Wailea vs Kaanapali: The Best Area to Stay on Maui

This post was updated in November 2023 and takes into account the complete loss of historic Lahaina town. 

When I’m helping people plan their trips to Maui and pick a place to stay, the one question I get asked more often than any other is if it’s better to stay in Wailea or Kaanapali. 

Wailea (in South Maui) and Kaanapali (in West Maui) are the two big hubs of tourism on the island and where 95% of visitors to Maui stay. So, it’s pretty much going to be one of the two. 

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Wailea vs Kaanapali

If you ask this question in any Facebook group or forum, you’re going to get some definitive answers. Most people definitely think there’s a “best” place to stay between the two.

Unfortunately, there’s not usually much consensus.

In my experience, most people just tend to recommend wherever they ended up staying. The area they stayed and the specific resort is usually the “best on the island.” Which is…not super helpful…plus if they’ve only stayed in one place how would they know??

Now, people that have stayed in both Wailea and Kaanapali usually have a preference between the two but will be quick to tell you that they’re both great…it just depends what you’re looking for.

SO IT’S A GOOD THING YOU HAVE ME. I’ve stayed everywhere, done it all, seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and I’m ready to share my opinions with you. 

Sooooo…Wailea vs Kaanapali…which is better? 

Well, it depends. I wish there was a cut and dry answer for you here, but there’s not. It’s complicated and really does depend on what you like and what your budget is.

So let’s get into the details…

Here’s a quick “table of contents” for what’s in this post:

  • The Cliff Notes
  • The Lay of the Is(land)
  • What You’ll Love about Kaanapali
  • What You’ll Love about Wailea
  • Specific Wailea vs Kaanapali Comparisons
    • Weather
    • Beaches
    • Snorkeling
    • Dining & Nightlife
    • Honeymoons & Luxury
    • Bargains, Condos & Value
    • Location
    • Walkability
    • Activities
    • Shopping
    • Sunset & Views
    • Golf
    • Tennis
    • Crowds

Who Wins? Here are the Cliff Notes

Both places offer vacationers sun drenched sandy beaches with great snorkeling, hotels, dining, and activity options. But more specifically…

Stay in Wailea if you want the most luxurious experience possible with lower crowds and an all around more chill vibe. 

Stay in Kaanapali if you want a better deal on accommodations and to be in the middle of the action with a lot of walkable options. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: The Lay of the Is(land)

Kaanapali is Maui’s original resort area just north of Lahaina in West Maui. 

Since Lahaina was almost completely destroyed by a wildfire in August 2023, what’s left of Lahaina is pretty much off limits and the burned areas of Lahaina are 100% off limits to visitors. And it’s likely to remain so for some time. But the resort areas of Kaanapali, Napili, and Kapalua (all north of Lahaina) were undamaged by the fires and are gradually reopening to tourism. 

It’s about a 40 minute drive from the airport and the Lahaina Bypass will take you past Lahaina without getting in the way of locals and workers. While Kaanapali was undamaged by the fires, a huge draw for people staying in Kaanapali used to be its proximity to Lahaina and Front Street for dining, shopping, excursions, etc. While Lahaina will eventually be rebuilt in some fashion, at least for the next few years that’s unlikely to be a factor. 

Wailea is a new(er) luxury resort development on the shores of south maui (just south of Kihei). Wailea is about a 25 minute drive from the airport and even though it’s closer to everything else on Maui (compared to West Maui), it feels a little more tucked out of the way because of its location at the end of the road on the south side. 

What You’ll Love about Kaanapali

Originally developed in the 1960s, Kaanapali was the first tourist hub on Maui, and it’s still where most of the tourists flock today. 

Kaanapali is usually sunny and dry, making for perfect beach weather. The West Maui Mountains loom large, 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, but there’s good snorkeling at the far north end of the beach at Black Rock too. 

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 Kaanapali.

It’s basically vacationland

What You’ll Love about Wailea

The coast along Wailea in South Maui is magnificent. If you can swing it, I think Wailea is THE place to stay. On an island that does luxury well, Wailea is the epicenter. Plush beach resorts, fine dining, golf, tennis, and a perfectly manicured landscape absolutely everywhere you turn, this is the Hawaii of your dreams.  

And for that you will pay $$$. 

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.” 

Like I said, Wailea is picturesque but expensive, but there’s a vibe. There’s honestly not a lot going on in Wailea, but in a good way

Specific Wailea vs Kaanapali Comparisons

Now that you know the lay of the land and have had the quick rundown on where these two resort areas are and what they’re like, let’s get into some nitty gritty comparisons between the two places…

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best Weather

Kaanapali has pretty idyllic weather all year round (hello Hawaii!), but the south side of the island stays even drier and sunnier than the West side (hence why they’ve started building it up more). 

The average temperatures for Wailea average a degree or two warmer throughout the year, and both get roughly the same amount of “sunny days” but Wailea sees substantially less rain per year than Kaanapali. 

Which means that the rain you’ll get in Kaanapali tends to be brief showers more often whereas in Wailea you’re more likely to go full days without any rain. 

It’s all relative though…and in the summer months (May to October), there’s not going to be much rain in either place. 

So while there’s definitely data that suggests more rain in Kaanapali, given my personal experience (I’ve spent a LOT of time on both sides of the island), I probably wouldn’t pick one or the other based on just the weather. [But once you start going north of Kaanapali to Napili and Kapalua it definitely is more noticeable].

***Want to save major $$$ on your trip to Hawaii? I get asked ALL the time how I’m able to travel so often to Hawaii and stay at really nice resorts. Well, my favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free airfare and free nights at some of Hawaii’s most high end resorts. Read my full guide on the exact system I use to max out credit card rewards here. Seriously, it’s going to save you soooo much money. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best Beaches 

If you’re a serious beach bum, you’re going to be happy in either place. Both Wailea and Kaanapali are abundant with sandy, swimmable beaches but let’s hash out the details a bit more. 

The beaches in the Wailea resort area (Mokapu Beach, Wailea Beach, and Polo Beach) are more cove-like with a wide stretch of golden sand bound between two reefs. 

The beaches on the north end of Wailea (Ulua and Keawakepua) are connected and GREAT if you like long walks on the beach. Just south of Wailea (south of where the resorts are) at Makena State Park, Big Beach is one of the best beaches on Maui (although with a pretty gnarly shore break sometimes) and Secret Beach is a fun spot. 

I love the beaches in Wailea and Kihei so much I’ve written a full post on my favorites here

The beaches in the Kaanapali resort area are much longer stretches of sand. Kaanapali Beach is about 3 miles long. You can walk uninterrupted on the sand all the way from the Hyatt Regency to the Sheraton at Black Rock. Black Rock cuts Kaanapali Beach in half between the main Kaanapali Beach area and North Kaanapali Beach. 

Something you’ll definitely want to know about is the erosion that’s started happening on Kaanapali Beach. The south end of the beach (from the Westin down to the Hyatt) has started eroding at a rate of about 2 feet per year. It’s starting to affect the beach walk and they’re currently in talks about how they’re going to handle it moving forward. 

While the beach and beachwalk are all connected and you can walk from the Westin or the Hyatt farther north towards the Sheraton to enjoy a much wider beach, that’s still something to consider. 

The beach on the northside of Black Rock (Royal Lahaina, Honua Kai, Westin Villas, etc) is still wide and sandy. 

Also, two of Maui’s most popular beaches are just north of the Kaanapali area in Napili and Kapalua. Both are pretty wide sandy beaches nestled into protected bays with excellent snorkeling and paddleboarding conditions. 

If you’re staying in Kaanapali, you’ll have to drive to these beaches but they’re very close. 

Speaking of driving, that’s the last point I’ll mention here. If you’re not going to be staying right on the beach or you like to get out and visit different beaches, generally there’s a lot better parking at Wailea beaches than Kaanapali beaches. 

In Wailea, each beach has a pretty decent sized parking lot and the entrances are pretty well marked off the main street. Keawakapu, Mokapu & Ulua, Wailea, and Polo all have designated parking lots with restrooms and showers (Keawakapu only has a shower). Big Beach at Makena State Park has two large parking lots (but you have to pay for parking and entrance here). 

Kapalua Beach has a designated parking lot but it’s not nearly big enough to handle all of the traffic so parking can spill a long ways down the street and parking for Napili beach is just downright chaotic. 

Parking at Kaanapali Beach is super tricky too. The whole beach is fronted by resorts and while they’re required to provide a public right of way and a minimum number of parking spots, it’s not nearly enough to accommodate the number of people that visit each day. More than that though, it’s kind of hard to find them. There’s allotted public parking (free) at Whaler’s Village, the Sheraton, the Westin, the Hyatt, and Kaanapali Alii but it’s a limited amount and it’s not the same as their paid parking garages. There’s usually a second entrance and you kind of have to know where you’re going or have somebody get out and go ask. 

The Hyatt has the largest number of spots but there’s practically no beach down at that end any more. 

In the past I’ve always parked at the Sheraton since that’s the best part of the beach. The free parking spots are in a different part of the garage than the paid/guest parking and you don’t go through a gate to access. When you drive around the loop at the end of the road in front of the Sheraton, their paid garage is on the right and then the turn in for the free spots is down a bit farther on the right. 

Honestly, if I can’t find a free spot here I usually just end up paying to park in the Sheraton garage since we usually have a lot of beach gear and we don’t want to walk a long ways down the beach dragging everything. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best Snorkeling

Kaanapali has some of the flashiest snorkeling spots on the island plus it’s in close proximity to a lot of good spots in West Maui, but I really like the snorkeling around Wailea and Makena too. 

Black Rock at the north end of Kaanapali Beach (in front of the Sheraton) is a favorite spot on the island. The water is pretty calm at this end of the beach, there are usually plenty of people out here snorkeling (I consider that a plus – I never want to be the only person out snorkeling), and if you don’t have your own gear you can rent it from the stand at the Sheraton. It’s not uncommon to see turtles here too. 

And again, if you’re willing to drive to nearby Napili Bay or Kapalua Bay those are big crowd pleasers too. They’re both pretty protected bays so it’s usually like snorkeling in a lake. And turtles usually hang out here too. 

And it’s more of a drive, but Olowalu (south of Lahaina) and Honolua Bay (north of Kapalua) both have great snorkeling. But Honolua Bay is only good for snorkeling if the waves aren’t breaking. Also, the parking situation is kind of tricky here and you’ll likely end up having to park on the side of the road (don’t leave anything in your car!) and walk down to the bay’s entrance. 

In general, I’ve found snorkeling in Wailea to be more convenient (easier parking, beach access, rentals at the resorts, etc.) but the reefs usually aren’t as protected feeling and sometimes you have to snorkel out around the reef farther from the beach which I don’t love. 

I’m a really strong swimmer but I have a healthy respect for the ocean and honestly often when you hear about a tourist drowning or a shark attack, it’s in this area. 

I like snorkeling at Ulua Beach in front of the Andaz because the reef has a bit of an arm that makes the south end of the beach feel kind of protected plus there’s usually several people out there snorkeling. 

Conditions around Wailea Beach and Polo Beach are often too rough for snorkeling but the best conditions will be early in the morning. 

The big snorkeling draw in south Maui is Turtle Town in Makena. A lot of the snorkel boat tours that go out to Molokini make a stop at Turtle Town and while it’s a bit off shore, you can still snorkel in the same area from the shore. The best place to access Turtle Town is at Makena Landing which is just a short drive from the resorts and condos in Wailea. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best Dining & Nightlife

“Nightlife” is a relative term on Maui. In the traditional sense, there really isn’t any. But for the sake of this comparison, let’s talk about anything to do after dark (which could be 6PM depending on the time of year ; )

Honestly, this is where Lahaina’s absence is going to be most felt. A huge draw to staying in Kaanapali was the proximity to Lahaina and being able to go to Front Street for dinner, drinks, shopping, walking around, getting ice cream, etc. That’s all gone now and honestly it still remains to be seen how things are going to feel in Kaanapali once the tourists return in full numbers. 

In the Kaanapali area (and even up to Kapalua) there just aren’t a ton of restaurants that aren’t attached to the resorts and given the large number of condos, dining options might be pretty slim for a while. 

Your best option is currently going to be Whaler’s Village which has a handful of sit down restaurants and a small food court type area. It is the lively hub of Kaanapali Beach but I’m not sure it’ll be able to handle the crowds now that Lahaina isn’t also an option. 

Wailea’s proximity to Kihei means that right now it’s definitely the clear winner when it comes to dining and nightlife options. 

I’ve got a full post about my favorite restaurants in Wailea and Kihei here

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best for Honeymoons or Luxury

The clear winner here is Wailea. Wailea is hands down the most luxurious resort area in all of Hawaii, not just Maui. 

There’s a slew of fantastic 5 star resorts here (The Four Seasons and Andaz being at the very top) plus an entire ecosystem of restaurants, luxury luaus, spas, boutiques, golf, tennis, etc. 

If you want the full scoop on the best hotels in Wailea, I’ve stayed at ALL of them and I’ve broken it down in this post

Kaanapali has some great beach resorts, but they’re really all in the mid range “big box” category (Sheraton, Westin, Hyatt). 

The only luxury option that Kaanapali currently offers is the new Hokupaa Tower at the Westin. It was built to compete in the luxury market and the new 217 room tower is definitely luxurious. The rooms are heads above what you’ll find in the area and the private infinity pool on the lanai is pretty dreamy. But it still feels a bit like an oasis in a desert luxury wise if you know what I mean. 

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Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best for Bargains/Condos/Value

You rarely see “Wailea” and “bargain” in the same sentence. While there are definitely more reasonably priced condos off the beach in Wailea, you’ll find far better value for your money in Kaanapali. 

On main Kaanapali Beach, there are a handful of great condo-tels plus if you’re willing to venture farther north there are plenty of bargains to be had. 

In this post, I’ve got sooooo many recommendations for condos to fit all budgets in Kaanapali and West Maui but also South Maui. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best for Location

Let’s break this down into two parts: 1) Location on the island relative to other attractions, and 2) What else is close by.

As far as location on the island relative to other attractions, the winner here definitely goes to Wailea. Its location in South Maui makes it about 30 minutes closer to (what I think are) the island’s must sees. Haleakala, the Road to Hana, Paia and the north shore, the upcountry…I think these are the best areas of Maui and even if you only spend a couple of days exploring this part of the island, you may appreciate being a bit closer. 

Now don’t get me wrong…Wailea isn’t exactly close to all of these things, but it is closer than West Maui. 

One of my major drawbacks about staying in West Maui is how far it is from everything else on Maui (i.e. my favorite things). And besides the distance, there’s only one road in and out of West Maui so a bad accident can really shut things down. Not that that’s super common, but it is a possibility. HOWEVER, even though it’s a longer drive from Kaanapali to the other part of the island, the good news is that it’s such a beautiful drive that you may not mind. 

Now onto the second point here…what else is close by. 

I mentioned this earlier, but close proximity to Lahaina used to be a major selling point for staying in Kaanapali. Lahaina was the hub of tourism in West Maui and now that that’s gone, it remains to be seen how tourism is going to respond in the area. There are definitely going to be fewer restaurant options and less shopping and “things to do.”

Wailea isn’t exactly known for being a bustling hub of activity, but Kihei is a pretty sizable town just to the north and there is always a lot going on there. If you’re wanting to break out of the resort bubble and try some more low key or local food options, Wailea’s proximity to Kihei is definitely an upside. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best for Walkability

One of my favorite things about both Wailea AND Kaanapali is how walkable they are. 

Besides wide sidewalks that line the main roads through the resort areas, both areas also have a beach walk that’s perfect for early morning walks when you’re still acclimating to the time change, just exploring the area, or walking from your resort to another spot for dinner or shopping. 

I think overall Kaanapali feels more walkable though, as long as you’re on the main stretch of beach staying somewhere between the Sheraton and the Hyatt. Whalers Village is kind of the hub of activity in this area and it’s a great shopping complex plus just general gathering area (live music, etc.). 

You can also cut through the Sheraton and connect to a walkway along North Kaanapali Beach (at the Royal Lahaina), but it’s not quite as bustling up there. 

The Kaanapali Beach Walk is a great amenity and it’s super convenient for getting around, but in general I think it’s much less scenic than the Wailea Beach Walk. 

While the Kaanapali Beach Walk is pretty flat, the Wailea Beach Walk has better views and a better vantage point. You feel like you’re up a bit higher and can really take in the vistas. 

While the Wailea Beach Walk runs from Polo Beach (Fairmont Kea Lani) to Ulua Beach (Andaz) and it’s a GREAT activity to get out and walk, it can feel a little far if you’re using it to walk back and forth to dinner or what not. The sidewalk out in front of the resorts (along the main road in Wailea) is actually a more direct route to take. 

And while there’s more development in Wailea off the beach like the Wailea Tennis Club, the Wailea Village (shopping center), the Wailea Gateway Shopping Center (Monkeypod), etc. It’s all uphill from the resorts and I think it’s a little far to walk (especially after dark). But most of the resorts in this area have courtesy cars that will take you anywhere you want to go. 

So bottom line…both resort areas are walkable to a certain extent, but they’re both also pretty spread out and you’ll probably still need a car. Especially if you’re visiting other parts of the island. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best for Activities

Both areas have plenty to do and you’ll find snorkeling, paddle boarding, outrigger canoe rides, kayak eco tours, etc in both places. Both have golf, tennis, and shopping plus places to hear live music. 

Snorkel tours to Molokini and Turtle Town leave from Makena (Kai Kanani’s Sunrise Snorkel Tour is one of my favorites) and the Kihei boat ramp. And snorkel tours to spots on West Maui leave from Kaanapali Beach. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best Shopping

I love to talk about shopping! Here’s the scoop: Wailea has the Shops at Wailea and Kaanapali has Whalers Village. 

As much as I love Wailea, I personally think that the Shops at Wailea is kind of a disappointment. Maybe because it’s off the beach and the Wailea Beach Walk, but it just never quite seems like a hub of activity and they can’t quite seem to keep it filled with open stores. There’s a high concentration of designer shops here (Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Prada) and I’m sure that hits a certain segment of shoppers, but I think there’s a lack of more local beach boutiques. It’s fine but it’s just nowhere near as good as I think it could be. Plus none of the restaurants there really have ocean views. 

Whalers Village in Kaanapali, on the other hand, I LOVE. It sits right on the beach and with the beach walk, it’s just a natural gathering place. There are a few great restaurants here (my favorite is the Monkeypod) and they all have ocean views. Plus they’re always able to keep it full of good shops. Yes, there are some higher end shops (Louis Vuitton, etc.) but it’s mostly more accessible but still either Hawaiian or beach/tropical brands. 

In Wailea, besides the Shops at Wailea, Wailea Village has some shops that I really like (LOVE Bikini Mart) plus the resorts have great boutiques. Bikini Bird just opened in the Grand Wailea (they have the largest concentration of shops in one resort) plus the Four Seasons, Andaz, Fairmont, and Wailea Beach Resort all have nice boutiques. 

On Another Note: If you’re looking for a condo or vacation rental for your trip, I’ve put together a post about where to find condos on Maui. It breaks down different areas to look for condos depending on your budget and what you’re looking for. Seriously, don’t miss this post

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Sunsets & Views

Both Kaanapali and Wailea face west so they both have pretty decent sunset views although as the sun shifts throughout the year sometimes you’ll be seeing the sun set behind Lanai or Koolawe instead of into the ocean. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best Golf

Both Wailea and Kaanapali have great golf, but I’ve got to give the edge to Kaanapali here…but mostly because of the proximity to Kapalua. Yes, Kaanapali has two courses at the resort, but it’s also a very short drive up to Kapalua where you’ll find some of the best golf courses in the world

It’s probably not for beginner golfers, but the Plantation Course at Kapalua is home to the PGA’s Sentry Tournament of Champions every January. Plus the Bay Course is also a championship course. 

The Wailea Golf Club is home to three courses: Wailea Gold (a championship course), Wailea Blue (they offer a sunset golf cart tour here that I’ve got my eye on), and Wailea Emerald (a family friendly course). 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Best Tennis

Maui isn’t really a tennis island but there are a couple of good options here. There’s the Wailea Tennis Club in Wailea (probably walkable from the Wailea Beach Resort but a short drive from other resorts). It’s also really close to the Grand Champions condo complex. They offer private lessons and daily clinics. 

Besides the Wailea Tennis Club, there’s an onsite tennis facility at the Four Seasons operated by Darin Zerbe. It’s open to anyone not just resort guests and the surface is artificial turf which could be an interesting change (I’d never played on that before). 

In Kaanapali, by far the best option used to be the Tennis Ranch at the Royal Lahaina. They’ve operated for 30 years and even hosted some smaller pro tournaments. But a few of their pros were impacted by the Lahaina fires and they’ve decided not to renew their lease at the Royal Lahaina. It remains to be seen if someone else will take on the operation and reopen. 

In Kapalua there’s the Kapalua Tennis Garden. They have 8 tennis courts and 4 pickleball courts plus clinics and daily drop ins. 

Wailea vs Kaanapali: Crowds

It’s hard to call either Wailea or Kaanapali crowded (especially in terms of Waikiki on Oahu), but the large number of condos in Kaanapali definitely make it feel more crowded than Wailea. 

And as I mentioned before, some of the most popular beaches (AKA the most beautiful) like Kaanapali, Kapalua, and Napili can be crowded with limited parking. 

The beaches in Wailea tend to be much less crowded and quite a bit more accessible than those on the West side (more parking and better marked). 

To Split or Not to Split

If you’ve read through everything about Wailea and Kaanapali and you really still can’t decide, a lot of people wonder about splitting their trip and staying in Wailea part of the time and Kaanapali for part of the time. 

I don’t usually recommend splitting your stay among different parts of the island (especially the south side and west side) for the sake of trying to save time driving to do activities. A lot of people ask if I would recommend staying on the west side to do the things over there and then moving to the south side so they’re closer to Haleakala, Hana, and the north shore. But I don’t. 

These two areas are both touristy, beachy areas so just pick one place and stay there the whole time even if it means an additional 30-minute drive going places. It’ll be less of a hassle than moving. Besides, even if you’re staying in Wailea, it’s still not that close to the east side of the island.

Here’s when I do recommend a split stay: if you’re wanting to experience a high-end luxury resort, but you can’t swing the bill for your whole stay. If you have a week, and you want to do a fair bit of exploring the island, but also enjoy a stay at a luxury resort where you never leave the beach/pool, I would suggest splitting your stay 4 nights at affordable/central accommodations and 3 nights at a nice resort.

On my last trip to Maui, I stayed the first three nights at a rental in Paia (you could also stay at the Paia Inn) and did sunrise at Haleakala, toured Maui Wine and the upcountry, hung out on the north shore with some turtles, explored Paia and Makawao, drove to Hana, had dinner at Mama’s Fish House, and swung by the Iao Valley before checking into the Four Seasons in Wailea for 3 nights and doing NOTHING.

Doing your trip this way means you hit the ground running and go, go, go but it also means you don’t have to pay for a full week at a luxury resort when you’ll be out exploring. Something to think about!

Want to read more posts about Maui? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui // 4 Day Maui Itinerary // My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary // Things to Do Upcountry // Tips for Sunrise at Haleakala National Park // Snorkeling Molokini Crater // Whale Watching

My Favorite Hotels on Maui // Where to Find Condos on Maui // Wailea vs Kaanapali // Every Resort in Wailea Ranked // Four Seasons Maui Review // Andaz Maui Review // Fairmont Kea Lani Review // Wailea Beach Resort Review // Four Seasons vs Andaz Maui // Andaz Maui vs Wailea Beach Resort

Best Restaurants in Wailea // Best Breakfast in Wailea & Kihei // Mama’s Fish House // Best Luaus in Wailea

My Favorite Things to Do in South Maui // Best Beaches in Wailea & Kihei // Road to Hana Tips // Driving the Backside of the Road to Hana // Where to See Turtles on Maui

Maui vs Kauai // Everything You Need to Know BEFORE you go to Maui

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.

P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

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