The best beaches in Kauai for swimming run the gamut from reef-ringed natural swimming pools to open bays where you’ll have to duck under the Pacific waves to get in. They’re on offer on all sides of the fabled Garden Isle, from the family haven of Poipu in the south to the chic northern shoreline.
This guide offers to reveal just seven of the most popular and best beaches in Kauai for swimming. It scours the whole 113 miles of shoreline and over 63 named beaches on this uber-stunning member of the Aloha chain, all to help you pinpoint the spots that are best for paddling out and cooling off.
Generally speaking, we’d say the best season for swimming in Kauai is the summer between May and August. The winter months can bring strong NW swells to bear on the northern and eastern coasts, cutting down the number of viable swimming spots considerably.
There’s not really anywhere in Kauai or even the whole Aloha State that can match the excellence of much-loved Poipu Beach when it comes to swimming. This vacation mecca is hidden down on the warm and forever-sunny south coast of the Garden Isle, where it’s now hemmed in by golf resorts and hotels with ocean views.
It’s actually two beaches for the price of one. A long tombola of dusty ground and rock reef pokes out between them, creating a long, natural arm of land that helps to protect the inside parts of both bays from the onslaught of the Pacific swells. That means it’s almost always calm and lapping by the sands, even if the North Sore waves are roaring like monsters elsewhere in Hawaii.
Poipu Beach Park strings between the main road and the beach here just behind. It’s a lovely little spot for when some shade is required, touting picnic benches and cooler enclaves under the lanky palm trees. It even has a small playground to keep the little ones entertained while the older folk sun themselves.
Hanalei Bay Beach
Consistently voted among the top 20 beaches in the whole of the USA, Hanalei Bay Beach is one serious jaw dropper of a coastal spot. It’s a cocktail of pretty much everything you’d expect of the Aloha State – think regimented rows of coconut trees that droop low to meet wisps of white sand, all framed by a backing of sinewy mountains clad in jungle far in the distance.
So, it’s certainly a looker but what about the swimming? Well…that’s great, too. The eastern end of the bay tends to be a touch better protected from the sweeping waves that can refract in from the open oceans. However, it’s possible to swim and body surf, boogie board and wallow about in the whitewash the whole way along.
The proximity of the uber-chic Princeville region has turned Hanalei Bay Beach into a bit of a stomping ground for jet setters and whatnot in recent years. If you’ve got the cash to splash, then it’s a top spot to come a-hunting for a taste of Hawaiian luxury courtesy of five-star resort hotels with private 18-hole golf courses attached.
Baby Beach is technically another of the many coves and inlets that string along the southern Kauai shore in the aforementioned holiday haven of Poipu. But it’s not quite as popular as the eponymous Poipu Beach itself and is certainly one of the best beaches for swimming in Kauai for those with the very small kids in tow.
The reason? The whole thing is protected by a dash of cobblestone reef that ensures there’s a consistent pool of soothing sea water on the inside part of the bay, totally void of any waves and super easy to enter whenever you and the little ones need a cool off session. The only downside is that there’s no continuous lifeguard coverage.
Another great feature of Baby Beach is the fact that it’s hemmed in on the east and the west by a whole medley of other beach choices. You could start the day here with a chilled dip in the Pacific and then move across to wilder Shipwreck Beach for surf breaks off the rocks or hit up Brennecke’s Beach for some pounding boogie board waves.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from the airport terminal in eastern Kauai, Kalapaki Beach beckons would-be swimmers to the lovely east coast of the island. One look at the geography should be enough to reveal that it’s a doozy for dips in the ocean. A long, manmade seawall dominates the western side of the beach, while an arced headland topped by condos and hotels pokes out on the eastern side.
That’s plenty to offer pretty hefty protection from the cross-ocean swells and trade winds, cutting down the power of the sets that do make it through. Consequently, the whole 450-meter run of gold-tinged sand that occupies the base of the bay is lapped by only the lightest of waves. Some will come to learn surfing for the first time on the bite-sized tollers. Others simply dive in and bob around.
The closeness of Lihue town ensures there’s something of a buzz about Kalapaki Beach no matter the season. There’s a good local following here and plenty of enticing beach bars and restaurants to keep it lively throughout the week. Check out the likes of Nawiliwili Tavern for that evening cerveza on the shore, or head to Lilikoi Bar and Grill for some hearty islander fare.
We’re not going to plump for Makua Beach as one of the best beaches In Kauai for swimming during the winter months. From November to the start of spring, the whole stretch – which is also known as Tunnels for its hollowed-out reef that can create equally hollowed-out barreling waves – is bashed by heavy Pacific swells that draw in those with the board in tow, not just the board shorts.
Come the summer months, though, that all changes. Makua Beach stops showing its teeth and trades those beefy slabs of H2O for something altogether calmer. In fact, the dip in dominant swells help to calm the shoreline here so much that the whole bay becomes celebrated as the place to snorkel on the Garden Isle, with visions of submerged volcanic rocks and multi-colored coral gardens that teem with fish.
You should know that Makua Beach is one of the few choices on this list that sits on the remoter end of the northern part of Kauai. That’s not a problem – it’s still accessible on the Kuhio Highway in roughly 25 minutes from Princeville. However, it does mean there’s not that overload of hotels and beach bars that some travelers will be looking for.
If you thought that Tunnels was the end of the road on the Kauai northern shore, then you’d be wrong. It’s possible to push on one more dramatic, breathtaking bend in the headland there to reveal what some people say is the single most incredible bay in the whole Aloha State: Ke’e Beach.
It really is something else. People come from far and wide to snap selfies and even wedding shots with this lagoon of crystalline-blue water enfolded by gnarled mountains as their backdrop. It’s greener than most spots on the southern side of the island, showcasing flowing forests of palms and ironwoods that clamber up the steep sides of ancient volcanos.
There’s swimming to be done, too. You’ll need to walk through the woods to get to the shoreline, where you’ll be greeted with a well-protected swathe of water ringed by coral gardens. If you swim out far enough then the reward is a small glimpse of the beginnings of the Na Pali Coast, arguably the natural piece de resistance of Kauai as a whole.
Another rare east-coast choice, Anahola Beach sits roughly midway up the Kuhio Highway between Lihue town and the resort mecca of Princeville. It’s a wide, open, rather exposed bay, with clusters of palms and a river that sort of fishhooks through the sand on the north side to create a murky estuary that’s a veritable haven for wildlife.
The best swimming is to be done at both the far south end of the beach and the far north end of the beach. The first hasn’t got a coral reef protecting it, so there can be some light waves, but is sand bottomed and easy to enter with bare feet. The northern end is rockier but there some natural pools protected from the vast Pacific that prove popular with casual bathers.
Little Anahola towns is right behind. It’s not big and nowhere near the same size as the sprawling north shore and Poipu resorts. However, there are some romantic little rentals with ocean views and a clutch of inventing grill houses and bars, just in case you did want to make this the focal point of your whole trip.
The best beaches in Kauai for swimming – our conclusion
There are oodles and oodles of contenders when it comes to picking the best beaches in Kauai for swimming. Seriously, the 113-mile coast of the Garden Isle has options on its forever-sunny south shore around Poipu and its famous jet-setter north coast near Princeville. Some, like Poipu Beach and Baby Beach, are good year-round options thanks to their protection from the open seas. Others, like Makua Beach and Ke’e, are better in the summer months when the swells finally die down and the surfers depart.