On the stretch of shoreline between Lahaina and Ma‘alaea there are a grand total of zero resorts. Paddleboards and fishing poles rule this section of coast, and even though the swimming is poor, there is one spot that offers good snorkeling. Most visitors choose to pass these beaches by without giving them another thought, but if you do decide to pull over to watch the whales, visit the beach, or photograph the sunset, don’t stop in the middle of the road. If you’re headed in the Lahaina direction, it’s easiest to pull off on the right side of the road and wait for traffic to clear before crossing.
Known to visitors as Mile Marker 14, the real name of this beach is Olowalu, after the village that stretches far back into the valley. The snorkeling here is the best south of Lahaina, although plenty of beachgoers—particularly those with young children—come here simply to wade in the calm waters. While the water may be calm, however, it’s also shallow, and the swimming area is nonexistent during low tide. Parking is along the side of the highway, although it’s easy to get stuck in the sand.
Launiupoko Beach Park
Located at the only stoplight between Ma‘alaea and Lahaina, Launiupoko is the most family-friendly beach park on the west side of Maui. It has a protected wading area for small keiki, a decent sandy beach on the south end of the park, a wide, grassy picnic area, and numerous surf breaks that cater to beginner surfers and stand-up paddle surfers. This park is so popular with the weekend barbecue crowd that local families arrive before dawn to stake their claim for a birthday party with a bouncy house. There is a large parking lot as well as restrooms and showers, and since most of the parking spots are taken by 8am, there is an overflow lot on the mauka (mountain side) of the highway. The water here is too shallow for swimming and the snorkeling is poor, but this is a good place for putting your finger on the local pulse and striking up a good conversation.
Puamana Beach Park
There’s a decent chance that during your time on the island you’ll hear a famous Hawaiian song by the name of “Puamana.” This light-hearted, gently flowing melody was written about this section of shoreline that serves as the entry to Lahaina. While there is a private, gated community that goes by the same name, the general public can only visit the small Puamana Beach Park one mile north of Launiupoko. As at other beaches in the area, the swimming is poor, although the tables provide a nice setting for a picnic. If you’re looking to take a stroll down the beach, the sandy shoreline fronting the condos is public property, so at low tide you can walk from the beach park to the other end of the private, gated section (although the grassy area is still private and should be treated as such). There aren’t any restrooms at the beach park, but there’s a refreshing shower in the north end of the parking lot.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.