Kapalua Bay beach is well known by tourists and locals alike as one of the best beaches on Maui. It has also been voted the 'Best Beach in America' by USA Today. Once you step foot onto this picturesque beach, you will know exactly why! Kapalua Bay is a crescent shaped, white sand beach protected by two lava flow headlands jutting out on either side. This beach truly has it all- an intimate atmosphere, clear waters, abundant marine life, and endless coral reef formations. Whether you’re an experienced snorkeler or a first-timer, snorkeling at Kapalua Bay is one of the best ways to explore the colorful underwater world of Maui.
The History of Kapalua Bay, Maui
The land surrounding Kapalua Resort, located right behind Kapalua Bay, is rich with interesting history. In 1836 a medical missionary named Dwight Baldwin and his wife, Charlotte traveled by ship from New England to Hawaii. Baldwin was initially tasked with establishing a mission on the island. He soon also became involved in education, medicine and agriculture. As a reward for his work, he was gifted 2,675 acres of ahupua’a (slices of land spanning from mountain to sea) for farming and grazing.
Over the next 50 years, Baldwin’s family planted a wide variety of plants on this land. They farmed taro, mango, coffee, aloe and 20 acres of pineapple fields. Then in the 1960’s, a group of investors led by a man named D.T. Fleming bought the land with the intention of developing it into a luxury resort community. Just 10 years later, construction on Kapalua Resort began. Over the years, the resort area has developed into the world-class destination for vacationers that we experience today.
Getting to Kapalua Bay
The drive from Lahaina to Kapalua Bay takes around 20-30 minutes. Finding parking here can be a challenge. Arriving early helps, as does allotting some extra time to find safe and legal parking.
From Lahaina, take the Honoapi'ilani Highway for about 8 miles until you get to Napilihau Street. Take a left here, followed by a right about 1 mile later onto Lower Honoapi'ilani Road. This street takes you to the parking lot, which is fairly small and fills up quickly! If the parking lot is full, you can find street parking anywhere along Lower Honoapi'ilani Road.
The walk from the parking lot to Kapalua Bay is actually the start of a beautiful walking path called the Kapalua Coastal Trail. This scenic trail offers some stunning views. We highly recommend taking a walk here if you have extra time!
Snorkeling at Kapalua Bay
I arrived at Kapalua in the late morning, around 11:00 am. By this point, the beach was pretty busy. And of course, so was the parking lot. Once I found street parking, I threw my reef safe sunscreen, mask and fin rentals, and towel into my bag. The walk to the beach took about 10 minutes so I was happy to have packed light. The sidewalk by the public restrooms lead me through a short tunnel that opened up to a beautiful view of the picture perfect Kapalua Bay! Totally worth the effort.
Despite showing up in the late morning, the weather was still idilic for snorkeling at Kapalua Bay. There was hardly any wind and the water offered very clear visibility.
I made sure to take the appropriate approach to enter the water by standing on the sand to put on my fins and mask. Once I put my head underwater I was instantly greeted by colorful reefs and tropical fish swimming all around me! It is amazing how close to shore marine life thrives at this beach. I snorkeled close to the lava rock (Pohaku) as this is where the most abundant marine life tends to be. I saw many fish like parrotfish, needlefish, butterflyfish, and humuhumunukunukuapua’a. There was even a moment where I had a magical encounter with a turtle (honu) that was swimming up to the surface at the same time as me! I had just seen another turtle at nearby Kahekili Beach earlier that morning. Two turtles in one day! Needless to say, I was feeling pretty lucky.
Entering the Water Safely
Throughout my day at Kapalua, I heard the lifeguard use his microphone to ask people to stop standing on the reef. While snorkeling at Kapalua Bay is a very exciting activity, it is important to take time to learn how we can preserve the health of the ocean before we even get in the water (ocean friendly pdf). The reef is very fragile and corals are living animals so standing on them will kill them.
When snorkeling at Kapalua, you will likely see snorkelers swimming on both ends of the bay. I decided to enter on the right (far end) because it was much less crowded on that side. After about 30 minutes of snorkeling, I crossed the bay to see what the left side had to offer. The swim over provided terrific views of rolling sand, which was beautiful on a clear day! I didn’t see as much marine life on the left side, but it could have just been bad timing. The main difference I noticed is that the left side was easier for entering and exiting the water. If you have the time and are up for the swim, I definitely advise trying out both sides so you can get the full experience of snorkeling at Kapalua Bay!