Of all the Hawaiian beaches, Maui beaches are probably the most user-friendly. Nearly all the sand beaches on the island are concentrated in the more protected leeward areas of West and South Maui. If you were designing your own island, that’s exactly where you’d put them, because the other side of the island is exposed to more surf and runoff. The few beaches in Hana are good, but the remaining windward beaches near Kahului won’t ring your chimes.

Because of this topographic blessing, Maui is considered by many to be the Ocean Island. In fact, so much of the Maui experience is centered around beaches (to a greater degree than any of the other Hawaiian islands) that we’ve had to endure countless hours assessing the characteristics of each individual beach. Which ones worked best for snorkeling, boogie boarding, swimming or just plain frolicking? Sometimes this research was as simple as determining if a sunset mai tai worked better at one beach than another. (See, and you thought that writing guidebooks and apps was all fun and games. There’s a serious work ethic involved.)

Here you can snorkel exceptional reefs, boogie board till you’re raw, take a 3-mile beach walk, dig your fingers into genuine volcanic black sand, catch rays on a red sand beach, and sip a cocktail under a palm tree on a golden sand beach. This page lets you sample 10 Maui beaches that have earned their legendary status.

Hamoa Beach

A great beach! Tons and tons of fine salt and pepper sand, some shade, showers, clear water and the best bodysurfing on the island make this one of the best Maui beaches. The thickness of the sand toward the middle is so great that you don’t have to worry as much about stubbing your toe on rocks as at most north- or east-facing Hawai‘i beaches (though it’s always possible). Toward the center of the beach the sand drops abruptly a little way offshore, meaning that the waves tend to break at the same spot each time—exactly what you want for bodysurfing. If you’ve never done this before, be really careful and only do it on small waves. The ocean is unprotected here—no reef to break things up—so the waves have more power here and can drill you into the sand if you’re not cautious.

Honolua Bay Beach

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There’s no sand beach—just a rocky shoreline—so you aren’t going to come here to relax. And water quality is frustratingly variable due to a stream that tends to muck up visibility in the bay after a heavy rain. But when conditions cooperate, Honolua offers truly outrageous snorkeling and SCUBA diving. Tour companies literally bring paying customers here by the boatload, charging more than $100 per person. But since you were savvy enough to do a little research first, you get to visit for free.

The left side of the bay (from the beach, looking at the ocean) is shallower, and that’s where you’re more likely to find sea turtles. There are also lots of interesting lava formations with crevasses and gullies to explore. But the better coral formations are to the right side. You’ll need to swim a fair way out to get to the good stuff—the bottom near the beach is littered with small boulders covered in silt. Hug the shoreline for about 150 yards, and you’ll come to breathtaking underwater scenery.

Kaanapali Beach

Ka‘anapali is among the finer Maui beaches. This portion fronts most of the Ka‘anapali resorts and Whalers Village. There’s a concrete path running the entire length of Kaanapali Beach, from the Sheraton to the Hyatt. It’s a great place to be at sunset. This beach turns into a kickin’, hoppin’, happenin’ place as all eyes are cast toward the sunset. Dinner cruises ply the waters, beachside restaurants hum, and couples walk the glorious beachside path holding hands and waiting to greet the night. It’s busy but not offensively loud.

If you’re staying in West Maui, you should strongly consider spending one evening doing a stroll along this path, then dining at one of the restaurants along here. There are five free parking lots along the beach. Since the north end of the beach is best, check for vacancies from north to south. The last one, at the Hyatt, usually has empty spots and, since we often see employees parking there (which they’re not supposed to do), I’m sure they won’t mind if you take one of their regular spots. You can also park at the Whalers Village Shopping Center. Any shop will validate if you spend around $20 (which is easy to do).

Kapalua Beach

Well known as one of the best swimming beaches on Maui, the bay is usually very protected, making timid swimmers happy. Consistently the best beach for kids due to the protected bay, though it can quickly feel crowded. The water isn’t necessarily the clearest, so snorkeling is not that hot unless you swim around point on the right side of the bay. Known as “Cliff House,” this cove tends to be much clearer with higher fish counts. Just watch out for the young’uns who use the cliffs to leap into the cove. You’ll do well to bring your water shoes so you can walk about in the ocean without fear of stubbing your toe. But Kapalua is a great place to wade into the ocean without worrying about getting beaten up by the surf most of the time, and the palm trees behind the beach are very picturesque (helping to disguise the surprisingly ugly, ultra-expensive condos there).

Kahekili Beach

Official name Ali’i Kahekili Nui ’Ahumanu Beach Park (but everyone calls it simply Kahekili), it’s a superb park, glorious beach and excellent facilities, including covered tables, a large parking area, restrooms, showers and lawn area. A windbreak running north of here partially protects you from afternoon winds. Kahekili is a popular place for SCUBA diving. Several companies do introductory shore dives here.

Conveniently, the best snorkeling is directly offshore of the pavilion, about 75 feet or so where a nice variety of coral and some fish await. Just plain ol’ swimming offshore of the park facilities is not so good, suffering from hidden rocks at the water’s edge that you can’t see without polarized sunglasses.

Keawakapu Beach

One of the most criminally underrated beaches in South Maui. Very long with gobs of fine sand on and offshore. The only resorts on the beach are at the north end. The rest is lined with very expensive houses. The area in front of the main public access has a huge, well-padded sandy bottom, perfect for frolicking with minimal fear of stubbing your toe on a rock. (You’ve never really cursed until you’ve cursed a beach rock that has attacked your foot.) If you walk to the south (left), the beach widens, and you’ll find another large sandy bottom area. This part of the beach is amazingly underused. Farther south is the third Keawakapu entrance. (The first two have parking lots at the intersection of South Kihei Road and Kilohana and near the Mana Kai Resort.) This third entrance (which has a shower) is at the unnoticed end of South Kihei Road, and the water offshore is very well sanded.

Makena Beach Maui

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You’ll be forgiven if you get confused as to where Makena Beach Maui is. So is everyone else. Ask a local for directions, and you could end up in one of four places. Oneloa Beach, also called Big Beach, is often called Makena Beach or sometimes Big Makena Beach. (It’s also called Makena State Park.) Makena Bay, just north of here, which also contains Makena Landing, is sometimes called Makena Beach. Sometimes Po‘olenalena Beach is called Makena Surf Beach. And lastly this beach is sometimes called Makena Beach. It’s usually called Maluaka Beach, as the signs often say. Hey, don’t blame us—we’re just the messengers. For clarification (ha!) we’ll call this beach Maluaka Beach.

Napili Beach

An excellent beach that seems to generate more fun per square foot than any other beach in the area. It’s very recessed into the shoreline, which blocks much of the afternoon wind along here. The sand is steep, so the waves slap the shoreline then recede quickly, creating an impressive undertow during high surf. The offshore waters are quite sandy. This combination creates the best beach on the island for an activity called Monastery Tag (named after a beach in California where we invented it one day after a SCUBA dive). Now bear with me here, it’s going to sound strange, but we’ve shown others how to do this, and they love it. The three ingredients you need are a steep beach, unchecked (unprotected) waves and a padded, sandy bottom. Basically you lie in the water at the surf’s edge and zip up and down the beach up to 40 feet each way on a thin cushion of water, digging feet or hands into the sand to control your ascent and descent. Like a low-to-the-ground sports car, the sensation of speed is greater.

Pa‘aoko Beach/ Secret Cove

This beach is literally a hole in the wall, or at least access to it is. That impressive rock wall you see just past (south of) Big Beach hides some impressive beachfront homes. But across from telephone pole #E2–3 (the first pole you encounter past Big Beach, in case someone steals the marking) is an opening in the wall, a legal public access. Walk through and you find a beautiful little pocket of sand. This is a popular place to get married, and for good reason. In the morning the views of Kaho‘olawe and Molokini from this pocket are outstanding, and the little beach simply looks charming. Since it’s small, it doesn’t take much to fill it up; mornings are best. Off to the left, in front of a beach house, is a smaller pocket of sand. The beach doesn’t really have a name other than Secret Cove. But the point on your right is called Pa‘ako, so we’ll call it that.

Wailea Beach

An outstanding beach! Over 0.3 miles long, this classic crescent of sand has been ranked by several beach rankings (yes, there are people who do that) as the best beach in America. Terrific clear water, fine-grained sand, picturesque setting, calm waters most of the time, excellent swimming; Wailea should be on your short list of Maui beaches to visit. The biggest problems at Wailea are parking and popularity. The resort has provided a parking lot, accessed just past the Grand Wailea, but it may fill up if you don’t get there early. (However, the Wailea parking lot usually fills up after the Mokapu/Ulua Beach parking lot.) Showers and restrooms are provided. As with all South Maui beaches, morning is better than afternoon, though Wailea won’t get windy as early as beaches farther north. Snorkeling can be decent at each end when calm. Boogie boarding can be very good for novices at the far south (left) side when there’s a little surf.

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