On the Hawaiian island of Maui is the absolutely gorgeous Kaanapali Beach, with breath-taking scenery and endless entertaining things to do and activities to experience.
Palm trees swaying, tiki torches dotting the sands, lush flowers and greenery encircling inviting pools, and whales breaching in the distance. This is what you’ll find on Kaanapali!
Welcome to the Beach!
Kaanapali is part of the city of Lahaina, and is on the northwest coast of Maui.
I did a trip to Maui and Oahu with my parents and brother and this guide focuses specifically on our experiences on the beach of Kaanapali in Maui. Even more specifically, I am focusing on the section of Kaanapali between Black Rock on the north and the Hyatt Regency resort on the south.
Why do I recommend this particular area? Well, the resorts have bigger and more developed grounds and pools, and there are many, many activities to do in this part of Kaanapali, from parasailing, to golfing, to shopping, to nighttime luaus on the beach.
And of course, this section has the Kaanapali Beachwalk, a 1.5 mile long pathway stretching the length of the beach, situated between the resorts and the sand. The beachwalk is lined with palm trees and is a lovely way to walk and explore the beach.
In this guide to Kaanapali we’ll go over the best places to stay, delectable places to eat, and all the fun things to do both on and near Kaanapali beach.
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20 Beautiful, Scenic, and Adventurous Things to Do in Kaanapali
Okay! Let’s start with why you’re here and talk about the amazing activities and things to do in Kaanapali!
1. Go to a Luau
Experiencing a luau is a must when visiting Hawaii, and with several different luaus on the beach, it’s absolutely one of the best things to do in Kaanapali.
All of these luaus are outdoor and take place right along the beachwalk. Just walking along the beachwalk, you can actually see the show at the Westin and the Hyatt, which adds a lot of ambiance as you’re out for an evening stroll.
However, getting a sneak peak from the beachwalk is not enough – you definitely need to attend one!
When you arrive at a luau, you are warmly welcomed with a flower lei and an opportunity to get drinks. Then the traditional whole roast pig (kalua pig) is paraded through the crowd, and the buffet opens to guests.
A luau buffet dinner is a tantalizing spread of traditional Polynesian dishes, which includes kalua roast pig, huli huli chicken, oven roasted mahi, fried rice, a variety of salads, grilled vegetables, fresh fruits, and taro rolls (taro rolls are unique in that they’re purple!), plus other dishes and desserts.
If you’re up for something new, you can join in the hula dance lessons they do before the show.
Then the real entertainment starts! Immerse yourself in Polynesian culture as you watch the incredible dancing routines. Sometimes the men perform, doing dances like the haka or the ever popular fire knife dance. Sometimes the women dance, swaying to graceful hulas or executing impressive hip-shaking dances from Tahiti. The drums are rhythmic and the atmosphere is just fun!
While all three resorts had good luaus, I think the Drums of the Pacific luau at the Hyatt Regency was the best — it had our favorite dinner and show.
Honestly, though, you’re not going to be disappointed with any of the luaus in Kaanapali!
You don’t need to be a guest at any of these resorts to go to the luau, but you should make a reservation in advance, because they do fill up. Check availabilty for the Drums of the Pacific Show here!
2. Shop Whalers Village
Whalers Village is an open air shopping complex right on the beach. Here, you’ll find a combination of boutiques, local products, name brands, luxury brands, souvenir shops, and restaurants.
It’s a popular shopping area and is very convenient, as it’s located right on the Kaanapali Beachwalk.
We particularly liked the ABC Store, as it had a whole host of practical items, such as sunscreen, chapstick, Aloe, grocery items, hats, etc, as well as some classic souvenirs, such as T-shirts, necklaces, etc.
3. Whale Watching Tour
Whale watching season runs in Maui from November to May, with the peak season from January to March.
Thousands of humpback whales migrate to the warm Hawaiian waters to breed and nurse their babies. The shallow waters off of the Kaanapali beaches are a popular spot for the whales, making it an excellent spot to go on a tour.
This whale watching tour is an amazing experience because you are a small group on a small, inflatable boat (thus, close to the water with better views), and the crew shares a lot of information about the whales. During the best months, you’ll almost certainly get a lot of up close and personal encounters with the whales. It was just an incredible experience all around!
In fact, during the whaling season of December to April, you are guaranteed to see whales or you get your money back. Check current rates for whale watching here!
If you are visiting Kaanapali outside of whale season, you can go parasailing instead! (There is no parasailing during whale season.)
Parasailing is a really fun water sport! You are harnessed to a parachute, which is tied to a boat. When the boat starts, the parachute raises you in the air ~500 feet above the turquoise waters of the Pacific. Keep your eyes open below you – you just might see some sea life swimming in the waves!
Snorkeling gear is available for rent at many spots up and down the beach. There’s excellent sea life all along Kaanapali (my brother and mom saw a sea turtle swim right in front of them once!) and the clear waters afford fantastic views.
Pro tip: The waters right around Blackrock have some really cool underwater structures, making it an excellent and popular snorkeling area.
6. Snorkel Catamaran Tour
Alternatively, another fun way to experience the sea, the views, and the fish is to go on a snorkel catamaran tour.
Sail from Kaanapali over to the coast of Lanai (a neighboring island) in a catamaran and hop off the boat to snorkel in the crystal clear waters of Manele Bay!
Bonus – during whale season, you will certainly see whales as you sail around Maui and Lanai. Check current rates for this snorkel catamaran tour here!
7. Underwater Boat Tour
One final, cool way to experience sea life is with this unique boat tour. The boat looks like half submarine/half boat and is designed so you can sit underwater as the boat cruises around, admiring the sea life through the glass sides.
This is a great option if you don’t want to (or can’t) snorkel, or just want a different and unique underwater perspective! Check current rates for this “underwater” boat tour here!
Surfboards and longboards are available to rent at many locations up and down Kaanapali beach. If you know how to surf and just need a rental, swing by any of these shops to pick up what you need.
However, if you are a newbie to surfing and want some instruction, a surf class is the way to go!
These surfing classes have a small instructor to student ratio. You start with a quick lesson on land and then get into the water. The instructor is there to help you learn the techniques and get you up on the waves. We really liked our surfing class – it was so fun and really gave you a solid foundation.
9. Stroll Along the Kaanapali Beachwalk
Is it surprising that walking the beachwalk is one of my favorite things to do in Kaanapali? We loved being able to walk up and down this landscaped path under the shadow of swaying palms, admiring the sea, checking out the different resorts, and peeking in on the luaus at night.
With so many restaurants, activities, luaus, and things to do in Kaanapali that are right on the beach, the paved beachwalk is a convenient and beautiful way to get around, and an activity in its own right!
10. Get in a Round of Golf
The Kaanapali Golf Course is located on the southern end of the beach, tucked behind the Marriott and the Hyatt, but with views over the ocean. If you like golf, getting in a round on the beach is a must! Find more information here!
11. Watch the Sunset Ceremony at Black Rock
Black Rock is a rocky outcropping jutting into the water at the north end of the Kaanapali Beachwalk, right by the Sheraton.
Right before sunset, a conch blows to announce the arrival of a Hawaiian warrior, who runs from the Sheraton up to Black Rock with a torch, lighting tiki torches along the way. At the tip of Black Rock, he throws the torch and a lei into the water and then dives in headfirst.
This ceremony is intended to honor the last chief of Maui, Kahekili, who proved his spiritual strength by jumping from the Pu’u Keka’a (now called Black Rock) into the ocean.
This is a free “show” and you can watch from the beach or the beachwalk. It’s a fun experience and cool way to transition to your evening activities.
12. Watch the Sunset
Sunsets on Kaanapali Beach are absolutely phenomenal. The way the sun gets huge as it makes contact with the water is *chefs kiss*. Make sure to catch at least one sunset during your stay.
13. ATV Tour
Ready to venture off the beach for more epic experiences?
For a combination of adventure + high speeds + rugged roads + scenic views, an ATV tour around Maui is a great way to have fun in a beautiful area. You’ll have the opportunity to go into the more mountainous areas and see unique spots and stunning views. Definitely wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, as you’ll get either muddy or dusty (depending on when the last rainfall was!)
14. Take Scuba Diving Lessons
Learning how to scuba dive is a really cool way to level up your underwater Hawaiian experience. I recommend this class, as there’s no need for prior experience, and the class is designed for beginners.
When you show up for your scuba lessons, you’ll do some practice first, then head into the ocean waters. Group sizes are small and a guide is always with you, attentive to helping you when you need it.
The biggest thing to get used to when scuba diving is the feeling of pressure from the water – it’s going to feel like it’s squeezing you!
Note that if you have health issues, you will need a doctor’s note to participate, so consider that in advance!
While snorkeling gives a great view of the sea life, there is nothing like scuba diving and getting up close and personal with all the creatures under the surface. You get to explore coral reefs and admire the sunlight dancing along the bottom of the ocean floor.
15. Lookout Point
About 20 minutes north of Kaanapali Beach, on HI-30, are some ruggedly beautiful lookout points. These areas are more rocky and higher up from sea level. You can drive around the point, or you can stop at some of the many pull-off locations to admire the view, watch the sunset, or be by yourself in nature.
We particularly like the lookout spot at Papua Gulch and the views from Acid War Zone Trail. You can find these points on the map below:
The Flyin’ Hawaiian ziplining course on Maui has one of the best zips that I have ever experienced and was one of my absolute top favorite things to do in Kaanapali! This course is found in the west Maui mountains, where you’ll experience 8 different zips that take you across 9 mountain ridges and 11 valleys.
From the Welcome Center, your guides will drive you up into the mountains and outfit you with gear (Note: Wearing closed toed shoes is required!)
After a safety lesson and a practice zip, you start on the real course, zipping between mountain ridges, sailing high and fast above the canyon floor below you. You are often flying along up to 450 feet in the air as the valley between mountain ridges drops off underneath you, reaching speeds up to 60 mph.
The views are incredible, with lush vegetation, steep mountain slopes, and sparkling ocean vistas on every side. The longest zip is 3600 feet long! It’s thrilling, exhilarating and gorgeous!
The guides you are with are playful and funny, and the course itself is top notch! Check current rates here!
17. Bike Haleakala
Haleakala is the massive volcano that covers more than half of the island of Maui, and you can actually bike down the volcano!
To do this adventurous activity, you need to book a tour that leaves from the city of Paia. We love and recommend this self-guided tour with Maui Sunriders, as they outfit you with all the needed gear, drive you up close to the summit of the volcano, and then drop you off at the biking launch point.
It takes about 1.5 hours to drive to the top, and the whole time your guide is sharing interesting information about the volcano, the sugarcane and pineapple fields you pass, the history of the island, points of interest, and just general Hawaiian fun facts – making the drive up go by very fast.
What I particularly love about this tour is that it’s a self-guided tour, meaning you get dropped off at the starting point and then are free to go at your own speed back down the volcano, stopping at your leisure when you want to admire the view or take pictures.
Your eyes will be feasting on the way down, but keep your nose on alert, too – during your ride you’ll pass through a eucalyptus grove, with a tantalizing scent in the air!
The first half of the ride is primarily a series of switchbacks and great vistas, and then about halfway you’ll find this little town that seriously looks like a Hawaiian/wild west fusion. There’s some cute shops and restaurants where you can stop for lunch.
Your ride ends back at the outfitters in Paia. On the whole, you’ll bike 24 miles, which takes about 2-3 hours to complete (not including the ride up).
Pro Tip #1: After you’re done with your bike ride, head to the Paia Fish Market in town and order their blackened opakapaka. It was hands-down the best fish I’ve ever eaten!
Pro Tip #2: Beaches along the north side of the island by Paia are popular surfing beaches, with some extremely big waves. Come to Honolua Bay, Hookipa Beach, or Peahi beach to see the pros tackle some massive waves (it’s not recommended to surf here unless you’re a professional).
18. Road to Hana
Driving the road to Hana is probably THE most popular thing to do near Kaanapali on Maui. This drive through the tropical forest is known to be absolutely stunning, with beautiful foliage and viewpoints as you drive along.
There are bamboo forests, waterfalls you can stop off to see, gorgeous ocean viewpoints, and little markets on the side of the road.
This is a fantastic thing to do near Kaanapali, and indeed, on Maui in general.
And if you don’t want to do the crazy adventures (like ziplining or biking a volcano) but still want to see some epically pretty places, this is a particularly great option.
Note: The road to Hana is extremely winding, so if you’re prone to carsickness, I would absolutely recommend taking some anti-nausea medication before you embark.
When you arrive in Hana, one gorgeous spot to visit is the Waianapanapa State Park, with its rugged views and some stunning black sand beaches. As of 2021, you need need a reservation to visit Waianapanapa. You can make reservations here.
It’s highly recommended to stay one or two nights in Hana, since it takes 3 hours to get there from the Kaanapali area , not including any stops you take. You’ll want some time to really explore the area in Hana!
Check out a list of the best stops to make on the Road to Hana here
19. Helicopter ride
Okay, a helicopter tour over Maui is obviously a big ticket item and there’s no getting around the fact that this is a pricey experience.
But dang is this a cool experience!
You get 180 degree unobstructed views over the islands (you will see parts of Maui and Molokai – a neighboring island), which are just jaw-dropping from the air.
The crew is friendly and the pilot is engaging – sharing interesting tidbits and fun facts as you fly around. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? HECK YES.
20. Hit the Pools and Beach
So, this is an OBVIOUS thing to do in Kaanapali (you don’t need me to tell you to hit the beach when you go to… the beach). I’m still including it on this list though, because wow the beaches at Kaanapali are beautiful! Laying out, soaking up rays, wading, swimming, or playing frisbee should definitely take up a chunk of your time in Kaanapali.
I also highly, highly recommend staying in a nice beach resort when visiting Maui. A big part of the experience is the beautiful grounds, palms, and pools created in the tropical paradise of the resort grounds.
As someone who is generally a budget traveler, the prices on some of these resorts really takes my breath away. But I do think its worth saving your dollars up to spend at least a few nights (or the whole trip, if you can) in one of the beautiful resorts on the beach, so you can take advantage of the pool areas.
That conveniently takes us into the next section, which is…
Where to Stay on Kaanapali Beach
Kaanapali Beach has several big name resorts on it, as well as some smaller hotels.
Personally, I think the Marriott and the Hyatt Regency are the best overall resorts on this beach, and the Kaanapali Ali’i is the best resort if you want to stay in an apartment. Here’s why these three are the best options on Kaanapali, and information to decide which one works the best for your needs and preferences:
Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club
The Marriott Maui Ocean Club is one of the top resorts on Kaanapali beach because the grounds are just absolutely stunning. Vibrant tropical vegetation and flowers are everywhere and there are 3 pool choices plus a hot tub. Water features include waterslides built into the rocks, waterfalls, a grotto you can swim through, and a children’s pool with a shipwreck feature.
There is also a fitness center, tennis courts, and hammocks strung throughout the property.
Most rooms are a standard hotel room. If you want more space and amenities, you can upgrade to the One Bedroom Garden View Suite, with a living area, and mini kitchen area.
There are also several poolside bars, where you could order drinks, smoothies, and pool snacks. I highly recommend the coconut shrimp – really the best shrimp I’ve ever had!
You can rent beach gear (paddle boards, snorkel gear, surf boards) from their Water Sports Center.
Honestly, the grounds are so beautiful at the Marriott, you won’t ever want to leave!
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa
The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa also has jaw-droppingly beautiful grounds, and its complex of pools cannot be beat!
You can get a basic hotel room, a hotel room with a little extra room that includes a sofa, or upgrade to some truly magnificent suites that include a lot of space.
The grounds are absolutely top of the line, with six different pools that include waterfalls, a long (150 foot) waterslide, a bridge, a children’s pool, and hot tub. Our favorite pool was one that goes into a cave, and inside the cave is a swim up bar. Besides the cave pool bar, there are several additional restaurants and poolside bars and grills to order food from. They even have a shaved ice stand as you leave the resort to go to the beach.
There is also a fitness center (with daily classes – including yoga on the beach), basketball and tennis courts, and a spa on-site.
And of course, the Hyatt Regency hosts the Drums of the Pacific Luau every night on-site – the best luau on Kaanapali Beach.
The Kaanapali Ali’i is different from all the other resorts on the beach in that it is a condominium complex, and the owners rent out their units individually. There are a small number of units that are owned and managed by the complex themselves, and you can always call the Ali’i directly and see what they have. However, we’ve found the best deals through third party sites.
The condos in the Ali’i are clean and modern, and have a full kitchen, washer and dryer, as well as several bedrooms and bathrooms. We’ve loved having the ground floor unit, opening the sliding door, and walking straight out onto the Ali’i property.
The grounds are lovely and well-maintained, but they just aren’t as extensive as the bigger properties like the Marriott and Hyatt. There are several beautiful pool areas and a very nice, large hot tub. Also, this section of the beach, though in the middle, is just a little quieter and less crowded, which we definitely consider a plus!
One thing we loved about staying at the Ali’i is the grill area by the beach. The grill is set up extremely well, with many nice grills, all the grilling and serving supplies you could need (including paper products, grilling tools, and utensils), and a covered eating area in case of rain.
We love to grill anyway, and it’s hard to beat the beautiful surroundings here. Plus, it was a nice way to save some money and not need to eat out for every meal.
Other amenities include a fitness center, tennis courts, day spa, and complimentary grill service. From Friday to Tuesday from 5:30-8:30, bring your grilling items and seasonings to the grill and the on-site grill master will grill your meats, vegetables, and fruit to perfection.
Where to Eat in Kaanapali
When you are ready to enjoy the delectable offerings of Hawaii, Kaanapali Beach has several fantastic options that combine great food with beautiful scenery and wonderful island vibes.
The Hula Grill was my favorite restaurant in Kaanapali. It’s located right outside of the Whalers Village, and had a large seating area right in the sand. Take your shoes off, dig your toes into the sand, enjoy the tiki torches around you, watch the sunset, and listen to the waves as you enjoy your meal.
Basically, there is a TON of ambiance at the Hula Grill, but they’re not slacking on the food either.
We LOVED the Macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi, fish tacos, and coconut calamari here. Can’t recommend this spot enough!
The Kaanapali Grill is located on the Marriott property, so it’s very convenient to hop in and grab a bite to eat if you are staying there. But, it is open to anyone and a great option for dinner. Some nights, the Kaanapali Grill has live music, too.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shaved Ice
This was our absolute favorite spot for shaved ice! The ice here was ground extremely fine, the flavors were top notch, and you could get ice cream at the bottom of your bowl – delicious!
Ululani’s is located in front of the Hyatt Regency, on the beach.
Duke’s Beach House
Duke’s Beach House is actually located on the other side of Black Rock, on the north side of the Sheraton.
The food is very good here – you can choose from mouth-watering entrees like seafood risotto, baked fish tacos, or a basil garlic lobster tail. The area is slightly quieter than the beach south of Black Rock. Come here if you want delicious food, a change of scenery, and a calmer setting.
Drums of the Pacific Luau
As discussed above, going to a luau is an absolute must when in Hawaii. The Sheraton, Westin, and Hyatt all have luaus in Kaanapali, but we personally think the Drums of the Pacific at the Hyatt Regency is the best!
You don’t need to be a guest at the Hyatt to attend, but you should make a reservation ahead of time.
Beach Bums is one of the best places to eat near Kaanapali beach. It’s located between the airport and the beach, in the Maalaea harbor shops. It’s a small place but is well-known for its succulent Hawaiian BBQ, which I can confirm is excellent!
Hit up Beach Bums on your way back from ziplining, as it’s right on the way back to Kaanapali Beach.
Other Things to Know About Maui
You can find flights from the mainland US that will land directly in Maui, but it is often cheaper to get flights to Honolulu and then a short flight to Maui. The Kahului airport (OGG) is about 30 minutes by car from Kaanapali beach.
If you plan to do any activities off of Kaanapali beach (and I really, highly recommend you do!), you really need a rental car. It’s going to be the most cost effective, convenient option to get around.
Driving in Hawaii is just like driving in the mainland US – the roads have the same types of signs and markers.
This is my favorite place to book rental cars on Maui.
If you are staying elsewhere on Maui and just want to visit Kaanapali Beach for the day, there are some free public parking lots with beach access. Get the low-down on available parking here.
There are grocery stores not far from Kaanapali Beach in Lahaina where you can get any groceries you may need for your Hawaiian stay. However, grocery stores are extremely expensive in Hawaii! I mean, still cheaper than eating out all the time, but be prepared.
You can find cheaper groceries at Costco and Walmart, but they are in Kahalui – so it’s best to go there right away when you leave the airport.
You can also grab other beach supplies at Walmart if needed. They definitely cater to the local tourist scene and have plenty of gear, from Hawaiian shirts to sunscreen.
Best Time of Year to Go
There is no bad time of year to visit Hawaii! Average highs range from the high 70’s to mid-80’s year round, so there will always be warm, tropical weather.
However, April to May and September to November is the low (or rather, lower) season, which will see lower crowds and lower prices.
The dry season runs from May to October, with significantly more rain falling between November and April. However, rain in Hawaii is normally an afternoon shower, with nice weather before and after the rain falls.
Travel Essentials for Kaanapali, Maui
Here are a few things that I have loved using on our tropical vacations:
Sunscreen: We absolutely love this sunscreen stick for facial sunscreen needs. It applies so easily for everyone – we’ll never go back!
However, I have very sensitive, acne-prone skin, and so I use this facial sunscreen designed to not cause breakouts. I love this one so much that I actually use it every day, beach or not! It’s lightweight and rubs into my skin smoothly.
Cover up: This cover up is perfect for a tropical vacation – it works well over a swimsuit, or even over shorts and a tank as a kimono.
Beachy dresses: I am so in love with these easy, breezy maxi dresses – I actually own two of them! This dress comes in a lot of fun prints – perfect for a tropical vacation.
Compressible “Straw” Hat: What I love about this hat is that it looks like a straw hat, but is actually waterproof, compressible (so you can squeeze it into your suitcase instead of babying it through the airport), and still looks and feels awesome.
Packing cubes: I held out on buying these packing cubes for so long, which was silly because they have been so. dang. useful. These help keep your clothes and personal items grouped, sorted, and organized. I can actually find things without digging through my entire suitcase now!
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in Kaanapali Beach
A Hawaiian vacation is a bucket list experience for many people, and I can’t deny that writing about it here has me itching to go back!
The chill, laid back vibes of Hawaii, combined with music, the tiki torches, the traditional food, and the welcoming people make a visit to Maui and Kaanapali an experence like none other. So what are you waiting for? Get to planning!
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