So you’ve decided to move to the Valley Isle. Right on! But where on Maui do you want to live? Believe it or not, it makes a giant difference. Although you may only live 15 miles away from your job, those 15 miles may take you 2 hours depending on lots of factors… one lane, winding, uphill, slow speed limits, traffic, etc. The terrain on this island changes dramatically in a matter of minutes, which makes it incredibly difficult to tell how far things are just by looking at a map.
Before moving here, we had really only explored the west side of Maui, so we really had no concept of how large the island was or the benefits of living in certain areas as opposed to others. I figured I could easily live on the west side and work on the south side, no problem. And while you could do that if you absolutely had to (and Peter has), no one in their right mind would recommend it. Let’s explore.
Where You Should Live on Maui
Lahaina, Ka’anapali, Honokawai, Kahana, Napili, Kapalua
Pros: Short walk, drive or bus ride to many of the island’s nicest beaches and best shops, restaurants, and events. Small to medium surf breaks, good snorkeling, beach camping, nice scenery of West Maui Mountains, sunsets and neighbor island of Lana’i. Great area for whale watching from December to April. Great area for finding jobs, especially in hospitality and service industry due to high number of resorts, retail shops, art galleries and high end restaurants. Good deals on rent in shared houses. Lots of young people.
Cons: Very touristy, always one of the most crowded areas of the island. If not working on the West side, lengthy and frustrating drive to get anywhere else on a daily basis. Hard to find affordable rentals outside of shared houses, condos, apartments. Far drive to Costco if you plan on making frequent, large-scale grocery runs. Restaurants tend to be upper-end due to large number of tourists.
Live here if: You get a job on this side or want to live somewhere convenient, you plan on spending lots of time on the beach, you want to meet people or enjoy going out past 8:30pm.
Why we like it: Since we rarely go to this side of the island, it always feels like a vacation. Napili Bay and Ka’anapali Beach (aka Black Rock) are gorgeous and events like the Halloween Celebration on Lahaina’s Front Street are the closest thing we’ve experienced to a real party since moving here.
Maalaea, Kihei, Maui Meadows, Wailea, Makena
Pros: Short walk, drive or bus ride to our favorite beaches and best low-key restaurants, bars and events. Great snorkeling, swimming, water activities and fairly easy to escape the crowds as you go further South. Great area for whale watching from December to April. Great area for finding jobs, especially in real estate, hospitality, service industry and small businesses due to high number of resorts, vacation rentals, retail shops, and bars and restaurants. Good deals on rent in shared houses, ohanas and 2+ bedroom apartments. Best variety of budget choices when eating out. Nice scenery of Haleakala, windmills on the West Maui Mountains and sunsets. Fairly close proximity to Kahului and Wailuku, where most big business offices, concert venues and movie theaters are located.
Cons: Very touristy, always one of the most crowded areas of the island – budget travelers flock to Kihei while luxury travelers and celebrities flock to Wailea’s high end resorts. Sugarcane burning causes ash to cover parts of North Kihei on occasion, and red dust is everywhere. Hottest area of the island, not good for growing much of anything. Hard to meet people outside of vacationers. Slightly older crowd than West Maui, mostly retirees and families.
Live here if: You get a job in South or Central Maui and want to live somewhere convenient, you plan on spending lots of time on the beach, you like to be walking distance to most attractions and activities, enjoy the laid-back, beach-centered island lifestyle.
Why we like it: We live across the street and up the hill from Kama’ole III, one of the nicest beaches in the area, and are only a short drive to our favorite beach, Big Beach, where we spend lots of time on the weekends. Crowded but fun vibe, great place to live if you like most big city amenities without living in a big city.
Waikapu, Kahului, Wailuku, Waiehu, Waihee
Pros: Extremely close to best amenities, like big shops, banks, grocery stores, Costco, restaurants, movie theaters, concert venues, etc., and only a short drive to get to most other places in North, South and Upcountry Maui. Nice beaches for windsurfing. Some of the cheapest deals on rent. Wailuku has charming coffee shops, music stores and mom and pop restaurants and is close to beautiful Iao Valley hiking spots.
Cons: Unless you live in higher elevation or away from the town center of Kahului, the views and scenery are not what you’d expect when you think of Maui. Kahului, where the airport is located, is very commercial and by far the ugliest part of the island. Not within walking distance to any nice lounging beaches since they’re all very windswept and the water is rough. Traffic sucks.
Live here if: You get a job here and REALLY value being close to work or you score a spot in a higher elevation area of one of the above-mentioned towns that start with a W.
Why we like it: Great for getting things done, but unless we found a cabin or private ohana for rent near Iao Valley, we would never personally live in this area. The only large concert venue and the closest movie theaters from our apartment in Kihei are here, but other than that, meh.
Spreckelsville, Paia, Kuau, Haiku
Pros: Short walk, drive or bus ride to many of the island’s best surf spots. Surrounded by great local health food stores and restaurants, eclectic shops, art galleries and cute coffee shops and cafes. Beautiful beaches that are great for surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, boogie boarding and body surfing. Low-key, relaxed, hippie vibe, lots of locals and a great place to meet people. Younger crowd that is really into water sports, yoga and being healthy. Great area for growing vegetables and fruit. Less crowded and touristy than other areas of Maui. Good deals on rent and great option for singles, couples and families who want to live on their own small piece of land (many places in Haiku sit on their own acre of property). Close proximity to Central and Upcountry Maui. Willie Nelson, Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson all live down the street.
Cons: Since most of these towns are really small, you will definitely need to drive to Kahului (4-15 miles) every now and then to get basic things you can’t find or accomplish on the north shore. While the beaches in this area are great for water sports, South Maui is way better for lounging, swimming and snorkeling. Hard to find places for rent due to high demand. LOTS of rain, which can make everything you own damp and moldy if you’re not careful. Roosters are definitely going to wake you up in the mornings. And the middle of the night. And the middle of the day. Residents can be slightly pretentious when it comes to living all-natural.
Live here if: You surf or do lots of surface water sports, are into health, good coffee, and no-shoes living. You like small live music shows, worldly food, smoke lots of weed or want to plant your own garden.
Why we like it: I work in Paia and love it. Everyone is really artsy and beautiful and into Hawaii, which rocks. The weather is slightly cooler and everyone is a little less congregated than in most other areas of the island. Great variety of food options, whether it’s sushi, Mediterranean, Italian, Thai or Indian. One of the best places to meet locals and other recent mainland transplants that aren’t just on vacation.
Makawao, Pukalani, Olinda, Kula
Pros: Cooler temperature and beautiful, high elevation views. Surrounded by cool local restaurants, shops, art galleries and small coffee shops and cafes. Doesn’t rain nearly as much as north shore Maui but enjoys the same perks. Great area for fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Panoramic scenery of ocean, mountains and rolling clouds. Not overly crowded or touristy. No big resorts, less street and road traffic. Rentals usually come with a small piece of land. Close walk or drive to most amenities. Home to the island’s only winery and vodka distillery. Short(ish) drive to the summit of Haleakala. You live on the side of a volcano! And Oprah lives down the street.
Cons: Far drive from nice beaches, due to no bypass road from Kula to Kihei (even though there’s only a 2 mile gap, you have to drive an hour and a half the long way around to get there). Not a good place to live if you plan on making it down to the ocean several times a week. Small towns, so you might have to drive to Kahului to do things you can’t get done here. Hard to find rentals because there are no apartment complexes, competition is stiff and things mainly go by word-of-mouth. And Oprah lives down the street.
Live here if: You like cooler weather and find a job in the area, or don’t mind driving a far distance on a daily basis. You’re an artist with work in a local gallery and want room to work and live. You value beautiful scenery and are moving here to retire, or you’re house-sitting for Oprah.
Why we like it: It’s really, really beautiful. If there were a bypass road from Upcountry to Kihei, we would totally live here. The weather is nice, chameleons hang out in the area and the even the drive to the grocery store is beautiful. Great options for live music events in Makawao.
Keanae, Wailua, Nahiku, Hana, Kipahulu
Pros: It’s gorgeous. All of it. Imagine a paradise rainforest wonderland. Now imagine living in it. Waterfalls, sea cliffs, lava tubes, bamboo forests, freshwater pools, whatever, the east side has it all as far as nature is concerned. By far the most Hawaiian place on Maui, from the people down to the way of life. Great place to find work trade opportunities. Nice variety of red, black, and salt and pepper beaches.
Cons: You are FAR. Far from everything… mainly stores and restaurants open past sunset and any type of entertainment that isn’t outdoors. Hana is surrounded by long, winding roads and there is no easy or short exit if you feel the need to get away for the day.
Live here if: You get one of the very few jobs available and it happens to be enough to live on or you don’t need a job at all. You’re on a work trade program and will only be here for a couple months before moving somewhere else.
Why we like it: It’s an escape. Life is slower, simpler and way more relaxing. You get places when you get there and you do things when you do them. The amount of things to do outdoors is insane and there is a real sense of Hawaiian pride here. It’s just too bad it’s so. damn. far.
When it comes to where you should live on Maui, especially if you are new to the island, the best thing you can do is be informed, sign a short lease and remember… somewhere is always better than nowhere. It’s still Maui, after all.