Top 10 Kauai Beaches (by a local)

Famous Hanalei Bay and Valley

Okay, so I know that quite a few people have written their Top 10 Kauai beaches .. but usually those are written by people who don’t live on Kauai!   So I thought I would offer my humble opinion.    Of course, it did cross my mind that I don’t want everyone coming to my favorite…. but that’s just not sharing!

Top 10 beaches on Kauai

Top 10 Beaches on Kauai

One of the wonderful things I have learned about the true Spirit of Kauai – and Hawaii overall is that the traditional way of the people here is to share, with ALOHA.   Everything.   I could get into talking about how that is how they lost title to most of this beautiful land, but that’s another story and another blog post.    Also, I’m with the Hawaiians and Native Americans and all the Indigenous peoples of the world… no one can “own” the land.   We are just passing through.

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So here we go!


10 ~ Lumahai

Lumahai….  Number 10 on the Top 10 Kauai beachesList –  famous to some of the older people amongst us who even know what the movie “South Pacific” is.   I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, but I can remember my parents talking about it and playing “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair”.   I even remember the name of the girl:  Mitzi Gaynor.   Weird that I remember that name!    Apparently it was filmed on Lumahai beach and Lumahai is, of course, quite stunning.

Lumahai Kauai Top 10 beach

Lumahai Panorama Kauai

The pool of water formed by the sand bank is a favorite with the local kids in Haena and Wainiha.   The lava rock on the sides provides a great place to watch the waves … but beware.. this is the spot where more than a few people have been dragged into the water by a rogue wave.     A few years ago locals turned out in force when big waves hit in Lumahai and were coming right up to the road.. it was quite spectacular.   But on calmer days, Lumahi is wonderful: expansive and not too busy.

9 ~ Hanalei Bay  ~ Pine Trees

Hanalei is the most famous beach on Kauai and number 9 on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list….(wow if this is number 9, what about the rest of them!)    And it IS gorgeous; I mean enormous half moon bay with views of Makana (Bali Hai) to the West, the Pier and half a dozen beaches within the bay :  The Pier, Pavilions, The Cape, Pine Trees, Grandpa’s and Waikoko’s.    It’s just the archetypal amazing beach really and there’s something for everyone.

Kauai Hanalei Bay

Famous Hanalei Bay at Sunset


Some days you can sit and watch the world class surfers out surfing the reef beneath the St. Regis.   Somedays you can watch those skilled with a long board just cruising a wave for what seems like ages at Grandpa’s.     And most days you can watch the kids jumping off the Pier and having fun on boogie boards.

I love Pine Trees because I like to sit way back on the grass near the Pine Trees or on the sand just in front of the Pine trees.    Provides shade but I still have a great view.   I like the openness there and it’s less busy most of the time.   At weekends though you get the families out playing games on the grass.    But that’s the thing about Hanalei Bay… there’s a terrific mix of surfers, teens, kids, families and romantic couples all enjoying one of the most famous bays in the world.

“Puff the Magic Dragon”    “Hanalei Moon”  and a bunch more songs have been written about this enchanting bay.   Ahhh… Hanalei.

Hanalei Bay Kauai

Fabled Hanalei Bay
Top 10 Kauai Beach

8 ~  Papa’a Bay & Flags

And coming in at Number 8 on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list is Papa’a Bay & Flags… I suppose this is sneaking one more beach in!   Papa’a Bay  is where they filmed a lot of  ” Six Days, Seven Nights” with Harrison Ford.   Just saying.   The second time I went to this beach, it was late afternoon, no one else around at all and I was walking along about 3 feet from the edge of the water.    Moving in and out of the large black lava rocks along the edge.    Was almost on top of one when it moved and looked at me with huge, limpid eyes.    The most gorgeous Monk Seal.   She was just stunning.

Of course I moved away and gave her space.    Ever since that experience I am really careful walking along beaches with large rocks to make sure that I’m not going to walk into a resting Monk Seal!

Papa’a bay is most often quiet with not many people… again, you have to walk a bit to get here so perhaps that’s why.    Secluded, beautiful, some good swimming in the right spots.   Locals out at the weekend with the kids.   Lovely.


Flags is the bay next along from Papa’a bay heading north and one of has to be on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list.     The walk down to Flags is one of my favorite walks.      Down through the shrubs and pine trees along the top of the ridge with the ocean pounding below.   I love seeing the blue of the ocean peaking through the trees and hearing it thundering getting closer as I descend along that path.   Then meeting the ocean where the drop off against the lava rock provides a perfect drop off for those brave enough to get in the water there…..

Most people walk down the South side of the beach along the rocks, picking our way through the rock and trees until we reach the beach.    Then just meandering along the beach until you find that perfect spot.    I love the old “ponds” in the ocean that are still here built by the fisherman years ago.   Flags is quiet as it takes a bit of an effort to get there, but it’s worth it.   Perfect swimming beach.

Flags Beach Kauai

Let it all go

One of my favorite to spend as long as I can.     There’s an area to the South end of the beach where on calm days you can put big floaties and muck about having fun….one of my daughter’s special places.   Here’s one of my daughters in a floatie doing just that a few years ago

7 ~ Aliomanu & Anahola

Aliomanu Bay is long and Anahola beach is wide and expansive and together they make up number 7 (sneaking another beach in again! ) on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list.    There are several small beaches along both Aliomanu roads (yes, there are two).    There are a couple of places along the length of Aliomanu bay where although small, the beach is just inviting.   Backed up against rocks Aliomanu and Anahola are in the Ahupuaa of Kalalea, the Hawaiian Homelands and the place where “the souls come in”.      There’s something about the energy here; it’s special.   I’m not sure I can even explain it.

The point on Aliomanu Bay where the river meets the ocean is a great place for families and if you walk further around you get to beautiful Anahola Bay.         Anahola is where you will find many Hawaiian families as Anahola is the “Hawaiian Homelands” where many Hawaiians live.   The town is quaint and the little store that you see on the main highway Whalers is next to the famous “Ono Char Burger there.    It’s been there forever.

Anahola Beach has a lovely big swimming area over on the South side of the beach, perfect for small children and those not great in the big waves.  It’s very protected over on that side and out of the wind.   Lots of Hawaiian families at the weekends camping out, relaxing and “talking story”.

To 10 Beaches on Kauai

Top 10 Beaches on Kauai

6 ~ Mahalepu

Mahalepu is … beautiful in all respects and number 6 on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list.    Whether you stay near the beginning part of the beach or walk around to the North end… there are areas of pine trees and shrubs where you sit in the shade and a wonderful walk along the cliffs on the north end with beautiful views.   The beach itself is big and wide.   Swimming only in calm weather.. Mahalepu can get rough.

The best thing about this beach is the “wildness” of it.   There are no houses or hotels or even food trucks.   Just the beach.   You can walk along Mahalepu and feel as though you are truly on a beach which is unspoilt by the trappings of modern tourism.

It does take effort to get there though.   15 minutes down a dirt track past the Hyatt, CJM Stables and make sure you leave by the appointed times before they close the gate halfway along the dirt track :  6pm in the Winter and 7pm in the Summer.


5 ~ Polihale

The Hawaiian’s believe that Polihale is “where the Souls depart”.    The first time I went to Polihale, it was towards Sunset in the Summer.   I parked the car as far as I could (it wasn’t a 4 wheel drive, advisable for Poliahale as otherwise you risk getting stuck in the sand) . and walked the rest of the way onto the beach.    Polihale is on the far West of Kauai and at Sunset, there it is, the Sun setting in the Western sky.

I looked at the stunning array of cliffs, one after the other reaching out into the ocean.. it reminded me of “The Lion King”  and I could see why this is where “the souls depart”.

Magnificent, inspiring, Magical

The expanse of sand is enormous and the ocean endless.   It’s 7 miles long, this extraordinary beach.   The distance between the trees and bushes that offer shade from the heat of the sun (intense in the Summer months) is big – at least 200 – 300 yards.   The waves are big.   No houses, no civilisation anywhere.   Local families arrive on Fridays (sometimes Thursdays) and drive up and down on the sand in their huge trucks.

We love to sleep on the beach but are careful to do so up a bit with boulders either side to avoid being accidentally run over by enthusiastic people in trucks.. some of them arriving in the middle of the night, early dawn to search the long beach for Sunrise shells,, those most elusive, rare and valuable of Kauai’s shells.

Top 10 Beach Kauai

Polihale Sunset Kauai Top 10 beach

Best thing to do at Polihale is to camp.    You get a permit, you stay for at least 2 or 3 nights and for that time you forget about anything except being… being on the sand, in the water, collecting wood to burn for the evening meal.. .hiking.   You listen to the sound of the goats in the sharp rising cliffs above and marvel at how they can even stand on those narrow ledges.   You are awed by the majesty of the waves, the enormous expanse of beauty that is Polihale.   It is after all, around the corner from Kalalau.. fabled valley of the ancient Hawaiians.   There is a palpable energy that makes you aware just how small you are in the grand scheme of things.  But also, there is the wonder of how amazing it is; how much fun you can have in the sand dunes, the shade, the waves, the cliffs.   It’s the ultimate get away from it all, even on Kauai.   Here and of course, Kalalau.

Polihale is 20 minutes down a dirt track, but so worth it.   Stay overnight, so you can sleep on the beach (it hardly ever rains at Polihale) and gaze up at a night sky so awe inspiring, so full of stars, you imagine you are in the outer reaches of Earth.   It’s star filled.  It’s starlike.   It’s magical.

4 ~ Secret Beach

Who wouldn’t love a beach called Secret beach?      Coming in at number 4 on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list, it was the first beach I visited on the island.   A brief 5 minute hike down an inviting path next to a stream leads you down to one of the most beautiful of all Kauai’s beaches.    It truly is.    No wonder more than one movie star got married down here… and a lot of other people too!

If you get there early enough in the morning, you might glimpse the dolphins way out on the South side of the bay jumping.. over towards the Lighthouse.   Down that end too there’s even a waterfall which provides fresh water for those who forgot to bring water or who just want to taste the real thing.   Rock pools, caves at the back and stunning surf make this beach one of the more extraordinary experiences you may have on Kauai.

My favorite time of day at Secrets is Sunset.   Something about the light there and the energy of the place.   It’s the picture postcard Tropical Island beach at Sunset.   Romantic.   Enchanting.   Don’t miss it.

3  ~ Pila’a

The last time I was at Pila’a, I wasn’t even on the beach.   I was laid out on some pine needles under a tree in an area over to the right side of the path on the way down.    Gorgeous view of the beach and ocean.   Lots of birds singing.   It was late November and I would be leaving for a few months in early December.   Pila’a is number 3 on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list.

It started raining and I wished for a rainbow.   Literally in 5 minutes, there it was.    I smiled like crazy and was just so happy to be at one of my favorite beaches before leaving for a few months.    I wasn’t on the beach because it wasn’t that sunny and I was happy to be up there with the views.

Pila'a Beach Kauai Top 10 Beach

Pila’a Beach Kauai

After the rainbow, I thought, what could top that?    And then I knew what could.   I knew it was early, but wouldn’t it be so cool to see a whale before I left island?    I put that thought out and then 2 0 minutes later climbed the path in and out of the trees and rocks back up to the car.    As I opened my car door I looked over at the ocean sparkling there and there it was :  a whale spout!

Rainbows & Whales

Yeeeessssss!    I literally jumped for joy.   There is was again.     A guy arrived with his dog and looked out too as he knew what must be going on… I said yes!  I saw a Whale.

Pila’a is a favorite beach for teachers  showing the kids the real Kauai :  hiking safely, fishing, looking for sea animals in the pools, recognizing birds,, helping clean up.    It’s a strong hike down both ends of the beach but so worth it.   Pila’a is one of Kauai’s hidden gems.   Be prepared to hike down with what you need for your stay at the beach.

2 ~ Anini

Well I just love Anini and it’s number 2 on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list.  My favorite beach for a quick hour here and there.. or even less if that’s all I have.    Two and a half miles of azure water and pristine sand… you can always find a place where there’s a couple of hundred feet between you and the next person; now that’s my idea of a beach.    It’s also terrific because you can drive anywhere along the length of the beach, park on the road and step out onto the beach…. the sand, with the water literally 20 feet away.

It’s like a Warm Pool….

Because it’s completely surrounded by a reef, Anini is just like a big swimming pool, shallow but a pool.   Perfect for young children, you can even sit a 2 year old on the edge of the water confident in the knowledge that they won’t get knocked over by a big wave.   You can put them in floaties in the foor and a half of water which extends out to hundred feet or more to the reef.     Perfect.

Anini Kauai Top 10 Beach

Anini Perfect for kids

Down towards the end, you can watch the local families fishing… the kids and women fishing for Oama (the tiny fish that they then fry) which they catch with simple hand lets and the men looking for something bigger.   It’s somehow satisfying seeing the local families out catching fish for their dinner, just as their ancestors have done for years and years before them.

The locals say that the beach was originally called “Wanini” . but the “W” fell off the old wooden sign some years back and “Anini” just caught on.   Makes sense to me.

1 ~ Ka’aka’aniu

Otherwise known as Larsen’s Beach, yes, this has been my favorite beach since I have lived on Kauai for more than 18 years.   Number 1 on the Top 10 Kauai beaches list….    Someone thankfully told me about it a few weeks after I arrived to the island and said “best shell beach on the island”.    It’s definitely great for shelling… if not the best, one of the best.

Off the Beaten Track

What to say about Ka’aka’aniu?    It’s off the beaten track, it’s quiet, there’s no houses overlooking it so it feels to me as a beach should feel:   free and open to all who come.    Yes, you have to walk down a path to get to it.. but it’s a lovely pathway through trees and shrubs with wildflowers and birds singing.

You arrive to the cliff above the beach and look left.   There it is stretching off  with the wonderful low spreading trees providing shade down on the beach in many places.    You can see from this point the famous “channel” where yes, you can get swept out to sea if you are not careful snorkeling.   But there are many rock pools and a couple of wonderful swimming holes at the far end.

Larsens Beach Hammock

Hammock at Larsens Beach

Stay a Long Time .

I go for a day at a time… or at least 4 hours.  That’s my minimum stay at Larsen’s.    I also love that it’s one of the places you can be naked… yep!   Lots of folks take advantage of getting that all over even tan down here.

And yes, you can find some wonderful shells offered up by the Ocean, along with the driftwood and nets.     It’s magic.

Kauai’s Top 10 beaches?

What about all the other beaches on Kauai?

But what about Tunnels?    What about Salt Pond?   What about Hideaways and Rock Quarries and Queen Emma’s baths?    Kealia?   Black Pot?   Wailua?  Lydgate ?    Not to mention Kalalau,  Hanakapiai….. oh my.      Well of course.   Truth is… there are SO many beaches on Kauai worthy of being in my Top 10 as well as everyone else’s.     Perhaps where I live has influenced my choice as naturally you tend to stay closer to where you live.    But then again, perhaps not.      I concede that my choice is possibly biaised to those more out of the way, secluded beaches as that is what I prefer (apart from Anini and Hanalei Bay).   Find out about Kauai’s Romantic Beaches, Best Shell Beaches & Best Beaches for Families.  

The Hawaiians have songs about all of them.   Literally every single beach on Kauai has been celebrated and serenaded through the eons of time that the amazing people of Hawaii have been here.   I wish I knew the songs.   Just know that any beach you visit on Kauai is bound to be a treasure of beauty, excitement and fun!

A Hui Hou (Until we meet again)


About the Author

Kauai Advisor ~ Francesca Azuremare ~ has lived on Kauai for 22 years. I feel blessed to live in such a magical, beautiful place. Over the years I have helped thousands of people find the perfect place to stay on Kauai whilst also advising on everything from places to propose to the best Na Pali boat ride. Now I'm sharing that information here. It's the Hawaiian way. Aloha!

  • Kent Oakley says:

    You forgot about the beach that Gilligan’s Island was filmed at.
    Moloa’a Beach.
    Ever been there?

    • Marmaduke Scarlett Merriweather says:

      Hi Kent

      Yes of course! Thank you Kent! Just didn’t make it to my Top 10. Also an opportunity to let people know… if it has been raining…. do not go swimming in Moloa’a bay until the water is completely clear. Moloa’a has farmlands up river that are not all organic…. but otherwise, yes, Moloa’a is wonderful and has a beautiful walk on the north end that you can do above the cliffs for a little while.

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