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Where to stay in Maui, south or west?

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Thinking about booking a trip to Maui for a lavish romantic getaway? Easy decision! Now comes the hard part: choosing. Kihei or Lahaina? Wailea or Kaanapali? Laid back or action-packed? On which side of the island you want to stay, which hotel and amenities do you want at your convenience?

Whether you’re planning a honeymoon, celebrating an anniversary, or just looking to get away with your partner, I’ll smooth your decision-making process a little and help you avoid a potential lover’s quarrel in the process. So you two can focus on the important part – kicking back on an idyllic romantic retreat.

Mind you, there is no wrong choice here. (After all, it’s Maui.) Choosing where to stay is a matter of preference.

broad angle view of the grounds at Hawaii's Grand Wailea Resort
The Grand Wailea Resort

South Maui: Kihei, Wailea, Makena

Full disclosure: I’m from Kihei. But I’ll try to my best to be objective. Your vacation plans trump my geographic affiliations any day.

South Maui is as laid back as you can get. A straight shot from the airport, you get an epic preview of the island’s natural glory – the grandiosity of the Haleakala volcano on your left, and the West Maui Mountains on your right as you cut through central Maui.

You’ll first encounter Kihei, an always sunny and dry area that all but encourages you to make for the beach. South Kihei Road, a 6-mile ocean-side stretch, is where you’re likely to pass during your stay on this side of the island. Be sure to grab a mouth-watering shave ice cone at Ululani’s on your way in and out.

The outlet-style Azeka shopping centers contain an array of local shops and businesses. If you’re the farmer’s market and swap meet-types, there’s the Kihei Craft Fair as well as the Rainbow Mall both filled with unique vendors and souvenirs.

For a truly ono breakfast, stop by the Kihei Café in front of Kalama Park. And, if you overdo brunch, not to worry, there’s a surf and dive shop just a stroll away to burn off those calories in the ocean.

Past the Kalama and Kamaole Beach Parks, you’ll come across South Maui’s luxurious swath of hotels known as Wailea. The lush and expansive green pastures along Wailea Alanui Drive makes it a gorgeous scenic route. So gorgeous, in fact, that some guests skip the treadmills at the hotel fitness centers and jog along the parkway. Who can blame them?

You can’t go wrong with a stay at the Grand Wailea. Situated on Wailea Beach, the Grand Wailea is truly grand; its vast pool network will easily soak up your day, along with a grotto-bar that’ll keep you wet past the wrinkles. The infinity pools at the Andaz and Four Seasons, too, are sure to make you the envy of all your Instagram followers.

Fountain walkway leading to the beach at the Grand Wailea, Maui
Grand Wailea - Fountain Walkway

Paradise in Seclusion

Don’t forget about Wailea Beach, a gorgeous white sand locale that completes the Grand Wailea’s pink sunshine aesthetic. For a truly relaxing experience, book a couple’s massage at the world-renowned Spa Grande. An escape room of its own – as in a place to escape – the Spa Grande boasts exclusive healing waters of the islands, an incredible haven of hydro therapies, and a magnificent lookout deck treating you to an outlook of the resort and Pacific that will have you putting your phones down and basking in together intimately.

The neighboring Fairmont Kea Lani features a similar couple’s massage offering – a honey or citrus-infused honeymoon package in your own beachfront cabana so you’re never too far away from the action. Kea Lani’s elegant archways, pristine marble floors, and incredible white domes will make you feel like you’re inside your own fairy tale. You can enjoy any one of Shops at Wailea’s fine dining cuisines, or you can dine in the privacy of your own suite, out on your ocean-view terrace where personal servers will set up a 4-course meal brought up to you along with paired wine selections and candle-lights to cap the experience.

Past Wailea lies the untouched beauty of Makena. Wide stretches of undeveloped land are part of Makena’s natural allure. Makena holds many a “secret” here; a stroll along Malauka’s soft sand beach is as exclusive as it is romantic (and remains my favorite beach on the island).

The trade-off of South Maui is its spaciousness. The further you go, the more secluded and tucked away it is, which can also be a good thing. Wailea is primarily a hotel district – not a one-stop shop like Kaanapali – so trips to grocery stores and department centers will require exiting the area from time to time. The tourist-y spots, however, are predominantly in West Maui, so you’ll enjoy a private slice of luxury being on the south side of the island.

Sunset over gardens at the Fairmont Kea Lani
Fairmont Kea Lani

West Maui: Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua

West Maui is the vacation center of Maui. If you’re not staying on this side, I guarantee you’ll journey to Lahaina many times during your visit.

It is a journey, to be sure. 20 miles and a 40-minute drive stand between you and your suite, and though that may not seem terribly long, the traffic can stretch it a lot longer. The Honoapiilani is the only way in and out of West Maui, which is both a blessing and curse. It’s a sweeping coastal drive that’ll give you plenty of island wanderlust as you swing along the pali, or cliffs. But it’s one-lane accessibility can be a drag. That 40-minute commute can easily balloon to 2-3 hours during a jam, so plan your trips across the island accordingly.

That shouldn’t stop you from experiencing Lahaina, whether by stay or visit. A stroll along the historic Front Street is an absolute must. Lahaina was once the whaling capital of the world and its port days aren’t too far behind. Front Street’s boardwalk and old-time sea-town motif evokes plenty of on-deck splendor. You yourself might feel like a sailor on leave.

Bookending Front Street are 2 of the best luaus on the island: the Feast at Lele, a farm-to-table style culinary experience, and the Old Lahaina Luau, a traditional and authentic taste of old Polynesia. It’s not truly a Hawaiian vacation without experiencing a luau.

Past Lahaina sits the famed Kaanapali Beach – Maui’s crowning jewel. A vast 3-mile stretch of oceanfront luxury and activity, a one-stop shop for vacationers. The Hyatt, Westin, Sheraton, Honua Kai, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, and the Royal Lahaina all await.

Beautiful resort and gardens of the Hyatt Regency, Maui
Hyatt Regency

Surrounded by Luxury

Lovers and newlyweds will find themselves drawn to the Hyatt. Consistently rated as one of the top honeymoon destinations in Hawaii, the Hyatt features Maui’s longest-running luau, the “Drums of the Pacific.” Nothing screams old Hawaii like tiki torches and the sound of a conch shell echoing across the beach. The Hyatt also hosts a one-of-a-kind Romance Tour of the Stars, where, on the upper decks of the resort, you’ll be guided by astronomers as you gaze at the constellations of the night sky through a 14-inch telescope, complete with a spread of wine, champagne, chocolates, and strawberries. If you’re not on honeymoon at the Hyatt, you might feel like you are.

The Westin’s theme-park style hotel will make you feel like you’re in Disneyland. The Westin features 5 separate pools spreading across its acreage, all joined by a network of waterfalls, grottos, and waterslides. You’ll forget you’re on a beach! Boasting a Heavenly Spa, and each room sporting the resort’s signature Heavenly-designed beds, a stay at the Westin is pure island bliss.

Whaler’s Village serves as Kaanapali’s nucleus, the central hub where you’re likely to orbit during your stay in West Maui with your choice of upscale shopping and delectable island cuisine. Try Monkeypod, or Leilani’s on the Beach, or both! (Patio-seating is a must.)

If the hotels and shopping centers aren’t enough to fill your days, then Kaanapali Beach has plenty and more to keep you busy and entertained. Jet skis, parasailing, diving, banana boating, and sunset cruises are all at your disposal. The vastness of Kaanapali’s lush white sand is plenty excuse to lay back for a day at the beach.

Surf and sunset at the Westin Hotel, Kaanapali
Westin at Kaanapali

There’s so much to do in Kaanapali and everybody knows it, which means crowds and lots of them. It’s a tradeoff to match because everything’s in walking distance at Kaanapali, which means less reasons to get on the traffic-jammed roads. You’ll get the most out of your stay just by staying in Kaanapali.

Kapalua is West Maui’s answer to Makena. The giant hotels strip away for low-lying but high-end ocean villas. It’s much quieter here, too, meaning less crowds and much more exclusive luxuries and amenities. You’ll find Kapalua Bay’s secluded-ness wholly inviting, (also ranked as one the best beaches in the world) and you’re spoiled with a spread of truly fine dining. Sea House, Pineapple Grill, Merriman’s, your stomach, or opu, will be plenty satisfied.

On Maui, your honeymoon doesn’t have to end. Wherever you choose to stay, I guarantee you won’t want to leave. But I assure you, coming back will feel so much sweeter.


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