Kauai’s Snorkeling Beaches

Kauai’s top snorkeling beaches offers magnificent marine life, great amenities, and a bit of lawn, sun, and sand! Most times it is just a short walk from your car where you can swim, snorkel, barbeque, and just relax. Sea turtles (honu) come near the shore quite often at all our beaches. While you swim, make sure to give them at least thirty feet of space if you can. As with every Kauai snorkeling site, do not feed the fish, and make sure to give sea turtles room to swim.

South Shore

The South shore is home to some of the best beaches in Kauai, such as the Kiahuna Beach at Poipu and the Brennecke’s Beach. As one of the top Kauai snorkeling beaches, Poipu beach offers magnificent marine life, great amenities, and a bit of lawn, sun, and sand. You can swim, snorkel, barbeque, and relax. The cove here is medium sized, and home to colorful fish of all shapes and sizes. Lifeguards watch over the swimmers in the water. If you walk left, there are amazing tide pools hosting all kinds of tiny marine life. Although pine and palm trees grow at Poipu, there is not much shade. Sea turtles (honu) come near the shore quite often at Poipu. While you swim, make sure to give them at least thirty feet of space if you can. You will see large schools of needlefish, baby unicorn fish, and all sorts of butterflyfish. Keep your eyes open for saddleback wrasse, juvenile rockmover wrasse (they look like seaweed!), and do not forget the Hawaii state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

The tiny Prince Kuhio Beach (aka Lawai Beach) hosts a busy reef underwater, so the Kauai snorkeling here is fantastic. This beach has little sand, but it is mostly made of lovely lava rock – not family friendly. This is a good winter snorkeling site, because that is when the water is calm on this coast. There are restrooms and outdoor showers, but no other amenities. This bay is right next to the road, and next to the Beach House Restaurant. This is not a good place for hanging out, but it is great for water sports. Sea turtles swim by often at PKs, and you are sure to find the gorgeous yellow tailed coris, needlefish, and rockmover wrasse (a rarity at many other beaches).

Eastside Beaches

Lydgate Beach Park is a Kauai snorkeling site protected from the open sea. For the little ones, there is a natural saltwater wading pool. You will be able to relax completely, because Lydgate has everything you will need: lifeguards, restrooms, shaded picnic tables, trash cans, and a huge playground.

For those of you interested in ancient Hawaiian history and culture, you can venture – respectfully, to the edge of the Hikinaakala Heiau. This sacred temple was built for worshipping the sun, and the power of the place can easily be felt today. Make sure to heed the signs declaring “kapu,” meaning stay off the temple grounds. When you are facing the ocean, the heiau is on the far left of Lydgate Park, near the Wailua River. This snorkeling site is remarkably interesting, partly because new fish are arriving all the time – carried in by the waves that wash over the walls. You are sure to enjoy watching surgeonfish, chubs, jacks, and millet seed and threadfin butterflyfish.

North Shore

Anini Beach is a lovely strip of sand that offers incredibly good Kauai snorkeling. There are also several facilities to make your time at the beach that much more relaxing. You can bring lunch, walk beneath the huge shady trees, or watch the small boats come in and out of the water at the boat ramp! This beach is kid-friendly, especially in the area to the left, away from the boats. Unlike most north shore beaches, the water here is usually calm all year long. Anini’s coral reef is chock full of beautiful fish and sea turtles. You will see surgeonfish, unicorn fish, and Moorish idol. There are humuhumunukunukuapua’a cruising around. Eels peer from their dens or swim out from coral crevices to go hunting. You might even see a gigantic manta ray or a teeny tiny seahorse hanging in the water nearby.

The North shore is worth the beautiful drive. When traveling by car, this snorkeling spot is the closest you can get to the world-renowned Na Pali Coast. In the summer months, the water at Ke’e Beach is usually calm, so summer snorkeling is perfection. The rest of the year, strong ocean currents can present real hazards for anyone in the water. No matter when you are on island, Ke’e Beach itself is always magnificent. There is a forest growing just back from the sand, where leaf-littered paths wind through the trees, and ravenous mosquitoes fly in wait. A variety of fish have made this area their home. You will see unicorn fish, goatfish, needlefish, and many kinds of wrasses. There are also coronet fish, sea cucumbers, several species of butterflyfish, and babies of many different fish species. There is a chance to swim with a sea turtle here. Head out to the very middle of this snorkeling site for the most colorful fish and coral.

Ha’ena Beach Park has the bluest water on Kauai. The brilliant blue waters lap onto a soft golden beach that is backed by tropical trees and plants, including palm trees. You will find this beach park in the north of Kauai, and in the summer months the calm water conditions mean that it is an ideal place for swimming and snorkeling. Ha’ena Beach Park could have been dreamed from the tropical paradise of your imagination. Mountains covered in dark green foliage stand watch over a stream, as it empties into the sea below. Curves of white sand wind their way gracefully down the coast. Waves crash onto the shore, while white-tailed tropicbirds dive, swoop, and call overhead.

You can easily spend a day exploring Ha’ena. Look around the Maniniholo dry cave carved into the mountains, just opposite the lifeguard tower. If you go up the road a mile to visit the blue Waikanaloa wet cave, know that it is not a place to swim. The fresh water there is full of the leptospirosis bacteria, which can really ruin your vacation. Luckily, just a mile south of your parking spot is one of the best Kauai snorkeling and swimming spots, Tunnels. After parking at Ha’ena Beach Park, you reach Tunnels by walking about a mile south along the grand, sandy beach. Like most north shore beaches, it is almost always safe and calm here in the summertime. There can be great snorkeling days other seasons, too.

Tunnels is a good spot to see sea turtles in their natural habitat – the sea! As you flounder delightfully about, all kinds of fish will surround you. You are likely to see the beautiful parrotfish (uhu in Hawaiian), Moorish idol (kihikihi), and sergeant major (manini). There is also yellow tang, pennant butterflyfish, coronet fish, and bluefin trevally (omilu). Omilu have a gorgeous outline that flashes like neon when sunlight touches it.

Westside Beaches

Salt Pond, named after the Hawaiian salt collecting ponds nearby, is a great Kauai snorkeling site for beginners. There is an offshore reef that holds back the big waves. This creates a calm spot for ocean exploration. Lifeguards stand watch, and beach facilities make your day at the shore an easy one. You can hang out on the lawn, play on the sand, or spend time in the water. Hawaiian monk seals sometimes haul out here on the sand, they like the place so much.  The fish who swim at Salt Pond Park are quite amazing. There are rainbow colored wrasses, Moorish idol, baby parrotfish, baby unicorn fish, baby goatfish and sea cucumbers. You can also expect to find beautiful raccoon butterflyfish, and boring sea urchins. Take your time hanging with the fish here, and you are sure to enjoy yourself. If you are lucky enough to see an endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Snorkeling is great fun in both coves, but most of the fish are found on the left.