If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re planning a vacation to Maui—yippee for you! If you’re not planning a trip to Maui, you should be! Seriously though, get on it!
Anyways, if you’re even remotely considering a trip to Maui and wondering where to stay, this post is for you. If you’ve never been before, you might be overwhelmed. The first thing most people have to figure out is where to stay in Maui. Which part of the island should you stay on? Are some beaches better than others? Are those fancy resorts really worth the money? Will a condo save you big bucks?
Friends, I’m about to answer all of your questions. Here’s the details (Psst…this post contains some affiliate links, just so you know, but everything I’m about to tell you is legit so don’t worry 😉
Lay of the Land, Maui Style
Maui is kind of a big island (we’re talking 10-12 hours of solid driving to go all the way around, which is just a point of reference because NOBODY drives around the entire island in a day) so don’t underestimate its size when you’re planning your trip. It’s divided into four main regions (West Maui, South Maui, East Maui, and the North Shore/Upcountry area) but only has two resort areas. You’ll fly into Kahului (the most sizable city/town) and this is where Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco are located but you likely won’t spend much time in Kahului once you pick up your rental car and groceries.
West Maui: West Maui was originally developed in the 1960s and remains the most popular place to stay and play on Maui. The old whaling village of Lahaina anchors this area and the Ka’anapali resort area is home to the majority of dining and accommodation options on this side of the island. It’s about a 30-40 minute drive from the airport (in Kahului) to the Ka’anapali/Lahaina area in West Maui.
South Maui: South Maui consists of Kihei (a decent sized beach town with plenty of condo options), Wailea (a more upscale, privately planned resort community), and Makena (the sleepy end of the road region in South Maui). The beaches in South Maui tend to get the most sunshine and are generally less crowded than the ones in West Maui. The resorts in Wailea (the Four Seasons, Grand Wailea, Marriot, etc) are only about a 15-20 minute drive from the airport.
East Maui: East Maui is the most remote side of the island (reached by the Road of Hana) and is usually reached as a day trip as accommodations are limited. While most visitors stay in West or South Maui, East Maui isn’t to be missed and the Road to Hana will likely be a highlight of your trip.
North Shore/Upcountry: The North Shore and Upcountry are the most authentic areas of Maui. This is where the locals live and while you likely won’t stay in this part of the island, you should plan plenty of time to explore this part of the island. Paia, Makawao, and a drive upcountry through Kula to Ulupalakua shouldn’t be missed.
Now that you’ve got the lay of the land, you’ll need to decide which part of the island will suit you best. First off, I’ll lay out some pros and cons of the West side vs. the South side and give you all the options there before mentioning some more “off-the-beaten-path” options on the North Shore and in Hana.
Why You Should Stay in West Maui
Most people stay in West Maui, if for no other reason than it’s where the majority of the resorts and condos are. West Maui is home to Maui’s original resort areas (when tourism development began in the 1960s) and it’s still where most of the tourists flock today. West Maui is usually sunny and dry, making it perfect beach weather. Also, there’s a wide range of accommodation options so whether you’re looking to splurge on a beachfront resort or save on a condo, you can find it in West Maui.
There’s also a lot development, so if you’re the type that likes to be in the middle of the action, West Maui is where it’s going on. Lahaina (an old whaling village turned tourist hot spot) is where many choose to spend their evenings. Front Street is packed with shops and restaurants (many offering ocean views) and has a nice vibe that makes it a “hang out” spot for people in the evenings. The docks in Lahaina are also where a lot of the water excursions leave from (whale watching, glass bottomed boats, submarines, and ferries to Lanai and Molokai) so if you’re planning to do much of that, it’s nice to be staying nearby.
Maui’s famous Ka’anapali Beach is also in West Maui (just north of Lahaina) and although it comes nowhere near it in terms of crowds, I would call it the Waikiki of Maui. Fronting it are the Sheraton, Westin, Marriot, and Hyatt to name a few. There’s also an outdoor mall with plenty of shopping and dining right on the beach. The three-mile beachfront promenade makes it easy to get around and it seems like there’s always something to do. Catamarans pull right up to the beach to take passengers out on snorkeling excursions and there’s great snorkeling at the far north end at Black Rock. The Sheraton also hosts a nightly luau.
If you’re looking for something quieter, Napili Bay and Kapalua Bay to the north might float your boat. Napili Bay (a great beach) is surrounded by older condos and small inns or resorts that although they’re showing their age are still pretty charming (and you can’t beat the location)! For more of a luxury resort feel, try Kapalua (the name of a beach, but also a resort area). It’s centered around golfing, but the Montage and the Ritz Carlton are some of the swankiest places around and although you’re not far from Lahaina and Ka’anapali, you’ll feel a world away. There are also a bunch of fancy-schmancy condos in Kapalua.
West Maui is actually one of the prettiest parts of Maui, with the West Maui Mountains rising up in the background 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 Ka’anapali.
A Few Reasons You May Not Like It
Alas, even though West Maui is pretty great, it’s not perfect. I hinted before at the crowds, but to me, that’s really the worst part about the West side. The beautiful beaches are the most crowded on the island, and while I love me some people watching, most of the time I like to be away from the crowds. Also, while there’s a lot to do on the West side, which means it’s pretty built up. Which can be good and bad. Unfortunately, the bad can be tacky tourist shops and plenty of strip malls. There are more places to eat, but many of them seem to lack quality. All of that aside, a major consideration for me is how far the West side is from everything else. Doing Haleakala? It’s a hike. Road to Hana? Same thing. Anything on the north shore or upcountry? You’ll have to drive a ways. The good news…Maui is beautiful, so you may not mind the drive.
Where To Stay in West Maui
So if West Maui sounds like the place for you, here are my recommendations:
If you want the best “Maui” experience and it’s in your budget, stay on Ka’anapali Beach. The Westin would be my pick. It’s got a great pool area, nice rooms, its spot on the beach is not too crowded and it’s just a couple of resorts down from an outdoor mall where there are several dining options.
The Sheraton on Ka’anapali is also a great option. It’s right in front of Black Rock so some of the best snorkeling on Maui is literally right outside your door.
The Hyatt and the Marriot Ocean Club are also great options that will keep you in the middle of the action while still staying at a familiar property (if you track points through Starwood or Marriot, that may be of interest to you). Also, the Hyatt has penguins!!!
If you want to be in the Ka’anapali area but slightly removed from the crowds (or the prices) try the Hona Kai Resort and Spa or the Aston Mahana at Ka’anapali. Both are just north of Black Rock but still technically in the Ka’anapali resort area. If you’re looking for a condo, where you can spread out (and save a little cash) check out the Maui Kai.
While not really a resort area, Lahaina is the hub of West Maui. If you want to be in town and able to walk to soooo many shops and restaurants, then there are a few options in Lahaina. The Best Western Pioneer Inn is right on Front Street next to the big banyan tree and across from the docks. For something beachfront, try the Lahaina Shores Beach Resort. It’s just a short walk from town but still on the beach.
If you like the location of Lahaina but want something a little more quaint, how about a B&B? The Plantation Inn and the Ho’oilo House both get great reviews (and Ho’oilo House is just up the street from Launiupoko Beach).
For beautiful beaches, cheaper prices, and a taste of “old resort Maui” try the Napili or Kahana area (north of Ka’anapali and south of Kapalua). The resorts up here aren’t as big and new as the ones in Ka’anapali but that’s part of their charm. The Napili Kai Beach Resort and Napili Surf Beach Resort both have a great location right on Napili Bay. While not right on the beach, Napili Shores is also a highly rated option.
Just south of Napili is the Kahana area (mostly condos). Try the Kahana Village or the Noelani Condominium Resort for affordable options right on the water and super close to some of the best beaches in Maui.
If you’re looking for luxury in West Maui, you’ll find it in Kapalua. This golf oriented resort community is about as far north as you’re likely to stay in West Maui. The Ritz Carlton sits on a cliff overlooking D.T. Fleming Beach and while The Ritz is always the epitome of luxury, it’s possible that it’s outdone by the neighboring Montage.
And there you have my recommendations for where to stay in West Maui.
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Why You Should Stay in South Maui
Well hello, South Maui! While not as popular or well known as the West side, the South shores of Maui are pretty darn great. This side of the island stays even drier and sunnier than the West side (hence why they’ve starting building it up more). The beaches in South Maui are way less crowded and quite a bit more accessible than those on the West side (more parking and better marked). Most of the beaches in Kihei you can see from the road! I think South Maui has it all. Kihei is a sizable beach town with plenty of places to eat and things to do (this is the hub of Maui surf lessons) and it’s not very expensive. Most of your accommodation options in Kihei will be condos (some not super new) and while most aren’t right on the beach, the steep price break can be worth a quick walk across the street to get 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, and an upscale outdoor mall. The whole area is super lush and manicured and looks like the Hawaii of your dreams. When I’ve driven people down to Wailea after seeing other parts of the island, they’ve said “now THIS is what I thought Maui would look like.” To me, the epitome of luxury is staying at the Four Seasons in Wailea.
The real gem of South Maui is Makena. South of Wailea, the road opens up and the landscape becomes less manicures and returns to its natural state. The beaches are beautiful down in Makena and while there’s the Makena Beach Resort and a couple of B&Bs/small inns, it’s most mega mansions of the rich and famous. But the scenery is uncorrupted and it’s a real change of pace. There are some amazing beaches in Makena (Maluaka, Big Beach and Secret Beach I’m looking at you!) and it’s one of my favorite places in Maui.
A Few Reasons You May Not Like It
Just like the West side, the South side isn’t perfect. Kihei can feel a bit “spring breakish” to me. There are plenty of tacky shops, less than desirable eateries, and the beaches can definitely get crowded (especially Kam I, II, and III). Wailea is picturesque but expensive (unless you’re in a condo off the beach) and there’s honestly not a lot going on. Everything is more upscale but there’s less of it. Makena is beautiful but very sleepy, and there’s really only one place to stay. There are a few companies that offer snorkeling excursions out of Kihei (one out of Makena) but otherwise you’ll have to drive up to Ma’alaea Harbor. And although Haleakala looks super close (you can practically reach out and touch it) there’s no road that connects with the elusive backside of the Road to Hana (it look so close on a map!!) so you still have to drive up through Kahului to get to the North Shore, Upcountry, and Road to Hana.
Where To Stay in South Maui
If South Maui sounds like the place to be, then here’s where to stay:
Kihei is mostly condos/condo resorts so if you’re looking for that kind of option, you’ll likely find it here (and at a decent price too!). Dolphins Point Maui and Hale Pau Hana Beach Resort are right across from the popular Kamaole Beaches and right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Kihei. Kihei Kai Oceanfront Condos and Kihei Sands Beachfront Condos are further north (towards Ma’alaea where the beach is much less crowded but often windy. Island Surf Condos are right across from Kalama Beach Park (where the majority of Maui surf lessons are taught).
My pick for a condo in Kihei would probably be the Mana Kai Maui which is a bit farther south than all the rest (less crowded).
My favorite place to stay in Maui is definitely Wailea. If I could stay anywhere I wanted, it would be the Four Seasons every time. This place is crazy luxe and the perfect spot for a Maui honeymoon or any vacation where you’re looking to just really unwind.
If you want grand, try the Grand Wailea. It’s long been Wailea’s flagship resort and it’s perfect for kids since they have a nice little waterpark. They also share a beach with the Four Seasons.
One of the highest rated resorts in Wailea is Hotel Wailea, which isn’t on the beach but instead sits up a bit on the slopes of Haleakala offering super cool views and bit of a break from the people. It’s pretty swanky and they offer shuttles down to Wailea Beach (and they have umbrella/chair set up there too).
The Fairmont Kea Lani is the only resort on Maui that is exclusively suites and it’s located on beautiful Polo Beach.
The Andaz Maui is one of the trendier places to stay on Maui and its beach is pretty fabulous. It’s also fun to celebrity spot around the pool.
And if you’re a points tracker, of course there’s the Wailea Beach Marriot.
There are also plenty of condo options for those looking to spread out and even save a little cash. I’ve stayed at the Wailea Grand Champion Villas (a tennis resort) and while they’re not on the beach, they’re super close). The Ho’olei at the Grand Wailea is a pretty sweet spot plus you’ll get use of the amenities at the Grand Wailea. The Wailea Elua Village, Wailea Ekolu Village, and Wailea Ekahi Village are all located on the ocean and are so sprawling that you’re sure to find good deals. The Wailea Beach Villas and the Polo Beach Club also get good reviews.
If you’re really looking to relax, and do so in some of Maui’s best digs, check out the Makena Beach and Golf Resort. It’s so close that it’s basically Wailea, but it doesn’t share its beach with any other resorts or condos. It also sits on the beach where the Kai Kanani Snorkeling Catamaran does pickups (the only beachfront pickup in south Maui). The beach also has great snorkeling since it’s so close to Turtle Town. If you want a condo option in the area, try the Makena Surf.
Boom. Still can’t decide which part of the island is best for you? Read on.
My 2 Cents
Everybody has different opinions and different things work for different people, but here’s what I think (and this is what I tell my friends who are thinking about a trip to Maui):
Avoid Kihei unless budget is just the most important thing to you.
If you can swing it, stay on the beach in Wailea. Four Seasons is the dream. Kids will love the Grand Wailea. The Andaz is pretty swanky too.
Don’t stay in Ka’anapali unless you’re right on the beach (there’s super limited parking and you’ll end up having to pay to go to the beach). Also, don’t confuse “North Ka’anapali Beach” with “Ka’anapali Beach.” While North Ka’anapali is nice, it seems really narrow in places and it doesn’t have the same atmosphere are Ka’anapali Beach (and they’re not connected).
If you stay on Ka’anapali Beach, I would pick the Westin or the Sheraton.
Manage your expectations if you’re staying in an older condo on the West Side (especially around Napili Bay). They’re a little older and shabbier than many expect.
Overall, my pick is the South side, but that’s just because it jives more with my personality. I would pick most places in Wailea (even off beach condos) over places on the West side unless I’m directly on Ka’anapali Beach (I love the Westin) or in Kapalua (it has a similar vibe to Wailea).
If you’re really looking for adventure…
East Maui is mostly referred to as Hana, as in the destination at the end of the Road to Hana. While this is arguably the most beautiful part of Maui, not many people stay here. This could be because it’s super remote (you have to drive the Road to Hana just to get there). As you might expect, there aren’t many places to stay around Hana. There also isn’t much to do. You know, apart from hiking to hidden waterfalls and what not. While I know the majority of you aren’t going to be interested in staying out near Hana, I mention it for two reasons.
The first reason you might want to stay near Hana is if you’re looking for a super authentic Hawaiian experience. If staying in a resort area that caters to tourists isn’t your thing, then you should definitely check out East Maui. This is the place for those who think Hawaii is too touristy, developed, and crowded.
Another reason you might want to stay in Hana is if you’re on the adventurous side. Most people visiting Maui will drive the Road to Hana and spend the day climbing in and out of their jeep to check out whatever roadside attractions they come across before whizzing through Hana town and doing a 180 to make it back to Ka’anapali for dinner. If that doesn’t sound like fun, or you really want to see and experience the jungles of East Maui (hey, who isn’t into waterfalls, bamboo forests, rainbow eucalyptus trees, and black and red sand beaches??) then consider spending the night somewhere near Hana so you’re able to break the trip up over two days.
Where to Stay in East Maui (Hana)
The only resort in Hana is the Travaasa Hana and boy is it a resort. It’s very “off the grid” and you won’t find Wi-Fi or cable TV but to be honest, you won’t need it. It’s a super luxurious resort that feels very in touch with the nature that surrounds it. The spa and pool is incredible and you can’t beat the views. It is pricey though, so if you’re looking for something more reasonable, try the Bamboo Inn on Hana Bay, the Hamoa Bay Bungalow, or the Guest Houses at Malanai. As far as “condos” go (and that’s such a stretch for Hana) try the Hana Kai Maui.
And last but certainly not least…
North Shore & Upcountry
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds and experience a more local Hawaii, but Hana seems a little too remote, then you should definitely consider the north shore or upcountry. This is my FAVORITE part of Maui. The north shore has a funky hippy vibe with real community. Paia is a great town (it has a little inn) and the neighborhoods around have some pretty cool beach rentals. The beaches are beautiful on the north shore (really some of the pretties on Maui) but they can get pretty windy. Actually, Maui’s north shore is famous for kite and wind surfing.
The north shore and upcountry (including Paia, Makawao, and Haiku) have quite a few “retreat” type places to stay so if you’re looking for a yoga retreat on Maui or something like that, this is the area it will be in. Here’s something to keep in mind if you’re looking to rent a house on this part of the island: the farther up the mountain you go the better the views are but the farther you are from the beach!
Where to Stay on Maui’s North Shore & Upcountry
There aren’t really any resorts or condos on the north shore or upcountry, but there are plenty of small inns and B&Bs to call home.
Right in Paia town is the Paia Inn Hotel. It’s got a great location and access to one of my favorite Maui beaches plus you’ll get to feel what it’s like to live in this super funky little hippy town. The Sprecks Plantation House is in one of my favorite neighborhoods on Maui and is super cute. The Kuau Inn is another great north shore option just to the west of Paia town. It’s very adorable and will give you a very authentic Hawaiian experience. And then there’s the Inn at Mama’s Fish House. This famous north shore restaurant has some pretty stellar accommodations if you want to vacation inside an idyllic little bubble on the non-pretentious north shore.
Haiku is a little further down the Road to Hana but upcountry a bit from the north shore. It’s very wild and you’ll find that most places will have pretty spectacular views. It’s also chock full of little inns and B&Bs. The Haiku Cannery Inn and Haiku Plantation Inn are guest favorites. There’s also the Maui Tradewinds and Maui Ocean Breezes.
Even more upcountry sits Makawao; a historic cowboy town turned hot spot for new art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Between Makawao and Paia is the Lumeria Maui Retreat. This is one of Maui’s best retreats focusing on health and wellness. It feels hidden away but is really very convenient to both Makawao town and Paia town. Other options in Makawao are the Banyan Bed and Breakfast, Hale Ho’okipa Inn and the Aloha Cottage.
P.S. This post contains some affiliate links, but don’t worry, I’ll only send you to the very best places!
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