Kihei or Kaanapali? East? West? South? Deciding where to stay on Maui can be overwhelming, as the areas are surprisingly far apart for a “small” island (yes, renting a car is worth it). There are no bad places to stay on Maui, but it helps to know what kind of vacation you are looking for to better understand what area is right for you. Let’s dissect:
The Tourist Trio – West Maui
If you’ve been doing research, chances are Kaanapali, Lahaina and Kapalua/Napili have all popped up on the ol’ google feed.
Kaanapali Beach in Lahaina
Kaanapali is my favourite area and where we stay every time we go. Luxury accommodations line the 3 mile beach, and it is fair to say that although crowded, it’s one of the nicest beaches on Maui.
Being able to eat breakfast, put on a bikini, and take 25 steps to the bright blue water is probably Kaanapali’s best selling feature.
But, you get what you pay for, so don’t expect to find anything under $250-$300 a night. The Whaler Village has all the shopping you’ll need (Lululemon, Louis Vuitton (lol..Maui is one of the most expensive places I’ve been to, my Visa bill would probably jump out of my wallet and hide under a palm tree if I stepped foot in a Louis Vuitton in Maui, but if you can swing it, good on ya) , surf shops, ABC store etc) + a few restaurants (check out Monkey Pod for dinner, Hula Grill for drinks and appetizers only (food isn’t great but the barefoot bar is cool to relax and listen to live music).
- The town of Lahaina – Approx. 6 minute drive South
- Kapalua- Approx. 12 minute drive North
- Kaanapali sits in the middle
When you’re looking at hotels and searching Lahaina, most of the hotels will be situated on Kaanapali beach. However, there are a few closer to the actual town of Lahaina. Make sure you look on google maps before booking. If you stay in town, you are closer to a greater number of restaurants, bars and grocery stores but further from the beach.
If you’re travelling with a big group, there are some pretty nice houses you can rent in Lahaina and the location is very central. Check out VRBO + Airbnb for options. The town itself is again, touristy, with big chain surfer locales like Rip Curl, shave ice stands + souvenir shops. If you are into the art scene, this town is definitely worth checking out as it is home to beautiful galleries. We are bigger sports fans than arts peeps so we went to Lahaina for football Sunday.
Football Fan Tip: We had a great time at Betty’s. It’s right on the beach, but the REAL selling point was the $2 mimosas.
Napili/Kapalua are lovely and have a bit more of an off the beaten path vibe. The accommodations there are a bit older so you can find some cheaper hotels versus Kaanapali. A lot of places in Napili have full kitchens. This is really nice for families or if you’re staying longer than a week.
Being an island, everything needs to be imported, so eating out in Maui can be expensive. Being able to cook your own meals will save you some serious cash. Stop at Costco or Walmart ahead of time – it’ll help the wallet big time.
Reasons to stay in West Maui:
- The sun always shines here! Even when you can see nasty rain clouds over the mountains, West Maui remains in it’s own little sunshiny bubble.
- Beaches. From D.T Fleming Beach, Kaanapali beach, Napili Beach, Honolua Bay .. you won’t have a shortage of places to park your beach chair or get out the snorkel gear.
- Lots of restaurants, bars, shops, grocery stores
- Great for first timers to the island
- A lot of excursions will start in either Lahaina or Kaanapali. It’s pretty nice to roll out of bed and head down to meet the tour you’ve booked.
Reasons to look elsewhere:
I’m sure you read the word tourist about 50 times in the description, so you’ve been warned. With tourists come large crowds, especially in peak season, so expect long waits at restaurants and to get up early to throw an ol’ Us weekly on a beach chair to reserve your spot before 8am.
Kihei + Wailea – South Maui
Kihei + Wailea are also fan favourites, and are great for extended vacations. The area has amazing apartments and is more laid back and less crowded that it’s West side sister. Kihei is more convenient for excursion purposes, as it is closer to Haleakala, Road to Hana, Iao Valley, and the airport.
Like the West Side, the weather is great all year and escapes most of the mountain rain. You won’t find as many upscale restaurants, but it’s a great place to lay your roots and enjoy island life without an ABC store on every corner.
Big Beach/Makena (+ little beach if you’re looking for that no tan line look) is a must! If you’re on a budget, find a nice *air quotes* “low cost” apartment in Kihei.
If you’re looking to spare no expense, there are some absolutely stunning luxury hotels in Wailea that will make you feel like you’re one of the football players straight outta Blue Crush.
So, the age old question – Kaanapali or Kihei?
I recommend staying on the West Side in Kaanapali for your first trip, and then giving Kihei a try for your subsequent vacation. You can’t go wrong in either place, it just comes down to personal preference and budget. Once you stay in both areas, you’ll know where your heart lies, and chances are you’ll go back to the same area for the rest of your Hawaiian vacations.
When you get to know an area and where everything is, a new level of relaxation seeps into your bones + the familiarity can bring such a comfort. As Zac Brown put it, “Only worry in the world is the tide gonna reach my chair..”
Other places to consider:
While West + South Maui would be my two recommendations for tourists looking for a bit of everything, you might want to check out some areas below for a different vibe:
North Maui (Paia + Kula)
They don’t call Maui the Valley Isle for nothin’. It is so lush (I love saying the word lush..lush, just sounds so luxurious….lush). Anyways, North Maui is great if the umbrella drink beach vibe is a little too sleepy for you.
If you’re into surfing, tropical forestry, beautiful mountain views, botanical gardens and some peace and quiet, you might want to check out this side of the island.
Be prepared though. Remember the mountainous rain you’d avoid in West + South Maui? It likes to set up shop here and stay awhile. Hence the reason it is so green and yes, LUSH. If this sounds like you’re thing, hit up AirBnB and you can find some AMAZING properties. Some apartments even come with your own housekeeper and chef. This is the perfect place for celebrities to stay.
So, you know, all you celebrities reading this..stay in Paia (and maybe invite me along as your tour guide..)
Best of Both Worlds
My advice if you don’t mind moving around a bit: Stay in West or South Maui, and then head to Paia, Kula or surrounding areas for a few nights before heading home. These areas are closer to the airport so you’ll need to head that way anyways. This would be a smart thing to do if you want to do the Road to Hana as Paia is the road’s origin. Paia is such a great town full of character and some trendy shops and restaurants. At the very least, I’d highly recommend having breakfast or dinner there before or after your Road to Hana experience.
Fun story from a local: Rumour has it the Rolling Stones stay in Paia. They once called their landlords at 2am to ask them how to work the toaster…
If you want to get away from it all, Hana is the epitome of off the beaten path. You won’t find souvenir shops here, and restaurants are few and far between. If seclusion circa Tom Hanks in Castaway (RIP Wilson :() is what you’re after, do a big shop in Kahului and head for Hana. I imagine this is the perfect place to write a book or find yourself, if you’re into that sort of thing. For me, I’m not big on seclusion as I’d just have “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” running through my brain the whole time.
Haven’t quite gotten over that movie yet.. no tanning beds for moi.
ANYWAYS.. before booking a full week here, I’d suggest doing the Road to Hana on another vacation first. If you fall in love with the place at the end of the road, consider staying there next time. Or splitting your time between Hana and Paia.
Phew! That was a lot of information. Now that you know where you want to stay – let’s dive into some tips to make your vacation one of the best ever.