The entire island of Kauai is a photo just waiting to happen! With such endless beauty, no travel blog could ever be considered truly comprehensive. However, we have created this photography guide to make sure your itinerary includes the best of the best Kauai Photography Locations. If you happen to have a week on the Garden Island, you will want to queue up our 7 day itinerary for Kauai for reference and more precise information as well.
Before your airplane even lands, you will find yourself smashing your phone against the window trying to collect images and souvenirs of what is largely considered the most beautiful Hawaiian island. Known as “the Garden Isle”, Kauai’s lush green rainforests, tropical waterfalls, savage cliffs, and dramatic pinnacles make it a favorite for landscape photographers. Oh, and did I mention it is home to the second largest canyon in the United States!
Whether you are planning a self-drive Kauai photography tour, family trip, or romantic getaway, the unique beauty of the Garden Isle is sure to fill your heart and camera with all the aloha they can fit.
One last thing we would like to mention before we dive into our Kauai Photography Locations guide is that we have also created photography guides for the other Hawaiian islands. If you are planning or considering visits to other islands, you will want to queue up our other island guides as well:
Best Kauai Photography Locations by Region
In order to help you plan your trip, we have broken down our picks for the best Kauai photography locations by region. While the island appears to be a nearly perfect circle that would make for an easy loop, there are actually no roads that connect the island.
In fact, the main road dead-ends in Wainiha to the North, though historic flooding in 2018 closed the road past Princeville to all non-residents. Luckily, this seems to be resolved as of 2020. On the southern end, things come to a screeching halt at Polihale State Park, with a detour up to Waimea Canyon that dead-ends at Keke’e State Park. A s we recognize the confusion this can cause, we have put together a map…
Map of the Best Kauai Photography Locations
We have created a Kauai photographers map that includes all of the Kauai photography locations listed in our guide. Hopefully, this will be of assistance as you craft the most time and fuel-efficient itinerary for your vacation. Depending on whether you fly into Lihue or Princeville, you will have to adjust your route accordingly.
Every source we researched has the island divided differently and arbitrarily, which in no way helped us plan. Instead, we’ve grouped these Kauai photo locations into regions according to where you are most likely to establish home base. Each region is where you are most likely to find food and lodging central to the photography destinations nearby.
Click on the image below to open our interactive map of the best Kauai photography locations in a new tab.
Best Kauai Photography Locations: Na Pali Coast
There’s no point in wasting time, let’s get right to what is not only the best photography location on Kauai but the top photo destination in all of Hawaii… the unspeakably beautiful Na Pali Coast!
If you have ever read reviews about Kauai or researched photos for your visit, you have no doubt already become familiar with this incredible place. The splintered, jagged cliffs of the Na Pali Coast appear to have been carved by dragons themselves. Meanwhile, secret golden-sand beaches dot a shoreline that is inaccessible by anything but boat, keeping their utopian beauty pristine. Waterfalls stream through sea caves, spilling into the tropical blue waters of the Pacific…. is it any wonder photographers in Kauai cannot seem to get enough of this place?
There are three ways to experience the Na Pali Coast, with the pros and cons of each discussed below.
Na Pali Coast by Land: Hiking the Na Pali coast
The good news: Kauai photographers interested in hiking can access views of the Na Pali coast by land from both the North and South entrances.
The bad news: Much of the coast is simply inaccessible for hiking due to the sheer cliff drops, so even the most determined hikers are limited.
For most of us novice hikers, we recommend the Kalepa Ridge Trail beginning from the Kalalau Lookout in the Waimea region. The views are more limited but beautiful still. We’ll cover this in the next section!
For the dedicated hikers, the most popular track is the Kalalau Trail near Ke’e Beach to the North. Do not confuse the Kalalau Trail with the Kalalau Lookout, as they are in completely different part of Kauai! Day-use parking permits should be reserved online prior to your trip. These allow you to park in one of the incredibly limited spaces. With the day-use permit, you are able to travel only as far as Hanakāpīʻai Beach located 2 miles in.
There are Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park camping permits available as well. These allow the most dedicated Kauai photographers to travel beyond Hanakāpīʻai Beach. Note that this is required to journey past the beach even if you have no intention of actually camping!
For more information on trails and permits, visit the Kalalau Trail website, which provides everything you need to know to plan for your visit.
If it’s your first visit to Kauai, we recommend just booking the day-use parking permit to Hanakāpīʻai Beach. Or, do as we did and hike in via the Kalepa Ridge Trail from Kalalau Lookout in the southern Waimea region. There are a lot of amazing Kauai photography locations to get to during your visit, so time is likely to be precious. Due to the amount of planning and preparation that a lengthier journey entails, it makes more sense to save the longer Kalalau Trail hike for your second trip to the Garden Isle.
As mentioned, the Na Pali Coast literally provides the best photo opportunities on Kauai. Even you hikers should seriously consider a boat and/or helicopter tour in addition to your hikes. It may technically be the same place, but it sure looks different from the water and the sky!
Na Pali Coast by Sea: Boat tours of the Na Pali Coast
In our opinion, the best way to see the coastline is with a sea or sky tour. Those who can afford it may want to consider both options as they offer very different experiences. As the boat tours provide more time for less money, it is the better option for most people.
We booked our boat tour with NaPali Craze and cannot say enough good things about them! They took the time to get to know us and were willing to accommodate as many of our requests as they could. Knowing that most of us were into photography, they adjusted their itinerary and took us to the best photography destinations at the best times. They also allowed us to fly drones from the boat, provided food, and did some insane stunts. While not advertised as such, it ended up being one the best Kauai photography tours available!
Of course, if you are going with family photography in mind, you should consider a more relaxed tour company. After all, Na Pali Craze is all about fun, adventure, and as the name implies, plenty of CRAZE, and may not be as suitable for families. There are a ton of family-friendly tour providers to choose from, but Na Pali Coast Hanalei is one of the more well recognized options.
Pro Tip: Try to get on the latest cruise offered to add the magic of sunset to your experience.
Na Pali Coast by Air: Helicopter Tours of the Na Pali Coast
Some of the best pictures of Kauai you will ever see were taken of the Na Pali cliffs from the sky. Therefore, a helicopter tour is definitely something to consider. There are plenty of tour providers offering scenic flights over the Na Pali coast to choose from.
If you’re taking a flight with photography in mind then we’d highly recommend a helicopter ride over an airplane ride. This way, you won’t be battling a restricted view due to the plane’s wings. For an even better photography experience, book a doors-off helicopter ride to avoid having to shoot through glass.
Pro Tip: Avoid early flights as the Na Pali Coast is on the western side and will be in shade early. If you are visiting the island with Kauai landscape photography in mind, a late afternoon into evening flight will provide the nicest light for your photos.
Book your boat or flight trip for the Na Pali coast:
Best Kauai Photography Locations: Waimea Region
With the Na Pali Coast thoroughly discussed, we move over to the second-best opportunities for photography in Kauai; the otherworldly Waimea Region.
Waimea is the closest town to most of the locations below. However, it is still about 45 minutes away from Polihale in one direction and another 45 minutes to Kalalau Lookout in the other. Be sure to plan accordingly!
We spent more time in the Waimea Canyon State Park and surrounding area than anywhere else on the island. Many of the best landscape photography opportunities on Kauai are found from the trails and lookouts off of Hwy 550, connecting Waimea to Pu’u O Kila Lookout.
Polihale State Park
Polihale State Park is a remote beach and the westernmost accessible point on Kauai for vehicles. It is this remote nature that draws most visitors to the region. While most tourists will be limited to day trips, camping permits are available, but require a 4×4 vehicle as well.
We did not find this to be the most photogenic beach on the island. However, video enthusiasts will find that it provides an excellent location to collect footage of the stunning scenery as you drive down the beach.
As a photography location on Kauai, perhaps the greatest appeal of Polihale State Park is its lack of light pollution. Those who are willing and able to stay overnight and shoot some astrophotography will be rewarded with some of the darkest skies in all of Hawaii.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” the Waimea Canyon is one of the most fascinating landscapes you will discover anywhere in North America. In the Hawaiian language, the name “Waimea” means “reddish water”. This name will become quite apparent as you explore the various vistas overlooking this eroded phenomenon.
There are countless lookouts dotting the drive to stop at, and it would be impossible to pick a favorite. Our advice is to give yourself a lot of time to thoroughly explore and see which spot is receiving the nicest light and conditions during your visit.
With that said, most of our favorite photos of the Waimea Canyon featured Waipo’o Falls in the distance. As the lighting can often be quite harsh, we attempted to visit on multiple occasions with differing conditions. We found our favorite time to photograph was during the blue hour when the light was balanced.
If you are visiting Kauai with landscape photography in mind, be sure to schedule multiple days for the Waimea Canyon.
Red Dirt Waterfall
While it’s hard to declare the Red Dirt Waterfall one of the best Kauai photography locations, it is certainly a worthy roadside gem. You will naturally happen upon it as you gain elevation traveling along Hwy 550.
This is one of those places that looks really cool with your eyes, but can be difficult to do justice to in a frame. We recommend using a long exposure and a bit of zoom to fill your frame entirely with the waterfall. Attempting to shoot this too wide will make it appear smaller and less impressive.
After you have thoroughly explored the Waimea Canyon, continue driving toward Koke’e State Park. Here, camping is available by permit if you like. At the end of the road, you will come to a few lookouts that provide some of the best views in Kauai of the Na Pali coast. The first of these begins in a large parking lot at Kalalau Lookout.
From the parking area, a short walk earns you distant but mostly unobstructed views of the Kalalau Valley and Na Pali cliffs. The Kalalau Lookout is is an amazing place for late afternoon rainbows and sunsets, and is also where those willing will begin the <2 mile out and back hike along the semi-secret Kalepa Ridge Trail.
The view provided at from the lookout is beautiful enough to satisfy most photographers. However, those who are physically able and willing should absolutely read our guide to the Kalepa Ridge Trail, which we consider to be the best hike in Kauai!
Kalepa Ridge Trail
As has been mentioned so frequently in this blog, we consider our job not to condemn or condone, but to educate. With that in mind, the legality of the Kalepa Ridge Trail was described to us by our local guide as somewhat grey. As there is no fencing or safety precautions in place, the Kalepa Ridge Trail is technically off-limits for liability purposes. However, it’s a well known trail that is covered in most guidebooks because it has not been historically policed or enforced.
To help you decide whether or not to include it on your schedule, we have created an entire guide to the Kalepa Ridge Trail that discusses it more thoroughly. Give it a read, then decide for yourself whether or not this is something to include on your Kauai photography itinerary.
If you are at peace with the idea of proceeding with the hike, the views you will earn hiking the Kalepa Ridge Trail are perhaps the best views of the Na Pali coast that you can access by land.
We ended up doing this hike a total of 3 times, getting completely different conditions and photos each time. While we never got the quintessential rainbow over the Kalalau Valley we wanted, we were able to capture one of the craziest “fogbows” we have ever seen!
The Na Pali Coast and Kalepa Ridge Trail are easily the most Instagrammable places in Kauai, due to the one-of-a-kind natural features and remoteness of each.
For the best lighting, we recommend visiting in the late afternoon as the sun hits the distant ridge and creates some beautiful natural contrast. This is also when you will have your best chance to photograph an iconic Hawaiian rainbow.
Pu’u O Kila Lookout
Last but by no means least, the Pu’u O Kila Lookout is the end of the Koke’e road. A large parking lot is provided for a short walk to another incredible view of the Kalalau Valley and Na Pali cliffs.
The opportunity for photography here will be very similar to that of the Kalalau Lookout. However, some people prefer this vantage point.
We recommend photographing the late afternoon and sunset from either of these two lookouts. Immediately following, zip over to your favorite view of Waimea Canyon and Waipo’o Falls for some purple-sky twilight magic.
Best Kauai Photography Locations: Poipu Region
Continuing counter-clockwise around Kauai, the next region we had to explore centered around the South Coast resort town of Poipu. While the Jurassic Park-like cliffs of Na Pali are what attracts most photographers to Kauia, some time on the beach is also essential!
The Poipu region is where you will find the nicest beaches and most lavish accommodation on the South Coast of Kauai.
Shipwreck Beach is considered one of the most Instagrammable places in Kauai and is incredibly popular for Kauai vacation photography. However, this is actually one of the places we found most underwhelming. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a beautiful place to relax and take in some sun, and we did a full day of exactly that here, but in terms of photos… meh.
With that said, the sand is incredibly soft and inviting and space is ample, making it a great place to put the camera away for a minute. The real reason to visit Shipwreck Beach is that it is the nearest access point to our favorite sunrise photography location on Kauai…
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is a 2 mile stretch of coastal bliss that runs along the southernmost point of Kauai. While the entire walk is beautiful, what makes it top our list of Kauai Photography locations is the sunrise photo opportunity that exists from Makawehi Bluff!
Begin your hike from Shipwreck Beach. While facing the ocean, find and follow the trail to the left. A 10-20 minute walk will deliver you to views that overlook rough coast and tidal pools below, with a line of palm trees and cliff bluffs in the distance. As the sun comes up, it will cast its beautiful warm glow on the entire scene while hopefully saving some color for the clouds.
If you are looking for a stunning but less popular picture of Kauai to add to your portfolio, the views you get from Makawehi Bluff at sunrise are sure to provide some of your best Kaui photos!
Poipu Beach is the one to visit on the South Coast if you want to capture the iconic swaying-palm beauty of the Hawaiian beaches. The sand is silk, the water is clear, and all the conditions feel curated for an Instagram feed.
However, it is exactly those reasons that Poipu Beach is one of the busiest beaches on Kauai and has been surrounded by high end resorts. Kauai landscape photographers will likely be left uninspired by this level of manicured beauty. However, Instagrammers will find it incredibly photogenic.
Most of our Insta-worthy photos came from the Grand Hyatt Kauai located right on Poipu Beach. The grounds here are immaculate and while this level of detail can appear disingenuous in person, it looks amazing in a camera frame!
If you wish to do some Instagram photography on the property, you will likely have to buy a drink. Not to worry, you’ll be wanting a cold beverage on a hot day anyway. Besides, you’re on vacation! Call it a prop and justify it as a business expense!
On our visit to Kauai, we had a friend who was native to the island showing us around. When it came to Spouting Horn, he warned us heavily about crossing the barriers to get that sunset shot with the blowhole spouting water that too many have died seeking.
As the shot from the viewing area was fairly underwhelming and we were not wanting to dismiss our friend’s advice, we skipped this photoshoot in favor of spending it elsewhere.
Once again, we are not condemning nor condoning your actions. However, we want to urge photographers visiting Kauai to be extremely cautious if you decide to attempt this shot. The ocean is extremely unpredictable. If you have a tide high enough to give you a good water spout for your shot, then it is also high enough for a sneaker wave to put you in danger.
Best Kauai Photography Locations: Wailua Region
Just north of Lihue is one of the prettiest regions on the island of Kauai. From the town of Wailua, you are just a long walk, short drive, or kayak away from some of the best photography locations on Kauai.
Wailua and nearby Kapa’a are also where you will find the most reasonably priced food and accommodation, as it is where the highest concentration of locals call home.
In all, we spent about 4 days and 3 nights based here while we photographed the region.
Perhaps the most popular activity for tourists and locals alike in Wailua is to get a kayak and navigate the beautiful Wailua River. Even inexperienced kayakers should find it easy enough to get around. However, if you have never done this before you may want to leave your electronics behind!
For those of you with at least a basic knowledge of kayaking, it is definitely worth your time to bring your equipment for a day out on the water. The river cuts through lush tropical jungle with beautiful views at each turn. For those willing to make the hike, there is even a secret waterfall!
If you have the option, depart a few hours before sunset. This way you’ll have time to hike to the waterfall and photograph the best light as you’re returning home. We made the mistake of getting a late start and ended up unable to get any photos of the waterfall at all as we had only brought our GoPro and lower-end equipment with us. The hike back in the dark was brutal, though rowing home as the light faded was quite pleasant!
Uluwehi Falls (Secret Falls)
To reach Uluwehi Falls, you must first row a few miles up the Wailua River, then hike another 2 miles in. While this may not sound too bad, I assure you that it was more physically tolling than we expected.
However, if you plan better than we did and give yourself ample time, Uluwehi Falls is arguably one of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island of Kauai.
To find this “Secret Falls”, which is about as well-kept a secret as most on Hawaii, you are likely best off going with a guided tour. Accessing this natural treasure does require some knowledge of the area. This includes awareness of how to prepare for a weather system of wind or rain setting in that could drastically affect your experience, as well as proper protocol for dealing with motorized craft on the water.
With that said, plenty of people do opt to explore and photograph Uluwehi Falls on their own. If you are that type of person, there are a number of businesses that rent kayaks for the day in Wailua, though most will not rent on Sundays.
While some may argue that Uluwehi Falls is the best waterfall in Kauai, we feel that Wailua Falls takes the prize.
For most, Wailua Falls will be nothing more than a short drive up to a busy parking lot overlook. What’s amazing about this place is how the jungle suddenly just falls off! Surrounded entirely by lush vegetation, the Wailua River flows gracefully through before suddenly dropping into a swimmable pool below.
Most times of day it seems, the spray from the water’s plummet creates perfect rainbows and double rainbows to add an exclamation point to this beautiful scene.
It is possible to access the falls themselves through one of a few unofficial rope trails. That said, this is another one of those places where our local guide advised us that this hike has now become illegal after two tourists died trying to access nearby Opaeka’a Falls. To avoid liability and similar risks, the state acted quickly in putting up fencing around that waterfall, and a bit of chicken wiring and signs around Wailua Falls. Thus, the trail is no longer officially open, but this is rarely if ever enforced.
The legal and ethical rules here are therefore a bit murky. We are not advocating for or against visiting, as that is a choice you will have to make based on your personal compass.
If you decide to attempt the hike, know that it is muddy and requires sufficient physical condition to use ropes to descend. Flip flops are not advised.
The reward is, as one might expect, a superior view and experience than that you get from the crowded, concrete parking lot above. Until its closure, some of the most popular Kauai photography was captured from the base of Wailua Falls.
Pro Tip: The light around 2-3pm seemed to provide the best rainbows.
Another beautiful waterfall that is caused by a sudden drop along the Wailua River is Opaeka’a Falls. These days, you will have to accept the limited compositions for your photographs that are available from the parking areas. The hiking routes here have been much more securely closed down than those of Wailua Falls.
Ironically, the trail to the waterfall was originally closed to the public for liability reasons by the state of Hawaii. However, the signs they posted saying the trail was closed actually caused the death of two women who, thinking there was still a public option elsewhere, found a different trail without no-entry signage. The path they discovered was far more steep and slippery and, tragically, lead to their death. As a result, the hike to Opaeka’a Falls is now strictly forbidden, enforced, and closed off.
Just North of Wailua is the town of Kapa’a. Here, we spent many an afternoon and evening enjoying affordable food and the beautiful Kapa’a Beach Park. This grassy park looks out over the ocean-facing east, providing a beautiful place to take in sunrise.
This is also a popular place for going on leisurely strolls, throwing a frisbee, or meeting up with friends.
By itself, the Kapa’a Beach Park would not have made our list of best Kauai photography locations, were it not for a palm tree grove located at the end of Kou street near the Kapaa Swimming Pool. However, this little grove provides a stunning tropical feel and interesting foreground for a beautiful sunrise photoshoot.
Kalalea / Papa’a Bay Beach
Did you know that every beach in Hawaii is public? While some people have tried to buy up beachfront properties and claim it as their own, they cannot own the beach by law. I mention this because Papa’a Bay Beach North of Kapa’a is one of the best beaches on Kauai, and yet one of the least visited! There is a large, stunning home located right off the shoreline and the owners would prefer you think of Papa’a Beach as private. As a result, the trail is very discreet.
While we absolutely encourage you to visit and photograph this stunning beach, do be courteous and respectful of their home. Hopefully, that goes without saying.
To access Papa’a Beach, you will need to drive and park at the ‘Aliomanu Beach Parking area. From there, you will find a trail that cuts through the high grass, arriving at ‘Aliomanu Beach after about 5 minutes. To enjoy the secluded beach, go left and scramble over some boulders toward the golden-shores of Papa’a Bay Beach. You will see a large, stunning home nestled into the bay that provides a useful landmark.
The beauty of this place is its seclusion. It is quiet, free of trash and debris, and one of the more hidden gems on Kauai. If you wish to visit, please do your part in keeping it that way.
Best Kauai Photography Locations: North Shore
The North Shore of Kauai is perhaps the most popular region to stay, with Hanalei being one of the more storied Kauai vacation destinations. It is also considered the gateway to Na Pali, though we already know that it is also possible to access this coastline from the south.
What makes the North Shore such an amazing place for landscape photography in Kauai is the outstanding opportunities to photograph seascapes. The Hanalei Valley is also an area of outstanding beauty and makes it abundantly clear where the term “The Garden Isle” comes from.
On your way to Princeville, you will pass the most famous lighthouse on Kauai. The Kilauea Lighthouse is a Wildlife Reserve that maintains strange, limited hours and costs $10 for entrance. It is closed Sunday and Monday as well as holidays. The rest of the week it’s only open from 10am-4pm. It was for these reasons that we personally opted to shoot sunset at another location. However, we are including it as it is a popular destination for Kauai landscape photography.
Princeville itself is basically the Poipu of the North Shore; beautiful, but covered in resorts and high-end everything. However, this is where you will find the most available options for accommodation and establish a good base for exploring the rest of the coast.
Ok, nothing is ever going to beat the Na Pali Coast for the title of “best Kauai photography location”. But, Queen’s Bath is probably our silver medal choice. The raw, rugged terrain and powerful tides that thrash the shores of the Queen’s Bath coastline make for some incredible seascape photography. If you are able to get a good sunset, this place really shines!
While there is officially a “Queen’s Bath”, which is a large tidal pool that collects water, for the sake of this photography guide we will be referring to the entire surrounding stretch of coastline as being part of Queen’s Bath.
The trick to shooting this region is to visit late when the light is fading and the sky is hopefully getting some color. You will want to try and drag your shutter speed a bit to capture the streaming effect of the water as it drains from the porous rock walls. Or, focus on particularly violent collisions where the waves slam into the rock wall, exploding in an oceanic fireworks display!
We were gifted a magical sunset here. As a result, we captured two of our favorite images from 6 weeks of exploring the Hawaiian islands. The Queen’s Bath is an absolute cannot miss.
Unfortunately, this brings us to our usual warning. Like so much of Kauai, poor decision making has lead to the official closure of the area. Many people try to hop into the tidal pools, especially the official Queen’s Bath, to capture that Insta-worthy photo… only to meet an all-too-expected and tragic end.
What is unfortunate is that there are so many great compositions to shoot, as well as some amazing whale watching, and really no need to take such a big risk here. Even on our visit, we saw a group of young local boys counting the wave sets and diving into the water in a terrifying location. This area is actually very safe if you are mindful of the risks. However, making the mistake of thinking you can predict what the ocean is going to do next is something we hope none of you will try.
Queens Bath Falls (bonus)
There are actually a couple of small waterfalls on the muddy trail down to Queen’s Bath. However, the one we found most photogenic appears just before you access the coastline. A perfectly placed palm tree juts out atop the tumbling waters, which comes together to create an amazing photograph.
This is featured as sort of a bonus second stop. You won’t have to go out of your way to find it if you’re already planning a visit to Queen’s Bath. However, you would probably never guess the location of the photo based on how different the scene is in this shot from those previously displayed from QB.
Puu Poa Beach
Puu Poa Beach is a beautiful golden sand beach that is mostly shaded by an abundance of trees and vegetation that grows right above the shoreline. It is a popular resort spot, especially for family vacations. However, even a short walk down the beach will reward you with your own secluded piece of this oasis.
What earns Puu Poa Beach a spot on our best Kauai photography locations list over so many other beaches is the mountainous backdrop and intruding forest that create unique photo ops.
The snorkeling here is also some of the best on Kauai. The expansive reef provides a home for many species of tropical fish and a few friendly turtles.
The easiest access for Puu Poa Beach is from 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay (previously Princeville St Regis resort). If you are a guest, you will have elevator access to the beach. Otherwise, there is a public access staircase to the left of the hotel. It is a steep walk but easy enough, though parking can be extremely difficult to find.
Hanalei Valley Lookout
There are no signs for Hanalei Valley Overlook, but you will know it when you see it. As you drive the Kuhio Hwy toward Hanalei, you will come to an elevated viewpoint visible from the road with space for a few cars to park up. From here, you have one of the best views in Kauai, overlooking the legendary Hanalei Valley below.
Surprisingly, we found our favorite time of day to shoot from here was actually midday; the vibrant colors were flourishing and nothing got washed out as one might expect. Around sunrise and sunset, much of the Hanalei Valley will be shadowed and you may find yourself shooting into the sun as well.
A place as renowned in song and folklore as it is in brochures, Hanalei Bay is the idyllic location of what most consider to be the most beautiful beach in Kauai.
I doubt we need to get very lengthy describing the beauty of Hanalei Bay and Hanalei Beach therein. As this is a guide to the best photography locations in Kauai, we will at least mention that sunset is perhaps the best time to visit! Although you really can’t go wrong as it is beautiful at all times of the day.
At this point, it’s getting hard to describe yet another golden-sand beach with swaying palms that looks like a literal paradise… but Hanalei Beach is just that.
What sets it apart from other beaches on Kauai and indeed, most Hawaiian beaches, is the backdrop. Hanalei Beach is tucked into a cascading mountain range and is often enhanced by the atmospheric glow of the sun shining through a thin haze.
Plan to spend a day exploring all the views and sights of Hanalei, as you will scarcely be putting the camera down.
We also couldn’t create a photography locations guide to Kauai that does not include one of the more popular and iconic places to shoot on Hanalei Beach; the aptly named Hanalei Pier. The pier extends from the golden shore out to the turquoise Pacific Ocean, providing some interesting shapes and leading lines to work with.
While the Hanalei Pier is extremely popular, that is also what we found somewhat unappealing. There was not much room for creativity in compositions. Plus there was constant traffic created by vacationers, Instagrammers, and photographers all jostling for space. It kind of killed that chilled out vibe that makes the Hanalei region so magical.
After getting some of those classic Kauai Instagram photos from the Hanalei Pier, we searched the area for something more unique and tropical. Instead of shooting on Hanalei Beach, we opted to capture an amazing Kauai sunset from a palm tree grove just beyond the sand. As the light was fading, those palms provided the perfect foreground silhouettes to complement the colorful sky overhead.
Sadly, Tunnels Beach was closed to non-residents during our visit due to flooding that had damaged the roads. Fortunately for anyone reading this, it is open to the public once again! And looking at photos, it seems pretty obvious that this is a beach worth carving out some time for!
Tunnels Beach is another North Shore golden sand beach. It’s complete with picturesque tropical greenery and shallow reefs that add amazing texture for photography and snorkeling.
Where to stay in Kauai
Kauai is a fairly small island, being only 33 miles long and 25 miles wide. It is possible to reach any part of the island as a daytrip from wherever you choose to stay. Pretty much the longest drive you can do in Kauai would be from Ke’e Beach all the way around the island to Kalalau Lookout. While they’re less than 10 miles apart in a straight line, there is no connecting road. Therefore you’d have to drive 80 miles (2h30m) all around the island.
We’d, therefore, recommend choosing a hotel in the region that interests you the most. From there you can take day trips to all the best Kauai photography locations. Or if you prefer to not travel so far each day, you can stay in more than one region during your vacation.
We opted to rent a campervan from Kauai Campervans for our trip. This gave us both accommodation and a vehicle, allowing us to get to locations to shoot early and stay late. The thing that makes a campervan difficult in Kauai is legally sleeping in it. There are 6 county campgrounds, with 1 allowing car camping, 3 private campgrounds which allow car camping and 1 state campground. This means that staying in a campervan can be a bit more restrictive and takes more planning. It’s also worth noting that you can’t take the campervans off-road or to Polihale State Park.
With careful planning, we still loved the freedom of a campervan. However, this certainly won’t be for everyone and if you’re looking for a relaxing vacation you may be better off in a hotel. Also, considering that the average price per night in a hotel is $300, it was a cheaper option too.
Your accommodation options in Waimea are a bit more limited than in other regions. Here, you won’t find any resorts or high-end hotels, but rather cottages and cabins. However, this does provide the perfect opportunity to take some time out and relax.
Accommodation recommendations for Waimea
Waimea Plantation Cottages – For a serene, oceanfront experience this is the place. Comprised of 61 cottages across 43 acres, you’ll have your own little slice of paradise here. They offer 1-5 bedroom cottages so it’s perfect for couples, friends or family vacations.
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The south shore of Kauai is home to miles of pristine beaches and an array of activities. Despite Kauai being known for being one of the wettest spots on Earth, Poipu remains sunny throughout most of the year.
Poipu and the surrounding area have many resorts, offering all manner of luxury. This is the place if you want to relax on the beach, take part in water activities and unwind. You’ll also find a range of vacation homes and apartments further increasing your options.
Hotel recommendations for Poipu Koloa
Sheraton Kauai Resort – As previously mentioned, this hotel boasts some perfect Instagrammable spots. In addition to 2 outdoor swimming pools, it is also a stone’s throw from Poipu Beach. Beach activities, cultural activities, spa services and romantic wedding locations are all available here. Enjoy Hawaiian cuisine at one of their oceanfront restaurants with spectacular Pacific Ocean views.
Koa Kea Hotel Resort & Spa – This intimate, award-winning boutique resort is the ultimate in luxury stays. If you’re looking to indulge, this is the place for you. Here you’ll find lavish accommodation coupled with world-class service and blissful views. Take time to rejuvenate at their onsite spa with natural treatments using indigenous ingredients. Or unwind next to their oceanside fire pits.
Looking for something different?
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Kapaa / Wailua
Staying on the east coast provides a convenient base from which to explore all the best photography locations in Kauai. You will also find some slightly cheaper accommodation options here. The beaches here aren’t as picturesque as those on the north or south shores. However, they do tend to be less busy.
Hotel recommendations for Kapaa/Wailua
Kauai Shores Hotel – This oceanfront hotel is situated over 6 acres of tropical space with two outdoor pools. All of the spacious guestrooms offer a balcony with spectacular views of the garden, mountain, ocean and pool. Enjoy fresh island fare and cocktails at their oceanfront restaurant.
Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort – Situated directly on Coconut Beach, this beachfront hotel comes with an outdoor pool, hot tub, on-site restaurant and luxury spa. Each of their expansive guestrooms boasts private balconies with beautiful views.
Looking for something a bit different?
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Staying on the north shore gives you close access to perhaps the most photogenic beaches in Kauai. Set against a backdrop of mountains and surrounded by lush valleys, North Shore is a top choice for accommodation. You’ll find a range of options from upscale resorts to vacation rentals in Princeville, Hanalei and Kilauea.
The downside to staying on the north shore is its distance from the south and west regions of the island. Additionally, rainfall is higher here than other areas of the island.
Hotel recommendations for the North Shore
Wyndham Ka ‘Eo Kai – This hotel is set amongst lush tropical gardens 2 miles from Hanalei Beach Park. It boasts two outdoor pools, a hot tub, fitness centre, tennis courts and bbq area.
Hale Ho’o Maha Bed & Breakfast – Just minutes from Wainiha Beach this boutique Kauai B&B offers unique rooms with private balconies. A full daily breakfast is offered. This includes macadamia nut waffles, pancakes, bacon, fresh fruit, homemade granola and 30 varieties of tea and Kona coffee.
Not quite right for you?
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Final Thoughts on the Best Kauai Photography Locations
We hope you have not only enjoyed our travel guide to the best Kauai photography locations, but found it useful as well! You will find every visit to Hawaii’s Garden Isle to inspire different shots and moments that will result in those once-in-a-lifetime photos.
If you are considering visiting any of the other Hawaiian islands, we have also prepared photography guides for each of the main islands. This includes our guide to the best Big Island photography locations, our Instagram guide to Maui, and our guide to the best Instagram spots in Oahu.
Please check them out and let us know what you think we missed!