Make the most of your precious vacation time on Maui. The “Valley Isle” is well known for its wide range of experiences. From pristine beaches, the stunning Road to Hana drive, sunrise or sunset atop Haleakala volcano, the lush and sacred Iao Valley, seeing migrating humpback whales in season, and world class and diverse dining choices. Many adventures await.
With so many activities and attractions that you won’t want to miss, you’ll need a Maui vacation guide to help you plan your trip. That’s why this travel guide to Maui was created to give you everything you need to prepare for your getaway and help make sure you can enjoy every single minute of your vacation.
From the US Mainland
All major US carriers fly into Kahului Airport from a selection of mainland cites. If you want to begin your island experience before you even land, you can also choose Hawaii’s flagship airline, Hawaiian Airlines.
Regardless of where you are coming from, your landing will be breathtaking. Maui’s nickname is “The Valley Isle,” …so named because the island is basically comprised of two volcanic mountains separated by a flat, uniform isthmus running between them. It’s most common that your flight will approach to land by flying over the isthmus.
This creates an absolutely gorgeous view that will take your breath away. And if that doesn’t do it, the position of the mountains to the prevailing trade winds can create a wind tunnel effect that might bounce the plane around a little upon landing. Don’t worry, that is normal! Either way, it will be an exhilarating landing at the Kahului Airport.
Impress a Local: The Hawaiian word for flight is “lele,” and the Hawaiian word for crazy is “lolo.” A whimsical combination that is usually appropriate for landing in Maui.
The island of Maui is the second largest island of the Hawaiian Island chain… in both area (land mass), where it is second to the “Big Island” of Hawaii, and second to Oahu in population. However, Maui has been number one in popularity since… well, probably ever since the first Polynesian set foot on the island. This enchantment has created both good things and things that may require a little patience in Maui.
The good, of course, are charming towns and a vibrant and fun hospitality infrastructure to service all the people who come to be enraptured by this beautiful island.
The most delightful places on the island maintain their “delightfulness” by NOT having super-highways servicing them. The result is rapturous and picturesque drives on two-lane highways… and sharing them with the many others who are on similar sojourns of joy. So you may encounter some traffic. And the only way you can see Maui is by car, motorcycle, bicycle… or helicopter.
If there is one place where renting a car gives you all the freedom to explore – it’s on Maui. Make sure you reserve your car as early as possible. Rates fluctuate with popular holidays and demand. Major car rental brands are located at the airport. Local companies may offer shuttle transfer to off-terminal facilities.
Wherever you drive on Maui, you are going to be tempted with amazing views. Sculpted, volcanic mountain faces, crystal waters with surfers and paddle boarders, maybe even breaching whales during the winter.
So it’s a given you will be tempted to gaze off to mesmerizing vistas that will tempt you every single mile of wherever you are going. So watch out! Also keep your eyes out for drivers who are also mesmerized and may not be paying as close attention as they should. And also remember that lots of people are visiting, and might just drive like they are completely lost!
Impress a Local: The town of Lahaina, on the west side of Maui, was the capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845.
While most of Maui doesn’t require a park pass, any location inside Haleakala National Park does. This includes the Haleakala Summit and the area where the Ohe’o Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools) and Pipiwai Trail are located. Visitors can purchase a Haleakala National Park Pass good for three consecutive days at entrance stations or show their America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for free entry.
Annual national park passes are available for purchase online or at the park entrance. The pass covers entry to all national parks, national monuments, national historic sites, and other federally managed lands. Current military members, families of fourth-grade students, and U.S. citizens with disabilities can receive a free annual pass. Seniors can purchase an annual or lifetime senior pass at a discounted rate, which also gets them discounts on campground fees.
Maui is a tropical paradise with an interesting history; the island is formed by two volcanoes, the West Maui Mountain and Haleakala. These two volcanoes were close enough that they created a narrow strip of land connecting them and ultimately forming the beautiful, 727 square miles of the Maui island we know today.
As the second largest island in Hawaii, Maui is home to five unique regions, all with their own attractions, restaurants, beaches, and so much more.
The first region is West Maui. This region is known for some of the most popular beaches on the island, including Ka’anapali Beach and Kapalua Bay. There are also several resort hotels, condos, and gorgeous golf courses.
Traveling further south down the coast you’ll find yourself in South Maui. This area is popular amongst travelers because it offers luxurious hotels, plenty of dining options, and beautiful beaches such as Wailea Beach and Polo Beach.
If you fly into Maui, this is likely where you’ll land as the primary airport of Kahului Airport is located in Central Maui. This region is less developed than others and offers visitors a unique opportunity to see wildlife and explore some of Maui’s natural attractions, including the Iao Needle.
The famous Road to Hana begins in East Maui and it takes travelers along a beautiful, one-of-a-kind 64-mile road trip that explores the coasts and much more. This region offers authentic Hawaiian pineapple stands and other cultural experiences.
Travel further inland to reach Upcountry Maui and explore the slopes of Haleakala. When you make it to this region, you’ll experience rural Maui and beautiful landscapes that will take your breath away.
Listen to stories, local tips & directions along the road. Commentary plays automatically based on your location. No cell or wifi required, tour offline with GPS.
There are two main areas for accommodations in Maui; West Maui and South Maui. Both face west and enjoy those stunning Maui sunsets. Both feature a wide range of accommodation types, with each offering a great selection of both hotels and condos running the gamut from budget to luxury.
Outside of these most popular areas you will find a smattering of guesthouses, boutique inns, private rental homes and even some unusual offerings (think treehouse!).
The area known as West Maui comprises the historic whaling town of Lahaina and well-developed resort areas surrounding Ka’anapali Beach. Here you’ll find accommodations ranging from luxury resorts like Montage Kapalua Bay. Kapalua includes a championship golf course that has hosted several PGA events – all the way to very economical vacation rentals and everything in between.
Like everything in Maui, it’s a beautiful area, with former sugar cane fields gently sloping up to the lush, green West Maui Mountains, and the languid blue Pacific – tamed by a natural harbor created by the islands of Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe that ring this area of ocean.
Best of all, it’s close to Lahaina. Maui might have the most charming towns for any of the Hawaiian Islands, and it would be difficult to rank them, but you can bet that Lahaina would top most lists. Quaint shops and restaurants are woven within fascinating historical sites, including the old harbor, giving you an impression of time travel… if you allow yourself to be so moved by your imagination.
Just a little closer to the airport is Kihei… also on the west side of the island, but it starts on the isthmus and runs towards the southern part of Maui, of which the entire island is basically on the side of one huge mountain: Haleakala.
This area is referred to as the “South Side” or “South Shore”. It is also a little drier here in the winter months than in West Maui.
The South Shore towns of Kihei and Wailea have the preponderance of hotels and vacation rental condos, with Kihei having the most “pleasantly-priced” accommodations – along with a vibrant community packed with restaurants of every stripe and budget point, and a wide variety of shops, galleries and activity centers that hints of the borderline bohemian beach town it has been for decades, and is much more attractive to families.
Immediately south of Kihei is Wailea, and it is almost exclusively… well, exclusive: brimming with luxury resorts – with luxury eateries – and high-end condos for rent. Here, for example, is where you will find the 5-star likes of Four Seasons, Fairmont and the Grand Wailea. It is well groomed and quiet.
If you want an ultimate escape, one should take a look at spending a night or 2 in Hana, the cool, quiet, Hawaiian hamlet on the eastern fringe of mammoth Haleakala, and namesake of course to the spectacular Road to Hana.
Here you’ll find the 4-star Hana-Maui Resort, the updated version of the postcard-picturesque Hotel Hana… a longtime secret and secluded getaway for locals from every island. Along with the Hana-Maui, you’ll find a very modest selection of less expensive and quaint hotels, B&Bs and cottages for rent.
You’ll also be adjacent to some of the most gorgeous landscape and vistas that Maui has to offer. Be prepared that it helps to pack your own provisions and entertainment. You won’t be left high and dry, but services are limited here – and that is part of the beauty.
Impress a Local: Haleakala means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian.
There isn’t really a “bad” time to visit Hawaii. Sure, the locals might complain about “winter”, but if you are coming to Maui from most parts of the mainland, you are going to find it totally fantastic.
If we have to highlight the different seasons, winter in Hawaii lasts from December to April. It can be a little cooler, and a little wetter, and there is even the chance of storms that tends to peak around March. But really, you are going to be in shorts, Tshirts and sundresses the whole time. The ocean is always warm enough to swim and enjoy.
Winter is very popular, especially with folks that need to get away from their winter they are leaving at home. And bonus, is that winter is whale season – see everyone wants to winter in Maui!
After winter and the snowbirds, summer holidays are also very busy with the, schools-out, family vacation crowd in June, July and August. So the off-peak, “shoulder seasons” of April-May and September to mid-December are your best chances if you are searching for a deal.
Remember that Maui is an island, so even during summer, there is always going to be a lovely ocean breeze blowing somewhere.
Impress a Local: The placid waters to the west of Lahaina and Kaanapali that are calm by sheltering presence of the islands Molokai and Lanai is known as Lahaina Roads, and throughout the 1940s, the US Navy specified it as an alternate anchorage area for the fleet in Pearl Harbor.
The natural beauty of Maui is of such magnitude and magnificence that one could easily spend weeks exploring and gazing at it, and some lucky Snowbirds from the US and Canada spend the entire winter in Maui.
Generally, one should try to plan at least one week on Maui in order to not feel rushed to get a full sample of the island treasures, because any pre-planned itinerary will often be disrupted by the urge to just relax and gaze at the natural beauty for a few hours or days before plunging off to adventures.
A good rule of thumb is to add one week for every additional island you want to visit.
Impress a Local: Maui County comprises the island of Maui as well as the islands of Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe.
When you first arrive on Maui, you may feel that all you want to do is lay around the beach or by the pool. But it’s very common to start to feel like you want to get out and explore. A morning enjoying the sun and water, and then an afternoon out and about. Then maybe a few full days out – and those sightseeing days can also include that beach time too!
Without a doubt, the Road to Hana is Maui’s most famous drive and something that every visitor should do at least once. More than 600 major curves and nearly 60 bridges, many of them only one lane wide, this drive around the north side of Haleakala is a true adventure, filled with rainforest, waterfalls, beaches and what has been called Hawaii’s most authentic Hawaiian town.
To make sure you have the most enjoyable time, make sure you download your tour in advance. Many great spots you’ll want to see don’t have any signage. And finally if you are prone to carsickness, prepare before you go with a patch, a herbal supplement or something from the drugstore.
Prepare: Choose which route you want to drive the Road to Hana;
Check the current road and weather conditions and forecast before committing which route to take, and don’t forget you must reserve a time to access the Black Sand Beach in Waiʻanapana State Park.
There is such a diverse range of climates and terrains in Maui, that hikes are best categorized by type: dusty and desert-like… lush (and soggy) tropical rainforests… lava-jagged coastal treks… or an outright moonscape. Here is a taste of the best.
If you like your hikes nice and dry, consider the Lahaina Pali Trail, an old road in the hot, dry and dusty southern side of West Maui. It’s rugged, and not a stroll – meaning those who are in less than ideal condition will be challenged – but you’ll get fantastic, panoramic views of the central, isthmus valley and Haleakala on the southern end… and whales during the winter.
Maui Guide Trail Tips: this is not a loop, and can be entered from the north side nearest Lahaina, or the south end nearest Maaleaa. Both trailheads are at sea level, but the trail rises sharply to over 1,500 feet within the 2.5 miles to its midpoint.
If you like things lush, then get it all, with rainforests, waterfalls and pools, and even a bamboo forest all in one hike. That would be the Pipiwai Trail, and it includes streams, pools, bridges, waterfalls, a passage through a cathedral of massive, arching bamboo and culminating with the spectacular, 400-foot Waimoku Waterfall.
Maui Guide Trail Tips: This is a generally well-maintained trail, and a jewel of the National Park system, so expect a lot of company on your way. The National Park entrance fee applies here, so bring your NPS pass if you have one, and remember that if you purchase a pass on entry, that same pass can be used at the summit of Haleakala within 3 days. It does get soggy, so wear appropriate footwear and bring raingear and bug spray. And just make sure you allow enough time. The hike takes most people around two hours so if you’re at the trail by 2pm (the gate closes at 4:30pm and everyone must exit by 5pm), you will have lots of time to hike and then drive back.
If you want little culture with your walk, go to Wai’anapanapa State Park, a gorgeous 122-acre state park just before Hana, packed with stunning vistas and historic sights. Several hike options offer views to the blacks and beach and bay, and views across the water to a sea arch. The park is characterized by amazing lava formations, caves, blowholes, ancient sites, pictographs and native forest groves.
And if you want an entirely otherworldly experience, then go to the top, and we mean literally: the 10,000-foot high Haleakala. There are several incredible hikes in and around the summit, and all include the challenges of the aforementioned altitude… which means thinner air…. You might find yourself a little short of breath, so take it at an easy pace. And expect the temperature to be much colder than sea level – Haleakala sometimes sees snow during winter.
Trail options include:
Maui Guide Trail Tips: Wear sturdy boots and bring your raingear. Expect cold, windy weather AND relentless sun. Bring lots of water – you dehydrate much more quickly at this altitude. The UV rays from the sun are also stronger. DO NOT underestimate the reality of a high alpine environment. You’ll also need a park pass for Haleakala National Park, which you can buy at the entrance station or show your existing pass if still valid (passes are valid for three days).
You will be starting at the top and heading down, so remember the hardest part of the hike will be at the end, coming back up. Also… if you are a scuba diver, be aware that the thin air of Haleakala Summit can give you the bends if you’re loaded up with nitrogen from a dive less than 24 hours before going to the summit.
Impress a Local: The Silversword plant is only found in the crater of Haleakala, and it’s also the mascot of Chaminade University in Honolulu.
Bonus hike to another world: Makaluapuna Point, also known as Dragon’s Teeth was formed by fierce wind and waves pushing a lava flow upward to ultimately harden into jagged spikes that resemble the teeth of a dragon… or so say the people who have seen dragons. Real or imagined, we’ll take their word for it and just enjoy this amazing sight, along with gorgeous views of Oneloa and Fleming Beaches, as well as Molokai, sitting right in front of you.
There are two distinctive phases of Hawaiian history and culture. The time of Native Hawaii, when no foreigners knew of this paradise and Hawaiians practiced their authentic culture. And, the post contact time, when the outside world learned of Hawaii and began landing on her shores.
During the early agricultural economy, massive amounts of imported workers arrived from far flung foreign lands for the plantations. This created a fusion of cultures like nowhere else, including Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino Portuguese and even Scandinavian.
There are surprisingly many opportunities to connect with the different cultural rivers of Hawaii.
Here are some of the best places to stick a toe into these rivers.
Lahaina can give you the most exposure to “settlement” history in one place. Walk down Front Street of old Lahaina and you will see the vestiges of an old whaling town… the wooden harbor houses and merchants live on now as vibrant shops, galleries and restaurants.
A visit to the whaling museum and a historical walking tour can quickly immerse you back into those rough and tumble days that will show dozens of historical sites that are still in existence. Be sure to visit the old courthouse and the Baldwin home for your walk through history. For further immersion, book a Ghost Tour.
And for a touch of Hawaiian culture, book the Old Lahaina Luau, where it’s faithful adherence to traditional luaus separates it from all the others.
For over 150 years, the sugar cane industry dominated and defined Hawaii, transforming the kingdom (to put it mildly) and indelibly shaping Hawaii into what it is today. With vast, undulating fields of cane on every island as recently as the mid ‘90s, the last sugar mill in Hawaii – at Puunene on Maui – shut down in 2016, and is now home to a fascinating museum that tells the often bittersweet tale of sugar.
Taking a stroll through this National Tropical Botanical Garden located along the Road to Hana, is like walking around ancient Hawaii. The 464-acre garden is closely interwoven with the history of Maui and the Hawaiian people – both from a botanical perspective, and the historical significance of the massive heiau, Piilanihale – a towering, 3-acre ancient temple that is the largest in all of Polynesia… and that’s saying a lot. Explore on your own, or arrange to take one of the guided tours that take place on Saturday mornings.
Combining history with modern performance, this fascinating show at the Maui Theatre presents the legends, myths, hula and chants of Hawaiian culture in an authentic and completely mesmerizing musical journey through ancient times to now.
Probably the most famous beach in Maui, Kaanapali frequently shows up on national beach rankings. Located in West Maui just north of Lahaina, the 1-and-half-mile beach was favored by Hawaiian royalty during the days of the kingdom, and now the site of major hotels, resorts and condos. But don’t let those resorts make you think the beach is restricted – like all beaches in Hawaii – the beach itself is a public place. Because of its popularity, it has loads of activity vendors servicing the beach, including parasailing (outside of whale season), surfing, volleyball, and sailing tours. Throw in the shopping, restaurants and food, and you’ll see why it is often referred to as the ‘Waikiki of Maui’. But we think it’s better than Waikiki and will make everyone feel like royalty!
The South Shore equivalence of Kaanapali is Kamaole Beaches: three adjacent beaches that are numbered and referred to by locals as Kam 1, Kam 2 and Kam 3. They are similar to Kaanapali because they are calm, easily accessible beaches and have a large number of hotels and vacation rentals in Kihei right across the road from them, as well as the shops and restaurants of Kihei close by, too. Picnicking in the beach parks is popular for locals and visitors, with Kam 3 having the largest. The swimming and snorkeling are excellent for each beach, and if there are waves, they tend to be small, and fun for the younger (and sometimes older) set.
Close to Kam 3 on the South Shore is Keawakapu, which is just south of Kam 3 and stretches from Kihei to Wailea. Though it is still a popular beach, it’s not as crowded as the Kamaole Beaches, and features nice, soft sand perfect for sunbathing and getting in and out from a swim. There’s a reef and tide pools on the northern side for great snorkeling or searching for adventurous sea life in the tide pools.
Similarly, up past Kaanapali in West Maui, you’ll find Kapalua Bay, one of the best places in Maui for families to hang for the day. Along with being postcard picturesque, you’ll have great snorkeling at the lava peninsulas at each end of the bay, and calm waters that allow moms and dads to feel comfortable letting youngsters play in. The nearby tide pools allow the kids to see sea life up close and personal, and in the winter months the beach becomes a theatre to see whales.
Impress a Local: Kapalua means “two borders,” which references the two volcanic-rock peninsulas on each side of the beach bay.
Also known as North Beach because of its location adjacent to Kaanapali Beach, it is far less crowded than its famous neighbor, with a large beach, plenty of parking and easy access, benches and a fabulous picnic area to enjoy its exceptional beauty. One of its best attributes is the marvelous snorkeling and diving found there. However, even though it has a nice shallow slope into the water for easy access, sometimes strong, unpredictable currents can be present and less confident swimmers should be cautious.
Impress a Local: The last king of Maui was named Kahekili.
Also more well known as Big Beach, and located past Wailea on the South Shore, this is Maui’s most expansive undeveloped beach, and it is refreshing destination devoid of any hotels, condos, restaurants to help you imagine yourself as being one of the first people to discover Maui. Well, you and several dozens of others, as it is a popular beach, but as per the name, big enough to accommodate all.
Along with the glory of undeveloped Hawaii, you’ll gaze upon the islands of Kahoolawe and little Molokini floating on the horizon. When the surf is up, an electrifying shore break sees daredevil body boarders taking short and precarious rides on these “dumpy waves”.
Other bonuses include lots of parking, and just next door, Little Beach, Maui’s official nude beach… if you’re into that sort of thing. If you are feeling especially adventurous, just be sure to employ a “liberal” use of sunscreen to the areas that haven’t seen the sun in quite a while, or else your Hawaii vacation will take an EXTREMELY unexpected turn.
And speaking of extremes… here are the most extreme beaches – both ways.
Ho’okipa Beach Park
Located on the northeastern shore, past Kahului (and the airport) and Sprecklesville and Paia, Ho’okipa Beach Park is for expert surfers and windsurfers, and those who like to watch them. There is parking, pavilions, and picnic areas where you can spend the day being mesmerized by the waves and the death-defying surfers, kite-boarders and wind surfers. It’s a popular spot for sea turtles, too.
Baby Beach is a protected lagoon and gorgeous beach made especially dramatic by red cliffs and exposed reef. While this coastline is noted for surfing and of course the churning surf that makes it known for surfing, the rocky point on the one end of the beach creates an exceptionally calm lagoon that is great for swimming, and safe for children… hence the name.
Next to the beach are large sand dunes and woods, making this beach the perfect place to swim, hang and take in beautiful coastal vistas, or explore. Pro Tip: This is the WINDWARD side of the island, which makes it one of the premier windsurfing spots in the world… but if the winds pick up, it can make this beach a sandblasting experience. Head over to a wind-protected cove in nearby Baldwin Beach when that happens.
Of all the delightful things to do on Maui – and there are many – there are two that Maui is renowned for, and pretty much are “must see and dos”.
Little did you know that many biped landlubbers share the same habits as the North Pacific Humpback Whale, as every year between November and May, these enormous mammals migrate from Alaska to Maui’s warm waters to winter in Hawaii. There are no fruity cocktails for these beasts however, as they are here on a mission to deliver and nurse a calf to a size where they can make it back to the 49th state. The peaceful and relatively shallow waters off the western shores of Maui create a perfect sanctuary for them, and so Maui is considered the best in the world for seeing them frolic. Sure, you can see them from the shore, but imagine being on a beautiful boat and having one pop up next to you to give you the eye.
If the Hawaiian Islands were a family, Maui would be looked upon as the rich, spoiled cousin by the others, and the wonderful snorkeling opportunities are one of the reasons for the jealousy. You can just walk out into the water from many beaches and see many beautiful fish, or target some easily accessible reefs next to many beaches and bays.
To raise your experience a notch, go out on a snorkel cruise boat, and you should ask about those Maui snorkeling trips where you rent your snorkel gear. If renting your snorkel gear, it is a lot less expensive to rent at dive shops in off-beach shopping areas than from the booths right on the beach or in front of the big hotels.
And if you’re going to take a snorkeling cruise, the absolute premier destination would be…
This delightful, crescent-shaped island lies midway between Maui and Kahoolawe off the southwestern shore of Maui, and was formed when a section of a volcano broke away, leaving a teeming coral bed on the shallow, submerged caldera floor, and a wide access for boats to set anchor in the middle of it. You’ll have an amazing submarine landscape of coral with waters so clear you can see them just looking over the edge of the boat, and perhaps with some white and black tip sharks patrolling the area to keep your excitement level up.
If it fits your budget, you might want to consider a helicopter tour. This will open views of many glorious parts of Maui that are unreachable by land – like peering into secret, hidden Maui.
Obviously, only beaches and areas on the west side of Maui would qualify for this, and this is where Maui really shines, to pardon the pun, because of the beautiful display created by the islands of Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe that are strung along the western horizon.
Interestingly, this is one of the rare instances where the best sunrise spot is also a fabulous place to see the sunset as well. And that, of course, would be Haleakala, yes, the top of the 10,000 foot volcano. That is one of the most amazing sunsets in the world.
Within a few days of arriving on Maui, you will begin to notice a phenomenon familiar to all locals: mornings display the full majesty of Haleakala, backed by a beautiful clear blue sky… but by midday you’ll start seeing the clouds starting to collect around the peak. And by sunset you will only see about half of the mountain.
However, the summit of Haleakala is often above the clouds, so the sunset there is an amazing sight of the sun dipping into a bank of clouds… rendering them a silhouetted mixture of white, purple, blue and orange in the process. What we like best is, unlike sunrise, you don’t have to get up at 4am to enjoy the show.
But… and we cannot stress this enough… it gets cold up there, so bring warm clothing, and prepare for joining a winding caravan of cars going down in pitch blackness.
For just a “regular” spectacular ocean sunset, here are the best locations:
You heard that right: it’s beacheS …as in plural …as in Kamaole Beach 1, 2 and 3. Just pick the beach closest to you, or try them all during your visit. Grab an early takeout dinner to turn your sunset into a full experience!
Po’olenalena Beach Park
Further south past the luxurious Wailea area and before the extremely popular Makena Beach is Po’olenalena Beach, known by the locals as Chang’s Beach. All you need to know about this beach is that it’s one of the most popular settings for commercial photographers, and weddings. Oh, and it’s also less crowded.
Crystal clear water, dressed with lava rocks and palm trees make this the most picturesque sunset spot. But, this one is no secret, so plan on a lot of folks joining you for the magnificent sunsets.
Best sunset spot hands down! To reach this not-so-secret cove, you must walk down a path, through a rock wall, and out onto the beach. While the beach is often crowded, its crystal clear water, lava rocks, and palm trees make it an idyllic spot to enjoy – or photograph – the sunset.
Hanakao’o Beach Park
Known as Canoe Beach to the locals, this is a wonderful beach that extends on the south side, from massive and super-popular Ka’anapali Beach, but is far less crowded, and is very family friendly with excellent access and parking, comfort stations, and even covered tables.
Also very family friendly, with calm waters and tide pools for great swimming and snorkeling for children, the rocky outcrops that create the tranquil bay also make a superb framing for a fabulous sunset view.
Not only do the long rocky outcrops at both ends of Kapalua Bay make for safe swimming and snorkeling year-round, but also for magnificent photographs all day long – but especially at sunset.
The top seven sunrise spots are far and away the summit of Haleakala… on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etcetera and so on. However, please listen closely and write down this Pro Tip: Do NOT forget to bring a jacket or sweater to the Haleakala summit. If you don’t have one, put on about 5 t-shirts, and then be prepared to draw your arms inside them, turning yourself into a human burrito.
If a Haleakala sunrise is in your plans, don’t find out when you arrive that: you must have a reservation to visit the park for sunrise!
Coming in tied for second would be…
You’ll hear about this park a lot from us on the tour, as it is packed with beauty and immense cultural significance. But it also faces east, and therefore must be included as a fabulous place to watch a sunrise. But start out extra early… and in fact, if you are in West Maui, you’d better start just after midnight because this incredible park is past Hana. So it’s a journey that takes planning and commitment if you are not staying in Hana.
But seeing the magnificence of the sun rising over the tiny island of Alau that sits on the horizon off the bay might be worth it, and you can then take a nice long snooze on the wide sandy beach. But only in the summer months; in the winter, a lot of the sand is drawn out to sea, leaving a rugged coastline and rough water you do NOT want to venture in.
Impress a Local: If you are trying to impress a local by telling them you know that Haleakala means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian, but they just roll their eyes and look un-impressed (they’ve heard that many times before). So, follow up by saying that you know you are a Malahini… a newcomer. Then you will have their attention!
Exploring and experiencing Maui – amazing! And you know what – so much enjoyment will work up a tremendous appetite.
That said, for efficiency’s sake, here are just a few of the most notable and tastiest food choices on the Valley Isle categorized by destination.
The gorgeous country that stretches from Makawao to Ulupalakua has been Paniolo country since the mid-1800s, when a potpourri of immigrants came here to farm and raise cattle. This is the land of Hawaiian paniolo, cowboy country; rich in farming and ranching history.
But a newer wrinkle for Upcountry, is organic farming, and you get a perfect chance to experience Old Hawaii next to the new, with an engaging tour of the Hawaii Sea Spirits Organic Farm and Distillery, an experience that enlightens visitors to the importance of farming for the conservation of the land and ocean. As well as some refreshing local libations.
And in nearby Kula, the Surfing Goat Dairy provides fun for the entire family, as well as tasty treats of award-winning goat cheese.
But don’t forget that farming and ranching started it all, and the original farm-to-table model existed for more than a century before its popularity now, and one of the first advocates and practitioners of the farm-to-table renaissance is the acclaimed Hali’imaile General Store in Makawao, which began serving delectable dishes from locally-grown food in 1988, and has remained one of the state’s premier restaurants ever since.
A little more casual stalwart of farm-to-table is the Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill, steeped in rich, paniolo history and drop dead views, and a mouth-watering selection of burgers made from all-locally sourced meats, including beef, lamb and their famous elk burger.
A trip to Hana is a journey completely drenched in charm, and in keeping with the Maui Rule that it’s both the journey and destination, look for local vendors along the way, and you’ll find the absolute freshest fare, including island smoked fish, BBQ assortments, breadfruit, toasted coconut, warm, fresh-baked banana bread among other delightful findings. Covid-19 has been challenging for vendors along the route, so don’t go with expectations – just be ready to enjoy whatever is available on the day.
Highly recommended is trying tropical fruits from roadside stands, regular, or blended into a delicious smoothie.
After being completely charmed by your journey to Hana, why stop? Plan your return to end at one of the most famed restaurants in Maui: Mama’s Fish House, a seaside eatery that also serves as a complete immersion into Hawaiiana décor with a postcard, palm-ringed beach cove competing for your attention from the delightful furnishings and artwork. Fish and chip, or fish taco lovers will be ready to stop in at the Paia Fish Market at the end of their Road to Hana day.
A trip to Wailuku is a journey to urban Hawaii – from 60 years ago, that is. And what better way to time-trip than to visit a classic, coffee-shop luncheonette?
Only open for breakfast and lunch, Sam Sato’s is a local favorite since it opened in 1933, and serves classic Hawaii plate lunches and a wide variety of noodle dishes, including a renowned dry mein: a Hawaii noodle dish of boiled saimin noodles topped with char sui, bean sprouts and green onions, served with small bowl of chicken sauce on the side. A classic Maui-original dish.
For something a little – well, let’s face it, a lot more contemporary, A Saigon Café hidden on Main Street serves fabulous Vietnamese fare with a lighthearted vibe. Good food and good fun and just one of many choices for Asian-inspired cuisine on Maui.
Centrally located in Ma’alaea Harbor, the Ma’alaea General Store and Café provides a refreshing rest stop and coffee break for those traveling between Lahaina and… well pretty much anywhere else in Maui, as well as those fresh off the boat from water sporting. But it’s not just convenience and a good cup of joe that’s on the menu. Their breakfast, lunch and brunch fare, and enjoyed in their cool, lanai looking out on the harbor will delight other senses besides your taste buds and recharge you for your continuing adventures.
Sorry, just too many choices to select from here. You will have no trouble finding a winner!
If you push for a recommendation that offers both a sumptuous dining experience and view to match, Sea House Restaurant in the Napili Kai Beach Resort features delectable Pacific Rim cuisine. Best known for breakfast and sunset dinners.
Once again, just too many to choose from. But if we want to try dining that features local Hawaiian influences, both of these are snuggled between Kihei and Wailea.
The Monkeypod Kitchen at Wailea Gateway, and Lineage at The Shops at Wailea offer a unique presentations authentic to Maui’s heritage and present.
For delicious sushi anytime, Sansei in Kihei is hard to beat. But to be a part of the legend, try and snag a seat for the famous Sunday and Monday 1/2 price food happy hour. Check their website for current details on this tradition!
The poke craze has taken over the world, but we purists will always stand by the creed that poke is authentically Hawaiian. Try and enjoy the real-deal local poke. The South Maui Fish Co is tucked away in a parking lot on Alahele Pl in Kihei and well worth strolling over from the beach to get your fill.
Impress a Local: Unlike other trees with large canopies, you WILL find grass growing under the monkeypod tree, because its seeds are rich in nitrogen – a key element in fertilizer – and its leaves roll up at night to allow rain to reach the thriving grass below, making it the premiere shade tree for backyards and parks throughout Hawaii.
Clothing: If you don’t like shorts, you’re going to the wrong destination. Pack at least two pairs. One casual, one “dress.” Seriously, it all of course depends on your plans. Everything on Maui ranges from budget to luxury, so if your planning on a week of burgers at the beach concessionaire, it’s best to have backup shorts for potential ketchup stains.
But if you’ll be sitting down for some white linen tablecloth fine dining, casual attire is still OK, but make sure you have something appropriate. And for fine dining in Hawaii, that pretty much only means a collared shirt or nice blouse, and if you’re wearing sandals, they better be pretty damn good ones. Plus, if you’ve ever had the notion about starting a collection of “aloha wear,” this is the place to do it.
Footwear: In Hawaii, they are called “rubbah’ slippahs”… elsewhere, “flip-flops” or “zoris.” Whatever you call them, “pack ‘em if you got ‘em.” If not, look to buy some when you arrive. You’ll have about a zillion choices. If you are planning some hikes, well, you know what to do. Just be assured that your feet will get wet.
Impress a Local: Buy and wear the cheapest “rubbah slippahs” you can find… usually in Long’s Drug Stores. If you want luxurious ones, by all means buy ‘em… then pack ‘em to show off to all your friends back home.
Sun Protection: If you are serious about protecting yourself, use a minimum of 30 SPF.
Impress a Local (and Mother Earth): Buy Reef Safe sunscreen. Maui’s reefs are wonderful… but they are a couple notches down from their pristine condition just 20 years ago, and coral-killing sunscreen is one major reason why.
Wet Bag: A handy item to have whether you’re at the beach or hiking, it’s perfect for your wet or muddy clothes or simply to pick up any trash that you might find along the way – getting you into the “aloha spirit”.