Few experiences in this world compare to the soul-touching magic of witnessing sunset in Kauai. The aloha vibes feel almost tangible as the skies burn red and orange while the tradewind breeze rustles the tropical palm leaves.
Generally speaking, the west coast of any island is best for watching the sunset. However, most of the western coastline in Kauai is completely inaccessible by land due to the sheer edges of the Na Pali cliffs. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 best locations for photographing Kauai sunsets on Hawaii’s Garden Isle.
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Best Kauai Sunsets #1: NaPali Coast
The Napali Coast is easily one of the best photography locations in Kauai. And, without a doubt, the Napali Coast is the absolute best place to enjoy as many Kauai sunsets as your Hawaiian vacation will allow. The last light kisses the iconic, savage cliffs with golden light. Dark shadows and brilliant highlights contrast exquisitely together above the blue water of the Pacific Ocean. It is truly magical.
Being that the NaPali coast occupies the majority of the Western side of the island, it makes sense that this is the location where you will find the best Kauai sunsets. The dramatic landscape means you will always have interest for your foreground as well.
On our visit, we booked a cruise with Na Pali Craze that allowed us to photograph through the best part of the day, returning while enjoying the magic of sunset. We highly recommend this company for young action-seekers and photographers!
For other Na Pali Coast cruise and tour options click here.
Best Kauai Sunsets #2: Queen’s Bath
The Queen’s Bath is an area of volcanic coastline on the north side of Kauai near Princeville. This lava-forged shoreline gets absolutely smashed by waves during high tides! The violent waves, textured rock sea shelf, and westerly views all combine to create our second-favorite place to photograph sunset in Kauai.
There is a caveat to visiting Queen’s Bath, unfortunately. The trail was gated off in October 2018 due to the danger of this portion of shoreline. Within a few days of your visit to Kauai, you will discover that trail closures are all-too-common. During our visit, it was young local boys that we saw putting themselves in the greatest danger. While counting wave sets, they would dive into the waters for the pure thrill of it.
As we’ve mentioned in many blogs… Our goal is not to condemn nor condone, but to educate our readers. Be aware that the Queen’s Bath is now closed. However, it is technically still legal to visit as it is a public right of way. With that said, we beg any visitors to go with respect. Respect for the locals, respect for the island, and respect for the ocean. We absolutely loved our experience here and found it extremely easy to avoid any danger with simple common sense.
With all that said, Queen’s Bath is one of the best locations to photograph Kauai sunsets on the Garden Island. Bring an ND or polarizing filter and a tripod to catch some of that beautiful wave action in a long exposure photograph!
Best Kauai Sunsets #3: Hanalei Beach
The legendary Hanalei Beach is a magical scene plucked from a daydream. Soft, golden sand form a perfect crescent beach that is tucked into the lush Hanalei Valley. Distant mountains surround the blue and aqua waters that gently surge in and out. When you close your eyes and think of sunset in Kauai, you probably imagine a Hanalei sunset!
While the Napali Coast and Queen’s Bath offer better photography opportunities, the Hanalei Bay is as good as it gets for Kauai sunsets on the beach. Find yourself a comfortable spot in the sand, or frame your shot behind some iconic Hawaiian palms. Either way, you are in for a truly special moment as the world is bathed in golden light and the sun slowly descends the Pacific horizon.
Best Kauai Sunsets #4: Waimea Canyon
We can’t decide if Waimea Canyon is too low or too high on our list of best locations for sunset in Kauai. The reason it may feel too high is that you don’t get many good views that look to the west over the Waimea Canyon.
Considered the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, we ranked Waimea Canyon so high because it is an absolutely incredible place to visit any time of day. And still, we preferred the photographs captured at sunset to any other captures.
True, you cannot actually see the sun go down over the Waimea Canyon. For that reason, some of you may view this as too high compared to other locations to photograph sunset in Kauai. Still, the soft, balanced light, and deep color in the sky made it a special place to spend an evening.
An argument could also be made that it deserved the #3 spot. There are so many similar places for photographing sunsets on the beach in Kauai, but there is only ONE landscape quite like Waimea Canyon anywhere in the world. Anyone who has ever visited can see a photo and instantly know where it was taken.
Regardless of ranking, any photographer looking for the best locations for sunset in Kauai should spend at least one night at the Waimea Canyon.
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Best Kauai Sunsets #5: Tunnel Beach
Tunnel Beach is a tropical oasis on the North Shore of Kauai. You will find this gem located on far West of the North coast, adorned by the mountains of the Napali Coast. It is an absolutely breathtaking beach for sunset photography.
Unfortunately, we were not able to visit and photograph this one ourselves as the road was closed during our visit. Don’t worry if you are planning a visit, however, as the road has since been reopened!
Despite not having been there ourselves, any search for the best Kauai sunsets will reveal incredible photos taken from Tunnel Beach.
Best Kauai Sunsets #6: Hanalei Bay Lookout
This incredible overlook will reveal itself as you drive to Princeville along the Kuhio Highway. It is spectacular any time of day, but is particularly noteworthy for enjoying a Kauai sunset.
The high elevation allows you to look down over sweeping views of the lush, tropical Hanalei Valley. Depending on the time of year, the sun may go down behind the mountains or over the Pacific.
While this is one of our favorite places to photograph sunset in Kauai, parking can be a bit of a hassle. Parking is limited in the pull off. You will want to get there early and may have to circle back a couple of times before finding a space.
Best Kauai Sunsets #7: Kalepa Ridge Trail
If you have not heard of this place, there is a lot to know before visiting. We recommend you queue up our guide to the Kalepa Ridge Trail to read next before you plan your visit. The safety and legality of this amazing trail is somewhat debated, but it provides the best land access to the NaPali Coast!
Honestly, the Kalepa Ridge Trail probably deserves a much higher spot on our list of the best locations for Kauai sunsets. However, clouds have a way of spoiling the party more often than not, making it unlikely to get a good one.
The great thing about the Kalepa Ridge Trail over the other viewpoints in Koke’e State Park is that you are able to get to the edge of the ridge and have unobscured views both East and West over the NaPali Coast. This is one of the few places on the island that you can enjoy a Kauai sunset over the NaPali coast without a boat!
Best Kauai Sunsets #8: Hanalei Pier
Back we go to Hanalei Beach! We would be remiss if we didn’t include the iconic Hanalei Pier as an awesome place for photographing Kauai sunsets. The leading lines, shapes, and backdrop make the compositions at Hanalei Pier an easy place to photograph.
Our biggest “complaint” (though we hate to use that word) is that the number of people parading back and forth can be challenging to deal with. You will also not be shocked at the number of Instagrammers changing outfits and trying thousands of poses to get one shot.
Still, the beauty of the Hanalei Beach and the Hanalei Pier cannot be denied!
Best Kauai Sunsets #9: Polihale State Park
Poliehale State Park is one of the few accessible beaches for sunset on Kauai’s west coast. Due to its incredible remoteness, it is not only a great place for sunset, but for night photography as well.
Your biggest obstacle in enjoying a Kauai sunset from Polihale will be getting there! 4WD is strongly recommended, and some rental car companies will strictly prohibit travel there.
If you can manage to get yourself there, you will have one of the few unobstructed views of the horizon on the west coast. You will also find plenty of space to have a beverage and watch for the famous “green flash.”
Best Kauai Sunsets #10: Wailua River
Wailua River is not thought of as a destination for photographing sunset in Kauai, which is exactly why it made the list! While most of the other locations are more obvious and well known, we loved watching the light change from here!
From the bridge that leads to Wailua, you look west over the stunning Wailua River that winds through tropical palms and meanders toward distant mountains. Kayakers and paddle boarders often float in and out of the scene while the clouds turn golden and the light fades.
Though it is not the best view of the sunset itself, we love the magic that unfolds during the sunset golden hour.
You can even kayak the river and visit a secret waterfall. While it is possible to do this by yourself, we’d recommend taking a tour or having a local show you the way.
Honorable Mention: Waioli Beach Park
Waioli Beach is an absolutely incredible beach for sunset in Kauai! So why is it only getting an honorable mention? Well, because it is basically the same as Hanalei Beach.
Effectively, this small beach park simply occupies a small piece of Hanalei Beach. Still, that small piece ended up being perhaps our favorite spot on the beach. We felt we couldn’t include it on the list of the best Kauai sunsets separately from Hanalei Beach. But we also couldn’t bear to leave it out!
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Camera Gear for Photographing Sunset in Kauai
While it is possible to capture some great photos nowadays with smartphones, for the best possible photos you may want to consider a few key pieces of photography gear. This is particularly important during sunset when you require a camera that can capture a high dynamic range.
You can also find out everything we have in our camera bags in this camera gear guide.
- Camera: We use the Sony a7riii and have been in love with it ever since the first photo we took with it. However, for beginners you may wish to consider an entry level DSLR. This will allow you to start getting to grips with manual settings and decide whether photography is something you enjoy enough to invest in.
- Lens: The lens we use most frequently is the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS as the zoom lens allows for the most diversity. We also often use the Laowa 15mm F2 for shots that require a wider angle.
- Tripod: A tripod is essential if you are shooting in low light, at night or for any other long exposure photography. When traveling, we use the Manfrotto Be Free as it’s lightweight and easy to carry on longer hikes. For times when we require something more stable, we use the Artcise Carbon Fiber Tripod.
- Filters: A Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter (CPL) or Neutral Density (ND) filter are very useful for allowing slower shutter speeds and for cutting glare on reflective surfaces, helping to bring out the colors. The best CPL and ND filters we have found are the Quartzline from Polar Pro.
Other Useful Kauai Blogs
We assume most of you are here in preparation for that special trip to Hawaii and the Garden Island of Kauai. If that’s you, be sure to check out our other helpful Kauai travel guides:
Only have a week in Kauai? Don’t worry, you’ll be able to see all the highlights if you plan well. We’ve created this guide detailing the perfect 7 day itinerary for Kauai to help you maximize your time and see it all!
Looking for more than just the sunset spots? This guide reveals our favorite Kauai photography locations for those of you visiting with landscape and travel photography in mind.
Final Thoughts on the Top 10 Locations for Kauai Sunsets
If the NaPali coast were more accessible, I have no doubt you could find dozens, maybe even hundreds more secluded beaches and vistas to enjoy the famous Kauai sunsets. In the effort of making this guide travel-friendly, however, we opted to include only those locations can be accessed by vehicle.
We hope you have found this useful as you plan your once in a lifetime vacation to Kauai!