Maui locals have a proud saying - Maui no ka oi, or “Maui is the best.” And we’re not just bragging, we truly mean it. Maui has a great balance – less populated than Oahu, but enough to do to keep you busy. Great hiking trails, whale watching, zip lining, entertainment, arts and food. Plus, enough small town charm to make you see why those who live here fight so hard to keep it just the way it is.
Where to Stay in Maui
The island of Maui is the second largest in the Hawaiian island chain, yet because things are geographically spread out, it’s large enough that you’ll definitely want to rent a car if you plan to venture out of the main resort areas. There is a public bus system, but the routes are not yet as extensive as those on Oahu or in major cities.
There are two main areas where visitors to Maui will choose to stay – Lahaina/Kaanapali on the west side or Kihei/Wailea on the south shore. Lahaina was once the whaling capital of the world (and former capital of Hawaii), and is home to the famous strip called Front Street, lined with oceanfront shops and restaurants and notorious for its rowdy annual Halloween block party. In this area, you will mostly find vacation rentals or condos, so if you’re looking for hotel or resort style accommodations, you’ll want to move up the coast to the Kaanapali Resort or further to Kapalua. Kaanapali beach is a beautiful white sand stretch that lines most of the hotels in the Kaanapali resort area, often voted one of the top beaches in the world.
On the south side, Kihei is a mix of timeshare, residential and condos that front the south shore and a string of beaches and beach parks. Here you will find the most affordable vacation rentals, often offered by their owners. Keep in mind that most will be across the street from the beach (yet still close). The Wailea Resort area is a luxurious development with five-star hotels, romantic oceanfront restaurants, and upscale shopping. Tucked in and around the hotels and condos are some great public access beaches as well.
What to Do in Maui
If you’re visiting during humpback whale season (November-April) you can join in on any number of Maui whale watch cruises that get you up close to the majestic humpback whales who migrate from the north to warmer waters each year. If you get seasick or just don’t feel like being stuck on a boatload of tourists, the whales can often be seen from land, especially on the south and west shores of the island. Any other time of the year, you’ll still have great opportunities for water activities, like snorkeling, diving, and you can even take surfing lessons in Maui!
Although the main “tourist” attractions can often be quite crowded (like the drive on the Road to Hana) there are lesser visited spots such as Iao Valley, which is centrally located and can still provide an escape into nature and a glimpse into Hawaiian history – here Kamehemeha fought and won the Battle of Kepaniwai in his quest to unite the Hawaiian Islands. As with any attraction in the islands, try to go early so you will miss the tour bus crowds.
Agritourism is gaining momentum on Maui, and you can book an organized tour with companies like Maui Farm Tours or hop in your rental car and create your own. Popular stops that allow visits and tastings include coffee farms, the Surfing Goat Dairy, Alii Kula Lavender Farm, and you can even have a wine tasting at a Maui vineyard. (Yes, they even make a wine from pineapple!)
Eating and Drinking in Maui
Maui is home to numerous fine dining restaurants, which will no doubt wow you with gorgeous Maui sunset dinner cruises, elegant Hawaiian Regional Cuisine menus, and attentive service. However, don’t bypass the chance to try some of the more casual eateries on the island where you’ll frequently find the locals heading for dependable, fresh, and often locally-sourced foods. Try Star Noodle (Lahaina), Leoda’s Pie Shop (Oluwalu), Cafe o Lei (Wailuku), or Flat Bread Pizza (Paia).
Hole-in-the-wall institutions serve up local style treats, often influenced by the waves of immigrants (many of them Japanese) who came to work on the sugar plantations and stayed to raise their families. Komoda Bakery in Makawao is famous for delicious pastries like their “stick donuts”, cream puffs, pies, and butter rolls. Sam Sato’s in Wailuku has manju (flaky pastry shell outside, stuffed with sweetened bean fillings like lima or adzuki bean) for take out or stay and have a bowl of their famous dry noodles.
Insider Tips for Maui
The best (almost) free thing to do: Watch the sun rise over a dormant volcano. Mt. Haleakala (“House of the Sun” in Hawaiian) has its summit at just over 10,000 ft. elevation. It’s nearly free ($10 per vehicle, for the National Park entry) and requires a very early start, so it’s a perfect activity at the beginning of your stay when you haven’t yet adjusted to the time difference. Bundle up – the summit sees snow a few times a year! – and drive out early for some of the best stargazing around, then sit back and watch as the sun creeps up on the horizon, revealing a moonscape over the lava rock and cinder cones that line the enormous volcanic crater. It’s a sunrise you’ll never forget and Mother Nature changes it up daily, so you’ll never get the same view twice. Also check out Viator’s Spectacular Haleakala Maui Sunrise Tour, which includes Maui hotel pick-up and a scenic drive with stops at overlooks!
If you only have one day: Skip the typical windy road to Hana/sunset luau tour package and get out and explore some of Maui’s best beaches. Hop in the water for some surfing or snorkeling, then find a pau hana (happy hour) spot for some pupus (appetizers) and drinks to cool you off. For dinner, splurge on a romantic fine dining meal or keep it simple like the locals do and pick up a plate lunch. Many bars and restaurants offer live music and hula to keep you entertained, or check out the Ulalena show in Lahaina.
The best thing to eat: Hidden away in a little strip mall in Kahului is Tasaka’s Guri Guri (pronounced “goodie goodie”), a sweet sherbert/ice cream concoction whose recipe remains a closely guarded family secret. Generations of Maui keiki have lined up for this sweet treat, which comes in just two flavors – strawberry or pineapple. The best part – two scoops will set you back just $1.20. Scooped up with a tiny, flat wooden spoon and eaten with a smile, it’s a taste of childhood.
- Malia Yoshioka
Editor’s Note: Viator recently held a contest to “Win Your Dream Travel Job” where we selected 4 finalists to travel the world shooting video. For 60 days, these teams traveled and filmed in some of the world’s top destinations, documenting their experiences along the way. Go here to read more about their Maui adventures!