South Maui Beaches: Kihei and Ma‘alaea

When it comes to beach weather, even though South Maui is dry, other elements such as the wind and clouds can greatly affect the comfort level. The closer you are to Ma‘alaea, the earlier in the day it gets windy—particularly in the summer. Since the afternoon trade winds begin their march in Ma‘alaea, they progressively move from north to south through Kihei, Wailea, and ultimately Makena. During trade wind weather patterns, “the Makena cloud” forms over Haleakala and extends out toward the island of Kaho‘olawe, although this doesn’t normally happen until the early afternoon. The morning hours are the best time to hit the beach. In the afternoon, the pocket of beaches in south Kihei and Wailea have the best chance of being sunny and calm. Winter months aren’t as windy; this is also when humpback whales can be seen leaping offshore.

Beaches in south Kihei and Wailea have the best chance of being sunny and calm in the afternoon.
Beaches in south Kihei and Wailea have the best chance of being sunny and calm in the afternoon. Photo © Arvind Balaraman/123rf.

Beaches in Ma‘alaea

Sugar Beach

If your picture-perfect vision of Hawaii is enjoying a long, lonely stroll down an isolated beach, then Sugar Beach is going to be your favorite spot on the island. Bordered on one side by Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and the waters of Ma‘alaea Bay on the other, this undeveloped strip runs for five miles all the way to the condos of North Kihei. Nesting green sea turtles often haul out on the sand here to lay their eggs, and the Turtle X-ing signs which once graced the highway were the target of memorabilia thieves for years.

There isn’t any snorkeling. Although there can sometimes be waves for boogie boarding during summer, the main attraction here is taking a long, quiet stroll. Most afternoons are marked by fierce trade winds, so the early morning hours are the best time to visit. To access Sugar Beach you can begin at the northern terminus at Haycraft Beach Park, the southern terminus in North Kihei, or at numerous entry points along North Kihei Road.

Beaches in Kihei

Mai Poina ‘Oe Ia‘u Beach Park

This beach is known as the “Kanaha of Kihei,” due to the windsurfers who gather along the shoreline. In the morning this is a nice beach for a stroll, as it’s much more tranquil than the fast pace of South Kihei. There isn’t any swimming or snorkeling, though there are picnic tables and pavilions if you’re thinking of having a picnic. This is also a nice place for stand-up paddling in the morning.

Kalepolepo Beach Park

Set on the northern edge of the headquarters for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (say that 10 times fast), Kalepolepo Beach Park is—from a historical perspective—Kihei’s most underrated beach. What makes this little-visited enclave so special are the ancient Hawaiian fishponds. Masterfully restored in recent years by local volunteers, the fishponds were once reserved for royalty and the site of a native Hawaiian settlement. Historical placards within the park detail the area’s rich cultural history. The fishponds also create a protected swimming area nice for small children. The snorkeling is murky and it isn’t a great beach for swimming, but it’s worth a stop while driving down South Kihei Road to look at the fishponds and get a feel for this unheralded part of town.

Waiohuli Beach

Even in ultra-crowded Kihei it’s nice to know there are still some places you can stop and hear yourself think. Small, hidden, and forgotten, Waiohuli Beach is one of those spots. Not only is this beach rarely frequented by visitors, but locals hardly make it here either. There isn’t any snorkeling and the water is too shallow for swimming, so what makes this beach great is the ability to sit on a sandy shoreline and hear nothing but the lapping of waves and intermittent gusts of wind. At the end of Waiohuli Road—a residential street next to the Kihei Veterinary Clinic—there is room to park next to the public beach access sign labeled number “117.” Limu (seaweed) will often wash onto the beach at high tide. If you walk to the north end of the beach at low tide you can follow the sand all the way to Waipuilani Beach Park.

”The Cove”

This popular surf spot at the far south end of Kalama Beach Park has a small horseshoe of sand where you can lay out in the sun. This is a great people-watching spot full of volleyball players, canoers, stand-up paddlers, and surfers. While it isn’t the nicest beach in Kihei, if you’re in the Kalama Village area and want to kill time at the beach while a family member shops, this small stretch of sand will do the trick.

Kamaole I, II, and III

The Kamaole Beach Parks form the core of Kihei’s beach scene. Grassy areas run parallel to the roadway, and all of the parks have showers, restrooms, picnic tables, and barbecue grills for putting together a relaxing sunset meal. Kam I has a beach volleyball court on the north side of the park.

The best way to experience these beaches is to take a stroll along the coastline and link all three parks together. The lava rock headlands can be rough on your feet and kiawe trees drop thorns; wear footwear if you plan on walking all three beaches. The tidepools between Kam II and Kam III are a particularly nice place to explore. When you reach the southern end of Kam III, there’s a walking trail that runs for 0.75 mile to the Kihei Boat Ramp.

Calm mornings are the best time for stand-up paddling and snorkeling; by noon the wind can pick up and turn the surface to whitecaps. Summers often have some shorebreak. Parking for Kam I and Kam II is at free spots curbside. Larger Kam III has its own parking lot dedicated exclusively for beachgoers. There is also overflow parking between Kam III and the boat ramp.

Sometimes you will hear locals say they enjoy spending time at Charley Young Beach; this is just another name for the northern end of Kam I. What’s nice about this beach is that it’s protected from the wind when the southern section of the beach is choppy. Parking for Charley Young is along Kaiau Place, which is a small offshoot of South Kihei Road not far from the Cove Park.

Keawakapu is one of Kihei’s most popular beaches.
Keawakapu is one of Kihei’s most popular beaches. Photo © Eddy Galeotti/123rf.

Keawakapu Beach

Outside of Kam III, Keawakapu is Kihei’s most popular beach. This long, sandy stretch is more protected from the wind than the beaches farther north, and water sports are the name of the game. A small rental shop on the north end of the beach rents out stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and snorkeling gear, and during the calm morning hours this beach is a bustle of activity. Snorkeling is best around the north and south headlands, while the sandy, gentle entry in the middle section of the beach is an enjoyable place to go for a quick swim. There is ample parking on the north end of the beach, and there is a lot off South Kihei Road on the north side of the Days Inn.

Compared to the north end of the beach, the south end is an oasis of calm. To reach the south end of Keawakapu you can either take a stroll down the length of the beach, or if you would rather drive, when South Kihei Road begins to head uphill toward the resorts of Wailea, continue driving straight until the road dead-ends in a small parking lot. There aren’t many spaces here, but there is a small shower for hosing off. As if two entrances weren’t enough, there’s also a central entrance to Keawakapu that’s known as Sidewalks with public parking on the corner of Kilohana Drive and South Kihei Road.

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