If you’re looking for a more out-of-the-way Kauai beach where you just might have the place to yourself, set your sights on Papaa Bay. This cove-like beach, set between Anahola to the south and Moloaa to the north, offers uncrowded sands, beautiful palm-and-surf views, and (often enough) decent swimming along the island’s northeast: the northern edge of the Kauai Coconut Coast.
If you caught the 1998 Harrison Ford/Anne Heche adventure-romance Six Days, Seven Nights, you’ve seen Papaa Bay on the silver screen: It served as the setting for the movie’s plane-crash sequence.
The same tropical loveliness that recommended the spot to Hollywood rewards any visitor to this tucked-away beachfront. The lavish private coastal property that backs Papaa Bay makes access a little more difficult than your average beach along the Kuhio Highway. Then again, that helps weed out the crowds and means Papaa Bay isn’t all that heavily advertised.
You’re looking at about a 15- to 20-minute hike to savor the sands of Papaa Bay. A small parking lot at the terminus of Kalalea View—reached off the Kuhio Highway via Kapaa Road and Kalalea Drive—is your starting point. (This is also the parking access for Aliomanu Beach, which lies to the south of Papaa Bay.)
A dirt road from the parking area becomes a path leading through dense grass and brush. It drops down to a rocky shore, where you’ll have several hundred feet of boulder-hopping and clambering to reach Papaa Bay’s beach to the northwest. It’s not really all that difficult, though the rocks may be too much for young children, and you should certainly exercise caution to make sure you keep your footing.
The pocket bay and its beach make a lovely scene with the palms and other seaside vegetation, the bright sands, and the turquoise waters offshore. At the north end, a fringing reef mostly buffers a nice lagoon.
This lagoon offers the safest swimming (and snorkeling) when conditions are calm; other parts of the nearshore waters are more prone to strong currents. As is typical of beaches in this area, the winter surf is often too rough and powerful to mess with. You won’t find lifeguards—or any facilities whatsoever—at Papaa Bay.
There’s also a stream emptying into the bay at the north end of the beach, which can be a good spot for wading and soaking.
You’ll rarely be sharing Papaa Bay with many other beachgoers. Indeed, as we alluded to up top, you may well find these sands altogether deserted. Having to work just a little bit for this magical Kauai oceanfront makes you feel like you’re in on a bit of a secret, and enjoying a more off-the-beaten-path gem along the Kuhio Highway.,
A separate path from the Kalalea View parking area leads to the northern reach of Aliomanu Beach. It’s possible to walk to Papaa Bay from that part of Aliomanu, if you want to hit up both of these fine, lesser-trammeled beaches.