Airport Beach is one of West Maui’s most popular beaches, it may lack the international fame of Kaanapali Beach(a regular on the world’s best beaches lists) But is every bit as wonderful and very similar in nature. The Wide golden sand, warm, calm protected water, nearby Coral Reefs, and stunning views out over the channel to Lanai and Molokai make this an enchanting tropical paradise and the perfect place to while away the hours on Maui.
- Location – West Maui – Mile Marker 25 (Hwy 30)
- Amenities – Showers, Restrooms Picnic Tables, BBQ’s, and Covered Pagoda. Aces to several restaurants and Cafes in the area.
- Beach Type – Long Sandy beach with extensive accessible Reefs and Sandy entry.
- Life Guards – None
- Best For – Pretty Much Anything!
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Airport Beach is a long sandy stretch of beach that runs from Black Rock right up to Honokowai Point where there is a small break before the beach becomes Honokowai. The Beach is actually part of the continuous golden sands that run the entire length of this part of the West Maui Coastline, There is just a small break in the sand caused by the Lava Outcrop known as Balck Rock. This conveniently breaks the beach up into two sections, Kaanapali and Airport beach.
The Beach has pretty much everything you could wish for in a beach. The Sand is Wide Deep Soft and Clean. The water is often calm and wonderfully warm with good clarity. There is a coral Reef Teaming with life meters from the Shoreline. The Beach Park has plenty of free amenities and free parking, Stunning Ocean views over to Maui’s two Island Neighbors, Lanai, and Molokai, and last, of all, it’s far less busy than its more famous and glamorous Neighbor.
All in all, it is a top all-around beach, It is every bit as wonderful as Kaanapili but more understated, less developed Quiet, and more beautiful.
Things to Know About Airport Beach
Officially called Kahekili Beach, the beach has taken on the local name of Airport Beach in recent years. If you zoom out on Google Earth you will notice the distinct lack of any airport! This is because the area is the site for the old Kaanapili Airport which was demolished in 1986 to make way for the oceanfront development you find surrounding the Beach today.
While some “guidebooks” suggest the beach gets its name from aircraft actually using the beach itself for the runway, a quick look at the size and angle of the beach and you quickly realize this is ridiculous. However, the runway of the old airport did run right up to the beach, and landing and departing aircraft would pass overhead at very low levels. The perilously short runway and highly valuable land it took up meant the airport needed to be relocated but the name of the beach remained.
Nothing Remains of the old airport now and the area has been highly developed and all trace removed apart from the commemorative plaque installed in the Kahekili Beach Park.
The Beach is a continuous band of golden sand running 1.5 Miles along the Kaanapali Coastline. While the section around the Beach Park is known as Kahekili the Southern portion that links up to Black Rock is often known as May’s Beach. Most people really consider the whole stretch of Airport Beach as there is just no clear dividing line. The technical truth is May’s beach is the sandy section closest to Black Rock and Kahekili Beach is the more northern section. As Airport beach is just a local name it doesn’t really exist so you can all any part of the beach Airport beach and get away with it.
Getting there and Parking at Airport Beach
Getting to the Beach is very simple. Heading along the Honoapiliina Highway, Heading North simply take a left at the Junction of Kai Ali Drive, shortly after the 25 Mile Marker. The Drive looks like you are heading into a Resort, and TBH you are but follow the roads around t the right and you get to the large and well-marked Kahekili Beach Park.
The Free Carpark is right in front of the Park and it’s a Whopper. One of the biggest Free Parking lots on the Island, with over 100 Spaces, which compared with other Beach Parks is a lot. The beach is often Busy but rarely so busy the lot is completely full. There is another Smaller Free lot at Kekaa Open Space that always has space, but we have never needed it.
The Beach is really a fantastic all-around activity beach. There are acres of sand and even when busy the beach never really feels like it. The immediate area around the Park can be busy but a short walk and you will find a ton of space.
The Beach is divided into two sections. One is great for Snorkelling and one is for more general beach use and bathing. The Reef Starts almost directly in front of the Beach Park and runs off to the right (when facing the Ocean). This is best for snorkeling. The water entry can have large rocks and reef fragments so it’s best to get in and go. If you head to the left of the beach park the reef dries up and you are left with a wide beach with deep sand perfect for bathing and playing in the waves!
There is a Boardwalk that runs most of the length of the beach which is perfect for both getting around or just taking a gentle stroll. At the Beach Park, there is a Grassy play area, Picnic Tables, BBQ’s and places to just sit in the shade.
The Calm Serene waters are a GREAT place to try out Paddle Boarding (SUP) or the soft sandy beach down towards Mays Beach is perfect for just messing around in the Water. The large length of the beach with deep water just offshore makes it the perfect Open Water Swimming location and of course, there is the Reef for Snorkellers, see below. New Divers often cut their teeth exploring the shallow reef which makes a perfect introductory Dive Site.
In fact, the only thing the beach is disappointing for is Wave Sports. It’s just too calm most of the time. The Sandy portion of the beach has a great Shore Break that is fun for body Boarding but it is far from reliable.
Most people who head to Airport Beach come for the Snorkelling. This is one of the most popular Dive sites in West Maui and most Snorkel guides and Rental shops will direct you here. In our opinion…It’s OK.
Hardly a gushing review, but the reality is this is definitely a beginner’s site. This is why it’s one of the first recommendations as many asking for places to go snorkeling are just that, Beginners. It is a perfect introductory site. The reef is just offshore, less than 5-10 Meters in places. The water is shallow, with direct viewing of the coral and reef Fish Below. There is little in the way of current (See conditions below) and the water entry is a soft shallow sand entry. It’s basically perfect for cutting your teeth or just enjoying a relaxing snorkel as part of a down day.
The problem is there is not really much to see. Certainly nothing out of the ordinary, there is not even much turtle activity, you may find the odd one but it’s not a prime site. The water is Shallow but not so shallow you are close to the reef or its inhabitants. It’s a bit like watching it on TV rather than being there.
This is a harsh judgment as really it’s a very good snorkeling site, there just are better on the island. Honolua (on a good day) and Napili Bay knock the socks off Airport beach as far as snorkeling goes. But for beginners, it really is an excellent site.
However, If you are looking for Advanced Snorkeling Mays beach is the Gateway to one of Maui’s BEST Snorkeling Sites, and likely you will have it all to yourself! We give you the Black Rock Back Wall.
What to Eat?
There are several restaurants along the seafront mostly attached to the various hotels and condo complexes. Most are ok, catering to the residents but not really anything to specifically recommend. Apart from Dukes.
Dukes Beach House Maui – Dukes is a bit of a Hawaiian institution. Duke Kahanamoku is one of the most famous Hawaiians ever to have lived (Maui, Pele, and Obama aside!). And is a legend for his surfing and Olympic feats. The Duke’s chain of restaurants lies in homage to the great man. The Menu is a little touristy and probably overpriced but then most restaurants in Maui are guilty of that (and the Lunch/Pool Menu really isn’t that bad). Eating at Dukes is just a right of Passage for Hawaii visitors and the Stunning beachfront location make this the perfect to take some time out from the beach. The Hula Pie really is something to behold!
With plenty of picnic tables, a large grassy, and several BBQ Grills the Park is the perfect place to really get into the Hawaii Outdoor Lifestyle. Head to Safeways or Farmland Foods in Lahaina to pick up some Picnic treats or even some Charcoals (or just a disposable BBQ) to cook up some burgers, steaks, or maybe some fresh fish right by the ocean side. It really is a wonderful way to eat!
With a huge parking lot, there really is no need to stay near Airport Beach to enjoy it. We regularly travel here for a morning or afternoon by the beach. However, having daily access to the absolute gem is a real treat and there are plenty of options for accommodation.
Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa – Located on Black Rock and overlooking both Airport Beach and Kaanapali Beach this is one of West Maui’s premier resorts It is not particularly cheap but not really that pricey considering the location and prestige. $300+ a night for an ultra-prime location.
Honua Kai Resort and Spa – Beautiful Resort with laid-back old-timey Hawaiian Vibes. Rooms are large and homely and the grounds are stunning and set right on the beach. This is one of the resorts the Airport was torn up specifically to build.
Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas – Beachfront resort with amazing grounds and access right onto the beach. Rooms here are called Villas but really they are suites/condos. What they give you is a full kitchen and a chance to experience living in Hawaii.
Aston Maui Kaanapali Villas – Another Villa Hotel, essentially this is just a fancy name for an Aparthotel but the rooms are spacious and well-appointed. Again this Hawaiian living and the full kitchen give you the chance to eat meals at home rather than relying on expensive restaurants. The Aston is seriously well-priced compared to the Westin and offers just about everything the Westin does. The rooms are a bit more dated and the grounds not quite as wonderful but for the price difference we know where we would stay!
Airport beach is blessed with excellent conditions 90% of the year. Only when large winter storms roll in and produce large swells all along the coastline does Airport beach become heavily affected by large surf. The Steep Shoreline does in these cases create a nasty and powerful Shore Break. But the soft sandy floor makes it relatively benign apart from in the most extreme conditions. Usually, if the waves are ankle-high it’s considered Rough!
Visibility is quite variable. In the best conditions, the water can take on a real Gin-Clear Quality. However, this is not guaranteed and the water clarity can at times be less than perfect. The Large beach has a lot of sand that can be stirred up along with a few potential runoffs that can all detract from the clarity. On the whole, the clarity is good and even on the worst days it’s not terrible, but there can be better nearby.
This is also one of those rare occasions you can’t outswim the visibility. Often the further offshore you get the more the water clears, but at Airport beach the reef really is all close to shore, you may get better clarity further out but there is nothing to see.
A Final Warning is the Current. It can be quite strong. When snorkeling you will undoubtedly find your attention drawn to the magical underwater world. This means that any current can quite easily shift you a good way up or down the beach without you realizing it. it is not an issue, simply swim to shore and walk back to your spot. The current is rarely one that will pull you out to see so no real issue.
Have Your Say
Have you visited Airport Beach? How did you find it? How was the Snorkeling? What were the conditions like? Was the beach Busy or Quiet? How do you rate the beach or snorkeling compared to others? Whatever you have to say about the beach just fire away in the comments below. And you have any questions just fire away.