Maui: Quick Guide + Photo Journal
If there's one thing I have in common with the Japanese, it's an affinity for Hawaii. The Aloha State is my happy place, but more specifically: the Valley Isle. As you'll hear the locals say, Maui no ka 'oi (Maui is the best).
For the past three years, David and I have made annual trips to Maui - most recently for our honeymoon. Hawaii is the first place we ever vacationed to celebrate an anniversary, and we were yearning for the familiar after being abroad for six months. My requirements for the honeymoon were: 1) an English-speaking destination, and 2) minimal time zones from California (our wedding location). Hawaii seemed like a no-brainer. Admittedly I struggled a bit with my choice of a "cliche" honeymoon destination, but it was such a relief to not have to plan anything. And let's not forget that Hawaii's business is hospitality - go there on your honeymoon and you will be treated like kings.
While we kept it low-key on this trip and spent the majority of our time at the beach and hotel pool, our past stays on Maui were packed with activities that covered the entire island. Here I am sharing my collective favorites across our three visits: the best of the best in paradise.
Note: This travel guide is available as a GPS-enabled map with offline navigation. Click here to download the guide and receive turn-by-turn walking directions between sights - no data plan or WIFI required!
The beauty of an island is that you can experience different weather patterns by simply moving to a different coastline. Want sunny, dry conditions? Stay on Maui's westside. Looking for the quintessential rainforest feeling? Head east to Hana.
I like predictable good weather on my vacations, so we've stayed on Maui's westside - specifically in Wailea - for every visit. There's no shortage of accommodations to choose from here, whether you're looking for a budget vacation rental or a swanky resort. For an affordable stay, look at condo rentals on Airbnb. Wailea Ekahi Village is a great condominium complex with beautiful grounds and its own private entrance to one of the best stretches of sand on Maui's westside: Keawakapu Beach. There's also two pools, a tennis court and a community pavilion with outdoor kitchen (grill, oven, refrigerator, sink and ice machine) at your disposal.
If you're honeymoon-bound or looking for a resort experience, check out the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. Most of the large resorts on Maui are older properties with dated, tropical-themed interiors - not this hotel. Opened in 2013, the Andaz is a stark cry from the Disneyland-esque resorts neighboring it. Modern and sleek (and yes, predominantly child-free), this resort has it all: three cascading infinity pools overlooking the ocean, amazing restaurants and impeccable service. The daily resort fee here gets you access to a bevy of activities and services: GoPro cameras, bikes, fitness classes, water toys, guided tours, unlimited sunscreen and a professional photography session - just to name a few. Also, the Japanese-Hawaiian fusion restaurant Morimoto is on site.
Eat + Drink
Maui-grown coffee. Fresh mahi-mahi. Hawaiian BBQ. The Valley Isle is a culinary delight:
Lava Java for your morning caffeine fix. The friendly owner here grows his own coffee and dishes out free samples of an addictive beverage called the 'Frozen Kona Mocha.' We only visit Hawaii once a year and I have a loyalty card with them - enough said.
Mama's Fish House for your splurge meal. Book well in advance, order the mahi-mahi stuffed with lobster and crab in a macadamia nut crust and bask in the amber light of the tiki torches.
Local Boys Shaved Ice for the best shaved ice you'll ever have. I like the "Big Daddy" option: vanilla-macadamia nut ice cream topped with strawberry, blue-vanilla and passionfruit flavored shaved ice and - last but not least - kauai cream. A nightly treat when we're on Maui.
808 Deli for all your sandwich needs. A great option if you want to pick up some eats for a beach picnic!
Kihei Caffe for a hearty American breakfast. Grab a menu and jump in line - this place is worth the wait (plus, Lava Java is right next door!).
Bumbye Beach Bar for tropical drinks and island-inspired bites overlooking Mokapu Beach. We rarely left the Andaz property during our honeymoon and for good reason - their onsite restaurants are excellent. Even if you're not staying on property, make a stop here to enjoy the view and food. Don't miss their gourmet ice cream sandwiches (coconut ice cream sandwiched between ginger cookies!).
Brudda Hut's BBQ for the ultimate Hawaiian BBQ plate lunch (drool-inducing photo here). Don't miss this roadside BBQ during your drive of the Road to Hana - look out for a big food truck and a white tent with picnic table seating.
Lahaina Grill for artistically prepared fresh seafood dishes and a great wine selection. This classy contemporary bistro is a great spot for a nice dinner if you need a break from kitschy tropical-themed eateries. Book a table in advance!
Grandma's Coffee House for organic Maui-grown coffee and delightfully oversized baked goods. The restaurant's interior has a homey cottage vibe and there's a patio out back with gorgeous Upcountry views. On our last visit to Maui we had a memorable (and enormous) slice of carrot cake here.
MauiWine for mediocre wine in an amazing setting. The vino isn't great, but the view is - go for the experience.
Roadside banana bread. Stands are commonly found on the Road to Hana. Stop at them. Eat all the bread.
See + Do
See the sunrise at 10,023 feet. Make the early morning pilgrimage to the world's largest dormant volcano in Haleakala National Park. It's an otherworldly experience that's worth waking up at 3AM for (jet lag helps). Pack VERY warm clothes if you plan on making the trek up and expect a crowd. On our next trip I hope to explore the park further and do a full-day hike through Haleakala's lunar-like landscape.
Soar above the trees on a zipline. A great activity to tack on to your visit to Haleakala! We joined Skyline Eco-Adventures for a zipline tour through the rainbow eucalyptus trees that cover the slopes of Haleakala. This was the first zipline course in the U.S.! They also have outfits in Ka'anapali.
Hit the beach. Whatever your beach scene is, Maui has it covered. Check out Big Beach for unspoiled coastline and turquoise waters, Ka'anapali Beach for a lively scene, Pa'iloa Beach for black sand (pictured here) and Keawakapu Beach for less crowds and beautiful sunsets.
Take a sunset cruise. Enjoy views of West Maui and its breathtaking sunsets from a catamaran. We loved Teralani's Original Sunset Sail out of Ka'anapali, a 2-hour cruise with an open bar and all-you-can-eat finger food.
Hike the Wahie'e Ridge Trail into the clouds. The trail is just under five miles roundtrip and provides a sampling of everything there is to love about Maui: open pastures, tropical forests and deep overgrown valleys. From the grassy ridgeline you are likely to see helicopter tours making their way through the gorge below. Pack a lunch - there are several benches along the trail and a picnic table at the top. Choose your footwear carefully as the trail can be VERY muddy. If you'd like to take a peek at the views along the hike, check out my photos here, here and here.
Drive the Road to Hana. There's a jaw-dropping view around every one of the 600+ turns that make up the Hana Highway. The nerve-racking, snake-like highway winds along Maui's lush eastern coastline through dense jungle and rocky cliffs to the remote town of Hana. You can tackle the drive in a day (two would be better), but be sure to start early so you can stop at the many waterfalls and swimming pools along the way. You'll need to keep your eyes on the road, so download an app that narrates the drive for you and points out key sights.
Visit the mystical 'Ioa Valley State Park. Maui's landmark scene is the 'Iao Needle, a mysterious green pinnacle that shoots from the earth in this fairy tale-like park. Take your time wandering the park's streamside pathways as misty clouds move overhead.
Tour Upcountry. My favorite part of Maui! Take a break from the beaches to drive the gorgeous countryside roads and see where Maui's produce comes from. Along the way, stop at Ali'i Kula Lavender for lavender scones and lavender lemonade (skip the overpriced tour), Surfing Goat Dairy to sample unique varieties of chèvre and O'o Farms for a farm tour and gourmet lunch (an experience heavily chronicled on my Insta: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6).
Watch a moonset. Everyone knows that Hawaii's sunset's are the cream of the crop, and you should make a point to be parked on a westside beach when one's about to go down. But have you ever seen a moonset? Check online to find out what time the moon is setting while you're visiting, and wake up to watch that glowing white orb cast its light down on the Pacific as it falls below the horizon. On our October trip the moon was setting around 3:30AM - we were so amazed by it that we woke up two mornings in a row to watch.
Good to Know
Pass on the luau. The food is bad, the Mai Tai's are shamelessly watered down and the experience is likely to induce flashbacks of that terrible cruise you went on.
Rent a car. Although some hotels offer a car service that will take you into main shopping areas, you'll want a set of wheels to explore the island on your own. The Andaz has car rentals available on site if you want to forgo renting at the airport and paying the overnight parking fee at the hotel.
What's your favorite island in Hawaii? Any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!