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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.
There's little beach here on the eastern end of Poipu Beach Park, but Brennecke Beach is synonymous on the island 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.
A great family park, Anini features one of the longest and widest fringing reefs in all Hawaii, creating a shallow lagoon that is good for snorkeling and following the occasional turtle. It is safe in all but the highest of winter surf. The reef follows the shoreline for some 2 mi and extends 1,600 feet offshore at its widest point. During low tide—usually occurring around the full moon of the summer months—much of the reef is exposed. Anini is inarguably the windsurfing hub of Kauai, even for beginners, and it also attracts participants in the growing sport of kiteboarding. Amenities: parking; showers; toilets; food and drink. Best For: walking; swimming; windsurfing; sunrise.
Anahola is known as the most Hawaiian of all communities on Kauai, so Anahola Beach Park is definitely a locals' hangout, especially for families with small children. A child's first birthday is considered a big bash (including rented tents, picnic tables, and catered luau food) for family and friends in Hawaii, and this is a popular location for the celebration. The shallow and calm water at the beach road's end is tucked behind a curving finger of land and perfect for young ones. As the beach winds closer to the river mouth, there's less protection and a shore break favorable for body boarders if the trades are light or kona (south) winds are present. Children like to frolic in the river, and pole fishermen often set up at the river mouth. On Tuesday around 5 pm, you might catch Puna Dawson's hula halau (school) meeting. She welcomes visitors to watch and participate. If you come at sunrise, the view of Kalalea Mountains with the Anahola River trailing in front of it makes for a good photographic opportunity. Amenities: parking; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best For: swimming; partiers; snorkeling; surfing.
Because of the time change, most visitors to Hawaii awake before the sun rises. Enjoy those early hours by heading to the easily accessible and lesser-known Aliomanu Beach for a long morning walk and witness that great, orange orb emerging over the ocean's horizon. The waters off Aliomanu Beach are protected by the fringing reef 100 yards or so out to sea, making snorkeling as good as at many more popular areas; however, currents can be tricky, especially near the stream tucked in the beach's elbow toward the northern end, and at the river mouth on the southern end that demarcates Aliomanu Beach from its neighbor, Anahola Beach. A good walk is to start at the river mouth and head north, skirting a seawall midway; aqua shoes are recommended, especially for rounding the rocky point at the northern tip. With its shallow waters, this is a popular fishing and family beach, so stick to weekdays if you want quiet. Amenities: parking. Best For: walking; solitude; sunrise.
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