Maui Travel and Destination Guide
5 things I HOPE you know before you go:
- The island is shaped like an infinity sign. Be sure to place yourself strategically so you don’t have a constant fight with traffic (yes there is traffic) like trying to go from Paia to Lahaina everyday.
- Whale season is December – April, peak season for the whales is February. If you are only going to see the whales make sure you organize your trip accordingly. For more tips on this see my article on Whale Watching in Maui.
- Many tours are weather dependent. So if you have tours you are super excited about you may want to book them multiple days (check their cancellation policy) to ensure you get to actually do them. I booked 7 days of kayaking and only had 2 trips work out.
- As one expects on an island, prices are high. If this is an issue you may want to go the hostel and supermarket route or choose a non-US beach holiday that might be cheaper (like Thailand).
- A car goes a long way if you are going to be moving about the island and want to do something like the Road to Hana. The buses are time consuming and don’t start early enough for you to catch early morning tours. Taxis are quite expensive ($20 for short 10 minute ride). If you want to chill at a resort and only move from your chair on the beach to the water, then maybe don’t worry so much about the car.
Banana Bungalow Hostel
Eskimo Candy Seafood
Haleakala Sunset and Stargazing
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary Visitor Center (NOAA)
Iao Valley State Monument
Kama’ole Beach Park II
Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens
Ma’alaea General Store
Mama’s Fish House
Maui Budget Cars
Maui Kayak Adventures
Maui Nui Botanical Gardens
Maui Tropical Plantation
The Mill House Restaurant
Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery
Pacific Whale Foundation
Road to Hana
Surfing Goat Dairy
Trilogy Molokini Tour
Ultimate Whale Watching
West Loop Road
Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum
Lahaina Front Street
Maui Brewing Company
Maui Ocean Center
Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum: Small and across from a sugar mill that looks quite run down.
Banana Bungalow Hostel: I have to say this hostel was a unique experience. Almost notorious on the island, it is known as a party hostel. They do party but strictly shut things down at 10 PM. As far as I saw they were very clean and had hot water even at the busy times (in most showers). There were always enough bathrooms and had a free pancake breakfast. One of the best features for those on a budget and without a car is that they offer FREE tours of the island. Everyday they have a different tour that they offer at no cost (tip recommended and food/fees/excursions outside of the transport are not included). It also was a fantastic place for meeting people that wanted to be active on the island. Overall, I was very impressed with the hostel’s value for the money. http://www.mauihostel.com/
Eskimo Candy Seafood: Located in a less than touristy area this seafood market and restaurant had fantastic fresh fish. I ordered the Ono Fish and Chips, the light batter was just right to complement the fish without overpowering it. http://eskimocandy.com/
Haleakala Sunset and Stargazing: The price for this is a bit steep at around $100. I would feel much better about it if they provided the transport from their meet up point. However, I did very much enjoy the tour. A friend decided to join at the last minute, when we arrived we found she had booked with the competing company that offers this tour. So, she went with that company and I went with mine. Both provide warm clothes for you at the top and a chance to see the stars through high quality telescopes. However, my super enthusiastic lady also provided snacks and viewing the sunset from the upper viewing area (http://www.mauiastronomytours.com/). My friend’s tour did have a better telescope/filters and maybe better commentary on what you were seeing (http://www.mauistargazing.com/). The sunset and stars are also fully accessible without the tour. The tours offer warm clothes and the telescopes.
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary Visitor Center (NOAA): If you love whales (like I do) then this can be a fun stop. The docents had a ton of information on the whales, I saw posters for lectures on the whales (may want to check the website before you go), and this is where the enforcement of the whale sanctuary laws (NOAA) are based out of. It is great to hear their information pre or post a whale watching voyage so you can better understand the reasons behind the protection laws. http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/
Iao Valley State Monument: This is the classic Hawaiian landscape you see in postcards. Green lush sharply ascending mountains with ribbons of waterfalls spattered around. They recommend you stay on the paths but there are some hidden hiking trails here as well.
Kama’ole Beach Park II: Did someone say sea turtles? Yes they did! Right outside of Kihei this beach offers small surf and some great opportunities for snorkeling with the sea turtles. Shaved ice shacks are within a short walk and it is very easily accessible. Great place for a chill afternoon on the beach.
Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens: Lovely Chinese and Korean gardens on the way to Iao Valley. They also have restrooms while the Iao Valley restrooms are being renovated.
Lahaina Front Street: In all likeliness at some point you will find yourself on Front Street, many of the tours leave from here and it is part of the West Maui Loop. It is full of shops and restaurants. On the weekend they do seem to have a lot of live music. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go here, but if I needed a bite to eat and was nearby this is a good spot to stop.
Lahaina Kayaks: This kayaking group is located out of Lahaina but about half a kilometer from the main area. We did see whales and we had a good time, but we had to paddle nearly the whole time and I found some of the procedures to be confusing. The paddle also was very close to a cruise ship and the busy Lahaina port.
Little Beach: Sunday evening is the time to go Little Beach. Just East of Big Beach and requiring clambering over rocks while waves hit you the fully nude Little Beach offers a hippie experience I have only seen at Burning Man and in Key West. The sunset drum circle and fire dancing is a great chance for people watching and exercising your radical inclusionism attitude. I enjoyed the event, but it is for the open minded only. Remember also, you have to clamber over those rocks after sunset so bring a flashlight to guide you back to your car.
Ma’alaea General Store: Great stop if you need a bite for lunch or breakfast in Ma’alaea. Quality food at a reasonable price without making you feel like you are in a tourist trap (like the nearby Harbor Shops do).
Mama’s Fish House: Best fish you may ever have. The fish you will eat here was probably swimming only HOURS before. The menu even lists the fisherman that caught it! Don’t get me wrong this comes with a hefty price tag. Entrees are around $50 and you can easily hit $100 per person if you get appetizers, drinks, or dessert. I had the tomato bisque soup, marlin, a strawberry guava fizz, and chocolate chip ice cream. All of it was incredibly delicious. If the food wasn’t enough the restaurant has a beautiful ocean view. The staff was very friendly and unpretentious. Expensive, but worth the indulgence. You should book a reservation, especially for dinner, this may require you planning more than a week ahead if you want to eat here. http://www.mamasfishhouse.com/
Maui Brewing Company: This is the local micro-brewery on Maui. They have several restaurants around the island. I ordered the Dawn Patrol (their version of the Michelada) and a flatbread. The flatbread was okay and the Dawn Patrol was awful. I don’t know why they put dill in it. It wasn’t a bad place to go, but with all the fresh fish and great options there might be some cooler places to go.
Maui Budget Cars: Two weeks before my trip I booked everything (aka last minute). All the rental cars online were $80+ per day. I knew I needed a car for the early morning tours and taxis are very expensive. The hostel recommended I call this locally owned company. They offered me a steal of a deal at about half the price of what I was seeing online. http://www.mauibudgetcars.com/
Maui Kayak Adventures: I thought this company really had their procedures down. Plus they took pictures and sent them out after. The guide worked hard to ensure we had a good time. Leaving out of Makena Landing was much closer to the whale activity and made for a much easier paddle compared to Lahaina. It was also away from a lot of the boats so that we did not have to worry much about the boat traffic. I am biased in that we had the most amazing experience with a whale encounter on this tour, but because the company takes pictures (as part of the tour, no extra fee) we ended up with high quality photos of the whale we saw and the audio of his song. For me this tour was the highlight of my trip hands down. http://mauikayakadventures.com/
Maui Nui Botanical Gardens: Small garden of native plants. The attendant did not charge me and offered an audio guide. The audio guide was very informative and the gardens were well maintained.
Maui Ocean Center: I love aquariums. I really really do. I found this aquarium to be small for the $27 admission fee. I think the better deal is to rent snorkel equipment or go out on a snorkel tour and see all those fish in the actual ocean.
Maui Tropical Plantation: These gardens are the nicest ones I found on the island and they are free to walk around. I found dozens of gorgeous blooming flowers along with some super cute green and white lizards. The grounds house several tours and The Mill House Restaurant. It also had an open field with a family playing an impromptu football game. Even if you choose not to shop or do a tour there it is worth a stop to enjoy the gardens and atmosphere.
The Mill House Restaurant: If you are having a romantic dinner this is the place you need to book. You can reserve a table on ‘the island’ and be surrounded by lush gardens with some beautiful night lighting. The food was fresh, delicious and at very reasonable prices (entrees were around $20). The restaurant is fairly new and has not yet been discovered. I would try to get in while this place is still quiet and prices are low. http://mauitropicalplantation.com/mill-house-dining/
Nalu’s: This is a quirky restaurant located in Kihei. I ordered the Chicken and Waffles with Sage Syrup. It was delicious and they have a whole bunch of fun meals that include local fish and produce. http://nalusgrill.com/
Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery: The small distillery is located on the road past the landfill and before the surfing goats. A friendly staff greets you and with a $10 tour fee you get a tour of their distillery and samples of their water, rum, and vodka. I enjoyed the tour and was very surprised at how delicious the samplings were. I have never had such flavorful rum and such a light vodka. Great stop while you are out doing the tours in this part of the island. http://oceanvodka.com/
Pacific Whale Foundation: I did a 7 AM whale watching tour from Ma’alaea. Though my expectations were low because of the number of passengers, I was pleasantly surprised. I scoped out my corner of the boat when I arrived and saw several breeching whales, peduncle slaps, and pec waves. I was a bit disappointed in the number of times the crew said ‘they didn’t know’ when asked about the whale’s behavior. Such as, “We don’t really know when the mating is over.” now I suppose technically in a very detailed way this could be true, but as an adult I kind of think I can figure out when the mating is over. http://www.pacificwhale.org/
Road to Hana: I did this several years ago and saw many people going out on the trip this time. It is a must do while you are here. The stops along the way are magical and the memories will remain for years to come. It has been about 20 years since I swam at the black sand beach and I still remember how cool it was.
Snorkel Bobs: I chose this over the well known Boss Frogs. My gear fit perfect, the woman gave us great snorkeling recommendations, and the price was very reasonable ($15 per day for snorkel, fins, and float).
Surfing Goat Dairy: My only souvenir from Hawaii was bringing home this cheese. The sampling is around $12 and the portions are generous. I recommend at least two people share one sampling platter. I really like the Maui Secret Sicily which had a rich olive oil flavor with the soft flavorful cheese. You also can pet some of the cute baby goats that play on the surf boards. http://surfinggoatdairy.com/
Trilogy Molokini Tour: Overall this was a good value for the money. It was a tough day for the crew as it turned out to be quite a windy day. Before lunch, after a harrowing journey across from Molokini in the waves and wind, we arrived at a great snorkeling area off of the Maui coast near the windmills. The food provided was delicious and the crew was clearly there to serve you and make your experience as easy as possible. The weather impacted our day but I was still glad to have booked the cruise and enjoyed snorkeling. http://www.sailtrilogy.com/tour/molokini
Ultimate Whale Watching: I really enjoyed this tour, it is a bit in between kayaking and a full whale watching vessel. They take you out on a zodiac type boat with maybe a dozen people. You are really close to the water for up close encounters but can still speed around to move from one whale group to the other. This crew was very informative and, to me, had the most intelligent information about the whales. They offered theories (and presented them as such) instead of just saying they did not know. http://ultimatewhalewatch.com/whale_watching.html
West Loop Road: I drove the road with a local, so didn’t have as much fear as a tourist may. Half of this route is one way roads. I don’t know that I would go if it was raining, but on the sunny day I went it was nice. There are many stops and beaches you can go to on the way and the scenery is reminiscent of San Simeon or the Great Ocean Road.