Planning a trip to Maui? Lucky you! The two biggest questions I get are: best area to stay on Maui and best Maui resorts. In our recent visit, we stayed four nights in Wailea (south Maui) and four nights in Ka’anapali (west Maui), so I have insight on the advantages of each – and I’m gonna share them with you! I’ll also provide a review of the top six resorts in Wailea. See this story for reviews of the best Maui resorts in Ka’anapali. And check out my Hawaii page for insight on all the Hawaiian islands and my blog story on planning a trip to Hawaii.
The main resort areas on Maui are Wailea (and Kihei) to the south and Ka’anapali (and Kapalua) on the west coast. Both areas are lovely and offer distinct benefits. I have a hard time picking one over the other. You can’t go wrong, but it’s important to think through what’s most important to you.
Wailea offers: relaxed pace, less crowds, less traffic, more luxury, bigger beaches, bigger/grander resorts
Ka’anapali offers: livelier energy, more walkable things to do, usually more affordable, culinary hot spots and nightlife concentrated here. Click here for my story on Ka'anapali.
Read on for the best places to stay on Maui!
Wailea, south Maui
Wailea is a sophisticated and peaceful resort community with wide beautiful beaches, grand luxury resorts, and pristine golf courses. Five 5-star resorts line the beaches in Wailea – Fairmont Kea Lani, Four Seasons Maui, Grand Wailea, Wailea Beach Resort, and Andaz Maui. A beautiful beach walk connects the resorts and winds in and out of the beach coves offering stunning views. I had the pleasure of touring all five resorts and will share details and feedback below.
Wailea Beach Walk
One key difference between Wailea and Ka’anapali is price point: Wailea resorts tend to be pricier than Ka’anapali. But you do get distinct benefits for your money in Wailea – more luxury, more space, less crowds, bigger beaches, less traffic, and less drive time to key points of interest. If you’re more budget-minded but still want to be centrally-located in south Maui, Kihei can be a bargain. We stayed at Mana Kai Maui in Kihei on our first trip to Maui in 2008, and while it wasn’t luxurious, we were happy to be able to afford a 1BR oceanfront suite with a full kitchen. Kihei reminds me a little of a Florida strip with its stretch of condos and mini-malls, so it doesn’t have the charm of Wailea, but with seven miles of sandy beaches, it’s worth a look if you’re on a tight budget.
All Hawaii beaches are open to the public, but the beaches around the Wailea resorts are difficult for the public to access, so they typically aren’t crowded. Instead of a long strip of beach where you can walk for long stretches (like they are in Ka’anapali), Wailea beaches are coves interspersed with black rocks that wind in and out of the Wailea resorts. Each cove beach is usually wider than the more narrow beaches of west Maui.
Wailea area beaches
Before we get into the resort reviews, check out the drive times from Wailea and Ka’anapali to key tourist spots. For the most part, Wailea’s drive times are shorter given its more central location. Plus, there’s 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.
This overview includes the six major luxury resorts in Wailea. Other accommodations exist in south Maui, but these are the most popular. 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!
The biggest point of difference for the Fairmont Kea-Lani, an all-suite resort, is room size. At 860 square feet for their basic room, you get the biggest room on Maui and you can often get it at a nice price. The Fairmont is one of the only resorts that allows 5 people (2 adults and 3 kids) in their basic room. But the Fairmont offers far more than just a big room! With 22 acres of wide-open spaces and lush tropical gardens, this resort affords plenty of room for everyone to play, rejuvenate, connect and unwind. To bring to life this idea of wide-open spaces, the Fairmont has 450 suites/villas on 22 acres while the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Ka’anapali (where we stayed the second half of our trip) has 759 rooms on 11 acres – the Fairmont has almost half of the number of rooms in double the space. The spaciousness of the grounds, the rooms, and the beach at the Fairmont definitely contributed to a sense of peace and relaxation.
Larger families can all stay together in spacious 2 and 3BR villas with full kitchens, laundry, private plunge pool, and large furnished lanai with grill. The oceanfront villas are just steps from the beach and have a beautiful lawn for play and congregation. However, while the regular suites can be affordable, the villas are pricey.
Compared to other family-friendly resorts on Maui, the Fairmont’s pools were somewhat tame with just one waterslide, but it was fast and fun! We spent most of our pool time at the upper pool by the swim-up bar and top of the waterslide. We rented a cabana there for two days when we didn’t have major activities planned. The lower pool at the bottom of the waterslide seemed noisier and more crowded with kids. An adult-only serenity pool with tranquility lounge area provides a kids-free option. We also spent tons of time playing in the waves at the beach! The weather was quite windy during the first half of our stay, so it was all about the waves! We enjoyed the complimentary Outrigger Canoe Experience and ukulele lessons provided by the resort, too!
Fairmont Kea-Lani Selling Points: Largest rooms on Maui, beautiful spacious grounds, price point (sometimes)
Wailea Beach Resort*
Perfectly placed within steps of the ocean, Wailea Beach Resort, a Marriott property, offers scenic luxury in a stunning travel destination. Of all the resorts I toured, this lesser-known hidden gem was my favorite. Like nowhere else in Wailea, here you’re surrounded on all sides by the beauty of the Pacific. I love how the nine hales follow the coastline with small stretches of lawn and banyan trees between the ocean and rooms. While the grandness of most Wailea resorts means the rooms can be a hike from the ocean, the opposite is true at Wailea Beach Resort where the oceanfront rooms are mere steps from the water’s edge.
It’s important to note that Wailea Beach Resort is oceanfront, not beachfront as it’s nestled between two beautiful white sand beaches on either side of the resort. But because the resort is so close to the water, your walk to either beach is the same distance as it would be from one of the other “beachfront” Wailea Resorts. Guests can explore the wide swath of Wailea Beach, known as a gathering place for families. Or, they can choose Ulua Beach, which is quieter and more intimate and boasts an excellent coral reef for snorkeling.
Choose from three distinct pool amenities across 22 acres including the longest hotel water slide in all of Hawaii, an adult infinity pool with private floating cabanas, plus an infinity pool where kids are welcome.
Wailea Beach Resort Selling Points: Steps from the ocean, more intimate feel from the grander Wailea resorts.
Four Seasons Maui
The Four Seasons Maui is one of those resorts that clients return to again and again. The open-air beachfront setting, incomparable service, and picture-perfect views are some of the best on Maui. This tiered resort sits above Wailea Beach, one of the largest beaches on the island. Choose from complimentary cabanas that face either the ocean or pool, oceanfront sanctuaries or plenty of chaise lounges with umbrellas. The Four Seasons caters to both families and adults and has a separate adult-only serenity pool, which was under construction when I visited in October 2021.
Regular rooms are 600 square feet, a good size for Hawaii resorts. While the price point can be steep here, Four Seasons does NOT charge a resort fee, which can save you $50/day per room versus the other resorts in Wailea.
Four Seasons Maui Selling Points: 5-star service and luxury, no resort fee
Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria resort*
Often called the “Disney of Maui”, Grand Wailea, a Hilton property, is the largest resort on Maui (776 rooms on 40 acres) and offers the grandest pools and waterpark. Spend the day in this epic pool area with nine pools on six different levels connected by a river of both whitewater rapids and gentle currents. Five intertwining slides, Tarzan rope swing, sand beach, waterfalls, caves, the world’s first water elevator, and a swim-up bar, you'll never want to leave the resort! That could be a problem given all there is to experience on Maui! In addition to the grandest pool complex, Grand Wailea also has the biggest spa in the state.
You can see the ocean from your lanai in all the rooms, and at 640 square feet for the lead-in category, rooms are more spacious than many resorts on Maui (but not as spacious as the Fairmont!). Grand Wailea “shares” Wailea Beach with the Four Seasons.
Grand Wailea Selling Points: Disney-like water park your kids will love.
Retreat to Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, a luxury Hyatt property set on 15 beachfront acres. Immerse yourself in the island spirit with regional farm-to-table dining, direct access to Mokapu Beach, and rooms boasting tropical views. Andaz is spectacularly beautiful - very modern and serene. We dined at Morimoto at Andaz one evening and my son asked why we weren’t staying there. The resort is gorgeous with multiple levels of pools, which I think my kids found intriguing. I told my son the resort is geared more to adults and honeymooners, although we did see a few young kids there.
Feast at Mokapu, the Andaz luau, is smaller and more intimate than most luaus and is right on the beach lawn. If you’re at the Andaz pool or having dinner at Morimoto, you can watch the show! And the food at Morimoto was AMAZING!
Andaz Maui Selling Points: Beautiful, serene beachfront resort geared to adults.
Hotel Wailea, a Relais & Chateux resort
As the only luxury adults-only resort in Hawaii, Hotel Wailea offers a romantic retreat nestled within a lush tropical hillside 300 feet above the sea. This 5-star resort is the only one I'm reviewing that is NOT on the Wailea Beach Walk. However, Hotel Wailea boasts 180-degree, unobstructed ocean views of three Hawaiian Islands, breathtaking mountain scenery, and 15 acres of Zen-inspired landscaped tropical gardens.
Given the resort is perched above the Pacific, guests can take advantage of a complimentary shuttle ride to/from the water as well as beach service while they’re there. I haven’t toured Hotel Wailea, but I have clients who stayed there. They loved the peaceful, luxurious tranquility.
Hotel Wailea Selling Points: Peaceful, kid-free luxury for adults who don’t mind a shuttle to the beach.
We loved our whole Maui experience, but my husband and I enjoyed the Wailea area more than Ka’anapali because of its relaxed pace, minimal traffic and crowds, and peacefulness. It’s also nice to be more centrally located with less drive time to points of interest. However, the kids slightly favored Ka’anapali because it’s more lively, and the pool at the Westin Maui in Ka’anapali seemed more geared to kids vs. the Fairmont pool. We’re already planning our next trip to Hawaii for February 2023 where we’ll spend the majority of time on Kaua’i, but we’ll come back to Maui for whale-watching. I hope to stay in Wailea at the Wailea Beach Resort!
Click here to read my story and reviews of Ka’anapali resorts in west Maui! And stay tuned for my Maui – Things to Do story coming soon! Check out my Hawaii page for insight on all the Hawaiian islands.
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!
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.