The Best Beaches on Maui
Fun in the Sun
Maui beaches are world-renowned and often dreamed of by people who wish to visit as well as those who frequently do. From the crystalline aquamarine water teeming with colorful and exotic wildlife, the tall, swaying palm trees, and the majestic, glorious sunsets over the Pacific Ocean; to the emerald rolling ridges of the mountains that were formed by what is now an inactive volcano, Maui’s beaches are arguably some of the most beautiful places on earth. Many people travel thousands of miles to relax on the soft sand under the warm sun while taking in the views and occasionally dipping into the cool water to maintain a comfortable temperature. Others come to explore the rich underwater world and, whether snorkeling, scuba diving, or walking amongst the tide pools, visitors may see a plethora of colored fish, sea turtles, urchins and crabs and maybe even dolphins and whales further out to sea. Then there are those excited to play on the water as Maui boasts some of the most sought after conditions for surfing, kayaking, stand up paddling, body-boarding, kitesurfing, and windsurfing. Whether you’re a beginner looking for lessons or a pro competing at Jaws, Maui’s big wave that often reaches heights of 60-80 feet, there is a beach for every occasion. You can even find the perfect beach to barbecue with loved ones at sunset or play a game of volleyball. Whatever your desires, Maui has a beach that will be the backdrop as you create lasting and magical memories.
Below is a list with directions to the best beaches in Maui. Don’t forget to be safe. For current conditions please visit:
D.T. Fleming Beach Park — This quiet, out-of-the-way beach cove, named after the man who started the commercial growing of pineapples on the Valley Isle, is a great place to take the family. The crescent-shaped beach, located north of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, starts at the 16th hole of the Kapalua golf course (Makaluapuna Point) and rolls around to the sea cliffs at the other side. Ironwood trees provide shade on the land side. Offshore, a shallow sandbar extends to the edge of the surf. The waters are generally good for swimming and snorkeling; sometimes, off on the right side near the sea cliffs, the waves build enough for body boarders and surfers to get a few good rides in. This park has lots of facilities: restrooms, showers, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and a paved parking lot.
Kapalua Bay Beach — The beach cove that fronts the Coconut Grove Villas and the former Kapalua Bay hotel is the stuff of dreams: a golden crescent bordered by two palm-studded points. The sandy bottom slopes gently to deep water at the bay mouth; the water is so clear that you can see it turn to green and then deep blue. Protected from strong winds and currents by the lava-rock promontories, Kapalua’s calm waters are ideal for swimmers of all ages and abilities, and the bay is big enough to paddle a kayak around in without getting into the more challenging channel that separates Maui from Molokai. Waves come in just right for riding, and fish hang out by the rocks, making it great for snorkeling.
The sandy beach isn’t so wide that you’ll burn your feet getting in or out of the water, and the inland side is edged by a shady path and cool lawns. Facilities include outdoor showers, restrooms, lifeguards, a rental shack, and plenty of shade. Parking is limited to about 30 spaces in a small lot off Lower Honoapiilani Road, by Napili Kai Beach Resort, so arrive early. Next to the bay, on the point, is a nice, high-end oceanfront restaurant, Merriman’s Kapalua.
Kaanapali Beach — Four-mile-long Kaanapali is one of Maui’s best beaches, with grainy gold sand as far as the eye can see. The beach parallels the sea channel along most of its length, and a paved beach walk links hotels and condos, open-air restaurants, and Whalers Village shopping center. Because Kaanapali is so long, and because most hotels have adjacent swimming pools, the beach is crowded only in pockets — there’s plenty of room to find seclusion. Summertime swimming is excellent and there is fabulous snorkeling around Black Rock, in front of the Sheraton. The water is clear, calm, and populated with clouds of tropical fish. You might even spot a turtle or two.
Facilities include outdoor showers; you can use the restrooms at the hotel pools. Various beach-activity vendors line up in front of the hotels, offering nearly every type of water activity and equipment. Parking is a problem, though. There are two public entrances: At the south end, turn off Honoapiilani Highway into the Kaanapali Resort and pay for parking there, or continue on Honoapiilani Highway, turn off at the last Kaanapali exit at the stoplight near the Maui Kaanapali Villas, and park next to the beach signs indicating public access (this can be a little tricky to find and limited to only a few cars, so you might want to just head to the Sheraton or Whalers Village and use their pay parking facilities).
Launiupoko State Wayside Park — Families with children will love this small park off Honoapiilani Highway, just south of Lahaina. A large wading pool for kids fronts the shady park, with giant boulders protecting the wading area from the surf outside. Just to the left is a small sandy beach with good swimming when conditions are right. Offshore, the waves are occasionally big enough for surfing. The view from the park is one of the best: You can see the islands of Kahoolawe, Lanai, and Molokai in the distance. Facilities include a paved parking lot, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and barbecue grills. It’s often crowded on weekends, as it’s a great spot for locals to host big celebrations.
Kamaole III Beach Park — Three beach parks — Kamaole I, II, and III — stand like golden jewels in the front yard of the seaside town of Kihei, which is exploding with suburban sprawl. The beaches are the best thing about Kihei; these three are popular with local residents and visitors alike because they’re easily accessible. On weekends, they’re jam-packed with fishermen, picnickers, swimmers, and snorkelers.
The most popular is Kamaole III, or “Kam-3,” as locals say. The biggest of the three beaches, with wide pockets of golden sand, it’s the only one with a children’s playground and a grassy lawn that meets the sand. Swimming is safe here, but scattered lava rocks are toe stubbers at the water line, and parents should make sure kids don’t venture too far out, as the bottom slopes off quickly. Both the north and south shores are rocky fingers with a surge big enough to attract fish and snorkelers; and winter waves that appeal to bodysurfers. Kam-3 is also a wonderful place to watch the sunset. Facilities include restrooms, showers, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and lifeguards. There’s plenty of parking on South Kihei Road, across from the Maui Parkshore condos.
Ulua Beach — One of the most popular beaches in Wailea, Ulua is a long, wide, crescent-shaped golden-sand beach between two rocky points. When the ocean is calm, Ulua offers Wailea’s best snorkeling; when it’s rough, the waves are excellent for bodysurfing. The ocean bottom is shallow and gently slopes down to deeper waters, making swimming generally safe. The beach is usually occupied by guests from nearby resorts and in high season (Christmas-Mar and June-Aug) it’s carpeted with beach towels and packed with sunbathers.
Facilities include showers and restrooms. Beach equipment is available for rent at the nearby Wailea Ocean Activity Center. To find Ulua, look for the blue SHORELINE ACCESS sign on Wailea Alanui Road, near the Andaz Resort.
Wailea Beach — Wailea is the best golden-sand crescent on Maui’s sun-baked southwestern coast. One of five beaches within Wailea Resort, Wailea is big, wide, and protected on both sides by black-lava points. It’s the front yard of the Four Seasons Resort and the Grand Wailea Resort, Maui’s most elegant and outrageous beach hotels, respectively. From the beach, the view out to sea is magnificent, framed by neighboring Kaho’olawe and Lanai and the tiny crescent of Molokini, probably the most popular snorkel spot in these parts. The clear waters tumble to shore in waves just the right size for gentle riding, with or without a board. From shore, you can see Pacific humpback whales in season (Dec-Apr) and spectacular sunsets nightly. Facilities include restrooms, outdoor showers, and limited free parking at the blue SHORELINE ACCESS sign, on Wailea Alanui Drive.
Maluaka Beach — On the southern end of Maui’s resort coast, development falls off dramatically, leaving a wild, dry countryside of green kiawe trees. The old Maui Prince, now under construction, sits above Maluaka Beach, notable for its beauty and its views of Molokini Crater, the offshore islet, and Kahoolawe, the so-called target island (it was used as a bombing target from 1945 until the early 1990s). This is a short, wide, palm-fringed crescent of golden, grainy sand set between two black-lava points and bounded by big sand dunes topped by a grassy knoll. The swimming in this mostly calm bay is considered the best in Makena, which is bordered on the south by Puu Olai cinder cone and historic Keawalai Congregational Church to the north. Because the resort is not currently hosting patrons, this beach tends to be less crowded than others in the area. Facilities include restrooms, showers, a landscaped park, and lifeguards at the South end. Along Makena Alanui, look for the blue SHORELINE ACCESS sign after you pass the construction site on your right and Makena Golf Course on your left.
Oneloa Beach/Makena Beach Park (Big Beach) — Oneloa, meaning “Long Sand” in Hawaiian, is one of the most popular beaches on Maui. Locals call it Big Beach — it’s 3,300 feet long and more than 100 feet wide. Mauians come here to swim, fish, sunbathe, surf, and enjoy the view of Kahoolawe and Lanai. Snorkeling is good around the north end, at the foot of Puu Olai, a 360-foot cinder cone. During storms, however, big waves lash the shore and a strong rip current sweeps the sharp drop-off, posing a danger for inexperienced open-ocean swimmers. This beach can require more caution than other beaches with it’s sometimes strong shorebreak and large waves. On the other side of Puu Olai is Little Beach, a small pocket beach where assorted nudists work on their all-over tans, to the chagrin of uptight authorities. Facilities at Makena Beach Park include restrooms, showers, lifeguards and two parking lots. To get here, drive past the Makena Golf Course and to where the road narrows and look for the sign that reads Makena Beach Park.
Baldwin Park — Located off the Hana Highway between Sprecklesville and Paia, this beach park draws lots of Maui residents, especially body-board enthusiasts. It’s easy to see why this place is so popular: The surf breaks along the entire length of the white-sand beach, creating perfect conditions for body boarding. On occasion, the waves get big enough for surfing. A couple of swimming areas are safe enough for children: the cove in the lee of the beach rocks near the large pavilion, and another at the opposite end of the beach, where beach rocks protect a small swimming area, aptly called Baby Beach. There’s a large pavilion with picnic tables and barbecue grills, additional picnic tables on the grassy area, restrooms, showers, a semipaved parking area, a baseball diamond, and a soccer field. The park is well used on weekends; weekdays are much quieter.
Hookipa Beach Park — Two miles past Paia, on the Hana Highway, is one of the most famous windsurfing sites in the world. Due to its constant winds and endless waves, Hookipa attracts top windsurfers and wave jumpers from around the globe. Surfers and fishermen also enjoy this small golden-sand beach at the foot of a grassy cliff, which provides a natural amphitheater for spectators. Except when competitions are being held, weekdays are the best time to watch the daredevils fly over the waves. When the water is flat, snorkelers and divers explore the reef. Facilities include restrooms, showers, pavilions, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and a parking lot.
Waianapanapa State Park — Four miles before Hana, off the Hana Highway, is a beach park which takes its name from the legend of the Waianapanapa Cave. Chief Kaakea, a jealous and cruel man, suspected his wife, Popoalaea, of having an affair. Popoalaea left her husband and hid herself in a chamber of the Waianapanapa Cave. A few days later, when Kaakea was passing by the cave, the shadow of a servant gave away Popoalaea’s hiding place, and Kaakea killed her. During certain times of the year, the water in the tide pool turns red, commemorating Popoalaea’s death. (Scientists claim, less imaginatively, that the water turns red due to the presence of small red shrimp.)
Waianapanapa State Park’s 120 acres contain 12 cabins, a caretaker’s residence, a beach park, picnic tables, barbecue grills, restrooms, showers, a parking lot, a shoreline hiking trail, and a black-sand beach (it’s actually small black pebbles). This is a wonderful area for shoreline hikes (mosquitoes are plentiful, so bring insect repellent) and picnicking. Swimming is generally unsafe due to strong waves and rip currents. Waianapanapa is crowded on weekends; weekdays are generally a better bet.
Hamoa Beach — This half-moon-shaped, gray-sand beach (a mix of coral and lava) in a truly tropical setting is a favorite among sunbathers seeking rest and refuge. The Travaasa Hana Resort maintains the beach and acts as though it’s private, which it isn’t — so just march down the lava-rock steps and grab a spot on the sand. James Michener called it “a beach so perfectly formed that I wonder at its comparative obscurity.” The 100-foot-wide beach is three football fields long and sits below 30-foot black-lava sea cliffs. Surf on this unprotected beach breaks offshore and rolls in, making it a popular surfing and bodysurfing area. Hamoa is often swept by powerful rip currents, so be careful. The calm left side is best for snorkeling in summer. The hotel has numerous facilities for guests; there are outdoor showers and restrooms for nonguests. Parking is limited. Look for the Hamoa Beach turnoff from Hana Highway.
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