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Kaanapali Vs Wailea: Where to Stay

Kaanapali Vs Wailea: Where to Stay

28 Nov 2022

Updated 2024

Praised for its world-famous beaches and pristine weather, it is no surprise Maui is the second most visited island in Hawaii. From its charming beach towns full of colorful shops and mouthwatering dining to its breathtaking Haleakala sunrises above the clouds and spectacular volcanic reefs, there is something to be enjoyed by every traveler here. 

While your decision to visit Maui may seem obvious, determining where to call home during your stay might feel more difficult. Two of its most prominent resort areas, Kaanapali and Wailea, are home to most of Maui’s accommodations and are often the two areas travelers find themselves struggling to choose between.

In this guide we share everything you need to know about Kaanapali and Wailea, including information about the areas and some of the top things to do in each, to help you pick the best location for your next trip to Maui.

 

KAANAPALI

 

QUICK INSIGHTS
  • Maui's first master-planned resort area located in the center of West Maui.
  • Year-round warm sunny weather with average temperatures ranging from 72-85 degrees. 
  • A scenic 45-minute drive from Kahului Airport. 
  • Two pristine beaches occupy six miles of coastline, including the world-famous Kaanapali Beach and the cliff diving area called Black Rock. 
  • Two championship golf courses showcasing stunning panoramic ocean views, with two more courses just a few minutes north in Kapalua.
  • Home to Whalers Village, an open-air beachfront shopping and dining center. 
  • 10 minutes north of Lahaina’s historic Front Street and Banyan Tree.
  • 20 minutes south of Honolua Bay, a marine life conservation area and world-class snorkeling destination.

 

Kaanapali Map

ABOUT KAANAPALI

Located in the northwestern region of the island referred to as West Maui, Kaanapali is Maui's first master-planned resort area and still arguably the most popular place to stay on the island. The community offers two pristine beaches, Kaanapali Beach and North Kaanapali Beach, separated at the center by a large lava rock formation famous for its cliff jumping called Black Rock. Together the beaches span over six miles of coastline and are fronted by top-end highrise resorts featuring glamorous hotels and condo rentals, elaborate pools, and lush manicured grounds. 

Once named the #1 Beach in America, Kaanapali Beach tends to be the busier of the two. Catch one of the several catamaran tours that leave its shore daily, play in the warm turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean, or book an oceanfront massage at one of the world-class spas. A palm-covered walking path lines the entire beach, conveniently connecting each resort to the next and making it easy to access the many activities this area offers. The white sands and warm turquoise-hued waters of this beach make it the perfect location for sunbathing, swimming, and whale watching in the winter months. 

North Kaanapali Beach, also known as Kahekili or Airport Beach, offers incredible snorkeling right off its shore and tends to be the less crowded and quieter option of the two beaches. Rent a mask and some flippers to experience Maui's magnificent marine life, or simply pull up a beach chair and enjoy the soft sand while you soak up the sun. A long walking path connects both beaches, making it easy to access all the dining, shopping, and activities, no matter where you stay. Even better, guests who book with Maui Resort Rentals can use our complimentary shuttle service to reach many of the popular attractions around West Maui. 

In addition to dozens of dining and shopping options, the area features two challenging championship golf courses that showcase stunning views of the ocean. The Royal Kaanapali Course hugs a stretch of shoreline before winding its way up the West Maui Mountain foothills, while the newly designed Kaanapali Kai Course features sweeping panoramic views, natural canals, and lava rock boundaries. A few minutes to the north, the Kapalua Bay Course has hosted over 20 major professional tournaments, and the Kapalua Plantation Course is consistently ranked the #1 golf course in Hawaii.

A scenic 45-minute drive from Kahului airport to the resorts of Kaanapali puts you at the center of all the action West Maui offers, and the views alone are well worth the trek. The highway you will travel to reach your resort hugs the coastline nearly the entire way and is only feet from the ocean in some areas, while the lush West Maui Mountains stand tall to your other side.

 
TOP THINGS TO DO IN KAANAPALI:

Perhaps one of the best features of staying in Kaanapali is its convenient access to some of the most popular activities and destinations Maui offers. Here are just a few things you won't want to miss during your time in West Maui. 

 

Black Rock at Kaanapali Beach

Experience Kaanapali Beach & Black Rock:

Fronted by five hotels and six condo rental villages, Kaanapali Beach is a three-mile stretch of the West Maui coastline and arguably the most popular beach on Maui. Situated on the furthest north end of the beloved beach, the historic Pu’u Keka’a, or Black Rock, is a popular snorkeling and cliff-jumping destination. One of Maui’s most acclaimed high chiefs once jumped from these cliffs, gaining the respect of many warriors who were frightened by the spirits believed to live in the area. To this day, it is revered as a sacred spot known as the place where a soul leaps into eternity. Inspired by this ancient Maui tradition, the Sheraton puts on a nightly cliff diving ceremony in which a young diver climbs the rock, lighting torches along the way before jumping into the water. Head down to the north end of the beach around sunset to enjoy the show.

 

Whalers Village

Visit Whalers Village:

Situated in the heart of Kaanapali Beach, Whaler's Village is an outdoor beachfront shopping center featuring over 90 high-end dining and shopping options, from one-of-a-kind Hawaii-owned retailers to some of the most famous brand names in fashion. Grab dinner at one of the oceanfront restaurants like Hula Grill or Leilani's on the Beach, and experience authentic Hawaiian cuisine and a stunning sunset overlooking the ocean. Your group can also join in on several complimentary activities and events offered by the mall each week, including ukulele lessons, hula shows, and traditional Hawaiian lei-making.

 

Honolua Bay

Snorkel at Honolua Bay:

An easy 20-minute drive north of Kaanapali is Honolua Bay, a marine life conservation area and world-class snorkeling destination bursting with beautiful coral gardens and all different types of aquatic creatures. The tall rocky cliffs surrounding the bay shelter it from wind and keep its bright blue waters calm and crystal clear. Guests staying in the area can also choose to skip the drive altogether and book a Honolua snorkel tour that takes off right from Kaanapali Beach.

 

Old Lahaina Luau:

Considered to be one of the best luaus on Maui, Old Lahaina Luau delivers everything you could hope for in a luau: authentic food, traditional music and dance, and an incredible location just off the ocean. Situated beachside in the historic town of Lahaina, Old Lahaina Luau prides itself in offering a truly authentic Hawaiian Luau experience, with everything from its food to its dance being strictly local. 

 

WAILEA

 

QUICK INSIGHTS
  • An exclusive resort community located in the heart of South Maui.
  • Year-round warm sunny weather with average temperatures ranging from 72-85 degrees. 
  • A short 25 minute drive from Kahului Airport. 
  • Five pristine crescent shaped beaches, including the world-famous Wailea Beach. 
  • Three championship golf courses, with a nearby seaside course located five minutes south in Makena. 
  • Home to the upscale Shops at Wailea, an open-air luxury outdoor shopping and dining center. 

Wailea Map

A luxurious resort community spanning over 1,500 acres of Maui's southwestern coast, Wailea is home to some of the most exclusive resorts, spas, golf courses, shopping, and dining the island has to offer. With Kihei at its north and Makena to the south, the upscale beach town sits at the center of all South Maui activity. Average temperatures ranging from 72 to 84 degrees and the least annual rain on the island make this area ideal for year-round beach days and time spent playing in the ocean. While mornings welcome gentle breezes and glassy ocean conditions, trade winds tend to blow strong cooling gusts in the afternoon heat.  

Its five pristine crescent-shaped beaches offer soft sands and calm waters, perfect for ocean activities like snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing lessons, and more. The largest and most recognized of its beaches, Wailea Beach, is fronted by 5-star resorts, including the Grand Wailea and Wailea Four Seasons, as well as luxury rental villages like Wailea Beach Villas and Wailea Elua. Intimate and private, Wailea exudes a relaxed, often quiet atmosphere compared to other, more crowded areas of the island. 

Spend your days exploring the three miles of stunningly manicured Wailea Boardwalk that hug the coast and soak in views of the turquoise Pacific Ocean, contrasted beautifully by lush, colorful foliage and jagged cliffs carved from lava rock. The gorgeous path conveniently connects each resort to the next, making it easy to access the fine dining, high-end spas, and other lavish amenities they offer. Wailea is also host to events such as the Maui Film Festival, February’s Whale Week, and award-winning restaurants serving the best of Hawaii’s cuisine. From fine dining to casual cafes, this area has it all. Indulge in exceptional upscale dining choices with breathtaking ocean views and modern poolside seating at Wailea resorts like the Four Seasons, Fairmont Kea Lani Maui, Wailea Beach Marriott, and Grand Wailea. Venture north to Kihei and explore delicious smaller eateries, lively bars, food trucks, and shave ice stands. 

Just a few minutes south, Makena is a small serene community occupying a stretch of terrain that reaches as far south as one can go by car before the road ends. Adventurous travelers will enjoy the numerous hikes along lava beds that formed in this area two centuries ago after Haleakala's last eruption, including the King's Highways and La Perouse Bay. But perhaps the most popular of its attractions is Makena Beach State Park, one of the largest and most breathtaking beaches on Maui (Read about this beach below). 

Bursting with lively volcanic reefs full of brightly colored coral and beautiful tropical fish, snorkelers and deep-sea adventurers can observe spectacular marine life right off nearly all of Wailea’s beaches. Arguably Maui's most popular excursion and one of the best locations to experience the underwater world, though, is by booking a snorkel tour of Molokini Crater. Nearly half a mile wide and reaching 160 feet above sea level, the crescent-shaped crater that sits just off Wailea's shores is Hawaii's only island marine sanctuary. Its crystal clear water and abundant marine life make it a premier snorkeling destination. Those staying in Wailea have the advantage of being just five minutes from a snorkel catamaran that leaves Maluaka Beach in Makena daily. 

At sunset, Wailea travelers will have a front-row seat to the vibrant torch-lit pathways and changing pastel hues that fill the landscape. Drums and live music can be heard nightly from luxury Luaus at the Andaz, Grand Wailea, and Marriott Wailea Beach Resort. Each offers a uniquely curated cultural and culinary experience set against stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. 

 

TOP THINGS TO DO IN WAILEA:

 

Molokini Crater

Book a Tour to Molokini Crater

One of the absolute most popular things to do on Maui is snorkel at Molokini Crater, Hawaii's only island marine sanctuary just a few miles off Maui's south shore. Nearly half a mile wide, the crescent-shaped crater rises 160 feet above sea level and delves as far as 300 feet below the surface. The quickest and most convenient way to access the crater for those staying in Wailea is by a snorkel tour departing from Maluaka Beach in Makena, only about 5 minutes south of the resorts in Wailea. The next most convenient location to join a tour is from those that leave Maalaea Harbor, only about 20 minutes north. 

 

Makena Beach State Park (Big Beach)

Visit Makena Beach State Park (Big Beach)

Made up of a massive white sand beach appropriately named Big Beach, and its smaller companion to the north, Little Beach, Makena Beach State Park is one of the largest and most breathtaking beaches on Maui. Prior to the 1980s when resort infrastructure began, this area of the island was only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles and continues today to feel like slightly untouched terrain compared to other more crowded areas of the island. Nestled between two clusters of black-lava rock, the beach offers protection from the trade winds and provides great views of Molokini Crater and Maui's neighbor island Kahoʻolawe.

 

Dine at the Shops at Wailea

Conveniently located in the heart of Wailea, surrounded by the top resorts in the area, the Shops at Wailea is an open-air outdoor mall boasting some of the best shopping and dining on the island. Home to more than 70 boutiques, shops, restaurants, and galleries, it is Maui's premier shopping destination and the only center to offer luxury brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Coach, and more. The shops also offer daily entertainment and events ranging from coconut husking demonstrations and live music to Polynesian dance performances. Visit their website for a full list of upcoming events.

 

Wailea Golf Course

Enjoy a Round of Golf at Wailea's Blue Course, Emerald Course, or Gold Course

Golfers will enjoy stunning panoramic mountain and ocean views from Wailea's three challenging hillside courses, including the Blue Course, Emerald Course, and Gold Course, as well as a nearby seaside course located to the south in Makena. Wailea's Blue Course delivers wide fairways and stunning ocean views, while the lush, manicured landscaping makes the Emerald Course an enjoyable experience. Known for its challenging natural hazards, doglegs, and narrower fairways, the prestigious Gold Course has even been host to the Senior Skins game televised nationally on Super Bowl Sunday. 

 

CONCLUSION

Kaanapali and Wailea occupy large stretches of coastline with extensive walking paths connecting each resort to the next, making it easy to access each resort's amenities and offering gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. While both areas are home to the most luxurious accommodations on their side of the island, Wailea is the more posh location of the two, offering 5-star high end accommodations that make it difficult to stay on a budget. The resorts in this area are also more spread out and tend to be calmer and less crowded. 

Because Kaanapali is older and well established, it can get crowded during peak seasons, making it hard to find parking at times. It is a great place for those looking to be in the center of all the activity, however, and makes up for its hustle and bustle with more shopping and dining options. It also offers a wider range of accommodation options whether you’re looking to splurge or save. Whether you stay in West Maui or South Maui, the weather won't be an issue during your trip, as both locations enjoy year-round sunshine with the least amount of rain on the island. Should you want to venture to other parts of the island during your stay, like Haleakala National Park or the road to Hana, you will need to book a rental vehicle or tour from both Kaanapali and Wailea.  

Ultimately, there is no wrong choice when it comes to deciding where to stay in Maui. Both Kaanapali and Wailea offer some of the best beaches in the world, world-class amenities, and fun activities for the entire family. Whether you decide to stay in Wailea or Kaanapali, Maui Resort Rentals has you covered! We offer luxurious, privately owned residences in both areas that are sure to satisfy any traveler. Even better, those staying in Kaanapali, won't need to worry about directions or parking fees because our courtesy shuttle is happy to pick you up at any of our West Maui resorts and take you anywhere you want to go on West Maui.

Browse our full selection of Kaanapali and Wailea accommodations to start planning your dream Maui vacation today! For more information about incredible things to do in Maui, take a look at our other blogs posts here.