Many friends, acquaintances and strangers ask me to help them plan their trips to Maui. I love this, and think that if I weren’t a teacher, I would want to be a travel agent. In this post you will find general ideas of what you would find on the island, what activities are available, where to go for a great beach, and some restaurants we have enjoyed in the past. Maui has everything you might want in an island. It can be very quiet and peaceful, and you can find exciting, action-packed things to do, if that’s your thing.
Once you land, you’ll probably want to get groceries. There is a Costco about 5 minutes from the airport, so a stop there is a good idea.
Maui is an island that has two major development areas where tourists usually stay. The older development is Kaanapali/Lahaina to the northwest and the newer development is Kihei/Wailea to the south. From the airport, it takes about 30 minutes to drive to either resort area. The main airport is in Kahului. The center for windsurfing is in Paia (think hippy town) and Hana is in the east along a very windy, twisty road with one lane bridges…it’s very secluded. Here is a map of the island for reference:
The most consistent weather is found in Kihei. Even if it’s raining elsewhere, it usually won’t be raining in Kihei. We stay near the Kamaole II or III beach parks which have excellent snorkeling and small waves. The three Kamaole beaches are very good, and are not usually crowded. http://www.hawaiiweb.com/maui/beaches/KamaolePark.htm
Our favourite beach is Po’olenalena…right at the Makena Surf condo complex is a little 9 stall parking lot…follow the marked path to a very secluded beach. We have seen sharks and turtles right off the beach here. Here is a photo I took of this beach (notice there are no other people):
One of the best beaches to go to is Big Beach (also called Makena Beach). The waves are bigger here, and so is the undertow…not great for surfing, but excellent for boogie boarding. If nothing else, you should at least visit Big Beach just to go for a walk along its stretch of sand. It’s gorgeous! http://www.hawaiiweb.com/maui/beaches/BigBeach.htm
We’ve never done any surfing on Maui, beaches along the north shore (near the airport) would be better than the south, as the waves break too close to the beach for surfing. Kite Boarding is also becoming more popular, so that might be something to check out. http://www.ksmaui.com/
Snorkeling is very popular in Maui and you can snorkel off of pretty much any beach. A popular tour you can do is to go to Molokini island, a little crater off the coast of the island. If you do want to go there, go early, as by noon it becomes a parking lot for tour boats. We did this trip about 15 years ago, went early in the morning and left just as all the big boats were coming in. http://www.molokini.com/ The Maui Dive Shop is a reputable company that provides snorkeling and scuba tours. http://www.mauidiveshop.com/
Boogie boarding is also very popular, and boogie boards are sometimes provided with a condo rental. You can also rent boogie boards from Maui Dive Shop or buy one at Costco or an ABC store.
If you want to book activities in advance, you might want to check out Tom Barefoot’s website http://www.tombarefoot.com/ If you pay in cash, they give you a 10% discount. It also gives you a good idea of what’s available on the island, as they are a broker for most activity companies.
Haleakala is a 10,000 ft. dormant volcano which is a very popular destination at sunrise. We’ve done the trip at that ungodly hour (4am start time from the condo)…let me tell you, it’s just as beautiful at a normal time of day. Be prepared for cold, though. The wind is strong, and it’s very cold. The views are spectacular, though. http://www.nps.gov/hale/
The tours in Maui are changing all the time…helicopter tours are very popular, as are sailing tours, whale watching tours and bus tours around the island. We have done a helicopter tour, and the view you get is incredible.
If you want to learn about the farms of Maui, Maui Country Farm tours is excellent. My friend, Marilyn (@jamarilyn), and her husband Rick, operate this company and take you to the wonderful farmland, telling you the history of the island as well as showing you the many agriculture options on the island. A favourite stop of ours on this trip is the Alii Kula Lavender http://www.aklmaui.com/ Farm. The link for Marilyn and Rick’s tour is here: http://mauicountryfarmtours.com/
Friday night in Lahaina is “Art Night” and the galleries are open late, often have wine and cheese and artists there to talk about their work. http://www.lahainanews.com/story.aspx?id=6740 Similarly, the Shops at Wailea has an Art Night on Wednesdays and the galleries often have champagne and snacks available as well as entertainment. http://www.shopsatwailea.com/Events.htm
There is one winery on Maui, Tedeschi Vineyards, and they offer tours and tastings from 9-5 daily on Ulapalakua Ranch in Upcountry (halfway up Haleakala). They even make a pineapple wine. We enjoy this wine, as it is unique to the island, as well as the winery being the only one on Maui. http://www.mauiwine.com/ This was also one of the stops on the Maui Country Farm Tour!
The Maui Ocean Center is an aquarium that is awesome. You can even extend your one day ticket to last a week for only $4 more, so you can take a few trips there over the course of your vacation without having to pay full price each time. http://www.mauioceancenter.com/ This was a real highlight for our boys.
Maui Golf and Sports Park is a mini golf, bumper boat, rock climbing, extreme trampoline play center…it’s right next door to the Ocean Center. http://www.mauigolfandsportspark.com/
Ulalena is a stage show about Hawaii’s history produced by the same people as Cirque du Soleil. If you are wanting something “cultural”, this is highly recommended. http://www.ulalena.com/
Luaus are “traditional” Hawaiian parties, but only one on the island is really honestly in keeping with the tradition. The Old Lahaina Luau is very well produced and always gets great reviews. We went 12 years ago and enjoyed. http://www.oldlahainaluau.com/index_main.html
One thing we particularly love to do is walk through the huge hotels and enjoy their grounds. Of particular note is the Grand Wailea Resort …it’s fantastic. They have amazing gardens and a spa that is spectacular (this is if you want to really splurge…an unbelievable experience). Their art gallery used to give tours of the grounds, showing the extensive art collection (not sure if they still do that, though). It’s fun to dream about staying here, even though we know it’s way out of our league. LOL! http://www.grandwailea.com/
OK, now here’s the tricky part. The restaurant business in Maui is kind of flaky. What was open when we went there, may not be open now, or may have changed hands/service staff, so might not be what we experienced when we last visited. Please take these recommendations cautiously. Tripadvisor would be a good place to check for more up-to-date reviews, but we’ll give you a starting place from our experience anyways. We don’t eat out every night when we’re in Maui (especially not expensive meals…that’s usually once per trip), but we have had some spectacular, special meals over the years that are worth mentioning, so we’ll start there.
Ko at the Fairmont Kea Lani (in Wailea) – Beautifully renovated restaurant that features locally sourced produce and meat as the basis for their menu. The prices are $$$$$, HOWEVER, from 5:30-6:30 there is a three course menu for $39.95 which is an excellent value. As an example, their fish dishes are $38+, so with the three courses you’re basically getting your appy and dessert for $1.95. There is no view from Ko, but the food is amazing. http://www.fairmont.com/kealani/GuestServices/Restaurants/Ko.htm
Gerard’s (in Lahaina) – We have eaten at Gerard’s three times (on different trips) and every time was amazing. Gerard is regarded as one of the best chefs on the island and is consistently given accolades for his food (Mobile Travel Guide 4 star, Zagat rated, Wine Spectator Award of Excellence). There is no view at this restaurant, but the food is to die for, especially his shitake and oyster mushrom puff pastry appy. http://www.gerardsmaui.com/cms/index.php
Mala Wailea (at the Wailea Marriott) – We had dinner here for our 20th anniversary and the meal was wonderful! They have a wine list that includes 20 wines under $30, which is a steal on Maui. http://www.malawailea.com/
Cafe O Lei (in Kihei) – The food here is excellent, quite reasonably priced and having lasted five years is a testament to how good it is. Usually restaurants that open don’t last more than a year if they’re not up to snuff or aren’t a standard chain restaurant. http://cafeoleirestaurants.com/kihei/
Longhi’s (in Wailea or Lahaina) – Excellent food…an island staple since the 70’s. http://www.longhis.com/
Five Palms (in Kihei) – Fabulous for breakfast. Beautiful view, right on the beach. http://www.fivepalmsrestaurant.com/Home.html
Restaurants we have experienced on recommendation from @DaniaEdibleHI:
Market Fresh Bistro (in Makawao) – Three restauranteurs from New York City got tired of city life and moved to Maui. They have no website, but reviews are excellent. We went here for a Farmer’s Dinner where every Thursday night they feature a seven course meal sourced only from local produce and protein. The food is amazing!
Pita Paradise (in Wailea and Kihei) – good Greek pitas. Reasonably priced, very tasty.
Flatbread Company (in Paia) – Great flatbread pizzas featuring local, organic ingredients. http://www.flatbreadcompany.com/2007Menu.htm
Ono Gelato (in Kihei, Paia, or Lahaina) – Delicious (ono) homemade gelato made with fresh local ingredients. Look confused when you go in and they’ll do a “tasting” of any (or all) flavours. My favourite is Seamist which is lime, lemongrass, green tea and …ok, it’s just delicious. http://www.onogelatocompany.com/ono_gelato_company.html
Honu (in Lahaina) just openend when we were there, and the view and food are both amazing! It’s owned by the same man who owns Mala…
Also new is Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie shop (in Olowalu, halfway between Maalaea and Lahaina). Owned by the same company as Old Lahaina Luau and Star Noodle, this pie shop is where you’ll find comfort food on Maui. Sandwiches, salads, savoury and sweet pies at reasonable prices. The chocolate mac nut praline pie is to die for! A small pie is plenty between 2 people…big flavor in a little pie. http://www.leodas.com/
If you love gourmet chocolate, Sweet Paradise Chocolatier is TO DIE FOR. It’s not your run of the mill Hershey bar, that’s for sure. Decadent, local, amazing flavours. My favourite is the salted caramel or anything made with local fruits. http://sweetparadisechocolate.com/
If you’re planning a trip to Maui, please do not hesitate to contact me for help. I love sharing the wonders of Maui.