From serrated coastlines marked by thunderous surf to powdery coves bordered by slender palms, Maui has got it all when it comes to beaches. Indeed, with 120 miles of shoreline, this tropical idyll has more swimmable beaches than any other Hawaiian Island, which only underscores why it’s globally known as no ka oi.
But with so many beaches to explore, the time-pressed traveler might have some trouble choosing where they should throw down their towel. With that in mind, here are 10 Maui beaches worth every penny of your plane ticket:
Mesquite farmers and fishermen once dominated the perennially-sunny town of Kihei but today it’s widely recognized as the home to many of Maui’s best beaches Comprised of roughly eleven and a half miles, nearly three of those are nothing but gorgeous coastline—including the stretch of sand that makes up the Kamaole Beach Parks.
Beginning at the edge of South Kihei right after Cove Park, the Kamaole ahupua’a is now partitioned into three fantastic parks, each with their own personality. The first, Kamaole I, boasts a third of a mile of pristine white sand and solid snorkeling near its lava-rocked points. Kamaole II, meanwhile, rests in the hub of the sand-blown city and serves as a popular spot for watching the sunset from its roadside wall. The southernmost park, Kamaole III, is a favorite among kama’aina and their keiki, thanks to a great expanse of grass otherwise known as Peace Park. (Weekends here are often packed with jumping castles and waterslides.) But what all three have in common is glassy water, superb snorkeling, loads of sunshine, perfect SUP conditions—and the buzzy, beachy vibe of tropical vacations.
Know before you go: The Kams are best enjoyed in the early morning hours and the late afternoons—trade winds often arrive between 11am and noon. The surf here tends towards the calmer side—making each beach great for swimming with children—and all parks are equipped with bathrooms, showers, and street-side and/or public parking.
Nearby eats: Given that the Kams make up the southern tail of Kihei—which is filled with condos and cafés—you’re bound to find grinds for everyone on your list. Top choices include ‘ami ‘ami and Café la Plage, the salad and hot bar Hawaiian Moons, Fred’s Mexican Café, and 808 Deli.
Posh resorts might populate most of Wailea but don’t let that deter you from enjoying this enclave’s superlative coves: Every beach in Hawaii is open to the public. In other words, the Fairmont Kea Lani might be situated on Polo Beach but its crescent shaped shoreline is welcome to all.
While few horses are seen at this picturesque beach—its nickname is derived from “Ke One o Polo” (or, “the sand is not thick”)—relaxation can be found in abundance, particularly on the southern end, where the sand might not be thick but is certainly golden. A small park at the entrance to the beach features grills, picnic tables, and bathrooms, but you’ll want to be right next to the ocean—which stretches out in beautiful blues to the outlying islands of Kaho’olawe, Molokini, and Lanai.
Know before you go: The southern end may be quieter but there is little shade on this side; for an ideal day, pack an umbrella. When the south swell hits hard, Polo tends to get fierce near its southern point (the shore break on the whole beach can be formidable, too) so refrain from swimming—or use extreme caution—when there’s high surf warnings, as there are no lifeguards on duty.
Nearby eats: Wailea is resort country, but that doesn’t mean your only choice for treats is at the ultra-opulent Kea Lani (which, for those looking to splurge, has a handful of above-par restaurants, including the inimitable Ko): Straight up Kaukahi, you’ll find Mulligans on the Blue, where the beer is cold, the views are epic, and the fish and chips are downright stellar.
Extending nearly a mile from Kihei’s southernmost tip to Wailea’s Mokapu Beach, Keawakapu may have been dubbed a “forbidden cove” by ancient Hawaiians but it’s now one of the most treasured beaches on the island. And for good cause: Its northern end presents a sweep of grass shaded by lanky palms; its water is perfect for snorkeling, swimming, boogie and body boarding, and the Balinese houses that line its shores are nothing but lovely (if not envy-inducing). Those looking to pal around with their gang will find great energy on the northern end in front of the Mana Kai, while beachgoers in search of serenity will find plenty of peace in the center of the beach’s cushiony sand. What’s more, its angle and location render the entire beach the ultimate place for watching one of Maui’s spectacular sunsets.
Know before you go: Porta-potties and showers are found on the ends of the beach, and the three lots serving the cove make for not ample but reasonable parking. (Your best bet is to park across the street from the beach in front of Wailea Kai.) A favorite among locals, the beach tends to get packed at sunset and on the weekends.
Nearby eats: The Mana Kai—a family-friendly resort condominium—features Zack’s Deli & General Store, which offers sandwiches, plate lunches, beer, and snacks. Prices are at a premium here, but it’s nothing if not convenient. Within the resort you’ll also find 5 Palms (which has a great pau hana with half-priced sushi) while a few steps down the beach you’ll come across Sarento’s, where you can dine on pasta and fish al fresco.
Wailea may be luxe and polished (read: manicured landscaping, grand resorts, immaculate neighborhoods), but its southern cousin Makena was, for many years, one of the wildest and most rugged areas on the island—a place of cacti and kiawe forests, laidback homesteads, horse stables, and, inarguably, some of Maui’s finest beaches.
Its crowning jewel, Makena State Park, has remain untouched, and its mile and a half of copious white sand earned it its well-fitting moniker. And big it is—so large in fact that three separate parking areas demarcate its entrances. First Entrance, located on the northernmost end, is a prime point of access to Little Beach (see #5) and is framed by the red-hued cinder cone of Pu’u O’Lai. Second Entrance is largely noted for the graffiti-covered WWII bunker that sits between its entrance and Thirds, while the latter is a skim-boarder’s paradise. Widely known for its fearsome shore break (another one of Makena’s nicknames is “Break Neck Beach”), and boasting incredible views of Kaho’olawe and Haleakala, Big Beach is unlike any other place on the island—or, rather, in the world.
Know before you go: Due in part to a spate of injuries at Big Beach (from spinal injuries to deaths), there are lifeguards on duty. But beware: the waves here are unpredictable and unforgiving—so much so it’s rated one of the most dangerous beaches in Hawaii. (When in doubt, absolutely do not go out.) Mid-mornings to afternoons tend to see the arrival of the notorious “Makena Cloud,” so your best bet for uninterrupted sun is in the mornings. Keep an eye on where you step if you’re heading to Thirds: the path to the sand is riddled with kiawe thorns.
Nearby eats: While Makena has been systematically developed over the last three decades, it is, aside from the former Maui Prince Hotel (presently under construction), comprised of private residences. That said, Bubba’s Gourmet Dog Shack is usually parked on the makai side of the road before the “Makena Bumps;” here, you’ll find fast, economical, and excellent eats—and super-refreshing shave ice.
Just over the northern edge of Pu’u O’lai—a volcanic dome created by Haleakala’s last eruption—lies Little Beach, a small, golden-sanded cove noted for its clothing optional policy. Snorkeling here is first-rate—we mean of the marine life, mind you—and while the waves can still be daunting, they’re not nearly as challenging as Oneloa’s. Sunbathing and body boarding are mad-popular here, but it’s Little Beach’s Sunday night soirees that are its biggest allure: A weekly event that drives locals and visitors to its shore to take part in Makena’s famed drum circle.
Know before you go: Given its, well, little size, Little Beach tends to get crowded, particularly on Sundays. An uphill trail through some crumbly-lava sections is required, rendering it inaccessible to some. Many choose to go nude but it isn’t obligatory, and while some elect to bring their kids to Sunday’s party, our opinion is that it’s only appropriate for adults.
Nearby eats: Aside from the above, fish taco trucks and fruit stands are often erected alongside Makena Road. Your best bet? Pack a cooler with eats and drinks from Kihei’s Foodland or Wailea’s Island Gourmet Market.
Makena Cove/Pa’ako Beach
Call it Secret Cove, call it the Wedding Factory, call it its given name, Pa’ako—what matters is that this not-so-hidden gem in what was once known as the Honua’ula ahupua’a is, like many of South Maui’s beaches, absolutely stunning. Concealed between oceanfront homes and a rock wall, this tiny inlet is a striking study in contrasts: azure water, white sand, dark lava outcroppings, and gem-green flora. A favorite among brides—and men popping the question—this teeny spot is a slice of pure heaven.
Know before you go: Secret it is not, giving rise to the fact that Makena means “many gathered.” No amenities are offered on the beach, but nearby Big Beach (and Maluaka, #10) have toilets and showers. As with other Makena beaches, arrive early before the clouds roll in from Haleakala.
Nearby eats: Please see #4 and #5.
In the 1960s, Ka’anapali went down in history as the first master-planned resort community in Hawaii. Spanning three miles of faultless, oceanfront real estate, the hamlet put the Valley Isle on the map—and made its beach an international destination.
There’s no why behind it: Tucked under the eaves of the West Maui Mountains, Ka’anapali Beach—which is frequently named one of the best beaches on the planet—is quintessential Hawaii: soft sand, sparkling water, swaying palms, even views of the Pineapple and Friendly Isles. The resorts that line this busy shore give it a lively spirit, while its outcropping of lava on the northern end—Pu’u Keka’a (or Black Rock)—is a cliff-jumper’s haven. Watersports abound along this expanse of Eden, and Whalers Village—complete with a whaling museum—sits amid it all.
Know before you go: Ka’anapali is a hopping spot. Your best bet for parking is to avoid the public lots (where it’s nearly impossible to find a space) and park at Whalers Village. (A minimum purchase at one of the village’s shops or restaurants will score you free validation.) Should you plan on taking part in a watersport—jet skiing, paddle boarding, and so forth—plan to arrive early before the winds arrive. And stay for sunset, if you can: A torch lighting and cliff jumping ceremony is performed nighty at Black Rock.
Nearby eats: With the wealth of resorts that line Ka’anapali Beach, you’ll certainly find somewhere—or something—to eat, but Whalers is tops when it comes to kick-back meals in the sunshine. Hula Grill is located directly on the sand; Leilani’s next door has a killer lilikoi pono pie.
A snorkeler’s Shangri-La, Napili Bay—a sandy crescent north of Ka’anapali on the island’s west side—offers more of Maui marvels, from honu that swim just off shore to gleaming, cobalt water. Lined with condominiums, this cove is less glamorous than Wailea and Ka’anapali but, in turn, is far more peaceful. That serenity extends to its waters, which, due to outlying reefs, are shielded from swell directions.
Know before you go: No designated parking is offered at this bay, so keep an eye out for spaces in the surrounding neighborhoods. Happen to spot a Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle? Defer to their space and stay a respectable distance away—not only can touching a honu be harmful to the animal, but it’s also a crime (with penalties that hover around six figures). Public showers are offered, as well as bathrooms within the bordering resorts.
Nearby eats: The Gazebo, one of Maui’s trendiest and most beloved breakfast venues, is located next to the Outrigger. The waits are long but the food is fantastic, from macadamia nut pancakes smothered in sweet cream to breakfast fried rice. Other leading choices? Merriman’s, The Coffee Store, and the Maui Brew Company Brewpub (in nearby Kahana).
While neighboring Lahaina might be all sunshine and arid landscapes, Kapalua Bay presents a different world. Nearing the “head” of Maui—a lusher spot characterized by miles and miles of green—the bay itself is elegance and quietude at its finest. Near both the Ritz-Carlton and the Montage—two of the most luxuriant resorts in Hawaii—this bay is a thing of beauty, with sizable lava ledges that shelter its lustrous waters (which teem with parrot fish and honu) and tall, perky palms. Landlubbers will be equally delighted: the Kapalua Coastal Trail is a beautiful stroll that unspools over the sand dunes of Oneloa Bay to D.T. Fleming Beach Park.
Know before you go: Given its popularity—a natural result of consistently being named one of the best beaches in the U.S. (including the third best beach by Dr. Beach)—Kapulua Bay has it all in terms of amenities, including restrooms, showers, and parking.
Tucked between Keawala’i Church—a limestone coral chapel built in 1832—and One’uli Beach, Maluaka is a shore to savor. Dipping down from the main road of Makena, it’s hidden just enough to make it feel like a dicovery. The northern end presents a small expanse of grass framed by palm trees (and is bordered by a street lined primarily with lovely, older homes), while its southern bank, with picnic tables, shade, and a well-kept lawn, is perfect for barbeques and picnics. But it’s the beach itself that is so remarkable—diaphanous sand, cerulean water, and vistas of Pu’u O’Lai and the neighboring islands. Commonly referred to as the doorway to “Turtle Town,” Maluaka is also home to a thriving community of honu.
Know before you go: Parking is offered at the northern and southern ends of the beach; each side is also appointed with bathrooms and showers. While the entire beach offers wonderful swimming opportunities, the center—and towards the south—presents sandy-bottomed shores ideal for keiki. Those looking to explore a touch more can take the footpath on the southern end to One’uli Beach—an onyx-sanded wonder that edges against Makena’s legendary cinder cone.
Nearby eats: Aside from Bubba’s Gourmet Dog Shack (see #4) and other roadside hubs, there are no stores or cafés this far south in Makena. That said, Gannon’s, a dazzling restaurant with outstanding views, is located on the border of Wailea and Makena—and has an excellent Happy Hour to boot.