Kauai with Kids: The Best North Shore Beaches for Families with Young Children

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Tunnels Beach at Haena State Park, Kauai
Backdrop of green velvet and kid-friendly waters below? Kauai’s North Shore beaches can be a snorkeler’s — and a family’s delight.

With a world famous “swell” drawing surfers from around the globe in winter months, you might not think of Kauai’s North Shore as any place you’d want your young children playing in the water. Spring through early fall, however, a few of the spectacular North Shore beaches here are met by waters so calm that you’ll see toddlers and even babies playing in certain sheltered stretches along golden sand.

While you should always respect the daily surf and swim advisories at these and any other beaches, here are three best-bet beaches for pleasurable snorkeling, swimming, and splashing with toddlers and young kids on Kauai’s North Shore.

1. Anini Beach

Anini Beach, Kauai
Late-day shade easy snorkeling make Anini Beach a popular draw on Kauai’s north shore.

Often called “Kauai’s safest beach for swimming” and a favorite of many families, the sandy shore of Anini Beach actually stretches on for about 3 miles with plentiful trees for shade sprinkled along the way. Here you can wade into calm waters made still by the large Anini Reef just feet from shore. Making it all the  more popular, Anini Beach is also the closest of the three beaches to many nearby resort properties, and the first of these three you’ll come to if making a day trip north from Lihue or Poipu. As you can see here, high tide leaves little beach for lounging, however, so in peak seasons and on weekends it may feel especially crowded on the beach nearest the picnicking area and showers. Just come prepared to carry your gear (if not child) and stroll on down the sand until you find a place that suits, or watch for various beach access points from the road as you drive in.

Tips: Go early or avoid weekends when it may be extra crowded by locals, watch out for prickly tree debris if you walk around in the shady areas.

Bring: Snorkels and/or goggles for kids, charcoal and something to throw on a barbecue for lunching in the picnic area, small cooler with your own refreshments so you can make the most of your trip to this beach.

2. Tunnels Beach (a.k.a. Ha’ena State Park)

The beach at Tunnels, Kauai
No “tunnels” hitting this stretch of beach in spring – just calm, clear water and beautiful sand.

When you first arrive at the parking area for Ha’ena State Park, you may be startled by the waves rolling in beyond the lifeguard tower here. Relax: This is not where you’re staying. Walk west along the beach two minutes and you’ll suddenly realize you’re at the start of a 2-mile stretch of sand and calm waters that parallel a thriving reef.  There is not much shade to be found along the beach, and schlepping your kids and gear from the parking area across the hot sand can be a challenge–but one that will prove well worth it when your keiki spot their first humahumanukanukaapuaa within moments of sticking goggled faces in the water here.

Tips: Go early for the best parking, use the restrooms by the parking area before setting out on your hike; get there early to avoid having to park too far down the road when the parking lot fills; and get some fresh cold coconut, hot dogs, shave ice, or other snacks from the food truck on your way out; and don’t miss a quick visit to the giant cave across the street.

Bring: Snorkels and/or goggles for kids, plenty of water and snacks in a soft-sided cooler with a shoulder-carrying strap, pop-up sun tent or beach umbrella to make your own shade; good sandals for walking the distance on hot sand (for the kids especially).

3.  Ke’e Beach

Ke'e Beach
A trip to Ke’e Beach: Completely, totally, definitely worth the drive.

You’ll know you’ve reached Ke’e Beach when you run out of road – and parking. This popular beach is at its best in summer months  when the North Shore waters are at their calmest. As with Tunnels Beach, you’ll want to make your way down the beach toward your right for the calmest water and safest wading / swimming conditions along the sheltering reef. The left side of the main lagoon actually has a channel through the reef that can have dangerous currents. If you get there any time but early, you will likely have to park along the road before the small parking lot for Ke’e, so plan ahead and be prepared to carry all of your gear in one trip (you won’t want to double-back to the car for a forgotten item) and to carry any children you won’t want walking alongside the road. If that’s doable for your group, you’ll enjoy gazing up from this beach to the lush Na Pali mountains that jag upward from the lagoon while your tots splash at the water’s edge and you contemplate easy snorkeling just feet away while your partner takes his shift building castles with the keiki.

Tips: If you are hungry on your way in, or hot and thirsty on your way out, watch for a possible food truck in the parking area at Haena Beach Park (where you would park for Tunnels Beach, by the dry cave) or get fresh smoothies from the Juice Truck at Hanalei.

 Bring: Plenty of food and water for your visit – you’ll have to drive out to find anything else and, with the lack of parking, that means your visit to this beach is over for the day. Also: Pop-up sun tent and other items you’ll want in a large tote-bag that requires only one hand to carry so you can keep a firm grip on your child’s hand if you must walk along the road, and/or the Ergo or other child carrier to make hands-free baby-toting a little easier on yourself.

What’s your favorite beach on Kauai? Have you visited any of these three? Here’s a map to help you get there, and don’t miss the related Kauai posts and pages listed below for more help planning your family’s vacation.

View Kauai’s best north shore beaches for kids in a larger map

Related posts and pages:

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Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks

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