Maui Neighborhoods & Towns
Maui can be divided into five distinct areas, each of them geographically and culturally unique.
South Maui is one of the island's sunniest, driest regions, which makes it one of the most popular home bases for visitors. Although much of South Maui consists of condos and strip malls, you'll also find a variety of luxury resorts and stunning beaches here, not to mention the Maui Ocean Center. This area is also convenient for travelers looking to explore the island as it offers easy access to major highways and public bus services.
Wailea is perhaps the best-known area of South Maui, boasting several golf courses, a number of luxury lodging options and five spectacular beaches. This resort community occupies 1,500 acres of Maui's southern coast, offering those who choose to stay here access to such notable shores as Wailea Beach.
Wailea Beach may get all the attention, but sun-seekers may want to spend some time at Makena, too. Stretching out across more than half a mile just south of Wailea, Makena Beach (also known as "Big Beach") is the largest beach in Maui. From here, sunbathers will have views of the tiny neighboring islands of Molokini and Kahoolawe. But unlike Wailea, Makena only makes for a good day trip: When it comes to facilities, you won't find much more than restrooms and picnic tables.
Located a few miles off the southwest coast of Maui, Molokini is a popular snorkeling and scuba diving spot. This 18-acre island is surrounded by coral reefs that house more than 250 species of fish. Tours are available from nearby Maalaea and from Lahaina in West Maui.
Located at the northern end of South Maui, this 6-mile stretch of coastline was once a popular vacation spot for Hawaiian royalty. Today, it draws sun-seekers with its expansive sands and views of Lanai. Meanwhile, the oceanfront Kalama Beach Park is a popular spot for nature lovers as it houses several endangered bird species.
Rivaling South Maui in terms of popularity, West Maui is known for its beautiful coastline, its variety of activities, its upscale resorts and its stunning sunsets. This is the place to go for the quintessential Hawaiian vacation.
The most popular town on the island is Lahaina, which sits just of Kihei along the Honoapiilani Highway. Lahaina was once Maui's busiest port town; today, it's the island's primary port of call for cruises. Visitors to Lahaina will find a smattering of museums detailing the town's history (including that of its whaling industry), as well as several restaurants, nightclubs and galleries — located along the town's main thoroughfare, Front Street. This is also a primary departure point for guided island tours and whale-watching excursions.
Sandwiched between Lahaina and Kapalua on Maui's northwest coast, Kaanapali is a resort-laden area filled with shopping and dining opportunities. The expansive Kaanapali Beach is a hit with many travelers for its views, but this isn't always a great place for swimming: Rip tides here can be deceptively strong.
Kapalua, a resort community on the island's northwestern coast, has five pristine public beaches and two championship golf courses, not to mention a variety of boutique shops and worthwhile restaurants. A number of high-end hotels also occupy acreage in Kapalua, offering their guests prime access to some of Maui's most scenic sands. This is the place to go for the ultimate luxury getaway, but you'll find that staying here will cost a pretty penny.
Home to Kahului Airport, Central Maui is usually the first part of the island visitors see. Spanning the width of the island, Central Maui not only encompasses the island's busiest city, Kahului (on the northern coast), it also acts as a gateway to Iao Valley State Park, one of the island's most popular hiking spots. Central Maui is also a great place to set up camp if you're looking for a more authentic Hawaiian experience.
Maui's largest settlement is also its primary shopping area. Kahului features several notable shopping malls and dozens of retailers. The city — also home to Maui's main airport — also boasts a few museums and cultural sites, but not enough to make it a destination unto itself.
Just west of Kahului is Wailuku, a much more charming town defined by its mom-and-pop restaurants, various historic sites and laid-back atmosphere. This an excellent home base for travelers looking to avoid the typical resort-based vacation: From here, the beaches of South Maui are less than 20 minutes by car, while Kapalua is roughly an hour's drive. Wailuku also acts as the gateway to Iao Valley State Park, with the park's entrance sitting less than 4 miles west of town.
Iao Valley State Park
Iao Valley State Park encompasses 4,000 acres of land in Central Maui and contain's one of the island's most recognizable landmarks: the Iao Needle. The park played a significant role in Maui's tribal history, acting as the backdrop to the Battle of Kepaniwai in 1790, during which King Kamehameha I battled Maui's forces in an effort to unite the Hawaiian islands under his rule. Kamehameha's victory forever changed the course of Hawaii's history.
Maui's Upcountry region — spanning the island top to bottom to the east of Central Maui — is more popular with adventurous travelers. The star of this region is Haleakala National Park, home to Maui's highest peak (and some of the island's most beloved hiking trails). The scenery in this area is possibly some of the most dramatic: Upcountry Maui boasts both scenic coastline and towering mountains.
Haleakala National Park
Occupying more than 30,000 acres of land, Haleakala National Park is a haven for hikers. The centerpiece of the park is Haleakala mountain, a massive normant volcano that rises more than 10,000 feet above sea level. The park is home to miles of trails, as well as three visitor centers.
This small inland town on the northwest edge of Upcountry Maui is best known for its thriving arts scene. A stroll through this town will lead you past woodworkers, glass-blowers, painters and sculptors. Makawao is also famous for it's cowboy culture. Known as paniolo, Hawaiian cowboys used the Upcountry's verdant landscape for grazing cattle. Travelers can see paniolo in action every Fourth of July when the annual paniolo competition takes place; events include barrel racing, bronco riding and calf roping.
Located on the northern fringe of the Upcountry, the coastal town of Paia was once a booming plantation settlement during the heyday of Maui's sugar cane industry. Remnant's of this bygone era are still apparant, making Paia feel almost as rustic as Makawao with colorful art galleries and boutique shops. But today, Paia's better known as the home of Hookipa Beach, the windsurfing capital of the world.
Sitting on the slopes of Haleakala along the southwest edge of the Upcountry, Kula is one of the island's agricultural hubs. The area's fertile volcanic soil yields everything from onions to lavender to coffee. You are welcome to tour Kula's farms; or, you can learn more about the region's flora at the Kula Botanical Gardens. While here, you also won't want to miss the octagonal Holy Ghost Church, which was gifted to the island's Portuguese plantation worker by the king and queen of Portugal in 1894.
East Maui is not nearly as populated as other parts of the island. In fact, this entire half of the island remains relatively untouched by humans, affording spectacular views to those who venture out here. The best way to experience East Maui is to follow the Road to Hana, a scenic highway that meanders along Maui's northeast coast from Kahului to Hana.
This tiny town on Maui's northeast coast is the only primary settlement along the island's rugged east coast. Hana offers intrepid travelers easy access to the black-sand beaches of Waianapanapa State Park. There are a few places to hang your hat out here, including the luxurious Travaasa Hana. But given its remoteness, you may want to think of Hana as a day trip rather than a home base.
Maui is a very safe place with little crime. Your main concern should be staying safe in parks and on hiking trails and, most importantly, in the water. Never hike or swim alone, and be sure to consult weather and tide conditions before entering the water.