If this is your first trip to Maui, probably the first decision to make in your plan is where to stay. Visitors to the island generally gravitate towards the sunny south and west facing shores. This means the Kihei and Wailea areas in South Maui, Lahaina to Kaanapali on the west side, and Ma’alaea Village and Small Boat Harbor right between the two. There really is no wrong answer, just a few preference choices.
Just because you stay in one area, expect to explore many parts of the island during your visit. Central Maui is the business and government hub, Residents live here for the convenience of being close to shopping and services. But central Maui also has some delightful scenic beauty, including at Maui Tropical Plantation, and Iao Valley State Monument.
Upcountry is where you will find local folks living in a more rural setting and cooler temps up on the mountain. The town of Makawao has held onto its paniolo (cowboy) roots. Mosey on down the wooden sidewalk and take in some unique galleries, shops and restaurants. At the top of mountain you will find Haleakala National Park, or as locals call it, “the crater.” Learn more about visiting the crater here.
Along the Northshore, Paia has a definite laid back, surfing vibe. It’s no wonder, being flanked by the huge Baldwin Beach park on one end, and Hookipa Beach park, legendary for surfing, on the other.
From Paia, just keep going all the way to East Maui. Here you will find the most Hawaiian town of Hana, at the end of a 16 mile, curvy two-lane road. The experience here is really the road to Hana, with a waterfall or dramatic ocean view around nearly every corner, the journey takes 2 to 4 hours from Paia with stops. Learn more about driving the road to Hana here.
Be advised- there are few places to stay in Hana- one rather high end hotel and a few B&Bs and condos. We recommend making your Maui home base elsewhere and doing Hana as a day trip.
So now, let’s talk about the area you do want to stay.
The West side of Maui is where you will find the former whaling capital, Lahaina. Filled with a delightful harbor area, Lahaina is a walkable town filled with shops, museums, cultural landmarks and great places to eat. Further north are the resort areas of Kaanapali, Kahana, Napili and Kaupalua. There are a myriad of great beach parks, with the crowds thinning out the farther north you go. West Maui is the sunniest area of the island, so if you are looking for endless sunny days for lounging or outdoor activities, West Maui May be for you.
Our recommendation of where to say in West Maui is Kuleana Resort. Tucked in a popular West Maui resort area, oceanfront Kuleana is a quieter oasis, providing the perfect combination resort amenities, recreation and relaxation opportunities for your Maui vacation. Shopping, dining, golf and activities are just minutes away.
This part of the island is a vibrant mix of residential homes and vacation rentals in Kihei, anchored by the resort areas of Wailea and Makena to the South. Here you will find the longest stretches of golden sand beach on the island, and plenty of sunshine.
On the far end, Makena State Park is a huge swath of sand, and surf that can be amazingly large. A bit further are coves ideal for entering the ocean for snorkeling and diving.
Where to stay in South Maui- The northern end of Kihei is an easy jumping off point to any other part of the island you want to explore. Here you’ll find some outstanding oceanfront condo resorts.
We love North Kihei’s Sugar beach! Here you will find Kealia Resort, Kihei Beach Resort and Nani Kai Hale, all on this 6-mile stretch of golden beach. Imagine a morning ocean side stroll, or relaxing in the evening overlooking the beach, ocean and distant islands.
In the middle of Kihei stands an iconic complex in a unique location. Menehune Shores sits on a point stretching out to the ocean, views are panoramic and breathtaking. The property is adjacent to a sheltered swimming beach, with a host of ocean activities within walking distance. Possible the best feature is the rooftop terrace for grilling, sunbathing or just taking in a 360 view of the island. There are unique shops, spa facilities and local cuisine all nearby, including an on-site restaurant.
Tucked among 5 lush acres, Koa Resort features our only spacious 2-story, 3 bedroom 2 bath condominiums, great for larger groups. The resort is one block off the beach, and features a large resort pool area. The perfect place to base your family or friends gathering.
A short distance down the road, the Shores of Maui overlooks Cove Beach Park, a favorite hangout of beginning surfers, and a good place to launch a rental kayak.
A stay at Wailea Ekahi lands you adjacent to the most luxurious string of hotels on the island, but at a much more affordable price. Over 34 acres, Wailea Ekahi boasts 4 swimming pools, a spacious beach pavilion, including a full kitchen, and BBQ area. Shuffle board, pickle ball and tennis are also available on the property. Soak up the nearby Wailea amenities, including top notch restaurants, boutique shopping and glittering golden beaches.
Wildcard: Central Coast
The central coast is often overlooked when people are deciding on accommodations. The people that love to stay in less crowded Ma’alaea overlooking the harbor think that is just fine! Condo prices are a little more affordable here, while still being right on the water. While not tied to one of the larger towns, Ma’alaea does have a quaint village, with everything you need, from shops and restaurants to a world-class aquarium. Plus you can walk to a morning snorkel or dive charter. And that 6-mile stretch of North Kihei beach mentioned earlier? The other end is in Ma’alaea!
So, where to stay? South Maui is a bit more convenient if you will be exploring other parts of the island. When the trade winds come up in the afternoon, weather and water conditions in Lahaina can be a little calmer. Ma’alaea may provide the best value for those on a budget.
As you explore the resorts of Destination Maui Vacations, don’t forget to hit the favorite ❤️ (heart) button to help with your comparison shopping. And once you make your choice, relax and enjoy all Maui has to offer.