Want to escape the crowds at Poipu Beach?
Gorgeous Shipwreck Beach, Kauai, is a definitely less crowded beach and a much better option if you really want to unwind and relax with a leisurely stroll or a lazy sunbath!
Named after shipwreck ruins long washed away, Shipwreck Beach is a beauty of a beach, with finely powdered golden sands and turquoise blue Pacific Ocean waters.
Remember the thrilling scene from the action move Six Days, Seven Nights, where Harrison Ford and Anne Heche jump off a cliff?
That’s at the far end of Shipwreck Beach, and a prime tourist attraction is watching intrepid locals (and some foolhardy tourists) perform similar cliff dives – jump off the 35-40 foot cliffs into the ocean waters below!
With one of the best coastal Kauai hikes, the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail hike, starting from Shipwreck Beach, you can combine a relaxing time on the beach with a leisurely nature stroll along the coastline.
Vacationing with family and kids? You can keep them busy with detours to see giant African tortoises, nene geese (Hawaiian state bird), and a natural sinkhole cave, the largest on Hawaii.
And with ritzy resorts like the sprawling Grand Hyatt fronting Shipwreck Beach, yummy nourishment is but a stone’s throw away.
Join us in exploring Shipwreck Beach, one of the best Kauai beaches in Poipu!
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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Shipwreck Beach Directions
Shipwreck Beach is a beautiful large beach on the crescent-shaped Keoneloa Bay, located on the southern shores of Kauai in the tourist hub of Poipu.
Shipwreck Beach is variously called Shipwreck’s Beach or Shipwrecks Beach, after the wooden ruins of a large ship that was likely washed away in the storms of the 1980s.
Take Poipu Road, one of the main arteries through Poipu, cross Grand Hyatt Resort and head south on Ainako Street.
You will pass tennis courts on your right, and the Poipu Bay Golf Course on your left, and eventually reach the free beach parking lot.
Shipwreck Beach Parking
The Shipwreck Beach Parking lot is on Ainako Street, and you have roughly 20 parking spots here.
If the free beach parking lot is full, head to the dirt parking lot above.
Shipwreck Beach Map
The below Shipwreck Beach map shows the location of the beach, and nearby attractions.
Shipwreck Beach Access
Shipwreck Beach can be accessed directly off the parking lot. Public restrooms are available near the parking lot.
Shipwreck Beach Reservations
Shipwreck Beach currently needs no reservations for visiting.
Shipwreck Beach Amenities / Facilities
Location: South Shore of Kauai, near Poipu
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables
Food Nearby: Grand Hyatt restaurants or nearby Poipu eateries
Parking: Beach parking lot on Ainako Street
Directions: South on Ainako Street from Poipu Road
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
Best Things to Do at Shipwreck Beach
One of the prettiest beaches on Kauai, for most tourists, Shipwreck Beach is best enjoyed from shore, especially if you are vacationing with family and kids.
Without the protection from fringing coral reefs or manmade barriers, the ocean waters hide strong currents and the rough waves tend to break close to shore, making swimming and snorkeling difficult, except for experts.
But there is much to see and do from shore, making Shipwreck Beach and its nearby attractions worthy of a spot on your Kauai itinerary!
1. Sunbathe or Relax with a Book on the Shipwreck Beach
Shipwreck Beach is a beautiful long and wide stretch of sand, with palm trees and other tropical trees providing plenty of shade. It is one of the prettiest beaches on Kauai’s south shore!
Finding a quiet, secluded spot to sunbathe or laze with a book is usually quite easy, and you can relax to the soothing sounds of waves rhythmically crashing over the lava rocks lining the shore.
2. Watch the Locals Cliff Jump
Late afternoon or evening, you’ll often see a bunch of local kids jumping or diving from the 35-40 feet high cliffs on the far end of the beach, into the ocean waters below.
Due to the heights, the rough waters below and the changing depth due to the tides, cliff jumping here is dangerous, but nevertheless, makes for an interesting spectacle!
Locals here have been cliff jumping and diving for years and are very familiar with the underwater terrain and risks, but tourists are strongly advised to heed the warning signs posted!
Shipwreck Beach and these cliffs were the setting for one of the famous scenes from Six Days, Seven Nights, from where Harrison Ford and Anne Heche jump into ocean waters below.
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
3. Hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
A relatively easy 5.3 mile roundtrip hike, the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail hike is one of the best easy Kauai hikes, with nominal climbing of about 300 feet up a seaside bluff.
Starting from Shipwreck Beach, you will cross Makawehi Bluffs, lithified sand dunes; Poipu Bay Golf Course with protected nene geese on their greens; Makauwahi Cave Reserve, the largest limestone cave in Hawaii; and, finally, end up at Mahaulepu Beach, another beautiful Kauai beach.
4. Surf Shipwreck Beach (or Boogie Board)
With a wide open Keoneloa Bay and winds to build up great waves, Shipwreck Beach is one of the most popular surfing spots on the southern shores of Kauai!
But the rough waves and strong currents here are best suited for experienced surfers and boogie boarders!
The rest of us can lounge on the beach and marvel at the grace of these skilled surfers as they ride the large waves!
5. Enjoy a Spectacular Sunrise from Behind Makawehi Bluff
A morning person? See if you can get to Shipwreck Beach for a spectacular sunrise.
Predawn at the beach is gorgeous, with a calm serene ambiance. And in a few minutes, you’ll see a golden sun rise from beyond the Makawehi Bluff, the lithified sand dunes at the far end of the beach.
When we were staying in the resorts nearby, the colorful sunrise was my primary motivator to get out for an early morning jog!
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!
6. Admire Turtles and Monk Seals on Shipwreck Beach
As with many of the other southern beaches of Kauai, Shipwreck Beach is also a frequent site for viewing Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) and monk seals on the shore, and being less crowded, you get much better photos for your Instagram!
These iconic Hawaiian marine life come to shore to rest and nap, and in the case of the monk seals, to playfully roll in the sand!
Both animals are endangered and protected, please give them a wide berth, and take your photos with a zoom lens!
7. Stay Back to Admire the Sunset
Watching the beautiful sunset from Shipwreck Beach is one of the most romantic things to do while vacationing in Poipu!
We would make it a point to stay back on the beach until sunset, before heading back for dinner.
We would never tire of watching the sun gracefully dip below Makahuena Point and Poipu in an array of amazing colors!
8. Shipwreck Beach Snorkeling & Swimming
Shipwreck Beach waters are rough with strong currents for most of the year, so most people prefer to wade or dip their feet in the shallows, but otherwise stay clear of the water.
While I have see strong swimmers and experienced snorkelers explore the coral reefs in these waters, especially near the lithified sand dunes at the far end, most people head elsewhere for swimming and snorkeling.
9. Spot Humpback Whales & Spinner Dolphins & Nene Geese
The nearby Makawehi Bluffs and the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail hike are great for spotting migrating humpback whales in winter and spinner dolphins year round as they breach the surface of the water!
You get clear views of a large expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and more than likely you’ll see a bunch of people pointing out where to look, excitedly!
They are typically half a mile off shore, so make sure you have a good pair of binoculars.
We’ve spotted nene geese on the nearby Poipu Bay Golf Course, and sometimes on the adjacent Mahaulepu Heritage Trail. They are an endangered species and are often found on golf courses and ranches, protected, safe environments for them!
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!
Tips for Your Visit to Shipwreck Beach
With strong currents and rough waves, avoid the ocean waters at Shipwreck Beach, especially if you have younger kids.
If you are a skilled surfer or snorkeler, make sure you understand the risks posed by the currents. Check the weather and surf conditions before entering the water.
Apply mosquito repellent and bug spray, especially at dawn and dusk.
If you are planning to hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, check out our tips for hiking that trail.
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.
What Else to Do Near Shipwreck Beach
Poipu, a tourist hub on the southern shore of Kauai, is a great place to find food, especially if you are visiting from elsewhere on the island.
If you have time to explore Poipu and nearby attractions, check out our detailed guide to the best things to do in Poipu.
Makauwahi Cave Reserve (Mahaulepu Cave)
One of the largest limestone caves in Hawaii and a giant sinkhole, Makauwahi Cave Reserve is a natural wonder worth exploring, and you can find it near the end of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail.
The environment here was suitable to preserve fossils in an undisturbed state for thousands of years, and interpretive signs explain many of the archaeological finds.
The nearby tortoise farm houses giant African spurred tortoises, imported by Lida’s Field of Dreams, a rare plant conservation project to preserve endemic Hawaiian plants.
Apparently these gentle giants love eating weeds but hate the native plants!
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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