Kihei or Kaanapali? East? West? South? Deciding where to stay on Maui can be overwhelming, as the areas are surprisingly far apart for a “small” island. There are no bad places to stay on Maui, but it helps to know what kind of vacation you are looking for to better understand what area is right for you.
Here is an infographic I created to get us started, summarizing the pros and cons of each location, followed by a bit more information on each area. I hope this helps clarify where to stay in Maui!
West Maui: Kaanapali, Lahaina & Napili/Kapalua
If you’ve been doing research on Maui, chances are Kaanapali, Lahaina and Kapalua/Napili have all popped up on the ol’ google feed. Here are the main differences between Kaanapali, Lahaina and Napili.
But, you get what you pay for, so don’t expect to find anything under $250-$300 a night. The Whaler Village has all the shopping you’ll need (Lululemon, surf shops, ABC Store etc) + a few restaurants (check out Monkey Pod for dinner and mai tai’s, Hula Grill for live music, Leilani’s for coconut shrimp and fish tacos).
- Approx. 6 minute drive South from the town of Lahaina
- Approx. 12 minute drive North to Kapalua
- Kaanapali sits in the middle of the two
When you’re looking at hotels and searching Lahaina, most of the hotels will be situated on Kaanapali Beach. However, there are a few closer to the actual town of Lahaina. Make sure you look on google maps before booking. If you stay in town, you are closer to a greater number of restaurants, bars, and grocery stores but further away from the nicest beaches.
If you’re traveling with a big group, there are some nice houses you can rent in Lahaina and the location is very central. Check out VRBO + Airbnb for options. The town itself is touristy, with big chain surfer locales like Rip Curl, shave ice stands and souvenir shops. If you are into the art scene, this town is definitely worth checking out as it is home to beautiful galleries.
Napili/Kapalua are lovely areas and have a bit more of an off the beaten path vibe. The accommodations there are a bit older so you can find some cheaper hotels versus Kaanapali. A lot of places in Napili have full kitchens. This is really nice for families or if you’re staying longer than a week.
Being an island, everything is imported, so eating out in Maui is very expensive. Being able to cook your own meals will save you some serious cash. Stop at Costco or Walmart ahead of time.
Reasons to stay in West Maui:
- The sun always shines here! Even when you can see nasty rain clouds over the mountains, West Maui remains in its own little sunshiny bubble.
- Beaches. From D.T Fleming Beach, Kaanapali Beach, Napili Beach, Honolua Bay .. you won’t have a shortage of places to park your beach chair or get out the snorkel gear.
- Lots of restaurants, bars, shops, grocery stores
- Great for first timers to the island
- A lot of excursions will start in either Lahaina or Kaanapali. It’s pretty nice to roll out of bed and head down to meet the tour you’ve booked.
Reasons to look elsewhere:
I’m sure you read the word tourist about 50 times in the description, so you’ve been warned. Large crowds can be expected in peak season, meaning long waits at restaurants and the need to get up early to throw an ol’ US weekly on a beach chair to reserve your spot.
South Maui: Kihei + Wailea
Kihei is also a fan favorite. The area has amazing apartments and is more laid back and less crowded than its West-side sister. Kihei is more convenient for excursion purposes, as it is closer to Haleakala, Road to Hana, Iao Valley, and the airport.
Like the West Side, the weather is great all year and escapes most of the mountain rain. You won’t find as many upscale restaurants, but it’s a great place to lay your roots and enjoy island life without an ABC store on every corner.
Big Beach/Makena (+ little beach if you’re looking for that no tan line look) is a must! If you’re on a budget, find a nice *air quotes* low-cost apartment in Kihei.
If you’re looking to spare no expense, there are some absolutely stunning luxury hotels in Wailea that will make you feel like you’re one of the football players straight out of the movie Blue Crush. The Four Seasons, Grand Wailea and my favorite, the Andaz are seriously swoon-worthy. There are beautiful crescent beaches in Wailea and it is the perfect area to relax with loved ones (for a pretty penny, of course..).
So, to recap the age-old question – Kaanapali or Kihei?
Stay in Kaanapali to:
- Experience your typical Hawaiian vacation
- Have access to some of the nicest beaches on the island
- Experience great snorkeling
- Have easy access to shopping, restaurants and excursion pick-ups for whale watching, sunset and snorkel tours
- Be in close proximity to the highest rated Luau’s
Give Kihei a try for:
- A more laid back “home away from home” feel
- Easy access to Paia (a great day trip!), Road to Hana, Haleakala Crater, Iao Valley
- Close proximity to Makena beach
- Not as touristy as Kaanapali
- Cheaper, budget-friendly accommodation (great for lengthier stays!)
Kihei vs Kaanapali Weather Compared
As you can tell, the weather is fairly comparable. Kaanapali gets a few more days of rain per month, with temperatures a few degrees cooler but that’s about it.
You can’t go wrong in either place, it just comes down to personal preference and budget. There are people all over Tripadvisor that will argue one side or the other, but only you will know which style resonates best with what you’re looking for.
Other places to consider visiting:
While West + South Maui would be my two recommendations for tourists looking for a bit of everything, you might want to check out some areas below for a different vibe. At least consider these options for a fun day trip to break up the vacation!
North Maui (Paia + Kula)
They don’t call Maui the Valley Isle for nothing. If I could describe it in a word, Lush is the only one that comes to mind. North Maui is great if the umbrella drink beach vibe is a little too sleepy for you.
If you’re into surfing, tropical forestry, beautiful mountain views, botanical gardens, and some peace and quiet, you might want to check out this side of the island.
Be prepared though. Remember the mountainous rain you’d avoid in West + South Maui? It likes to set up shop here and stay awhile. Hence the reason it is so green and yes, lush. If this sounds like your thing, search Paia on AirBnB. Some apartments even come with your own housekeeper and chef. This is the perfect place for celebrities to stay.
So, you know, all you celebrities reading this..stay in Paia (and maybe invite me along as your tour guide..)
If you want to get away from it all, Hana is the epitome of off the beaten path. Head there for a day trip if you’re brave enough to drive the road, or book accommodation in Hana if total seclusion is what you’re after! Speaking of driving the road to Hana, I created a comprehensive guide to spending a week in Maui. Everything from hotels, the best restaurants on the island and things to do during your stay!