Top 10 Maui beaches

The Hawaiian islands are known far and wide for the quality of their beaches. From narrow strips of volcanic black sand with dramatic jungle backdrops, to crowded beaches full of the who’s who of the world, Hawaii has a beach for everyone. Maui has just as much diversity as the entire island chain with over 30 miles of beaches. The most easily accessible beaches are located on the west and south or leeward sides of the island. Conversely, the north sees quite a bit of wind and waves while the eastern or windward side harbors more remote beaches in the inlets and bays.

With so many options of beaches to choose it’s hard to pick just ten, but we’ll pick our favorites for you below:

Napili Beach

This crescent shaped beach is tucked into a bay holding several smaller resorts north of Lahaina in west Maui. Gain access to this beach on Hui Drive after you pass north of Lahaina and beyond a few of the larger resorts on your left. Napili is a perfect place to plant your beach gear and drop in the water for some body boarding. To take part, body boards can be purchased at any of the local water sports shops and can even be picked up at many of the convenience stores.

Napili is a steep beach with plenty of sand. Children are fine here when the waters are calm, but be aware that the waves can get rough; there can be a strong undertow so test the waters before sending younger kids in. Another tip: shade is sporadic and usually taken by the wee morning hours so arrive early. Parking is free on the street but is a pain in the rear to find. Keep driving around and something usually opens up near the beach access due to rotating traffic from the grocery across the street.

Kapalua Beach

With sounds of swaying palms and gently crashing waves, Kapalua has a reputation for good swimming — and rightly so: it’s perfect for families and children as the undertow is rarely a problem and the water seldom gets too unruly for little ones. Besides the calm swimming waters the beach is a beautiful backdrop for a picnic and the coconut tree grove and lava points at the ends of the beach make for a great photo op, so don’t forget the camera. If you need quick access to the beach, The Sea House restaurant offers a great way to get in.

Ka’anapali Beach

Ka’anapali isn’t the only name this beach has — the locals have several other names for it and nobody can seem to agree on one. This may make getting directions a bit confusing, but don’t let that stop you. Ka’anapali is a wide beach lined with towering condos on the backside and usually smooth waves on the other. Sand is plentiful here and sandcastle building is a must.

The other popular activity on Ka’anapali is watching the sun set. There are no obstructions (save the occasional sailboat) to block your view of the ever-popular Hawaiian sunset. Some even say you can see the “green flash” here.

Green flash or not, Ka’anapali is a great place to watch the sun drop below the horizon. There is also a long paved path along the back side of the beach which makes for a romantic stroll at the end of the day.

Makena Beach

Makena beach, has it all, and proved to be one of my favorite spots as I spent time roughing it here. If facing the beach, the right end has access to water sports at the resort. Snorkeling gear, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and even snorkel cruises can be booked there. The left side of the beach is more tranquil with some shade for escaping the skin-melting sun and picnic tables for lunch breaks.

There is beach access where Makena Road dead ends. If you can’t find a spot for your car near the turnaround at the end of the road, extra parking is also available on Makena Road at the historic Keawala’i Church. Interestingly, this 1832-built church is constructed of lava stone and is a site to see all by itself. Or if you want to show off with valet parking drop your car at the Makena Beach and Golf Resort.

Big Beach

If you seek the perfect beach for throwing a football, tossing a Frisbee, or kicking a soccer ball, this is it. Big beach lives up to its name in that it is not only long and wide but in that it holds some rather sizable crowds. The sandy beach recesses very far from the water and allows for plenty of room for activities. Parking is tight and even on weekdays the lot will be full. Don’t be deterred by this small snag, however, the beach can handle the crowds.

Looking for some shade? At the far end of the beach, a hefty walk from the entry walkway, there is a large lava rock wall which supplies shade in the mornings.

Little Beach

Another creatively named beach, Little Beach, is connected to Big Beach via a rock scramble. Passing the lava rock wall on your right at the end of Big Beach you’ll encounter a path leading over the rocky point and down onto Little Beach. This is a great place to get away from the crowds and it’s also a great place to shed your bathing suit — local nudists call this place home.

Little Beach is less frequented, which leaves plenty of room to enjoy the good snorkeling, excellent body boarding and swimming.

Hana Bay

Hana Bay is one of the few beaches on the east side of the island that actually draws a crowd, though that crowd won’t be anything like what you’ll experience at the beaches on the west and south sides. For the tiny hamlet of Hana, the hundred-or-so people dotting the beach is considered full. Hana’s blue waters are a great place to dig a kayak paddle into when the sun gets hot and the black sand gets hotter. The government allows you to take some of that sand away in a bottle too – free souvenir score!

The landscape at Hana Bay drops steeply from the mountains and is covered with lush green vegetation. The frequent rains on this side of the island have prevented mass-development and kept the community small and friendly. Comprised of black sand, the remnants of lava flows of yore, the beach at Hana has plenty of shade and the park lining the back of the beach has places to leave your car nearby.

For food, TuTu’s snack shop is located in a building at the back of the beach. Its over-priced hamburgers may not be the best, but the view is worth every dollar.

Red Sand Beach

The aptly named Red Sand Beach sports a sand with a reddish tint which derives its color from the cinder cone just to the rear of the bay. There is a lava wall which keeps rough waters out of this small cove and prevents the sand from eroding it. The beach has little to offer in the way of snorkeling or swimming. What it lacks in activities, however, it more than makes up in beauty. The red beach, azure waters, and the green hillsides that drop to this little slice of heaven could just become the subject of the best photo you take in your life. To reach this secluded beach drive to the far side of Ka’uiki Hill, just to the south of Hana Bay.

La Perouse Bay

As part of the Ahihi Kina’u Natural Preserve, this stretch of water and beach is an ideal place to get your snorkel wet. La Perouse is all about getting in the water, and not about beach bumming. The beach is scattered with remnants of the last lava flow that made its way down Haleakala around 1790. The lava-leftovers make for some obstacles when wading, so be sure to wear foot protection when exploring these waters.

Dolphin sightings are frequent and there are several archeological sites in the area to see, while a small hole in the lava rock a few hundred yards past the parking lot produces a scenic blowhole some afternoons. Drive to the end of Makena Alanui Road to find this place. The drive takes you past several nice homes overlooking beautiful lava and sand strewn beaches. Be sure to lock your car when you leave the parking lot, break-ins are reported from time to time.

Secret Cove or Pa’ako Beach

Something is not much of a secret if you can read about it in guidebooks – so I don’t think I’m in danger of revealing anyone’s private sanctuary here — after all, it’s not much of a secret when this is such a popular place to get married. Nevertheless Pa’ako Beach (pictured at right) bares the name “Secret Cove.”

Discover the Secret Cove by passing Big Beach in the South and then parking near the first telephone pole you see. Across the street from that pole is a wall with a hole large enough to walk through. Passing through it is like entering an enchanted tropical garden.

[Photo: Kaanapali Beach. Tony Faiola/Flickr]