West Maui

West Maui

This is the fabled Maui you see on postcards. Jagged peaks, green velvet valleys, a wilderness full of native species—the majestic West Maui Mountains are the epitome of earthly paradise. The beaches here are some of Hawaii’s best. And it’s no secret: This stretch of coastline along Maui’s “forehead,” from Kapalua to the historic port of Lahaina, is the island’s most bustling resort area (with south Maui close behind). Expect a few mainland-style traffic jams.

If you want to book a resort or condo on this coast, fi rst consider what community you’d like to base yourself in. Starting at the southern end of west Maui and moving northward, the coastal communities look like this.

LAHAINA

This old seaport is a tame version of its former self, a raucous whaling town where sailors swaggered ashore in search of women and grog. Today, the vintage village teems with restaurants, T-shirt shops, and a gallery on nearly every block; parts of it are downright tacky, but there’s still a lot of real history to be found amid the tourist development. Lahaina makes a great base for visitors: A few old hotels (such as the restored 1901 Pioneer Inn on the harbor), quaint bed-and-breakfasts, and a handful of oceanfront condos offer a variety of choices. This is the place to stay if you want to be in the center of things—restaurants, shops, and nightlife—but parking can be a problem.

KAANAPALI

Farther north along the west Maui coast is Hawaii’s first master- planned family resort. Pricey midrise hotels line nearly 3 miles of lovely gold-sand beach; they’re linked by a landscaped parkway and a walking path along the sand. Golf greens wrap around the slope between beachfront and hillside properties. Whalers Village—a seaside mall with 48 shops and restaurants, plus the best little whale museum in Hawaii—and other restaurants are easy to reach on foot along the oceanfront walkway or by resort shuttle, which also serves the small West Maui Airport just to the north. Shuttles also go to Lahaina (see above), 3 miles to the south, for shopping, dining, entertainment, and boat tours. Kaanapali is popular with convention groups and families—especially those with teenagers, who like all the action.

HONOKOWAI, KAHANA & NAPILI

During the building binge of the 1970s, condominiums sprouted along this gorgeous coastline like mushrooms after a rain. Today, these older ocean-side units offer excellent bargains for astute travelers. The great location—along sandy beaches, within minutes of both the Kapalua and Kaanapali resort areas, and close enough to the goings-on in Lahaina—makes this area a great place to stay for value-conscious travelers. It feels more peaceful and residential than either Kaanapali or Lahaina.

In Honokowai and Mahinahina, you’ll fi nd mostly older units that tend to be cheaper. There’s not much shopping here (mostly convenience stores), but you’ll have easy access to the shops and restaurants of Kaanapali.

Kahana is a little more upscale than Honokowai and Mahinahina. Most of its condos are big high-rise types, newer than those immediately to the south. You’ll fi nd a nice selection of shops and restaurants (including the Maui branch of Roy’s) in the area, and Kapalua–West Maui Airport is nearby.

Napili is a much-sought-after area for condo seekers: It’s quiet; has great beaches, restaurants, and shops; and is close to Kapalua. Units are generally more expensive here.

KAPALUA

North beyond Kaanapali and the shopping centers of Napili and Kahana, the road starts to climb and the vista opens up to fi elds of golden-green pineapple and manicured golf fairways. A country lane lined with Pacifi c pines that leads toward the sea brings you to Kapalua. It’s the very exclusive domain of the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Kapalua and expensive condos and villas, set on one of Hawaii’s best white-sand beaches, next to two bays that are marine-life preserves (with fabulous surfi ng in winter).

Even if you don’t stay here, you’re welcome to come and enjoy Kapalua. The fancy hotel here provides public parking and beach access. The resort has an art school where you can learn local crafts, as well as a golf school, three golf courses, historic features, swanky condos and homes (many available for vacation rental at astronomical prices), and wide-open spaces that include a rainforest preserve—all open to the general public.

Kapalua is a great place to stay put. However, if you plan to “tour” Maui, know that it’s a long drive from here to get to many of the island’s highlights. You might want to consider a more central place to stay—even Lahaina is a 15-minute drive away.