When you’re planning a trip to Maui for the first time, you’ll inevitably be hit with the question: Kaanapali vs. Wailea? Where should you stay?

And you’ll be greeted with message board after message board of past travelers telling you that one is better than the other — but everyone disagrees. Cue the frustration. But don’t worry, we’re here to put this question to rest once and for all. 

In the battle of Kaanapali vs Wailea: who wins? Stay in Wailea if you want to stay in one of the big four-star resorts. Stay in Kaanapali if you want a more walkable, lively experience and more opportunities to find a vacation rental.

Is it that simple? Almost. Read on because we’re putting to rest all of the rumors so you can find the perfect spot for your Maui vacation.

Where are Kaanapali and Wailea?

Kaanapali and Wailea are both on the island of Maui. They are far from the only places to stay on the island, but they do offer the most number of resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals.

When you ask someone for recommendations on where to stay, you’ll most frequently be given suggestions in one or both of these locations. 

Kaanapali is on the west side of Maui, just a few miles north of the historic whaling village of Lahaina. Drive time to the Kahului airport is 40 minutes. 

Wailea is in south Maui, with the view of Haleakala (though it’s not a quick drive to get there). The Kahului airport is approximately a 25-minute drive away and Kihei is just 10 or so minutes up the road.

Why should you stay in Kaanapali?

Built in the 1960s to be a resort community, Kaanapali offers five resorts and multiple vacation condo options. It stretches along three miles of coastline with golden sand beaches. Add in two golf courses and an open-air shopping center, Whaler’s Village, it is a self-contained destination giving you many amenities so you can fully enjoy your vacation without leaving. (Though you really should leave and explore the island).

Why should you stay in Wailea?

Live your most luxurious dreams. Wailea is home to some of the nicest resorts on Maui, including the Grand Wailea and the Four Seasons. Stay there and enjoy a truly peaceful vacation — it’s quieter and you’ll surely feel pampered and rested by the time you leave. 

Breaking down the Kaanapali vs. Wailea debate: 

One of my favorite things is reading travel advice forums where people furiously debate the merits of each location. It seems that everyone has their favorite spot and will passionately try to tell you why one area is far superior to the other. 

Let’s put this in perspective: you’re planning a vacation to Maui. It’s going to be great regardless of where you choose to stay. 

But there are some differences in the two locations that may make you prefer one location over the other. So let’s break these down.

Kaanapali vs. Wailea: Weather

One often-cited reason for staying in Wailea over Kaanapali is that Wailea has better weather. When you’re heading away on a tropical vacation, the last thing you want to worry about is rainy days. Does one of these locations really offer better weather than the other? 

According to BestPlaces.net, these are the weather statistics for Kaanapali and Wailea:

  Kaanapali Wailea
Average rainfall 24 in 15.2 in
Number of sunny days 278 days 276 days
Average days of rain 142.7 days 44.8 days
Average July high 85.8° 87.3° 
Average January low 64.8° 63.7°

The results speak for themselves. You’ll have more of a chance of rain if you plan to stay in Kaanapali. That said, half the year Kaanapali gets very little rainfall. From May – October, rain won’t be much of an issue.

Planning a trip from November – April, you may want to think about the possibility of more rainy days if you decide to stay in Kaanapali.

Kaanapali vs. Wailea: Beaches

If beaches are the main attraction for your trip, does one area have better beaches than the other?

Wailea is most well-known for it’s for golden sand beaches and crystal blue water. But while the beaches are gorgeous they come with a warning: the waves can be rough.

This is particularly a concern when you head just south of Wailea to Big Beach. There are frequent warnings about dangerous waves and surf and it’s advised that only strong swimmers enter the water. If you plan on venturing into the water anywhere, but especially in Wailea, pay attention to any posted warning signs. 

The Ka’anapali beach is beautiful, but different.

Kaanapali has three miles of white sand beaches and was once named America’s best beach. While the beach isn’t as large and some may say the sand isn’t as golden, the waves are much calmer and it’s easier and safer to enjoy a dip in the ocean, even with kids.

And if you love jumping off rocks into the water you’ll be thrilled with Black Rock in Kaanapali. 

The winner here is a toss-up: both offer beautiful beaches, but Kaanapali offers an easier swimming experience. If you plan to spend more time enjoying the water, Kaanapali is a better spot.

Want to find the best beaches? We have a list of the 17 best beaches on Maui (plus directions, tips, and more). 

Kaanapali vs. Wailea: Snorkeling

Does one area offer better snorkeling than the other? This one is truly a draw.

Near Kaanapali you’ll find great snorkeling at Honolua Bay, Kapalua Bay, and Kaanapali beach.

Down south near Wailea, you’ll find great snorkeling at Turtle Town and Ahihi-Kinau reserve. Famous snorkeling crater Molokini is located just off the coast of Wailea, but if you want to snorkel there you’ll need to take a snorkel boat. And most of those boats leave from Lahaina, just a few miles south of Kaanapali. 

Bottom line: you’ll find great snorkeling in both spots. 

Kaanapali vs. Wailea: Night-life

While you won’t find Vegas-style nightlife on this island, if you want more after-dark options for drinks and dining, Kaapanali will deliver. In the center of Kaanapali sits Whaler’s Village, a shopping center with restaurants that provides entertainment for your evenings. 

While Whaler’s Village isn’t really an exciting destination, Kaanapali has an added benefit with its proximity to Lahaina. Just a few miles down the road sits historic Lahaina, a lively, walkable town full of restaurants and bars. If you prefer not to make the quick drive yourself, there are shuttles running from the Kaanapali resorts to Lahaina.

If you stay in Kaanapali, do yourself a favor and check out our list of 10 Best Happy Hours in Lahaina

The nightlife in Wailea is quieter and many people choose to stay at their hotel in the evening or drive to another part of the island for a night out. You won’t find much activity and most people vacationing in Wailea prefer it that way. 

Bottom line: If you’re looking for nightlife, Kaanapali has more to offer.

Hawaii Vacation Guide Cheat Sheets Info

Kaanapali vs. Wailea: Honeymoon

While both locations are perfect for a honeymoon, resorts in Wailea feel like they are specifically designed to cater to the honeymooner. Especially when you’re looking at some of the luxurious spots like the Grand Wailea, the Four Seasons, and the adults-only hotel Wailea. The hotels in Wailea are some of the most expensive on the island, and they provide a luxurious stay that is perfect for a romantic honeymoon.

That’s not to say that the hotels in Kaanapali aren’t nice — they are. You will find fewer luxury resorts and more mid-range hotel options.

Bottom line: If you prefer a luxury resort honeymoon experience, Wailea is going to be the best choice for you.

Kaanapali vs. Wailea: Activities

Are one of these areas more convenient for all of the activities you’re excited to do? While you’ll likely spend a lot of time in the car exploring the island (road to Hana! Haleakala!), do one of these spots offer a better jumping-off point for your excursions?

Once you figure out where to stay on Maui you can start planning your things to do. Check out our free itineraries below as we specialize in Maui!

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Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I am a planner! I love to plan island-hopping adventures, days out on Maui, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time on our SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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