No matter what kind of beach lover you are, Kaua‘i’s north shore has a beach that will make your day: surfers revel in the world-class waves during the winter months, snorkelers enjoy pristine reefs during the summer, beachcombers can easily find shells and driftwood, and sunbathers will love the white sand and myriad nooks and crannies along the coast to find their own slice of paradise. You can post up next to a lifeguard or spend the day without seeing another soul at Secret Beach. Some beaches requires a hike and a thirst for adventure, while others provide the convenience of beachfront parking under the ironwood trees for the perfect beach picnic. North shore beaches are dynamic, raw, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the Hawaiian Islands.

blue waters of the empty beach in Moloaa Bay, Kilauea

Moloa‘a Beach is a haven away from the crowds. Photo © bochalla, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

Moloa‘a Beach

As with any beach in Hawai‘i, swimming should only be attempted when the waves are very calm. Moloa‘a means “matted roots” in Hawaiian, and the relevance of the name is apparent at the river mouth, where tree roots are exposed to the elements. Moloa‘a Beach is a crescent moon-shaped, white-sand beach. At this lesser-visited beach, black rocks jut out of the water to the far left and right of the large bay. Even though oceanfront houses back the east half of the beach, it still provides an undisturbed haven from the more crowded beaches. The river mouth here usually has rough water flowing out of it, and the water can be murkier than other river mouths in the area. The south side of the beach is nicer than the north, providing shade and safer swimming and bodyboarding than the other end of the beach. As with any beach in Hawai‘i, swimming should only be attempted when the waves are very calm. Due to the prevailing trade winds, the water at Moloa‘a Beach can be a bit rough and windy. Moloa‘a is a perfect place to watch a colorful sunset, which will most likely be enjoyed alone. To get here, turn onto the rough Ko‘olau Road between mile markers 16 and 17. Then turn onto Moloa‘a Road and follow it to the end to Moloa‘a Bay. Parking is very limited here, but signs alert visitors of where it’s okay to park.

Larsen’s Beach

Named after the former manager of Kilauea Plantation, L. David Larsen, Larsen Beach offers seclusion and enough space to stroll and see what you can find on the beach. Larsen’s is another place where the crowds are usually nonexistent, and many times you will be alone or a good distance from other visitors. The very dangerous Pakala Channel is right before the point on the north end and features an extremely strong current that beachgoers absolutely must stay out of. For the rest of the beach, if the waves are flat and conditions are very calm, snorkeling can be marvelous here. To get to Larsen’s Beach, turn down the second Ko‘olau Road headed north, right before mile marker 20, and a little over one mile down take the left Beach Access road to the end. After the cattle gate is a trail; it’s about a 10-minute walk to the bottom.

secret beach or kauapea beach on kauai's north shore

During the summer months, the waves die down and swimming is possible at Secret Beach. Photo © 7Michael/iStock.

Secret Beach

Secret Beach is a wonderful treasure at the end of a dirt road and short trail. The beach is very, very long, and when the waves are really small, generally in the summer months, swimming is possible. Conversely, during the winter months the waves pound the shore and the current is extremely strong. Steep, tall cliffs back the beach, and about halfway down the beach you’ll find a small waterfall—perfect for rinsing off.

Secret Beach is full of surprises, and depending on the season, wave size, rain, currents, and tides, you may find swimming ponds in the sand or exposed rock and tide pools. The walk down takes about 10 minutes and is a steep trail on roots and dirt. The way back up can be strenuous because of the incline. Secret Beach is also the unofficial nude beach on the north shore. Unofficial because, as signs posted by the police department will tell you, nudity is against the law. However, the signage hasn’t entirely stopped dedicated nudists.

Secret Beach is also known as Kauapea Beach, and the Kilauea Lighthouse is visible on the point at the east end. There are awesome, even more secret tide pools and another waterfall farther west past the beach. To get here, turn onto the first Kalihiwai Road heading north and take the first right onto a dirt road. Head to the end of the road; parking is behind large homes.

view of kahili beach with the ocean crashing onto the rocks

Kahili Beach on the north shore. Photo © starr-environmental, licensed CC BY 2.0.

Kahili/Quarry Beach

A long, fine white-sand beach backed by an ironwood forest, Kahili Beach is also known as Quarry Beach. A popular spot with locals for surfing and boogie-boarding, Kahili Beach is gorgeous but not a good choice for swimming. The ironwood forest growing out of the red dirt backing the beach makes for a fun place to experiment with photography. There are two sides to the beach with a ridge of rock dividing them. The east side serves as an unofficial campsite. It’s not a wide section of rock, and crossing over is simple when the waves are small. A river meets the ocean on the west end of the beach, and along the river can be a good, calm zone for swimming. During weekdays, there’s a good chance Quarry Beach will be empty, but it’s popular with locals on weekends.

Local fishers come here to catch a fish they use for bait called ‘o‘io. The fish is too bony to fry and eat, but the fishers get the meat off the bones by cutting off the tail, rolling a soda bottle over the body, and then squeezing the meat out of the cut. It’s then made into fish balls by mixing it with water, hot pepper, and bread crumbs.

To get to Kahili Beach, head north and turn right onto Wailapa Road between mile markers 21 and 22. Turn left at the yellow post and cement blocks marking the top of the road and go about a half mile down to the beach.

Waiakalua Beach

The great thing about Waiakalua Beach is that it’s usually empty and secluded. Ample shade, soft white sand, a fringing reef, and a spring at the north end add character to this beach. As usual, ocean conditions dictate whether swimming is doable here. To get here, turn onto North Waiakalua Road and turn left onto the dirt road just before you reach the end. Park at the end and walk the trail on the left. Waiakalua Beach is on the left after about a 10-minute mini hike down the steep path. To the right after the large rocks is Pila‘a Beach, which is reachable after about 15-30 minutes of walking.

Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Kaua‘i.