Maui’s Makena neighborhood holds some of the island’s most breathtaking beaches and hideaway coves. Here are our top spots to visit when you want to get away from manicured resort grounds and explore Maui’s unspoiled landscape.
Imagine yourself luxuriating on some of the most impressive beaches on Maui. Besides the region’s most famous stretch of sand — Makena Beach, a.k.a. Big Beach — most tourists overlook the secluded sites on the island’s south side in favor of more obvious stops at other ends of the island, such as the Road to Hana.
Just minutes south of Wailea’s tony resort district lies Makena — best known for its long beaches, hideaway coves, and exclusive real estate. The neighborhood exudes a comparatively rural charm despite the mega homes that border the shore.
While you drive through suburban-esque neighborhoods toward more rural sections, you encounter the sometimes dusty and pothole-ridden Makena Road, where the landscape includes wild goats ambling over lava rock fields. No Trespassing signs hang from primitive field fencing, the posts decorated with coconut rounds.
While you’ll find both tourists and locals in Makena, the astounding views and rural setting in this south Maui district also attracts the upper crust. Makena boasts some of the most expensive real estate on the island — among them, Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, who purchased a 14-acre estate for an undisclosed amount. The estate’s assessed value? An eye-watering $46 million.
How to get to Makena
If Makena sounds like an idyllic sojourn, you’ll find the area easy to find. Drive southbound on Wailea Alanui Drive, which turns into Makena Alanui. Continue south and turn right on Makena Road. All of the stops we mention in this article lie along these roads.
Food options in Makena
If you’re hankering for fine dining in Makena, you’re out of luck. Except for food trucks you might find parked at Makena Beach, there aren’t any restaurants in Makena. Luckily, neighboring Wailea — and its glut of restaurants — is a short drive away.
As you start your day, stop for a hearty loco moco breakfast from Island Gourmet. The Wailea sundry shop houses a deli at the back, replete with breakfast staples such as corned beef hash and egg sandwiches. And while you’re there, load up your cooler with snacks and drinks for a midday refueling. Spam musubi, dried mango, sandwiches, and kettle chips keep hunger pangs at bay while you sun yourself on the sand.
Feeling fancy? Instead of breakfast at Island Gourmet, load up on made-to-order omelets and macadamia nut pancakes while drinking freshly squeezed POG juice at the Four Seasons DUO breakfast buffet.
After you’ve seen your fill of Makena’s delights, drop into Monkeypod for a late afternoon lunch. Sip a Mai Tai on the patio while you munch on my personal favorite, bulgogi tacos.
Without the distraction of high-end shops, strip malls, and gourmet restaurants, Makena is all about the coastal views — the crashing surf, the azure glimmer on the water, and the sudden turtle sighting. Experience the best of Makena from these spots.
1. Five Graves
Technically not a beach — there’s no sand, just rock — we couldn’t resist including Five Graves on our Makena list. Named for the site of a longtime Maui family’s burial plot, this hidden cove has been hailed as a favorite among advanced-level snorkelers.
Tour boats anchor nearby on most mornings, shuttling tourists to this famous snorkeling spot. Visitors often spy the illustrious honu, or green sea turtles, the occasional head bobbing along the water before dipping out of sight.
Because of the rocky terrain, Five Graves isn’t the ideal place to spread a blanket and enjoy a long beach break. But it’s an idyllic spot to explore, enjoy the vista, and for strong swimmers to snorkel if the current isn’t too rough. I find the water too challenging for my taste, so I happily spend my time at Five Graves watching sea life from shore.
Tucked behind one of the jealousy-inspiring residential neighborhoods in Makena, access to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it path from the street leads to a lava rock outcropping on one end of the path. Forking to the right, the trail leads to a rocky cove for snorkeling.
Parking: Free street parking.
Facilities: No public restrooms, but nearby Makena Landing Park has both restrooms and an outdoor shower.
2. Makena Landing Park
The calm waters of Makena Landing Park’s cove make it a favorite (read: busy!) spot for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and snorkeling. Vendors park around the bend from the parking lot with trucks and trailers loaded with water tour and rental equipment.
There’s a narrow strip of sand for relaxing on the beach, but I’d personally head farther south to one of the larger or more secluded beaches if you’re more about lazing on land than getting in the water.
Parking: Free parking lot and street parking nearby. Loading area near water access for kayaks and other equipment.
Facilities: Public restroom and outdoor shower.
Makena State Park: Big Beach, Little Beach
3. Big Beach
While it’s officially named Makena State Park, it’s often referred to as Big Beach. As one of the longest beaches on the island, Big Beach is South Maui’s coastal jewel. This quintessential stretch of sand meets the hypnotic ocean waters — like a mood ring, the hues are ever changing, from foreboding gray to blinding turquoise.
But with Makena Beach’s beauty also comes danger. I’ve seen mixed reports about swimming in the water here, and some locals caution against it. While a lifeguard tower exists, the structure usually sits empty. (As always, use extreme caution when entering the ocean anywhere on Maui.)
4. Little Beach
On the north side of the beach lies an overlook. Beyond that lies Little Beach. To get there, walk north along the sand. At the end of the beach, look for the open metal gate and scramble up the rocky path. Follow the trail up and to the left. Stop at the bluff overlooking Big Beach for a quick selfie. Then continue on the path north. The path slopes down, leading you to Little Beach. Nudity is prohibited here, but that doesn’t seem to deter the naked sun worshippers we encounter every time we visit.
Admission: $5 per person for non-Hawaii residents. Free for residents.
Parking: State parking lot fee $10 per vehicle for non-Hawaii residents. Free for residents Alternatively, there’s free street parking along Makena Road.
Facilities: Food truck spots in the parking lot. Restrooms on site.
5. Secret Cove Beach / Pa’ako Cove
One of the most photographed beaches on Maui — seriously, I don’t know how many screensavers of Secret Cove I’ve come across — this secluded Makena beach still feels like a wondrous discovery when you’re there in person.
Accessing the beach through the path between high stone walls, you almost feel like you’re trespassing on a wealthy magnate’s private beach hideout.
While there’s a cozy stretch of sand to settle on, Secret Cove is more of a place to pop into for a short time rather than an afternoon beach break.
This stunner of a beach beach is cozy and private — if you don’t count the two-story houses that loom nearby. And it can feel crowded if there are even a handful of people there at the same time. During our visit, the surf was much too rough to swim. And there aren’t any facilities on site.
How to find Secret Cove Beach:
Parking: Free street parking north of the walk-in entrance. Don’t block Makena Road.