Maui Beach Tips
If you love the feel of soft, sun-warmed sand between your toes, then Maui — with 30 miles of beaches — is the place for you! There are plenty of lists out there proclaiming “Maui’s Best Beaches,” so I don’t think you need yet another list from me. Instead, I’m going to share some important Maui beach tips to help you fully enjoy your beach experience.
Maui’s beaches offer something for everyone, from the sprawl-on-the-beach-under-a-palm-tree experience to more active adventures. Each beach has its own character. Some are world-famous for surfing or windsurfing; some are ideal for snorkeling and swimming; others are well suited for families with young children. Maui beaches range from small coves to vast stretches, with sand that is colored white, gold, brown, black, or more exotic shades like red or green. Some beach areas have been developed into lovely beach parks with public facilities for beachgoers and picnickers; others are remote, rugged, and pristine.
NOTE: Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the operating hours and activities mentioned in this blog could change temporarily.
MAUI BEACH TIPS–WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
First, The Legal Stuff: The Rules
- There are no private beaches on Maui. Yes, you read that right! All beaches are open to the public. The public beach area is legally defined as extending up to “the upper reaches of the wash of the waves.” In other words, the high-water mark. Beyond that point, the land above the beach might be privately owned. And there’s the catch, because most private landowners (including resorts) do not want hundreds of people walking across their property each day in order to GET to the beach, and it is their right to protect their private property. So make sure you look for the public beach access signs. Park in appropriate public parking areas (not in a hotel parking lot that is reserved for their guests), and walk along the access paths to the beach. Here’s more information on where to find shoreline access for Maui’s beaches.
- Access to most Maui beaches is FREE. There are a few exceptions at some State beach parks and natural reserves where parking and/or entry fees are now charged. In addition to managing overcrowding, the fees are used to preserve and maintain these fragile shoreline environments. In south Maui, fees are now charged at Makena State Park and at the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve in Kanahena (on the way to La Perouse Bay). In East Maui (Hana area), advance reservations and parking/entry fees are now required for Waianapanapa State Park (famed for its black sand beach).
- Maui’s beaches and beach parks are smoke-free. Over the years, our beautiful beaches had become virtual ashtrays, littered with thousands of cigarette butts. Smoking is now prohibited at all County and State beaches in Maui, punishable by a fine up to $500.
- In general, alcoholic beverages are not allowed on Maui’s beaches. There are many State and County laws restricting the consumption of alcohol on or near Maui beaches or beach parks. Unfortunately, these laws are so varied and convoluted, it is virtually impossible to know when it is or is not legal to drink an alcoholic beverage on the beach. Laws vary depending on which beach it is and your proximity to a school, public restroom, public lookout, public highway, public sidewalk, municipal parking lot, etc. etc. etc. (Really. I am not kidding.) So, it’s just safer NOT to drink alcohol at the beach (alcohol and the ocean are a deadly combination, anyway). You might see people doing it, and the laws are not strictly enforced, but just be forewarned that when you pop open that icy cold beer or enjoy a sunset sip of chardonnay on the beach you are likely breaking the law.
Next, The Cautionary Stuff: Ocean Safety
There is no more heartbreaking news in Hawaii than to hear that a visitor has drowned or been seriously injured while here to enjoy our beaches. It happens far too often, and all the islands have undertaken public awareness campaigns to inform and educate our visitors about the potential dangers of the ocean. Always exercise good judgment when approaching the sea. The ocean is as powerful as it is magnificent, and currents and conditions can change unexpectedly. Heed all posted warning signs, and listen to the warnings from locals when visiting Maui’s beaches. If locals aren’t going into the water, you shouldn’t either!
Sometimes the ocean here looks like a lake, with tiny waves gently lapping the shore. Other times, massive waves come crashing in with frightening intensity. North Shore and East Maui beaches are more exposed to changing weather, strong ocean currents, and dangerous shorebreaks, so be extra careful there. West Maui and South Maui tend to have calmer ocean and beach conditions, although dangerous conditions can occur there, as well. The surf at South Maui’s Makena Beach (aka Big Beach; pictured above in the large heading photo) is infamous for knocking people down and causing injuries, and the West Maui bays from Kapalua to the north, like Mokuleia and Honolua, can be very dangerous, particularly with high winter surf.
For added safety, head for one of these ten beaches that have County lifeguards (staffed daily from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.):
- South Maui: Kamaole Beach Parks I, II and III in Kihei; Makena State Park, aka “Big Beach”
- West Maui: Hanakaoo Beach in Kaanapali (aka “Canoe Beach”); D. T. Fleming Beach in Kapalua
- North Shore: Kanaha Beach in Kahului; H.A. Baldwin Park in Paia; Hookipa
- East Maui: Hana Bay (limited seasonal schedule)
Some additional ocean safety tips:
- “Never turn your back to the sea” is a common warning here. Don’t be caught off-guard. An unexpected wave can knock you down and pull you out to sea (or seriously injure you) while you’re still trying to get your flippers on! So keep your eyes on the surf.
- When exploring tidepools and shoreline areas, wear protective footwear (like reef shoes) to prevent coral cuts — and keep an eye on the ocean, too. When swimming near coral, be careful. Coral is sharp and cuts can be painful and get easily infected. You can also damage or injure the coral itself by banging it or standing on it. Although coral may look like a strange crusty rock, it is actually a living animal (or more precisely, made up of thousands of miniscule animals clustered together). It grows very slowly and is precious to our marine environment, so please protect it and yourself from injury.
- Pay attention to the signs and flag warnings that are posted on some of the more populated beaches. They are there to advise you of unsafe conditions.
- Use the buddy system. Never swim, snorkel, or surf alone in the ocean. Make sure someone knows you are there and is looking out for you.
- After heavy rains, stay out of the ocean until the water clears. Avoid swimming in the mouths of rivers or streams or in any murky areas. Murky waters attract predators (pictured), and you don’t want to be mistaken for a fish or turtle when this guy is looking for a snack.
You’ll find an Ocean Safety Guide, “Swim Safe” Shark Tips, and an excellent ocean safety video here.
Okay. I hope I haven’t scared you off with all this talk of rules and drownings and (eek!) predators. Of course, thousands of people safely enjoy Maui’s beaches every day, so it’s most likely that you will have an incredible and uneventful beach experience. But a little caution goes a long way, and being informed and aware is NEVER a bad thing when it comes to ocean safety!
Finally, The Fun Stuff! Your Day At The Beach
- What to take TO the beach: drinking water, reef-safe sunscreen (at least SPF30–see more below), towels or beach mats (beach chairs, if you wish), bag for your trash, sunglasses, sun hat, beach shoes or slippers, and a change of clothes if you plan to go somewhere afterwards (wet swimsuits are not very comfortable for strolling around town!)
- What to leave AT the beach: footprints. That’s it. Our island environment, both on land and in the sea, is precious and fragile. Please respect it. Dispose of your trash properly. Don’t leave cigarette butts — or anything else — in the beach sand (and besides, now you know that smoking is prohibited on Maui beaches).
- What to take FROM the beach (other than your trash): unforgettable memories. Be cautious about removing any natural items to take as souvenirs, and don’t plan to take a scoop of Maui beach sand home with you as a memento. As of 2013, it is illegal to take sand from Hawaii beaches. It is also illegal to take dead coral, rocks and most other “marine deposits” from the beach. The exceptions are driftwood, shells, beach glass, glass floats, and seaweed.
- The Snorkel Store on Maui issues a daily snorkel report with the latest conditions around the island for the best snorkeling. Sign up and get this report so you can check out the best snorkel spots each day!
- Maui’s tropical sun can burn you fast, even more so when you are near the water, and even on a cloudy overcast day. Nothing can ruin a vacation faster than a painful sunburn! Keep slathering on your high-SPF sunscreen throughout the day, but make sure it is reef-safe. Many sunscreens have ingredients that can irreparably harm the coral reefs. On January 2, 2021, a new law took effect in Hawaii prohibiting the sale or distribution of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, two chemicals that have been proven harmful to the marine ecosystems. Hawaii is the first place in the world to ban sunscreens with these chemicals. If you brought sunscreen with you that contains those chemicals, please do not use it here. Instead, choose mineral sunscreens with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, as they are reef-friendly choices.
- Please enjoy but don’t feed the fish or any other wildlife. And remember, don’t approach or disturb a Hawaiian monk seal, green sea turtle, or any other endangered or protected wildlife. Admire them from a distance.
- Beach Sunsets: weather permitting, you can see spectacular sunsets from both South and West Maui beaches. And if it’s clear on the horizon at sunset, keep your eyes open for the rare green flash. In South Maui, you can catch beautiful sunsets from Makena to Kihei. In West Maui, great sunset viewing extends all the way north to Kapalua Beach. But once you turn the bend to DT Fleming Beach (at the Ritz Carlton Resort), you lose the direct sunset view. So plan your sunset-watching accordingly!
Wishing you many safe, memorable beach days on Maui!
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