These Are Some of My Favorite Things to Do on Maui
This is a guest post from Jim at WINEtineraries, discussing his favorite things to do on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
Maui is my favorite Hawaiian island for many reasons. It offers an incredibly diverse range of things to do – from whale watching (in season) to otherworldly hikes and to one of the most iconic drives on earth. In this destination report, I’ll cover what I consider to be some of the best experiences Maui has to offer.
There’s no shortage of wonderful lodging options on Maui. Your choice will turn on personal preference, price sensitivity, and the hotel program, if any, with which you have status and/or points. One bed and breakfast option, one full-service resort, and one vacation rental stand out in my experience.
The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono
If you don’t need to be on the beach, The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono (less than six miles from the airport) offers an authentic Hawaiian experience of aloha. This historic property was built in 1924 as a wedding gift for the owner’s daughter-in-law. Ulupono, which means “to grow and flourish in righteousness,” is the name of the property, not its geographic location.
An ulu (breadfruit) tree continues to flourish where it was planted on the day the property was blessed. The Inn has 10 Hawaiian-themed guest rooms, some with private gardens and lanais. The star here, though, is the 2-course breakfast served daily at 8:00am. Service begins with fresh fruit in season, some of which is picked right on the grounds. The rotating menu of entrees includes banana pancakes topped with macadamia nuts, breakfast enchiladas, French toast topped with a cheese and mint sauce, etc.
Other complimentary amenities include use of beach towels and mats, coolers for picnics (on request), mini-refrigerators for personal items, and Wi-Fi. Tip: It may make sense to book directly with The Old Wailuku Inn, as third-party booking sites may not display all available rooms. A 10% discount is also offered for AAA members (click on the “Specials” tab on the Inn’s website).
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, a category 6 property on the Ka’anapali Coast
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a resort vacation on the beach, consider the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. Rooms can be booked for 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night. That goes up to 33,000 points per night if you want to include Regency Club access for continental breakfast and evening hors d’ouevres and desserts.
The resort fee of $40.00/night added to paid or points + cash reservations is made somewhat palatable by including a lei greeting, Wi-Fi, area shuttle to shopping and dining at Whaler’s Village (as well as the Royal Lahaina Luau — see below), 24-hour gym access, extensive fitness and yoga classes, cultural programs (e.g., lei making, hula lessons, whale talks, penguin presentations, etc.), daily tennis or basketball court time, etc.
Hyatt waives resort fees in two situations:
- Globalists on paid and points / award redemptions
- World of Hyatt members redeeming points or award nights
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly to the World of Hyatt rewards program at a 1:1 ratio, putting award redemptions within reach of almost anyone.
- Get a 5th night free and daily buffet breakfast for two with the resort’s “Sunshine on Sale” package.
- If you ride the complimentary Ka’anapali Trolley to Whaler’s Village, you can hop on the Lahaina Shuttle ($2.00), which goes as far south as the Cannery Mall at Lahaina’s north end.
Ma’alaea Yacht Marina Condominiums
Ma’alaea, an easy 15-minute drive from the airport, is situated on the south side of the island, just north of Kihei and south of Lahaina. It’s within walking distance of Maui Ocean Center, the Aquarium of Hawai’i. This 45-unit complex has 25 1BR/1BA units ranging from 586 to 767 square feet and 20 2BR/2BA units with almost 900 square feet each.
It has an oceanfront pool and very nice outdoor grilling area. These units (if you can snag one for your desired dates) are perfect for those who prefer to prepare meals while on vacation. There is a Safeway grocery store in Kahului on the way to Ma’alaea from the airport, as well as in Wailuku and Kihei.
This is my wife’s favorite activity; as a result, we’ve visited Hawaii 3 of the past 4 years. If you’ve never been on a whale watch before, it helps to understand three things about this unique activity:
- it’s highly seasonal,
- there’s no way to predict what you will — or will not — see on any given tour, and
- it’s really difficult to describe the awe these gentle giants inspire.
Therefore, if whale watching is one of your priorities, plan to visit from mid-December to mid-May. Peak activity occurs February-March, when the shallow waters off Maui are called “whale soup.” Select an operator that offers a voucher good for another tour (on a space available basis) if you don’t spot any whales. With this in mind, book your tour as early during your visit as possible, so you can redeem such a voucher if necessary.
- Some tours include a demonstration of a hydrophone, so you can hear the whales’ “song”. we found this added to the value of our experience.
- Discounts are offered for booking online and/or booking the first tour of the day. Although there are no guarantees, the first tour of the day we took on our most recent visit was spectacular! A bull humpback whale pulled up right alongside our boat before diving under it and surfacing on the other side. And 2 pods of spinner dolphins accompanied our boat for well over a mile — and this was the least expensive tour we took!
Here is a comparison of the three different companies we have used on Maui:
|Company||Cost per person||Guarantee||Hydrophone||Refreshments|
|Pacific Whale Foundation||$60-$120||Yes||Some tours||Some tours|
|Hawaii Ocean Project||$40-$60||Yes||If conditions allow||For purchase|
|Trilogy Excursions||$45-$75||Yes||Yes||Light lunch|
Think of Hawaii and one of the first images that will come to mind is a luau. This quintessential Hawaiian experience features a meal (often a buffet that is fairly forgettable), drinks, hands-on activities, and a show.
Here is a comparison of three somewhat different luau experiences:
|Old Lahaina Luau||Royal Lahaina Luau||Feast at Lele Luau|
|Cost||$175 (adult), $89 (child)||$155 (adult), $85 (child)||$185 (adult), $99 (child)|
|Greeting||Fresh flower lei||Shell lei (flower lei with VIP seating)||Fresh flower lei & Mai Tai|
|Food||Buffet||Buffet||Private table, 5-course dinner|
|Drinks||Open bar||Open bar||Open bar|
|Activities||On-stage cultural presentations||No||No|
|Show||Traditional Hawaiian||Polynesian with fire dance||Polynesian with fire dance|
In addition to the almost obligatory luau, Maui offers a plethora of dining options. In addition to those listed in the detailed “Maui Upcountry” and “Road to Hana” itineraries below, some of my favorites include:
Mama’s Fish House (Paia town)
Mama’s Fish House has received numerous, prestigious awards. It was ranked in the top 10 of U.S. restaurants by TripAdvisor in 2016 and best restaurant in Hawaii in 2018 by Hawaii Magazine — to name just two. The seafood here is as fresh as it gets, the service is impeccable, and the view is to die for.
All this comes at a price, of course. Entrées run $56 to $100. Mama’s makes a great splurge after driving the road to Hana or the upcountry Maui itinerary below. Tip: Be sure to make a reservation (Mama’s is on the OpenTable platform), especially around sunset. Mama’s is often booked solid 3 or more months in advance.
Bistro Casanova (Kahului)
Bistro Casanova is less than 10 minutes away from the airport in an office building tucked behind a branch of Central Pacific Bank. After parking your car, walk toward Lono Avenue and turn right at the corner of the building facing you. The restaurant entrance is halfway up this side.
The specialty here is house-made pasta. I ordered the linguine with chicken morsels and wild mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce ($18), and my wife ordered the black linguine with assorted seafood in a zesty tomato sauce with garlic, capers, and black olives ($24). At dinner, the black linguine is served with smoked salmon sautéed in a white wine sauce with peas, leeks, and tobiko (roe of flying fish) — $18. Tip: You can make your reservation through OpenTable and earn points toward future dines.
Favorite Things in West Maui (Lahaina and Ka’anapali Coast)
Most Lahaina visitors come either to board a boat for one of the many water-based excursions departing its harbor or for the touristy shops that line Front Street. But there’s a lot of interesting history here which is best covered on a 1.4-mile self-guided walking tour that takes about 90 minutes.
- If you arrive early in the day, there is free parking for 3 hours in the lot at the corner of Front and Prison Streets.
- I am happy to send a free 3-page, annotated guide (with map) covering twenty-two stops to readers of Miles to Memories.
Kapalua Coastal Trail (Ka’anapali Coast)
We parked at D.T. Fleming Beach to access the northern trailhead for this scenic 1.76-mile (one way) walk that ends at the south end of Kapalua Bay. It essentially traverses the expansive grounds of the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua and the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences, Kapalua Bay. The scenery is amazing — especially the rugged lava outcropping (pictured here), which serves as a nesting area for native seabirds.
Favorite Things in Kihei
This craft brewery is really investing in expanding what it has to offer visitors and customers. The food trucks that used to offer lunch have been replaced with their own full-service restaurant offering gourmet lunch options 7 days a week from 11:30am-10pm. There are Happy Hour specials from 3:30-5:30pm.
The menu features a variety of appetizers, creative salads, craft pizzas, sandwiches, and “big plates” featuring local catch fish tacos ($23.50). Maui Brewing Company offers 45-minute brewery tours six times each day ($15). Beer lovers may have a tough time choosing between the many varieties offered — everything from IPAs to ales, lagers to Pilsners — with names like Bikini Blonde, Big Swell (a tribute to surfing), Vets Are Sexy, etc., etc.
Three’s Bar & Grill (Kihei)
If you are a Food Network fan and get a sense of déjà vu when you enter the dining room, it’s because Three’s Bar & Grill was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the July 21, 2017 episode entitled “Barbecue, Batter & Beer Can Chicken.”
The happy hour at Three’s (4pm-6pm and 9pm-10pm) is awesome! We enjoyed the kalua pork quesadilla ($9.50 during happy hour, $15.75 at dinner) and coconut crusted fish tacos ($5.00 each during happy hour, $9.00 each at dinner). Well drinks and Three’s margaritas are just $5.50 during happy hour; oysters are just $3.25 each. Tip: You can make an OpenTable reservation here, as well, earning points toward future dines.
Located between Ma’alaea and Kihei is this uncrowded (less than 120 visitors/week) 700-acre bird sanctuary. Tip: If you plan your Maui visit around the whale watching calendar, you get a bonus: free guided bird walks are offered every Tuesday at 9:00am and every third Saturday. You can even borrow binoculars for free!
Note: Visitor services are currently suspended due to COVID-19 but may reopen at any time, so keep checking their website using the link above.
This easy 1.6-mile (one way) developed path runs between Ulu’a and Polo Beach Parks, traversing oceanfront property of some of Maui’s top-end resorts. Tip: There are some real advantages to scheduling scenic walks early in the day. Parking is easier to find, paths are less crowded, and the light is better for photography.
Favorite Things in Upcountry Maui
Many visitors to Maui spend their time at the resorts stretching out along the western-facing shoreline – and for good reason. A good number make their way to the summit of Haleakala (see below) to view sunrise or hike the otherworldly moonscape of its crater. A smaller number drive the road to Hana (see “Road to Hana: How to Survive the Most Scenic White-Knuckle Drive Out There”), which gets top spot on Travel + Leisure’s list of “America’s Most Scenic Roads.”
Fewer still discover “upcountry” Maui — an adjective that describes lifestyle as much as it does geography — and that is unfortunate. The stops below offer unique adventures, unexpected beauty, and unrivaled cuisine on the leeward slopes of Haleakala.
What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys? More than 100 goats (every one named!) who behave a lot more like pet dogs than farm animals! German ex-pats who despaired of finding goat cheese as good as that to which they had become accustomed in their native country decided to take matters into their own hands, and Surfing Goat Dairy (SGD) was born.
SGD is certified humane, which means the goats have plenty of room to engage in natural behaviors, enjoying a hormone- and antibiotic-free diet. SGD has pared back the tours it offers, due to COVID. Its “casual tour” (30 minutes, offered 6 times/day from Tuesday through Saturday) costs $18 for ages 12+ and $12 for ages 3-11.
It’s only a 15-minute drive from Surfing Goat Dairy to Kula Bistro (rated 4.5 stars by both TripAdvisor and Yelp!). Open for breakfast (7:30-10:15am, closed Monday), lunch and dinner (11:00am-8:00pm daily), this family-owned bistro serves “home-style comfort food with an Italian accent.”
The stars of the breakfast menu are the crab cake Benedict ($21.00) and the white chocolate macadamia nut pancakes ($16.75). The lunch menu features a variety of outstanding Panini ($14.50-$17.50), all accompanied by Caesar salad. At dinner, the chicken parmesan ($25.50) served with toasted garlic bread is big enough to split and still be full.
Tip: Alcohol is BYOB, and there is no corkage fee.
The story of Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm begins with the hospitality gift of a single plant from one of Hawaii’s most famous vocalists. In 1992, Ali’i Chang, whose adoptive grandmother had taught him horticulture as an art, purchased a farm which grew protea, one of the world’s most exotic and expensive flowers (pictured here).
In 2001, Emma Veary, known as “Hawaii’s Golden Throat,” gave Ali’i a single lavender plant. While not native to Hawaii, it turns out lavender thrived in the climate of Chang’s farm. Today, Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is home to 45 varieties of the herb and around 55,000 individual lavender plants. Admission to the grounds is just $3.00 ($1.00 off for seniors and military) for self-guided tours.
Tip: Don’t miss the lavender-infused scones available for purchase in the gift shop.
The property which is now Kula Botanical Garden was originally owned by Chiefess Kekaulike of the last and mightiest ruling dynasty of Maui. Purchased in 1968 and opened to the public 3 years later, Kula Botanical Gardens was the first public garden on Maui. Today, its eight acres are transected by paved walkways leading to displays of native plants, a covered bridge, a sanctuary for endangered Hawaiian Nene geese, etc.
Open daily from 9:00am – 4:00pm, admission is $10 for 13+ and $3 for 6 to 12-year-old children (under 6 are free). Note: Every admission supports the renaissance of the gardens, which were severely damaged during the December 2021 Kona storm.
I had never heard of Curtis Wilson Cost before planning our upcountry Maui itinerary. Turns out, his renderings of Hawaii’s land and seascapes are some of the most sought after in the world. His gallery in the lower level of the Kula Lodge on Haleakala Highway is home to the longest-running one-person gallery in Hawaii (35 years).
This hub of upcountry Maui is reminiscent of the old west — and for good reason. Makawao is an old Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town; the only market left in town is appropriately named the Rodeo General Store. Highlights include a self-guided walking tour, an eclectic assortment of art galleries, and a fine restaurant:
Download a brochure and map for a self-guided walking tour of Makawao using the link above. All but two of the highlighted stops on the tour are on a 1.5-block stretch of a single street.
If you love watercolors, you’ll be in 7th heaven in this gallery at 3669 Baldwin Avenue! The vibrant but soft colors on everything from canvas to clothing to whimsical greeting cards are simply stunning – and affordable, given the quality.
We were so pleased with our lunch at Casanova Bistro in Kahului (see above) shortly after landing and picking up our rental car that we were eagerly anticipating our dinner reservation at Casanova’s Makawao restaurant — which was named the best Italian restaurant in all of Hawaii in 2016!
I ordered the gnocchi strozzapreti, which consisted of 7 large ricotta and spinach dumplings served with both a homemade tomato sauce and a creamy gorgonzola cheese sauce. It was so good that I wished for more! My wife chose the catch of the day, which was a filet of fresh Ahi tuna, seared and served with tomatoes, olives, and capers over arugula.
Tip: Make a reservation on the OpenTable platform and ask to be seated at one of the tables along the panoramic windows overlooking a lush garden (pictured here) at the rear of the dining room.
The dormant volcano Haleakala (“House of the Sun” in Hawaiian) dominates the skyline on Maui. Its summit area is the most popular attraction in upcountry Maui. Venturing inside its crater is an otherworldly experience. Hikes range from an easy 0.4-mile walk to a full-day, 11-mile (one way) trek across the crater floor.
Note: The oxygen level in the air at Haleakala’s summit is more than 30% lower than at sea level. Weather conditions can also change rapidly, and you should expect temperatures about 30 degrees lower than at your lodging.
The great thing about Maui is that it offers something for everyone. Hopefully, sharing my favorite things to do in Maui gave you some ideas that you can incorporate into your next trip to the island. Options abound for all travel styles, all types of lodging, and all palettes.