If you’ve just started planning your trip to Maui, you’ll notice that most of the hotels, resorts, and vacation condos sit on either the west or south sides of the island. But which is better — Lahaina’s north end with its Ka’anapali and Kapalua resorts or Wailea-Maken’s south side near Kihei town?
We look at the important factors you’ll want to consider before you book your stay.
In this post:
- Where is Maui’s West Side?
- What is Maui’s West Side Like?
- Where is Maui’s South Side?
- What is Maui’s South Side Like?
- Which is best? Here’s our final tally
Where is Maui’s West Side?
If you look at the shape of the island on a map, you’ll notice a larger section of land mass with a smaller part of the island attached at the upper left hand corner.
To me, the island looks like the silhouette of a dog’s face with the nose pointing to the right. And the smaller land mass takes the shape of the dog’s rather large ear.
And that’s where you’ll find Maui’s West Side — along the back of the dog’s ear. The region runs from the north end of the coastline, at Kapalua, to the southern tip of the ear, around Maalaea (where the south side of the island begins). The West Side includes the towns of Napili-Honokowai, Ka’anapali, Lahaina town, and Olowalu.
What is Maui’s West Side like?
Along the coastline you’ll find sprawling resorts and hotels such as the swanky Montage at Kapalua Bay and Ritz-Carlton Maui. West Maui caters to tourist traffic, including those that arrive by sea.
During cruise season, you may see cruise ships tendered off of Lahaina. Each ship brings potentially thousands of additional tourists into the area on a particular day.
But that also means that the West Side has no lack of restaurants and shops to explore, particularly in Lahaina town. Cool off with a cup of sweet shave ice, peruse for souvenirs, and nurse a Mai Tai while overlooking the water at dinner.
Weather on Maui’s West Side
The West Side of the island has a reputation for being rainier and cooler than its counterpart on the South Side. But looking at the annual averages, West Maui weather isn’t dramatically different from South Maui.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) via Google, Lahaina has less rainfall at 10 inches per year than Kihei’s 12.2 inches per year. And while Kihei beats out Lahaina with a higher average temperature, the South Maui town edges out Lahaina by only one degree to beat out Lahaina’s average high of 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beaches on Maui’s West Side
Maui’s West Side features the famous Ka’anapali Beach, a 3-mile stretch of sand and sun. It’s best known for its sunset cliff diving ceremony off of the Puu Kekaa cliffs, or Black Rock, along the north part of the beach.
Other popular beaches in the area include:
- Olowalu Beach
- Lahaina Beach
- Baby Beach
- Kahekili Beach Park
- Napili Bay
- Kapalua Bay Beach
Snorkeling Maui’s West Side
Probably the most popular snorkeling spot on Maui, Honolua Bay’s marine conservation area protects the underwater habitat, giving snorkelers the opportunity for rare viewing of marine wildlife. The shoreline is rocky, so this isn’t the spot for a beach break. But the cliffs that surround the bay help shelter the area from wind and currents.
Napili Bay and Ka’anapali Beach are also popular spots for snorkeling. But we recommend that you pass on snorkeling if you see large waves and surfers. Large waves means poor visibility for snorkeling.
Popular restaurants on Maui’s West Side
With so many choices on Maui’s West Side, you’ll have a tough time deciding which places to try during your stay. This is our short list of some of the most popular restaurants on this side of the island.
- Roy’s – Led by Chef Roy Yamaguchi, Roy’s serves an upscale Hawaiian fusion menu in Ka’anapli
- Star Noodle – For a more casual meal with outdoor views of the water, Star Noodle serves Asian fare with family-style dishes.
- Kimo’s Maui – Enjoy an oceanfront view at Kimo’s Maui. They’re known for their seafood, prime rib, and famous Hula pie.
- Lahaina Grill – Celebrate a special occasion with Lahaina Grill’s award-winning fine dining.
Drive time to Maui’s West Side
Driving to other parts of the island from Maui’s West Side will take a little longer than if you’re driving from South Maui.
From the airport, it takes around 45 minutes to an hour to get to the West Side.
For a road trip to Hana, expect it to take 2.5 to 3 hours without stopping.
And if you plan to drive to Haleakala, budget around 2 hours for the trip there.
Average hotel cost on Maui’s West Side
On average, it’s cheaper to stay at a West Maui hotel than it is to stay at a South Maui Wailea resort. As of February 2022, the average cost for a hotel room on Maui’s West Side was $524.24 per day. That’s nearly 38% lower than the average rate for a Wailea hotel. Staying in the Lahaina, Kā‘anapali, or Kapalua areas of West Maui tends to cost less than Maui County as a whole. The average daily rate for a West Maui hotel in February 2022 was 10% less than Maui County.
Where is Maui’s South Side
Going back to our dog head visual, Maui’s South Side sits along the of the dog’s head, from the bottom of its ear to the nape of the neck.
Maui’s South Side runs from Maalaea, to Kihei and down south to Wailea-Makena.
What is Maui’s South Side like?
Maui’s South Side is known for some of the island’s most expensive real estate and its ultra high-end Wailea resorts. Nearby Kihei, just north of Wailea, is known for its relaxed beach town vibe and long stretch of sand. Both tourists and locals intermingle in Kihei.
Weather on Maui’s South Side
South Maui has a reputation for its dry, hot weather. But it’s not much warmer, temperature-wise, than West Maui. Kihei’s average high stands at just 1 degree warmer than Lahaina, with an annual average high of 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beaches on Maui’s South Side
There’s no shortage of sandy beaches on the south end of Maui. This area is known for its long stretches of beach and public access points. One of the most popular spots includes Kamaole Beach, which runs parallel to South Kihei Road.
Then there’s Makena Beach just south of Wailea. One of the largest undeveloped beaches on Maui at nearly two-thirds of a mile long, this state park is split into two sections: Big Beach and Little Beach.
Although relatively protected from trade winds, Makena Beach isn’t the best spot for swimming and snorkeling. The waves can be a bit rough. And if you traverse the short hike to Little Beach on the north end of shore, a word of warning: You may encounter nude sunbathers.
Snorkeling Maui’s South Side
In South Maui, snorkelers flock to the water for encounters with graceful green sea turtles. The spot where the sea turtles, or Hawaiian honu, often congregate in the water is referred to as Turtle Town. Turtle Town starts at around the Nahuna Point dive site, near the shore’s rocky outcropping called 5 Graves along Makena Road. It ends in the south, near Oneuli Beach.
We recommend snorkeling in the morning at Makena Landing Park. The waves there are typically calm, and snorkelers have a good chance of encountering turtles in the water. It’s a popular spot, so get there early to avoid heavy crowds. You’ll also find mobile kayak and paddle board companies on the south side of the park if you prefer to stay above water.
Popular restaurants on Maui’s South Side
If you’re a food nut like I am, proximity to local eats can make all the difference. On Maui’s South Side, you’ll find more than just resort food. These are some of our favorite spots in Kihei and Wailea.
- Monkeypod – Casual island fare. Don’t miss their famous Mai Tai.
- Lineage – Talk story at Lineage with their creative take on Asian-American cuisine.
- Nalu’s South Shore Grill – Mingle with locals at this open air, casual Kihei restaurant that serves classic island dishes.
- Havens – Nosh on smash burgers, smoked ahi mac salad, and noodles at this casual take-out joint that boasts locally sourced ingredients.
Drive time to Maui’s South Side
Compared to West Maui, you’ll get to other areas of the island faster when driving from South Maui.
From the airport, it takes around 30 minutes to get to South Maui.
For a road trip to Hana, expect it to take 2 to 2.5 hours to get to Hana without stopping.
And if you plan to drive to Haleakala, budget just over an hour for the trip there.
Average hotel cost on Maui’s South Side
You can expect to pay more for a hotel room when you stay in South Maui’s resort district of Wailea. According to Hawaii’s Tourism Authority, the average daily rate for a hotel in Wailea for February 2022 was $840.07, a whopping 60% higher than the average daily rate for a hotel in the West Side regions of Lahaina, Ka’anapali, and Kapalua. During the same time period, the West Side hotels averaged a nightly rate of $524.24.
Which is best? Here’s our final tally
Despite the pricey hotel costs in Wailea, we prefer to stay on Maui’s South Side. It’s where we bought our condo, after all. We can’t get enough of Kihei’s slow beach vibe and some of our favorite food spots, such as Nalu’s and The Cinnamon Roll Place.
And while there aren’t as many shops or restaurants in the immediate area as there seem to be in West Maui, we like that it’s easy and fast to drive to other parts of the island, such as Haleakala and the Road to Hana.
But that’s just our two cents. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either choice. Because whether you stay in West Maui or South Maui, you’ll still be living your best life on a dream Hawaiian vacation.