In 2019, over 3 million people visited Maui (1). Most cited vacation as the reason, while another significant contingent chose this magical Island in which to either tie the knot, or bask in newly married bliss on their honeymoon. So, the short answer to the question of where to stay in Maui depends, of course, on what you’re doing in Maui.
And there is lots to do on this island! Whether you’re here for beach time, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, shopping, nature adventuring (and the list goes on), read on to discover the best places to stay in Maui for each type of vacation you’re after.
If You Want the Best Family Beach Experience: South Maui
For the sandiest most protected beaches, head to South Maui and make your home base in the Kihei area.
Geographically, South Maui is more like south-central Maui, but let’s just go with it.
This area was a hot ‘n’ heavy resort town in the 70s and 80s, and now has something for everyone: 6 miles of beach, bars and nightlife, the Maui Brewery Company (one of two locations – the other is in Lahaina), hotels, restaurants, snorkeling (there are a few great spots in the southern beaches toward the lava park, away from people), and a great central location for exploring the rest of the island.
Leeward side bliss! Kihei is known to be one of the hottest places to stay on Maui. Hottest literally and figuratively, as it doesn’t get the breezes that other parts of the island get (perfect for that winter getaway), and many Maui locals come from other areas on the island to Kihei to party.
Kihei has everything you need, all in one place. And if you decide you need a big screen TV or a $2 slice of pizza, the Costco in Kahului is only a short 20-minute drive away.
South of Kihei is the immaculately landscaped grounds of Wailea, a golfer’s dream come true. Driving through Wailea feels a bit like being in California or Florida — beautifully landscaped with massive hotel resorts lining the beaches, but no real personality.
Want sand and sun and hiking fun? You’ve got it. And we’ll throw in some snorkeling with sea turtles.
If you continue south, you’ll pass many beaches. There is a road and a trail passing through a lava flow at the southern tip beyond Makena beach, at LaPerouse Bay. The trail around LaPerouse Bay begins at the southwest corner of the parking area. The Hoapili Trail—also called the King’s Highway—is believed to be an old cattle road that Hawaiians would walk barefoot. At a signpost, the Hoapili Trail continues another 2 miles to the secluded Keawanaku Beach, another good snorkeling spot.
Hike the shoreline trail, or take a short detour around some ancient Hawaiian ruins. The ragged lava shoreline hosts numerous small coves, lava arches, and tidepools. When we walked this trail, it was hella windy. About a half-mile from the trailhead, a gorgeous little white sand beach awaits the first group to stake a claim to it. Enter a shaded grove of ragged trees, littered with the remains of rock walls, and watch for wild goats and pygmy deer.
West Maui: For a Bit of Everything
Also on the leeward side, protected from strong winds, West Maui has a few cool places to visit. From south to north along the Honoapiilani Highway, you’ll reach: Lahaina, Ka’anapali, Napili, and Kapalua.
Lahaina: Character and Tourists and Fun
Lahaina, a town with lots going on. I like it here. Lots of locals, visitors, stuff to do, all in one spot. Though there isn’t much of a beach around Lahaina — there are a few sandy beach areas, but nothing like the beaches in South Maui — you can still duck out to catch a few waves.
Lahaina has a brewery a short walk from the main strip, a bunch of good places to eat and shop, an expansive Banyan tree by the modest Maui-Lanai passenger ferry ship terminal, and a lot of character despite being a bit of a tourist trap.
For a nice walk and morning acai breakfast bowl, check out the Baya Bowls Acai food truck, located in a parking lot on Wainee Street (address is 741 Wainee Street, Lahaina, HI 96761).
For a Swanky, More Private Beach Experience You Never Need to Leave: Ka’anapali
A little farther north along the coastal highway, you’ll reach Ka’anapali. This area is a popular go-to tourist hub featuring resorts, eateries, shopping, plus a scenic beachwalk between resorts, not to mention the sandy beaches for swimming & snorkeling. It reminds me of a northwestern Wailea with its golf courses and fancy resorts.
With convenient resorts located just steps from Ka’anapali Beach, you can comfortably lounge or play in the water all day. Some of the island’s best snorkel spots are located near Ka’anapali, as well as the famous “Black Rock,” a favorite cliff jumping site that’s popular with everybody. Ka’anapali Beach is also a launch point for several catamaran tours.
From November to April, hundreds of humpback whales flock to the shallow waters around Ka’anapali, making the area one of the best places on the island to whale watch. So definitely book an ocean view room if you’re in the area during these months; you are guaranteed dozens of whale sightings from your patio during this time of year.
Central Maui: Everybody Comes but Nobody Stays
Kahului is a busy city, home to the (OGG) airport, heliport, sea port, Queen Ka’ahumanu Mall, Target, Walmart, warehouses and schools. Most of the island’s car rental facilities are here, too. And of course, Costco.
It is also a short hop to the Iao Valley, a site of historical significance, and the rainiest spot on the island. So check it out. The path to the stop viewpoint is disappointingly short (or not, depending on your fitness level) though there are some paths along the river to compensate if you seek a nature walk.
East Maui: The Road to Hana and Beyond
East Maui is my favorite part of Maui. It just feels right. Jungle, bugs, slower pace of life — all the qualities and non-poisonous critters that are the point of visiting Maui in the first place. There aren’t many tourists who stay overnight in Hana, and that’s a shame. There IS one resort in Hana, and it is pricey. And it doesn’t feel like traditional Hana town. So if you can find a reasonable airbnb, do it. If you prefer to camp, there are limited spots at nearby (and MUST SEE) Waiʻānapanapa State Park.
So. If it is adventure and outdoor immersion you’re after, then East Maui is your soulmate. There are even a few sandy coves here so you can greet the morning sun with a sunrise swim – check out Koki and Hamoa Beaches off the same islet.
Summary of Main Maui Places
Kahului, Wailuku, etc. This is the town you’ll pass through when you land, if you reach Maui by plane and touch down in Kahului (OGG). Kahului is more of a business spot, and a bit of a visible homeless population hanging out in vehicles by the harbour. The beaches here aren’t that great and wind is mighty, as you may have noticed while landing.
Hana is beautiful yet remote and rainforest-y and doesn’t cater to tourists so much. My favorite place to recharge (while discharging my cell phone).
Kihei has everything you need for a smooth family vacation, and is right on the beach (or three), and fairly central.
Wailea is expensive and swanky, with manicured golf courses and huge hotels lining the beach.
Makena Beach is great for sand, people-watching, and snorkeling with the sea turtles (Turtle Town, aka adjacent Maluaka Beach).
Kaanapali is a rightfully popular resort area located on the west coast of Maui, north of Lahaina. I prefer Lahaina, but I’m not a resort kind of person. Lahaina town is busy yet feels authentic and situated in the middle of an actual town where people live and play, despite having an obvious tourist strip full of shops. North of Kaanapali is another small town of Napili – Napili feels like all the locals commute there; not a lot of grocery stores nearby.
Questions People Ask About Where to Stay In Maui
Need more help in deciding where to stay on the island? Maybe you want to know more about the weather or have a specific idea in mind of what kind of vacation you’d like. Ok, let’s figure it out.
Which side of Maui is less windy?
The northeastern side of Maui bears the brunt of the prevailing winds, while the southwestern parts of Maui are more sheltered.
Maui winds are a combination of prevailing trade winds (aka “trades”), combined with local wind effects caused by Maui’s geography. The wind on Maui will be very specific to each different area. The wind on one side of the island can be blowing in the opposite direction from the wind on the other side. Depending on the activity you have planned, you may be seeking out the windiest spot, or trying to shelter from the wind for a surf session or picnic. So check the weather and wind in your destination before setting out for the day; you might be surprised by how quickly the weather changes.