to the west. As if boasting nearly two miles of sandy beach wasn’t enough, dipping your toes into the water unveils an ocean playground. 

Near the pier, gentle waters await. Ocean newbies will appreciate the calmer waves, perfect for swimming and learning to surf before catching the big waves further out. On either side of Hanalei Bay, near the two rivers, discover coral reefs below the water’s surface. Back up above, the Hanalei River is also an ideal spot for kayaking. 

During calm summer days, Hanalei Bay is a haven for family fun, sitting back and sunbathing or creating a splash in the water. However, on rougher days, Hanalei Bay turns into one of the island’s best spots for experienced surfers, with big waves and big breaks.

Framed by palm trees and majestic mountains, Hanalei Bay Beach isn’t just one of the best swimming beaches in Kauai; it’s one of the best beaches in Hawaii. Period.

2. Makua “Tunnels” Beach

Located on the island’s north shore, Tunnels Beach shares the same stretch of sand as Ha’ena and Ke’e Beach to the west, meaning you can walk all three beaches for quite the workout. But the lure of Tunnels Beach will likely keep you more than occupied. 

Gorgeous backdrops are a staple for Kauai beaches, and Tunnels Beach is no exception. Ironwood trees and palm fronds spill out onto golden sand and reefs that almost kiss the shore. Sea cliffs burst with color and life just to the side, making for memorable photos and epic sunset scenery.

But, the view isn’t all this beach has to offer. Considered the ultimate snorkeling and scuba diving destination among Kauai’s beaches, it holds its own for swimming too. With natural reefs that protect against the waves, visitors will find the swimming easy and the snorkeling extraordinary. 

The reef at Tunnels Beach is almost magical. The water bursts with color, from the turquoise blue of the waves to the rainbow-colored fish and green sea turtles that frequent the sea. The shallow waters of the inner reef are perfect for beginner snorkelers, while the more advanced can head to the outer reef and explore the arches and tunnels that give the beach its name.

Tunnels Beach is a treat for the senses offering up breathtaking worlds both above and below the water’s surface.

3. Po’ipu Beach Park

If the south shore has a shining star among its beaches, it’s undoubtedly Po‘ipu Beach. One of the most popular beaches on Kauai for swimming and just about everything else, Po‘ipu Beach stands out from others in Kauai because it’s two beaches in one. 

A sandbar stretches from the beach out to a little island called Nukumoi Point, splitting the shore into two crescent-shaped bays. The eastern side sports calm and shallow waters, with laidback swells perfect for family fun. A barrier reef protects from the bigger waves and is an excellent spot to snorkel among colorful schools of tropical fish. 

Meanwhile, the western side is a bit more rugged, with excellent surf and bigger swells that call to those with an adventurous heart. For those up for it, Po‘ipu Beach Park is also great for first-time shore divers, offering up an incredible look at underwater caves and wrecks. 

With the attached beach park offering plenty of amenities, Po‘ipu is the best beach to swim, surf, snorkel, and sunbathe on the south shore. 

And it’s not only popular with humans. As you play in the sand and surf, don’t be surprised if you find an endangered monk seal catching some rays on the sandbar leading to Nukumoi Point.

4. Ke’e Beach

At the end of the road, you’ll find Ke‘e Beach. We mean that literally. Kuhio Highway spans 28 miles, winding from Lihue on the east shore up to Hanalei in the north and coming to a halt where the sky meets the sea and staggering cliffs at Ke‘e Beach. 

But where the road ends, something new begins. At Ke‘e Beach, it’s the Kalalau Trail opening up to the glorious Nā Pali Coast. The first two miles from Ke‘e Beach to Hanakapiai Valley offer an irresistible foray into the Nā Pali Coast. But for those obsessed with the beach life, Ke‘e awaits. 

Easily one of the best beaches in Kauai, you’ll likely think you’re swimming in a pool back at home thanks to the calm summer waters. Add in soft white sand, waving coconut palms, and dense mountain greenery, and you have one of the most scenic spots on the north shore. 

Swim with sea turtles or catch them napping beneath the palms. Rocky tide pools offer the perfect place for kids to explore and have fun, while a coral reef awaits exploration further out. The reef also forms a shallow lagoon, creating one of the best places to catch a glimpse of nesting sea turtles.

Despite its popularity, Ke‘e Beach is often quiet. With most of the foot traffic headed to the Kalalau Trail and Nā Pali, Ke‘e remains an unspoiled delight perfect for beach day fun.

5. Anini Beach

Heralded as one of the safest Kauai beaches on the north shore, Anini stands out as a must-visit beach destination. Sprawling white sand stretches over two miles, backed by leafy trees and grassy lawns, but it’s the water that holds Anini’s true treasures.

One of the largest coral reefs in the state protects the beach, gifting visitors with calm ocean waves year-round. Though most north shore beaches see rougher waves in the wintertime, thanks to the reef, Anini is one of the best beaches in Kauai for swimming at any time of year.

Quieter than Hanalei Bay to the west, Anini Beach is a serene escape with long stretches of uncrowded beach. Just offshore, shallow waters reign, courtesy of the reef, which means visitors can wade out for a fair distance. For relaxed and unbothered swimming, that’s a definite plus. Add in water so clear that you can see your feet, and you’ll also love it for snorkeling. Among the colorful tropical fish, you may even catch sight of hawksbill and green sea turtles cleaning and swimming in the reef. 

This hideaway beach is the perfect place to escape and enjoy the sun, surf, and sand.

6. Anahola Beach

Kauai is already less crowded than many of its sister isles, but if you genuinely wish to leave the people behind for a more secluded beach, Anahola is calling your name. 

Before you reach the end of the road at Ke‘e Beach, take a turn at Anahola Road and let it lead you to Anahola Beach Park. Located on the “windy” eastern coast of Kauai, the beach’s name translates to “deadly winds.” But don’t let the name fool you. While the water can get choppy sometimes, the outlying reef keeps the waters reasonably steady, so you can swim to your heart’s content.

Beach access is effortless thanks to several entrances along the stretch of sand, including areas that allow you to drive straight up to the beach. Backed by ironwood trees and palms and fronted by crystal-clear waters, the white sand of Anahola’s crescent-shaped shore shines even brighter.

Though the beach lacks facilities, there are picnic tables and grills. So, you can take a break from the waves and boogie boarding to grab a bite and enjoy the view.

Between the calm waters and the lush greenery, families and nature lovers will rejoice at finding this quiet paradise to idyll away the day.

7. Ha’ena Beach Park

In the calm summer months, beach lovers might mistake Ha‘ena Beach for heaven. Gleaming white sand, bright blue waters, and breathtaking views make it easy to see why many consider Ha‘ena one of the best beaches in Kauai for swimming. However, despite the presence of two reefs on either side—Makua Reef to the east and Hauwa Reef to the west—neither protect the beach from the ocean swells, so the waters can get choppy on rougher days and in the winter.

But coming on the right day, when the sun is high and the waters calm, promises an experience unlike any other. Relax in the sun or head beneath the waves to discover scores of vibrant tropical fish. The beach offers up its own treasures, with countless shells dotting the soft white sand.

As part of Ha‘ena State Park, you’ll find as much to see and do out of the water as there is in it, from taking in the view of Mount Makana looming in the distance to checking out the Maniniholo Dry Cave right across the street. 

Ha‘ena is a spectacular beach with a special kind of magic, and on a perfect day, it’s one that few other Kauai beaches can beat.

8. Lydgate Beach

A gem among Kauai beaches, Lydgate Beach Park sits near the mouth of the winding Wailua River and serves as one of the biggest draws on the east shore. And why wouldn’t it? From the beach rope swing overlooking the crashing waves to the ancient temple just steps away from the beach, Lydgate offers up scenic views and glimpses of a storied past. 

But, of course, the biggest attractions at this beach are the two man-made saltwater ponds. Protected by huge boulders arranged in a semi-circle facing the beach, the rocks buffer against the ocean waves, providing perfect conditions for year-round swimming. This, of course, makes it a staple among Kauai’s top ten swimming beaches. The shallow pool is ideal for children and families looking to play, while the larger, deeper pool is perfect for adults hoping to swim or snorkel without being battered by the waves.

Easy beach access means the park fills up fast during the summer months, but if you arrive early, you can treat yourself to a great spot and a fantastic view of sunrise from the beach. And when you’re not swimming laps around the pools, you can walk along the coastal path from Lydgate State Park to Kapa‘a.

With plenty of park amenities and an endless blue sea, Lydgate Beach never disappoints.

9. Salt Pond Beach Park

Thirty minutes from the ever-popular Po’ipu beach lies Salt Pond Beach. One of the few Kauai beaches located on the west shore, Salt Pond is easy to access but remains a bit of a hidden gem, meaning you can leave the crowds behind and enjoy a quieter escape along the idyllic stretches of golden sand. Considering the park is nearly six acres, it won’t be tough to find your own little slice of paradise here. 

Salt Pond Beach offers several small, protected pools along the crescent-shaped bay, with locals dividing swimming into three main areas: the main bay, the baby pond, and the airport side. The main bay is the best area for swimming, but as it’s largely unprotected, you’ll have to watch out for the waves. The remaining areas are on the right and left sides of the bay. The baby pond sits on the right side, with shallow pools for families to play in, while the airport side is on the left, with calm waters providing excellent snorkeling explorations. 

Along with the usual suspects—surfing, lounging, and soaking up the sun—Salt Pond offers a unique experience: natural salt ponds. And while the ponds are for use by native Hawaiians only, you can certainly admire the intricate salt-making process from a distance.

Between the salt ponds, the swimming areas, and the west shore sunsets, Salt Pond Beach is both a classic and utterly unique spot among the many Kauai beaches to enjoy. 

10. Kalapaki Beach 

Traveling can take a lot out of you. So, why wait to rejuvenate? Once your plane touches down, grab your luggage and hop in the car, then sink your toes into the first of many Kauai beaches at Kalapaki.

A great beach in general, Kalapaki is one of the best beaches in Kauai for swimming, boogie boarding, and first-time surfers. A jetty and break wall help stop big waves and calm the water, allowing surf lessons to take place year-round. So, if you’ve ever wanted to try it, Kalapaki Beach may be calling your name.

A wide lawn dominates the area behind the shore, so you can sunbathe and lounge to your heart’s content. Though you’ll find picnic tables near the beach, the abundance of urban amenities—which you won’t find near many other beaches—may do its part to lure you away from the beach to walk around the many stores instead. 

Surprisingly, despite its nearness to the airport, cruise port, and several shops, Kalapaki Beach remains a serene escape, perfect for the first taste of Kauai.

Which Side of Kauai Is Best for Swimming?

The north shore boasts some of the calmest, swimmable beaches during summer, but this changes with the seasons. So, if you’re heading to Kauai in the winter, leave the north shore for the surfers and head to the south shore beaches for better swimming conditions.

While the south shore is swimmable year-round, the summer months can bring choppier waters to Kauai beaches on the south end. As a result, in the summer, you’ll find the best beaches for swimming on the north end of Kauai, where you can swim in Hanalei Bay and Ke‘e Beach worry-free. Of course, this flip flops in winter, with rougher waters bringing big waves to the north that entice surfers from all over to come and enjoy the swells. So, once winter hits, it’s best to head to Kauai beaches on the south end. Though you can always stick around to watch the pros conquer the waves. 

What Are the Best North Shore Beaches?

Kauai beaches are no joke. Whether it’s sand and surf or swimming and snorkeling, the beaches on the north shore deliver time and again. But, while the north shore offers plenty of beaches with soft sand and breathtaking views, it’s easiest to plan a beach day at a beach that can accommodate your needs. So, for an epic day unlike any other, head to these top five best swimming beaches on Kauai’s north shore:

  1. Hanalei Bay
  2. Ke‘e Beach
  3. Anini Beach
  4. Ha‘ena Beach
  5. Makua (Tunnels) Beach

Almost all of these beaches offer soft sand, dazzling water, and convenient facilities for the perfect beach day any day. And although Tunnels Beach doesn’t have its own facilities, it’s close enough to Ha‘ena State Park that you can easily skip over there to hit up the showers or use the restroom.

Unlike its southern counterpart, dramatic may be the best word to describe the north shore. From the towering sea cliffs to the enticing coastline, the beaches in north Kauai are something to experience whether swimming through an underwater world or simply strolling along the sand.

What Are the Best Beaches on the South Shore?

South shore beaches aren’t as popular or plentiful as those on the north shore. But, between family fun and iconic thrills, they manage to hold their own. If you’re looking for the best swimming beaches on the south coast, look no further than these top spots on Kauai:

  1. Po‘ipu Beach
  2. Salt Pond Beach
  3. Shipwreck Beach

From your first glimpse through the Tree Tunnel (Maluhia Road), you get a sense of the south shore’s magic. Some claim that the sun always shines on the sunny south shore, and while the sun doesn’t technically always shine here, the warm atmosphere and old-town feel will make it seem as though you’re always basking under the sun. 

Next Vacay Finds You the Cheapest Flights to the Sunny Sands of Kauai

Before you can explore the best swimming beaches in Kauai—and pick your personal favorite—you’ll need to find a flight to get you there. Hours you could be spending planning your ultimate Hawaiian getaway will go to frantically searching for an affordable flight that won’t empty your wallet before you arrive. 

Save yourself time, money, and the headache by signing up for Next Vacay instead. 

Our team will do the searching for you, scouring countless airlines to find you the flights you need to get to the Garden Isle. Before you know it, you’ll be sinking your toes into the sands of Kalapaki Beach and breathing in that ocean air.

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