Little Beach, Maui, HI: Complete 2024 Visitor Guide

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Little Beach, Maui!

On the southwest side of Maui, in Makena State Park, is this beautiful slice of tropical paradise!

Little Beach is a remote, secluded beach, ensconced in the foothills of Pu’u Ola’i, the iconic volcanic cinder cone landmark, with lava rock outcroppings jutting into the ocean on both sides.

Panoramic views from Little Beach, next to Big Beach, Maui, HI
Panoramic views from Little Beach, next to Big Beach, Maui, HI

On our last visit to Maui, we spent two wonderful afternoons at Little Beach, and the adjacent Big Beach, a sprawling, wide, beautiful beach.

Apart from just relaxing or sunbathing on the golden, white sands, we and our kids snorkeled the extensive coral reefs, teeming with beautiful tropical fish, and swam and boogie boarded the crystal clear, blue ocean waters.

Those two days were the highlight of that Maui vacation, and we never felt more relaxed, especially on the day we went in early for the sunrise: the beaches were deserted and beautiful.

A note of caution for those whose sensibilities are easily offended: Little Beach is one of Maui’s premier, clothing optional beaches! Didn’t bother us, and for the most part, the nudists tend to be at the far end, remote corner of Little Beach.

Hey, by the way! Snorkeling is probably at the top of your Maui itinerary — check out our guides to the best tours to Molokini Crater and Turtle Town, two of the top snorkel spots on Maui!

Puu Olai cinder cone, Little and Big Beach of Makena State Park, Maui
Puu Olai cinder cone, Little and Big Beach of Makena State Park, Maui

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Little Beach Directions

Though popularly called Little Beach, the real name is Pu’u Olai, same as the cinder cone hill that looms over it.

To get to Little Beach, you need to head to Makena State Park and Big Beach (Makena Beach).

Most likely, you are coming from the north. You will drive south on Honoapiilani Highway (Highway 31) and take a left where it ends onto Wailea Ike Drive.

Wailea Ike Drive ends on Wailea Alanui Drive, where you will take a left, continuing south.

Cross the town of Wailea, at which point the road gets renamed to Makena Alanui Drive. You will cross the town on Makena, and enter Makena State Park.

Tidepools at Little Beach, with Kaho'olawe Island and Molokini in the background
Tidepools at Little Beach, with Kaho’olawe Island and Molokini in the background

At about mile marker #4 look for the sign to Makena Beach (Big Beach).

Makena Beach is accessible via a short road at mile marker four on Makena Alanui Road and another access just past mile marker 4 in South Maui. 

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Little Beach Reservations

Little Beach reservations or permits are currently not required.

Little Beach Fees

Little Beach is part of the Makena State Park, which charges an entrance fee of $5 / person for non-residents (children 3 and under are free).

Non-residents will also pay $10 / vehicle for parking.

For Makena State Park details, click here.

Little Beach Parking

There is no separate parking for Little Beach, you need to use the Big Beach parking.

For Big Beach Parking, you have a choice of two main public parking lots (zoom the Little Beach map below for details).

Shade from a kiawe tree on Little Beach, next to Makena Beach, Maui
Shade from a kiawe tree on Little Beach, next to Makena Beach, Maui

The first one you hit on the Makena Alanui Drive is closer to the northern part of the beach, and provides easier access to the lifeguard on duty, food trucks and the Little Beach.

We usually have no problems finding a spot here, but if you do, head further down and you’ll come to another large parking lot, closer towards the southern end of the beach.

You can pay for Makena Beach parking ($10 / vehicle, non-residents) upon arrival at the parking kiosks.

Little Beach Map

The Little Beach map below shows the location of Little Beach, and the main attractions nearby.

Little Beach Access

There is no direct Little Beach access.

To get to Little Beach, you will first head to Big Beach. After that, make your way to the northmost corner, towards the lava rock outcropping that juts into the ocean.

Access to Little Beach via a short path over the lava rock outcropping on the north end of Big Beach, Maui, HI
Access to Little Beach via a short path over the lava rock outcropping on the north end of Big Beach, Maui, HI

A short, rocky path takes you over the lava rocks to the other side, where you’ll find the secluded Little Beach.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Little Beach Amenities / Facilities

Location: 4670 Makena Alanui Drive, Makena State Park, Southwest Maui
Lifeguard: No
Beach Amenities: None. Restrooms and picnic tables at nearby Big Beach
Food Nearby: Food trucks (first parking lot & Makena Road)
Parking: Two free public paid parking lots at Big Beach
Directions: Highway 31 south, right on Wailea Ike Dr, left on Wailea Alanui Dr, right on Makena Beach access road

Little Beach hours are weekdays, 5:00 am – 7:00 pm, and weekends, 5:00 am – 4:00 pm.

Little Beach closes early on weekends (there is a gate on the path to Little Beach that gets locked).

Beautiful, sunny day and calm waters at Little Beach, Maui, HI
Beautiful, sunny day and calm waters at Little Beach, Maui, HI

Part of the reason for the early closure was to stop a popular Sunday night activity called the Sunday Drum Circle at Little Beach, a free-for-all music event with flame throwers and dancers, which has since moved to the neighboring Chang’s Beach.

Note that the parking area and Makena State park gates will close at 7:00 pm.

There are no lifeguards at Little Beach, but head to the adjacent Big Beach if that’s a concern. Lifeguards at Big Beach are on duty daily, 8:00 am to 4:45 pm.

We loved the delicious tacos and other Mexican food available at the food trucks near the Makena Beach parking lot or Makena Road (see Little Beach map above), at reasonable prices.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Best Things to Do at Little Beach, Maui, HI

Little Beach is one of three beaches in the Makena State Park, along with Big Beach (also called Makena Beach or Oneloa Beach) and One’uli Beach, a beautiful black sand beach.

Big Beach is a large beach, about 2/3 of a mile long and 100+ feet wide, and is the main attraction of Makena State Park.

Makena Beach State Park, with three beautiful beaches
Makena Beach State Park, with three beautiful beaches

One’uli Beach, accessible from a mud road just after the entrance to Makena State Park, is one of the few black sand beaches on Maui, with fine black sand ground from the lava rocks by the action of water over millennia.

All three beaches are at the feet of the Pu’u Ola’i volcanic cinder cone, 300 feet tall, a stark reminder of the violent past of the island of Maui.

Far into the ocean are two islands, Molokini Crater, a crescent-shaped islet and a world-famous snorkeling destination, and Kaho’olawe Island, an uninhabited island.

Amazing views of Kaho'olawe Island and Molokini Crater from Little Beach, Maui, HI
Amazing views of Kaho’olawe Island and Molokini Crater from Little Beach, Maui, HI

1. Little Beach Snorkeling

Little Beach offers some of the best snorkeling in Makena State Park and southwest Maui.

Next to the lava outcropping separating Big Beach from Little Beach are extensive, underwater coral reefs, extending well into the waters fronting Little Beach, providing for relatively sheltered waters for snorkeling.

Extensive coral reefs fronting Little Beach, Maui, HI
Extensive coral reefs fronting Little Beach, Maui, HI

Our family snorkeled here for a couple of hours, and we were amazed at the abundance of beautiful Hawaiian tropical fish teeming here in the corals.

We saw yellow tangs, convict tangs, butterflyfish, triggerfish (including the state fish of Hawaii, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a), and graceful Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu).

To identify and recognize the pretty fish you’ll see while snorkeling, check out our Hawaiian Fish Snorkeling Guide.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

2. Surf Little Beach

Under high surf conditions, and during summer and winter swells, you get some large, powerful waves at Little Beach.

Large, powerful waves at Little Beach, Maui, HI, under high surf conditions
Large, powerful waves at Little Beach, Maui, HI, under high surf conditions

While swimming and snorkeling are definitely dangerous during this time, the high surf attracts a host of surfers and extreme boogie boarders, both to Little Beach and Big Beach!

Surfers preparing to jump in the water in Little Beach, Maui, Hawaii.
Surfers preparing to jump in the water in Little Beach, Maui, Hawaii.

You can laze safely on the beach while gaping at the daredevil antics of these experienced locals, as they ride these towering waves gracefully!

3. Hike Pu’u Ola’i Cinder Cone Trail

Pu’u Ola’i cinder cone is a 360-foot reddish hill that towers over Little Beach.

An offshoot of the small access trail to Little Beach from Big Beach called the Pu’u Ola’i Cinder Cone Trail takes you on a moderately challenging (because of the climb) hike to the summit, a short loop around the conical head, and back.

Pu'u Ola'i volcanic cinder cone
Pu’u Ola’i volcanic cinder cone

Though a short trail at 2.2 miles total roundtrip distance, we loved the hike for the stunning views, both along the trail and from the top.

You get panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the Kaho’olawe island and Molokini Crater, and the three beaches nestled at its base, the One’uli Black Sand Beach on one side, and the Little Beach and Big Beach on the other.

One'uli Beach, a black sand beach, from the Pu'u Olai Cinder Cone trail
One’uli Beach, a black sand beach, from the Pu’u Olai Cinder Cone trail

Also, how often do you get to hike a dormant volcanic cone, the debris remnants of an ancient vent from which hot lava once flowed?

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

4. Little Beach Swimming

Under calm conditions, the ensconced nature of Little Beach provides a relatively sheltered ocean front where you can wade in the waters or swim along the beach.

We preferred to stay close to the shore, since we’d heard of treacherous strong currents in the area. If you want to venture out, make sure the waters are calm and talk to the lifeguard on duty at the neighboring Big Beach before heading to Little Beach.

Local kids enjoying the waves at Little Beach, Maui, HI
Local kids enjoying the waves at Little Beach, Maui, HI

Quite a few people, including a bunch of local kids, were having a ball!

Obviously all bets are off under rougher conditions, and you should heed the posted warning signs.

5. Sunbathe or Relax with a Book on the Little Beach

Due to its private, secluded nature, Little Beach is great for a spot of sunbathing or relaxing with a book.

Though little, the beach is large enough to easily find some privacy for sun worshippers, and the kiawe trees lining the far end of the beach provide plenty of shade, though be careful of the thorny pines.

Sunbathers at Little Beach, Maui, HI
Sunbathers at Little Beach, Maui, HI

During Covid, late 2021, Little Beach was shut down, possibly to limit the popular local Sunday night Little Beach Drum Circle festival that was continuing to operate (and has since shifted to the neighboring Chang’s Beach).

A gate on the access path was installed, along with multiple warning signs prohibiting nudity (Hawaii’s indecent exposure law prohibits nudity on public beaches).

Be warned though, that Little Beach is still considered one of Maui’s premier “clothing-optional” beaches, and you are quite likely to see some people in their birthday suit, sunbathing in the nude.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

6. Stay Back for Spectacular Sunsets

Some of the most stunning Maui sunsets can be viewed from Little Beach (or from the elevated lava outcropping separating the Little Beach from Big Beach).

Colorful sunset over Molokini Crater from Little Beach, Maui, HI
Colorful sunset over Molokini Crater from Little Beach, Maui, HI

You have a spectacular view of the golden orb sliding gracefully into the warm Pacific Ocean waters often just behind Molokini Crater.

Little Beach and the lava outcropping vantage point often gets busy towards sunset, so stake out a spot early!

7. Admire Turtles on Little Beach

Haven’t seen Hawaiian green sea turtles yet?

When we visited Little Beach, we saw about a dozen, resting near the lava rock outcropping.

Their shells blended in with the lava boulders strewn on the beach, camouflaging them so well, that until they moved, we weren’t even aware of their presence.

Hawaiian green sea turtle or honu on the beach
Hawaiian green sea turtle or honu on the beach

A few were in the shallow waters feeding on algae and seaweed, and we even encountered some while snorkeling!

Make sure you give these beautiful creatures a wide berth, and don’t disturb their rest! Hawaiian green sea turtles are endangered and protected by law.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

8. Fishing from Little Beach, Maui

Though not my favorite hobby, we did see quite a few dedicated anglers casting their lines into the ocean waters from the lava rocks, hoping for a bite from some exotic tropical fish.

Fisherman getting ready at Makena Beach, Maui, HI
Fisherman getting ready at Makena Beach, Maui, HI

Many were locals, possibly looking to put dinner on their table.

The fish were sure biting, we saw a couple of fishermen reel in what looked like a manta ray and a barracuda.

9. Come Early for Amazing Sunrise Views from Little Beach

While sunset at Little Beach is definitely popular, if you want to avoid the crowds, sunrise at Little Beach may be a better option, and equally stunning.

On our second day to Makena State Park, we decided to come early to experience the sunrise, and the beaches were quite deserted.

Colorful sunrise view of Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI, from path to Little Beach
Colorful sunrise view of Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI, from path to Little Beach

We had a spectacular sunrise all to ourselves, and we were able to position ourselves on the path to Little Beach, at an elevation, to take in the whole Big Beach, and the sun rising from the mountain range beyond.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

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?).

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Tips for Your Visit to Little Beach

Obviously, the first thing to keep in mind is that you are likely to encounter nude people on Little Beach, and if that offends your sensibilities, you should avoid it or stay closer to the lava rocks near the entrance.

If you want to join the fun and want to sunbathe in the buff, be aware of the risk of being cited against Hawaii’s indecent exposure law.

Waters at Little Beach can vary dramatically from calm and serene to rough and towering waves. Be aware of the ocean conditions and when in doubt, stay out of the water or check with the lifeguard on duty at Big Beach.

Waves can be large and dangerous at Little Beach, Maui, HI
Waves can be large and dangerous at Little Beach, Maui, HI

Though you’ll see many local kids happily playing in the big waves, note that they grew up here and are well aware of the risks. Don’t take that as an indication to let your kids into the water.

Feeling peckish? Check out the tacos and other local cuisine from the food trucks nearby. We loved the tacos, and felt they were reasonably priced.

There are no amenities at Little Beach, but the adjacent Big Beach has restrooms and lifeguards.

Little Beach is part of the Makena State Park and non-resident visitors will have to pay the entrance fees and parking fees as described above.

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.
  • Check advisories regarding water quality at various beaches here.

Also be sure to check out the safety guide put out by Maui County.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

The 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 whale watching raft tour, which will let you see the massive humpback whales at eye level! (You can also opt for a more sedate boat whale watching tour.) A MUST winter Maui activity!

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!

An oceanfront luau in Wailea where you can enjoy a sunset buffet and traditional Polynesian entertainment. You can also opt for a Kaanapali oceanfront luau.

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.

>> Check availability and prices on Maui car rentals now!

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.

>> Look for a Maui vacation rental on VRBO now!

Beautiful Little Beach in Makena State Park, Maui, HI
Beautiful Little Beach in Makena State Park, Maui, HI

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!

If you are planning a brief first visit to Maui, here’s our 3-day Maui itinerary to help you flesh out your own trip! And if you are considering a couples getaway to Maui, read about the top romantic things to do in Maui!

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!

Maui boasts one of only two national parks in Hawaii. Read our round-up of the best things to do in Haleakala National Park. We also have the ultimate guide to sunrise at Haleakala.

We also have a guide to the best hikes in Haleakala National Park, and in-depth hiking guides to the two most epic hikes in the park: the Sliding Sands Trail and the Pipiwai Trail.

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.

Water activities are plentiful in Maui! Check out our epic guide to whale watching in Maui, and our guide to the best Molokini snorkeling tours and the best Turtle Town snorkeling.

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 the much-visited Kaanapali Beach, the 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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