Beach Travel

See Hawaii’s Past, Present and Future Through the Lens of Wailea Beaches

If you’re in the right frame of mind when you sit on the beach at gorgeous Wailea, you can almost see back in time to when the Hawaiian goddess Lea is said to have turned herself into a beautiful ‘elepaio bird and joyously soared over the coast. It’s from her tale that the area Wailea (“Waters of Lea”) got its name.

There is a Wailea beach for any mood. Whether you are looking for amazing snorkeling, a quintessential sandy beach where you can relax and admire the view, or to wade into turquoise water and explore the marine life, you’ll find it along this sunny, southern and leeward coast of Maui.

As long as people have lived on Maui, they have appreciated the beauty of the beaches at Wailea.

Wailea Beach

As long as people have lived on Maui, they have appreciated the beauty of the beaches at Wailea. These days, the wide, sandy, palm-lined beach called Wailea Beach (its older name is Kahamanini, or “place of the surgeon fish”) is consistently named one of the world’s best beaches. From its sands you can see the islands of Kaho’olawe, Lana’i and tiny Molokini — and in the winter, migrating whales spouting and breaching.

wailea beaches
Spend the day and stay for sunset. Wailea Beach never disappoints. (Photo: Getty Images)

There is good snorkeling at both ends of this beach but only when the ocean is calm — don’t swim at any of the Wailea beaches when seas are rough, as there can be dangerous rip currents.

This is your beach if you’re looking for a resort vibe and don’t mind an experience with plenty of others around. There’s also a paved walkway that runs the length of the beach, which is dotted with bathrooms and showers. Arrive in the morning for easy, free parking before the lot fills up.

Makena State Park

This is your beach if you're looking for a resort vibe and don't mind an experience with plenty of others around.

Nearby Makena Beach, coined “Big Beach” by locals, is a part of Makena State Park and one of Maui’s best-known beaches, with white sands that extend almost two-thirds of a mile. As the name implies, it’s one of the island’s largest beaches.

Trees provide shade, and the ocean here has a nice sandy bottom, making it good for swimmers. Still, this isn’t a good beach for snorkeling because the water is cloudy close to shore, and farther out there is a strong current.

While Big Beach is technically part of Makena, it’s adjacent to Wailea, along the same small stretch of coastline and easily accessible no matter where you’re staying in the region — and worth visiting.

The black sand beach called One’uli, also part of Makena State Park, is a great spot for divers and experienced snorkelers. It’s more secluded, too, and therefore perfect if you’re looking for a peaceful retreat.

La Perouse Bay

wailea beaches
Savor the rugged beauty of La Perouse. (Photo: Getty Images)

Hawaiians used to call this bay Keone’o’io, or “the sandy [place with] bonefish.” But in 1786 — just before Haleakala’s most recent eruption in 1790 — the French explorer Captain Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Perouse, surveyed and mapped the waters, and since then it’s been commonly called La Perouse Bay.

Wear shoes when you visit this rustic, rugged area because you’ll be hiking across a lava field dating from Haleakala’s most recent flow. You’ll stumble upon archaeological sites from old Hawaii, tide pools to explore and a hiking trail that starts at the end of the parking lot and is part of the King’s Highway, an ancient trail that circled the island. The bay is a great spot for snorkeling, and you may even spot dolphins.

La Perouse is adjacent to a Natural Area Reserve, too, a protected home to many species of fish, marine mammals and honu, or sea turtles, ensuring that these waters will continue to teem with wildlife in the future.