Makena Beach State Park, with three beautiful beaches

Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui: Complete 2024 Visitor Guide

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Makena Beach is your answer if you want to escape the crowds at Ka’anapali Beach or the other westside beaches on Maui!

The most famous and popular of the three South Maui beaches in the secluded and remote Makena State Park, Makena Beach is a well-known local bodysurfing haunt, and is also very popular with extreme boogie boarders, especially when the waves perk up.

On our last trip to Maui, we spent a couple of summer afternoons at Makena Beach, when the ocean was relatively calm, and had a great time relaxing on the beach, along with a bit of swimming, snorkeling and boogie boarding.

Colorful sunrise from Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI
Colorful sunrise from Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI

As with most of Maui’s beaches, when the waves are rougher, Makena Beach waters are best left to locals familiar with the risks.

Your best bet is to stay safe on the beach, while gawking at the antics of the experienced bodysurfers and boogie boarders gracefully riding the waves!

And if this is your first visit to Makena State Park, make sure you spend some time at the pretty Little Beach (accessible from the far northern corner of Makena Beach), and the One’uli Black Sands Beach on the other side of Pu’u Olai, the landmark cinder cone.

Interested? Let’s walk you through what to do at Makena Beach (Big 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!

Getting ready to ride the waves at Makena Beach (aka Oneloa Beach or Big Beach)
Getting ready to ride the waves at Makena Beach (aka Oneloa Beach or Big Beach)

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Makena Beach Directions

Makena Beach‘s official name is Oneloa Beach, but it is most commonly known as the Big Beach.

To get to Makena Beach, you need to 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.

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

At about mile marker #4 look for the sign to Makena 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!

Makena Beach Reservations

Makena Beach reservations or permits are currently not required.

Makena Beach Fees

Makena 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.

Makena Beach Parking

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

Golden sands and calm waters at Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI
Golden sands and calm waters at Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI

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.

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

Makena Beach Map

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

Makena Beach Access

You have a short, reasonably shaded, trek on a sand and mud access path from the parking lots to the beach.

Makena Beach Amenities / Facilities

Location: 4670 Makena Alanui Drive, Makena State Park, Southwest Maui
Lifeguard: Yes
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, picnic tables
Food Nearby: Food trucks (first parking lot & Makena Road)
Parking: Two large public paid parking lots
Directions: Highway 31 south, right on Wailea Ike Dr, left on Wailea Alanui Dr, right on Makena Beach access road

Makena Beach hours are daily, 5:00 am – 7:00 pm, and note that the gates will close at 7:00 pm. Lifeguards are on duty daily, 8:00 am to 4:45 pm.

Though lifeguards are on duty, Makena Beach is not really for smaller kids, since the waves can be large, and break near the shore.

What we really liked when we visited were having food trucks nearby serving tasty tacos and other Mexican food at reasonable prices.

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

Best Things to Do at Makena Beach, Maui, HI

Makena Beach is a gorgeous, pristine beach in South Maui, relatively unspoiled by development.

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

The star attraction of Makena State Park, Makena Beach is one of three beaches within the large, 160+ acre public state park on the southwest coast of Maui. Makena State Park is one of the most visited state parks in Maui.

The second beach, Little Beach, is a much smaller beach, relatively private and secluded, sometimes deemed a clothing-optional beach, accessible from a path on the north end of Big Beach.

The third beach, One’uli Beach, is a beautiful, black sand beach on the other side of the cinder cone, accessible from a mud road off Makena Road (just after entering Makena State Park).

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

Off the shores of Makena Beach, lies Molokini Crater and a bit further, Kaho’olawe island.

1. Admire Stunning Views from Pu’u Ola’i

Majestically rising 360 feet, Pu’u Ola’i dominates the landscape of southern Maui, and viewing it from Makena Beach, you get an awe-inspiring reminder of the islands violent volcanic activity in the past.

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

Pu’u Ola’i is steeply conical in shape, formed by debris collecting around its lava vent, last active in the 1800s.

Apart from the geological interest, native Hawaiians considered the hill sacred, and performed ceremonies here.

You can hike a steep, moderately hard, trail that starts on the north end of Big Beach, takes you to the top and around the summit, and loops back down. The total roundtrip distance is 2.2 miles.

Views from the Pu’u Ola’i Cinder Cone Trail are simply stunning!

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

2. Stroll Down to Little Beach

Also at the north end of Big Beach is a short path over the lava rock outcropping jutting into the ocean, separating the Big Beach from Little Beach.

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

Little Beach, as its name implies, is small, but stunning! A private, secluded paradise, compactly ensconced in the foothills of Pu’u Ola’i!

When we went, the Little Beach was completely empty except for a couple of local teenagers with surfboards attempting to enter the water from the lava rocks.

Due to its private location, Little Beach is one of the more popular nudist beaches on Maui, euphemistically called “clothing optional”. If that is likely to offend your sensibilities, you may want to skip it.

3. Snorkel Makena Beach

Unlike some of the other West Maui beaches, Makena Beach doesn’t have extensive, fringing coral reef along its length that you can snorkel and explore.

Coral reefs at the lava rock ends of Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI
Coral reefs at the lava rock ends of Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI

But, closer to the two large rock outcroppings on either end of the beach, we found abundant tropical fish, including some of the common, beautiful Hawaiian fish like yellow tangs, convict tangs, butterflyfish, triggerfish, and some larger fish.

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

Based on some of the reviews we read about the currents and large waves, we checked with the lifeguard on duty, and that’s where he guided us.

Luckily for us, the time we went, the Makena Beach ocean waters were placid, and conducive to snorkeling.

For richer snorkeling coral reefs, head to the nearby Little Beach or One’uli Beach.

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

4. Swim at Makena Beach

Can you swim at Big Beach? You may see folks in the water here when you visit.

But Makena Beach is definitely not my idea of a swimming beach. Without the protection of fringing coral reefs, the waves crash close to the shore.

The beach is called “Breakneck Beach” because of the potential for severe spinal injuries.

Quite often the waves are powerful, strong currents are common, and the beach slopes steeply into the water. I’d suggest skipping swimming here.

People enjoying wading and swimming on a calm day at Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI
People enjoying wading and swimming on a calm day at Makena Beach (Big Beach), Maui, HI

And if you do want to venture in, be aware of the risks and seek the advice of the lifeguard on duty before you do so.

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

Close to 2/3rds of a mile long and unusually wide at 100+ feet, Makena Beach is a giant stretch of finely powdered, golden white sand.

Finding a private, secluded spot for a bit of sunbathing or just relaxing with a book is no problem at all!

Make sure you bring some beach umbrellas, since shade is restricted to kiawe trees bordering the inner beach, with nasty spines and thorns.

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

If you do choose to use a kiawe tree shade, make sure you clear the area under the tree first!

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

6. Gape Admiringly at the Extreme Boogieboarders and Bodysurfers

While large waves and rough ocean waters may deter swimming and snorkeling, they are a magnet for extreme boogieboarders and bodysurfers who flock here to ride the waves.

Bodyboarders and extreme boogie boarders riding towering waves at Makena Beach (Big Beach)
Bodyboarders and extreme boogie boarders riding towering waves at Makena Beach (Big Beach)

Bodysurfing is an interesting variant of surfing, where you use your body to surf the wave.

While entertaining to watch the local bodysurfers, if you plan to try your hand at this sport, understand that the waves can throw you into the sand, and many back and neck injuries result.

Boogieboarding and surfing are also popular here, and again mostly for the experienced, unless the waters are calm.

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

7. Come Early for Spectacular Sunrises from Big Beach

Makena Beach can be quite enchanting early morning before sunrise.

On our last trip, we went early to catch the sunrise from the lava outcropping separating Big Beach and Little Beach, and the colors were amazing!

Sun is just about to rise in the distance, beautiful Maui beaches.

Not only that, having the beach to ourselves was probably one of our most serene beach experiences in Maui!

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

8. Fishing from Makena Beach Shore

Fishing is quite popular at Makena Beach, and on every visit to the beach, we saw avid anglers enjoying themselves.

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

Most of the fishermen seemed to prefer the lava rocks jutting into the ocean from which to cast their line, and both ends of Big Beach were occupied.

The fishing must be good, we saw a couple of fishermen reeling in what looked like a manta ray and a largish barracuda!

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 Makena Beach, Maui, HI

Makena Beach is located within the Makena State Park, you will have to pay the entrance fee mentioned above, and a parking fee.

Though lifeguards are on duty, families with kids should note Makena Beach waters tend to be rough and large waves break near the shore. Do not enter the water if the weather and surf conditions are not good.

You have limited shade on the beach, so make sure you use sunscreen and bring your beach umbrellas.

Food trucks are conveniently located nearby, and we loved the tacos!

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 evening at Big Beach (Makena Beach), Maui, HI
Beautiful evening at Big Beach (Makena Beach), 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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Discover the complete guide to visiting beautiful Big Beach in Maui, Hawaii! Also known as Makena Beach, the beach has an undeveloped backdrop. #bigbeachmaui #maui

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