Story by Kyle Ellison | Photography by Bob Bangerter & Peter Liu
Nearly every beach day on Maui begins with the same four words: “Where shall we go?”
Proximity is a factor, but so is the activity you’ll do when you get there. Does it feel like a day to stack longboards on top of the car, or are a chair and a good book all you need? Will you be strolling barefoot as the sun goes down — leaving two sets of prints in the sand — or packing the car full of towels and toys for a day of family fun?
Given that Maui has more than seventy-five beaches and 120 miles of coastline, simply choosing where to go can be a formidable — but welcome — challenge. We asked you, our readers, to name Maui’s best beaches for four different types of activities. Here are the results. So grab those board shorts or your favorite bikini, pack that tube of marine-safe sunscreen, and enjoy!
Best People Watching Beach in Maui: Ka‘anapali Beach
If you’re planning a day at Ka‘anapali Beach, you’d better pack your swimsuit — and your yoga pants, cocktail dress, snorkeling gear, boogie board, volleyball shorts, and wallet. Ka‘anapali Beach is where Maui comes to play; from the stream of joggers out sweating at sunrise, to the catamarans returning at sunset, the beach is packed with activity and thousands of feet in the sand. In the cove by “Black Rock” — or Pu‘u Keka‘a — in front of the Sheraton Maui, watch as daredevil youth go flipping and flying off the rocks. At Ka‘anapali Point in front of the Marriott, study the surfers making nimble carves on the classic, left-peeling wave. Volleyball players dive in the sand by Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel, and scuba divers clad in wetsuits and hoses recount the fish they’ve seen on the reef. In the middle of it all sit pockets of cabanas, their canvas domes providing shade to resort guests from around the globe. Add in the oceanfront resort hotels teeming with glitterati, and it’s easy to see why Ka‘anapali Beach is the epicenter of people watching on Maui.
Most Romantic Beach Setting in Maui: Hamoa Beach in Hana
Hamoa has all the ingredients of an idyllic Hawaiian beach: turquoise water, rhythmic surf, and green palm fronds that rustle gently in the easterly breeze. But there’s more to Hamoa than its timeless tropical beauty. Settle on the sand and gaze across ‘Alenuihaha Channel, where the snowcapped peaks of Hawai‘i Island’s mountains rise above the clouds, and you discover a blissful sense of seclusion. Literary luminaries from Mark Twain to James Michener have waxed eloquent about Hamoa’s evocative beauty; Michener remarked that Hamoa “is so perfectly formed that I wonder at its comparative obscurity.” We don’t — getting here means navigating an hours-long journey on the serpentine road to Hana. But once you arrive and descend the wide concrete steps to the salt-and-pepper sand, it’s as if you’ve passed through a portal to a place where life’s mundane realities — deadlines, phone calls, bills to be paid — evaporate like salty water from bare and unburdened shoulders.
Best Surfing Beach in Maui for Beginners: Cove Park in Kihei
For experienced surfers, riding a wave is a magical moment when time and thoughts seem to stop. For beginners, however, it’s common to feel overwhelmed. Do I paddle now? Am I too far out? When should I start to stand up? With so many thoughts to harness at once, having an easy place to learn is a welcome relief. At Kihei’s Cove Park, gentle waves offer perfect conditions for learning to ride, and the sandy bottom makes for soft landings if — or when — you fall. Compared to Kihei’s other beaches, the Cove is often more protected from the strong northeasterly trade winds — although morning is still the best time of day for clean, glassy conditions. Rent a longboard from one of the surf schools across the street, or sign up for a lesson to have a professional instructor push you into waves. When your arms can’t paddle another stroke, refuel on shore with fresh fish tacos just a sandy slipper stroll away, and consider returning just before sunset for one last wave.
Best Maui Beach Facilities: Kamaole III in Kihei
If you took a lifelong local from Maui, covered his eyes with a blindfold, and placed him in the parking lot of Kamaole III, the sounds and smells would be an instant giveaway for Kihei’s favorite beach. Here, horseshoes clang against metal posts, ice-cold cans crack open with a fizz, and the generator powering a bouncy castle adds the bass line to a symphony of family fun. The aroma of burgers sizzling on the grill mixes sweetly with the tang of salt air, which blends with the scent of freshly cut grass on the park’s expansive lawn. The beach itself, opposite the dunes, hosts a cacophony of gleefully shrieking children all splashing and playing in the waves — and when sand ends up in every place you’d never think it could go, the numerous showers with their jet-strong streams help blast it all away. Add in the large, mostly clean restrooms and proximity to Kihei’s shops, and Kamaole III is a picnic, party, and beach all rolled into one.