The sandy beaches and flowering gardens of Kaanapali were once a rejuvenating retreat for Hawaii’s kings and queens.

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No need to dig up your passport — tropical beaches and cultural riches abound just across the ocean from the West Coast. When the “liquid sunshine” of the Pacific Northwest gets a little too gray for your liking, a trip to Kaanapali, Maui, might be just the winter pick-me-up you need.

(Peter Liu photograph)
(Peter Liu photograph)

Weather on Maui is an average of 65 to 87 degrees, 365 days a year. Ocean temperatures range from 75 to 80 degrees — and during the winter months, whale sightings are frequent and fantastic.

Located on Maui’s sunny West Side, just north of Lahaina, Kaanapali is one of the island’s prime locations. With its three-mile crescent of white sand and turquoise water, spectacular snorkeling, swimming and sunsets, it’s no wonder that Kaanapali Beach is often named as one of the best beaches on Maui, and even in America.

Kaanapali Beach Resort is made up of 13 properties woven around two premier golf courses and a lush beachfront boardwalk, lined with exceptional dining, shopping and entertainment. Ramble down the boardwalk at sunset, with flickering tiki torches to your left and rolling ocean waves to your right, and you just might feel like you’re in paradise — because you are!

Kaanapali Golf Course, Hole 5.
Kaanapali Golf Course, Hole 5.

A culinary hotspot

The renowned Hawaii Food and Wine Festival touches down at Kaanapali Beach Resort each October. Wine tastings, cooking events, mixology creations and magical dining experiences all maximize Hawaii’s natural bounty. Renowned chefs and cooking personalities from across the U.S. captivate the crowd with their culinary skills.

Kaanapali chefs are known to steal the spotlight, regardless of the season. Eight of the 13 properties have their signature dining under the creative hand of an executive chef, and the chefs vie in friendly competition for top cooking honors.

Like all of Maui, Kaanapali is a showcase of the sought-after culinary tradition known as Hawaii regional cuisine. This style has evolved out of the islands’ unique resources — the coming together of Polynesian and Asian flavors, together with a year-round growing season, which yields consistently delicious ingredients from mountain to sea.

Hawaii Food and Wine Festival 2017.
Hawaii Food and Wine Festival 2017.

Home away from home

Strolling along the boardwalk at sunset, you’ll hear live music and laughter drifting out of incredible restaurants. In addition to the resorts’ dining options, Whalers Village has three well-known beachfront establishments, making the choice of where to eat a delicious quandary.

You’ll also see folks barbecuing right there on the resort lawn, cold drink in hand, watching the evening colors play across the sky. Many Kaanapali condominiums offer professional-quality grills for guests to use. This informal option allows visitors to enjoy cooking for themselves using fresh Maui ingredients, a guaranteed way to connect with the island’s spirit.

Accommodations cover a broad range of budgets and features, with some of the most popular choices being the “home away from home”-style accommodations. Luxury villas like Kaanapali’s newest resort, The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, offer guests a full range of amenities, from private lanai (verandas) to fully equipped kitchens. Choose between one-, two- and three-bedroom villas designed to facilitate a relaxing island escape.

Quick hop to Lahaina

Kaanapali is conveniently located an easy five-minute drive from Lahaina, former whaling town and capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845. Explore seaside Front Street, with ocean breezes blowing off the water on one side and colorful shops on the other, and marvel at the largest banyan tree in Hawaii near Lahaina Harbor.

Getting to West Maui from Kahului Airport has never been easier, thanks to a new access road on Honoapiilani Highway. The newly realigned highway moves the route further inland and provides greater ease of travel for residents and visitors.

Once you’re settled in Kaanapali, a free shuttle runs between the resorts and down to Lahaina.

Whales, whales, whales

During the “Golden Era of Whaling” from 1825 to 1860, Hawaii was known as the whaling capital of the Pacific. Whaling ships hunting sperm whales in the Pacific Basin began to arrive in 1819, and many ships anchored in Honolulu and Lahaina. The impact of the whaling fleets on the Hawaiian Islands during the reign of Kamehameha III (1825–1854) shaped the entire Hawaiian economy and was the primary source of income for the islands.

Hunted almost to extinction, humpback whales have now made a triumphant return. Every year, the whales travel as much as 5,000 miles from their feeding grounds in Alaska to breed and give birth in the warm waters of the Auau Channel between Maui and Lanai — a marine sanctuary. The ocean off Kaanapali comes alive with tail slaps, flukes and full breaches during the months of December through April.

With the islands of Molokai and Lanai as a stunning backdrop, whale watching in Kaanapali is as easy as walking out on your lanai. For a closer look, you can take a whale watch tour leaving right from the beach. Boat trips can be combined with sailing, snorkeling, sunset cocktails and more.

Awesome activities

Options for fun abound at Kaanapali Beach. Take your pick of learning to surf or standup paddleboard, taking a sail on a catamaran, or cruising on a snorkel tour. All of these activities (and more) scoop you up right on the sand — you literally wade out to your boat!

To see glorious marine life firsthand, just slip on your fins and snorkel. Green sea turtles, butterflyfish, parrotfish, tangs, eels and triggerfish thrive along the underwater lava rock ledge of Puu Kekaa — Black Rock.

Feel like staying dry? Go shopping — beachfront! Whalers Village has an amazing selection of 90 different shops and restaurants. The three-level, open-air venue offers stores like Kate Spade, Rip Curl, Roxy and Quiksilver, along with art galleries, local jewelry designers, island-style gift boutiques, bath and body shops and more.

If golf is your game, head out to the scenic Kaanapali Golf Courses. The facility offers two championship 18-hole courses, a practice range and two putting greens for all levels of play — plus it recently became the first course on Maui to offer FootGolf. Both courses offer discounted rates for resort guests.

History of royalty

Kaanapali is steeped in history. The rolling golf greens were once the stage of battle for warrior chiefs fighting for supremacy of the islands. The sandy beaches and flowering gardens were once a rejuvenating retreat for the alii, Hawaii’s kings and queens. The land itself once flourished with sugar cane and taro.

Today, Kaanapali remains a place where visitors and locals come to play and relax. With all the dining, shopping, beach activities and entertainment, Kaanapali Beach is always buzzing. But there’s a moment, right before sundown, when the deep note of the conch sounds, and an ancient calm settles over the golden curve of sand. That’s when all heads turn toward Puu Kekaa for the Sheraton’s nightly cliff-diving ceremony.

Formed from an early lava flow, the black rock outcropping holds the memory of a heiau, or temple, at its summit. For Native Hawaiians, it is a sacred spot — the place where the soul leaps into eternity. Maui’s Chief Kahekili often leapt into the sea here, gaining the respect of his warriors for his fearlessness.

Now, more than two centuries later, a young warrior climbs steadily up the silhouette of Puu Kekaa, lighting torches as he goes. For a moment, he stands poised against the sunset, offering his torch, his lei and his prayers to the ancestors. Then he extends his arms to the sky and dives into the sea below.

Just a little piece of the Kaanapali magic.

Kaanapali Beach Resort is a completely self-contained vacation destination on a three-mile stretch of beach. Whether you want a romantic getaway or a fun family vacation, you will never be at a loss for something fun to do in Kaanapali.