On to beaches! Before discussing locations, my family in Kauai informed me that chairs and arches weren't allowed on beaches for wedding ceremonies. This sounded extremely odd and so I looked it up. Sure enough, much of the information I've summarized below can be found in detail here in the State of Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources permit application. DLNR has also provided a FAQ sheet here. The rules apply to all Hawaiian beaches. Check out the dates at the bottom of the forms - both were created in 2008. I haven't come across anything that contradicts the information found in these documents thus far. If you're a recent Kauai / Hawaiian beach bride and you've heard otherwise, please let me know!
Essentially, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) requires anyone engaging in commercial activities of any kind on unencumbered state lands to have a permit to do so. Weddings are considered as a commercial activity. All public beaches in Hawaii are considered unencumbered state lands. The cost of the permit is $0.10 / square foot, with a minimum of a $20.00 charge per event - according to the FAQ listed above. This price may have changed since 2008. Typically, this permit is obtained for you by your wedding coordinator, but it's good to know the price of the permit just to gauge how fair you're being charged. Whoever applies for the permit is required to have liability insurance. Photographers generally have their own permits. Your officiant would have to have to apply for a permit as well. The wording on the FAQ sounds like they have to have their own, separate from yours.
The permit allows you to have your wedding on the beach of your choice. You cannot "reserve" a spot on the beach ahead of time and ask people who are already there to vacate the area. You show up on the day of your event, pick an open spot, and that area (as specified by the square footage on your permit) is yours exclusively for 2 hours for that day. Those 2 hours must include the set-up, ceremony, and clean up.
Here's the brutal part: you cannot have any wedding props. I'll copy this verbatim from the application:
"No accessories, structures, devices, amplified instruments, appliances, apparatus or equipment of any type whatsoever shall be placed on or within the right-of-entry area or premises, including but not limited to the following:
- tents and or tarps;
- event signage of any type including banners, sandwich boards;
- kiosks or carts;
- stanchions, posts, ropes or similar equipment for the purpose of demarcation of the right-of-entry area; and
- surfboards, windsurf boards, kayaks or other ocean recreation equipment;
with the exception of the following:
- loose flowers, leis, bouquets, corsages or boutonnieres;
- unamplified musical instruments, including a conch shell;
- doves or butterflies for releases;
- a limited number of chairs as strictly necessary for the support of the elderly, infirm, or disabled persons attending the event(s);
- cameras and camera equipment;
- other non-obtrusive hand-carried wedding accessories;
- small podium or cake stand, not to exceed three feet square in size; and
- ocean vessels/equipment used exclusively for the purpose of scattering ashes during authorized funeral services."
The list below provides recommendations by wedding officiant, Julie Wirtz. It came directly from her website, Kauai Officiant. (*Gushing moment: Julie's website has been a godsend in terms of finding recommendations for vendors. I'm regurgitating her information here and I'm giving her full credit to her for it. So please, check out her site for more info.*) Though she includes links to photos for each, they seem to have been disabled. If you've got the time, enter the beach names into Flickr and see the images there. Julie can also be found in TripAdvisor as hula4me - and her forum posts there give more insights in terms of accommodations and locations. The major considerations in terms of reviews are crowds, parking, and accessibility issues for mobility challenged guests. They are arranged according to location on the island in alphabetical order. You may want to refer to my post re: restaurant / hotel venues just to gauge how far the beach is from a reception venue.
This is a beautiful ribbon of sand along the bay. Best for early morning weddings, at low tide, watching the sunrise. Very easy to park 10 ft away from the ceremony spot. Anini Beach
Beautiful and convenient, with parking roadside, just walk across the grassy field down to the beach. Restrooms, shelter, play area for kids, safe swimming for an after wedding picnic. Past the public park, there are more private picturesque and tranquil spots just perfect for a quiet intimate ceremony. Haena Beach Park - Cannons Reef (Surf Spot)
Spectacular views via a short trail off Kuhio Hwy for very small intimate beach ceremonies. Nice for morning or evening. Haena Beach Park - Tunnels (Makua) Beach
Drive right up to Haena Beach Park or walk toward Tunnels for stunning backdrop for your wedding. Early morning offers the best views of the mountains, and fewer visitors on the beach, for an amazing scenic wedding spot. Hanalei Beach or on the Pier
Beautiful location for wedding just after dawn or just before sunset, especially if there is a promise of a full Hanalei Moon. The pier is often our rainy day back up for photos, if it's raining too hard for the photographers to shoot on the beach. Hideaways Beach (Pali Ke Kua)
The beach alongside the Pali Ke Kua Condominiums has a very private feel with an awesome view of the Bali Hai mountains and Hanalei Bay. Similar view as Kamani Cove, but more spacious beach. Best Pick for guests of Pali Ke Kua Condominiums. Ke'e Beach
At the base of Mt Makana (Bali Hai) this is an exquisite wedding location in early morning or sunset. This location is often crowded except very early and very late in the day. It's also a long drive back to your lodging. A short walk east on the beach, takes you to the point pictured, with a nice view of Na Pali coastline. An 8am wedding would treat you to a gorgeous view of the Napali Coastline, with very few if any visitors on the beach. Larsens Beach
Good for pre-sunset weddings or post sunrise weddings! Large beach, lots of privacy. Lumahai Beach NOTE: This location is only available for weddings Memorial Day - Labor Day
Drive right up to the far west end or hike down to the more famous east end of this picturesque beach. Beautiful anytime, but especially in early morning. Available summer months only (June, July, August) Moloa'a Beach
Very handy if you are staying in one of the vacation rentals in the area. Uncrowded beach most of the day. Princeville Beach (Pu'u Poa Beach)
The beach below the Princeville St. Regis Hotel and the Hanalei Bay Resort offers a picturesque view of "Bali Hai." Secret Beach
There is a steep trail leading to this gorgeous beach. Suitable for athletic couples, casual beach wedding early morning or pre-sunset. This beach offers a view of the Kilauea Lighthouse. Coconut Coast
Papaloa Cove Kalapaki Beach
The beach in front of the Marriott is a convenient wedding location for couples staying there. We usually go to the East side of the beach for more privacy.
Convenient for guests at Aloha Beach Resort and Kaha Lani. Restrooms, walking trail, playground. Great location for Sunrise or Twilight weddings.
Convenient for those staying at Kauai Beach Resort or drive up and park on the sand at this usually secluded beach. Photographs can include the Anahola Mountains in the background.
Picturesque setting on the Coconut Coast at the northern edge of Wailua Beach, below Wailua Bay View condominiums or Hale Awapuhi. Drive right up to the beach or use the beach access trail. South Shore
Baby Beach Tucked between some oceanfront homes, Baby Beach offers a somewhat private setting with a beautiful view of the ocean, palm trees, and a hint of sunset. Being close to the Beach House Restaurant, it's a popular wedding spot. Kiahuna Beach at Poipu This is the beach that fronts the Sheraton Hotel and Kiahuna Plantation. Crowded at times, but very nice at sunset. If you are staying there, it is very convenient. Also near the Plantation Gardens Restaurant, if you're dining there. Lawai Beach Also near the Beach House Restaurant, the beach in front of the Lawai Beach Resorts, makes a beautiful and intimate setting for watching the sun set. Because crowds often gather at sunset at this location, you might consider watching the sunset together, then having a small intimate ceremony just after dark, in the twilight hour. Mahaulepu Beaches (Gillins Beach Kawailoa Beach, Haula Beach, Craggy Cliffs overlooking the Sea , tiny cove) If you don't mind a bumpy dirt road ending in a dirt parking lot, then a short flat trail to the beach, this is a gorgeous private setting on the South side for a morning or sunset wedding. If you are slightly adventurous and want a beautiful, uncrowded spot, there are are many spots to choose from.. high on a lithified cliff overlooking the ocean or on a secluded beach. Poipu Beach fronting the Sheraton & Kiahuna Plantation While this is a crowded well populated beach most of the day, there are some spots that afford some privacy and a beautiful setting. For parties staying in the condos or hotels along the Poipu Beach Strip, this is a convenient spot, especially if eating at Plantation Gardens afterwards. (Might be less crowded early in the morning, but if you don't mind a few people around, sunset is also very nice!) Poipu Beach Park Grassy area, golden sand, picnic shelters, tables, restrooms. Too crowded in afternoon, evening. Less crowded early morning. How about a wedding just after dawn? Shipwreck Beach Located near Poipu Kai Resort and Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort, this is a convenient and popular beach wedding location. Besides the main beach, there is a little pocket of sand above the beach that I like. West Side Polihale Beach
This is as far as the road can take you on the west side of Kauai. If Polihale Beach has special significance for you, this is an uncrowded beach for a sunset wedding. Very long bumpy road to get to it. It's a dark ride back, so a morning or pre-sunset wedding is best."