Where to Stay in Maui, Hawaii

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Updated: January 2, 2021

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The Best Areas to Stay in Maui

Makena Beach in South Maui

Crystal blue water and golden sand at Makena Beach in South Maui.

Year after year Maui remains one of the world’s best island destinations. Of course, Maui’s long white sand beaches and clear skies are the main draws, but the island is also home to a waterfall-studded rainforest in the east and a parched, mountainous desert in the west. At the heart of the island is Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano with panoramic sunrise and sunset views and a crater larger than Manhattan. Known as the House of the Sun, Haleakala is the point from which the demigod Maui lassoed the sun to lengthen the day. Travelers to Maui can enjoy its tropical ecosystem with big wave surfing, coral reef snorkeling, volcano hiking, waterfall swimming, and winter whale watching. The gastronomic scene here focuses on fresh, locally sourced fish and produce with a mix of Hawaiian, Polynesian, and pan-Asian flavors served up in roadside shacks, down-home diners, and haute-cuisine restaurants. Large, luxury resorts are the predominant beachfront accommodation type here, though boutique hotels, cozy B &amp Bs, affordable hotels, and youth hostels are scattered around the island to suit any budget.

Though compact, Maui can be broken up into several distinct regions. The vast majority of Maui’s hotels are in West and South Maui. Sun-kissed West Maui is home to historic Lahaina town and the luxury beach resorts of Ka’anapali, Napili, and Kapalua stretching north along the coast. South Maui is home to bustling Kihei town, filled with restaurants and shops, plus the master-planned golf and beach resorts of Wailea and Makena. Maui’s North Shore is where the rainforest and the scenic Road to Hana begin; its main towns, Pa’ia and Ha’iku, offer a boho vibe, boutique hotels, water sports (especially surfing and windsurfing), and eclectic shops, and local foods. East Maui is where the densest rainforest lies, filled with waterfalls, bamboo forests, and botanical gardens set in between the hairpin turns, sheer cliffs, and single-lane bridges of the Road to Hana, its largest town. The middle of the island, Upcountry, is dominated by the enormous Haleakala Volcano; the least touristy part of Maui, Upcountry is filled with farms, dairies, small villages, and scenic vistas. Central Maui is home to the airport and Kahului, the island’s largest city. Despite its size, Kahului is not a tourist destination, more of a shopping district catering to locals.

The Best Places to Stay in Maui

Best Areas in Maui for…

    Historic Lahaina town in West Maui

    The historic whaling town of Lahaina in West Maui.

  • Best Beaches in Maui: West Maui, South Maui, North Shore, East Maui
    All of Maui is wrapped is incredible beaches, but each area has a different beach style. West Maui and South Maui both boast long stretches of white sand with usually moderate waves, great swimming, excellent water sports (especially surfing, bodyboarding, and snorkeling), and whale watching in the winter months. The North Shore offers the best sporting beaches for more experienced surfers, windsurfers, and kitesurfers; waves are enormous in winter and many pro tournaments are held here yearly. East Maui has the quietest, most unspoiled beaches with a mix of black, salt-and-pepper, and red sand beaches – all wonderful for swimming but with few amenities.

  • Best Places for Sightseeing in Maui: West Maui, East Maui, Upcountry
    West Maui offers the most historic sights, especially in the old whaling town of Lahaina with its cultural museums, protestant missions, the old prison, and 19th-century houses, along with art galleries and boat tours (whale watching, snorkeling, and sunset cruises). East Maui boasts the single most popular attraction on Maui: the Road to Hana. This narrow road winds its way past rainforest, waterfalls, botanical gardens, ancient lava rock temples, and volcanic beaches. Upcountry is home to the Haleakala Crater, a huge shield volcano offering sweeping sunrise and sunset views from its peak.

  • Best Places for Families in Maui: West Maui, South Maui, North Shore
    West Maui and South Maui offer the most family-friendly attractions, restaurants, and beaches with shallow water and gentle waves. Hotels and resorts here feature a wide range of family rooms, suites, and interconnecting rooms, along with active kids’ clubs, spectacular pools, and onsite entertainment, including luaus, barbecues, and beach events. For families who aren’t into large resorts, the North Shore offers a handful of family-friendly hotels, casual restaurants in the main town Pa’ia, and great beaches for beginning swimmers, such as Baby Beach and Baldwin Cove. Ho’okipa Beach Park here is not as good for swimming, but younger kids enjoy exploring its many tide pools, snorkeling, and observing the sea turtles that gather here every evening before sunset.

  • Most Romantic Places in Maui: West Maui, South Maui, North Shore, East Maui, Upcountry
    Maui is packed with romantic potential in every corner. The north end of West Maui and the south end of South Maui boast the best luxury hotels on the island, some adults-only properties, and many more with adults-only wings or pools. West and South Maui offer the best sunset ocean views toward the islands of Lanai, Moloka’i, and Kaho‘olawe ready to be enjoyed with toes-in-the-sand dining and drinks under the stars. The North Shore offers a few high-end boutique hotels, a laidback vibe, cozy farm-to-table restaurants, and charming towns and beaches meant for evening strolls. East Maui offers the verdant landscape of Hawaiin dreams with remote beaches, secluded waterfall pools, and thick, flowering rainforests. Upcountry charms couples with its rugged volcano views, idyllic farmland, and radiant aloha spirit in each small village.

  • Best Places for Food and Nightlife in Maui: West Maui, South Maui, North Shore, Upcountry
    Maui is not well-known for nightlife, though there is a smattering of cocktail bars and dance clubs that are open late in Lahaina in West Maui. In South Maui, there are a few smaller bars on the main street of Kihei. Most fine dining and farm-to-table restaurants will be in the main towns and resorts of West and South Maui, with the notable exception of Mama’s Fish House on the North Shore. Generally, the North Shore and Upcountry offer more casual, hearty fare, though the emphasis on freshness and eating local means the food in either area is remarkably flavorful.

  • Best Places for a Local Vibe in Maui: North Shore, Upcountry, East Maui
    For a more authentic feel, skip the mega-resorts of West and South Maui and head to the North Shore, East Maui, or Upcountry, where you’re more likely to interact with locals than with tourists. Upcountry is the least touristy area. There are few hotels here and most of the shops and restaurants in town cater to local tastes and needs with an excellent farmers’ market, a few general stores, and charming little cafes. East Maui offers a taste of Old Hawaii; most tourists here drive the Road to Hana, then turn right back around; few remain overnight or longer to explore Hana, its cheerful food stands, small beaches, or cultural sights. The North Shore gets more visitors than East Maui or Upcountry but is devoid of large resorts, which allows the area to maintain its artsy, hippie energy.

  • Safest Areas of Maui
    Overall, Maui is an incredibly safe place to visit, with a lower than average crime rate versus the U.S. national average. Violence and property crimes are low on average here, but the safest areas of Maui are Upcountry, South Maui, and the North Shore.

  • Unsafe Areas of Maui
    Maui is a safe place to visit, but don’t let the gorgeous scenery fool you. The most dangerous things here are the ocean itself, especially the North Shore beaches whose large waves can easily sweep away inexperienced swimmers. The Road to Hana is narrow and fraught with blind curves and single-lane bridges, so exercise caution when driving. Though Maui is generally safe, crime can happen anywhere. Most crime in Maui is property crime, rather than violent crime, usually in the form of car break-ins and theft. Be sure to secure all valuables when parking your car at a beach, scenic lookout point, or in any downtown areas, especially at night. Being the main nightlife hotspot, Lahaina sees some bar fights around closing time. The most dangerous town in Maui is Wailuku, where travelers don’t have any reason to visit; most of the crime in Wailuku is in Happy Valley, a former red-light district.

The Best Places in Maui for Tourists

1. West Maui

The beach at Napili Bay in West Maui

The first capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Lahaina was a beloved retreat for royalty in the early 1800s. By the mid-1800s, it was a lively whaling town where about 400 ships anchored, including one employing Herman Melville. Today Lahaina is the busiest (though not the largest) town in Maui. The main drag, Front Street, brims with fine and casual restaurants, tropical cocktail bars, art galleries, and shopping. Historic sites include the Baldwin Home (oldest house on Maui; built for Protestant missionaries), Hale Pa’ahao (Old Lahaina Prison, where rowdy sailors were locked away), the Wo Hing Museum (temple, social club, and community kitchen for Chinese immigrants built in the early 1900s), and Maui’s oldest banyan tree (its circumference is an incredible 400 meters).

Heading north along the coastline leads to the luxury beach resorts of Ka’anapali, Napili, Kapalua, and more. Ka’anapali, Hawaii’s first planned resort, boasts 5 km of white sand beach interrupted by the cliff of Black Rock, where the legendary last chief of Maui, Kahekili, leapt into the ocean in a show of strength. Napili is the quietest area in this otherwise active shoreline; snorkel with sea turtles in Napili Bay (pictured above), sample local beers at Maui Brewing Company, and visit the farmers market on Wednesday mornings. Immediately north, Kapalua is among the most exclusive resort areas of Maui with two prestigious golf courses, a crescent-shaped bay with excellent snorkeling, and top-notch dining. Inland are the West Maui Mountains with ancient trails, lava formations, lush vegetation, and sweeping views. Along with South Maui, West Maui is one of the best places for whale watching in the winter months.

2. South Maui

Wailea Beach in South Maui

South Maui, which wraps around the southwest coast, is the driest, sunniest part of the island. Beginning in the small, harbor town Ma’alaea, South Maui curves around through busy Kihei, runs down through the luxury resorts of Wailea and Makena, and continues until the road peters out at the rugged lava fields spilling into La Perouse Bay. All areas here offer soft sand beaches, water sports centers, and excellent restaurants. Along with West Maui, South Maui is one of the best spots for whale watching, with tours departing several times daily, along with snorkel and diving tours to the marine preserve of the Molokini caldera. Despite the throngs of tourists visiting Ma’alaea and Kihei, these beachfront towns are still home to local families who have lived here for generations. Waila and Makena, on the other hand, are both master-planned resorts filled with upscale hotels, golf courses, and fine dining restaurants where few locals visit.

3. North Shore

Baldwin Beach in Paia on Maui's North Shore
Maui’s North Shore is a rugged string of white sand beaches and easygoing towns at the beginning of the rainforest. The area is best known for its variety of unspoiled, natural beaches. Baldwin Beach is the widest, sandiest, most popular beach here, with lifeguards and basic facilities. Its western and eastern ends, called Baby Beach and Baldwin Cove respectively, offer calm, shallow water for beginning swimmers, while the main beach is popular for bodyboarding and surfing. Ho’okipa Beach is considered the top windsurfing beach in the world with competitions held here regularly; at the far eastern end, sea turtles come to shore nightly to rest – up to 40 at a time. Pe’ahi Beach AKA Jaws is the top surfing beach; several major surf competitions are held here in the winter months when swells reach over 18 meters high. Baldwin, Ho’okipa, and Lanes Beaches are all suitable for kitesurfing, though most people head to nearby Kanaha Beach (AKA Kite Beach).

There are no large resorts or tourist attractions on the North Shore. Instead, you’ll find a handful of boutique hotels and B & Bs, casual diners, a farmers’ market, surf shops, and hundred-year-old Buddhist temples in effortlessly cool Pa’ia town. East of Pa’ia and deeper into the rainforest is the rustic village Ha’iku, surrounded by farmland, hiking trails with waterfalls, and featuring a couple of old pineapple canneries, converted into boutique shopping centers. More centrally located than so-called Central Maui, the North Shore is an ideal perch for active travelers who plan to visit the entire island. From the North Shore, it’s a straight shot for 30 minutes to Kihei, about 45 minutes to Lahaina, an hour to the peak of Haleakala, and about an hour and a half to Hana if you drive straight through (NB: no one drives straight through – the whole point of the drive is to stop and take in the scenery).

4. East Maui

Waianapanapa Beach in Hana, Maui
Bordering the North Shore and Upcountry, East Maui is a wonderland of rainforest and rainbows, waterfalls pouring into freshwater pools, and volcanic, black sand beaches. East Maui on the windward (rainy) coast is largely undeveloped. Its main town, Hana, is accessible by one narrow road, the celebrated Road to Hana, which twists 600 hairpin turns above sheer cliffs blanketed in green, crosses 50 single-lane bridges, and passes by nature preserves, hiking trails, and humble food shacks. Hana itself is one of the most remote communities in all of Hawaii with only a few restaurants plus several food trucks), one hotel (plus a few vacation homes, and a grocery store. On the Road to Hana, find Kahanu Garden, a tropical botanical garden and home to Pi’ilanihale Heiau (a Hawaiian, lava rock temple; the largest manmade structure in Polynesia) and Waianapanapa State Park (lava tubes, sea caves, blowhole, and the best black sand beach in the state – pictured above). Beyond Hana on the same road is the Oheo Gulch (home of the Seven Sacred Pools and the Pipiwai Trail) and Wailua Falls (25-meter waterfall, one of the best in Hawaii). The beaches of East Maui are world-renowned with Hamoa Beach topping the list of best-loved with its silky salt-and-pepper sand (a blend of black lava and white coral) a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, James Michener, and Oprah Winfrey. Hana is also home to Kaihalulu Beach, a red sand beach with sparkling, blue water accessible by a steep hiking trail. East Maui is ideal for active, outdoorsy days and relaxing, romantic evenings; those used to nightlife or resort entertainment may find this area too isolated.

5. Upcountry

Sunrise at Haleakala in Upcountry, Maui
Climbing the sides of the Haleakala shield volcano, the aptly named Upcountry is a mostly rural area with farms, ranches, and a few villages circling the crater. The leeward side of the volcano (western slope) is a desert, while the windward side (eastern slope) is covered in rainforest and waterfalls. The peak of Haleakala offers panoramic sunrise and sunset views over Maui and is one of the island’s most loved attractions. Even those staying in distant Kapalua or Hana will make the long drive while it’s still dark out to catch the legendary sunrise from the summit. Historically, Upcountry was paniolo country. Paniolo are Hawaiian cowboys, and their traditions began decades before those of the more famous Wild West cowboys of mainland America. Though it’s not super common to see paniolo outside of the 4th of July rodeo these days, the main town Makawao retains much of the cowboy feel in the architectural style of the main storefronts. Makawao is the largest town in Upcountry and is better known for its galleries, boutiques, artists’ workshops (glass, sculpture, painting), and T. Komoda Bakery (est. 1916; get there early – they often sell out by 10:00 a.m.). If you’re lucky enough to be in Upcountry at the right time, the lei shop, Haku Maui, offers lei-making classes once every few weeks. The second-largest town here is Kula. Even more rustic than Makawao, the fertile Kula region supplies much of the produce, meat, and dairy served in Maui’s finest farm-to-table restaurants. Tours are offered at many farms here, including Surfing Goat Dairy, Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, O’o Farm (coffee and Maui onions), and more. Of course, there is also an excellent farmers market here, held weekly on Saturday mornings from 7:00 to 11:00. Unexpected offerings in Upcountry include a unique winery (blending grapes with pineapple) and a vodka distillery.

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