A trip to Maui, Hawaii is most famous for two things, sunrise at Haleakala and the beaches. The soft, warm sand and the 72° (23°C) temperature of the water combined with gentle ocean swells is what makes Maui beaches the best!
There are so many things to do in Maui, it's a good idea to plan ahead, so you won't miss anything, and you can even book your activities in advance! Get yourself a guidebook with a map to help you plan out the things you want to do. If you are getting a rental car, they will give you a driving guide with a map. Keep it handy!
If you want great beaches on this side of the island, called West Maui, you need to be in Ka'anapali, Honokawai, or Napili. My favorite stretch of beaches in West Maui is Napili.
Ka'anapali has the mega resorts and condos of the Westin, Marriott, and Sheraton, as well as smaller resorts, some hotels and you can find some great, inexpensive condos in this area. A little further up the road is Kahana, which also has some great ocean front resorts like the Sands of Kahana Resort, though for the most part not as upscale as Ka'anapali.
Ka'anapali beaches are better during the summer months; during the winter months, some of the beach erodes. But it is still a very popular beach area, with the large beach walk that connects the mega resorts and meanders along the beach front. There is some really good snorkeling spots along here, and if you are not staying in the area, there are a couple of beach parks you can access and there are beach access areas that the hotels have to set aside with a few parking spaces. Watch for the beach access signs to find them. They often look like part of the hotel.
Napili Beach in West Maui is a beautiful beach area all year. You can frequently see turtles there and there are some nice trees along the back of the beach for shade. This is a very popular area and it can be hard to find a parking spot here, but worth looking for one. There is a small grocery store where you can grab something cold to drink or snacks and a restaurant at the west end of the beach.
The beaches in the Kihei area are blessed with wide sandy areas that gently slope into the ocean, creating gentle wave action that are perfect for just lazing around in. If you are new to boogie boarding or if you travel with children, these beaches are perfect. Just south of Kihei are 3 beaches named Kama'ole Beach I, II and III. Three crescent beaches that follow one after the other down the coastline. At the north end of Kam I is Charley Young Park. This is where you can find a web cam to wave to the folks back home. Condo rentals liberally dot the area in every price range and good amenities can be found with plenty to choose from in the way of restaurants and grocery stores, shopping venues and activities including surfboard lessons and rentals and a flow rider.
South of Kihei is the beautiful resort area of Wailea. These upscale resorts put a lot of money into grounds maintenance. Kihei is the dry side of the island, yet the Wailea resorts are lush and green with lots of tropical foliage. The Grand Wailea, Four Seasons Maui, and Fairmount Kea Lani all can be found in this area and are fronted by some beautiful beaches.
In this area is Ulua Beach, where a lot of dive instructors take students to certify them in open water diving because of the reef that juts out into the water here, making the dive interesting when you can dive with turtles. Shade can be found here and in the afternoon the waves sometimes get good for some fun boogie boarding. You can find the parking lot tucked between resorts and although there is no lifeguard there, bathrooms, showers and a grassy area are available and the parking lot is shaded. Truly a great beach.
If you are looking for a nudist beach in the islands, head a little further south to Little Beach Maui. It is the only nudist beach I know of in Hawaii. It is secluded and not easy to stumble upon, but well known. I hear that the authorities occassionally harass people here, but I have never seen it happen, and this is one of my favorite beaches in the whole Hawaiian islands chain. To get there, go through Big Beach.
Lahaina was a whaling village in the 1800's and is just down the road from the Ka'anapali resorts. If you love to shop, don't miss this! The main street of Lahaina is several blocks long and runs along the waterfront and you will find shop after shop after shop! It's a great place to find gifts for the folks at home.
At the end of the town, near the harbor, is a huge banyan tree, that covers an entire block. Yep, just one tree! It is shady and cool, with benches for resting and arts and crafts fairs are often held here. They set up a stage and have live music too. One of the best things to do on Maui!
At Lahaina Harbor you will find departures for all of the things to do on Maui that involve water, like parasail, the dolphin cruise, snorkel cruises, whale watching and fishing. This is also the departure point for the Lana'i/Moloka'i Ferry and where the cruise ships debark.
The rest of the main street of Lahaina is filled with shops, bars and eateries. You can find Cheeseburger in Paradise, Bubba Gumps, Maui Divers, Art galleries, Na Hoku, timeshare peddlers and lots of independent shops along this 1 1/2 mile stretch of town.
Lahaina is always crowded, but that is part of its charm. There are a couple of hotels here, but no real resorts. The beaches along Lahaina's main street are not all that great either, but you don't go to Lahaina for the beaches, you go for one of the best things to do in Maui – shopping!
Lahaina is also a Halloween destination, but that's another story!
The road to Hana. People who have made the journey either love it or hate it. There is even a shirt that says "I survived the Road to Hana" and people who have done it know just what that means! It is not only is it a beautiful drive, it is an adventure. If it has been raining recently, you will see some incredible waterfalls, but only if there has been rain in the mountains.
Start early! The road can get ugly crowded later in the day, and I think that is why so many people do not enjoy it. There are 52 one lane bridges on this twisting, snakelike road and it can be quite annoying to have to stop at each and every one of them to wait for traffic.
Stop often along the way. Take some of the walks, stop and stroll the beach, take advantage of photo ops. Visit the fruit stands at the beginning of the road and you will have something to munch on along the way. It's a long drive to Hana and there is no other town before reaching it, so do take along drinks and snacks.
After reaching Hana, you have two choices. You can turn around and come back the way you came, or you can go on around the island. There is a point not far past Hana where your rental car agreement becomes null and void. If you get stuck it will cost you a lot to get back. But the road does go all the way around. It is narrow and not always paved. I strongly advise you to turn around if it has been a great day for viewing waterfalls, because this road can get ugly when it rains a lot.