There’s no shortage of things to do on Maui, and Kihei, on the island’s southwest shore, is no exception. Considered the sunniest and driest end of Maui, this area was once a popular destination for Hawaiian royalty—and for good reason. It boasts six miles of sandy beaches, many that offer spectacular views of the offshore islands of Kahoolawe, Lanai, and Molokini. If you stay somewhere like the super convenient Maui Coast Hotel, you really have no reason to leave, as Kihei has its own shopping malls, restaurants, sports bars, and even a bustling farmers’ market. But its proximity to notable neighborhoods—like lively Lahaina to the west, the artsy town of Paia to the north, and the ranchlands and breathtaking natural beauty of Upcountry Maui and Haleakala to the east—will entice even the most stubborn vacationer to venture out.
Hit the Beach
The one thing Kihei is best known for is its beaches. Keawakapu Beach is a gorgeous stretch of sand extending from South Kihei to Wailea’s Mokapu Beach. Its location, set back from the main road, keeps it hidden and uncrowded. Mornings here are best for snorkeling, and evenings are perfect for viewing the sunset. The trio of Kamaole Beach Parks are quintessential Maui beaches, with sparkling white sand and calm waters ideal for swimming. If you’re feeling active, take advantage of the tennis and basketball courts, the inline skating rink, or the new skateboard park. If all you want to work on is your tan, however, don’t worry—there’s plenty of room to lounge here, too.
A mile north of Kihei is the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few natural wetlands remaining in the Hawaiian Islands. This 691-acre refuge is home to the endangered Hawaiian stilt and coot, and adjacent to Kealia Beach, which is a nesting ground for the endangered hawksbill turtle. Thousands of people visit the refuge every year, armed with birding binoculars and cameras. You can walk along the 2,200-foot Kealia Coastal Boardwalk through ancient wetlands and spot the area’s two native waterbirds and other migratory birds in season. North, you’ll find Maalaea Bay, where you can book a snorkeling adventure to the nearby crescent-shaped island of Molokini, or hop on a pleasure cruise to see migrating humpback whales breaching and spouting on the ocean’s surface. The three-acre Maui Ocean Center is also located in Maalaea, with impressive exhibits on coral reef habitats, sea turtles, sharks, and humpback whales.
Maui has become a destination for foodies, with a slew of distinctive, top-rated eateries opening up in recent years. And South Maui has its share of must-eats, too. Visit 808 Bistro, hidden behind a Mexican restaurant on South Kihei Road. Relax in the lush, outdoor dining area with a short rib omelet, a crab cake Benedict, or the popular banana bread French toast. For fresh fish and poke (a popular Hawaiian dish traditionally made with chunks of raw ahi marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil), head to Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar. You may want to start with the award-winning Japanese calamari salad, which is served in a crispy wonton basket. And for dessert, stop at the newly opened Maui Pie. Will it be the tropical mango strawberry or the heavenly coconut cream—or perhaps a slice of each?