Regulars to Maui know that the best winter snorkelling is along the island's southwest coast, more protected from winter winds than the north western shores. Wailea is an upscale area and the local selection of beaches defends a quality reputation—Wailea Beach won Dr.Beach's Best Beach of America Award in 1999. With three 18-hole championship golf courses and tennis courts aplenty, Wailea has the carefully constructed resorts and shopping to match.
Even if you're not staying in one of the resorts in Wailea you can still enjoy the sand and sea, open to the public and well-looked after with parking and showers to accommodate visitors. For snorkelling try Mokapu or Ulua beach at the north end of Wailea or head south to Polo Beach for bright fish schools and ample room to sunbathe. Dig in at a luau for an evening feast after a hard day of working on your tan.
Just over two miles off-shore is Molokini, an extinct volcano, with extensive submerged flanks that are home to 250 species of fish. If you only have one chance to dive while you're in Maui, make Molokini it. Tours leave mornings from moorings at Maalaea Harbor or Kihei Boat Ramp.
South of Wailea is Makena. Makena's Little Beach is infamous for the birthday suits sported by bathers and notable absence of bathing suits. Keep an eye out for whales while you people-watch, or if you'd rather not spend a morning with the naturists stick to Big Beach or any number of sandy stretches in the area. Wander along the paths in 'Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve for great snorkelling and scuba opportunities on the reef shared with La Pérouse Bay.
Wailea is about 27 miles south of Lahaina and 22 miles from Kahului.