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A wonderful holiday getaway to Maui’s Kāʻanapali Beach Resort

Hawaii, Maui, Kaanapali, Humpback Whale Breaching With Island In The Background. A humpback whale breaches off the coast of Maui. | Photo by Design Pics Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

It was a sunny, breezy day in December—perfect for a holiday getaway and whale watching. My tour group was cruising at a nice clip off Kāʻanapali, West Maui, when the boat’s captain suddenly killed the engine. Crew members pointed excitedly to a steel-gray mound floating in the distance and shouted, “Whale!” According to federal law, ocean users must keep at least 100 yards away from humpbacks, so we bobbed in place with our eyes peeled, hoping to get a better look at it.

The whale disappeared, then showed up so close I could see the barnacles on its skin. It stayed for a few minutes, then, its curiosity satisfied, it dove deep and went on its way. Although that happened years ago, it remains one of my favorite Maui memories.

Come winter, the humpbacks are the Kāʻanapali Beach Resort’s biggest draw, but there’s a lot more to love about the area. Opened in 1962 as Hawai‘i’s first master-planned vacation destination, the resort area of shops, restaurants, and more than a dozen hotels meanders over 1,200 acres, offering 3 miles of beautiful beach and a plethora of activities and attractions. Casual or luxe, active or laid-back, romantic or family-friendly—no matter how you envision your ideal Maui holiday getaway, Kāʻanapali has all the elements for it. Here’s what’s new and noteworthy.

Where to stay

Practice throwing a fishing net at Hale Ho'okipa, the cultural center at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel

Guests can learn how to throw a fishing net as part of Kā‘anapali Beach Hotel’s Po’okela cultural program. | Photo courtesy Ka’anapali Beach Hotel

Discover Authentic Hawai‘i: The Kāʻanapali Beach Hotel is known as “Hawai‘i’s Most Hawaiian Hotel” for its abundance of aloha and its unpretentious, low-key vibe.

As part of its commitment to honor and perpetuate Hawaiian culture and values, employees participate in the Poʻokela (excellence) program, which covers topics such as Hawaiian history, mythology, geography, diet, and traditional arts. They then enrich guests’ experience by sharing the knowledge they’ve gained. Among the complimentary cultural activities available daily are hula, lauhala weaving, lei making, and ‘ōlelo (language). Weekly performances by employees are always big hits.

A recent $75 million enhancement project renewed 264 of the hotel’s 432 rooms. Nightly rates start at $231.  Kama‘āina receive a 30 percent discount. (808) 661-0011.

The Lanai at Hokupa‘a includes panoramic views, daily breakfast bites, a private bar, infinity edge cocktail pools and cultural experiences.

A serene pool and expansive views await at Hōkūpa‘a’s exclusive lounge, The Lānai. | Photo courtesy The Westin Maui Resort & Spa Ka'anapali

Linger at the Lānai: One of the best things about staying at Hōkūpa‘a, the newly transformed beachfront tower at The Westin Maui Resort and Spa is exclusive access to The Lānai. This second-floor lounge features panoramic ocean views, a plunge pool, a fully stocked bar, complimentary light breakfast and evening pūpū, and a “cocktail pool” where you can kick off your shoes and soak your feet as you sip your favorite libation. Those interested in nā mea Hawaiʻi (things Hawaiian) can participate in a cultural activity from 6 to 7 p.m. daily; poi pounding, lei po‘o (head lei) making, and coconut frond weaving are in the rotating lineup.

Nightly Hōkūpa‘a rates start at $899. Ask about kama‘āina discounts. The Lānai is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. (808) 667-2525.

Courtesy Kaanapali Alii; A Destination by Hyatt Residence

A two-bedroom, oceanfront residence at Kaanapali Alii. | Photo courtesy Kaanapali Alii; A Destination by Hyatt Residence

A true home away from home: The draws of Kaanapali Alii, a luxury vacation condominium, begin with space: one-bedroom residences are 1,500 square feet and two-bedroom residences are 1,900 square feet (accommodations that big can’t be called “rooms”). Each has a fully equipped kitchen, a big-screen TV, a washer and dryer, and unique décor, from flooring to furniture and art to accessories.

There’s also a fitness center; three private tennis courts; and grocery delivery, which can include everything you need for a poolside barbecue. Tend to the grill yourself using herbs you’ve picked from the on-property garden or, between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., ask the Grill Master on duty to assist. He’ll also gladly share recipes, offer tips on seasonings, and recommend local purveyors of fine meat, seafood, and produce. Nightly rates start at $531. (800) 642-6284.

What to do

Courtesy Ka’anapali Golf Courses

Maui’s only FootGolf course, Kāʻanapali Kai, at the Kāʻanapali Beach Resort. | Photo courtesy Ka’anapali Golf Courses

Kick off your stay with FootGolf: At 4 p.m. daily, Kāʻanapali Kai, one of the Kāʻanapali Beach Resort’s two championship 18-hole golf courses, transforms into a nine-hole, par-34 FootGolf course, the only such course on Maui. Instead of using clubs and golf balls, players must kick a soccer ball from the tee into a 21-inch cup on the green.

Cost is $15 per person plus $15 for a shared golf cart, if desired. Bring your own ball or rent one for $5.

Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch

The courts at Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch. | Photo courtesy Royal Lahaina Resort

Game, set, match: It might not be Wimbledon, Roland Garros, Melbourne Park, or Flushing Meadows, but it’s not hard to imagine Novak Djokovic serving an ace at the Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch. Boasting a 3,500-seat stadium court and 10 surrounding courts at the Royal Lahaina Resort, this is Hawai‘i’s largest tennis facility and the only one equipped with a PlaySight SmartCourt that’s available to the public. Six HD cameras on the SmartCourt track player and ball movements and record data on an interactive touch screen kiosk.

Open to everyone, the facility offers lessons, clinics, workouts for experienced players, and a match-setting service for tennis players of all levels.

Explore the wonders of the ocean: Kāʻanapali is part of NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, whose mission is to monitor, protect, and raise awareness about humpbacks, Hawai‘i’s most famous snowbirds. Each winter, the whales migrate from Alaska to breed, give birth, and nurse their young. Some 7,000 of them are counted annually within the sanctuary’s boundaries, and Kāʻanapali’s numbers are second only to Penguin Bank, a submerged shield volcano west of Moloka‘i. 

Toys, surfboard fins, cigarette lighters—debris of all kinds winds up in the ocean, posing a deadly threat to marine animals who mistake it for food.

Plastic toys, surfboard fins, and other ocean debris on display at the Hawai‘i Wildlife Discovery Center. | Photo courtesy Cheryl Tsutsumi

A new attraction at Whalers Village mall sheds light on those gentle giants as well as monk seals, sea turtles, and other protected native marine life. The marine sanctuary and the nonprofit Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund collaborated to create 30-plus exhibits for the 5,000-square-foot Hawai‘i Wildlife Discovery Center; among other highlights are an interactive kids’ zone, a community resource room, and a six-minute video presentation that immerses viewers in the undersea world among whales, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and coral reefs. There’s no music or narration—just actual sounds of the marine animals transmitted via a state-of-the-art Bose system.

Talks by naturalists, marine-debris art classes, and a gift store selling eco-conscious merchandise support the center’s conservation mission. Hours are 10 a.m.–8 p.m. daily. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for kama‘āina, and $5 for children 5 through 15.

Penguins at Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa

Black-footed African penguins cavort at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. | Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa

Meet wildlife and tour the stars: Swans, ducks, flamingos, parrots, African crowned cranes, and black-footed African penguins reside among the waterfalls, sculptures, arched bridges, and lush greenery at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. During a complimentary 9:30 a.m. daily presentation, you can learn about the penguins’ distinctive spots, natural habitat, and mating behaviors as they eat a morning meal of capelin.

At 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the free half-hour Wildlife Tour spotlights other charming feathered characters. Be sure to say hello to Madison, a friendly umbrella cockatoo who enjoys dancing, playing with toys, and posing for pictures.

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, Eddie Mahoney, hotel director of astronomy

Eddie Mahoney, the hotel’s director of astronomy. | Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa

Eddie Mahoney, the hotel’s director of astronomy, traces his love of space back to October 1957 when, at age 7, he watched, mesmerized, as the Soviet satellite Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit Earth, passed over his home in Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey. He went on to earn master of science and master of education degrees, often using educational materials from NASA as a teacher and volunteer with NASA’s Solar System Ambassador program.

For the past 21 years, Mahoney has introduced visitors to planets, comets, nebulae, galaxies, stars, and star clusters during the 45-minute Tour of the Stars. This time of year, 110-plus feet above sea level at a rooftop observatory, three powerful Celestron telescopes bring stars such as Sirius, Procyon, Rigel, and Betelgeuse into focus.

Tour of the Stars is available Thursdays through Mondays at 8, 9, 10, and 11 p.m. Cost is $30 for adult hotel guests ($40 for non-guests) and $20 for children 6 through 12 ($25 for non-guests). Call (808) 667-4727 for reservations.

You may also like: Explore Maui like a local in Wailuku and Kahului

Where to dine

Pizza or pasta, sushi or steak—whatever you’re craving, you’ll find it in Kāʻanapali. The resort area’s newest restaurants are Waicoco and Huihui, which both celebrate Hawai‘i’s bounty.

Pleasure for the palate: What happens when award-winning chefs from Honolulu, Chicago, and Marrakesh combine their talents? Extraordinary cuisine, as evidenced by the dishes Chris Kajioka, John Taube IV, and Mourad Lahlou have created for Waicoco at The Westin Maui.

Hawaiian pancakes with caramel bananas Foster and toasted macadamia nuts, five-spice braised short rib red curry with Okinawan sweet potatoes, and grilled half kampachi with ginger rice and Kula greens, which satisfies two to four people. The salt-and-vinegar fries with furikake, gochujang ketchup, and bonito mayo alone warrant a return visit. Open daily for breakfast and dinner.

Lūheʻe Chopped Salad Smoked he‘e (octopus) dried muhe‘e (cuttlefish), pohole (fiddle fern), kale, local greens, Maui onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, ‘ulu (breadfruit) croutons, creamy calamansi dressing

The Lūhe‘e Chopped Salad at Kāʻanapali Beach Hotel features local greens, smoked octopus, and Maui onions. | Photo courtesy Ka’anapali Beach Hotel

Reimagining island staples: Huihui at the Kāʻanapali Beach Hotel has won an enthusiastic following for its imaginative takes on traditional Hawaiian foods. Options include French toast made with house-made poi sweet bread, Seafood Huihui (fresh fish, lobster, scallops, shrimp, and roasted kukui stewed in a tomato and coconut milk broth), and a chopped salad of smoked he‘e (octopus), dried mūheʻe (cuttlefish), pohole (fiddle fern), local greens, Maui onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and ‘ulu (breadfruit) croutons.

The restaurant doubles as the home of the Moanaku‘inamoku (“the ocean that connects islands together”) Voyaging Academy, which uses the hotel’s sailing and outrigger canoes to teach seamanship, navigation, and Hawai‘i’s voyaging history to Maui high school students. Decor reflects this seafaring theme; for example, a large glass case displays fishhooks, octopus lures, water carriers, and canoe paddles. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Kāʻanapali is Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi’s favorite place to watch the sunset, either at sea or from land, with a mocktail in hand. She is a frequent contributor to AAA Explorer. Check out some of her previous articles: 

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