• Heather Vergara

Best area to stay in Maui (Ka'anapali)

Planning a trip to Maui and wondering where to stay? Ka’anapali in west Maui is a favorite for families because it offers spectacular sunsets, walkable things to do, culinary hot spots and nightlife, and it’s usually more affordable than Wailea in south Maui. In our recent visit, we stayed four nights in Wailea and four nights in Ka’anapali, so I have the insight on the advantages of each.

  • Ka’anapali offers: livelier energy, culinary hot spots, walkable (great for teens/tweens), and it’s usually more affordable.

  • Wailea offers: relaxed pace, less crowds, less traffic and drive time to points of interest, more luxury, bigger beaches, bigger/grander resorts. See my blog story on Wailea here.

Keep reading for my reviews of the top six resorts in Ka’anapali as well as an overview of Kapalua in northwest Maui.



Ka’anapali, west Maui

Ka’anapali is a long stretch of beach just north of Lahaina Town, an oceanfront walkable street filled with restaurants, shopping, bars and nightlife. Ka’anapali Beach is lined with high rise resorts, timeshare properties, a food truck park, and even an upscale beachfront shopping center. Ka’anapali is well-loved for its sunsets, energy, and plentiful culinary options. While my hubs and I preferred the peacefulness and luxury of Wailea, our kids favored Ka’anapali because the pools at our resort were livelier and they liked that we could walk to Whaler’s Village for shopping and Black Rock for snorkeling and cliff diving.


Black Rock Cliff Divers, Ka'anapali Beach, Whaler's Village


Beaches in Ka’anapali can be narrow due to erosion, especially for the resorts on the south end starting with the Marriott Vacation Club through to the Hyatt properties (Residence Club and Hyatt Regency resort). Resorts on the north side of Ka'anapali (Westin, Sheraton, Royal Lahaina, etc.) have wider beaches. But if big, beautiful, peaceful beaches are your thing, Wailea may be a better fit.

Ka'anapali Beach south end (left and middle), beach at Sheraton on the north end (right)


Kapalua

The resort community of Kapalua is 15 minutes north of Ka’anapali and offers award-winning golf, two 5-star resorts (Ritz-Carlton and Montage) plus a few budget properties, beautiful cove beaches with excellent snorkeling, and a lovely coastal trail for walking. I don’t get requests for Kapalua nor do I recommend it because it tends to be windier and rainier, the upscale resorts are pricey, and the area is more secluded, which means more drive time to get to places of interest. However, the beaches and coastal trails are definitely worth a visit! And if you’re a golfer, the Kapalua Plantation Course is supposed to be the best! My hubs sure thought so!


Drive time

Before we get into the details of each resort in Ka’anapali, I wanted to provide drive times from Ka’anapali and Wailea to key tourist spots. For the most part, Wailea’s drive times are shorter given its more central location. Plus, there’s only one road in and out of Ka’anapali, so drive times can be unpredictable. If there’s an accident or construction, traffic can be stalled for hours.


 

Best Maui Resorts - Reviews of Ka'anapali Resorts

I had the pleasure of touring the top six resorts in Ka’anapali and will share all the details here! I’ve noted resorts with a star* if I can get Signature Travel Network special perks – typically free breakfast, $100 resort credit and possible upgrade! However, I have personal contacts at all these resorts and can hopefully get you something extra from my Maui friends! We’ll start with the resort I sell the most on Maui - a client favorite, Honua Kai.


Honua Kai

Honua Kai aerial view, 3BR Pi'ilani Suite layout


I’ve designed Hawaii dream vacations for more than 30 families in the last year, and almost half stayed or are booked at Honua Kai. What sets Honua Kai apart is you get all the comforts of home – space to spread out, full kitchen, laundry, large furnished lanai – plus all the amenities of a 4-star luxury Hawaii resort – beautiful beach, grounds and pools; great location; Duke's Maui; fitness center and spa. And, most importantly, you can get all of that at an amazing price. That’s almost impossible to come by in Hawaii, which is why so many of my clients say yes to Honua Kai once they see how it compares to their other options. With the price of food in Hawaii, you’ll love having a kitchen, even if it’s just for breakfast and some lunches – because who wants to cook on vacation?! And an in-unit washer/dryer is such a treat so you can pack light!


Honua Kai offers 600 1BR, 2BR and 3BR suites and villas spread over 38 acres. 1BRs sleep 4 and range from 600-950 square feet. 2BRs sleep 6 and provide more than 1100 square feet of living space. Those room categories often price better than a regular room at other Ka’anapali resorts. Where Honua Kai really shines for larger families is its 3BR offerings. However, the price point increases significantly from 2BR to 3BR. 3BRs sleep 8 people and range from 2000-3000 square feet. The Royal Collection (Ali’i or Pi’ilani) boasts huge wraparound furnished lanais and prime oceanfront views while the Luana Garden Villas provide a more home-like private setting but they're set back from the beach.


Honua Kai terrace view, 3BR lanai, Duke's Maui restaurant


At the heart and soul of Honua Kai is an imaginative 3-acre aquatic playground featuring a network of pools, hot tubs, lazy river, and more. Ho‘ola Spa offers Hawaiian spa treatments and a unique Himalayan Salt Room. If you’re looking to get energized, the 24-hour Fitness Center awaits you, featuring top-of-the-line equipment for every fitness level. The famous Duke’s Beach House provides exceptional oceanfront dining with fresh sustainable ingredients. ‘Aina Gourmet Market, a charming café with full coffee bar, offers healthy grab-and-go meals and a variety of grocery items perfect for the resort’s family-friendly BBQ grilling areas.


Honua Kai beach and pools


Honua Kai is walking distance to a Food Truck Park on one side and Black Rock (for snorkeling and cliff diving) and Whaler’s Village (for shopping and dining) on the other.


Honua Kai Selling Points: Honua Kai offers the best price/value on Maui – space for bigger families (up to 8 in a 3BR), full kitchen, in-unit laundry, and large furnished lanai (patio) plus all the amenities of a four-star luxury resort. All at a fantastic price! I sell this resort more than any other for those very reasons. Clients love it!


 

Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali*

Westin Maui Resort & Spa


In my opinion, the Westin Maui is Ka'anapali's most luxurious resort if you upgrade to Hokupa'a, the new luxury experience. The Hokupa'a oceanfront tower has access to the exclusive LANAI, a private club offering panoramic vistas, daily breakfast, private bar, infinity edge pool, evening apps, cocktails and cultural experiences. However, Hokupa’a can be expensive.


We spent half our time on Maui at the Westin Hokupa’a and thoroughly enjoyed the LANAI for breakfast and sunset every day. It was a real advantage to have an easy, uncrowded and beautiful place to lounge before we started our day and for cocktails and apps at sunset. Live music and cultural entertainment each night made the LANAI even more special. The other half of our vacation was spent at the Fairmont in Wailea. See my story on Wailea here.


Westin Hokupa'a LANAI view and amenities


We also thoroughly enjoyed the Westin’s pools. My kids loved the liveliness and all the options for play. Six pools overlook Ka'anapali Beach and span 87,000 square feet of playground. The waterslide was a hit as was the splash zone likely meant for little ones, but my kids loved going down the chute over and over on an inner tube we purchased at the aquatics desk. The adult-only pool deck is much quieter and includes a sand-bottom infinity pool, regular pool and large hot tub.


Westin Maui pools and beach


Despite having 759 rooms on only 11 acres (70% more rooms than the Fairmont on half the acreage), the Westin didn't seem as crowded as some of the other Ka'anapali resorts I toured, because the pool and beach have so many different lounge areas tucked throughout the property. We enjoyed the family hale cabanas for two of our days there - the shade, sectional and TV were well-loved by us all! Those cabanas are pricey, though! We loved the food delivered to the pool or beach – I had the grilled fish salad and frosted monkey drinks on more than one occasion!



Westin rooms are on the small side: Hokupa'a rooms are 400 square feet with King bed or 2 Queens while regular rooms in the Ocean Tower are 340 square feet with King bed or 2 Doubles. After moving to the Westin from the Fairmont where rooms are 860 square feet, it felt like a tight squeeze! The Westin does have 1BR Suites that are larger, but pricing is high.



Westin Maui Resort & Spa Selling Points: If you can afford it, Hokupa’a at the Westin is the best luxury on Maui’s west side. Exclusive access to the LANAI for breakfast, sunset cocktails and privacy made our stay extra special. Pools, cabanas, and poolside service are top notch. Rooms are on the small side, even in Hokupa’a, but you’ll love the location right next to Whaler’s Village. However, I’m not sure I would love the Westin as much if we weren’t in Hokupa’a.


 

Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa



The Sheraton Maui was the first resort on the island’s west side, and as such, it secured an enviable location at legendary Puu Kekaa (Black Rock) and boasts the widest beach in the area. Black Rock has excellent snorkeling right off the beach. I love how the ocean winds around the resort, so most rooms have an ocean view. The grounds are spacious and lush, and the lagoon-style pool is huge, although it lacks in big waterslides like many of the other resorts in Ka’anapali. At sunset, the resort showcases its iconic cliff dive ceremony, a tradition since the resort first opened in 1963. Cliff Dive Grill, an oceanfront casual restaurant and bar has prime seating for sunset with fire pits and Hawaiian cocktails. Get there early to snag a spot!



Basic rooms are small at 340 square feet (same size as the basic rooms at the Westin down the beach) and offer a King bed and 2 double beds. Clients are never happy when they hear they have to sleep in a double bed again. The deluxe rooms are slightly larger at 416 square feet. Ohana Suites are 667 square feet and can sleep 5 with 2 doubles and a murphy bed. The Ohana Sundeck Suites have direct access to the resort grounds from your own private sundeck. However, these suites price much higher than the basic rooms.


Sheraton basic room (left), Ohana Sundeck Suite (right)


Sheraton Maui Selling Points: Enviable location at Black Rock for snorkeling and cliff diving. Biggest beach, although it can get crowded because guests from other resorts walk to Black Rock. Grounds and views are gorgeous, but rooms are small. Price point typically high for a Sheraton.


 

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa*



The Hyatt Regency’s claim to fame is it offers tons of kid fun at a nice price. Resort amenities include a huge pool complex with a big waterslide, waterfalls, and a swinging rope bridge, plus wildlife you can meet and great like penguins, flamingoes, swans, and other birds. The Hyatt is situated on the far south end of Ka’anapali (closest to Lahaina town but you’d still have to drive). The walk north to Whaler’s Village and Black Rock is long, so the resort offers a free shuttle. The Hyatt Regency is adjacent to the Hyatt Residence Club, a timeshare property, and guests have access to both.



While I did my own walking tour of the Hyatt with friends who were staying there vs. an official tour, the pool and grounds seemed crowded and a bit cluttered to me. The beach is narrow as well. However, my clients really liked the resort because of all the fun it offered the kids – and they got a great price!


Hyatt Regency Selling Points: The Hyatt Regency seems best suited for families with young kids who will enjoy the pool fun and wildlife and don’t care as much about the beach or being super close to Ka’anapali points of interest. The resort can price out well, but when it’s high, I would look elsewhere.


 

Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas



If you love Westin amenities but need more space than the Westin Maui Resort & Spa can offer, then check out the Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas, a timeshare property offering studios, 1BR and 2BR condos you can rent. With 1,021 villas on 26 acres, this property packs you in, although it didn’t seem crowded when I was there. Enjoy oceanfront heated pools and waterfalls, Spa Helani, WestinWORKOUT® Fitness Studio, three restaurants and two on-site markets, plus outdoor gas grills for sunset barbecues.


All villas offer full kitchen, laundry and small patio. Studios are 480 square feet and sleep 4, while 1BRs can sleep 6 at 750 square feet, and 2BRs can sleep 8 at 1250 square feet.



Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas Selling Points: I have not yet booked clients here because Honua Kai offers the same space and amenities at a much lower price. I think the Westin is considered slightly higher on the luxury scale vs. Honua Kai, but the price difference is usually quite a bit higher. But if you love Westin and need space, this is a great option.


 

Royal Lahaina



Royal Lahaina is a well-loved 3-3.5 star property offering one of the best beachfronts in Ka’anapali and a very Hawaiian family feel. Choose from rooms in the 12-story Lahaina Kai Tower or stay in one of the beach cottages situated amidst tropical gardens and sprawling oceanfront lawns. The Tower has traditional hotel rooms (350 square feet with 1 King or 2 doubles) or up to 2BR suites that sleep 6. The cottages are undergoing renovations – some are updated, some have kitchens, some have AC. But the 2BR Garden Cottage Suites that overlook the beautiful grounds with banyan trees and a sloping lawn to the ocean would be my pick if I needed a lot of space. My kids would love walking out to play on that big expanse of green space.


If Royal Lahaina prices out well – sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t – I think it’s a great choice. But this is the lowest level of luxury of all the resorts I toured. The pools are very basic, and the lobby and restaurants seemed basic as well. With no resort fee and parking at only $15 a day, that’s a big bonus for Royal Lahaina. Most resorts on Maui charge $35-50 per day per room in resort fee and $40-50 per day for parking.



Royal Lahaina Selling Points: Fantastic beach, 2BR cottage suites that walkout to beautiful lawn. If the price is right, this resort can be ideal. But sometimes Royal Lahaina prices out like a 4+star resort, which it is not.




Ka’anapali in West Maui has so much to offer with plentiful resorts, walkable activity, and the culinary hot spots and nightlife of Lahaina town. For comparison, click here to read my story and reviews of Wailea resorts in south Maui! And stay tuned for my Maui – Things to Do blog story coming soon!



 

Heather Vergara is a former Pepsico marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a Mom and never made her way back. In addition to travel and adventure, Heather is passionate about kindness, community, whole food, and fitness. Her travel business, Show Them the World, is bigger and more fun than she ever imagined! She's currently planning her sixth trip to Hawaii!


Heather has an MBA in marketing from Indiana University, a Digital Marketing Executive Education certificate from Columbia University, and a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives with her husband, two kids and two furry dogs in Zionsville, Indiana.



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