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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Famous because it's the beach where Nurse Nellie washes that man out of her hair in South Pacific, Lumahai Beach's setting is all you've ever dreamed Hawaii to be. That's the drawing card, and if you're adventurous and safety-conscious, a visit here is definitely worth it. The challenges are that it's hard to find, there's little parking, and there's a steep hike in; also, too many people misjudge the waves, even those never intending to set foot in the water. There's a year-round surge of onshore waves, massive sand movements (especially around the river mouth), and a steep foreshore assaulted by strong currents. Like the mythical creature from the deep, rogue waves have actually washed up on lava-rock outcroppings and pulled sightseers out to sea. Our advice: Look from the safety of the scenic overlook or walk on dry sand only. Or, take advange of Lumahai's length and find adequate parking 1/2 mi. further where the river comes in. Amenities: none. Best For: solitude; walking; sunset.
One of the most spectacular beaches on the South Shore is inaccessible by land unless you tour the National Tropical Botanical Garden's Allerton Garden, which we highly recommend, or trespass behind locked fences, which we don't recommend. On the tour, you'll see the beach, but you won't lounge on it or frolic in the calm water behind the promontory on the eastern point of the beach. One way to legally access the beach on your own is by paddling a kayak 1 mi from Kukuiula Harbor. However, you have to rent the kayaks elsewhere and haul them on top of your car to the harbor. Also, the wind and waves usually run westward, making the in-trip a breeze but the return trip a workout against Mother Nature. Another way is to boulder-hop along the coast from Spouting Horn—a long trek over sharp lava rock that we do not recommend. Do not attempt this beach in any manner during a south swell. Amenities: none. Best For: solitude; sunrise.
The long, wide fringing reef here is this beach's trademark. The waters near shore are often too shallow for swimming; if you go in, wear a rash guard to protect against prickly sea urchins and sharp coral on the bottom. High surf during the winter of 2009 blew out a section of reef, creating some tricky currents for the novice oceangoer. And there have been a number of drownings and near-drownings here. A recent land disagreement cut off the traditional trail down to the beach. Now, like many other North Shore beaches, this one requires a hike along a steep, rocky trail.Slippery when wet. Amenities: parking. Best For: solitude; sunrise; nudists.
This is a great beach to sit and people-watch as diving and fishing boats, kayakers, and canoe paddlers head out to sea. Shore and throw-net fishermen frequent this harbor as well. It's not a particularly large harbor, so it retains a quaint sense of charm, unlike Nawiliwili Harbor or Port Allen. The bay is a nice, protected area for limited swimming, but with all the boat traffic kicking up sand and clouding the water, it's probably not good for snorkeling. Outside the breakwater, there is a decent surf spot. Amenities: showers; toilets; parking. Best For: solitude; swimming; sunrise.
Few—except the public relations specialists at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, which backs the beach—refer to this beach by anything other than its common name: Shipwreck Beach. Its Hawaiian name means "long beach." Both make sense. It is a long stretch of crescent-shape beach punctuated by cliffs on both ends, and, yes, a ship once wrecked here. With its onshore break, the waters off Shipwreck are best for body boarding and bodysurfing; however, the beach itself is plenty big for sunbathing, sand-castle building, Frisbee, and other beach-related fun. Fishers pole fish from shore and off the cliff and sometimes pick opihi (limpets) off the rocks lining the foot of the cliffs. The eastern edge of the beach is the start of an interpretive dune walk (complimentary) held by the hotel staff; check with the concierge for dates and times. Amenities: Parking, showers, toilets; food and drink. Best for: surfing; walking; sunrise
Highway 560 on the North Shore literally dead-ends at this beach, which is also the trailhead for the famous Kalalau Trail and the site of an ancient heiau dedicated to hula. The beach is protected by a reef—except during high surf—creating a small sandy-bottom lagoon and making it a popular snorkeling destination. If there's a current, it's usually found on the western edge of the beach as the incoming tide ebbs back out to sea. Makana (a prominent peak also known as Bali Hai after the blockbuster musical South Pacific) is so artfully arranged that you'll want to capture the memory, so don't forget your camera. The popularity of this beach often makes parking difficult. Start extra early or, better yet, arrive at the end of the day, in time to witness otherworldly sunsets sidelighting Napali Coast. Amenities: lifeguards; parking; showers, toilets. Best For: swimming; snorkeling; sunset; walking.
This is one of the premier spots on Kauai for sunset walks and the start of the state's longest beach. We don't recommend much water activity here without first talking to a lifeguard: The beach is exposed to open ocean and has an onshore break that can be hazardous any time of year. However, there are some excellent surf breaks—for experienced surfers only. Or, if you would like to run on a beach, this is the one—the hard-packed sand goes on for miles, all the way to Napali Coast, but you won't get past the Pacific Missile Range Facility and its post-9/11 restrictions. Another bonus for this beach is its relatively dry weather year-round. If it's raining where you are, try Kekaha Beach Park. Toilets here are the portable kind. Amenities: lifeguards; showers; toilets; parking. Best For: sunset; walking; surfing.
A half-mile long and adjacent to the highway heading north out of Kapaa, Kealia Beach attracts bodyboarders and surfers year-round (possibly because the local high school is just up the hill). Kealia is not generally a great beach for swimming or snorkeling. The waters are usually rough and the waves crumbly because of an onshore break (no protecting reef) and northeasterly trade winds. A scenic lookout on the southern end, accessed off the highway, is a superb location for saluting the morning sunrise or spotting whales during winter. A level, paved trail follows the coastline north and is one of the most scenic coastal trails on the island for walking, running, and biking. Amenities: lifeguard; parking; showers; toilets. Best For: surfing; swimming; walking; sunrise.
This beach went relatively unknown—except by some intrepid fishermen, of course—for a long time, hence the common reference to it as "Secret Beach." You'll understand why once you stand on the shore of Kauapea and see the solid wall of rock 100 feet high, maybe more, that cups the length of the beach, making it fairly inaccessible. For the hardy, there is a steep hike down the western end. From there, if you make the long trek across the beach—toward Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge—and if you arrive just after sunrise, you may witness a school of dolphins just offshore. You may also run across a gathering of another kind on the beach—nudists. Because of its remote location, Kauapea is popular with nude sunbathers, although the county is trying to curtail the shedding of clothes here. A consistent on-shore break makes swimming here questionable. Amenities: parking. Best For: solitude; walking; surfing.
Five minutes south of the airport in Lihue, you'll find this wide, sandy-bottom beach fronting the Kauai Marriott. This beach is almost always safe from rip currents and undertows because it's around the backside of a peninsula, in its own cove. There are tons of activities here, including all the usual water sports—beginning and intermediate surfing, bodyboarding, bodysurfing, and swimming—plus, there are two outrigger canoe clubs paddling in the bay and the Nawiliwili Yacht Club's boats sailing around the harbor. Kalapaki is the only place on Kauai where sailboats—in this case Hobie Cats—are available for rent (at Kauai Beach Boys, which fronts the beach next to Duke's Canoe Club restaurant). Visitors can also rent snorkel gear, surfboards, bodyboards, and kayaks from Kauai Beach Boys. A volleyball court on the beach is often used by a loosely organized group of local players; visitors are always welcome. Families prefer the stream end of the beach, whereas those seeking more solitude will prefer the cliff side of the beach. Duke's Canoe Club restaurant is one of only a couple of restaurants on the island actually on a beach; the restaurant's lower level is casual, even welcoming beach attire and sandy feet, perfect for lunch or an afternoon cocktail. Amenities: parking; showers; toilets; water sports; food and drink. Best For: swimming; surfing; partiers; walking. www.kalapakibeach.org.