I like to think that I know Hawaii. Having dated a Hawaiian for the past 8 years, his home island of Oahu has become a sort of second home to me. And I've gotten a fair amount of time on Kauai and Big Island. So, I just kinda assumed I’d get to Maui sooner or later, but it never happened. And, though it's one of the most visited places in the United States, I knew nothing about Maui: until now.
I spent 10 days on the Valley Isle and I covered some serious ground—heading from rustic Lahaina to posh Kapalua to laidback Upcountry and resort-y Wailea—but I really just scratched the surface. I can’t wait to get back and see more (Hana! the Oheo Gulch!); here are some of the things I enjoyed on this trip:
Throwing It Back To Old Hawaii
We started out spending a few days in the historic areas of Lahaina and Napili. This area was a total throwback—I mean, there’s an ancient banyan tree in the middle of Lahaina where some “aunties” clad in vintage muumuus were dancing hula when we arrived. To be honest, most of Lahaina was too touristy for me but it was worth spending an afternoon, if only for catching that hula session and the shave ice from Ululanis (some of the best I’ve had in Hawaii).
Napili echoed those old-school Hawaii vibes with a bunch of smaller midcentury hotels nestled on a little bay. When my Dad was in the Air Force in Okinawa, my parents would meet family and friends in Hawaii for R&R and they always have these romantic stories of 1960s Hawaii. Napili was the only place I've been in Hawaii (aside from Hilo) that gave me a peek into what that era must've been like.
Doing A Luxe Relax
When I told my Los Angeles friends I was going to Maui, the first words out of their mouths were “honeymoon” and “luxury.” And after spending a few days at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, I could see why. Maui holds the honor of being the place people go for romance and the perfect place to do that would be Kapalua—the whole area has luxe beach resort vibes and is a bit more quiet and secluded than Wailea.
Every morning I'd wake up and jog the shoreside path that runs from Napili to Kapalua after which I'd promptly rewarded myself with a serious breakfast (my favorite meal of the day when I'm in Hawaii, btw). Some of my favorites were at Cane + Canoe (the malasadas were amazing), Merrimans (loved the eggs there), and the Terrace (the whole buffet including the Japanese breakfast was delish).
Suring (and Bodysurfing) All Over The Island
The thing about Maui is that it isn't that big, yet getting from one side of the island to the other could take the better part of a day. For that reason, a lot of visitors set up camp in one area of island and seem to never leave their resort for their whole stay. When I get why (a girl needs her downtime!), it's a major lost opportunity.
I mean, if you only stayed in Kapalua, you might never go up to the rugged north coast of the island.We spent one afternoon exploring the coast north of Kapalua including the famed Honolua Bay where we snagged a roadside coconut and watched the local surfers charge. It was super quiet up there with tons of gorgeous bays, almost no one else, and some amazing views—it's definitely worth a drive if you have a car. Most the surf in this area of the island was too big for me but there were some friendly surf all over the island so even as a beginner surfer, I was able to get in the water everyday.
Embracing Upcountry Vibes
Some of my favorite friends in Hawaii live in “upcountry” Maui (the area from Makawao towards Kula), so I was really excited to explore by this part of the island. This stretch of the island has fewer tourists and more local, but it's also just relatively remote. There is lots to do in Upcountry, from hunting to botanical gardens (see below) to the magical Haleakala (below). We spent one night at Lumeria Resort and I only wish we could have stayed longer to take part in the morning yoga sessions, indulge in the spa, swing in the hammocks, and generally chill.
If you head this direction, make sure to spend time in the darling town of Makawao and head to Sip Me! where locals have their morning coffee, try what are considered some of the best malasadas in Maui at T. Komoda, and shop at the beautifully curated Driftwood boutique.
Motivating For Sunrise at Haleakala
While in Upcountry, we knocked a major Maui must-do off the list and watched sunrise at Haleakala. I am decidedly NOT a morning person so I was really against the whole idea at 3AM, but it was SO worth it. If you decide to give it a go (which you definitely should at least once), here my 10 tips for how to do Haleakala right.
Scoping Out The Amazing Flowers
When I was last on Oahu, I spent an afternoon making flower crowns at Paiko (definitly do it if you’re on Oahu) and my friend/co-owner of the store, Courtney, kept talking about how many gorgeous local flowers come from Maui.
On her (very good) advice, I spent one afternoon just running around Upcountry exploring the flowers, from the botanical gardens to the Ali'i Lavender Farm and I couldn’t get enough of the gorgeousness. It was especially special because a lot of the local flowers were being used in leis for the famed Merrie Monarch hula competition, which was going on the week I was in Hawaii.
Getting To Know The Farmers
Historically, Maui's commercial farming was limited to sugarcane and pineapples, but there’s a lot more going on there these days. I mean, yes, there’s still some really delicious pineapple being grown but these days Maui has a reputation for having some really amazing farmers who care a lot about local traditions, sustainable farming, and having a connection with the community.
One beloved farmer is “Uncle” Bobby Pahia of Hoaloha Farms who might be the most passionate taro farmer I've ever met. He toured us around his property and showed us all the work he’s doing to bring back diverse kinds of taro to the local community. It was a full-circle experience since I’d been to their sister restaurant, Star Noodle, and had some of that very taro a few nights before.
No Joke Farm-To-Table Food
I was on island during the Maui Ag Fest, which meant I got to meet the island's most celebrated farmers and chefs at every meal. One of the things that really stood out with all the chefs I met is that almost all of them were also farmers, hunters, or fishermen so there was a whole other level of connection to the land and respect for the farm-to-table concept. You could see that everywhere we ate but a few places that stood out was at Ka'ana Kitchen.
A Budding Cocktail Culture
I was busy doing some research on the cocktail culture when I was in Hawaii this last trip (read about it at The Kitchn) and I was very pleasantly surprised by the scene on Maui. Oahu has a big city cocktail vibe with everything from speakeasys to gastropubs and bartenders who've traveled the world, Maui’s cocktail scene is all about local from using local ingredients to celebrating local distillers like Ocean Vodka. I was especially into the Painkiller at the Ritz Carlton's Alaloa Lounge and the Daiquiri Moderno at the Fairmont's Luana.
For My Next Trip
On my next trip I really want to spend a few days unplugged out in Hana (I’ve got my eye on the Travaasa resort which came highly recommended) and in search of the legendary banana bread from that part of the island.
I'd also like to spend more time in Paia and getting a taste of the local specialty, dry mein, over at Sam Soto's. In fact, I think I’d like to do a trip that includes some more time in Upcountry (Makawao area) and in Hana so that I could get in a bit of r&r while getting to know the quieter side of Maui.
This trip was sponsored by Visit Maui but all content, ideas, and words are our own. Thanks for supporting these sponsors who allow us to keep Salt & Wind up and running.
Photos by Aida Mollenkamp and Chris Kalima