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The first hotel built in Poipu in 1962 overlooked this beach, adjacent to Poipu Beach Park. Actually, there's little to distinguish where one starts and the other begins other than a crescent reef at the eastern end of Waiohai Beach. That crescent, however, is important. It creates a small, protected bay—good for snorkeling and beginning surfers. If you're a beginner, this is the spot. However, when a summer swell kicks up, the near-shore conditions become dangerous; offshore, there's a splendid surf break for experienced surfers. The beach itself is narrow and, like its neighbor, gets very crowded in summer. Amenities: parking. Best For: surfing; sunrise; sunset.
Some say the first Polynesians to migrate to Hawaii landed at Wailua Beach. At the river's mouth, petroglyphs carved on boulders are sometimes visible during low surf and tide conditions. Surfers, bodyboarders, and bodysurfers alike enjoy this beach year-round thanks to its dependable waves (usually on the north end); however, because of Hawaii's northeast trade winds, these waves are not the "cleanest" for surf aficionados. Many families spend the weekend days under the Wailua Bridge at the river mouth, even hauling out their portable grills and tables to go with their beach chairs. The great news about Wailua Beach is that it's almost impossible to miss; however, parking can be a challenge. The best parking for the north end of the beach is on Papaloa Road behind the Shell station. For the southern end of the beach, park at Wailua River State Park. Amenities: Parking; showers; toilets. Best For: swimming; surfing; walking; windsurfing.
A great family spot, Salt Pond Beach Park features a naturally made, shallow swimming pond behind a curling finger of rock where keiki (children) splash and snorkel. This pool is generally safe except during a large south swell, which usually occurs in summer, if at all. The center and western edge of the beach is popular with bodyboarders and bodysurfers. On a cultural note, the flat stretch of land to the east of the beach is the last spot in Hawaii where ponds are used to harvest salt in the dry heat of summer. The beach park is popular with locals and can get crowded on weekends and holidays. Amenities: lifeguard; parking; showers, toilets. Best For: swimming; sunset; walking.
The coastline along the community of Princeville is primarily made up of sea cliffs with a couple of pockets of beaches. The sea cliffs end with a long, narrow stretch of beach just east of the Hanalei River and at the foot of the St. Regis Princeville Resort. Public access is via 100-plus steps around the back of the hotel; hotel guests can simply take the elevator down to sea level. The beach itself is subject to the hazards of winter's surf, narrowing and widening with the surf height. On calm days, snorkeling is good thanks to a shallow reef system pocked with sand. Sometimes a shallow sandbar extends across the river to Black Pot Beach Park, part of the Hanalei Beach system, making it easy to cross the river. On high-surf days, the outer edge of the reef near the river draws internationally ranked surfers. The resort's pool is off-limits to nonguests, but the restaurants and bars are not. Amenities: food and drink; parking. Best For: surfing; snorkeling; sunset.
The longest stretch of beach in Hawaii starts in Kekaha and ends about 15 mi away at the start of Napali Coast. At the Napali end of the beach is the 5-mi-long, 140-acre Polihale State Park. In addition to being long, this beach is 300 feet wide in places and backed by sand dunes 50 to 100 feet tall. Polihale is a remote beach accessed via a rough, 5-mi haul-cane road (four-wheel drive preferred but not required) at the end of Route 50 in Kekaha. Be sure to start the day with a full tank of gas and a cooler filled with food and drink. Many locals wheel their four-wheel-drive vehicles up and over the sand dunes right onto the beach, but don't try this in a rental car. You're sure to get stuck and found in violation of your rental car agreement.
The most popular beach on the South Shore, and perhaps on all of Kauai, is Poipu Beach Park. The snorkeling's good, the bodyboarding's good, the surfing's good, the swimming's good, and the fact that the sun is almost always shining is good, too. The beach can be crowded at times, especially on weekends and holidays, but that just makes people-watching that much more fun. You'll see keiki (children) experiencing the ocean for the first time, snorkelers trying to walk with their flippers on, ukulele players, birthday party revelers, young and old, visitors and locals. Even the endangered Hawaiian monk seal often makes an appearance. Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets; food and drink. Best For: swimming, snorkeling, partiers, walking.
This is actually two very small pocket beaches separated by a narrow rocky point. The beach area itself is narrow and can all but disappear in wintertime. However, in summer, the steep, rocky trail (don't trust the rusty handrails and rotting ropes) that provides access reduces the number of beachgoers, at times creating a deserted beach feel. With patches of reef and a combination sandy/rocky bottom, the swimming and snorkeling can be good, although winter's high surf creates dangerous conditions. Don't attempt the trail after a heavy rain—it turns into a mudslide. Amenities: parking. Best For: surfing; snorkeling; sunset.
This 2-mi stretch of coast with its sand dunes, limestone hills, sinkholes, and caves is unlike any other on Kauai. Remains of a large, ancient settlement, evidence of great battles, and the discovery of a now-underwater petroglyph field indicate that Hawaiians lived in this area as early as 700 AD. Mahaulepu's coastline is unprotected and rocky, which makes venturing into the ocean hazardous. There are three beach areas with bits of sandy-bottom swimming; however, the best way to experience Mahaulepu is simply to roam, especially at sunrise. Access to this beach is via private property. The owner allows access during daylight hours, but be sure to depart before sunset or risk getting locked in for the night.Amenities: parking. Best For: walking; solitude; sunrise.
Named in honor of the first native Hawaiian schoolteacher, this beach is on the western banks of the Waimea River. It is also where Captain James Cook first came ashore in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. If that's not interesting enough, the sand here is not the white, powdery kind you see along the South Shore. It's a combination of pulverized, black lava rock and lighter-colored reef. In a way, it looks a bit like a mix of salt and pepper. Unfortunately, the intrigue of the beach doesn't extend to the waters, which are reddish and murky (thanks to river runoff) and choppy (thanks to an onshore break). Instead, check out the Waimea Landing State Recreation Pier, from which fishers drop their lines. It's located about 100 yards west of the river mouth. Amenities: showers; toilets; parking; Best For: walking; sunset; surfing.
This is by far the best family beach park on Kauai. The waters off the beach are protected by a hand-built breakwater creating two boulder-enclosed saltwater pools for safe swimming and snorkeling year-round. A recent dredging finds the pools in a recovery stage as sand had to be removed, leaving mud offshore. But the numerous schools of fish are slowly returning. The smaller of the two pools is perfect for keiki (children). Behind the beach is Kamalani Playground; children of all ages—that includes you—enjoy the swings, lava-tube slides, tree house, and more. Picnic tables abound in the park, and a large covered pavilion is available by permit for celebrations. The Kamalani Kai Bridge is a second playground, south of the original. (The two are united by a bike and pedestrian path that is part of the Nawiliwili-to-Anahola multi-use path project currently under construction.) This park system is perennially popular; the quietest times to visit are early mornings and weekdays. If you want to witness a "baby luau," Lydgate State Park attracts them year-round, especially in summers.Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets. Best For: partiers; walking; swimming; sunrise.