From the stunning sunsets at Keawakapu Beach to the wild black sands of Paʻiloa Beach, Maui's sandy shores have drawn admirers for centuries. With warm weather year-round and miles of soft sand, the island is a sunbather’s dream, but active travelers won’t be disappointed. Snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and surfing are top activities across the Valley Isle.

It's not just about sand and surf – many beaches in West Maui and South Maui are hotspots for wildlife watching. Green sea turtles are regularly seen just off-shore year-round, and in winter, migrating humpback whales are visible from beaches up and down the coast (you can paddle out from shore in a kayak for a closer look, but don't touch or interfere).

Whether you want to sunbathe or play, Maui has a beach for you. Here's our pick of the nine best beaches on the island.

Keawakapu Beach

Best for sunsets

Sunsets feel like a party in South Maui, with small crowds gathering every afternoon to watch the sun drop behind the ocean (you might even hear applause). Sunsets are particularly spectacular at Keawakapu Beach in Kihei. Daytime beachgoers hang around for the natural light show while locals drop in from nearby condos. Arrive early to stake out a place at 5 Palms bar, which has a happy hour almost as popular as Mother Nature’s performance.

By day, the beach is good for getting active. The Kihei Coastal Trail kicks off at the north end of the beach, where morning yoga sessions on the soft sand are a popular way to start the day. For snorkeling, try the rocky outcrops at the north and south ends of the beach. Keawakapu is also pleasant for an end-of-day swim.

Top Tip: Snorkelers take note: you can often rent gear at a better price at rental shops in nearby towns rather than down on the beach, where resorts charge a premium. Remember to slap on coral-safe sunscreen before kicking off from shore; the sun can be unforgiving.

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter

A crescent-shaped beach with beachgoers and unbrellas
The Hawaii you've always imagined at Kapalua Beach © arkanto / Shutterstock

Kapalua Beach

Best for families

At the southwestern tip of Kapalua, this golden crescent is an easy place for parents and kids to spend the day. Families can swim, snorkel, look for green turtles, play in the sand, rent stand-up paddleboards or simply sunbathe and kick back with a good book.

The shore has a gentle slope, so it’s easy for young kids to splash around in the water. Long, sheltering outcrops at both ends of the bay make Kapalua Beach the safest year-round swimming spot on this coast. The scenic Kapalua Coastal Trail, which wends its way along the shoreline to DT Fleming Beach, also starts here. Come midday, pick up a picnic lunch at the Honolua Store just up the road.

The scene is low-key and the beach rarely feels crowded even though it’s encircled by upscale condos and celebrity-friendly Montage Kapalua Bay is nearby. Molokaʻi is a gentle presence across the channel. You certainly won’t be alone on Kapalua Beach, but its beauty and easy-going vibe will have you feeling like you’ve been let in on a local secret.

Wailea Beach

Best beach for a party vibe

If you’re looking for a scene, this is it. And we mean that as a compliment – this is Maui, not the mainland, so the beach vibe never feels over-the-top, just fun. And the fun starts early at Wailea Beach; flanked by the enormous Grand Wailea Resort and the more reserved Four Seasons, this wide sandy beach is abuzz from dawn until dusk.

Kayaks are lined up smartly beside the ocean in the early morning, ready for daily tours, while power walkers stride past on the paved Wailea Beach Walk, a 1.3-mile shoreline path. Sun worshipers soon follow, descending from their posh enclaves to stake a claim on a patch of sand. Remember, the sand is open to all, so don't feel put off claiming your own piece of beach real estate.

Pop into Ferraro’s at the Four Seasons for a breezy al fresco lunch. Aqualani Wailea rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, and books kayak and snorkel tours. There’s decent snorkeling at the rocky point at the south end of the beach.

Top Tip: In West Maui and South Maui, don’t be deterred by the lounge chairs planted in the sand in front of big-name resorts. All beaches in Maui are open to the public, and this includes all the resort beaches. Posted signs mark the access points, and you’ll typically find free parking, outdoor showers and clean restrooms nearby.

A wideangle of a large golden-sand beach
It's easy to see how Big Beach at Makena State Park earned its name © Shutterstock / sodapuretravel

Big Beach

Best beach for open space

Big Beach is a glimpse of Maui untamed. Backed by a tangle of kiawe trees and flanked at both ends by lava outcrops, this golden strand in Makena State Park stretches for nearly a mile and is free of commercial development. The only signs of civilization are the lifeguard station and the pit toilets, plus the Jawz Fish Tacos food truck in the parking lot.

For a sweeping view of the shoreline, climb to the top of the lava promontory north of the beach. Looking south, it’s immediately clear why Big Beach is known as Oneloa (“long sand”) in Hawaiian. Turn around for a view of its cute sidekick, Little Beach, a sandy cove that doubles as an unofficial nude sunbathing spot.

The ocean at Big Beach is a pretty turquoise blue. When conditions are calm, you may see kids boogie boarding but at other times the shore breaks can be dangerous and are suitable only for experienced bodysurfers, who come to get tossed about wildly by the waves.

Kaʻanapali Beach

Best for a fun day on the beach

How does Kaʻanapali Beach define fun? Here's how: paddleboarding, parasailing, snorkeling, swimming, bodyboarding, sunbathing, sunset cruising, and strolling along the Kaʻanapali Beach Walk. Backed by a one-mile stretch of resorts and condos, this gorgeous stretch of sand in West Maui is one of the island's recreational hotspots.

It’s also steps away from some of the best beach bars and oceanfront restaurants in Maui. There are no lifeguards, despite the crowds, so ask about conditions at one of the resort beach huts that dot the shoreline as currents can be strong.

There are shops, restaurants and a playground in the outdoor shopping mall of Whalers Village. For happy hour, settle in at convivial Monkeypod Kitchen or at beachfront Hula Grill & Barefoot Bar, where you’ll likely see a guy with a guitar singing songs about rainbows.

Snorkelers congregate early in the day below Puʻu Kekaʻa, or Black Rock. This lava-formed promontory protects the beach in front of the Sheraton Maui, and snorkeling is good on the southern side and in the horseshoe cove at the tip of the rock. At sunset, grab a spot on the sand to watch the torch-lit cliff diving ceremony, which honors King Kahekili, the last chief of Maui, who launched himself off the cliffs to demonstrate his strength and bravery.

DT Fleming Beach Park

Best for stepping into the past

Framed by ironwood trees and set on the fringes of the wild northern tip of the island, DT Fleming feels like a throwback. There's even an old one-room schoolhouse beside the parking lot. But then you hear laughter from the Ritz-Carlton Burger Shack and realize that the comforts of modern life are just a short walk away.

The Kapalua Coastal Trail connects DT Fleming with Kapalua Beach, about 1.5 miles west. Nearby, the trail passes two sites of cultural importance to native Hawaiians – the Honokahua burial site and Makaluapana Point; it's appropriate to keep a respectful distance from both.

DT Fleming is a great spot for sunbathing, but the beach is also a favorite of wave riders, who come here to surf and bodyboard. The shore breaks can be rough, however, and injuries are not uncommon. There are lifeguards, restrooms and showers at the county-run park.

A green sea turtle pictured underwater
A green sea turtle in the waters off Maui © M Swiet Productions / Getty Images

Maluaka Beach

Best for snorkeling and spotting green sea turtles

With coral reefs and a soft beach, Maluaka Beach is a prime destination for snorkeling and sunbathing. Protected from trade winds by Haleakalā volcano (and its national park), the water is calm, which is a boon to snorkelers and kayakers alike. Families with young children can set up near the sandy shallow areas of the beach for gentle snorkeling adventures.

Green sea turtles, or honu, are frequently spotted near the shore at this lightly visited beach, which is also known as "Turtle Town." The coral is about 100 yards out from shore, and the best spots for snorkeling are at the southern end of the beach. Turtles graze their way along the coral banks and often swim near snorkelers. Remember not to touch or disturb them in any way.

The beach is just off Makena Rd and borders the under-development Makena Golf & Beach Club. Park on Makena Rd across from Keawalaʻi Congregational Church or continue south to Makena Keonoio Rd, turn right, and follow it to the parking lot.

Hamoa Beach

Best for imagining you're in the South Pacific

If you've driven the Road to Hana and decided to spend a few days immersing yourself in Hana’s many small-town charms, Hamoa Beach is the place to unfurl your beach towel. With its clear water, white sand and hala-tree backdrop, this famous crescent is an East Maui gem.

Author James Michener once called it the only beach in the North Pacific that looked like it belonged in the South Pacific. When the weather is calm, swimming is good in the cove, but check the conditions before diving in. Surfers and bodyboarders also flock here, but rip currents are a concern.

Paʻiloa Beach

Best for black-sand beauty

The setting of Paʻiloa Beach is striking: turquoise waves crashing against midnight-black sand in a small cove fringed by thick tropical greenery. Yep, the wild beauty of the prettiest black sand beach in Maui is a fitting end to a drive on the Road to Hana.

But be forewarned: the sand and black pebbles that underlie this beach in Waiʻanapanapa State Park are not cushiony-soft, and swimming is also a challenge. The sea here has a vicious shore dump and undertow, with a bottom that drops quickly, and water conditions that are challenging even for strong swimmers.

After walking across the beach and exploring the sea arch – watch your head! – you might have the best experience along park trails, which overlook the cove. They also pass by an unpredictable blowhole and cool sea caves. Note that the park implemented an advance reservation system in 2021 and also added admission and parking fees. 

Explore related stories

Portrait of a young and fit male surfer of Hawaiian and Japanese descent smiling and holding the shaka sign while walking on a rocky beach with his surfboard with Honolulu, Hawaii visible in the background.


How to choose the best Hawaiian island for your trip

Mar 7, 2024 • 9 min read