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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
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 body board. 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. 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. All this beauty accounts for why coastal expert "Dr. Beach" named Hanalei number one in the U.S. in 2009. 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. 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.
Outrigger Lae nani