Tunnels Beach, one of the most photographed beaches on Kauai

Tunnels Beach, Kauai, HI: Snorkeling & Other Things To Do (2024)

Golden sandy beaches and deep blue, crystal clear Pacific Ocean waters! Amazing tropical fish to gawk at while snorkeling!

I could be talking about any of a dozen beaches in Kauai.

But Tunnels Beach (aka Makua Beach) is unique among the best Kauai beaches.

That you’ll have golden beaches and clear blue waters, and see amazing tropical fish while snorkeling in Tunnels Beach is a given. After all you are in Hawaii!

However, the underwater seascape of Tunnels Beach is extraordinary. When ancient boiling lava met the deep blue Pacific Ocean waters, they formed all kinds of underwater structures: lava tubes, underwater caves, tunnels, arches and more!

Extensive coral reef and underwater maze of lava tunnels on Tunnels Beach, Kauai
Extensive coral reef and underwater maze of lava tunnels on Tunnels Beach, Kauai

With so much to explore, Tunnels Beach is a must on any beach lover’s itinerary on a visit to Kauai.

We spent a gorgeous weekday summer morning exploring Tunnels Beach, and we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. Tunnels Beach was one of our best beach experiences during that Kauai vacation.

Piqued your interest? Join us on a virtual tour of Tunnels Beach, and start planning your visit!

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!

Endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle swimming in the coral reefs
Endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle swimming in the coral reefs

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Tunnels Beach Directions

Tunnels Beach, part of the Maniniholo Bay on the North Shore of Kauai, is about 5 miles west from Hanalei along the Kuhio Highway (Hwy 560).

Scenic Kuhio Highway on the North Shore of Kauai towards Tunnels Beach
Scenic Kuhio Highway on the North Shore of Kauai towards Tunnels Beach

You will see signs for the Tunnels Beach Access Road after mile marker 8, and there are two small roads (about .4 and .6 miles past the marker) that lead to Tunnels Beach.

Drive slowly, you are in a residential neighborhood.

You can use tunnels beach hawaii 96746 for Google maps or GPS.

Tunnels Beach Parking

Parking for Tunnels Beach is a sorry situation. At the Tunnels Beach access point, you are in a residential neighborhood, with a few parking spots that get filled quickly. If you reach here by 9:00 am, you will likely find a spot.

I’ve seen cars double-parked along the fences of homes, obviously not friendly to the locals.

The best option for Tunnels Beach parking is to actually park at the adjacent Haena Beach Park (not to be confused with Haena State Park), a local county park with ample parking and other facilities.

Tunnels Beach to Haena Beach Park, one contiguous stretch of beach
Tunnels Beach to Haena Beach Park, one contiguous stretch of beach

You can walk down along the beach to Tunnels Beach, one continuous stretch of beach, about a 10-30 minute walk depending on where you want to end up.

If you have multiple people and a lot of equipment, you can drop off your equipment and everyone at the Tunnels Beach Access Road parking, and then have one person drive and park at Haena Beach Park.

Tunnels Beach Map

The below map shows the location of Tunnels Beach and the various nearby attractions.

Tunnels Beach Access

If you’re coming from Haena Beach Park, you can access Tunnels Beach by walking northeast along the beach.

From the Tunnels Beach Access Road (hopefully you found a legal parking spot here), short dirt and sandy paths take you to Tunnels Beach.

You are in a residential neighborhood, please be respectful.

Tunnels Beach Reservations

Tunnels Beach does not require any reservations.

Tunnels Beach Amenities / Facilities

Location: North Shore of Kauai, 5 miles west of Hanalei
Lifeguard: No
Beach Amenities: None
Food Nearby: Head to Hanalei for food options
Parking: Small lot, best option may be Haena Beach Park
Directions: Look for “Tunnels” signs around mile marker 8, beach access road off Kuhio Highway

Tunnels Beach is pristine and undeveloped, bring everything you need with you, including your equipment, water, and snacks!

For the nearest showers and restrooms, you will have to walk to Haena Beach Park, about half a mile away, along the beach.

Haena Beach Park in Kauai, Hawaii, next to Tunnels Beach
Haena Beach Park in Kauai, Hawaii, next to Tunnels Beach

>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!

Best Things to Do at Tunnels Beach, Hawaii

Makua Beach, fondly nicknamed Tunnels Beach by visiting divers and surfers after the lava tubes and tunnels, is one of the best Kauai beaches, providing family friendly spots as well as exciting opportunities for the adventurous tourist.

As with the rest of the North Shore Kauai beaches, you must align your beach activities with the seasons and weather.

Calm waters on Tunnels Beach during late spring and summer, ideal for snorkeling
Calm waters on Tunnels Beach during late spring and summer, ideal for snorkeling

During winter, North Shore Kauai beaches are more popular for surfing and related activities, and with frequent high surf and stormy weather conditions, swimming and snorkeling are usually prohibited.

During summer, the waters around Tunnels Beach are calm and clear, favoring activities like snorkeling.

1. Tunnels Beach Snorkeling

One of the best Kauai snorkeling beaches during summer, Tunnels Beach offers ample coral reefs all along the shore, and, best of all, you can explore these coral reefs, even further off the shore, in relatively shallow waters, often less than 5 feet deep.

Coral reefs on Tunnels Beach, starting from the shore
Coral reefs on Tunnels Beach, starting from the shore

There are actually two reefs, an inner reef right next to the shore and an outer reef further away.

The inner reef is perfect for beginning snorkelers and kids, and you are mostly in shallow waters. I was pleasantly surprised at the abundance of tropical fish so close to the shore.

We saw schools of the ubiquitous yellow and convict tangs, and most of the common but beautiful coral reef fish like butterflyfish, Moorish idol, goatfish, wrasse, and triggerfish (including humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the state fish of Hawaii).

Refer to our Hawaiian fish snorkeling guide to identify common and rare fish you can expect to see.

More experienced snorkelers can head towards the outer reefs where the diversity of tropical fish is better, and you can see larger fish that tend to congregate in the holes.

Outer coral reefs on Tunnels Beach extend off shore for some distance
Outer coral reefs on Tunnels Beach extend off shore for some distance

Be careful, since there are often strong currents further from the shore, and near the outer reef.

Tunnels Beach coral reefs are extensive and you can easily find a portion of the beach that matches your snorkeling capabilities, with some parts gentle, others more rough.

We saw plenty of Hawaiian green sea turtles (some hiding in the lava caves), and even a pod of spinner dolphins that entered the reefs and swam around with us for some time!

2. Tunnels Beach Swimming

During summer, the Pacific Ocean waters off Tunnels Beach are calm and conducive to swimming.

Calm ocean waters in late spring and summer, great for a relaxing swim
Calm ocean waters in late spring and summer, great for a relaxing swim

The adjacent Haena Beach Park is one of the best Kauai swimming beaches, and is more family-friendly for swimming, especially if you have smaller kids, with lifeguards and facilities like showers and restrooms.

However, Haena Beach Park tends to get crowded, and I often prefer to head to Tunnels Beach for a more relaxing swim.

Again, don’t venture too far from the beach, as strong currents and rip tides are ever present along Kauai beaches.

>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!

3. Laze or Sunbathe on the Golden Tunnels Beach

With about two miles of wide, golden sandy beaches and crystal clear, turquoise ocean waters, Tunnels Beach is a beautiful refuge for a quiet, relaxing time sunbathing or reading a book.

With shady palm trees and ironwood trees lining the coast, all you need to do is stroll around to find the perfect spot!

Shaded Tunnels Beach, ideal location for sunbathing and lazing on the beach
Shaded Tunnels Beach, ideal location for sunbathing and lazing on the beach

The setting is perfect: on one side lush, forested mountains sweeping towards the Mount Makana peak on the western end, and on the other, the golden sands and the beautiful, deep blue Pacific Ocean!

No wonder Tunnels Beach is one of the most heavily photographed Kauai beaches!

Tunnels Beach, Kauai: Beautiful, wide golden beach, turquoise blue waters, and lush green mountains
Tunnels Beach, Kauai: Beautiful, wide golden beach, turquoise blue waters, and lush green mountains

The Hollywood movie South Pacific was filmed here, and the pyramid-shaped Mount Makana Peak was called Bali Hai in the movie.

4. Stay Back for Spectacular Sunsets from Tunnels Beach

Strolling on Tunnels Beach at sunset is one of the most romantic things to do!

The sunset colors are spectacular, and watching the sun slowly sink below the ocean waters next to the pretty pyramid-shaped Bali Hai is a beautiful experience!

Dramatic colorful sunset at Tunnels Beach, Kauai, over Bali Hai
Dramatic colorful sunset at Tunnels Beach, Kauai, over Bali Hai

Tunnels Beach is one of the best sunset locations on Kauai, and we usually make it a point to stay back whenever we visit this beach.

5. Admire Turtles and Monk Seals on Tunnels Beach

Tunnels Beach is one of the few remaining pristine beaches on Kauai, unspoiled by development.

Given the residential location, and the difficulty finding parking, Tunnels Beach tends to be relatively uncrowded.

Which is great for the occasional Hawaiian green sea turtle or endangered monk seal that wants to take a peaceful nap on the beach!

Hawaiian monk seal resting on Tunnels Beach, Kauai
Hawaiian monk seal resting on Tunnels Beach, Kauai

On almost every visit to Tunnels Beach, we had the good fortune of seeing a few green sea turtles, and occasionally, solitary monk seals!

Please give them a wide berth, and admire them from far!

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!

6. Surf Tunnels Beach

With winter comes windy weather, rainstorms, and, of course, towering waves!

Winter waves at Tunnels Beach, a surfer's paradise!
Winter waves at Tunnels Beach, a surfer’s paradise!

Tunnels Beach is a surfer’s paradise! I’ve seen avid, dedicated surfers lug their boards over from the Haena Beach Park for this slice of paradise!

Renowned for its multi-location shore breaks, Tunnels Beach offers opportunity for different skill levels of surfing.

Expert surfers prefer the reef break far offshore, where the waves form large, towering tunnels, a delight for surfers!

Surfing on Tunnels Beach, Kauai, Hawaii: Find the right spot for your surfing skill level
Surfing on Tunnels Beach, Kauai, Hawaii: Find the right spot for your surfing skill level

Mid-level and beginning surfers stay closer to the beach, where the shore breaks are not as wild.

Apart from surfing, I’ve seen wind surfing and kite surfing here as well, and an occasional bodyboarder!

7. Scuba Dive or Sea Scooter Snorkel at Tunnels Beach

Adventure tourist seeking something more exciting than snorkeling? What about scuba diving and free diving?

With 25-70 foot dives, Tunnels Beach offers a beginner-friendly environment for scuba diving, and a maze of lava tubes, tunnels, caves and more to explore!

Scuba divers exploring the coral reef
Scuba divers exploring the coral reef

Multiple local vendors like Fathom Five offer guided shore diving tours, scuba diving lessons and certification, and refresher courses for the scuba-certified.

An alternative to scuba diving is snorkeling with a sea scooter, which gives you a wider range than just snorkeling.

Teenage kids in our group rented sea scooters from Princeville – Snorkeling Shore Excursion, and they had a great time exploring the coral reefs and the underwater labyrinth at Tunnels Beach!

>> Check pricing and availability on the Princeville – Snorkeling Shore Excursion now!

8. Kayak or Paddleboard or Canoe at Tunnels Beach

In late spring and summer, with the calm ocean waters and shallow depths ranging for quite some distance off the shore, Tunnels Beach is an excellent location for kayaking, standup paddleboarding and canoeing.

You can rent equipment from nearby Hanalei or Princeville, or choose to bring your own.

Kayaks on the beach
Kayaks on the beach

Last vacation, we were able to do a full-day family outing at Tunnels Beach, and the teenage kids in our group had a great time with sea scooter snorkeling, while some of the adults enjoyed a leisurely afternoon canoeing and kayaking.

Note, we parked at the Tunnels Beach Access Road parking to offload all the equipment and the kids, and a couple of us drove down to park for the day at Haena Beach Park.

Other Activities at Tunnels Beach

Fishing is a popular activity at Tunnels Beach, with the reefs providing ample food for tropical fish. We spotted some locals launching a fishing boat, and some kids trying their hand with spear fishing.

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?).

Tips for Your Visit to Tunnels Beach, Hawaii

Tunnels Beach does not have any facilities, so make sure you bring all the food, snacks, drinks and gear you will need. Haena Beach Park has restrooms and showers, and is roughly 1/2 a mile walk.

Come early if you want parking close by. Weekends are usually busy, plan a weekday if you have flexibility.

Select a snorkeling spot based on your skill level, and beginners and kids have lot of options in shallow waters close to shore.

Shallow coral reefs close to shore, safer for kids and beginning snorkelers
Shallow coral reefs close to shore, safer for kids and beginning snorkelers

As with any each beach in Kauai, safety should be your primary concern, especially if you are with smaller kids. Haena Beach Park has lifeguards, and may be a better option with smaller kids.

Check weather forecasts and high surf conditions before entering the water.

Tunnels Beach ocean waters are rough in winter, and will usually be closed for swimming and snorkeling. Please heed all the posted signs.

Warning signs during winter high surf conditions on the Tunnels Beach, Kauai
Warning signs during winter high surf conditions on the Tunnels Beach, Kauai

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 Tunnels Beach, Kauai, Hawaii?

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 Tunnels 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.

Ke'e Beach Viewpoint near the start of the Kalalau Trail, one of the best Kauai North Shore hikes
Ke’e Beach Viewpoint near the start of the Kalalau Trail, one of the best Kauai North Shore hikes

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

Limahuli Garden and Preserve is one of the best Kauai botanical gardens, located in Haena on the North Shore of Kauai.

Ancient archeological sites at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve, near Tunnels Beach, Kauai
Ancient archeological sites at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve, near Tunnels Beach, Kauai

You can view and learn about native Hawaiian plants, many that are rare and endemic, see some rare and pretty Hawaiian birds, and explore archeological sites.

Refer to our detailed guide on Kauai botanical gardens to plan a visit.

Hanalei

Hanalei is a charming town on the North Shore of Kauai, with many attractions and things to do, including views from the Hanalei Valley Lookout, exploring Maniniholo Dry Cave and other wet caves, and, of course, eating!

Maniniholo Dry Cave a few minutes from Tunnels Beach, Kauai
Maniniholo Dry Cave a few minutes from Tunnels Beach, Kauai

Best Kauai North Shore Hikes

North Shore of Kauai with its dramatic cliffs, beautiful coastline and lush, dense rainforests is a great place for hiking.

Some of the best Kauai hikes are on the North Shore including the epic Kalalau Trail and smaller subsections, the Okolehao Trail, and the Wai Koa Loop Trail and the Queen’s Bath Trail.

The beautiful Napali Coast from the Kalalau Trail, Kauai
The beautiful Napali Coast from the Kalalau Trail, Kauai

To find a trail suitable for you, refer to our detailed guide on North Shore Kauai hikes.

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.

>> Check availability and prices on Kauai car rentals now!

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!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Kauai now!

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.

>> Look for a Kauai vacation rental on VRBO now!

Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!

Coral reefs and golden sands on Tunnels Beach, one of the best North Shore Kauai beaches
Coral reefs and golden sands on Tunnels Beach, one of the best North Shore Kauai beaches

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.

We also have visitor’s guides to popular parks like Waimea Canyon State Park, which protects the namesake canyon, nearby Kokee State Park, and the remote but beautiful Polihale State Park.

Also check out the ultimate guide to visiting Haena State Park on Kauai’s north shore, and a full guide to hiking the epic Kalalau Trail.

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!

Hiking enthusiasts will want to read our article on the best hikes in Koke’e State Park: the trails here are some of the best hikes in Kauai!

We have detailed trail guides for the most popular Koke’e hikes, from the scenic Canyon Trail to the top of Waipo’o Falls, to the epic Awa’awapuhi Trail, challenging but very rewarding!

Also discover the best hikes in Waimea Canyon State Park, and the best hikes on Kauai’s north shore.

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.

Get the scoop on the best botanical gardens in Kauai, from Limahuli Garden on the north shore to McBryde and Allerton Gardens on the south shore.

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!

We also have a guide to the best snorkeling beaches on Kauai, a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches, and an article on the best Kauai south shore beaches!

Did you find this article informative? Pin it on Pinterest for later!

Discover the ultimate guide to beautiful Tunnels Beach on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii!

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