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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
A winding road leads down a cliff face to this picture-perfect beach. A jewel of the North Shore, Kalihiwai Beach is on par with Hanalei, just without the waterfall-ribbon backdrop. It's another one of those drive-up beaches, so it's very accessible. Most people park on the sand under the grove of ironwood trees. Families set up camp for the day at the west end of the beach, near the stream, where young kids like to splash and older kids like to bodyboard. On the eastern edge of the beach, from which the road descends, there's a locals' favorite surf spot during winter's high surf. The onshore break can be dangerous during this time. During the calmer months of summer, Kalihiwai Beach is a good choice for beginning board riders and swimmers. The toilets here are the portable kind, and there are no showers. Amenities: parking; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming; walking.
This oft-described Garden of Eden awaits the intrepid hiker who traverses 11 arduous miles along sea cliff faces, through muddy coastal valleys, and across sometimes-raging streams—all the while schlepping food provisions and camping gear. The trek requires 6 to 10 hours of hiking, making it an adventure indeed. With serious planning and preparation, the effort is worth it. Another option is to paddle in to the beach—summer only, though; otherwise the surf is way too big. Located at the end of the trail with the same name, Kalalau is a remote, wilderness beach along the 15 mi of spectacular Napali Coast, itself a 6,500-acre state park. The beach is anchored by a heiau (a stone platform used as a place of worship) on one end and a waterfall on the other. The safest hiking to and swimming at the beach takes place during the summer months when the rains abate, so the trail can dry out, and when the North Shore's famous winter surf recedes, revealing an expansive beach cupped by low, vegetated sand dunes and a large walk-in cave on the western edge. Day hikes into the valley offer waterfalls, freshwater swimming pools, and wild, tropical fruits, as well as illegal campers forsaking society. Don't be mistaken: Camping permits are required. Amenities : none. Best For: solitude; sunset; nudists; walking. www.hawaiistateparks.org.
You wouldn't know it today, but this beach on Kilauea Bay was once an interisland steamer landing and a rock quarry. Today, it's a fairly quiet beach, although when the surf closes out many other North Shore surf spots, the break directly offshore from Kilauea Stream near the abandoned quarry is still rideable. For the regular oceangoer, summer's your best bet, although the quickly sloping ocean bottom doesn't make for great swimming or snorkeling. The stream estuary is quite beautiful, and the ironwood trees and false kamani growing in the generous sand dunes at the rear of the beach provide protection from the sun. Kids like to play here, as do soaring great frigate birds overhead. In March 2006, the streambed emptying into the ocean here grew to immense proportions when Ka Loko Dam broke, sending a wall of water—as well as life and property—to the sea. Amenities : none. Best For: surfing; walking; solitude.
This 2-mi, crescent beach surrounds a spacious bay that is quintessential Hawaii. After gazing out to sea and realizing you have truly arrived in paradise, look landward. The site of the mountains, ribboned with waterfalls, will take your breath away. In winter, Hanalei Bay boasts some of the biggest onshore surf breaks in the state, attracting world-class surfers. The beach itself is wide enough to have safe real estate for your beach towel even in winter. In summer, the bay is transformed—calm waters lap the beach, sailboats moor in the bay, and outrigger-canoe paddlers ply the sea. Pack the cooler, haul out the beach umbrellas, and don't forget the beach toys, because Hanalei Bay is worth scheduling for an entire day, maybe two. To reach Hanalei Bay Beach Park from Hanalei, turn makai (toward the ocean) at Aku Rd. and drive one block to Weli Weli Rd. Parking areas are on the makai side of Weli Weli Rd. Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming; walking; windsurfing.
If you're not up for the 11-mi haul to Kalalau Beach, then hike 2 mi along Napali Coast's Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach. It'll take about 1½ hours. Just don't get in the water. Ever. The water here is what locals like to call "confused." It has something to do with the radical change in water depth and sheer cliff walls creating wicked currents, rogue waves, backwash, undertow, cross waves, and rip currents. Instead, enjoy a picnic away from the ocean's edge. In the winter when the surf eats up the beach, this might mean perching on the lava-rock boulders backing the sand. To reach the beach, you'll have to boulder-hop across a stream. During heavy rains or even just after, the stream can flood, stranding hikers on the wrong side. This has resulted in helicopter rescues, so don't cross unless the boulders are visibly exposed. Amenities: toilets. Best For: solitude; sunset. www.hawaiistateparks.org.
This is a drive-up beach park popular with campers year-round. The wide bay here—named Makua and commonly known as Tunnels—is bordered by two large reef systems creating favorable waves for surfing during peak winter conditions. In July and August, waters at this same beach usually are as calm as a lake, and snorkelers enjoy the variety of fish life found in a hook-shape reef made up of underwater lava tubes, on the east end of the bay. During the summer months only, this is a premier snorkeling site on Kauai. It's not unusual to find a food vendor parked here selling sandwiches and drinks out of a converted bread van. Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets; food and drink. Best For: walking; snorkeling; surfing.
This beach has one of the most unusual names of all on Kauai and is rarely known by its proper Hawaiian name, Paliku. Lihue Plantation Company once kept a herd of mules and donkeys in the pasture adjacent to the beach, hence the nickname. It's a popular spot for au naturel sunbathers, and if the waves are right, body boarders and surfers might be spotted offshore. However, the waters here are rough and not recommended for swimming and snorkeling. Instead, we suggest a morning walk or mountain-bike trek along the easy trail that overlooks the beach. Start at the northern end of Kealia Beach (or in Kapaa town for a longer walk or bike ride) and head north. The trail splinters just past Donkey Beach and then splinters again; however, it does go all the way to Anahola Beach. Amenities: none. Best For: surfing; solitude; sunrise; nudists.
Don't pack the beach umbrella, beach mats, and cooler for this one. Just your snorkel gear. The beach, named after the neighboring Beach House restaurant and on the road to Spouting Horn, is a small slip of sand during low tide and a rocky shoreline when it's high; however, it is conveniently located by the road's edge, and its rocky coastline and somewhat rocky bottom make it great for snorkeling. (As a rule, sandy-bottom beaches are not great for snorkeling. The rocks create safe hiding places and grow the food that fish and other marine life like to eat.) A sidewalk along the coastline on the restaurant side of the beach makes a great vantage point from which to peer into the water and look for honu, the Hawaiian green sea turtle. It's also a gathering spot to watch the sun set. Make reservations for dinner at the Beach House in advance and time it around sunset. You can park in the public lot across from beach. Amenities: Parking; showers; toilets; water sports. Best For: snorkeling; surfing; sunset.
Brennecke Beach is synonymous on Kauai with board surfing and bodysurfing, thanks to its shallow sandbar and reliable shore break. Because the beach is small and often congested, surfboards are prohibited near shore. The water on the rocky eastern edge of the beach is a good place to see the endangered green sea turtles noshing on plants growing on the rocks. Amenities: parking; food and drink. Best for: surfing; sunset.
There aren't many swimming beaches on Kauai's East Side; however, this one usually ranks highly with mothers of small children because there's a narrow lagoonlike area between the beach and the near-shore reef perfect for small children. Of course, in winter, watch for east and northeast swells that would not make this such a safe option. There are no beach facilities—no lifeguards, so watch your babies. There is an old-time shower spiget available to rinse the salt water. Amenities: shower; parking. Best For: swimming; sunrise.