Snorkel. Shop. Drive a stunningly beautiful road. Here are a local's suggestions on the best things to do on the island
Maui’s got all the essentials for the ultimate tropical vacation. Maui maven Paul Wood gives us the scoop on the authentic island jewels for your week in paradise.
Day 1: Check into a low-key inn
The authentic Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono is in Wailuku town at the mouth of ‘Iao Valley, on the north side. The setting is serene, the rooms—with their high ceilings and beds spread with handsome Hawaiian quilts—blissfully tropical. And Kihei beaches are 20 minutes away.
Day 2: Go to snorkel school
Instead of aimless snorkeling, get smart as you swim. Reef expert and dive master Suzzy Robinson works with small groups (of six or fewer) for Maui Snorkel Tours; she picks that day’s best shoreline site and then provides plenty of unhurried instruction. Robinson is great with insecure or rookie snorkelers. And she knows absolutely everything about every fish you’ll meet—such as the cleaner wrasse, which serves as a personal groomer to other fish, sort of like a piscine day spa.
Day 3: Discover small-town charm
On the North Shore, once-poky Pa‘ia is turning old storefronts into boutiques and restaurants. At Green Banana Café, try Papa Wong’s Famous Banana Pudding. Or hit a hangout of pro surfer Laird Hamilton, Anthony’s Coffee Company (above, its veggie Benedict). Art shoppers will be wowed by locally made ceramics at the Maui Crafts Guild.
Day 4: Enjoy America’s most beautiful road, the right way
The 52-mile drive (with 54 one-lane bridges) from Kahului to Hana is one of the world’s great road trips: views of dense tropical jungles, ocean, cliffs, and at the end, a Hawaiian village lost in time. So don’t try to rush things. Leave early, drive slow, pick up mangos and papaya at fruit stands like the Huelo Lookout, and get out of your car to encounter some Hawaiian prehistory at the stone ruins at Kahanu Garden. If you decide to make it an overnight (a good idea), Hana has two good splurge lodging choices: posh Hotel Hana-Maui and the Japanese-style Heavenly Hana Inn. For midpriced studios and condos, try Hana Kai Maui. And there’s one more find, an hour past Hana: Waimoku Falls in Haleakala National Park. It’s Maui’s most beautiful waterfall, for sure.
Day 5 (A.M.): Explore the oddball crater
Ranger-led morning hikes often travel through volcanic landscapes up to the summit of the 10,000-foot volcano in Haleakala National Park; on a self-guided tour through the Hosmer Grove forest, you could spot an ‘i‘wi, a rare Hawaiian bird. Or spend a whole day hiking the Sliding Sands Trail (above) through the eerily lovely crater itself, immersed in a wilderness of volcanic cinder, strange plants, and tumbling clouds.
Day 5 (Noon): Eat crazy good lunch for cheap
The plate lunch, which has its roots in Hawaii’s plantation days in the 1880s, is an economical and gut-filling choice. It includes an entrée, like teriyaki chicken or steak, served—usually in Styrofoam—with a scoop of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. Ask any local for his or her favorite joint—everybody has one. One consistent star is Honokowai Okazuya Deli in Lahaina. You can’t go wrong with one of its lunches featuring ono or mahimahi with lemon-caper sauce.
Day 6: Gallop like a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy)
When Maui locals Jerry and Toni Thompson sold their spread to Oprah Winfrey some years back, they simply moved higher up on Haleakala and started anew, with Thompson Ranch Riding Stables. Maui’s paniolo cowboy culture is rich, and spending time in the saddle with the Thompsons will introduce you to it. The ride will also show you the rural Maui most visitors never see—phenomenally beautiful, with views that extend across half the island.
Day 7 (A.M.): Check out the real Hawaiian beach
The long stretch of clean sand that is D.T. Fleming Beach Park has good snorkeling around the rocky edges. And there are features like lifeguards, tables, and grills, which you won’t find at the resorts.
Day 7 (P.M.): Eat well and be entertained
On the beach in Lahaina, the five-course, three-hour Feast at Lele is no standard luau. It doles out food from all over the South Pacific, like breadfruit with taro leaf in coconut cream from Samoa and Maori-style fish cake with shrimp, scallops, and seasonal fish. Music and dance—hula from Hawaii, a Maori war dance—are paired with each course, and are equally inspiring.
Where to stay:
» From $185.
» Heavenly Hana Inn From $350; three-night minimum; 808/248-8442.
» From $495.
» From $165; two-night minimum.
Where to eat:
» Anthony’s Coffee Company $; 90 Hana Hwy., Pa‘ia; 800/882-6509.
» Feast at Lele $110, $84 ages 2–12; reservations required; 505 Front St., Lahaina; 866/244-5353.
» Green Banana Café $; 137 Hana Hwy., Pa‘ia; 808/579-9130.
» Honokowai Okazuya Deli $; closed Sun; 3600 Lower Honoapiilani Rd., Lahaina; 808/665-0512.
» Huelo Lookout 7600 Hana Hwy.; 808/573-1850.
What not to miss:
» D.T. Fleming Beach Park Free; off State 30 just north of Kapalua.
» Haleakala National Park $10 per vehicle; entrance info at or 808/572-4400.
» Mon–Fri; Sat by appointment; $10; mile marker 31 on Hana Hwy.
» 69 Hana Hwy.
» $95 for half-day.
» $100 for 2 hours.