The beaches in South Maui are among the most beautiful beaches you’ll find in Hawaii.
With swathes of golden sand usually flanked by lava outcroppings and fringed with lush natural or landscaped vegetation, South Maui beaches are very picturesque.
While sun-worshipping at a South Maui beach is one of the best things to do in Maui, you’ll find lots more to do at these beaches, other than soaking in the beauty around you.
From swimming and snorkeling to strolling and sunset-watching, many South Maui beaches are the perfect recreational playgrounds.
And for visitors not driving the Road to Hana to enjoy the absolutely stunning black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park, One’uli Beach in Makena State Park offers a black sand beach experience right in south Maui!
Enjoy scouting for sea turtles at Maluaka Beach. Walk the oceanfront path at Wailea Beach. Sunbathe at Big Beach.
There’s an ideal South Maui beach for everyone, and we’ve rounded up the best beaches from Kihei to Wailea-Makena in this article.
And now, let’s get started discovering the best beaches in South Maui!
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Best South Maui Beaches
1. Makena (Big) Beach
With arguably the most spectacular setting on Maui, Big Beach in Makena State Park is one of the top beaches in South Maui.
The golden sand beach seems to go on forever, stopped only by the lava outcroppings at either end. The beach is also very wide, with plenty of room for sunbathing.
Look for Molokini and Kahoʻolawe in the water.
With no resorts at the back, Big Beach is a great beach to visit if you are looking for a nature-forward ambience.
While Big Beach is worth visiting for the scenic beauty, note that the shorebreak here can be very dangerous and currents strong. Big Beach is definitely not for small kids or swimmers and snorkelers that aren’t experienced.
Big Beach is lifeguarded, and even experienced adult swimmers and snorkelers should speak with the lifeguard on duty before determining whether to go in.
We suggest sunbathing and soaking in the beauty at Big Beach and picking another beach to swim or snorkel.
When the surf is up, you can visit Big Beach to watch the experienced boogie boarders: the action can be wild.
If you are planning to spend a few hours, there are food trucks at the entrance, including a very popular taco truck.
The park is also home to Little Beach: you can walk over. Note that Little Beach is unofficially clothing optional.
2. Wailea Beach
Considered one of the best beaches in Maui, Wailea Beach is a gorgeous fine white sand beach fringed with palms and lush landscaping (and some posh Maui resorts!).
It was named “America’s Best Beach” in 1999.
Wailea Beach is great for an evening stroll and offers the opportunity for colorful sunsets over the water.
The clean beach offers fabulous views of the islands that lie off the coast of Maui: Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoʻolawe.
In the winter, look for whales spouting in the ocean! You may see sea turtles as well.
The waters here are usually relatively calm, making Wailea Beach a good family-friendly beach for swimming and snorkeling. The wind does kick up in the afternoons though, for some waves.
You can rent snorkeling equipment and beach equipment at the shopping areas behind the beach. Parking and rentals can be pricey though.
The resorts offer dining as well, with many restaurants from which to choose.
Read our in-depth guide to visiting Wailea Beach!
3. Maluaka Beach: One of the Best Snorkeling Beaches in South Maui!
With shade at the south end and a long stretch of golden sand, Maluaka Beach is a top family-friendly beach in South Maui. It’s also part of Turtle Town!
The south end of Maluaka Beach in particular is very good for snorkeling. You can also snorkel at the north end when the water is clear, but head to the southern section if you can!
Many Maui snorkeling tours call here because of the excellent snorkeling and the likelihood of encountering Hawaiian green sea turtles.
Although you’ll see the turtles occasionally in the shallows, you will run into more of them a little further out in the water. If you see a tour boat, that’s likely where the turtles are!
You will also see a plethora of colorful tropical fish, from tangs to parrot fish.
Although Maluaka Beach is considered a good swimming beach in south Maui, there is no lifeguard. As with other beaches in Maui, you’ll want to stay out when the waves are high.
Sunset is a beautiful time to stroll here, and in the winter, you’ll want to look for whales spouting in the ocean.
Conditions at Maluaka Beach are generally calm in the mornings. The wind and clouds can make it too cool for sunbathing in the afternoons.
Considering a visit? Read our complete guide to Maluaka Beach!
4. Keawakapu Beach
One of our favorite South Maui beaches, Keawakapu Beach is a long sandy beach at the south end of Kihei.
We’ve visited many times and one of the best things about this beach is that it has never felt crowded.
Keawakapu Beach is one of the best family-friendly beaches in South Maui.
Although there are resorts at the back, the beach doesn’t feel like it’s too commercialized, making it perfect for strolling and watching the sunset.
Other activities to enjoy at Keawakapu Beach include swimming (best in the mornings) when the ocean is calm, snorkeling, boogie boarding, and sunbathing. We’ve also seen folks stand-up paddleboarding here.
The north end of the beach has tidepools that are fun to explore. Lava outcroppings at both ends offer good snorkeling. You may see turtles in the water as well.
Resorts at the back of the beach offer rentals if you do not have your own gear.
5. Kamaole I, II, and III
With a trio of beautiful (and very popular) beaches in the center of Kihei, Kamaole Beach Park is a must-visit in South Maui for beach lovers.
Typically called Kam I, Kam II, and Kam III, the three Kamaole beaches are easy to access (right off South Kihei Road) and offer amenities that make them perfect for a beach day.
While Kam I and Kam II are wide and sandy, Kam III is somewhat narrower. The three beaches are separated by rock formations.
If you enjoy taking long walks along the beach like we do, you can start at the north or south end and walk all the way across the three beaches to the other end!
The Kamaole beaches, especially Kam I and II, usually feature calm waters for swimming, although the drop-off is pretty steep close to shore. Kam III offers good boogie boarding. The rocky parts of these beaches offer decent snorkeling.
Kam III offers a large grassy area if you enjoy beach picnics.
As with other beaches in South Maui, during the storms that sometimes strike this part of the island, the surf gets quite high and the currents too dangerous to enter the water. Use an abundance of caution, always!
6. Makena Cove (Secret Beach)
A popular Maui venue for beach weddings, Makena Cove, also known as Pa’ako Cove or Secret Beach, is not really secret any more, so you have to visit early in the day for relative solitude.
The light is awesome during golden hour as well!
You’ll find Makena Cove just south of Big Beach and Little Beach in Makena State Park.
The little hidden beach offers soft golden sand and clear waters with some picturesque lava rock formations at the water line. You will see the island of Kahoʻolawe in the ocean.
There are no amenities at Secret Beach, and it isn’t the best spot for snorkeling or swimming.
What you really come here for is the drop-dead gorgeous scenery and the spectacular sunsets.
If you enjoy landscape photography, or you want to pose for photos at a beautiful spot, come at sunset and get some great photos!
7. Polo Beach
Backed by the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea, Polo Beach is a beautiful crescent of golden sand offering views of Molokai and Kahoʻolawe.
Rocky sections at both ends of the beach offer decent snorkeling. You can also swim here when conditions are right, but note that there is no lifeguard.
You can sunbathe, of course, or stroll the beach. If you are a guest at the Fairmont Kea Lani, the resort sets up beach loungers and umbrellas on Polo Beach.
Locals like to go stand-up paddleboarding here.
In the afternoons, when the wind generally kicks up, you can go boogie boarding at Polo Beach. Sometimes, the waves are even high enough for surfing.
Walk the coastal path at sunset for fantastic views, and in the winter, keep your eyes peeled for whales in the water.
There are restrooms, outdoor showers, and picnic areas.
8. Ulua Beach (and Mokapu Beach)
Ulua Beach and Mokapu Beach are beautiful side-by-side sandy beaches in South Maui that share parking and access.
If you are visiting with kids, Ulua Beach has a little more shade, although both beaches are generally exposed.
The point that separates the two beaches offers excellent snorkeling, with lots of colorful fish to observe, as well as turtles and live coral. The waters are usually calm in the morning for swimming and snorkeling, but there is no lifeguard.
Relax on the sand with a book, enjoy sunbathing, or watch sunset.
The Wailea coastal path runs behind both beaches, and you can walk or jog the path early in the day or at sunset.
You’ll find restrooms and showers. Come early to snag a parking spot: the lot can fill up as the day progresses.
9. Sugar Beach
A very long stretch of soft golden sand beach in Kihei, Sugar Beach is a must-visit for nature lovers. It is the longest continuous stretch of sand on Maui, perfect for jogging or walking!
Sugar Beach offers views of the offshore islands of Lanai, Molokai, and Kaho’olawe. Look for whales in the winter, particularly at the north end of the beach. Sometimes the pods come close!
One of the quieter beaches in South Maui, Sugar Beach is bordered on the north by the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, a hotspot for birdwatching.
The water at Sugar Beach is usually calm and shallow, but as anywhere on the island, exercise due care if you choose to enter.
A Hawaiian canoe club here (Maui Canoe Club) offers programs for visitors, so if you want to try canoe paddling on your Maui vacation, Sugar Beach is a great spot. You can also go stand-up paddleboarding.
There is no lifeguard at Sugar Beach, and no restrooms.
Visit in the morning for calmer conditions: the wind picks up in the afternoon. Mornings are also better if you decide to swim here.
10. Po’olenalena Beach
A long and usually uncrowded golden sand beach in South Maui, Po’olenalena Beach, also called Paipu Beach, is a great place to go for a beach walk in the mornings.
Po’olenalena Beach used to be an under-the-radar beach visited only by locals but has become more popular of late, especially for beach photography and weddings.
If you enjoy snorkeling, head to the south end of the beach, where you will find marine life around the rocky lava outcroppings. The currents can be strong.
You can go boogie boarding during south swells. If you decide to swim, note that there are no lifeguards at this beach and the rip currents can be dangerous.
Sunbathe on the golden sand. Watch the sunset. Look for whales in the ocean in winter, and turtles closer to shore.
There is a portable toilet, and free parking in a dirt lot.
11. One’uli Black Sand Beach: One of the Best South Maui Beaches for Sunset!
Also part of Makena State Park like Big Beach and Little Beach, One’uli Black Sand Beach is a great beach to visit for exciting black sand right in southwest Maui.
Oneuli Beach can be found on the Wailea side of the Pu’u Ola’i cinder cone.
Black sand is made by the ocean pounding the lava, and here you can see where the lava being ground into black sand has detached from the main cinder cone.
While you will see plenty of black sand on the beach, the sand gives way to lava rock right at the waterline, making entry difficult for swimming.
However, there’s plenty of coral and reef a little further out, making Oneuli excellent for snorkeling. You’ll see a variety of marine life, including green sea turtles.
One’uli Black Sand Beach is a great place to be at sunset.
Note that there are no amenities at this beach, and access is via a dirt road that can become impassable after rains.
Ocean Safety Tips
Hawaii’s beaches are beautiful, but ocean activities can be dangerous. Ocean conditions are dynamic and can change without warning.
Here are some tips to enjoy the ocean and beaches safely:
- ALWAYS heed posted warning signs.
- Check conditions just before you arrive at your chosen beach, and watch conditions at the beach for a bit before you decide to enter the water.
- Swim at a lifeguarded beach and ask the lifeguard for advice before you enter the water.
- Never turn your back on the ocean, whether you are standing at the shore or on a cliff above. If you see wet rocks or sand, it means the water has been here recently.
- Know your limitations, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer. If in doubt, do not go out.
- If you choose to enter the water, go with a partner or in a group.
- Know that alcohol can impair judgment and motor skills in the water.
- Keep children close and always keep your eyes on what they are doing in the water.
- Watch for sharp coral or rocks or sea urchins.
Snorkeling and Water Activities Gear Checklist
Though you can rent snorkeling gear or use the ones that come with tours, we invested in our own gear, mainly due to Covid-19 (why take the risk?).
- Snorkeling Gear Set: We love our Cressi Light Weight Premium Travel Snorkel Set for All Family, compact and easy to pack, great fitting, and very clear underwater. The Zenoplige Mask Fins Snorkel Set is a great budget option.
- Sunscreen: Hawaii’s sun can be harsh. Avoid sunburn with sunscreen compliant with Hawaii’s 104 Reef Act. The Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Sunscreen Spray, moisturizing with Vitamin E, is our go-to when we travel to Hawaii. Apply liberally and regularly!
- Underwater Camera: Want to capture Hawaii’s incredible underwater seascape and marine life? Your best budget option is the Fujifilm QuickSnap Waterproof Disposable Camera, reasonably cheap with good underwater photos! If you want high-end photos and video, you must invest in the premium GoPro HERO12 – Waterproof Action Camera, (waterproof to 33 feet)!
- Inflatable Life Jackets: If you’re planning paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking and other water sports, and prefer your own life jacket, consider one of these two US Coast Guard approved options: the Onyx M-16 Series Belt Back Manual Inflatable Life Jacket or the Onyx A/M-24 Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket.
- Water Shoes: Some of Hawaii’s beaches have sharp lava rocks or coral reefs, good water shoes will protect your feet (but please do not walk on the reef!). We use the Merrell Hydro Moc rubber shoes (men’s, women’s), great for slippery rocks. If you prefer sandals, we recommend the Keen Newport H2 Closed Toe Water Sandals (men’s, women’s).
- Waterproof Waist Pack: Keep your rental car keys, cards, and phone dry and safe while you swim or snorkel with a dry bag. We love this 2-pack AiRun Tech Pouch with waist strap. The transparent one is touch-screen friendly!
Best Maui Tours
Have you booked these top-rated Maui guided adventures yet?
Small-group Road to Hana tour so everyone in your group can sit back and enjoy the views without worrying about negotiating hairpin bends or finding parking at popular stops!
A Haleakala sunrise tour so you can experience the bucket-list sunrise atop the volcano without the need to reserve a parking spot or drive up in the dark!
A Maui snorkeling excursion that combines the Molokini Crater with Turtle Town, the two most epic snorkeling destinations on the island!
A 7-line Maui zipline experience where you can glide over the forests on the north shore of Maui. Enjoy ocean views and navigate obstacle course challenges!
Renting a Car in Maui
The best things to do in Maui are located all over the island.
Public transport options on Maui are minimal to non-existent, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Maui trip.
We always use Discover Cars to book Maui car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Where to Stay in Maui
Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Maui you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.
By far the majority of visitors to Maui choose to base on the west side, where there is a large selection of accommodations available, from resorts and hotels to vacation rentals.
We suggest starting your search for Maui accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO. You can filter to choose a specific area, such as Kihei, Kapalua, or Wailea.
We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Kihei and Kapalua and find that the choice and quality are generally great.
More Maui Travel Inspiration
If you are considering a trip to Maui, read some of our other comprehensive guides to craft the ultimate Maui itinerary!
If you are a first-time visitor to Maui, start by reading our article on the best things to do in Maui. From beautiful beaches and lush rainforest to Maui’s volcanic crater, our round-up captures the most iconic Maui experiences and activities.
If you are dreaming of a winter getaway to a tropical paradise, read our guide on why you should visit Maui in winter!
Driving the Road to Hana is one of Maui’s bucket-list experiences. We have a comprehensive guide to the best stops on the Road to Hana, including waterfalls and short hikes on the way.
One of the top stops on the route is Wai’anapanapa State Park, which requires reservations. Read our full guide to Maui’s black sand beach in this popular state park!
Speaking of hiking, also be sure to check out our round-up of the best Maui hikes, from easy to challenging. Plus, peruse our complete guides to hiking the popular Kapalua Coastal Trail in northwest Maui, and the Waihee Ridge Trail for astounding views!
We also have a round-up of the best waterfalls in Maui, from the 400-foot Waimoku Falls to Upper Waikani Falls near Hana. Some Maui waterfalls can be seen from viewpoints whereas others require hiking.
If you’d rather snorkel from shore, read our round-up of the best snorkel spots in West Maui.
Every Maui itinerary should have plenty of beach time: there are so many beautiful beaches in Maui that you are spoiled for choice. We have a round-up of the best beaches in South Maui, plus a detailed guide to Wailea Beach in southwest Maui, and one for Maluaka Beach along the Turtle Town stretch of coast.
We also have articles on popular Napili Beach and local favorite Keawakapu Beach. Along the northwest side, Honolua Bay is a famous surfing spot, and Ho’okipa Beach, near Paia, is a windsurfing mecca.
If you are looking to experience a different side of Maui, plan a visit to the Iao Valley State Monument. The lush landscapes and serene ambience will wow you! Also read our guide to Maui’s state parks, which include popular Makena State Park, home to Big Beach and Little Beach.
Spend a day exploring Upcountry Maui. Some of the best things to do in Upcountry Maui include touring farms and gardens. Help milk goats, tour a tea farm, go wine tasting and much more.
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