No trip to Maui is complete without a generous dose of sand and sea. Thankfully, the island has a wealth of user-friendly beaches, covering more than 30 miles of the coastline. Many of the softest and sandiest lie in the sheltered leeward areas on the western and southern shores, but the hidden eastern coves near Hana also beckon, especially picture-perfect Hamoa and northern Hookipa, a spot prized by expert surfers and windsurfers.
When hitting the beach, make sure to leave only gentle footprints: Bring reusable bags and water bottles, pick up litter, and choose your sunscreen wisely. On January 1, 2021, Hawaii’s ban on oxybenzone and octinoxate—common sunscreen ingredients that have been shown to bleach and stunt coral—goes into effect. “To have less impact, choose eco-conscious products like Maui-made Raw Love Sunscreen or sun-protective UPF clothing like rash guards and leggings,” advises marine biologist Lila Jones of Mermaid Dream Retreats.
Once you’re set with supplies, head to one of the 10 beaches listed below and get ready to soak up the Maui sun.
An isolated strand, this gem on Maui’s eastern tip lies just off the 52-mile Road to Hana. Drivers on the legendary highway tend to zoom right past Hamoa’s golden sands and clear, emerald-green waters, but the savvy ones stop and stay a while—and bring a boogie board. Both Mark Twain and author James Michener fell for this sheltered, palm-fringed shoreline, which is arguably Maui’s most beautiful beach. You will, too.
Hookipa Beach Park
At Hookipa Beach Park on Maui’s north-central coast, three reef breaks pock the Pacific, attracting expert surfers and windsurfers. You can watch the thrill-seekers’ acrobatics from the aptly named Lookout Cliff, or seek out something more laid-back via Hookipa’s white sands and tide pools teeming with marine life. Another highlight remains the honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles), most reliably spotted right before sunset as they haul ashore to sleep.
The 122-acre Waianapanapa State Park on Maui’s eastern coast encompasses lava caves, blowholes, sea stacks, a natural stone arch, native hala (pandanus tree) groves, and Polynesia’s largest known heiau (an ancient Hawaiian temple). While the area is sacred to Hawaiians, most travelers come here for Honokalani Beach, which boasts black sands formed by the ocean battering a fractured lava flow. An essential stop amid Hana Highway’s 620 curves, the wild, unspoiled beach is beautiful to explore but, notably, not safe for swimming. Fierce currents often rip through the bay and the water gets deep close to shore.
A marine reserve, the rocky Honolua Bay on Maui’s northwestern coast delivers some of island’s best snorkeling and scuba diving during the calm summer months. In the winter, as large storms move south of Alaska, the turquoise cove develops a hollow, powerful wave that draws expert surfers and those eager to watch their tricks.
Resorts flank this scenic three-mile stretch of white sand in northwestern Maui, but it’s wide enough to never feel crowded. A promenade runs the full length of the beach, from the Sheraton to the Hyatt hotels, allowing visitors with strollers and wheelchairs to easily soak up the views. Head to the central area for the best bodysurfing, then continue on to the northern Puu Kekaa (Black Rock) to watch the sunset. Stay put until it’s dark and you can catch the nightly torch-lighting ceremony and cliff dive, which honors King Kahekili, the first human to brave this leina a kauhane (a place where ancient Hawaiians believed their spirits leapt into the afterlife).
Only a six-minute drive from the airport in north Maui, Kanaha Beach is a world-famous windsurfing spot. There’s even a beginner reef break here, though you’ll need to paddle out about 450 feet to catch the smaller waves. For the less adventurous, the beach is also good for swimming and has a large, grassy picnic area. Order a lunch box to go from nearby Hawaiian spot Tin Roof—the garlic shrimp and Mochiko chicken are both exceptional—and savor it here, in view of the sparkling water.
At Kapalua, two reefs form a half-moon cove, hence the beach’s name, which roughly translates to “arms embracing the sea.” The northeastern hot spot is one of Maui’s best swimming beaches, but the center of the bay is sandy, making for slightly cloudy water and only so-so snorkeling. (If you really want to see marine life, head next door to the clearer Namalu Bay.)
Shielded by the Haleakala volcano from morning breezes, this southern Maui beach features hard-packed sand rinsed by gentle surf. While many whale-watching and snorkel tours depart from the adjacent harbor, near the Maui Ocean Center aquarium, Maalaea boasts 2.5 miles of beauty that’s completely uninterrupted by buildings. Combine a beach walk here with a stop at the nearby Maui Tropical Plantation, which offers a park, farm tours, zip-lining, a café, a boutique, and locally inspired dining at the Mill House.
Makena State Park
One of Maui’s largest wild beaches, Makena stretches for three-quarters of a mile along the island’s southwestern sweep. Here, the distinctive Puu Olai cinder cone shades the sugary sand, and black lava outcrops offer protection from the trade winds. The often-calm waters attract swimmers, snorkelers, and fishers, while the clothing-optional Little Beach, on the other side of the promontory, draws those willing to show some skin.
A third of a mile long, this southwestern beauty draws sun-seekers with its tawny, fine-grained sands and whale sightings in the winter months. A paved path along the beach links several tony resorts, including the design-forward Andaz Maui and the elegant-but-family-friendly Fairmont Kea Lani.
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