The picture painted in most people’s minds when they think of Maui includes world-famous beaches, surfing, scouting sea turtles, hopping on a catamaran with an island drink, and basically anything that has to do with the water. It’s true, the beaches are paradise—it’s an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, after all. And you’d be remiss not to check out some of the pristine beaches like Ka’anapali, Kapalua, and Makena, to name a few. But there’s way more to Maui than beaches.
Nicknamed the Valley Isle, small towns with personalities of their own dot the central valley between Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. Most don’t think of towns like Wailuku, as it isn’t on the beach, but what does exist there is one of Hawaii’s coolest cocktail bars and a bento box spot that sells out on the regular. In Haiku, rent a 20-acre plantation with 20 of your closest friends without breaking the bank—or turn your phone off and practice wellness at an off-the-grid hotel.
If you’re craving tranquil views, outstanding oyster shooters and smash burgers, views spit out of a catalog, perfect weather year-round, and, okay, some of the world’s prettiest beaches, there’s never been a better time to plan a trip to Maui than now.
Hawaii is popular for good reason, but tourists would be at a huge loss to not engage with the local culture and at least hear about protecting the special land while visiting. An easy way to learn more while still experiencing all the beautiful nature is to head to Kipuka Olowalu and volunteer. The experience involves a trek around a Jurassic-Park-like plot of land in the Olowalu valley, where you’ll immerse yourself in Hawaiian farming techniques, the replanting of native species, and preserving culture. And then you can get back to checking off all of the below.
Try a non-oceanfront hotel
Oceanfront property is abundant and always in demand, but Maui has several more private best-kept secrets (that are still in close proximity to it all). Hotel Wailea in the exclusive Wailea Resort sits 300 feet above sea level with views of mountains, Hawaiian islands, and the sea. The 5-star Relais & Chateau property is decently close to shops, beaches, and luaus, but it feels worlds away from the action. It doesn’t get much better than seeing the sunrise and sunset from an ocean view suite—and being within walking distance to one of Maui’s best bars: Birdcage Bar, where creative cocktails flow and lovebirds make an appearance around sunset. The hotel remains the only luxury, adult-only digs, and this means you don’t have to worry about kids taking up prime pool space.
Lumeria Maui, in Makawao, is one of Hawaii’s hidden gems. It pegs itself as a tranquil wellness retreat, and rightfully so, since here you’ll find yoga, meditation, healing arts, metaphysical studies, dance and movement, and many more classes and programs. Don’t expect TVs in the rooms, but do expect large crystals throughout the grounds—and a really gorgeous pool. When in Makawao, be sure to get to T. Komoda Store & Bakery, a local staple since 1916, for donuts on a stick.
Or book an entire estate on a 20-acre plantation
If you have the opportunity, rent out Haiku House, a luxury estate situated on a 20-acre plantation on Maui’s North Shore. The spot includes nine suite-style bedrooms and enough space to roam around with give-or-take 20 of your closest friends (or not!). Compared to other luxury resorts and hotels, when broken down per person, the average $6,500 per night price tag is more attainable than it seems.
Learn the art of Mālama (caring for the land in the Hawaiian language) via Common Ground Collective, a non-profit helping promote sustainability. Guests can roll up their sleeves and weed, plant, and harvest the fruits of the labor, such as Meyer lemons, pomelos, and avocado. A portion of proceeds go to families in need.
Take the other scenic route to Hana… and stay overnight
The Road to Hana is a coveted attraction, and the average tourist does the roundtrip drive in one day. That’s cool and all, but expect it to take almost three hours to reach the finish line, with around 620-ish nauseating twists and turns along the 64.4 mile-long stretch that makes up Hana Highway. If you don’t want to spend six hours in the car, hop on Mokulele Airlines for a 20-minute flight from Kahului Airport to Hana and cut out nausea-ville, plus see panoramic views of the journey from above—Keopuka Island and waterfalls included. (You can rent a car in Hana, but it’s wise to book in advance as there are very few cars available).
Whether you drive or fly, it’s highly recommended to stay overnight and experience Hana the way most travelers don’t. That means you can also hit epic trails, like Waimoku Falls, in the a.m. before the rush of day trippers surges. Hana-Maui Hotel’s sea cottages are a perfect place to unplug and unwind while listening to the waves crash in the distance. It’s also super close to Black Sand Beach, Hana Gold Cacao Plantation, multiple waterfalls, lush tropical forests, and the tiny, charming Hana town.
Food options are limited, but that’s the beauty of it, as you’ll want to spend the majority of the time exploring and chilling. If hunger strikes, there are a few solid bets like Thai Food by Pranee, Huli Huli Chicken, Hana Ranch Restaurant, Hana Farms Roadside Stand (also serving pupus and pizza), and The Restaurant at Hana-Maui Resort (as fancy as it gets).
Get your fill of sushi and smash burgers
There’s a lot more to Maui’s food scene than poke bowls and Mai Tais (which btw, hail from California, not Hawaii). Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures, so the food is quite exciting if you’re willing to veer off the beaten path. There are too many to list but here’s a solid start.
Fast casual: Chef Sheldon Simeon’s Tin Roof still remains a must-stop en route to the airport for the fat chow fun and spicy chicken sandwich alone. Smash burgers in Hawaii? You bet. Zach Soto, a former fine-dining chef, opened Havens inside a Shell gas station in Kihei and has a dialed-up menu with everything from saimin (Hawaii’s noodle soup), sushi, mouthwatering burgers, oyster “chili watah” shooters, and crazy tots (tater tots with kimchi and furikake).
Epic views and great food: It would be hard to beat a prettier sunset than at Pacific’O in Lahaina. Rarely do the view, food, and cocktails all stand out in equal parts, but with chef Isaac Bancaco’s local and seasonally driven eats—plus bar manager Mari Howe’s cocktails—the restaurant achieves the rare trifecta exception. The fried chicken with malasadas is a dish that will stick with you forever. Craving pasta and an ocean view? The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea is home to Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante. This vibrant, open-air Italian restaurant gives off Tuscany-meets-Hawaii vibes with unmatched views. But Chef Michael Patria crushes with the expected (insanely awesome pizza and pasta) and the unexpected (hearts of palm “ceviche” and a seafood cobb salad).
Breakfast: Chef Lee Anne Wong’s Papa’aina at the Pioneer Inn in Old Lahaina is a real glimpse into sourcing locally. The menu is ever-changing and everything is dynamite—from the breakfast ramen to the luau skillet, and obviously the macadamia nut ricotta pancakes. If you don’t mind waiting a bit, Baked on Maui in Haiku is a fun spot in the Upcountry with phenomenal baked goods and skillet egg dishes.
Find a food festival or private outdoor dinner
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea just brought back the annual Four Seasons Maui Wine & Food Classic over Labor Day Weekend (September 2–4, 2022) with a Michelin-starred chef lineup and exquisite wines. The twelfth annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival is one of the longest food festivals and takes place on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, and Oahu from October 20 to November 6, 2022—it’s a standout way to see what each island has to offer.
Kiawe Outdoor is like the alfresco dinner party of your dreams, where three things collide: fire Hawaiian outdoor fire cooking, epic wine hand selected by Yeshua (an advanced sommelier), and conversation under the stars. You could attend one of the ongoing select planned dinners or opt for a completely customized dinner with friends. Dinners give visitors the chance to taste invasive species like Axis deer, which is slow cooked over Kiawe wood. It’s unlike any other dining experience on the island.
For 30 years now, Celebration of the Arts has taken place at The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua. Each April local artisans, cultural practitioners, chefs, filmmakers, cultural panelists, and more gather for a weekend of educational activities and events. It’s a beautiful way to learn more about Hawaiian culture in a really lively environment. Book tickets early, as this is a sought after weekend for locals!
Spend the day in Wailuku
Often overlooked by visitors, Wailuku, at the foot of the West Maui Mountains, is a cool town to explore where tourist traps don’t exist. After browsing the boutiques—don’t miss Native Intelligence (a cultural retail boutique), Rebecca Lowell Art, and Turnbull Studios & Sculpture Garden—pop by Shikeda Bento Patisserie for standout bento boxes and sweets. Wash it all down next door at Esters Fair Prospect, an authentic tropical cocktail bar owned by Jessica Everett and Suzanne Navarro. In addition to serving tasty small bites and pupus, the classic daiquiri, with Sugarcane Dane’s Maui Cane Syrup, will give you a real sense of place. If you’re craving sushi, though, make your way over to the BYOB, no-reservation-needed Umi Sushi.