Which Side Of Maui Is The Best?
Are you coming to Maui and wondering which side of the island has the best weather, accommodations, and offers the most things to do? Our surf lesson students ask us this frequently so we put together this little overview to help you understand the different sides of the island.
“Great Weather” is often defined as warm and sunny which means Maui is definitely a place for great weather. However, you must know that Maui is made up of a diverse range of micro-climates, and depending on where you are on the island the weather patterns change dramatically. Within just a few miles the weather can change from being rainy to sunny or from cooler to warmer.
The south and west side of the island are known as sunny and dry areas while the north and east coast are much more wet and lush. Having said that, we should point out that even in the wettest locations on Maui, the rain is a hit or miss. One minute it may be raining and then the next minute the sun is back and typically accompanied by a beautiful rainbow!
It’s hard to say which area is more or less desirable because it depends on your personal preference. Some visitors prefer the sunny or dry weather for the beach and golfing, while for others the lushness is desired to be around as that is where a lot of hikes and waterfalls are located. Each area on Maui has unique little towns, vegetation, and wildlife. You will likely want to explore and see them all!
Here are 6 different areas of the island separated by region with a short overview to orient you to the island.
South Side – Kihei, Wailea, and Makena
Climate: Warm, sunny, and dry – This area is your best chance of having sun the majority of the time.
- Kihei is centrally located at the intersection of the south and west coast making it easy and efficient to travel and explore Maui. In this area, there is access to numerous beaches, restaurants, and water activities such as surfing, stand-up paddling, and kayaking. Kihei is mainly residential with condo and Airbnb accommodation rentals.
- Wailea is where you want to find yourself if you’re looking for a blissful peaceful atmosphere at a luxurious resort. Tucked away in the corner of the island Wailea is where you find beautiful beachfront resorts, fine dining experiences, cafes, high-end shopping, art galleries, spas, award-winning tennis center, world-class golf courses, and potential celebrity spotting.
- Makena, which is located only minutes’ driving past Kihei and Wailea, is where you will find some of the most beautiful beaches such as Maluaka Beach, Big Beach, and Little Beach. The one main road through the area will take you past the beaches and then continues on through lava fields and then comes to a dead-end at La Perouse Bay.
West Side – Lahaina, Kaanapali, Napili-Honokowai, Kahana, and Kapalua
Climate: Warm, sunny, and dry. Typically sunnier towards Lahaina and higher chances of rain as you move up towards the northwest area.
- West Maui is isolated from the rest of the island by a long stretch of two-lane ocean-front highway.
- Lahaina, once a historic whaling port, is a popular little seaside harbor town and carries a lot of historical appeal to go along with its modern-day hustle and bustle. Front Street (the popular main road in Lahaina) has a huge beautiful banyan tree and numerous cafes, restaurants, bars, galleries, and gift shops. This area is also where a lot of the boat tour activities depart from.
- The Kaanapali area features numerous well-known resorts, condos, golf, and shopping centers.
- Napili-Honokowai and Kahana are smaller communities stretching several miles along the coastline featuring a wide array of accommodations, public beach parks, and mom-and-pop shops.
- Kapalua is a beautiful resort community known for its luxury accommodations and world-class golf.
Central Maui – Kahului, Wailuku, Maalaea
Climate: Dry and Windy
- Central Maui includes the towns of Kahului, Wailuku, and Maalaea. Chances are you will first arrive at Kahului where the main airport is located.
- Kahului is the capital of Maui and is the main commercial district for residents, with a variety of big-box retailers and a large working port. This is the closest town to an actual “city” on the island.
- Wailuku is where you will find a lot of the county government offices yet still has its “small-town charm” from times past. Nestled against a backdrop of beautiful mountains it is known as being the gateway to the popular Iao Valley. Wailuku is also where you will find many family businesses, locally made products and quaint cafes, and restaurants.
- Maalaea is home to the busy Maalaea Harbor which is a popular departure point for whale watching tours, fishing charters, sunset sails, and diving/snorkeling excursions. This is also where you will find the family-friendly Maui Ocean Center which exhibits a wide variety of interesting marine species. The area around the harbor is also home to dive shops, restaurants, and condominiums.
North Shore – Paia, Haiku
Climate: Changes frequently between Warm and Sunny and Windy and Rainy
- The North Shore of Maui is best known for its internationally acclaimed Hookipa Beach Park which is a popular surf spot and dubbed the windsurfing capital of the world.
- Paia is a cute little hippy town with a laid-back, surfer, small-town vibe. Here you will find an array of boutiques, cafes, art galleries, restaurants, bars, and gift shops. Paia is appreciated for its rugged beaches and natural beauty. Great place to enjoy the day at the beach followed by some shopping, lunch, and gelato or a latte.
- Haiku is an appealing town off the beaten path known for its serene and peaceful atmosphere. It rains a lot in this area which is what makes it so beautiful, lush, and green. There’s numerous cafes, restaurant, and food trucks to choose from. Here you will find yourself in the company of kind locals at a relaxed pace.
East Side – Hana
Climate: Wettest side of the island. Changes frequently between Warm and Sunny and Windy and Rainy.
- East Maui includes the remote Hawaiian community of Hana. The Road to Hana is full of breathtaking scenery. Hana Town is generally what you think of when you imagine Hawaii. Lush rainforests, dramatic seascapes, coastlines of lava rock, empty beaches, and slow living. If you don’t stop along the way it takes approximately two hours from Kahului to reach Hana town. However, you will more than likely want to make stops along the way as the Road to Hana is itself an incredible experience offering many roadside viewpoints, waterfalls, and picnic areas to stop and enjoy the scenery.
- Driving the Road to Hana is one of the most popular tourist activities in all of Hawai’i. Most people go to Hana for a day trip and try to get in a collection of stops along the way. If you only go for a day trip, remember that it is a full day and you should expect to be on the road from early in the morning until late in the day. However, staying a night (or a few nights) in Hana allows you to fully experience life in one of Hawaii’s most remote towns and enjoy being surrounded by its natural beauty, pristine coastline, and rainforest. There aren’t many choices on where to stay, but you can rent a condo/house or stay at the Hana-Maui Resort which is in the heart of town with amazing amenities, friendly staff, and a full spa with ocean views. If you want to spend more time doing hikes and visiting waterfalls, Hana is the place to go.
Upcountry – Makawao, Pukalani, and Kula
Climate: Typically sunny. Sometimes rain. Cooler temperatures due to the elevation.
- Upcountry is the term used to describe the communities that are built inland on the hillside slopes of Haleakala, the massive mountain (a dormant volcano) that dominates the eastern half of the island. The Upcountry experience is completely different from the coastal experience on Maui, and one not normally associated with images we see in postcards. This area is more “mellow and country” with popular farmers’ markets, lavender fields, and a winery. You will find cooler temperatures upcountry due to its higher elevation and will most likely pass through this area if you plan to go up Haleakala to see the sunrise, sunset, or hike the crater.
- Makawao is an old Upcountry Cowboy town. It is a cute little town and you will find a little bit of everything within a short stroll: the popular Rodeo General Store (a small market), an Italian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, an art gallery, an herb shop, a real estate office, a yoga studio, a hypnotherapist, a 100+ year-old small family baker, and of course the local rodeo is just up the road.
- Pukalani is a small relaxed town and is home to numerous Maui residents. Pukalani has sweeping views of the island as well as a commercial center with numerous restaurants and a variety of interesting shops. There is also an 18-hole golf course, a community recreation center, sports fields, and King Kekaulike High School.
- Kula is known for its colorful flower farms and botanical gardens as well as expansive farmland and ranch land views. Kula is Maui’s premier agricultural region with many farms that supply Hawaii’s finest restaurants with high-quality fresh local fruits and vegetables. In addition to having amazing views, there are restaurants in the area as well as activities such as visiting the Lavender Fields, the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm, Botanical Gardens, and the Upcountry Maui Winery.
Note: There are other little towns on the island not mentioned in this breakdown, but these are some of the main ones that you will most likely want to see and/or will pass through.