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Beach Experts Needed

Article by Shannon Wianecki

Gold sand, red sand, black sand—take your pick. On Maui, waves wash onto beaches of every flavor. Even the experts agree: Maui’s idyllic beaches are top in the nation. Every year, “Dr. Beach” –a.k.a. Florida International University researcher Dr. Stephen Leatherman, hits the seashore with serious business in mind. He and his team review beaches across the U.S.A., calculating softness of sand, clarity of water, percentage of sunny days, number of volleyball nets, etc. Tough life, eh?

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After tallying fifty exacting criteria, the team announced last year’s winner: sugary D.T. Fleming Beach in West Maui was named “America’s Best Beach.” Neighboring Kaanapali Beach wore the crown in 2003. Wailea Beach won before that. (The friendly sea turtles known for cruising through the area undoubtedly helped cinch that win.)

Year after year, Valley Isle beaches dominate the winner’s circle, proving that even science-minded folks fall hard for Maui. And least the sand is soft…

But there’s no reason Dr. Beach should be the only expert with his toes in the sand…Slap on the SPF 40 and investigate Maui’s sun-kissed treasures for yourself. Here’s a starter list: our top picks for families, photo-ops, snorkeling, and plain ol’ sun worship.

Best Overall:

1. Keawakapu Beach. A golden swath of paradise is hidden behind the fortress of million-dollar homes that line the southern end of South Kihei Road. Keawakapu offers everything you could desire from a beach—and a few extras you might not have dreamt up: near-perfect swimming most days of the year, a half-mile of thick, soft sand, a living reef just offshore bristling with tropical fish, rays, and sea turtles, palm trees for shade, a snack shop and showers nearby, and just enough people-watching to keep you from snoozing too long the sun. Still not wowed? How about throwing a free wildlife show into the mix? During whale season the spot is favored by mama whales teaching newborns the fine art of fin-slapping. What are you waiting for? Grab your beach bag and claim your patch of paradise!
Facilities: Toilets, showers, paved parking
Get there: Three entrances on S. Kihei Road; at the Mana Kai Resort, at the base of Kilohana Street, and at the southern tip of S. Kihei Rd. Look for the blue “shoreline access” signs.

2. Makena State Beach Park. Three entrances lead to wild and gorgeous Makena State Beach Park, known to locals as Big Beach. Even when the paved lots teem with cars parked every which way, you’ll find plenty of room to plunk your towel down. Big Beach is an inviting 100-foot wide, mile-long blanket of deep, golden sand. No hotels mar the blissful panorama, which includes stunning views of rugged Kahoolawe and tiny Molokini crater on the horizon. Watch skimboarders shred the shorebreak and look for the occasional visits by turtles and dolphins, but take care entering the water. The steep swells are powerful and the strong undertow might sweep you out to Tahiti if you aren’t careful. Most afternoons, the infamous “Makena cloud” rolls in, spattering fat drops of warm rain on the unsuspecting. Climb the hill at the north end of the beach to find “Little Beach,” where free-thinking sunbathers frolic in the buff. Sunday afternoons erupt in drum circles and fire-dancing.
Facilities: Limited facilities; porta-potties at first two entrances only.
Get there: On Makena Alanui Rd., follow signs.

3. Waianapanapa State Park. Jet black sand, turquoise waves, and lush green beach vines will etch themselves forever onto your memory as you explore this passionate coastline. Blowholes exhale great bursts of sea spray and native seabirds dip and dive on tiny islets offshore. Take an exhilarating dip in the icy, freshwater cave where an ancient Hawaiian princess once hid from her jealous husband to no avail. You will find that the longer you linger here, the less you will want to leave. No problem—set up home in one of the oceanfront cabins. Greet the morning with a sunrise breakfast made from papayas and lilikoi (passion fruit) growing wild on the roadside.
Facilities: Campground, cabins, toilets, showers, picnic tables, BBQ, paved parking
Get there: Off Hana Hwy., near mile marker 32., 1 mile before Hana town. Follow signs.

  read more: Meet the Most-Scenic Beaches >>