Some of Kaua‘i’s best beaches are found on the south side. They’re blanketed in fine white sand and range from popular and crowded to secluded and hardly visited. All of the beaches are in the Po‘ipu area, as Koloa, Kalaheo, and Lawa‘i are all inland areas. The beaches provide a selection of coveted Hawaii activities, such as snorkeling, surfing, swimming, and sunbathing.

waves on the shore of Mahaulepui Beach in Kauai

The Maha‘ulepu Beaches are situated on the outskirts of Kaua‘i’s south side, and well worth the trek. Photo © BackyardProduction/iStock.

Maha‘ulepu Beaches

Adventure into the outskirts of the south side and drive out to the Maha‘ulepu Beaches at the east end of Po‘ipu. You’ll travel down a long and bumpy dirt road through undeveloped land with great views of the green mountains inland. The road is fit for two-wheel-drive cars but is usually pocked with ruts and potholes. Fortune favors the brave, though. Drive slowly and eventually you’ll get to the long strip of beaches. Gillin’s Beach is the first you come to, Kawailoa Bay is the second, and the third and most secluded is Ha‘ula Beach. To get here, drive past the Grand Hyatt Kauai until the road turns to dirt. You’ll see the CMJ Stables sign as the road turns to dirt and a gate. The access is privately owned, and the gates are locked at 6pm. Respect the area and pack out everything you brought in.

Gillin’s Beach is accessed via a short trail through some dense shoreline brush. Parking is out of sight from the beach, so bring your valuables to the beach or leave them at home. The beach is very, very long, with fine white sand. It’s a nice beach for swimming, but be careful and use good judgment as the conditions are often windy and strong currents prevail. Although the beach is very long, it’s not the widest from dunes to ocean. As the tide gets higher the sand gets narrower, and you will most likely see sunbathers bordering the dunes. To the right of the beach after Elbert Gillin’s house is the Makauwahi Sinkhole, which is fun to explore. The open sandstone sinkhole has some fun elements to check out including unearthed archaeological finds.

Swimming is best east of Gillin’s at Kawailoa Bay, where the water is most protected. To get here, drive past Gillin’s and you’ll see Kawailoa Bay from the roadside, or walk from Gillin’s east around the bend, but it’s a bit of a walk. The cove is calmer here than anywhere else on the beach, but the beach isn’t quite as nice as the rest. Since the beach is in a semi-protected cove, the whipping winds can be less offensive here.

To get to Ha‘ula Beach, walk for a while along the lithified cliffs. The cliffs look wild and prehistoric; they’re rough, and you’ll want shoes for this beach walk. After about 15 minutes of walking, you’ll reach Ha‘ula Beach. Swimming out here is always dangerous, but secluded beachcombing and sunbathing is ample. Serenity and isolation is the main appeal of making the trip.

waves crashing onto Shipwreck Beach in Kauai

Shipwreck Beach with Makawehi Point in the distance. Photo © kida/iStock.

Shipwreck Beach

Shipwreck Beach fronts the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa. Named after an old shipwreck that used to rest on the eastern end, the beach is generally crowded because of its location. It offers plenty of space with about 0.5 mile of sand, but the ocean here is usually too rough for swimming except for those who are experts in the water. Local surfers and bodyboarders congregate on the east end of the beach and surf the waves along the outer reef. Also on the eastern end is Makawehi Point, the high cliff that locals like to jump off for fun. To get here, drive toward the Hyatt on Weliweli Road and turn right onto Ainako Road. Park in the small parking lot at the end.

Po‘ipu Beach Park

Po‘ipu Beach Park (at the end of Kuai Road) is hands down the most ideal beach for families and children on the south side. A protected swimming area, playground, full amenities, and grassy lawn come together to create everything necessary for a full day at the beach. It’s often crowded with visitors and local families, a testament to its popularity. The shallow ocean pool is semi-enclosed by a short rock wall, providing calm water within the rock barrier. It’s a great swimming pool for children to float and play. The water isn’t as protected on the west side of the beach, but if the waves are small it’s safe and a great zone for swimming and snorkeling. Monk seals frequent the beach too, so if you see a seal, please respect all signs and safety zones and give the seal plenty of space to snooze in the sun.

An elaborate playground for children is located at the east side of the park alongside a shade-offering tree. Picnic tables dot the grassy lawn, showers and bathrooms are on-site, and there are lifeguards on duty. There is parking available across the street from the beach, but on most days the spots are full. Get there early to grab a spot or be prepared to wait for someone to leave.

Just east of Po‘ipu Beach Park is Brennecke Beach. The waves are great for bodyboarding and bodysurfing. Surfboards are not allowed. Beginners can rent a bodyboard from Nukumoi Beach & Surf Shop (2080 Ho‘one Rd., 808/742-8019, 8am-sunset daily) across the street and charge the little waves. To get here, turn down Ho‘owili Road off Po‘ipu Road. The beach is right at the bottom along Ho‘one Road.

poipu beach in Kauai

Po‘ipu Beach is beautiful, but popular and often crowded. Photo © JuliaNufer/iStock.

Po‘ipu Beach

Also known as Sheraton Beach (because it fronts the Sheraton Kaua‘i) and Kiahuna Beach, Po‘ipu Beach is a popular, and therefore a generally crowded, beautiful beach. The swimming just offshore is usually pretty mellow thanks to the outer reef where the surfers find great waves. Surf lessons are also given here. It’s also a good spot for snorkeling if the ocean is calm, so bring your gear. There are restrooms at the grassy lawn above the sand. Parking here and along the street can be tight, so keep a lookout for several parking areas along the road. The beach is at the end of coastal Ho‘onani Road.

Baby Beach

True to its name, Baby Beach is perfect for small children and babies. The small beach is nearly always calm, still, and shallow. The water here feels more like a saltwater swimming pool than the open ocean. There is a narrow strip of white sand descending into the water, leading to a rocky bottom. Hawaiian rocks can always be a bit tough on the feet, so bringing water shoes is a good idea. Kids will love jumping around in the water with floats here. To get here, turn off Lawa‘i Road onto Ho‘ona Road and look for the beach access sign. The beach is behind the oceanfront homes.

PK’s

Located right across from the Prince Kuhio monument, hence the name PK’s, the narrow strip of sand is most notable by the surf break to the right of the Beach House Restaurant. The wave here is also called PK’s. Snorkelers will find a lot of fish here since the bottom is so rocky, but the ocean surface is usually rough. It’s best to snorkel when the waves are very small and the wind is calm. The beach is narrow and just off the road, so it’s less than ideal for a day at the beach. Drive down Lawa‘i Road and you’ll see the small beach below the roadside rock wall directly across from the monument.

Lawa‘i Beach

A small white-sand beach in an almost always sunny area, Lawa‘i Beach offers swimming and decent snorkeling along a narrow strip of white sand. The grounds of the Beach House Restaurant jut out on the left side of the beach, while condominiums act as a backdrop across the road. Across the street is a small parking lot with restrooms and a small shop. This is a popular hangout for local surfers, who enjoy a few beers at day’s end while watching the waves at PK’s. Head down Lawa‘i Road and you can see the beach from the street right past the Beach House Restaurant.

Keiki Beach

A few yards down from Lawa‘i Beach is Keiki Beach. A secluded and very small strip of sand just below the road, the small beach is accessible by hopping over the rock wall and stepping down past a few boulders. There’s a little tide pool here that’s good for a very shallow dip or for kids, only at low tide. The nice thing about this spot is that it’s nearly always uninhabited. During high tide you’ll find yourself sitting up against the rock wall, so it’s best at low tide. Although small, Keiki Beach is a change from Lawa‘i Beach just because it’s usually empty.

Lawa‘i Bay

Bordering the National Tropical Botanical Garden is Lawa‘i Bay. The bay is usually only reached by those with a passion for serious ocean adventuring. If you kayak about a mile west from Kukui‘ula Small Boat Harbor you will reach it. Those who make it there are asked to be respectful and not enter the gardens. Needless to say, you’ll most likely be alone here if you make the trip. Park your vehicle at Kukui‘ula Small Boat Harbor at the end of Lawa‘i Road. Hop in the water with your kayak and paddle about a mile west down the coast.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaii.