Does it Get Any Better Than Kaanapali? Probably Not.

By Kyle Ellison

Kaanapali Beach with the island of Lanai in the distance. Photo: Brian Lauer.

Some beaches on Maui are better for snorkeling whereas others are better for surfing, and some are just good for playing beach volleyball and watching the sun go down.

Kā‘anapali Beach is good for all of them — not to mention the scuba diving, boogie boarding, shopping, cliff jumping and rows of oceanfront beach bars.

Maui’s First Resort Area

This is arguably Maui’s most popular beach, which makes sense considering it’s located in Hawai‘i’s first master-planned resort area. When the Royal Lahaina opened on the beach in 1962, it kicked off a string of a high-rise resorts that today forms the glitzy, glamorous hub of recreation in West Maui. By 2003, Kā‘anapali Beach became so popular it was named the “#1 Beach in America,” and it continues to thrive as one of the busiest and most happening places on Maui.

There’s more to Kā‘anapali than the beach, however. It also houses two championship golf courses with views looking out at the ocean, as well as Whalers Village shopping center where some of the biggest names in fashion have set up their sparkling shops. There are dozens of restaurants within the resorts where celebrity chefs whip up fancy cuisine made from locally sourced ingredients and a clutch of poolside tiki bars where visitors from every corner of the globe unwind after a day in the sun.

A Bit of History

Nightly torch lighting at Black Rock, Kaanapali Beach, Maui. Photo: Josh.

The resort scene is relatively new, however, in the history of Kā‘anapali, as this stretch of coast was largely deserted before the 1960s. A horse race track once occupied sand that’s now covered in rows of cabanas, where Hawaiian royalty and island businessmen would wager bets on their horses. Sugar once graced the Kā‘anapali hillside that’s now covered in houses and coffee. And before the arrival of Europeans, Pu‘u Keka‘a — which is often called “Black Rock” — was where Kahekili, the King of Maui, would practice the sport of lele kawa, or leaping into the sea. This tradition is still performed every night in front of the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa, where a man will clamber across the rock and light a string of torches before bravely throwing himself off the cliff in an arching swan dive at sunset.

Kaanapali and Kahekili Beaches

Sunset over the island of Lanai from Kaanapali Beach. Photo taken in early December. Photo: Rosa Say.

Pu‘u Keka‘a today forms a barrier between Kā‘anapali’s two beaches. The southern beach, called Kā‘anapali Beach, runs for more than a mile and includes the stretch from the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa to the Sheraton. On the northern side of Pu‘u Keka‘a is Kahekili Beach, also known as “Airport Beach” since a small airstrip served Kā‘anapali until 1986. Today, the park at Kahekili Beach is one of Maui’s best spots for snorkeling and also has much more public parking than you’ll find at Kā‘anapali Beach. It’s a popular spot for island locals who BBQ and throw potlucks on weekends and a place where people gather to watch the fiery sunset each night.

Surfing at Kaanapali

Sunset surf at Kaanapali Beach, Maui. Photo: Mitchell Shapiro Photography.

Surfing takes place at Kā‘anapali Point in front of the Kā‘anapali Ali‘i, where on most days the waves are gentle, small and perfect for learning to surf. There are a couple of surf schools in Kā‘anapali, which is convenient if you’re staying at a resort here and don’t want to drive to Lahaina. During the largest swells of summer and northeast swells in winter, the break at Kā‘anapali Point draws locals surfers and boogie boarders in droves, as they slash across waves that can easily reach between 6 and 8 feet in height.

Whale Watching at Kaanapali

Whale watching off Kaanapali, Maui. Photo: Alan Moore.

On days when the surf is calm, however, fleets of luxury catamarans board directly from Kā‘anapali Beach and head to spots like Honolua Bay for a morning of snorkeling and sailing. From December through April you can also go whale watching directly from Kā‘anapali Beach. Sometimes the whales are so close to shore, you can either see them breaching and splashing from the comfortable shade of your cabana or hear their haunting underwater song when scuba diving along the reef.

Cheers!

Photo: Tony Faiola.

However you choose to spend your day when visiting Kā‘anapali, it will likely end up being one your most memorable on Maui.

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