The isle of Maui boasts dozens of amazing beaches, from water sport meccas to secluded scenic hideaways to stretches where “lounging” counts as a day’s work. Black, red, gray, and golden sands trim this volcanic island and you’ll soon realize your reasons for visiting the beaches are as diverse as their geology. One thing they all have in common, though, is unpredictable surf and the potential for strong rip currents (makes sense out in the middle of the Pacific, right?). Take heed of warning signs and big waves!
This is south Maui’s largest stretch of sand, aptly called “Big Beach” for its wide golden expanse. With no facilities to draw a crowd, usually you will find locals and “in the know” tourists here. If you brave the rugged hike over the lava cliff on the western edge, you’ll be treated to even further secluded “Little Beach”, where nudists are welcome to bare all. Because of a 1999 storm that killed most of the off shore coral reef, snorkeling is pointless here, but boogie boarding is a blast!
Just north, up the coast from Makena is arguably Maui’s “poshest” beach. Wailea fronts the lavish Ritz-Carleton Hotel. If you are a guest, the shady loungers, cocktail service and overall spoiling is complimentary. Even if you aren’t staying at the Ritz, though, an array of rentals for snorkeling, paddle boarding and surfing are available to all. Shops and restaurants are all waiting for your patronage just across the walkway from the line of luxury hotels. Be sure to appreciate Wailea’s striking view of Kahoolawe and wee Molokini off shore.
Kama’ole Park I, II, III
The town of Kihei is composed of a fairly bustling strip of restaurants, shops and condos, but on the ocean side of the street, visitors are treated to the three distinct beaches of Kama’ole Park. “Kam 1” as the locals call it, has the widest expanse of sand while Kam 3 has a large recreational area with grass, picnic tables and a playground. Snorkeling alongside the lava outcrops is ideal and overall there will be a good mix of visitors and locals playing Frisbee, splashing in the waves and chilling on the sand.
This western Maui stretch boasts hands down the best sunset spot on the island. Lined with hotels but certainly less hectic than the strip in Kihei and Wailea, Ka’anapali beach is split down the middle by a volcanic cliff called Black Rock. Daring locals dive from its ledges and generally the ocean is calm enough for swimming. There is a concentration of bright coral, playful fish and even sea turtles at Black Rock if you delve beneath the surface with your snorkel or scuba gear.
A pristine arc of white sand facing Honokahua Bay in Kapalua, this beach is adjacent to the ideal park for a family picnic day. Wide, clean sand, grills, picnic tables and shady pavilions are perfect for gatherings or just a low key spare rib barbecue. There are lifeguards on duty most days which is great for families but if you like to surf, the breaks can be perfect in the afternoons.
Just along the Hana Highway from Kahului, the artsy town of Paia is home to the windsurfing capital of the islands. Champions compete in the thundering waves at this blustery, rugged beach. A shallow coral reef protects part of the shore for easy swimming the kids and less adrenaline-chasing adults will appreciate. Watching the professionals sail and wheel among the surf is a unique and thrilling experience.
Just before you complete the harrowing 50 mile drive to Hana, you’ll come upon Wai’anapanapa State Park, where Honokalani’s black, volcanic pebbles will surprise you with their stark contrast to the sugar-fine sand of the west coast. Ancient caves, natural arches offshore and lush flora make this tiny curve of sand totally worth the trek. If you are feeling hardy, take the old native Hawaiian footpath from Waianapanapa all the way to Hana, about three miles.
This black sand beach is old so the volcanic sand is soft and fine. Visit this small local hangout for an authentic Maui experience. Watch locals compete in traditional outrigger canoe races, cast off the pier and try your hand at hooking the Hawaii State fish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a (triggerfish). A burger from Tutu’s Burger Shack will surely delight you after your day as a true Hawaiian.
Constantly touted as one of Hawaii’s best beaches, Hamoa is just outside of Hana, tucked below lava sea cliffs that are tangled with blooming jungle. A seemingly protected cove, the waves here can actually be quite powerful and are fun for boogie boarding. The Travaasa Hana Hotel offers their guests nice loungers and umbrellas, but the gray sand is so plush you’ll want to just flop down in it after a refreshing swim in turquoise water.
This beach is really the cherry on top of Maui’s already stunning spectrum of beaches. Dramatic red sand, a death-defying, unmarked hike to find it and optional clothing once you get there make it a once in a lifetime beach day. No facilities, no tourists, just a warm lagoon and steep, eroded cinder cone cliffs make the “red sand beach” one of Maui’s best kept secrets.
Noella Schink is a travel writer from Portland, Maine. After growing up in the sand and sun, she’s never gotten used to the cold! Next time you are traveling, whether to Hawaii, or beyond, she recommends Excellent Hotels for you hotel bookings.