Each Hawaiian island has its own personality. A passing glance at Maui might lead you to believe that there are only resorts and golf courses on The Valley Isle. And if your idea of vacation is lounging at the condo’s beach, fruity drink in hand, and maybe playing a round or two, you can find that on Maui. However, you don’t have to dig much little deeper to find spectacular rainforests, incredible vistas, sandy beaches, world-class surfing, and a food culture unlike anything on The Mainland.
Table of Contents
A Short History
The island of Maui was created by volcanic eruptions some one million years ago.
The first humans to settle Maui were likely from the Marquesas sometime before 450 AD. Other early Polynesian settlers came from Tahiti around 700 AD. For the next 800 years, three chiefdoms rules Maui until 1550 when power was consolidated under a single royal family.
Hawaiian legend has the first European contact in the early 16th century when Spanish sailors were shipwrecked on the island. These sailors supposedly remained on Hawaii and intermarried with the locals, but this story hasn’t been proved.
British navigator James Cook spotted Maui in 1778, but never landed on the island. Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse earned the distinction of the first European to set foot on Maui when he landed at what is now known as La Perouse Bay in 1786.
Travel cubes keep
King Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian island chain in 1810, including Maui. During this time of initial European contact, King Kamehameha I tightly controlled trade with the Europeans.
Shortly after the death of King Kamehameha I in 1819, European missionaries began arriving in Hawaii and converting native Hawaiians to Christianity. They were successful due to an upheaval in Hawaiian society and a rejection of old religious structures and a caste-like social structure. The Europeans also brought diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, and cholera which killed off almost half of the Hawaiian population in quick order.
Western businessmen bought land in Maui and started cultivating sugar cane and pineapple in Maui in the mid-19th century. Immigrant workers, first from China and then Japan, were contracted under draconian conditions to work the land. The sugar industry exploded and was profitable for 100 years. The last sugar mill closed in 2016.
Maui was a main staging area for troops and supplies during WWII when 100,000 troops were stationed there. Immediately after the war, the first resort was built and the tourists followed.
When traveling, I like to visit the local farmers market to get a sense of the local food scene. Even if I’m not staying in a place with a kitchen, I can grab some fresh fruit for a snack. Nowadays, most farmers markets also have a large selection of local prepared food as well.
In Maui, many farmers markets double as flea markets and craft fairs, but the Upcountry Farmers Market in Pukalani is the real deal. Super fresh produce from local farms dominate this small market where you’re likely to be speaking to the farmer who picked your veggies just hours ago. If you see macadamia nuts at the market, scoop them up. The macadamias you get in Hawaii are much fresher and tastier than the ones you get at the grocery store on the Mainland.
Another great way to get into the local food culture is to take a food tour. These are springing up in most cities and are a good way to sample several restaurants; a great idea if you’re only in town for a few days. Unfortunately, many of these foodie tours have become quite expensive. It’s not uncommon to spend $150-200 per person on one of these culinary excursions.
Local Tastes of Maui food tours is a more budget friendly option. Sharon is a retired educator so you not only get nibbles from some great restaurants, but also a nice dose of Hawaiian history to go with your food. The two hour tours are only $50pp (plus tax) and Sharon has organized tours of Paia, Makawao, Lahaina, and Kihei. Each has its own charms, so pick your favorite.
Paia and Shave Ice
Speaking of Paia, foodies and shoppers alike should stop here. Beach lovers too, for that matter.
Ululani’s Shave Ice has excellent all natural shave ice. They make theirs with cane sugar for a clean, sweet taste. Ululani’s has several locations in Maui, including one in Paia.
A quick word about shave ice. It’s shave ice, not shaved ice. Sure, you can call it shaved ice if you like, but you’d be wrong.
On the Mainland you can get Italian ice and snow cones, but shave ice, while similar, is much, much better. That’s because the ice crystals are so much finer and fluffier. And, in Hawaii, you can get a scoop of ice cream in the middle of your shave ice, if you like.
One of the problems with most shave ice places is that they use syrups to top shave ice that are made with artificial flavors that taste like chemicals and high fructose corn syrup.
Tobi’s Shave Ice is right on the main drag in Paia. Tobi’s uses mostly natural flavors (some are artificial, be sure to ask). The Halekala Sunrise, made with mango, guava, and pineapple is my favorite.
Shave ice isn’t the only reason to visit Paia. The funky little town has several cool boutiques and restaurants. My favorite is Café Mambo which is serious in their commitment to locally sourced organic ingredients.
After lunch, you may want to check out some of the shops in Paia, but the first time I visited, my uncle and I wandered a few blocks down Hana Highway to Lower Paia Park. Cut across the park to the beach for a nice little getaway from all the tourists in town. Here, locals surf while others play pickup basketball and, judging from the smell, some smoke weed. Don’t worry, they’re harmless.
Kulolo is an Hawaiian dessert made from taro root, coconut, and coconut milk. Traditional kulolo was wrapped in leaves and baked in underground ovens, but today it is baked in standard ovens. Cut into slabs, kulolo is chewy and sweet, a bit like a caramel.
It’s difficult to find kulolo in stores and at restaurants. Your best bet is at one of the small Hawaiian owned grocery stores on the island. You’ll also sometimes see kulolo at farmers markets and the pop up stands along the Hana Highway. The best is at Poi by the Pound in Kahului, where they make their own and usually have it stocked on the shelves.
Like Kulolo, Haupia is also made with coconut milk. Traditionally, ground pia (Hawaiian arrowroot) is added to the coconut milk to thicken it. Today, cornstarch is often used to thicken the mixture to which sugar is added. The Haupia is placed in a rectangular cake pan and refrigerated, which gives the sweet treat its Jello-like texture.
It’s rare to find haupia served by itself, but you can get it as haupia ice cream. Poi by the Pound has haupia ice cream, and at Ululani’s Shave Ice, you can add a scoop of haupia ice cream from Roselani’s to your shave ice.
Haupia is often made into pies as well. Waikapu on 30 makes a great sweet potato haupia pie. Pono Pies are available in many Maui grocery stores (Whole Foods, Down To Earth, Mana Foods) and also make a good sweet potato haupia pie. Maui Pie makes a chocolate haupia pie that is outstanding.
One of the best towns for a stroll in Maui is Lahaina. Lined with restaurants and art galleries, Front Street is the main attraction at the former Hawaiian capital. There is also a small marina a block behind Front Street. Here you can board a sunset cruise, a diving adventure, and, in season, a whale watching trip. But first, let’s get wired.
Maui Grown Coffee
Hawaii and California are the only states where coffee can be commercially grown. Most of Hawaii’s coffee is grown on the Big Island, but other islands produce coffee as well. One of the best is Maui Grown Coffee in Lahaina. Their store doubles as both a coffee shop (the espresso is my favorite) and outlet for selling whole and ground beans. Maui Ground Coffee used to offer tours of their farm, but a recent pest infestation on other islands’ coffee farms has meant that tours have been discontinued here. They have to protect the crops.
After a cuppa, head to Front Street and the largest banyan tree in the US. I know, I know, what’s so special about a tree? Well, here’s the deal. The banyan (a member of the fig family) grows in a very unusual way. Roots drop from the branches and eventually take root in the ground. These roots eventually harden, becoming new tree trunks, thus spreading the banyan tree.
The banyan tree on Front Street was planted in 1873 and now that single banyan tree covers over ¾ of an acre. It’s quite an experience wandering through what seems to be a grove of trees but is actually a single banyan tree. By the way, those interested in the fascinating history of Hawaii should look up William Owen Smith, the guy who planted the banyan treet and attorney general of the provisional Government of Hawaii. He helped write 1887 Hawaiian constitution and was an integral member of the group that organized the shameful overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Lahaina stretches for several miles up the coast. Up the road from Front Street on Lower Honoapiilani is an incredible pizza place in an unlikely spot. The Pizza Connection isn’t much more than a pop-up tent, a wood-fired oven, and a few plastic chairs. Only open a few hours each night (closed Monday), The Pizza Connection makes the best ‘za on the island. Run by two twenty-somethings, TPC cranks out pizza in quick order to hungry locals and tourists. Most grab theirs for take away since there isn’t really a spot to eat unless you grab the one and only table set up next to the sidewalk. My favorite is La Margarita; it’s worth a special trip.
Cove Beach Park
You might be tempted to stay in Lahaina for the sunset. And Bubba Gump’s or Cheeseburger in Paradise would be happy to sell you mediocre food and overpriced drinks for the privilege, but allow me to suggest an alternative.
Cove Beach Park in Kihei is a small spit of sand and some volcanic rocks where locals surf and watch the sunset. It’s free and there’s a little patch of volcanic rock jutting into the water that makes the perfect spot for a sunset selfie.
Afterwards, it’s a short walk to the Triangle, a complex of food and entertainment establishments in Kilhei. My favorite is the South Shore Tiki Lounge, an unapologetically kitschy bar and grill with outdoor seating. The Mai Tais are excellent and they have lots of vegetarian options. If South Shore doesn’t float your boat there are at least a dozen other choices in the Triangle.
Maui’s Natural Wonders
Maui is a spectacular potpourri of mountains, volcanoes, rain forests, sugar sand beaches, and waterfalls. And many of the best sites don’t require long hikes to get to them.
Road to Hana (and Banana Bread)
One of the most scenic drives in the world, the Hana Highway, aka the Road to Hana, is an extraordinary experience everyone should take. Fifty miles of twisty road with blind corners, single lane bridges, and amazing vistas, the drive will take at least 2 ½ hours. That is, if you don’t stop along the way. But, stopping for the view is the whole purpose of the drive. So, bank on at least four hours, if not more, to make the drive.
First timers will be tempted to stop at the awe inspiring waterfalls at the beginning of the Hana Highway. But, resist; these waterfalls, while beautiful, are also the most crowded.
The Pua’a Ka’a Falls at mile marker 22 makes a nice stop as there are restrooms in addition to the waterfalls. Or proceed just past mile marker 24 to Hanawi Falls. The best viewing spot is from the Hanawi Falls Bridge. Just be sure to pull far enough to the side of the road so other cars can safely pass.
Wai’anapanapa State Park has some of the most gorgeous scenery on the Road to Hana. Turn left onto Wai’anapanapa Road just past mile marker 32 to get to the park. Admission is free. One of the best attractions (and photo ops) is the black sand beach in the park. You can also hike and swim in the park or watch daredevils cliff dive. Supposedly, there’s also a natural blowhole in the park, but if you really want to see one, you’re better off at the Nakalele Blowhole at Nakalele Point (Not on the Hana Highway, but about a half-hour drive from Kapalua).
Venturing too much past Hana Town on the Hana Highway isn’t recommended as the road isn’t paved and gets steep, dangerous, and is often muddy or even washed out. And, if driving the bends and turns of The Hana Highway isn’t your idea of a good time but you still want to see the sights, several companies offer tours where you can sit back and enjoy the scenery while someone else does the driving.
One last word about the Hana Highway. There are several spots to get food and drinks along the drive. They range from little shacks to small stores to guys who set up a table on the side of the road. Banana bread is often sold at these places and it is usually fantastic. They must use the local apple bananas which are small and sweet and delicious, because the banana bread I’ve purchased on the Hana Highway is incredibly moist and sweeter than other banana breads. You’ll also find fresh fruit, smoothies (often made with fresh cane sugar juice), and coconut candy at these roadside stops. Give them your business and enjoy a chat with the locals working here. They often have tips about sites along the Road to Hana.
Haleakalā National Park
Haleakalā is the massive volcano that created most of the island of Maui one million years ago. The last major eruption at Haleakalā was about 500 years ago.
Getting to the summit of Haleakalā is easy with a car, but be prepared for lots of switchbacks and steep drop-offs.
Near the summit is a visitor’s center which is worth a visit. A small hike gets you to a peak where you can peer into valleys and gorges with incredibly beautiful lunar landscape vistas. After that, drive to the summit (at just over 10,000 feet) and check out the amazing view along with the Haleakalā Observatory (no visitors allowed).
Before hopping in your car and heading to the top, be sure to check the weather forecast. Just looking out the window won’t do. I’ve gone to Haleakalā when the weather at sea level was overcast and rainy while it was sunny and beautiful at the summit. And one time it was fairly clear down below but overcast up top which made for a disappointing trip.
There are a couple other ways to enjoy the volcano. Bike tours are very popular. While I have seen rugged individuals climbing Haleakalā on their bikes, most people opt to have a bike rental company like Bike Maui take them to about 6,500 feet and let them glide back down.
Another very popular and exciting way to experience Haleakalā is at sunrise. Bike Maui offers a sunrise tour. Photographers will find that sunrise offers extraordinary photo opportunities at the crater. Reservations (with an additional fee) are required.
Some spots in Maui require long drives (Hana Highway) or challenging hikes (Waihee Ridge Trail), but the hike to see the Ioa Needle in the Ioa Valley State Park is both easy and rewarding. Note that there are stairs here (133 of them), so it is not wheelchair accessible. But, families with small children easily navigated the stairs to get to the lookout point which provides an excellent spot for a selfie to add to your newsfeed on FaceChat or SnapBook.
There’s also a river you can walk to (bring shoes you won’t mind getting muddy) where lots of people swim and splash around. Note that there are no lifeguards on duty.
Sooner or later you’ll end up on the beach on Maui. There are lots of different kinds of beaches from the crowded ones by the mega-resorts stocked with toys and amenities to nearly deserted stretches of sand to nude beaches for the uninhibited.
Remember to always check the water conditions for rip tides, rogue waves, jellyfish, and sharks. If there is a lifeguard on duty, talk to them before swimming.
Mākena State Park
Just south of Kihei, Mākena State Park is home to two excellent beaches. Big Beach, aka Oneloa Beach, has great surfing and bodyboarding. It’s also a popular spot for couples to take their wedding pictures. Little Beach, aka Puʻu Ōlaʻi Beach, is over a lava outcropping, so it requires a little effort to reach. Sunday evening there is often a drum circle with fire dancing at the beach. This is also one of the few nude beaches in Maui, although fewer people go au natural these days due to creepy voyeurs and their video cameras.
Kaʻanapali Beach is near several big resorts and as such has tons of watersports and things to do. You can rent paddleboards or go paragliding. There’s also lots of bars and restaurants nearby.
A quick word about the shops and kiosks you see all over Maui advertising incredible deals on boat tours, parasailing, or volcano trips. Buyer beware! The prices for these adventures (I saw one place advertise $9 parasailing trips) seem too good to be true because they are! What you’re really signing up for is a timeshare presentation with parasailing (or a boat tour or a volcano trip) tacked on afterwards. If your idea of fun on vacation is being stuck in a shabby conference room getting the full court press hard sell on an overpriced timeshare condo, then by all means, go ahead. Otherwise, pass.
Wai’anapanapa State Park
See above for info about Wai’anapanapa on the Road to Hana. The black sand beach is not to be missed.
Get away from the tourists and hang with the locals at Palauea Beach. This protected beach is good for snorkeling and diving, especially during the summer months.
Often voted the best beach in the US, Kapalua Beach is sheltered from the heavy surf which makes for excellent swimming and snorkeling. The beach is part of a resort, but the beach is open to the public. If you go snorkeling here, you’re sure to see tons of exotic fish and maybe a hona (Hawaiian sea turtle).
Ho'okipa Beach Park
Some of the best surfing in Maui, but this is also where the professionals go to windsurf. Head to Ho’okipa Lookout for the best view of the surfers. The far end of the beach often have hona (Hawaiian sea turtle) resting on the sand. Take pictures but be sure not to disturb the turtles and give them at least a ten foot berth. Ho’okipa is a great spot for a picnic, BBQ, or the watch the sunset. Since the beach is just outside Paia, many folks stop here on their way to Hana.
These travel bottles
are handy and
Kahului Airport (OGG)
Kahului is the biggest airport in Maui and the only one on the island with flights to the mainland.
1 Keolani Pl, Kahului, HI
Kapalua Airport (JHM)
Much smaller airport with interisland flights.
4050 Honoapiilani Hwy, Lahaina, HI
Hana Airport (HNM)
Tiny airport with few flights.
700 Alalele Pl, Hana, HI
Maui Public Bus
13 bus routes cover much of the island.
Taxi and Uber
Taxis and Uber are available on Maui. However, in some remote parts of the island, rides may be difficult to get or require long waits. Rental cars are a good option with many choices available. Another way to see the island is on a guided tour.
Hawaii Tasting Tours
High end foodie tours
Lower Paia Park
Beach where the locals hang and surf in Paia.
19 Hana Highway, Paia, Maui, HI
Haleakalā National Park
Home of the incredible Haleakalā Crater. Peak is over 10,000 feet.
Bike rental company offering tours and bike trips to Haleakalā.
810 Haiku Road #120, Haiku, Maui, HI
Road to Hana
Spectacular drive with scenic vistas, bridges, and waterfalls.
Route 36, Maui, HI
Pua’a Ka’a Falls
Scenic stop on the Road to Hana.
Mile marker 22, Hana Highway, Maui, HI
Nice waterfall on the Road to Hana
Just past Mile marker 24, Hana Highway, Maui, HI
Wai’anapanapa State Park
Beautiful black sand beach. Excellent swimming and hiking.
Waianapanapa Road, Hana, Maui, HI
Natural geyser eruption of water.
Nakalele Point, Poelua Bay, Wailuku, Maui, HI
Iao Valley State Monument
Easy climb rewards with incredible views.
54 S High St, Wailuku, Maui, HI
Waihee Ridge trail
Challenging and gorgeous four mile (sometimes muddy) hike.
Waihee, Maui, HI
Excellent sunset frequented by locals.
2128 Iliili Rd, Kihei, Maui, HI
The Banyan Tree
A tree? Really? Yes, quite interesting and awe inspiring.
Front Street, Lahaina, Maui, HI
The place to book a sunset cruise, diving adventure, or, in season, whale watching.
37 Canal Street, Lahaina, Maui, HI
Mākena State Park
Two excellent beaches, Big Beach and Little Beach
Makena Alanui, Kihei, Maui, HI
Large beach near resorts with lots of amenities.
Kaanapali, Maui, HI
A great beach where the locals hang.
Makena Road, Wailea, Maui, HI
Voted best beach several times.
Kapalua, Maui, HI
Ho'okipa Beach Park
Best windsurfing in Maui. Great stop before embarking on the Road to Hana.
Hana Hwy, Paia, Maui, HI
Food and Drink
The Pizza Connection
277 Lahainaluna Rd, Lahaina, Maui, HI
Tobi’s Shave Ice
A cool and sweet treat, Tobi’s also serves lunch.
137 Hana Hwy, Paia, HI
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
Excellent shave ice made with fresh ingredients. Add a scoop of haupia ice cream!
Four locations including:
790 Front Street, Lahaina, Maui, HI
Funky restaurant with good food.
30 Baldwin Ave, Paia, Maui, HI
Chocolate haupia pie
1280 South Kihei Rd. Kihei, Maui, HI
Sweet potato haupia pie. Available in local grocery stores.
South Shore Tiki Lounge
Fun bar and restaurant in the Triangle. Reasonably priced.
1913 S Kihei Rd, Kihei, Maui, HI
Joy’s Place Deli
Healthy sandwiches made with fresh ingredients. Right across the street from the beach.
1993 South Kihei Road, Kihei, HI
Middle Eastern restaurant with excellent vegetarian options.
3655 Baldwin Ave, Makawao, Maui, HI
Casanova Italian Ristorante and Deli
Italian restaurant with a casual sandwich shop next door.
1188 Makawao Avenue, Makawao, HI
Real Hawaiian gifts made by Hawaiian artisans.
1980 Main St #2 Wailuku, HI
Hana Coast Gallery
High end fine Hawaiian art.
5031 Hana Hwy, Haiku, Maui, HI
The main drag in Lahaina is filled with shops and galleries
Front Street, Lahaina, Maui, HI
Lots of Hawaii made products from jams and jellies to quilts to pottery.
15200 Haleakala Hwy, Kula, Maui, HI
Maui Swap Meet
Crafts, antiques, food, and junk. Admission 50 cents.
310 W Kaahumanu Ave, Kahului, Maui, HI
Great stop along the Hana Highway. Good food and local souvenirs.
Near mile marker 29, Hana Highway, Maui, HI
Kihei Kalama Village, aka The Triangle
Lots of cool clothing and souvenir shops. Bars and restaurants, too
1941 S. Kihei Rd, Kihei, Maui, HI
Hippy-vibe small town with lots of shops and boutiques.
Paia, Maui, HI
If Paia is a hippy town, Makawao is a spiritual one. Boutiques, galleries, and healing centers. Farmers market on Wednesday.
Makawao, Maui, HI
Places to Stay
Cute boutique hotel in Paia.
93 Hana Highway, Paia, Maui, HI
Bungalows in the cool air at 3,200 feet.
15200 Haleakala Hwy, Route 377, Kula, Maui, HI
Remote, rustic cabins on the southwest slope of Haleakala.
622 Thompson Road, Kula, Maui, HI
Spectacular Oceanfront Condo
Lahaina condo near several beaches.