Top 5 beaches in Maui: The original stories

Learning the significance of Maui's top swaths of sand

There are a number of people I’ve met in my travels who I will never forget. Clifford Naeole is one of them. He’s the kind of guy who says profound things—things that make you think long and hard—even if you just chat with him for a minute! As the Hawaiian Cultural Advisor to The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Maui, he has the pleasure of making people think all day long, connecting them to the land, to his ancestors, and to the history of Hawaii

In a recent conversation I had with Clifford about Maui—a place he calls home and I love to visit—we got to chatting about the world-famous beaches. 

“Most beaches here have been given an English name and meaning, yet each of them has a Hawaiian name and cultural significance,” he said. “Right” I replied as a wave of understanding washed over me. In all my years visiting Maui and stepping on the island’s most stunning swaths of sand, I’d never stopped to consider that the beach was more than a place of peace or play, but rather a doorway to local culture and another world (figuratively and literally).

Intent on learning the significance of my favorite places to swim, surf, and sunbathe, I asked Clifford to tell me more.

D.T. Fleming Beach

Located below The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui’s fertile northwest stretch, D.T. Fleming Beach was named after David Thomas Fleming, manager of the Honolua Ranch and a passionate botanist. His study of Maui’s uplands resulted in the planting of trees and plants such as Cook pines to ensure the survival of the forests. Honokahua Beach, meaning “bay of the steam bed,” is the original name given to this bay—a favorite of Maui’s benevolent chief Pi’ilani. (See this beach pictured above.)

Ka’anapali Beach

Once a retreat for Maui’s royalty, today Ka’anapali Beach is one of Maui’s most well-known ribbons of sand—in part, due to the namesake resort rimming its shores—drawing locals and tourists in droves to snorkel, swim, sail, and kayak along its expansive and gently sloping shoreline. Kaanapali translates to “rolling cliffs” referring to lava outcroppings that punctuate and extend beyond the resort’s shoreline. Find one of these cliffs on the North end of the beach at Pu’u Keka’a (known today as Black Rock). Here, don’t miss the daily cliff diving ceremony at sunset in a reenactment of a feat by Maui’s King Kahekili.

Viewfinder Tip: When visiting the Hawaiian Islands, make time to “talk story” with cultural advisors at each property to better understand your footprints in the sand.

H.A. Baldwin Beach Park

Sprawling across Maui’s North Shore, Baldwin Beach is a hop-skip from the boho-chic town of Paia, and a local go-to for bodysurfing, boogie boarding, and surfing. The beach’s English name recalls sugar baron and pineapple farmer Henry Perrine Baldwin. Before Baldwin it was known as Paia Beach, meaning to be “heard indistinctly,” a concept originating from descending a high mountain to the beach, and one’s ears remaining plugged due to the air pressure. 

Ho’okipa Beach

Known throughout the Hawaiian Islands and the world for its windsurfing and kiteboarding theatrics, the power of the Pacific Ocean is on full display at Ho’okipa Beach. While wild ocean sports now dominate this hotspot, when the waters calm down, it’s an ideal plot to fish, picnic, or plunk yourself down and do nothing at all—three activities which relate to Ho’okipa’s original meaning of “providing hospitality and rest.”

Makena Beach State Park (Big Beach)

More than a half mile in length and extraordinarily wide, Big Beach has it all, including a  food truck serving just-caught fish tacos. Officially named Makena Beach, meaning “abundant,” this fitting description calls out the area’s surf and its turf (the breadfruit trees lining the mountains above yielded so much fruit it was hard to keep up with growth).

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What beaches do you feel drawn to in Maui?

[Lead photo courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua]

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Trip Styler

Trish Friesen chose an unlikely profession given her fear of flying and propensity toward car, air, boat, train, and chairlift sickness. Thanks to Gravol, Sea-Bands, and cruise ship stabilizers, the reluctant—yet enthusiastic—jetsetter packs her bag once every two weeks to swim with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or to sample the latest libation in Portland. Trish unpacks her suitcase in Vancouver, Canada, Eh! where she’s the editor-in-chief of TripStyler.com, a travel lifestyle website for aspiring jetsetters. Find her moonlighting on Expedia, Fodor's, Jetsetter, and as a travel expert on TV while circumventing the globe with her entourage: a MacBook Air, an Olympus camera, and the biggest carry-on she can fit on the plane.