Best Beaches of Wailea and Makena

Whether you’re looking for a quiet, secluded beach far from the Maui crowds, a great spot to get into the water for your sport of choice, or simply some sun and sand, the beaches of Wailea and Makena deliver. Here you’ll find quick, concise overviews of each beach, including the best activities and available amenities.

Wailea beach on Maui, Hawaii.
Home to Maui’s “see and be seen” crowd, Wailea Beach epitomizes Wailea. Photo © eugene_o, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Wailea

Ulua Beach and Mokapu Beach

Ulua and Mokapu are the northernmost of Wailea’s beaches, separated by a small, grassy headland. Mokapu is on the north side of the hill, Ulua is on the south, and the point that separates the two is one of the best spots for snorkeling in Wailea. Ulua is slightly larger than Mokapu and more protected from the surf. Mokapu Beach is also the northern terminus of the Wailea Coastal Walk, although the trail technically crosses the sand dune on Mokapu and continues down the beach to the southern end of Keawakapu. Restrooms and showers are available. A large public parking lot is at the bottom of Ulua Beach Road, just north of the Shops at Wailea.

Wailea Beach

Home to Maui’s “see and be seen” crowd, Wailea Beach epitomizes Wailea. Fronted by the Grand Wailea and the Four Seasons Maui, this is a beach where corporate CEOs and professional athletes mingle with regular travelers. Beyond luxury, however, this beach is also characterized by fun. Wailea Beach buzzes with activity, and there’s a trampoline for the kids, snorkeling around Wailea Point, stand-up paddleboard rentals, outrigger canoe tours, and dozens of visitors playing in the surf who are happy to just be spending a day on Maui. Despite the private nature of the resorts, public access to the beach is quite easy, as there is a large public parking lot just past the entrance for the Four Seasons. In the parking lot there are public restrooms and showers.

Polo Beach

Polo Beach is the southernmost of Wailea’s resort beaches, and is the southern terminus of the Wailea Coastal Walk. The cloud-white Fairmont Kea Lani dominates the shoreline, its Arabian spires providing a unique backdrop to the shimmering blue waters. Of all of Wailea’s beaches, Polo Beach is the most popular with locals due to the large public parking area being a convenient place for launching stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. There are public restrooms, showers, and one small barbecue grill. Polo Beach can also be good for boogie boarding in summer, and there is a small activity booth on the north side of the beach if you want to rent a paddleboard or kayak. To reach Polo Beach, travel south along Wailea Alanui Road before making a right on Kaukahi Street and following it to the end.

Makena and Beyond

Palauea Beach (White Rock)

If there were an official border between Wailea and Makena, then Palauea Beach would probably straddle it. Known to locals as White Rock, for decades this was a lesser-visited stretch of shoreline in an otherwise heavily developed area. Compared to a spot like Wailea Beach, however, Palauea is still mellow and empty. Similar in appearance to Keawakapu Beach in Kihei, this long stretch of sand is lined with private luxury homes. Parking for Palauea is along the side of Makena Road. Public access paths scattered along the roadway lead through the kiawe trees and down to the beach. There’s good snorkeling along both the north and south ends of the beach. If the nearby beaches of Wailea are too crowded and you want to find your own corner to relax in, Palauea is off the radar of most South Maui visitors. Since there aren’t any facilities or showers, expect to track a lot of sand into your car on the drive home.

Po‘olenalena Beach

Once frequented only by locals, Po‘olenalena Beach can now get so busy it’s tough to find a space in the potholed parking lot. Despite the lack of parking, however, the beach itself is big enough that it never feels too crowded. Volleyball enthusiasts will enjoy the pickup games on Sunday afternoons. Po‘olenalena is also a local favorite for watching the sunset. The south end of the beach has more rocks than the north. There are public restrooms on the north side by the gravel parking lot.

To find Po‘olenalena, travel on Wailea Alanui Road until you see Wailea Golf Club Drive on your left. Continue straight for one more minute and you will see the parking area for the beach on your right. To access the small public parking lot on the south side of the beach, look for the lot just before the Makena Surf on the right side of the road. Barely visible and only 10 spots large, it’s next to the yellow fire hydrant numbered 614.

Chang’s Beach

If you’re looking for a tiny pocket of sand with exceptional snorkeling and not many people, then Chang’s Beach will be your favorite spot in Makena. Not many make it to this beach because it’s hidden from the road. Chang’s Beach is about a mile and half past the Fairmont Kea Lani on Makena Alanui Road. Just look for the small parking lot immediately past the Makena Surf. If you find a spot in the parking lot before the Makena Surf building (the one by the fire hydrant 614), walk south for 100 yards past the gated entrance, and another small parking lot will be on your right. From here there is a small trail that leads down to the shore and the fingernail of sand.

Maluaka Beach

Directly in front of the Makena Beach and Golf Resort, Maluaka Beach is everything you’ve ever wanted in a beach. Locals refer to it as Prince Beach, since the hotel used to be called the Maui Prince. There’s good snorkeling around the north end of the beach, fun waves for boogie boarding during the summer, ample parking, restrooms and showers, a grassy area for relaxing, and a beach activity stand right on the shoreline for renting a stand-up paddleboard or snorkeling equipment.

To reach Maluaka Beach there are two different entrances. On the north side, coming in on Makena Alanui, you make a right on Honoiki Street, then a left onto Makena Road, and a public parking lot is across from Keawala‘i Church. For the south entrance, continue on Makena Alanui until you pass the entrance for the Makena Beach and Golf Resort, continue past the turnoff for the golf and tennis club. As the road bends around to the right, you’ll see another sign for Makena Road on your right. Make a right, and follow it all the way to the parking area.

Makena State Park

Makena Beach, Maui, Hawaii.
There are actually three beaches within Makena State Park, known to most locals simply as “Big Beach.” Photo © Eddy Galeotti/123rf.

Makena isn’t short on shore. Despite the number of sandy getaways, however, one beach in particular will forever define the rugged beauty carefree spirit of Makena: Big Beach, also known by its Hawaiian name, Oneloa. Big Beach is one of the island’s last beaches free of development. In addition to the undeveloped beauty, one of the biggest reasons locals visit Big Beach is for a shorebreak unlike anywhere else on the island. This is the most popular beach on the island for local bodyboarders. This is not the place for casual boogie boarding unless you are a professional. During times of big surf the rip currents can be strong, so unless it’s completely flat, think twice before entering the water.

To reach Big Beach and Makena State Park, travel on Makena Alanui road for a mile past the entrance to the Makena Beach and Golf Resort. There are three different access points to the beach, conveniently known as First Entrance, Second Entrance, and Third Entrance. The first two have large parking areas, but Third Entrance (0.5 mile south of First Entrance) is just a dirt area on the side of the road. If you plan on going to Little Beach, the closest parking spot will be at First Entrance. Don’t leave any valuables in your vehicle, as car break-ins have been known to be a problem. There are no showers at Big Beach. The nearest place to wash off the sand is at Maluaka Beach, a half a mile to the north.

Oneuli Beach

Sparsely visited Oneuli Beach is also part of Makena State Park, although it’s nowhere near as scenic as neighboring Big or Little Beach. Although it is often referred to as the “black sand beach,” the sand is more of a dark brown and nowhere near the deep black of the sand at Wai‘anapanapa Beach on the outskirts of Hana. This beach sits at the base of Pu‘u Olai, the volcanic red hill towering over Makena, and there is good snorkeling off the left side of the beach on the calmest of days. This spot is popular with locals and a good place to get away from it all. To reach Oneuli Beach make a right turn off Makena Alanui Road 0.2 mile past the turnoff for Maluaka Beach and 0.2 mile before the first entrance to Big Beach. The entrance road is dirt and poorly paved.

Pa‘ako Beach (Secret Cove)

If you want to go back home and tell your friends you found the “secret beach” on Maui, then take the time to sniff out this gem. The problem, however, is that even though this is called Secret Cove, the tiny inlet of sand is anything but a secret. Weddings take place here on a daily basis, and the chances of having it all to yourself are slim. To access this beach, you need to walk through a hole in a lava rock wall just south of the Third Entrance for Big Beach. You need to pay attention to find the tiny opening. As you climb up and over a little hill where Big Beach ends, you will notice a lava rock wall running along the right side of the road. You will also notice raised speed tables on the road itself. Next to the second speed table you will see a blue Beach Access sign and a shoulder-width opening in the lava rock wall. If you’re not sure if you’re at the right spot, a telephone pole on the other side of the street has the code “E2 3” written on it. Parking is only along the ocean side of the road, but on many occasions (due to the popularity of the “secret” beach), it’s easier to just park at the Third Entrance for Big Beach and walk the rest of the way.


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