Kauai is a fascinating little island with palpably different climates. You can look at the island like a compass, and each direction on the compass -- North, East, South and West -- has its own weather. It only takes an hour, or so, to drive around the island, so you can quickly feel the difference in the air during a day trip.
The northern side of the island is wet, moist and humid. On the other side of the Na Pali Coast, the west-facing side of Kauai is dry, arid and almost like a desert. The eastern and southern coasts are somewhere in between.
And you’ll find Poipu Beach on the southern coast. Down here, it’s dry yet wet enough to support an abundance of tropical plants. The skies at Poipu are almost as blue as the water, and the beach features reliably good swimming weather.
That’s good news for beachgoers because Poipu is one of the best swimming beaches on Kauai. It’s also one of the best family beaches that the island has to offer, and it’s really easy to find.
Simply drive down south on the Kuhio Highway from Lihue before turning left into the Hall of Trees on Route 520. And the drive through the Hall of Trees is a treat. Giant eucalyptus trees tower over the road, and the tips of the trees bend inward to create a canopy-covered hallway. The hallway is so immersive that, at one point, the trees span for as far as the eye can see both forwards and backwards. Just remember -- pull off the road completely if you stop to take a picture.
You’ll burst out of the Tree Tunnel into another world. Flat fields full of horses stretch to distant mountains in a total change of scenery. Soon, you’ll hit a stop sign in the small town of Koloa. It’s a wonderful place to stop.
You’ll find a cute little row of shops in Koloa Town, and there’s a pretty little place to picnic near the town center’s bridge. You’ll be gawked at by feral chickens at the picnic table, but you’ll have the cover of an ancient tree right next to a trickling stream.
You can buy affordable and delicious plate lunches in the town’s little grocery store, and the small shops include an ice cream parlor for a cool treat. After your pit stop, it’s time to continue down Route 520 to Poipu Beach.
You’ll find plenty of parking at the beach park near a delicious seafood restaurant called Brennan’s, but don’t walk to the beach in front of the restaurant. That’s Brennan’s Beach, and you’re looking for Poipu Beach which is just a little bit to the west.
There are two walking entrances to Poipu Beach. The easterly entrance is easy to spot. There’s a large building which house the showers and bathrooms for the beach, and just behind the brown building, you’ll find a pleasant little grass area with picnic tables. It’s the perfect place to plop down a plate lunch in order to people watch at this busy beach.
The other entrance is hidden by trees and is just west of the main entrance. You can find a little sidewalk that takes you to the sand by following the signs for the Marriott. The walkway will take you under the shade of trees to a shower for hotel guests right on the beach.
Poipu is cut in two by a rocky sandbar. At low tide, you can walk out onto the sandbar for quite a distance, but some of the sand completely disappears under the waves at high tide. It’s best not to throw a towel down on this sandbar divider because the ocean might swallow your real estate later in the day.
On the eastern side of the sandbar, you’ll find a keiki pool that’s protected by lava rocks. This pool is usually shallow and safe for small children, but it can be wavey and dangerous during wintertime. There’s usually a lifeguard on duty at Poipu, so you can ask if the water is safe for small children when you arrive.
Sea turtles love the keiki pool, so you might see a few bobbing around in the light surf. In fact, turtles and monk seals love to lounge on the sand at Poipu, and while they are beautiful, you must keep a distance. It is illegal to touch the wildlife in Hawaii, especially green sea turtles, and law enforcement loves to issue tickets to tourists.
You’ll likely see a perimeter cordoned off around the slumbering sea creatures on Poipu. Officials are quick to put up these temporary fences, and you should respect the animal’s personal space. Simply take that selfie from a distance to respect Hawaii’s Ohana.
The western side of the sandbar is perfect for swimming. It’s much deeper over here, but the water is usually calm and features a lovely sandy bottom. It’s the kind of water that you can stand around with friends while having a conversation, or you can choose to swim laps for a workout.
The beach itself is soft underfoot, but the sand can get hot in the dry air of the southern coast. And this beach is popular, so you might be fighting for some real estate. You should be able to find some space on the western side of the beach near the Marriott. A lot of tourists believe that the beach in front of the hotel belongs to the hotel, but it does not. You can take advantage of this misconception by simply heading over there to leave the crowds behind.