Best Area To Stay In Maui – I have a lot of questions about the best place to stay in Maui. If people do any research on where to stay on Maui, they realize very quickly that it comes down to deciding whether to stay on the west side or the south side.
West Maui (Kaanapali, Lahaina, Kapalua, and Napili) and South Maui (Wailea, Kihei, and Makena) are the two areas most visitors to Maui choose to stay in. So in this post I’m going to break down the pros and cons of both areas and let you know my favorite place to stay in Maui.
Best Area To Stay In Maui
Well, if you ask this question in any Facebook group or forum, you will get some solid answers. Most people definitely think there is a “better” place to stay between the two. Unfortunately, there is generally no consensus. In my experience, most people will recommend wherever they stay. The area they stayed in and the particular resort was usually the “best on the island”. Not helpful and how would you know if you stayed in the same place.
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Those who have stayed at both Wailea and Ka’anapali usually have a choice between the two but will quickly tell you that they are both better…it just depends on what you are looking for.
It’s a good thing I have you. I’ve been everywhere, done everything, seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and I’m ready to share my views with you. Sooooo… Wailea vs Ka’anapali… Which is better? Well, it depends. I wish there was a cut and dry answer here for you, but there isn’t. It’s complicated and really depends on what you want and your budget.
“West Maui” refers to the areas of Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua, and Napili. Some of these are cities/towns, some are busy resort areas, and some are older residential communities. Sometimes people say “Lahaina” or “Lahaina side” to refer to the entire west side of the island.
West Maui was originally developed in the 1960s and remains the most popular place to stay in Maui. Lahaina’s old whaling village anchors the area and the Kaanapali resort area is home to most of the dining and lodging options on this side of the island. Travel time from Kahului Airport (OGG) to the Lahaina area is approximately 45 minutes.
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Most people stay in West Maui, if for no other reason than that’s where most of the resorts and condos are. West Maui is home to Maui’s original resort areas and is still where most tourists come today. West Maui is generally sunny and dry, making for perfect beach weather. Plus, there’s a wide range of lodging options, so whether you want to splurge on a beachfront resort or save up for a condo, you’ll find it in West Maui.
There’s also a lot of development, so if you’re the type who likes to be in the middle of the action, West Maui has it going. Lahaina (an old whaling village turned tourist hot spot) is where many choose to spend their evenings. The front street is lined with shops and restaurants (many offering ocean views) and has a nice vibe as a place where people “hang out” in the evenings. There are plenty of water excursions from the docks in Lahaina (whale watching, glass bottom boats, submarines, and ferries to Lanai) so if you plan to do that, it’s nice to stay nearby.
Maui’s famous Kaanapali Beach is also in West Maui (north of Lahaina), and although it’s nowhere near as crowded, I’d call it Maui’s Waikiki. Ahead of it are Sheraton, Westin, Marriott and Hyatt to name a few. The beach has an outdoor mall with plenty of shopping and dining options. The three-mile coastal walkway makes it easy to get around and there always seems to be something to do. Catamarans pull up to the beach to take passengers on snorkeling excursions, and there is good snorkeling at the northern end at Black Rock.
If you’re looking for something quieter, Nabili Bay and Kapalua Bay to the north may float your boat. Nabili Bay (a big beach) is lined with old houses and small hotels or resorts that show their age but are still beautiful (you can’t beat that place)! For a luxury resort feel, try Kapalua (the name of the beach, but also the resort area). It’s centered around golfing, but Montage and the Ritz Carlton are some of the swankiest spots around, and even though you’re not far from Lahaina and Kaanapali, you’ll feel worlds away. Kapalua also has luxury-schmancy condos. The only thing I don’t like about this area (generally the area north of Kaanapali) is that it gets rainier in the west and further south. The mountains of West Maui create their own weather, and the cloud line settles there, affecting the Kapalua area more than anywhere else. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a small nuance to the area.
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West Maui is truly one of the most beautiful parts of Maui, with the West Maui Mountains rising in the background and offering some amazing hiking trails, it has some of the best beaches on the island (if you don’t mind the crowds) and you’re close to the famous Honolua Bay and all that’s going on in Lahaina and Kaanapali.
Alas, while West Maui is great, it’s not perfect. I’ve pointed out the crowds before, but for me, that’s the biggest drawback about the West Side. Some of the more popular beaches (AKA the prettiest) like Kaanapali, Kapalua, and Napili can be crowded with limited parking. And, while there’s a lot to do on the west side, it also means it’s pretty well built. What is good and bad. Unfortunately, there can be poor tourist shops and lots of strip malls. All that aside, a major consideration for me is how remote the West is from everything. Are you doing Halekala? It’s a hike. Road to Hana? Same thing. Any on the North Shore or in the Highlands? You have to drive a route. Good news…Maui is beautiful, so you might not mind driving.
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“South Maui” refers to the Wailea, Kihei and Makena areas. You’ve got local and tourist town vibes, high-end luxury resorts and places where you can get away from the crowds.
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Hello, South Maui! Although not as popular or well-known as the west side, Maui’s southern shores are just as beautiful. This side of the island is drier and sunnier than the west side (hence why they started building it more). The beaches on South Maui are less crowded and slightly more accessible (more parking and better marked) than those on the West side. You can see most of the beaches in Kihei from the road! I think South Maui has it all. Travel time from Kahului Airport (OGG) to the Kihei/Wailea area is approximately 20-30 minutes.
Kihei is a sizable beach town with plenty of places to eat and things to do (it’s the hub of Maui surf lessons) and it’s not too expensive. Most of your lodging options in Kihei will be condos (some are not new) and while most aren’t right on the beach, the steep price break is worth the quick walk across the street to the beach.
If you can swing it, Wailea is the place to stay. Wailea is a resort community just south of Kihei that includes several mega beachfront resorts, some nice condo complexes, good restaurants, an upscale outdoor mall, golf courses, tennis facilities, and everything you can imagine in a Hawaii resort area. The entire area is very lush and manicured and looks like the Hawaii of your dreams. When I take people to Wailea after seeing the rest of the island, they say, “That’s what I thought Maui looked like now.” For me, the epitome of luxury resides in the Four Seasons at Wailea, and in my semi-professional opinion, the best resorts.
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