MAUI TRAVEL GUIDE
We made our first trip together to Hawaii last month! It was a trip we had talked about taking for years together, and after a lucrative first part of the year I was able to buy tickets and surprise Alex for our 1 year wedding anniversary. The trip coincided with our 9 year dating anniversary, so it felt like the perfect place to celebrate and make some new memories together! Alex had been to Maui once as a kid, at around ten, but had few memories of what to do or see and mostly remembered sea turtles and black sand beaches from his first visit.
The first and hardest decision was simply what ISLAND to go to! There are 8 major islands, though obviously a few are far more frequently traveled than others. It had come down to choosing between Maui and Kauai for us, as we'd heard they both offered a very "Hawaiian" experience. Oahu and Hawaii seemed a little too 'city-like' for a vacation, and Kauai only lost out because I heard its better AFTER you've experienced Maui. Kauai is a much more 'rustic' and jungle-y island, more for the hikers and campers in your group than those who prefer to lounge pool- or oceanside. While we didn't stay in a resort (not our style!), we definitely felt the in-between on Maui of having everything you needed but also being a reasonable drive from anything you wanted. We loved it!
We flew out from LAX and took a direct flight to Maui. Five and a half hours later we were flying over Molokini, the horseshoe shaped crater off the southwest coast of Maui that we'd be snorkeling in just a few days later. It was incredibly gorgeous from above!
We stayed in an AirBNB and LOVED it (check out the house here), but we'll get there in a moment. After landing we scooped up our rental car, a basically requisite red open air Jeep to tour around the island in. Perfect for taking in that salty ocean air and traversing the sometimes sketchy roadways along the Road to (and from!) Hana.
On the way to our AirBNB we drove through our first real little beach town and the one that easily become our favorite throughout the week, Paia. Paia is a tiny, adorable little stop on the north side of the island. Since we were staying in Makawao, just south and toward the center of the island, Paia became a frequent stop for us going in and out of town. The first little spot we fell in love with was Choice Health Bar. Located directly downtown, this clean and bright spot offers fresh, often locally-sourced dishes with specials that change daily. Our first stop I just grabbed Lilikoi (local type of passion fruit) Acai Bowl, but we ended up back there often for their warmer lunches and dinners, too. Below you'll see their Kale Caesar Salad and Ulu Breadfruit soup. We kept coming back for these dishes after long days at the beach, and they satisfied every time. For the record, breadfruit grows like a fruit on a tree but tastes like a potato or squash and is a cousin of the Mulberry. It is super nutritious and we were told than a single breadfruit tree can produce a ton of fruit and feed a TON of people! (Not like a LITERAL ton. But a lot!) There's a picture of an actual breadfruit tree down by the blue smoothie below. It kind of looks like a jackfruit while growing!
When we arrived at our AirBNB, a Plantation Style Tiny Home, we totally fell in love! Pictured below, it was a super cute guest cottage or 'hale' on a young, local family's small, private farm and orchard. It overlooked the orchard and banana trees, and had a screened in kitchen porch that made cooking up leftovers and farmers markets finds a truly unique experience! It was also super enchanting to hear the rain showers gently pound against the tin roof at night and had my husband asleep even before I was! Inside the place was small but perfect for us for the week. A single room with a large, comfy bed and a small futon, plus some gorgeous vintage furniture inside, and a completely renovated bathroom with some really cool features. Plus, a shower for two!
On our first full day of exploring we made our way across the island to Valley Isle Kombucha. We're not big drinkers but we'll go almost anywhere for good kombucha, and it was really amazing how much of it was on the island. We went to two different kombucha bars (Valley Isle was the best!) and even the general stores in the area had locally-made kombucha on tap. Valley Isle had at least 16 taps of different, fresh kombucha on tap, as well as a case full of bottles and a full lunch menu, too. They also partner with a company called Alchemy Maui that bakes fresh loaves of bread and baguettes right in their kitchen, so you can grab a loaf for the road or take it with you to the beach afterward!
We also fell in love with Coralynn, the server at Valley Isle and a local artist. She gave us so many tips - things to check out and places to go, and we ended up buying one of her gorgeous hand-drawn stickers to take home with us! The locals on the island were all incredibly helpful and friendly, which lent itself even more to the idyllic perception of island life. Nowhere to go fast and time to chat with everyone along the way!
Our second full day we decided to do The Road to Hana, basically an all-day adventure around the outer eastern edge of the island. We downloaded the GyPSy Guide, which is an app that adds historical and locational notes to your drive. It'll tell you where to stop for the best sights along the way the entire way there, and will give you history of the island on the drive back. I'd highly recommend spending the few dollars to download it, it was really fun and useful on the trip, and since most rental car companies don't insure you to drive all FULL Road to Hana all the way around the island, it gives you something fun to listen to on the drive back in the dark.
We started in Paia, heading East. Our first real stop was at The Garden of Eden Arboretum. In the bottom left picture, you can see the pointy rock to the right of the V - that's the rock shown in the opening scene of Jurassic Park! We loved getting out and walking around the lush gardens, enjoying the tropical flora and fauna, and checking out the waterfalls and 100-year old mango tree inside the park! Worth the visit for sure. Especially if you like birds - tons of them, including peacocks everywhere! A small admission fee, very much worth the stop if you take the trip - though I don't recommend wearing nice shoes. I forgot my extra flip flops the first day and totally destroyed my favorite fancy sandals. Whoops!
I won't tell you about every stop we made on the Road to Hana - we'd be here all day! But I recommend stopping often and eating often, too. There was SO much good food, but THE BEST BANANA BREAD ON THE DRIVE (this part is important - can you tell?) is at Aunt Sandy's along the Keanae Peninsula. Trust me. Buy at least 3 mini loaves for the day, you will not regret it! We saw painted eucalyptus trees, black sand beaches, and a million farmstands. We bought and ate local lilikoi and sugarcane, banana bread, and local kombucha and took selfies in front of waterfalls and fell even more in love.
We stopped at Coconut Glen's on the way up after many suggestions and had the BEST vegan ice cream I've ever eaten. We tried the coconut and lemongrass ginger flavors, which both had chunks of real coconut meat mashed inside. Literally could eat it for every meal ever - the perfect blend of sweet and fat and creamy. It was a perfect day.
We ended up checking out a ton of beaches, but the best for snorkeling and beach hanging while we were there seemed to be on the south side of the island, toward Wailea-Makena. We ended up returning here a couple times to hang and swim in calmer waters away from the resorts. At Big Beach there were waves so high and so powerful - shore pounders - that lifeguards weren't allowing people to swim, and one beach over at Little Beach we stumbled upon a nude beach! It was a fun, if unplanned, surprise and definitely a memorable one. At first I was intrigued, but after realizing the beaches occupants were almost entirely men, I was less enthused. This ended up being one of the places we also saw a TON of sea turtles swimming one afternoon in the rock outcroppings off the beach. Super cool!
We visited Lahaina and spent a morning and early afternoon walking around checking out the beach city, but if I'm being honest, this was one place I definitely only needed to see once. It was super touristy and felt kind of fabricated - I prefer to hang like a local when I travel and all of Lahaina felt like a tourist trap. Also, it was just down the street was a ton of huge resorts and the contrast of seeing how locals are forced to live in poverty next door to these huge tourist draws was more sad and reflection of the financial struggles really facing the island. BUT, we did meet a really cute little hippie kid selling vegan, gluten-free, marijuana-infused banana bread...and we definitely bought some and enjoyed a hazy afternoon on the beach.
Some of the best things we ate, besides all the fresh local lilikoi, mango, starfruit, dragonfruit, guava and papaya - were macadamia nut chocolate chip pancakes (pictured above!), fresh mahi mahi, and basically any combo from Ululani's Shaved Ice, but especially the Paia location which ALSO carried Coconut Glen's vegan ice cream. My go-to order (we got it 5 times in 4 days - no joke) was CG's original coconut ice cream covered in lilikoi, strawberry, and guava shaved ice and topped with house made mochi. I am literally drooling just thinking about it! We also fell in love with a local coconut kefir that we found at the local health food store, Mana Foods (also pictured below), that we would come home each night and top with local lilikoi and take to munch in bed.
Since we were in Maui celebrating our 9 year dating anniversary and 1 year wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to a reservation at the fanciest restaurant on the island - Mama's Fish House! We got all gussied up and and headed to the loveliest dinner. Did it cost us a couple hundred dollars? Maybe yes. Was it worth every penny as we looked over the over eating some of the best food ever, more in love than ever? YOU BETCHA! An expensive dinner out, but VERY worth it if you can make room for it on your itinerary. Heads up - reservations go fast! We made ours 6 months in advance.
We loved finding tiny, locally owned places like Brekkie Bowls to eat at all week long. We like supporting local economy whenever possible, and frankly - the locals have the best recs for snorkeling, finding sea turtles, and sharing secret sunset spots! I also loved how accessible fruit, smoothies, acai bowls, and juice was on the island. My digestion was high functioning and I felt great all week long - which is NOT always the case when I'm traveling!
One of the definite highlights of out trip was snorkeling at Molokini, the horseshoe shaped crater off the coast that boats calm water, tons of beautiful fish, and sometimes even seat turtles! We didn't see any turtles but we had a blast boating out, snorkeling together, and filming underwater with the GoPro. We saw tons of beautiful, brightly colored fish and coral reef, and had a great time with the crew on the boat. We were out from about 7 am to 2 pm and chose to sail with The Four Winds. Highly recommend their outing, they let us hang out way longer than all of the other tourist-filled boats and they prepped a great lunch with a veggie burger option! We saw tons of dolphins on the way back too, some even swimming alongside out boat for over 20 minutes. Super cool!
I loved that we were able to hit the island's big Saturday Upcountry Farmers Market. It was full of local vendors selling unique and delicious specialties, and we feasted on a local eggs, probiotic coconut yogurt, tons of tropical fruit and of course - fresh coconuts! The market had something for everyone, and there was no shortage of vegan and vegetarian options, which was pretty cool to see in such a small place. We made friends with some locals and ended up bringing some local raw honey and bread back on the plane home a few days later!
We searched high and low for turtles while we were there and I don't know if was the time of year or just our luck but we barely found any. We FINALLY stumbled - literally I thought it was a rock until we got pretty close - upon a giant sea turtle at Tavares Bay, and hung out watching him for awhile. Like I mentioned earlier we also saw some near Makena Bay, but other than that - not a one!
Also if you have time, get over to Bamboo Forest Hike that leads to Pipiwai Waterfall - it was easy and a fun way to spend a couple hours after a heavy lunch and was super photograph-friendly.
One day ended up being SUPER rainy (it's Hawaii so daily rain is expected but this day was SUPER wet) so we decided to ditch our hiking plans and booked an afternoon at North Shore Zipline, which happened to be literally a half mile from our AirBNB. We had a damn blast! I expected it to be a little cheesy or lame but honestly the guys that worked there went above and beyond to make sure everyone had fun, and I would go again if I had the chance. Also - the photos at the end didn't suck like most places that try to sell you photos, so we actually bought them. Worth it! They gave us like 30 pictures for $30. Again - not normally a sucker for that stuff, but it was SUCH a fun outing and they really made it worth every penny. Check them out if you're in the area - we had a kid as young as 6 in our group so it's definitely family friendly!
The next day ended up being FAR nicer outside, so we packed a day bag and drove to Kula, basically where all the lush farmland lives at the center of the island. We found a super cute pumpkin patch flooded wit families and overlooking the ocean and stopped to take pictures and enjoy literally the most beautiful and scenic pumpkin patch maybe ever. It was incredibly gorgeous, and after we continued into Kula to the Ulapalakua Ranch Store, full of fun kitsch and really great locally raised, grass-fed burgers. Driving through Kula and all of the pasture and free roaming cows (literally no fences - drive carefully through here as they sometimes travel through the roadway to get to another pasture!) was a little bit like being home in Maine - if Maine started suddenly taking on a jungle climate.
That last afternoon we made the loooong (2-3 hours) drive from Kula to Haleakala National Park to see the sun set over the Haleakala Crater. It was SO incredibly worth it. It was a super cool, winding, beautiful drive up to the top, and then we parked and hiked the last mile or so to the very top. The place was crowded, but there was plenty of room to hunker down and watch the sun go down. We were ill-prepared clothing wise, both in shorts after a long day at the beach, but it was worth every shivering second to see what looked like literal heaven play out in front of us. Make the trip, but bundle up first. The drive down will take a little longer than you'd expect because of all the other people also departing as soon as the sun drops, so reward yourself with an extra trip to Ululani's on your way home!
We loved Maui SO much and can't wait to go back and take advantage of the chill vibes, beautiful views, and delicious food! If you're considering going, check out my rec's below as well as all the one's mentioned above, they're an easy copy and paste into your phone before you go so you can reference place as you drive around. And when you go - LET ME KNOW so I can live vicariously through you and your vacation. 😉
Food places we tried and loved: Choice Health Bar, Valley Isle Kombucha, Tin Roof for super traditional Hawaiian cuisine, A'a Roots, Paia Bowls, Brekkie Bowls, Mana Foods, Flatbread Company, Paia Fish House, Joy's Cafe in Kihei, Maui Kombucha Bar, Choice Health Bar, Aunt Sandy's along the Keanae Peninsula, Mama's Fish House, Farmacy, Paia Inn Brunch, Mokuroots, Ululani's Shaved Ice, Coconut Glen's, Ulapalakua Ranch Store, and the Upcountry Farmer's Market.
Places to See + Things to Check out: EVERYTHING! But specifically - Sea Turtles at Tavares Bay, Turtle Beach, Makawao Forest Hike, Bamboo Forest Hike to Pipiwai Waterfall, Lao Valley, Waihee Ridge Trail Hike, Paia, Poli Poli, Haleakala Crater + National Park for sunrise or sunset (sunrise requires a planned ahead permit), Kaupo Drive (the long way back from Road to Hana - only if you've got a jeep), Red + Black Sand Beaches, Maleaka Beach, Ulua Beach, Ahihi Kinau Natural Reserve, North Shore Zipline, Kula Country Farms, Little Beach (NUDE beach!), Upcountry Farmer's Market, snorkeling Molokini, Lahaina, Road to Hana (download the GyPSy App!).