Maui may be our favorite Hawaiian island. We’ve been there four times, so far, and are looking to go back the first chance we get. Besides the obvious appeal of the beaches, there are some amazing things to do.
Bicycle down Mount Haleakala. Snorkel amid schools of tropical fish at Molokini crater. Swim the natural waterfall pools in Hana. Whale-watch off the coast in a Zodiac raft. I’ve done all those things, but the most amazing activity of all on Maui may be to simply watch the sunset.
The locals claim that the sunsets on their island are better than anywhere else and, well, based on our experience, it’s hard to disagree. Here are some suggestions for perfect Maui spots to enjoy one of nature’s grandest spectacles
1. Napili Bay Beach
Watching the sun go down on Maui is a surprisingly social occasion. Nowhere is this more in evidence than at Napili Beach, a popular little West Maui beach on Lower Honolapai’ilani Road near Kapalua.
During the golden hour before sunset, residents and vacationers staying at the resorts around the beach set their lawn chairs up on the grass in anticipation. Many sip cocktails, too. When we were there, we sat on the concrete embankment close to the Sea House restaurant, happily chatting with another couple. Others gathered on the sand or along an adjoining walkway.
It was like we were all in our seats expectantly waiting for the main feature to start at the local Cineplex. Unlike Hollywood though, the show here never disappoints. It’s a fun scene.
Pro Tip: There are two access points. Park at the public lot at Napili Kai, then walk through the resort buildings toward the beach. You can also park on Lower Road. The other paved path is at the southern end of the cove. Note that it’s sketchy in spots and turns to sand at the end.
2. Kaanapali Beach
There may be more selfies taken at world-famous Kaanapali Beach than any other site on Maui. It’s definitely camera-worthy — a stunning carpet of white sand and turquoise water lined by a row of luxury hotels on land once owned by Hawaiian sugar barons.
Getting around here is as easy as hula pie. The Kaanapali Walking Path is a flat, velvet-smooth paved walkway that curves between the hotels and the beach itself, which is only steps away.
Many couples come to Kaanapali to get married, go on honeymoons, celebrate anniversaries, and spark romance. If ever there was a beach built for walking hand in hand with the one you love as the sun melts in front of your eyes, this is it.
3. Hula Grill
Hula Grill is a Polynesian-style restaurant in the Whaler’s Village open-air shopping plaza on Kaanapali Beach. Because of its touristy location, my wife and I were initially skeptical about eating there. No reason for worry, as it turned out.
Jennifer had a Caesar salad with very fresh, very tender fire-grilled marlin; my fish choice was a spicy Ono that tasted like it had just been pulled out of the water. A guitarist played and sang in the melodic tradition of the great Hawaiian performer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Everything — food, service, ambiance — was top shelf.
Especially on point for sunset watchers is the grill’s Barefoot Patio. The floor is sand, and you’re outside in sight of the water and clouds and all those red and pink and orange and blue color changes going on in the sky.
Pro Tip: Enjoy free parking with validation for up to 3 hours at the Whalers Village garage.
4. Cliff Dive Grill And Black Rock
Kaanapali Beach stretches between the Hyatt Regency to the south and the Sheraton in the north. This northern point boasts one of the most striking geographic features in all of Maui: Black Rock, or Pu’u Keka’a in Hawaiian, a slab of volcanic lava that juts out into the water similar to a harbor jetty.
To native Hawaiians, Pu’u Keka’a is imbued with spiritual and historical meaning. Today it is the site of a touristy but entertaining nightly show. At sunset, a local man dives off the rock in tribute to the ancient island warriors who did the same to demonstrate their bravery.
People begin to gather in the late afternoon on the beach or at the Cliff Dive Grill in the Sheraton. The diver runs up the jagged lava in his bare feet and lights torches at the top with the flame he’s carrying. After saying prayers to the four directions, he blows a conch shell as prelude to his 35- to 40-foot dive. Sometimes tour boats swing by Black Rock to be on hand for the festivities.
5. Front Street
The one-time whaling village of Lahaina is the historic heart of West Maui, and indeed all of Maui. Its picturesque little harbor, the many historic sites around town, and the famous multi-trunked, ever-spreading, 150-year-old banyan tree attract throngs of visitors.
Front Street is Lahaina’s traffic-heavy beachfront boulevard, a mile-long promenade through the town’s busy commercial sector. Even so, the street features long concrete embankments where you can sit and revel in wide views of the water. In other view spots, you can lean against a sidewalk railing. And next to Cheeseburgers in Paradise, there are some steps that take you down to a cozy little pocket beach.
Oddly, perhaps, we experienced one of our most tranquil sunsets ever on Front. We were in a hurry trying to make our dinner reservations on time when we noticed the light around us was changing. The sun was setting, we realized. Pausing at a patch of sand between two buildings, we waited and watched. A soothing sense of calm came over us, and then we went off to eat.
Pro Tip: Parking in Lahaina is a major challenge. Trying to find a free space on the streets is like searching for Waldo. Especially in the evening, when there are lots of people around, it’s better to pay the price and park at one of the more than a dozen fee lots in the area.
6. Sunset Cruise
Most everyone on Maui watches a sunset the same way: From land, gazing across the water. There is a different way to do it, however. From the water. Comfortably aboard a 65-foot catamaran, its sails tight and trim over a gently rolling sea.
A 2-hour Trilogy sunset cruise provides a unique perspective not only of Maui’s shoreline, but also of Kaho’olawe, Molokai, and Lanai — islands you see while on the water. On clear days, Mauna Kea on the big island comes into sight. And in wintertime, spouting humpbacks come by to say hello.
Cruises leave out of Lahaina or Ma’alaea harbors. Loading is from a stable dock, though you do need to step up a short ramp or stair ladder. This cruise is not wheelchair accessible. Once on board, you can sit back and enjoy, in the words of the song, “a tropical drink melting in your hand.” Nothing like being under sail to truly put your land worries behind you and get away from it all.
Pro Tip: Sunglasses and sun protection are a must. Maybe a light wrap for when the sun goes down and the air turns cool. No high heels; wear only shoes with soles that grip. Better still, shed the shoes and go barefoot.
7. Keawakapu Beach
Keawakapu is a locals’ beach, where people who live in South Maui year-round go to laze under the hot sun and then say goodbye to it when evening comes.
It’s less than a mile in length, and lovely. It’s in Kihei at the end of South Kihei Road near Wailea. But you want to go to the northern end of the beach, where the resorts are. That’s where locals go, thus avoiding the crowds that gravitate to the better-known beaches.
Some of the best beaches on the island are in South Maui. Some of the best sunsets, too. One evening off South Kihei Road at a barbecue with friends, the breeze was coming in pretty strong. But as soon as the sun dropped below the horizon line, dissolving in liquid like a rainbow-colored Alka-Seltzer tablet, the wind suddenly stopped. It was magic. Instant calm.
8. Wailea Coastal Walk
Wailea is the poshest, most exclusive hotel-and-resort development on Maui. Beachfront estates run eight figures and up. When Jeff Bezos drops into town on his private jet, this is where he hangs.
The Wailea Coastal Walk is a 1.5-mile trail (3 miles round trip) that skates past these playgrounds of the rich and famous. But what’s really cool about it is how it opens up to a series of beautiful beaches at different points along the shoreline. They’re all public access, too, with parking and restrooms.
Polo Beach is a favorite. Sandy bottom Wailea Beach at the Grand Wailea Resort once won an award for best beach in America. But really, all the beaches along this stretch of trail produce sensational sunset viewing, with good looks at Kaho’olawe and the little island crescent of Molokini. Afterward, if you’re in the mood, all the hotel restaurants welcome the public, too.
Note: By design this article focused on the shoreline areas of Maui where most visitors stay and where they can experience classic sunset viewing: the sun sinking out of sight. No slight is intended at such amazing island wonders as Mount Haleakala or Hana, which also have eye-catching sunsets but are tough to get to.
Pro Tip: If you ever get stressed out by the traffic or lack of parking or the high prices at an overcrowded restaurant, take a deep breath and remember, “I’m on Maui. How bad could it be?” Always remember, Maui is the best: Maui no ka ‘oi.
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