Hawaiians used to refer to the area of Kihei as "Kamaʻole" which means "barren." Situated on the coast, southwest of Haleakalā, the area was noted for its dry, dusty and hot days with less than 13 inches of rain annually.
An effort in the early 1900s to establish a sugar plantation in the area met with failure. By 1930 only about 350 people made Kihei their home. There was no paved roadway. Other than non-native kiawe trees and good fishing spots, there was little to attract people to Kihei.
Kihei for Sale 1932−1950
In 1932 the government placed eleven beach lots up for sale. Only six were sold.
Even by 1950, plots capable of being farmed sold for a mere $225 an acre. Residential property could be bought for as little as five cents a square foot. It seemed that aside from a few scattered businesses, no one wanted to live or work in Kihei.
All of that changed in the late 1960s when water was piped into the area from Central and West Maui and developers saw an area ripe for sun-loving tourists.
Development 1970− 1980
Development of Kihei was done with no real plan in mind. Lots were gobbled up and condominium units were built right on top of each other. Shopping centers and strip malls popped up every couple of blocks.
Before long tourists looking for inexpensive to moderate lodging began to flock to Kihei.
Today over 60 condominiums, rentals, timeshares, and a few small hotels make Kihei one of Hawaii's busiest beach towns. Visitors seem willing to forego lush landscaping to save some money.
Today Kihei retains much of that 1970's look. Aside from more tourists, more traffic, and a few more upscale merchants little has changed. It remains, however, a top destination for visitors who want to spend time on Maui without draining their savings accounts.
The town is bordered by beaches and S. Kihei Road on one side and the newer Piʻilani Highway on the other. The highway is used mostly by visitors staying in the posh Wailea Resort area to avoid the traffic in Kihei.
That which once drew Hawaiians to Kihei remains the areas most desirable attraction: the beaches and the ocean.
The Kihei coast consists of one beach after another culminating with the fine if somewhat repetitive names of Kamaʻole I, II and III. These beaches are anything but barren today, as you'll see on almost any weekend. They are also some of the best-lifeguarded beaches in Hawaii.
Best of all when you exit almost any lodging in Kihei, the beach is right across the street.
One Kihei beach may be favored for swimming, another for body surfing or board surfing. Each one is wide, sandy and sunny which makes for a perfect postcard on the quintessential tropical beach.
A wonderful feature of this seaside town is its views of Kahoʻolawe, Molokini, Lanaʻi, and West Maui. From this vantage point, the West Maui Mountains appear to be a separate island, a mysterious Shangri La in the distance.
Kalama Beach Park
Kihei's Kalama Beach Park has shady lawns and palm trees dotting its 36-oceanfront acres. You often may find a great craft fair, music concerts and other fun events at this family park.
Skateboarders will appreciate the skate park. There are also baseball fields, basketball courts, an in-line hockey rink, a picnic pavilion, and a nice children's playground.
Shopping in Kihei
If shopping is high on your list, there are no fewer than ten shopping malls of varying sizes crammed in between Kihei's condominiums and hotels.
Azeka Place in the center of town is Kihei's largest shopping center with over 50 shops and restaurants. A bit further away, the Piʻilani Village Shopping Center is a new, 150,000-square-foot facility that includes grocery chain Safeway's largest store in the state, a large Hilo Hattie store.
Where to Eat
Dining out is never a problem in Kihei. While many visitors choose to cook their own meals in their condominium units, the town has a wide selection of restaurants from fast food and moderately priced chains to a number of upscale dining establishments featuring Hawaiian Regional and Pacific Rim cuisine.
The fun doesn't stop with the setting sun. Kihei's nightlife includes dance clubs, karaoke spots, and several sports bars.
Something for Everyone in Kihei
Bird watchers and nature lovers will also find something to enjoy. At the north end of Kihei is the national Wildlife Conservation District, Keālia Pond, where endangered Hawaiian stilts and coots thrive in a salt-water marsh that is easily visible from the road.
There is an excellent public golf course in Kihei, the Maui Nui Golf Club, as well as world-class resort golf courses nearby in Wailea and Makena.
In Kihei, anyone can enjoy the sunshine, surf, and sand that are the hallmark of the area.
Here, Hawaiians once lived in scattered villages, fished the sea, and maintained fishponds for royalty. Kamehameha I moored his war canoes during his conquest of Maui and accepted the first cattle brought to Hawaii from British explorer George Vancouver. Here today, budget-minded visitors make their base to explore the beauty of Maui, the Valley Isle.