The Best Areas and Towns to Stay in Maui on Vacation

Updated Feb 2, 2023 , ,

Napili Bay Maui

Are you looking for the best areas and towns to stay in Maui for an upcoming trip? Or maybe you’re just curious about the different parts of the island?

Most tourists are interested in West Maui and South Maui, where the climate is close to perfect year-round. However, there are plenty of good reasons to stay in other parts of the island. If you’re looking for an adventure, it has a lot of diverse options to consider.

In this post, we’ll cover all the different regions of Maui, including the different areas and towns within each, and help you decide which is right for you.

The Regions of Maui

Regions and towns of Maui

Before diving into the best areas and towns to stay in Maui, you need to have an understanding of the different regions. Don’t worry; there won’t be a quiz at the end of this post.

Maui can be divided into six major regions that offer a variety of climates, terrain, amenities, and activities. You can find lush forests in one part of the island, while in the other, you can find a volcanic desert. It has a ton of diversity when it comes to the ecosystem.

The six major regions of Maui are as follows…

  • West Maui – A popular tourist destination with many resorts, beaches, shopping, and restaurants. It’s home to Lahaina, Ka'anapali, and Kapalua.
  • South Maui – Another popular tourist destination more central to the rest of the island than West Maui. This is where you’ll find Kihei and Wailea.
  • North Shore – Home to Paia, Maui’s little surf town with a hippy vibe. It has a fun downtown with great shops and restaurants, but there aren’t any resorts in the area.
  • Upcountry – A rural area with a country vibe that sits on the slopes of the Haleakala volcano. Great for adventure seekers looking to hike, camp, or stay somewhere off the beaten path.
  • East Maui – This is where you will find the famous Road to Hana. It’s completely rural, and only somewhere you want to stay if you’re looking for an adventure.
  • Central Maui – A mix of rural and residential, you’ll start here by landing at the Kahului Airport. Kahului is Maui’s largest population center, where all the big box stores can be found.

West Maui vs. South Maui

Wailea Beach

See that picture above? That’s South Maui, but I could easily show you a similar picture of West Maui. Both have resorts, laid-back condos, and areas with a local feel. So what’s the difference?

This is undoubtedly the question most tourists want to be answered about where to stay. It’s not easy, as both areas are solid choices, but I’ll do my best to provide you with my take. It’s almost one of those things you need to experience for yourself. Everyone will have a different answer.

The most significant difference (to me) and why I like West Maui the best is that most resorts and condos are right on the beach. In South Maui, most are across the street from the beach, but you can still find beachfront options there.

West Maui has more of a resort feel overall, whereas South Maui has more of a local feel. South Maui is also considered quieter than West Maui, but it depends on where you stay. Each has quiet and busy areas, but South Maui is generally less crowded.

Here are a few more West Maui vs. South Maui points to consider…

West Maui

  • Includes Lahaina, a historic town worth visiting with lots of shops and restaurants on the famous Front Street. There’s nothing like Lahaina in South Maui.
  • It also includes beachfront shopping at Whalers Village in Ka'anapali. Wailea in South Maui also has an outdoor shopping mall, but it’s not beachfront.

South Maui

  • Closer to the airport and more central to the rest of the island. This is a great home base if you want to explore the island, as West Maui will add time to your drive.
  • Slightly less rain in the winter than in West Maui. It’s a tropical environment, so warm showers are always possible, but it doesn’t usually rain a ton in the resort areas.

Both West and South Maui share a lot of similarities, so you really can’t pick wrong. Most of the time, it comes down to the area you stay in these regions, as both offer a variety of busy and quiet options to choose from. Lucky for you, we’ll be covering those next!

West Maui Towns and Areas

Kaanapali in West Maui

West Maui is my choice for the best area to stay in Maui if you’re looking for a typical vacation. It’s home to some of the island’s best oceanfront resorts and condos. It’s also home to some of the best dining and shopping on the island and doesn’t lack things to do.

When staying in West Maui, we usually stay in Napili-Honokowai or Kahana because we like the laid-back vibe. However, we never miss a chance to spend the day in Ka'anapali or Lahaina Town.

Everything is centrally located, and it doesn’t take long to get around. If you’re not doing Haleakala or the Road to Hana, you could spend your entire trip in West Maui and go home happy.

Ka'anapali

West Maui

Ka'anapali is the crown jewel of West Maui and where you can find most of the large well-known resorts on this side of the island. It’s also home to some of the best dining and shopping in the area, including Whalers Village, and only rivaled in choices by Lahaina Town nearby.

Ka'anapali is within walking distance of many popular activities you might do on vacation, such as snorkeling, luaus, and golfing. It’s one of the few areas where you can probably stay in Maui without renting a car and keep busy if you don’t plan to explore the island.

If you’re looking for a beachfront resort experience and don’t mind crowds, then Ka'anapali is an area for you to consider. It’s one of the more expensive places to stay, but it’ll almost guarantee you have a good vacation. Even though we don’t stay here, we love visiting often.

Lahaina Town

Lahaina Town

You’ll see Lahaina come up a lot when searching for a place to stay in West Maui. That’s because much of West Maui has a Lahaina address, including Ka'anapali. Even if it says Lahaina, it could be a different area than this part, so double-check.

Lahaina Town is a historic whaling town that borders the ocean on Front Street with shops, restaurants, art galleries, and more. It’s one of the only walkable downtowns like this in Maui and makes for a great evening of shopping, dinner, and drinks. This is a must-see area.

Lahaina Town is worth making time for, but is it worth staying there? That depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a beach resort or relaxed condo vibe, staying in Lahaina Town is not a good option. There are beaches nearby, but it has more of a city vibe and can be crowded.

Napili-Honokowai

Napili-Honokowai

I don’t have many great photos that display the essence of Napili-Honokowai, so I chose a photo from my phone that does the trick. If you stay here, this is what you can expect. What’s that? Only the most laid-back oceanfront condo experience in all of Maui, that’s what!

In all seriousness, Napili-Honokowai is just that, a collection of laid-back condo complexes that dot the coastline. You won’t find any large resorts or crowds here. It’s north of Ka'anapali and runs along one of my favorite drives in West Maui, Lower Honoapiilani Road. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I love passing by all the quaint condos whenever I drive that road.

Condos with pools and BBQs that sit on the ocean are typical in Napili-Honokowai and are a great way to cook dinner and enjoy the sunset while the kids swim. However, it does have its drawbacks. There aren’t as many amenities in the area, but Ka'anapali and Lahaina are a short drive away!

Kahana

Kahana, Maui

Kanana is a quiet little subdivision in Napili-Honokowai that has a unique charm. It’s home to some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path restaurants, including Dollies Pub, Miso Phat Sushi, and Maui Brewing Company. It has a local vibe and is much more laid-back than larger resorts.

If you stay in the heart of Kanana (near Royal Kahana), it’s walkable, unlike other parts of Napili-Honokowai. The restaurants mentioned above are within walking distance, as are several shops. Whalers General Store is great for supplies, and Boss Frogs for beach rentals.

The buildings here are a bit taller than in other parts of Napili-Honokowai. Technically, they’re classified as condotels, condos that operate more like a hotel, and they are directly on the water. They lack larger resorts’ amenities, but they can be a cheaper option.

Napili Bay

Napili Bay

Napili Bay is a unique location unlike any other in Maui. It has a beautiful crescent-shaped beach with quaint little condos surrounding it on all sides. I almost feel like I’m stepping back in time when I’m here. It has that classic paradise feeling and looks like it belongs on a postcard.

This is an excellent spot for families with children because you have a beach with typically calm waters so close. It’s also considered one of the best places in West Maui to snorkel. This is a popular beach with tourists, so it can sometimes get crowded.

There are a few outstanding restaurants in the area, including the Sea House, which is right on the beach. However, there aren’t a lot of other amenities within walking distance. This isn’t a cheap option, but it’ll be worth the money if you stay here.

More About Napili Bay

Kapalua

Kapalua Bay Beach

Kapalua is the pinnacle of luxury and high-end living in West Maui. It sits at the northern end of West Maui and is home to some of the finest resorts and restaurants on this side of the island. It will be one of the most expensive options, but if you’re looking for the best, it won’t disappoint.

If you love golf, then you’ll love Kapalua. They have two outstanding courses, the Plantation Course, which hosts the PGA’s Tournament of Champions, and the Bay Course, an oceanfront gem. I’ve played both, and the Bay Course is my favorite because it’s right on the ocean.

Kapalua is home to several beaches, including the famous Kapalua Bay, which was once named “The Best Beach in America.” It’s also a great place for several activities (aside from golf), including snorkeling and hiking, making for an excellent, well-rounded place to vacation.

Olowalu

Olowalu Reef

Olowalu is a historic little town in the southern part of West Maui and isn’t your typical tourist destination. There aren’t any resorts or even condos here. I’ve included it for people seeking an adventure because it is one of the best spots to camp in Maui.

Camp Olowalu is right on the ocean and makes for a unique camping experience. They offer four different ways to camp, including 35 campsites, 21 tentalows, car camping, and cabins. Their prices are much lower than resorts making it a great way to experience Maui on a budget.

Olowalu is also home to some of the best snorkeling in all of Hawaii, not just Maui. It’s also a popular place to kayak and whale watch during winter. There aren’t a ton of amenities here, as it’s a tiny town with only around 100 residents, but there’s still plenty to do.

  • Pros – One of the best places in Maui for camping and snorkeling.
  • Cons – Very few amenities compared to more populated areas.
  • Best StaysCamp Olowalu

South Maui Towns and Areas

South Maui

South Maui is my second choice for those looking for a typical Maui vacation. However, it’s a lot of people’s first choice because it depends on what you’re looking for. South Maui might be for you if you’re looking for something a little quieter with a local vibe.

That’s not to say that all of South Maui is like that. For example, Wailea in South Maui (pictured above) is a similar busy resort area to Ka'anapali in West Maui. They both have busy and quiet areas, those with a local feel and those with many tourists.

South Maui gives you the same activities and amenities as West Maui. However, it’s easier to get to other parts of the island from here as it’s more centrally located. South Maui might be a good choice for your vacation if you plan to explore the entire island.

Kihei

Kihei in South Maui

Kihei is a laid-back beach town where you’ll find a wide selection of vacation rental condos in South Maui. There aren’t any big resorts here, giving it a more relaxed vibe than its counterpart to the south, Wailea. It can also be a more budget-friendly option.

There are six miles of white sandy beaches along South Kihei Road, giving you plenty of options for spending the day at the beach. However, unlike West Maui, most condos are across the street from the beach instead of right on it. They’re still within walking distance, though.

Kihei has much more of a local feel than other vacation spots in Maui. There you’ll find a variety of small shopping centers, restaurants, and bars that cater to tourists and locals. It’s also an excellent place for nightlife. Many places close early in Maui, but Kihei has options for a night out.

Wailea

Grand Wailea

If you’re looking for a luxury resort experience in South Maui, look no further than Wailea. It boasts five luxurious hotels, including the Grand Wailea and Four Seasons, and a number of vacation rental condos. It’s the most expensive option in South Maui, but it doesn’t disappoint.

Beaches in Wailea are plentiful. Most of them are crescent-shaped gems that exude beauty. There’s also no shortage of things to do. Wailea is home to some of the nicest golf courses in Maui and some of the best shopping at The Shops at Wailea. You can also attend a luau or snorkel here.

Out of the three resort areas in Maui (the others being Ka'anapali and Kapalua in West Maui), Wailea is easily a contender for the most luxurious. It’s almost like Ka'anapali and Kapalua had a baby, and the result was Wailea. It’s a solid choice for staying at a resort.

Ma'alaea

Maalaea Harbor

Ma'alaea is a charming little harbor town on the border between West Maui and South Maui. It’s not a popular tourist destination and doesn’t have any resorts, so it’s a lot quieter than other places. However, it does have vacation rental condos and is one of the best budget options.

One of the benefits of staying in Ma'alaea is that it’s the most centrally located place to stay in Maui for exploring the island that offers vacation rentals on the water. It’s also where many boat tours you can book depart from at Ma'alaea Harbor, adding to the convenience.

Ma'alaea isn’t your typical tourist town, but it still has beaches, shopping, and plenty to do, including the Maui Ocean Center, Hawaii’s largest aquarium. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option that’s centrally located, Ma'alaea might be for you.

  • Pros – Quiet, budget-friendly option that’s centrally located.
  • Cons – Lacks the amenities of larger resort areas if that’s what you’re looking for.
  • Best StaysMa'alaea Vacation Rentals

North Shore Towns and Areas

North Shore Maui

The North Shore in Maui is characterized by charming little towns, undeveloped beaches, wind sailing, and big-wave surfing. It’s not typically somewhere tourists stay, but if you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten path, it could be for you.

The beaches here aren’t crowded compared to the resort beaches of West and South Maui. They lack the amenities, but if you’re looking for a true “locals” beach, you can find it here.

Even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth setting aside a day to explore if you have the time because it’s one of a kind. This is also where you’ll pass through when starting the Road to Hana, and it makes for a great place to spend a night if you want to get an early start.

  • Best For – Adventure Seekers, Surfers
  • Top Activities – Surfing, Baldwin Beach, Ho‘okipa Beach, Paia Town, Mama’s Fish House

Paia

Paia Town

Paia is one of the coolest little towns I’ve ever visited on any of the islands. It’s widely considered to be Maui’s laid-back hippy surf town and hosts an eclectic mix of colorful boutique shops and restaurants. The walkable downtown is a must if you’re in the area.

We enjoy walking around, looking at shops, and grabbing lunch here after spending time at Haleakala Crater in Upcountry. Several beaches are within walking distance, including Baldwin Beach Park and Paia Bay. Also worth mentioning (but a short drive) is Ho’okipa Beach Park, one of the best places to spot green sea turtles basking in the sun.

Paia is not a typical tourist destination. However, it could work if you want something different or somewhere to stay before the Road to Hana. It does offer a few choices, including the Paia Inn and the Inn at Mama’s Fish House. There are also a handful of rentals available on VRBO.

Haiku

Haiku, Maui

Haiku is another laid-back community of locals you’ll pass through when starting the Road to Haha. They get a decent amount of rain, giving way to the lush green vegetation you’ll find on this side of the island. If you want cooler temperatures and a tropical environment, Haiku might be for you.

The rugged coastline means there aren’t any beaches nearby. However, if you’re looking for big wave surfing, you can find it here. Haiku is home to the famous Jaws surf break (known as Pe’ahi), which attracts the biggest names in surfing every year.

Haiku is a small town, but it does have a handful of shops and restaurants. The Haiku Marketplace at the Haiku Cannery is the main place to go. There aren’t any hotels, resorts, or inns in the area, but there are a handful of vacation rentals you can find VRBO.

  • Pros – Laid-back local town with cooler temperatures and big wave surfing.
  • Cons – Limited options for places to stay.
  • Best StaysHaiku Vacation Rentals

Upcountry Towns and Areas

Upcountry Maui

Upcountry is Maui’s countryside, marked by cooler weather and rural areas nestled into green hills on the slopes of the Haleakala Volcano. You won’t find any beaches here, but you will find panoramic views of the ocean and the outer islands that’ll take your breath away.

This is another extremely laid-back area where life slows down, and the spirit of aloha is present. The communities are a mix of agricultural and residential, where ranching and farming are a way of life. It’s also home to the paniolo, Maui’s Hawaiian cowboys.

This is a great place to stay if you’re looking to avoid the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas and don’t mind being away from the beach. It’ll give you a different view of Maui and close proximity to activities such as hiking, biking, ziplining, and exploring Haleakala.

Upcountry Maui is also known for its delicious local cuisine and fresh produce, including fruits, vegetables, and herbs, which can be found at the many farmer’s markets and local restaurants.

Kula

Kula, Maui

Kula is a small town located in the higher elevations of Upcountry and known for its colorful flowers and botanical gardens. It exudes the ranching and farming vibe distinctive of Upcountry Maui and is home to a laid-back population of long-time residents.

This is a great place to take a farm tour where visitors can learn about sustainable farming practices and taste fresh, locally-grown produce. It’s also a great place to stay to see the sunrise at the top of Haleakala. Other parts of Maui will require you to wake up as early as 2 am to get there!

There definitely aren’t any hotels or resorts here, but there are a handful of bed and breakfast and vacation rental options to consider. This is also another place to camp in Maui at the Hosmer Grove Campground, but it only has six campsites, so booking one can be tough.

Makawao

Makawao, Maui

Makawao is another charming town located in Upcountry known for its paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture and vibrant art scene. It’s home to an eclectic mix of people and has plenty of small-town shops, restaurants, and art galleries in the walkable downtown.

One popular activity in Makawao is horseback riding, as the area is home to many ranches and stables. The annual Makawao Rodeo and Parade, held every July, is a must-see event for visitors. It’s also a great place for hiking and biking, with popular trails nearby.

Like most small towns in Maui, accommodations are limited. However, a handful of options are available in Makawao, including a bed and breakfast and vacation rentals. This is another great option if you’re looking for an early start to Haleakala or the Road to Hana.

East Maui Towns and Areas

Road to Hana Aerial View

East Maui is about as off the beaten path as it gets on the island. It’s best known for the famous Road to Hana (Hana Highway), where you’ll find lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, breathtaking hikes, roadside stands, and beautiful black-sand beaches.

It’s a truly remote part of Maui and probably the best place for an adventure, as there is no shortage of things to see and do here. The number of waterfalls and hikes alone is enough to warrant more than one day on this side of the island.

The population here is much smaller than in other parts of Maui and offers a traditional Native Hawaiian lifestyle that oozes aloha. The pace here is the slowest you can find on the island, and it has a laid-back vibe surrounded by awe-inspiring natural beauty.

Most people get an early start and experience the Road to Hana in a single day. However, if you’re looking for a serious adventure and don’t mind staying way off the beaten path, East Maui might be an area for you to consider.

  • Best For – Adventure Seekers
  • Top Activities – Road to Hana, Hiking, Waterfalls, Bamboo Forest

Hana Town

Road to Hana

If you’re looking to spend more than one day exploring the Road to Hana, then Hana Town is an excellent option in East Maui. It sits close to the end, giving you an early morning start for things like the Pipiwai Trail and the Seven Sacred Pools.

The town itself is small, with only a few restaurants and shops available, but that is part of its charm. Things to do in Hana Town include visiting the Hana Cultural Center, swimming at Hana Beach Park, and grabbing souvenirs at the Hana Ranch Store.

Accommodations here are limited, but there is actually a resort in the area. The Hana-Maui Resort is a beautiful oceanfront resort by Hyatt Residence. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth the money. Aside from that, you have some options on VRBO, which we’ve booked in the past.

Central Maui Towns and Areas

Central Maui

Most people will start their trip in Central Maui by landing at the Kahului Airport. It’s home to the majority of Maui’s permanent residents and where all the big box stores can be found. It’s a great place to stock up on groceries before heading to other parts of the island.

Central Maui is not typically considered a tourist destination. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in things to do. It’s the gateway to Iao Valley State Park, a great place to hike, isn’t short on beaches to surf, and hosts great entertainment at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

While Central Maui would probably be my last area to stay for most people, it is centrally located to the rest of the island. That could make it an option for a place to stay if you’re going to explore the entire island or have specific activities you’re interested in nearby.

  • Best For – Adventure Seekers, Surfers
  • Top Activities – Kitesurfing, Iao Valley State Park, Market Street, Maui Arts & Cultural Center

Kahului

Kahului - Central Maui

Of the two major cities in Central Maui, Kahului is the largest. Locals often say they are “going to town” when visiting Kahului. It’s the main hub where they grocery shop, visit the doctor, get their cars fixed, or pick up supplies for home repairs.

It’s as big as a city gets in Maui and not your typical tourist destination. If you stay here, there are plenty of stores and places to eat, some local favorites. There’s also a golf course, botanical gardens, and a handful of beaches where kitesurfing is popular because it can be windy.

Surprisingly, for being such a big city there aren’t a lot of places to stay in Kahului. You have a few options for hotels as well as a handful of vacation rentals on VRBO.

Wailuku

Wailuku, Maui

Wailuku is the other major city in Central Maui. It’s home to Maui’s government offices and is rich with history and cultural attractions. It has long played a role in Maui’s past, with previous rulers taking up residence here, and offers visitors a unique and authentic Hawaiian experience.

Some top things to do in Wailuku include hiking at Iao Valley and visiting Market Street. Charming mom-and-pop shops and restaurants line Market Street, making it a favorite of locals and tourists alike. There are also a couple of beaches and a golf course nearby.

Like most non-touristy places in Maui, Wailuku has limited options for places to stay. There is an inn worth checking out at the base of Iao Valley, but your best bet is likely a vacation rental.

The Best Area to Stay in Maui

Regions and towns of Maui

So what is the answer to the best area to stay in Maui? Well, that depends on who you are and what you want. Maui offers a diverse array of options for places to stay. There’s no one size fits all answer, but the majority of tourists will be interested in West Maui or South Maui.

If you’re looking for an adventure, North Shore, Upcountry, East Maui, and Central Maui offer plenty of reasons to stay off the beaten path. You’ll be close to some of the best activities and get a chance to experience some of the most authentic little towns on the island.

No matter where you chose to stay in Maui, it’s hard to be disappointed. The unique natural beauty of the island and diverse landscape make for an experience you won’t soon forget.

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