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South, East, and West Shore Beaches's insider take:

Kalapaki Beach: Fronting the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club and Duke's Canoe Club Kauai restaurant (3610 Rice St.; 808-246-9599;, this southeastern shore beach attracts both locals and tourists, who sunbathe on the ample sand or swim and boogie board in the partially protected bay. The gentle rolling waves and sandy bottom make it the most popular spot on the island to learn to surf. The Anchor Cove shopping center is also here, along with tour operators for surfboard and kayak rentals, or sailboat and catamaran cruises. Take Rice Street off Highway 50 at the zero mile marker in Lihue.

Poipu Beach Park: This southern shore beach park is divided by a sandbar (technically called a tombolo). Swimming to the left of the sandy divide is semiprotected and almost always safe, while the right side is good for snorkeling in calm conditions. Take Highway 50 to Highway 520 toward the ocean and turn left onto Poipu Beach Road. You can't really get lost on the way here, just confused: This shoreline has one lovely beach after another, as well as a row of familiar hotels like the Sheraton Kauai (2440 Hoonani Rd.; 808-742-1661; and the Grand Hyatt.

Polihale Beach Park: At the end of Highway 50, continue along the dirt road about five miles until you reach this shockingly secluded, 300-foot-wide beach surrounded by sand dunes that stop short at the beginning of the Na Pali Coast on the western shore. Bring your own shade, snacks, and plenty of water (it gets hot on the west side of the island). And since there are no lifeguards, do not swim here—the swells can get big enough to shake the beach, and the undertow is unforgiving.

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