To start off, I’m going to state the obvious. There are a lot of great places in Hawaii. Exotic beaches, jagged green mountains, charming local towns, VOLCANOES. That’s undeniable the best part of Hawaii…the real Hawaii. But there’s another part of Hawaii that I love too. Resort Hawaii. Yesssssss. Planned resort communities designed and laid out with tourist conveniences in mind. Filled with luxury resorts, sparkling pools, golf courses, tennis courts, restaurants with ocean views, shopping, and the whole thing landscaped and manicured to perfection. It may not be the “real Hawaii” but it’s pretty awesome.
All of the Hawaiian Islands have resort areas…little bubbles of tourist paradise…but in my opinion, the best resort area in all of Hawaii is in Maui…in Wailea.
If you’re never been to Maui before, chances are it’s exactly what you think Maui would be like – manicured and lush, quiet and luxurious with gorgeous beaches and world class resorts. It’s definitely not “local,” but it’s the stuff Hawaii vacation dreams are made of. Plus, unlike some resort communities on other islands, Wailea isn’t super isolated. It’s right next to Kihei, a more local (albeit very touristy) town, and not a far drive to town (Kahului) or the north shore.
So if you’re lucky enough to be staying in this heavenly resort area, keep reading for my list of favorite things to do in Wailea and neighboring Kihei…
Let’s start with the obvious. Wailea has some of the loveliest beaches on Maui. Wailea, Polo, and Mokapu/Ulua are the major beaches in the area (all with nice resorts situated on them). Keawakapu is a long (and often quiet) stretch of sand between Wailea and Kihei that’s one of my favorite spots for a long walk. Big Beach is one of Maui’s most stunning beaches (it has huge waves!), Secret Beach (just past Big Beach) is a cozy little cove and the most popular spot for weddings on the island, and Maluaka beach is likely the best spot for turtle sightings (it’s very near Turtle Town). Read this post for an in depth breakdown of Wailea and Kihei’s best beaches including info on public parking and access points.
Hands down one of the most popular things to do on Maui is going out on a snorkel tour to Molokini. This partially submerged volcanic crater has some of the best visibility for snorkeling and diving anywhere in Hawaii. My personal favorite way to go is with Kai Kanani on their Sunrise Snorkel Tour. It leaves from Maluaka Beach in Makena (just about 5 minutes from the resorts in Wailea) which is the closest launching spot on Maui to Molokini (this means it’s a super quick ride compared to some of the companies that leave from much farther away). In addition to Molokini, Kai Kanani also makes a stop at Turtle Town so you can snorkel with the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles! Read my full review of snorkeling Molokini with Kai Kanani here.
Okay, this is one of my favorite parts about staying in Wailea. This beachfront walkway between Polo beach (Fairmont Kea Lani) and Mokapu beach (Andaz) is 1.5 miles of beachfront and cliffside beauty. Whether you’re a jogger or just a stroller (or using the path to hop from happy hour to happy hour), you’ll definitely want to explore the trail.
La Perouse Bay & Lava Fields
I love a good scenic drive, and the drive down to the end of the road through Makena is one of my favorite parts of Maui. You’ll pass through some of Maui’s most high dollar real estate (rumor has it Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler has a place in Makena) where the road hugs the coast just feet from little coves and beaches before you drive through a lava field (from Maui’s most recent volcanic eruption) and end at La Perouse Bay. La Perouse Bay is usually a good spot to see spinner dolphins and you’ll find some ancient Hawaiian archaeological sites including heiaui (a temple/altar). It’s also the trailhead for the Hoapili Trail (the most accessible portion of the ancient King’s Highway that circumnavigated the island).
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
Snorkeling at Ahii Nature Preserve
On your way to La Perouse Bay, pull over to the side of the road to snorkel in one of the pristine and calm pools at the Ahii Nature Preserve.
If you like adventure, book a kayak eco tour to Turtle Town with Maui Kayaks. They launch from Makena Landing and have at least two snorkeling spots. Besides turtles, they often spot dolphins, rays, octopuses, and whales in season!
Shops at Wailea
This open air shopping mall has everything from high end luxury brands (Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc.) to surf shops (Billabong, Roxy, etc.) and a few local shops as well. My don’t miss spot is Lululemon which features a Hawaii exclusive line that you can have personalized in the shop. I also love Whalers General Store and Island Gourmet Market for souvenirs, prepared food, and light groceries. Parking is paid (your ticket will be validated with a purchase) and the entrance to the shopping center is off the main road in Wailea, but if you want to walk there from your resort along the beach walk you can cut through the Wailea Beach Resort.
Besides the Shops at Wailea, I really like the Wailea Village where my FAVORITE Bikini Market is located.
The Four Seasons is the only resort in Wailea with courts and a tennis program (some of the condo complexes have a court or two) but it’s open to non guests as well. Find their daily clinic schedule and rates for lessons and court time here. The Wailea Tennis Club also hosts clinics and lessons and has 11 hard courts plus a pro shop. Find out more info here.
The Wailea Golf Club has three championship golf courses which is more than enough to keep even the most avid golfer busy on vacation.
Makena Stables offers morning and sunset rides on Ulupalakua Ranch just above La Perouse Bay and the Ahii Nature Preserve.
Water Sports & Rentals
Each resort in Wailea has rentals for paddle boards, kayaks, and snorkel gear so you can get out and enjoy life on and under the water. Some resorts even offer rides in outrigger canoes.
With so many luxury resorts, you KNOW there have to be some cushy spas in Wailea. The Grand Wailea’s Spa Grande is widely regarded as having the best overall spa facilities in the area. It’s practically like it’s own resort. I wasn’t personally too impressed with the spa at the Four Seasons (there wasn’t anything wrong with it but it just didn’t knock my socks off-but go check out the eucalyptus steam shower if you’re staying there-you don’t have to book a treatment). The Fairmont Kea Lani wins awards for best treatments (they have some truly unique options that you won’t find very many places), but their facilities aren’t over the top. The spa at the Andaz seems to be recommended as the best mix of impressive facilities AND treatments.
On Another Note: Trying to figure out where to stay on Maui? I’ve written a ton of posts that will help. I’d start with my 15 favorite resorts and hotels on Maui. Also, you’re going to want to decide between staying on the south side or the west side so this post about Wailea vs Ka’anapali is golden. Read about my favorite luxury resorts, boutique hotels, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, and condos (many under $100/night!). If you’ve narrowed down the area of the island you want to stay, but need help picking a specific hotel, read these posts about where to stay in Wailea, Kihei, Ka’anapali, Lahaina and Kapalua, and Hana. And if you just want more details (more! More! more!), read my reviews of staying at the Four Seasons and the Fairmont Kea Lani.
Things to Do in Kihei
Kihei has some of the prettiest beaches on Maui. Kamaole I, II, III are all popular beaches (some with more parking than others), and my favorite things is to start either at Kam I or Kam III and walk from beach to beach. Each beach is connected with a little path (you don’t need to use the sidewalk up by the road). Keawakapu Beach is also not to be missed. It sits right on the border between Kihei and Wailea and it’s one of the island’s few truly long stretches of sand. Read this post for an in depth breakdown of Wailea and Kihei’s best beaches including info on public parking and access points.
Maui Ocean Center
Located just up the road from north Kihei in Ma’alaea, the Maui Ocean Center is a great spot if you have young kids, or you’re looking for a good rainy day activity. It’s a little pricey and if you have a decent aquarium near your hometown, it’s probably not going to blow you away, but the shark tunnel is pretty cool.
Kihei is a hot spot for surf lessons on Maui. Most companies work out of Kalama Beach Park on the south side (at the Cove). Try Maui Waveriders or Big Kahuna Adventures and then hit up the Horhito’s truck across the street for the best fish tacos of your life after.
Snorkel Tours from Kihei Boat Ramp
Redline Rafting offers Molokini snorkel tours out of the boat ramp in Kihei. I said earlier that Kai Kanani is my favorite way to do Molokini, but if that’s out of your price range, Redline’s two hour Molokini snorkel is a good option. They have an early morning tour as well so you won’t have to deal with the crowds.
Most of the big tour operators on the island offer Molokini snorkel tours and whale watching trips (in season) from Ma’alaea, just north of Kihei. While I’ve already told you that I don’t love Molokini trips that leave from Ma’alaea (it’s so far away and you’ll end up snorkeling the crater with everybody else on the island), if you want to go whale watching (December through April), Ma’alaea is a good option if you’re staying on the south side so you don’t have to drive all the way to Lahaina. I think PacWhale Eco Adventures is the best.
P.S. Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Maui: my Maui favorites, the best Maui itinerary, how many days to spend on Maui, Maui vs Kauai, where to see turtles on Maui, my favorite road to Hana itinerary, guide for sunrise at Haleakala National Park, how to bike down Maui’s volcano, my review of the Maui Pineapple Tour, 20 of the best adventure activities on Maui, 5 Maui day trips, and the best things to do on a Maui honeymoon.