Haena Beach Park, Kauai!
The stunning Haena Beach and the iconic, pyramid-shaped Mount Makana, aka Bali Hai, towering over the beach, were the setting for many of the scenes of the popular war-time musical, South Pacific (1958).
So mesmerizing were the intense blue ocean waters, fine golden sands, and the lush green vegetation on the surrounding mountains, that the movie was thought to be the primary reason Kauai became a popular tourist destination!
Haena Beach Park is a free, public beach park, en route to Haena State Park (which is at the end of Kuhio Highway).
Best of all, you don’t need to navigate a complex reservation system like that for Haena State Park! All you need to do is show up at Haena Beach!
Which is exactly what we did on our first trip to Kauai, not having made advance reservations for Haena State Park.
We spent a family summer beach day at Haena Beach Park, and the kids had a wonderful time swimming, snorkeling at the adjacent Tunnels Beach, and playing in the sands!
Read on to plan your day at Haena Beach Park.
Hey, by the way! Visiting Kauai? The only way to get a real feel for the rugged beauty of this incredible island is through a helicopter tour! Check out the five highest rated Kauai helicopter tours for 2024!
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Haena Beach Directions
Haena Beach sits on a remote part of the North Shore of Kauai, almost literally at the end of the road!
Take Highway 56 north from Lihue and Kapa’a, cross Princeville, the major hub on the north shore, and where the road becomes Highway 560, Kuhio Highway.
The Hanalei Valley Lookout is a great place to stop for panoramic views of Kauai’s beautiful north shore.
Highway 560 goes past Hanalei, a charming town and a good option to break for food.
Haena Beach exit will come around mile marker #9, and you will see the lifeguard tower on the beach to the right, and the Maniniholo Dry Cave attraction on the left.
The Haena shuttle is an option, and stops at Haena Beach Park, but quite expensive, especially if you are a large family. You will need to make reservations well in advance.
Haena Beach Parking
A free public parking lot is available at Haena Beach Park just off the highway.
The parking lot has ample spots, and we had no issues finding an empty space when we visited.
Haena Beach Map
The Haena Beach map below shows the location of Haena Beach, and the main attractions nearby.
Haena Beach Access
Haena Beach can be easily accessed from the parking lot using the walkways through the grassy areas.
Haena Beach Reservations
Unlike Haena State Park, Haena Beach Park currently requires no reservations and has no entry fee.
Haena Beach Amenities / Facilities
Location: 5-7878 Kuhio Highway, Kilauea, HI 96754
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, grass areas, camping
Food Nearby: Mr. Wagon (Asian food truck), other food trucks
Parking: Free public parking lot
Directions: Highway 560 West (Kuhio Highway), mile marker #9
Haena Beach is a lifeguarded beach, and lifeguards are on duty daily from 9 am to 5 pm. The lifeguard tower is right next to the parking lot.
Food trucks are quite common in this area.
Best Things to Do at Haena Beach
Haena Beach Park, on the north shore of Kauai, is part of the large, semi-circular Maniniholo Bay.
The extended sandy shore fronting the bay includes Tunnels Beach on the right and Cannon’s Beach on the left.
The park is about 6 acres and is an excellent spot for a family beach outing, with amenities like lifeguards, restrooms, showers and parking.
Waters are usually calm in summer, but much rougher and definitely dangerous in winter.
Summer swells are not uncommon, and waves will break near the shore, making entry into the water too risky.
Check with lifeguards when in doubt!
1. Take Photos of Bali Hai from Haena Beach
Towering over Haena Beach, at the coastal end of the jagged mountain range, is Mount Makana, a pyramid-shape peak, an iconic landmark that defines the North Shore of Kauai’s skyline.
Haena Beach and Mount Makana were the setting for many scenes from the movie South Pacific released in 1958, a war-time musical.
So beautiful were the scenes, that the movie was credited with creating Kauai as a tropical vacation destination for tourists, and Mount Makana came to be known as Bali Hai, from the movie.
Many other Hollywood movies and TV shows have used the Bali Hai backdrop including Jurassic Park and Six Days Seven Nights!
2. Sunbathe or Relax with a Book on the Haena Beach
With finely powdered golden sands and grass parks, you’ll have no trouble finding a nice, secluded spot on the long and wide Haena Beach for sunbathing or reading a book.
The coconut palm trees bordering the beach provide plenty of shade, along with a couple of pavilions with picnic tables.
You may even find coconuts lying around the beach, but be warned, getting inside the hard shell to the refreshing coconut water and soft kernel flesh takes a lot of work and a really sharp knife.
The food truck folks were kind enough to cut open a couple that our kids found!
3. Take a Leisurely Stroll along Haena Beach
Haena Beach is located at the innermost tip of the crescent-shaped Maniniholo Bay, with Cannon’s Beach on the left and Tunnels Beach on the right.
Both adjacent beaches are easily accessible along the oceanside, providing for a long leisurely stroll along the sandy beach, with the waves lapping up to your feet.
We walked the entire stretch and it took us a couple of hours.
The natural scenery surrounding you as you walk along the beach is stunning, with crystal-clear, blue ocean waters and lush, verdant green, foliage bordering the beach and covering the looming mountain ranges.
4. Haena Beach Snorkeling
While Haena Beach and, more broadly, Maniniholo Bay, are surrounded by extensive reefs, Hauwa Reef to the left and Makua Reef to the right, the reefs fronting Haena Beach are relatively paltry.
While snorkeling at Haena Beach may be ok during calm ocean waters in summer, I would strongly advise you to walk over to Tunnels Beach, one of the best Kauai snorkeling beaches, if you really want to see a lot of beautiful tropical fish!
Not only will you see a lot more marine life at Tunnels Beach, the coral reefs at Tunnels Beach are amazing to explore, with underwater lava formations like arches, tubes, tunnels, caves and more!
Make sure you bring your snorkeling gear and anything else you need, Tunnels Beach is in a residential area with no rentals close by.
5. Haena Beach Swimming
But note that Haena Beach doesn’t have a protective, underwater coral reef, so the ocean waters are not particularly sheltered, and more often than not, waves will break close to shore.
So even in summer, there may be days when it is too dangerous to enter the waters, especially during high surf conditions with strong, treacherous currents. Look for orange warning signs on the beach and check with the lifeguard on duty.
In winter, with rougher waves and strong currents, swimming is definitely not advised.
6. Surf Haena Beach
As with the other North Shore Kauai beaches, Haena Beach is a magnet for experienced and professional surfers in winter, with huge, towering waves.
So even though you are limited to the shore, you can vicariously enjoy the grace and antics of these surfers as they ride the enormous waves!
These waters are definitely not for inexperienced or beginning surfers, with a vicious shore break and dangerous currents.
7. Admire Turtles and Monk Seals on Haena Beach
When we visited Haena Beach, there was a smattering of Hawaiian green sea turtles, with orange cones to isolate them from the gawking tourists.
These turtles are endangered and protected, and seem to be making a comeback because we saw one or two on almost every beach we visited!
You are more likely to see turtles on the neighboring Tunnels Beach where they can find ample algae and seaweed in the extensive coral reefs.
Please stay at least 10 feet away, as per the guidelines of NOAA for endangered species.
We heard there was a monk seal (another endangered and protected Hawaiian sea animal) on the far end of Tunnels Beach, but it disappeared by the time we made our way there.
Snorkeling and Water Activities Gear Checklist
Though you can rent snorkeling gear or use the ones that come with tours, we invested in our own gear, mainly due to Covid-19 (why take the risk?).
- Snorkeling Gear Set: We love our Cressi Light Weight Premium Travel Snorkel Set for All Family, compact and easy to pack, great fitting, and very clear underwater. The Zenoplige Mask Fins Snorkel Set is a great budget option.
- Sunscreen: Hawaii’s sun can be harsh. Avoid sunburn with sunscreen compliant with Hawaii’s 104 Reef Act. The Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen Spray, moisturizing with Vitamin E, is our go-to when we travel to Hawaii. Apply liberally and regularly!
- Underwater Camera: Want to capture Hawaii’s incredible underwater seascape and marine life? Your best budget option is the Fujifilm QuickSnap Waterproof Disposable Camera, reasonably cheap with good underwater photos! If you want high-end photos and video, you must invest in the premium GoPro HERO12 – Waterproof Action Camera, (waterproof to 33 feet)!
- Inflatable Life Jackets: If you’re planning paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking and other water sports, and prefer your own life jacket, consider one of these two US Coast Guard approved options: the Onyx M-16 Series Belt Back Manual Inflatable Life Jacket or the Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket.
- Water Shoes: Some of Hawaii’s beaches have sharp lava rocks or coral reefs, good water shoes will protect your feet (but please do not walk on the reef!). We use the Merrell Hydro Moc rubber shoes (men’s, women’s), great for slippery rocks. If you prefer sandals, we recommend the Keen Newport H2 Closed Toe Water Sandals (men’s, women’s).
- Waterproof Waist Pack: Keep your rental car keys, cards, and phone dry and safe while you swim or snorkel with a dry bag. We love this 2-pack AiRun Tech Pouch with waist strap. The transparent one is touch-screen friendly!
Things to Do Near Haena Beach Park
Maniniholo Dry Cave
Just across the road from the Haena Beach parking lot is a huge cave called Maniniholo Dry Cave, something your kids will love exploring! Make sure you have a torch or flashlight.
Haena State Park
Haena State Park, one of the most popular Kauai state parks, is at the end of the Kuhio Highway, a few miles from Haena Beach.
With one of the best beaches on North Shore Kauai, Ke’e Beach, and the trailhead to the epic Kalalau Trail along the beautiful Na Pali coast, Haena State Park is a must-visit on every tourist’s Kauai itinerary.
Due to its popularity, refer to our detailed guide on visiting Haena State Park to carefully plan your visit, preferably well in advance!
Limahuli Garden and Preserve
One of the best Kauai botanical gardens, Limahuli Garden and Preserve is located near the entrance to Haena State Park, and is well worth a visit, both to see gorgeous Hawaiian plants and for its historical, well-preserved sites.
For details on how to visit Limahuli Garden, please refer to our Kauai botanical gardens guide.
Ocean Safety Tips
Hawaii’s beaches are beautiful, but ocean activities can be dangerous. Ocean conditions are dynamic and can change without warning.
Here are some tips to enjoy the ocean and beaches safely:
- ALWAYS heed posted warning signs.
- Check conditions just before you arrive at your chosen beach, and watch conditions at the beach for a bit before you decide to enter the water.
- Swim at a lifeguarded beach and ask the lifeguard for advice before you enter the water.
- Never turn your back on the ocean, whether you are standing at the shore or on a cliff above. If you see wet rocks or sand, it means the water has been here recently.
- Know your limitations, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer. If in doubt, do not go out.
- If you choose to enter the water, go with a partner or in a group.
- Know that alcohol can impair judgment and motor skills in the water.
- Keep children close and always keep your eyes on what they are doing in the water.
- Watch for sharp coral or rocks or sea urchins.
The Best Kauai Tours
Have you booked these top Kauai guided adventures yet?
Sunset catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast (relatively more stable ride, insane views on good weather days!)
Doors-off helicopter tour of Kauai (unobstructed views, chance to see more of the island than you can by land, no middle seats!)
Kayak on the Wailua River plus hike to a waterfall (a super fun activity for active travelers, albeit a little muddy sometimes!)
Raft trip to the Na Pali Coast plus snorkeling (prepare to get wet on this exhilarating adventure!)
Eurocopter ECO-Star helicopter tour over Kauai (the most booked Kauai helicopter tour on Viator with close to 2K reviews and a 5-star rating!)
Entire Kauai Island Air Tour (super popular, less expensive than a heli tour, large bubble windows for flightseeing!)
Renting a Car in Kauai
The best things to do in Kauai are scattered all over the island.
Public transport options on Kauai aren’t great, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Kauai trip.
We always use Discover Cars to book Kauai car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Lihue Airport-Hotel Shuttle
Not planning to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport? Pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back!
This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Where to Stay in Kauai
Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Kauai you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.
Since you’ll likely want to base in a couple places on your trip to Kauai, we suggest starting your search for Kauai accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO.
We have stayed in VRBO rentals in both Poipu and Princeville and find that the choice and quality are generally great.
Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!
More Kauai Travel Inspiration
Considering a trip to the Garden Isle in Hawaii? You’ll definitely want to check out some of our other comprehensive Kauai travel and attraction guides!
If you are a first-time visitor to Kauai, start by discovering the best things to do in Kauai! From beaches and botanical gardens to cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls, Kauai has it all, and our round-up lists all of Kauai’s must-experience activities and attractions.
Planning to split a week between Kauai and another island? We have a 3 days in Kauai itinerary article you must read to help flesh out what you would like to see and do!
Read our in-depth guide to visiting the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. We give you the full scoop on the best ways to visit this stunning coast in the remote northwest of the island.
Discover our round-up of the nine spectacular state parks in Kauai, which house some of Kauai’s most treasured natural wonders.
Check out our round-up of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, from waterfalls you can view from the road to falls that require hiking and falls that are best seen from a helicopter or sightseeing flight. We also have an article on everything you need to know to visit Secret Falls Kauai on an exciting kayaking and hiking tour.
Read our guide to Wailua River State Park to discover two easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls, and our trail guide for the easy hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. We also have an article on the best Kauai waterfall hikes.
And if a helicopter tour is part of your plans for Kauai, read our article on the top-rated helicopter tours in Kauai!
We also have a trail guide for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s scenic south shore, an article on how to hike the Sleeping Giant Trail, and a guide to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the easy hikes on Kauai.
Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei, the charming town that sits in the middle of Kauai’s scenic north shore.
Read our guide to the best swimming beaches on Kauai, from Hanalei Bay on the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south shore!
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