Those of us fortunate enough to have spent any real time on Maui can attest that it doesn’t take long to get a grasp on the different areas of the island. From Hana Highway’s remote jungle landscapes to the bustling resort-lined beaches of Ka’anapali and Wailea – not to mention everything in between – the majority of the island’s major tourist areas can be explored within the span of a week or less, at least for those willing to forego another poolside mai tai (hey, we can’t blame you) in favor of more local exploration.
For those lucky travelers planning to visit Maui for the first time, however, deciding which area of Maui is best to stay, as well as which of the many available local activities to pursue during their initial trip to paradise, can often be a source of conflicting information and unnecessary confusion. This month, we are breaking down Maui region-by-region, offering our recommendations for the top activities in each area, from the sun-baked shores of Kihei to the funky charm of the north shore.
Maui Regional Guide
If you’re trying to dodge the occasional tropical rainstorm while on Maui, your best bet is to head south to the ultra-sunny (and traditionally dry) towns of Kihei, Maui Meadows, Wailea and Makena. With an excellent range of accommodations, shops and restaurants to suit every budget, from cozy romantic condos to extravagant beachfront resorts like the Four Seasons and Andaz, you don’t have to search too hard to see the appeal in this popular area of Maui.
While staying in or traveling around south Maui, we highly recommend experiencing the following local activities for yourself:
- Go Beach Hopping: A free activity that only requires reef-safe sunscreen and a willingness to play in the waves, some of our favorite south Maui beaches are Charley Young (located at the north end of Kama’ole Beach 1), Kama’ole Beach 3 (great for beach BBQs and picnics), Keawakapu Beach, Ulua Beach and last but not least, Makena ‘Big’ Beach (beware of the intense shore break) and nearby Little Beach (go on Sundays before sunset).
- Indulge in Craft Delights: Sample handcrafted cocktails with a view at Monkeypod Kitchen, grab coffee and breakfast at The Market Maui, handmade malasadas at Sugar Beach Bake Shop, and local grinds at Cafe O’Lei. Additionally, get a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting of the island’s top local beers at Maui Brewing Co. on one of our Taste of Maui, Pineapple Express or Ultimate Craft Adventure tours.
- Get out on the Water: Go snorkeling at Molokini Crater, Turtle Town and Maui’s Forbidden Coast with Redline Rafting, take part in a scenic sunset sail with Kai Kanani, or rent a surfboard, SUP or kayak and hit Cove Beach Park for a day of salty adventures.
Home of the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, as well as the location of the oldest school west of the Rocky Mountains, west Maui’s Lahaina Town remains one of the most historically and culturally important areas of Hawaii. Today, the area of west Maui, despite being somewhat isolated from the rest of the island, remains one of the most frequented areas of Maui due to its array of world class beaches, walkable attractions along Front Street, plentiful accommodation options and annual events like the Halloween celebration and Kapalua Wine & Food Festival.
Some of our can’t-miss west Maui activity recommendations include:
- Get Cultured on the Lahaina Historic Walking Tour: Discover Lahaina’s past during a walking tour that takes you to fascinating local sites like the Baldwin Home Museum, Pioneer Inn, Banyan Tree Park, Hongwanji Mission and the Wo Hing Museum.
- Go Whale Watching: While the majority of Maui offers plentiful opportunities to whale watch from November to April, the shallow channel between west Maui and our neighbor island of Lana’i is particularly well known for its population of humpback whales, who frequent the area to teach their young how to swim before setting off on the long journey back to Alaska. Head out on a whale watching boat, kayak or outrigger canoe tour to see (and hear) these animals up close, or simply sit back on your favorite west Maui beach and keep an eye out from shore.
- Get Off the Beaten Path: For confident drivers who have mastered the Road to Hana and are looking for a similar – yet less crowded – experience, driving the West Maui Loop provides a whole new opportunity for adventure. Stops like Honolua Bay, Nakalele Blowhole and Kahakuloa offer unforgettable views and photo opportunities.
Often overlooked in favor of the flashier beach locales of west and south Maui, central Maui offers a more local experience in terms of population, family-run shops and eateries, and overall atmosphere. Peaceful boutiques and B&Bs are scattered throughout historic Wailuku Town and ‘Iao Valley, offering an escape for visitors whose idea of paradise doesn’t require the amenities of a major resort. A convenient starting point for exploring the rest of the island, what central Maui lacks in classic beach views it makes up for in peaceful allure.
For those visiting or staying in central Maui, including areas like Kahului, Wailuku and Waiehu, some of our top recommended activities include:
- Visit Maui Tropical Plantation: One of the island’s most all-inclusive destinations, a visit to Maui Tropical Plantation affords visitors the opportunity to sample locally-roasted Maui coffee varieties, zipline, shop Maui-made gifts, try local produce, walk the plantation grounds and sit back and enjoy the views of the West Maui Mountains – as well as handcrafted cocktails and innovative local menu items – at the award-winning Mill House Restaurant. Lucky for you, each one of our Maui Craft Tours begins and ends at this central Maui hotspot.
- Tour the Grounds at ‘Iao Valley: A 4,000 acre State Park nestled in the lush hills of the West Maui Mountains, ‘Iao Valley makes for a memorable daytime destination. Take a refreshing dip in ‘Iao Stream, gaze at the impressive ‘Iao Needle, learn more about the cultural significance of the area, walk the Kepaniwai Park & Heritage Gardens, or hike along one of the park’s scenic routes.
- Discover the Charm of Wailuku Town: Whether dive bars, record shops, live music shows, theatrical performances or local cafes are on your Maui agenda, all of the above can be found in historic Wailuku Town. Head to Tasty Crust for no-fuss local breakfast delights, Vietnamese grinds at A Saigon Cafe, sandwiches and salads at 808 on Main, and Maui Coffee Attic for your caffeine fix.
With some of the best views on the island, not to mention cooler temperatures, an active art scene, local farms, and peaceful boutique and private accommodation options, Upcountry Maui – at least beyond the summit of Haleakala Volcano – remains one of the least frequented areas in terms of annual visitors. From the once-monthly third Friday town parties held in Makawao to the rolling hills of Ulupalakua and blooming jacaranda trees of Pukalani and Kula, there’s plenty to keep you entertained in this locally-loved area of Maui.
A few of the best Upcountry experiences we recommend for your next trip to Maui include:
- Explore the Makawao & Kula Forest Reserves: Similar to scenery you’d expect to find in the Pacific Northwest, the Forest Reserves of Makawao and Kula offer endless opportunities for outdoor exploration, including extensive hiking & biking trails through Eucalyptus groves, Cook Pines and Ash trees. Be sure to bring appropriate footwear, and remember that 4WD vehicles are required to reach the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area along the upper slopes of Haleakala.
- Taste Craft Creations: To not only see the beauty of Upcountry Maui through the eyes of a local, but actually have the opportunity to learn about, tour and taste some of the best craft creations on Maui, we highly recommend joining us for our weekly Taste of Upcountry Tour. We’ll start our day with coffee at Mill House Roasting Co. before taking you on a guided tour of Surfing Goat Dairy, treating you to a farm-to-table gourmet picnic lunch, a tasting at Maui’s only winery, a visit to the Kula Country Farms produce stand, a behind-the-scenes production tour and tasting at Hali’imaile Distilling Company, and final return to central Maui for pupus and drinks at The Mill House.
- Channel your Creative Side: While you’re more than welcome to browse rather than participate, Upcountry Maui offers several opportunities to get artsy. Visit the impressive grounds of the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center, shop locally-made goods at Sherri Reeve Gallery & Gifts, and watch glass blowing masters do their thing at Makai Glass in Makawao.
Comprising of Paia Town, well known as Maui’s laid back, surfer-friendly hippie hub, as well as Kuau and the lush town of Haiku, Maui’s north shore all too often gets ignored as visitors breeze by on their way to tackle the many sites along the winding Road to Hana. But as with all areas of Maui, the north shore deserves its own recognition, and is well worth an extended stay in one of the several hip boutique hotels, home rentals and jungle cabins available in the area.
Several of our favorite north shore activities are listed below:
- Spend a Day at the Beach: One of the best beaches on Maui, in our opinion, Paia Town’s Baldwin Beach Park and Baby Beach offer ideal swimming conditions for every member of the family, as well as ample opportunity to meet and talk story with local residents. Head further east to gaze in awe as surfers and wind surfers hit the waves at Ho’okipa Beach Park, and keep an eye out for Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles resting among the rocks onshore.
- Hit Happy Hour: Nothing says vacation quite like sipping a lilikoi margarita on the outdoor patio at Cafe des Amis (daily specials from 4-6pm), listening to local musicians over a cold beer at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon, or sipping a fresh Moana’s Trail vodka cocktail and munching on fish tacos at the adorable Paia Bay Coffee & Bar.
- Relax & Enjoy the Views: Whether your idea of R&R includes a fun class at Infusion Barre & Hot Yoga, a meditation session at the Paia Peace Stupa or a historical botanical tour the gorgeous Haiku Mill, there’s plenty of local activities to remind you how much Maui has to offer.
The most authentically Hawaiian area of Maui, east Maui’s Hana Town is also its most remote and untouched. While the luxurious Travaasa Hana Resort and a collection of local home and condo rentals are set up to house those travelers really looking to get off the beaten path and enjoy the area’s lush natural surroundings, the majority of visitors to Maui head here to experience one of the world’s most scenic road trips for themselves. If waterfalls, lava tubes and black sand beaches sound like your idea of jungle heaven, don’t skip a visit to east Maui.
While it’s difficult to narrow down the top activities in east Maui, we gave it our best shot with these suggestions:
- Tour the Grounds at Wai’anapanapa State Park: While you may not be able to correctly pronounce this legendary Maui pitstop on your first try, you can’t leave east Maui without checking out its many insane attractions. Take a dip on Pa’iloa Beach – Maui’s stunning black sand beach – before walking the trails to view blowholes, lava tubes, hala trees, freshwater streams, lava arches, pictographs and more.
- Hike Pipiwai Trail: Further past Hana Town, head to the backside of Haleakala National Park to ‘Ohe’o Gulch – also known as ‘Seven Sacred Pools’ – to begin your 4-mile roundtrip hike along Pipiwai Trail, one of Maui’s most amazing hiking routes. Passing through banyan trees, waterfall views, bridges and a massive bamboo forest, this hike ends at the 200 foot Waimoku Falls and offers one-of-a-kind views on The Valley Isle.
- Soak up the Sunshine: East Maui is the epitome of adventure and relaxation, so be sure to enjoy both at top notch spots like Hamoa Beach, Koki Beach and a peaceful sunrise trek to Fagan’s Cross (for those camping or staying overnight).