Where to stay in Maui: West Maui vs South Maui

When we just booked our 3-week trip to Hawaii, we had no idea of the amount of research ahead of us. Which island(s) to visit? How much time to spend on each island? Where to stay on each island? As a notorious planner and frantic control freak (among other things) I was overwhelmed by the number of things to consider. Yes, it occasionally happens to experienced travelers. So, in order for you to actually keep your cool I’ll save you the trouble of figuring out where to stay in Maui. Your travel sanity is my priority, after all.

Maui is only 727.2 1 mi² (or 884 km²) so you might think that your location is not too important since the driving times are pretty reasonable. Well, you’re wrong. The Hawaiian Islands are volcanic islands and Maui is home to three of those, the dormant Haleakala being the largest one. The volcanoes take up most of the Valley Isle’s surface and all roads lead around them. So, getting to your destination might take you quite a bit longer than you might think. So, yes, where to stay in Maui is a pretty important decision.

Maui map

When deciding on where to stay in Maui, there are two areas to consider: West Maui and South Maui. Apart from the optional night at Hana, that is.
– In West Maui the two tourist resorts to choose from are Kaanapali and Kapalua.
– In South Maui you have the option to go for Wailea or Kihei.

Best places to stay in Maui by area

Let me break down each of these locations by character and beaches, since that will probably be your main reason for choosing Maui.

West Maui

This area is home to some of the island’s most renowned beaches. The best places to stay in West Maui are:

  • Kaanapali

This is probably the most touristy resort, lined with several Maui resorts, all within easy walking access from one another. The soft, white sand of famous Kaanapali beach stretches over three miles, all the way to Black Rock (Puu Kekaa) in the North. Shops, bars and restaurants can be found at lively Whalers Village along the Kaanapali Beachwalk.
The Westin Maui Resort And Spa is Kaanapali’s most popular resort, families in particular love the pool slides.

Two girls playing on the beach of Ka'anapali, one of the best places to stay in Maui

  • Kapalua

Kapalua is located just a 15-minute drive north from Kaanapali. The Hawaiian name means ‘arms embracing the sea’ and that’s an accurate description for this sheltered bay. It’s a great place for snorkeling, especially along the rocks. If you’re more into boogie boarding, you’ll certainly appreciate the swells at D.T. Fleming beach, especially during the winter season.
It feels less touristy here, a place of understated luxury. You’ll find some boutiques and restaurants but not as many as in Kaanapali. Every June, Kapalua does host Maui’s Wine & Food Festival.
The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is Kapalua’s main resort and the place to stay of you’re looking to be pampered amidst an upscale decor. Every room has a private lanaï (balcony) to enjoy the gorgeous views.

 

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South Maui

  • Kihei

Kihei is the most central resort location in Maui yet probably the least crowded of all. That’s because you won’t find many hotels there. Because of that, most tourists don’t even consider Kihei when wondering where to stay in Maui. The ones that do choose to stay un this under-the-radar destination stay at one of the Kihei condos. So, if you’re looking to enjoy Maui in a more affordable way and be closer to all Maui activities then Kihei could be just the resort you’re looking for.
Kalepolepo Beach is small but charming and features the Ko’ie’ie, an ancient Hawaiian fishpond which is now a shallow pool ideal for kids. The pond is fed by natural spring water. The site of the beach also has a historical, cultural significance since it was once a Hawaiian village.

Beach sunset near Kihei

  • Wailea Maui

If you’re more into peaceful sand posh surroundings then Wailea might be for you. This area features wonderful beaches such as Big Beach (Makena Beach) and Polo Beach and is close to the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, a renowned Maui snorkeling spot.
Plus you’ll get to enjoy the exquisite service of the Grand Wailea – A Waldorf Astoria Resort, the Four Seasons at Wailea, the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort or the Fairmont Kea Lani. The Wailea Beach Path interconnects the resorts, although these are more spread out than the ones along the Kaanapali Beachwalk. Nearby Shops at Wailea offers entertainment and, well, shops.

Best places to stay in Maui by interest

Maui activities

Driving in Maui is easy, as long as you stay on the main roads and there are only a few of these on the island. Expect scenic winding roads, winding being the focus. After all, getting from point A to point B often involves making a big loop around a part of the island.
To help you make your decision on where to stay in Maui, we’ve researched the driving times from the main tourist resorts to most points of interest.

Chart of driving times to the popular sites in Maui from the main tourists to help you decide where to stay in Maui

Some Maui activities take up a full day while others can be easily combined. Traveling with kids? Then check out our selection of things to do in Maui with kids.

Golf

Maui, and Hawaii in general, is a golf lovers’ paradise. Kapalua is home to the iconic Plantation Course, where the PGA tour is held every January, and the Bay Course. In Kaanapali you’ll find the Royal Kaanapali and the Kaanapali Kai. The Wailea Golf Club features the Blue, Emerald Course and Gold Courses as well as the Makena Golf Course while Kihei is home to the Maui Nui Golf Club.

Maui snorkeling

Snorkeling is one of the ultimate must-do Maui activities. Plenty of beaches in Maui are recommended snorkeling spots.

  • The most popular ones, however, are found in West Maui. We’ve snorkeled at Black Rock Beach (near Kaanapali) and Kapalua Beach and they’re ideal for less experienced and first-time snorkelers, like our kids. Just enter the water where you see some lava rocks and before you know it, you’ll be surrounded by colorful fish. We didn’t encounter turtles but that’s probably because we stayed quite close to the beach. Advanced snorkelers can head to Honolua Bay up north.
  • We didn’t get to snorkel in the Wailea area, unfortunately, so we can’t share our personal experiences. From what we’ve heard, the Ahihi Kinau Reserve is the best snorkeling spot in South Maui. It’s also a recommended Maui snorkeling site for families with children.
  • Popular off-shore snorkeling sites are the Molokini Crater and Turtle Town. They’re located close to the Wailea shore but charter boats leave from marinas closer to West Maui too. So, for these excursions it doesn’t really matter that much where you choose to be staying. The best time of day to go snorkeling in Maui is in the morning, when the winds haven’t picked up yet.
 

Rest & relaxation

If you’re not planning on doing too much exploring and prefer peace and quiet, then we’d recommend you to stay in one of the Kapalua or Wailea resorts on the outskirts of the tourism destinations.

Maui luau

A luau is a feast with dance performances, often featuring styles from different Polynesian islands, and local food, mostly buffet-style. The most popular Maui luau shows take place in the Kaanapali – Lahaina area.

The Wailele Polynesian luau held in the Westin Maui Resort and Spa is a popular Maui luau

Whale watching

Maui’s whale watching season runs from November to May and peaks in February. It’s the time of year where North Pacific Humpback Whales enjoy Maui’s safe and warm ocean waters to breed, birth and raise their calves.

  • The absolute best whale watching site is the McGregor Point Lookout, between Lahaina and Ma’alea.
  • West Maui’s most popular viewing point is Kaanapali’s Black Rock.
    In South Wailea, you have a good chance of spotting humpbacks from Point Maui’s Wailea Coastal Walk.
  • If that’s not close enough for you, then have a look at these Viator excursion options.

Little girl standing in the rain in Kapalua which is the rainiest place in West Maui, consider that when looking where to stay in Maui

Where to stay in Maui by climate

Both West and South Maui offer the sunniest weather on the island. Still, there’s a bit of difference, especially during the winter months. The more north, the higher your chance of rain while the weather in South Maui tends to be drier. We even noticed how it was raining in Kapalua when we just arrived from sunny Kaanapali, in the beginning of April. South Maui has the lowest chance of rain, Kapalua the highest.

Average rainy days per tourist resort in Maui
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Our preferred place to stay in Maui

We stayed at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa in Kaanapali. Since this was the most relaxing part of our three-week Hawaii island hopping adventure, we chose the resort with the kids in mind. The Westin Maui Resort and Spa has the most spectacular pool, is located right on Kaanapali Beach and hosts one of the most popular Maui luau shows. It turned out to be a great choice for a first trip to Maui.

The Kapalua welcome sign in a manicured garden setting, a great option if you're deciding on where to stay in MauiFor a second visit, though, we’d probably book the Ritz Carlton Maui in Kapalua because we loved the beach and the trail. Or we might check out the Wailea area, just to have a change of scenery and check out the renowned Ahihi Kinau Reserve snorkeling spot.

What is (or would be) your favorite place to stay in Maui?

When you’ve come this far in the article, then A: Kudos to you, you’ve earned yourself a treat and B: You’ll probably have a good idea on where to stay in Maui. If so, then we’d love to hear all about it. If not, then let us know what piece of the puzzle is still missing from this article so we can perfect our advice. Either way, the comment box is all yours.


Pinning this image would be much appreciated!

 
 


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