Tips to Help You Plan Your Maui Vacation

Kaanapali Beach: What to do in Maui
Photo: Ka'anapali Beach | Ryan Siphers

You could probably get away with spending your entire time on the beach, and still feel like you got your money’s worth. There are loads of adventurous thing to do on Maui, don’t get me wrong, but the soft sand, perfect 70-80s weather, boogie board-sized waves, and warm water with tropical fish, are enough to occupy most of your family vacation. 

Maui boogie boarding at Napili Bay
Photo: Boogie boarding on Napili Bay | Ryan Siphers

That said, if you never left the beach, you’d miss out on rainforests, moon-like volcanos, up-close encounters with humpback whales, luau parties, street festivals, the taste of pineapple wine, golfing over the ocean, lomilomi massages, sunset cruises, delicious fish, and touring the art capital of the Pacific, to name a few must-dos.

Our Maui Family Vacation Guide consists of insights and writings from dozen of locals on the island — all with the goal of helping you plan your next family vacation. From chefs and food critics to journalists, boat captains, a marine biologist, and local parents who have sought out the best things to do on Maui with their families.

Where to Stay on Maui

Honua Kai Resort: Where to Stay in Maui
Photo: Honua Kai Resort & Spa

Finding where you want to stay is half of planning your vacation. Some people want to be in the action, others in a peaceful cove, some within walking distance to great restaurants, others next to coral reefs and snorkeling.

As you will see in this vacation guide, most Maui resorts are located on two parts of the Island, West Maui and South Maui.

West Maui

Home to the renowned Ka’anapali Beach, a mile-long stretch of perfect sand and calm waves, West Maui is slightly wetter, lusher, and has lots to do and eat in the historic town of Lahaina.

Lahaina: Historic town with art galleries, shopping, and diningKnown as the “Art Capital of the Pacific,” the former whaling village, is home to dozens of art galleries, restaurants, and the harbor where you can catch a snorkeling or whale watching tour.

Aina Nalu Resort: Downtown Lahaina
Photo: Downtown Lahaina next to Aina Nalu Resort

Top Lahaina Resorts:

Ka’anapali Beach: Gorgeous beach in the heart of the actionThe beach really does live up to the hype. Two sections of perfect sand stretch for miles, uninterrupted in both directions, split by Black Rock in the middle, a great place for snorkeling. There’s lots of shopping and beachside dining at Whalers Village and you’re close to the historic town of Lahaina to the south.

Kaanapali Beach at Marriott's Maui Ocean Club
Photo: Marriott's Maui Ocean Club

Top Ka'anapali Beach Resorts:

Kahana: Peaceful family beachesJust north of Ka’anapali Beach, Kahana is a lot quieter and has a family neighborhood feel. The beach may not be as big as Ka'anapali, but you won’t have to worry about the crowds.

Hololani: Maui Resort in Kahana
Photo: Hololani

Top Kahana Resorts:

Napili Bay: Hidden gem on an intimate beach coveThis small beach bay has an intimate, community feel. There’s great boogie boarding, snorkeling, and it’s home to Maui’s best brunch. You’re also next door to golfing and shopping in Kapalua to the north.

Napili Kai Resort: Maui Resort on Napili Bay
Photo: Napili Kai

Top Napili Bay Resorts:

Kapalua: Luxury and world-class golfingIt’s a little off-the-beaten path, far north in West Maui. In Kapalua you’ll find rugged lava rock cliffs and quiet beach coves, mixed with luxury resorts and stunning golf courses.

The Plantaition Golf Course: Kapalua Golf Club
Photo: The Plantation Golf Course near Montage Resort at Kapalua

Top Kapalua Resorts:

South Maui

South Maui gets less rain, can be quieter, and is closer to Haleakala Volcano.

Kihei: Surf town with local beachesMost surf lessons happen here at a local beach park. Kihei offers lots of great beaches to choose from, mom n’ pop restaurants, and easy access to nearby adventure in the highlands, North Shore, and the rainforests of Hana.

Beach at Mana Kai: Kihei Resorts
Photo: Mana Kai

Top Kihei Resorts:

Wailea: 5-Star beach resorts, PGA golfing, and designer shoppingAs the island’s most luxurious destination, Wailea has the nicest Maui beach resorts, three stunning golf courses, fine dining, designer shopping, and of course a fantastic beach.

Hotel Wailea: Maui Resort Pool
Photo: Hotel Wailea

Top Wailea Resorts: 

What to do on Maui

Beach, beach, beach, beach, and beach. Did I mention the beach?. So, here are the other must-do’s on the island.

1. See Whales up Close – From November to May, nearly 20,000 whales make their journey to the Hawaiian Islands to mate. And their favorite spot? It's none other than the narrow channel just off Maui. You can watch them on the beach, or book a tour to see them up close.

Sailing Trilogy: Maui Whale Watching
Photo: Sailing Trilogy

2. Hike on a Volcano – Mt. Haleakala is a dormant volcano that offers one of the most spectacular views on Earth. From the top you can see rainforest, ocean, dessert, and even the Big Island, all at once. It’s an alien land with plants that look like robots, and valleys that seem like the surface of the moon.

Sliding Sands Trail on Haleakala Volcano
Photo: Sliding Sands Trail (Keonehe'ehe'e) on Haleakala Volcano | Allison J Baird via Flickr

3. Brave the Road to Hana – The three-hour drive on windy roads is well worth it. You’re rewarded with black-sand beaches, bamboo forests, lava tubes, and pools of fresh water fed by waterfalls.

Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach in Hana, Maui
Photo: Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach | Aussie Assault via Flickr

4. Snorkel with Sea Turtles – You can see sea turtles all along the coast, but the best spot is Makena Landing, better known as Turtle Town, where you can witness hundreds of these guys munching on their favorite food: seaweed. Here's a list of the best snorkel beaches in Maui where you can explore spectacular sealife without booking an expensive tour.

Makena Landing: Maui Sea Turtles
Photo: Makena Landing aka Turlte Town | Flickr

5. Zipline through the Jungle – Zip through the forest and into ponds that overlook the ocean. There are a few great zipline tours in Maui to choose from.

Maui zip line
Photo: Zip Line Adventures

6. Walk on Water or Surf – Stand up paddle is the closest you can get to walking on water. Paddle over coral reefs, sea turtles, and among whales. If you want something even more thrilling, you can learn to surf on endless sets of calm rolling waves. Check out recommendations on the best places to stand up paddle on Maui.

Maui Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Photo: Stand up paddling off South Maui | Surf Shack

7. Golf over the Ocean – Maui has some pretty spectacular courses, many of which offer views of the Pacific and surrounding islands. Hole No. 5 on The Bay Course even plays over the ocean.

Wailea Golf Club: Maui Golf Course
Photo: Wailea Golf Club

8. Indulge in a Lomi Lomi Massage – The traditional Lomi Lomi massage, has been adapted in the spas throughout the island into a delightful form of pampering.

Spa massages in Maui
Photo: Massages over the ocean | Ryan Siphers

9. See a Luau – There are plenty of Luau’s on Maui where you can get a taste for whole roast pig and Hawaiian specialties, with hula and fire-knife dancing in the background. 

Old Lahaina Luau: Authentic Maui Luau
Photo: Old Lahaina Luau | Luke H. Gordon via Flickr

And of course, be sure to use our Maui Family Vacation Guide to learn about the island's best beaches.

Big Beach in Maui
Photo: Big Beach (Oneloa) in South Maui | Philip via Flickr

Photo: Mana Kai Maui

About Trevor Cohen

Trevor Cohen is Vacatia's blog editor and an avid traveler. He's an aficionado of secluded beaches and local food, but at the end of the day he loves coming back to a nice cushy resort.