Easily one of the most majestic settings in Hawaii, and unbelievably just a few blocks from the main road, Hanalei Beach is a gorgeous half-moon of golden-white sand, 2 miles long and 125 feet wide. Hanalei means “lei-shaped,” and like a lei, the curving, ironwood-fringed sands adorn Hanalei Bay, the largest inlet on Kauai. While the cliffside St. Regis Princeville dominates the eastern vista, the view west is lush and green; behind you, emerald peaks streaked with waterfalls rise to 4,000 feet. Renowned for experts-only big surf in winter (Sept–May), Hanalei attracts both beginners and old hands with steady, gentler waves the rest of the year. In summer, much of the bay turns into a virtual lake. The county manages three different beach parks here, two with lifeguards.

Black Pot Beach Park, near the historic, 300-foot-long pier, is particularly good for swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and fishing, while you’ll also see kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders coming in from the mouth of the Hanalei River—note that it can be difficult to find parking on weekends and during holiday periods. Facilities include restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and campsites. Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park, in the center of the bay, has wide-open swimming (in calm weather), surfing, and boogie boarding under the watchful eye of lifeguards; facilities include restrooms, showers, and pavilions. “Pine Trees” is the widely used moniker for Waioli Beach Park, shaded by ironwood trees towards the western edge of the bay. It’s another popular surf spot—champions Andy and Bruce Irons grew up riding the waves here and started the children’s Pine Trees Classic held here every April. Check with lifeguards in winter about possible strong currents; facilities include showers and restrooms.