Kaanapali Beach Guide, West Maui, Hawaii – Best Beach in Maui?

Kaanapali Beach is the Jewel in Maui’s beach Crown. Often cited in Worlds best Beach guide, A regular in the Top Ten US beaches, and always top of the list in Beast Beaches in Maui Guides. Kaanapali has a big reputation. Does it live up to it? Is it really the best beach in Hawaii? Is it worth Visiting or even basing your Hawaii Vacation around? Find out in our Kaanapali Beach Guide for everything you need to know about the Star of Maui’s Beaches.

Kaanapali Beach Guide, West Maui, Hawaii
  • Location – West Maui – Mile Marker 24 (Hwy 30)
  • Amenities – Showers and Restrooms. Large Selection of Restaurants and Bars
  • Beach Type – Long Wide sandy Beach, lined by High-Rise Hotels
  • Life Guards – None
  • Best For

<<< end – Maui Beach Guide Airport Beach Guide >>>

Nestled in the heart of West Maui the Beach is an extensive length of Deep golden sand stretching from the imperious Black rock seemingly endlessly down the coast, lapped by tranquil, warm, vivid blue waters. Lined by lush foliage, palm trees, and manicured lawns the perfect tropical paradise is only broken by the rather large and overbearing Hotel Complexes that line the beachfront.

From the Photos, Media hype and even our description above you are likely to be imagining a real slice of Paradise, and a beach like no other. So before we go into what is great about the beach let’s answer the question:

Is Kaanapili the best Beach on Maui?

In short, No, Not even by a long shot. In fact, we would not even rate it in the top 10! So why does it keep getting rave reviews? Well, it’s known, and a lot of media hype is lazy journalism. It ranks high in Readers polls as it’s so popular, more people visit and it ranks higher. But then you just read above our wonderful introduction, no we are slamming it? Were we lying?

No, Kaanapali Beach is everything it’s billed to be, it really is wonderful, it’s just the fact, incredibly, Maui has a plethora of even better beaches. This can be very hard to believe when your toes are sunk into the wonderful golden sand of this paradisical beach but trust us, it gets even better! Even just next door at Airport beach. This is a near mirror image of Kaanapali only much less developed, better snorkeling, AND far less crowded. It also has a ton of free parking. And that’s before we get to the utter jewels that are Napili Bay and Kapalua Bay and the wild and remote Oneloa, Slaughterhouse, and DT Flemming. That’s before we even look at South Maui, the North Shore, and Hana’s beaches!

Kaanapali should still be on everyone’s must-see list, it is one of Maui’s most iconic locations, and the real Star of Maui, However, it is often the supporting cast, rather than Star that really carries the film. That said, we all still love seeing the stars in action and Kaanapili has ALOT going for it.

The locals use the derogatory term “Dig-Me” beach, to infer it is a place to be seen rather than actually enjoy. But like the phrase “Dig-Me”, this is hopelessly outdated, nowadays the Instagram Generation no longer wants to be seen, they want the perfect shot on an empty castaway beach in a true tropical paradise. Kaanapali will rarely give you that, its packed and crowded shores are anything but castaway, and the backdrop of multi-storied hotels really gives the game away.

The takeaway is while the beach isn’t the be-all and end-all of Hawaii Beaches, it’s still a great beach and well worth a visit, just visit the others too. The beach is long and wide and has wonderful ocean conditions, and some of the best snorkeling on the island, as we look at below. There are a ton of hotel options and by staying at Kaanapali you are really central to everything so can head off and enjoy all the other beaches and still have Kaanapali right on your doorstep.

Getting there and Parking at Kaanapali Beach

Kaanapali Beach Parking

It is pretty hard to miss Kaanapali Bach even though the beach is not actually visible from the highway. It is well signposted, and the Kaanapali Parkway that intersects the Honoapiilani Hwy at the 24Mile Marker is very visible and obvious. The Parkway leads to all of Kaanapilis’s illustrious hotels so they don’t want you to miss it.

At first, it seems Free Parking is an impossibility. Most of the lots are owned by the hotels and are for guests only, there are also several Paid lots as well. However Free parking is available at a number of spots along the Parkway. Free Parking and beach access are enshrined in Hawaiian Law so there will always be beach access trails and parking lots!

At Kaanapali, these are unfortunately small and limited. See the map above for details. Aside from the Free lots, there is the Whalers Village which offers paid parking at a whopping $3 per half hour! Not a great deal. However, it is free for up to 3 hours with validation on spends inside the Village. Even if you are staying longer that’s $6 for 4 hours $12 for 5 etc which is a little more stomachable. However, we usually get a spot in one of the free lots as long as you are willing to wait and circle a little, but there are lots of ways to hit the validation spend at the Whalers even on things you would have bought anyway.


Best Activities

Kaanapali Beach really does have it all. Excellent water, deep wide sandy beach, Excellent Snorkelling, decent surf breaks, extensive amenities including some fantastic restaurants, there is even the nightly Clif Diving ceremony and incredible sunsets!

Black Rock – At the far end of the beach is Black Rack. An impressive headland, formed by a huge Lava Flow that carved the beach in half, Airport Bach to the North and Kaanapali to the South. The Rock provides a focal point to the beach and offers some incredible snorkeling. Unfortunately, most of the land is owned by the Shereton so you can’t venture up there (unless you are staying there) but you can still clamber (carefully) along the rocks. There are several Cliff Jumping sites along the rock. Whether this is a wise choice for a holiday activity is largely down to your own Risk Aversness.

Many see them as reckless idiots hurling themselves into an accident room, others see a bit of harmless fun with minimal risk. Done right the jumps are largely safe, with extensive deep water to plunge safely into. But all it takes is a slip or miss judgment and your dream vacation could end in tears or worse! The jumps are there, you will see others taking the leaps, so we will leave it up to you to decide the risk, we are not here to preach.

Beach Path – There is a long beach path that runs pretty much the length of the beach from Black Rock the whole 1.5 miles down to Hanakao’o Park where the sand dries up. You can even hike around Black Rock and link up with the Airport Beach Walk to extend the path to 3 miles each way. The Path winds through the resorts and offers extensive views of the ocean, and people trying to sunbathe outside their hotel! In a large way, this is Kaanapali in a Microcosm, Beautiful nature, spoilt a bit by ostentatious hotel complexes.

Water Sports – Available water sports depend largely on what the Ocean is doing. If it’s flat calm then Stand-Up Paddleboarding, Kayaking, Swimming, and Snorkelling are the order of the day. When the sea is a bit choppier then a great beginner’s surf break opens up or decent waves for bodyboarding are available. Stick to the north of the beach however as the southern portions are over shallow reefs and can result in some pretty painful reef scrapes (Scars to prove!).

Sunset and Cliff Diving Ceremonies – a Bit like a Luau, you have not really been to Maui unless you have witnessed the Sunset Cliff Diving Ceremony at the Black Rock. Hosted by the Shereton, the free Ceremony really just consists of two bear-chested Hawaain “Warriors” blowing a Conch shell and lighting a string of Tiki Lamps on the way to the end of Black Rock. Once there the fearless performers plunge from the top of the cliffs into the water below. Really it’s not much but feels incredibly symbolic and quite moving. Following this Nature takes over and the sun dips into the ocean and the whole beach erupts into glorious color (most nights). To be fair the second part can be witnessed from any West Maui meach, but it feels particularly nice after the Cliff Dive.

Black Rock Sunset Maui
Black Rock Sunset Maui By DronepicR on CC2.0

Cruise – A number of Sailing Catamarans depart directly from Kaanapali beach. For either snorkeling trips, dinner cruises or whale watching the feeling of boarding our trip straight from the beach is a particularly nice touch.


Guide to Maui Snorkeling

The northern part of the beach has a soft sandy bottom, which is great for swimmers and bathers but barren and uninteresting for snorkelers. As you head down the beach reef starts to appear, often close to shore and these reefs hold a good amount of life, this is perfect for long snorkel swims as you can cover large amounts of the reef. However these reefs are at best average and with large amounts of sand on the beach, the water can easily color up making snorkeling pretty poor.

The Snorkelling really gets good at Balck Rock. Follow the cliff face out away from the beach and the snorkeling really picks up. The Wall is home to a huge number of fish, and exploring its nooks and crannies is excellent. Follow the wall all the way out and you can round the headland to a small secluded bay. The water here is usually pristine. There is nothing around to cloud it up and you are snorkeling in pure, pacific ocean water.

The Star of Black wall Snorkeling is an abundant Turtle population. There is a large family of Turtles that inhabit the Rock and they are completely unfussed by the large number of people they share their home with daily. Turtle sightings here are as near as possible a certainty.

We mentioned above the popularity of Cliff Jumping off Black Rock and this is definitely something to take into account. Keep an eye on people on the rocks and try to learn the splash zones. You don’t want an over-eager tourist landing on your head from 25ft up!

Black Rock Back Wall

For the very adventurous and fit the Back Wall of Black Rock offers arguably the best snorkeling site on the Island! Once beyond the Small bay the Rock really rises up out of the water and the bottom falls away. This is a really wild and exposed Snorkel with no easy escape routes. You are exposed to a deep blue ocean in one direction and a sheer rock wall in the other.

It’s not for the faint of heart and only to be attempted by very competent swimmers. There is normally a fierce current running along the wall and it’s quite possible if you swim out WITH the current you will not be able to swim back against it! If so the best bet is not to fight it and simply follow the wall along to Airport Beach (or vice versa if you are starting on Airport beach) and then walk back through the Sheraton.

It really isn’t the safest and most accessible Site, but it REALLY makes up for it in quality. There are millions of fish, the water is teeming with sergeants and the wall is filled with cracks and crevices all home to a myriad of critters. The seafloor is littered with large boulders and rubble that is home to larger reef fish. Being exposed to Open Blue Water also increases the chances of something larger coming along. Eagle Rays, Treveley, Mantas even the slim chance of a Whale coming near. It’s all possible so keep your eyes on the Blue.

There are also even more Turtles along the Wall than the Beach-side of Black Rock. You literally lose count of the sightings as the clear water and abundant turtles mean you are almost perpetually in sight of one or another turtle.

It’s a great Swim for anyone who is seriously competent. We can’t overstate this enough, it is a very advanced site, but if you are a great swimmer and confident snorkeler you will love this location. Beginners-Moderates should stick to the Beachside wall that still offers amazing Snorkelling.

You can tackle the wall from either side and TBH we prefer hitting it from Airport Beach! The length of the swim is 500m Shore to Shore, so 1000m There and back, which would be fine but that current really can be deadly.

Snorkeling Safety Tips

What to Eat?

Kaanapali is probably the most catered beach on the Island. With a myriad of hotels, they all offer their own bars and restaurants to cater to their guests. Of course Non-Residents are free to take their pick of the available dining options too.

The Downside to this is almost all of the beachfront is owned by the various hotels so there is no seafront park, and no picnic tables or anywhere off the sand to eat so you are really forced to eat in a paid restaurant rather than bringing your own picnic.

Leilani’s on the Beach – Leilani’s has a “to die for” location with a relaxed outside terrace, and a Dazzling upstairs dining room with fantastic views out over the ocean. Dinner here is really something special as you watch the sun dip into the ocean while enjoying the island Style Cuisine. The food is pretty special without the setting, but the combination is pretty hard to beat for that special evening!

Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman’s – While we have not tried this location yet, we love Merrimans Kapalua and the Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea. So the same Kitchen menu down by the beach is sure to be amazing. They claim the best Mai Tai in Maui, we disagree, but it’s a damn fine cocktail (just not classic enough for us). Happy Hour (3:30-5 pm) offers $5 off the cocktails, 1/2 price Appetizers, and $10 Pizzas, definitely the time to go!

Hula Grill Kaanapali – Hula Grill is pretty similar to Leilani’s (Not Surprising as they are the same Chain) but offers a more contemporary menu with dishes such as Fish tacos, Wood Fired Flatbreads, and Firecracker Fish.

Starbucks – Sorry, but we had to include it! You can’t beat a morning stroll with your favorite Pick me up, or a cooling frappe to seek out an extra hour in the sun. We know Starbucks is on every corner on the Mainland but they are a fair bit more scarce on Maui and this is one of the few that is right on the beach!

  • Monkeypod, Leilani’s, and Hula Grill all Validate parking for the Whalers Village!

Local Accommodation

Kaanapali Alii

There is no shortage of hotels in Kaanapali, the entire seafront is lined with large highrise hotel buildings. Really these are some of the biggest downsides to the Beach. The Multi Storie blocks are really nothing more than eyesores and the private grounds limit access and other activities. However, if you are staying in one of these hotels all this melts away.

Sheraton Resort and Spa (7.9) – Situated on Black Rock the Sheraton is the most Prestigious hotel along Kaanapili’s coast. While for many the hotel does not quite live up to its billing, the setting is utterly fantastic. We feel the Hotel gets a bad rep due to over-expectations. It’s right in the heart of Kaanapali and people expect the world, but the hotel is actually fairly reasonably priced and offers a more mid-range experience than people think.

Noah’s Hideaway Luxury B&B (10) – A recent little discovery of ours, Noah’s Hideaway could not be more different from the big brand highrise hotels that adorned the beachfront. Hidden up in a residential part of the district this B&B offers something completely different. With only two rooms and hidden away from the world, you get far more privacy than any other Hotel on Maui. There is a huge range of Spas Facilities, Pool, Hottub, Sauna, etc. Overlooking a Golf course and only a short walk from the beach, this little hideaway allows for total relaxation and an escape to a real Hawaiian Paradise. It cost far less than you might imagine too!

Kaanapali Alii (9.2) – The Alii is the highest-rated Hotel on the Oceanfront and is well-deserving of its accolades. It’s the most expensive of the bunch too, but the extra cost gets you a wonderfully appointed luxury condo often with stunning ocean views. The Grounds are Lush and tropical and the Hotel is perfectly in the center of Kaanapali Beach.

Aston at the Whaler (9.1) – The Aston At the Whaler is not the prettiest hotel and the grounds are a little less lush than some. The Rooms are not as well-appointed and overall the Hotel has a more budget feel, it also has a more budget price-tag too, and quite simply it is a phenomenal value. The rooms are large and well-appointed with cooking facilities perfect for self-catering. The position is pretty much perfect, right on the beach with direct access to the Whalers Village. If you are looking to save a few $ but still want the perfect Beach position you really can’t go wrong with the Whaler!

Kaanapali Beach Hotel (8.1) – Similar to the Whaler next door, however more of a hotel Vibe than Self Catering Condos. The Grounds are very spacious if a little drab (the Sea view more than makes up for it). The Kaanapali is the best budget choice if you are looking for a hotel vibe.

Westin Maui Resort and Spa (7.8)

Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club (9.1)

Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa (8.3)

Hyatt Residence Club Maui (8.8)


Sunset Colors Kaanapali Beach
Sunset Colors Kaanapali Beach By DronepicR on CC2.0

Conditions at Kaanapali Beach are usually pretty sedate. Ankle-deep waves lap the shore and the waters are calm and clear. This is especially true during the summer but the winds can shift and bring pretty heavy surf to the beach. This often comes in the form of shorebreak which can be pretty heavy at times. Tourists are often caught out by the power of these breakers and many a sprain has ruined a Hawaiian holiday.

Extra care must be taken on the South end of the beach where this shore break can be over a pretty sharp reef. This area is great for bodyboarding but get it wrong, and you will be left with a painful reminder of your trip!

Like all beaches such as these when the surf is up Rip currents will form. Take extra care if you are swimming, or are generally out of your depth, especially in calm areas between the breakers as these are the telltale signs of Rips and you may well end up quite a bit further out than you intended to be! Read our safety tips here. Remember there are no Life Guards on duty here so you are on your own.

<<< end – Maui Beach Guide Airport Beach Guide >>>

Have Your Say

What is your take on Maui’s Best Beach? Overhyped dud or tropical paradise? Let us know in the comments below. Do you love Kaanapili or steer clear like the plague? Have You snorkeled Black Rock, or lept from its heights? Do you stay in Kaanapali or visit from elsewhere on the Island. Let us know your thoughts below and if you have any questions just fire away.

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