Maui is splendid. The locals are friendly, the mountains are breathtaking, the water is serene. If you ever have the chance to visit this Hawaiian Island, take it.
Our chance came when we were invited to our friend's January 15 wedding. Knowing we were going to stay around the Bay Area for the holidays, we grew all the more excited for the impending change of scenery.
Garrett and I were lucky enough to visit the Big Island last March for a work trip, and while we loved every minute of our time there, I left feeling like we didn't take complete advantage of the island. So, for this year's Maui trip, I planned ahead. I asked friends for recommendations, turned to the Lonely Planet Maui guide, and did a little research online. Before we left, I knew that I wanted to do at least three things: watch the sunrise over Haleakalā, hike the Waihe'e Ridge Trail, and eat Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice. I'm happy to report that we checked all three items off of our list along with a lot more. Below, see my tips for getting the most out of Maui!
rent a car
While planning, I debated a good deal whether or not to rent a car. There were shuttles to and from the airport, transportation to downtown Lahaina offered from our hotel, as well as Uber and Lyft to get around. But renting a car allowed us to explore a lot more of the island, which I was after.
Because we had a rental car, we were able watch the sun rise over Haleakalā (a two-hour drive from our hotel), take our time exploring Lahaina and Kaanapali, drive to the north shore, and hike the Waihe'e Ridge Trail. We didn't do the Road to Hana on our trip, but would have if we had a few more days. Having your own car is a must for that.
If you want to take full advantage of Maui, rent a car. If you're content just kicking back and staying at your resort the whole time, then don't. Totally depends on what kind of trip you want to have (but I strongly recommend exploring the island as much as you can!).
This should be a given. The seafood in Hawaii is amazing (and this comes from a person who is quite picky about seafood). During our time in Maui, we lived off of fresh-caught seafood and, my favorite, açaí bowls. Some of our meals were upscale (see: Mama's Fish House and Koa's Seaside Grill), but most of our favorite meals came from tiny strip-mall locations for $10/person. Eating in Maui can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Here are some recommendations:
- Island Vintage Coffee for açaí bowls, if you're staying in one of the resorts along the water in Lahaina and Kaanapali. This tiny coffee shop is located in Whaler's Village, which was a 15-minute walk along the water from our hotel, and became our go-to morning spot for a healthy, refreshing breakfast. Pro-tip: ask for your bowl to go; it's bigger that way.
- Star Noodle for dinner. This was probably my favorite meal throughout our entire trip. Everything we ate was so good. It's a little off the beaten path, but nice inside and the service is great. We had the pork belly buns, garlic noodles, fresh catch of the day, Vietnamese crêpe, and the best kimchi any of us have ever had.
- The Fish Market Maui for a quick lunch. I had the fish tacos and my girlfriend ordered the seared ahi tuna sandwich - both were phenomenal. This place probably felt the most local out of anywhere we ate - in a strip-mall, no frills about it, with people coming in and picking up fresh fish to bring home and cook.
- Baya Bowls for açaí bowls or smoothies. It's located in a cute little food truck park a couple of minutes from downtown Lahaina, and I wish we had found it at the beginning of our trip instead of on the last day. I wanted to try something from all of the different food trucks!
- Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice for...shave ice! Okay, okay, this one might be a little touristy, but it's good! And super refreshing on a hot Hawaiian day.
get on the water
Tons of different boats go out of Maui every day, bringing people to snorkel, scuba dive, or whale watch. Because we're sailors, getting on the water is a must for us anywhere we go, but I really think that it should be a must for anyone visiting Maui. Especially in January, which is humpback whale mating season - we saw so many whales!
One thing we did not anticipate was that the morning snorkel tours are quite long - 5 hours, in most cases. Because we had wedding activities most afternoons, we couldn't go out on one of those boats, but we lucked out and got on the water with the best rehearsal dinner ever: a sunset whale watching cruise. Getting to watch the colors of Maui change from the water as the sun tucked itself behind the horizon was one of the prettiest things I've ever seen.
So if you're going to Maui, do yourself a favor and plan ahead when it comes to going out on a boat. Figure out what type of activity you want to do, what your schedule looks like, and book in advance - a lot of the trips fill up!
Take in the scenery
I was wowed by velvety green mountains that were a backdrop everywhere we went, and knew that I had to see them up close and personal. Maui has a bunch of great hikes, and I did my research beforehand so we could end up with a trail that was moderately difficult, less than 5 miles, and packed with stunning views. That brought us to the Waihe'e Ridge Trail.
Located in central Maui, the Waihe'e Ridge Trail is a 4-mile loop that's relatively easy and climbs about 1,000 feet in elevation. You drive, instead of hike, up most of the mountain, so you'll face a lot of switchbacks on your way there. The trail starts with a steep incline, but after that, it's relatively flat. Disclosure: Garrett and I were sick with a bad cold and cough when we tackled this hike, so we only made it a mile in. But that's all the distance we needed to uncover these amazing views - I mean, can you say Jurassic Park?!
Most people recommended getting there by 8:30 AM to beat the crowds (the lot can fill quickly) and the weather (clouds come in the afternoon), but we hiked this trail around 2:00 PM and had no trouble.
Another way to take advantage of magical scenery is to watch the sunrise over Haleakalā. It made for an early morning but was 100% worth it. Our group went the first full day we were in Maui, which allowed us to take the time change to our advantage. We had a 4:00 AM wake up call for a 4:30 departure, which wasn't too horrible, because it felt like 6:30 AM west coast time. It took about an hour to get to the base of the mountain from Lahaina, and then another hour to get to the top.
The road is full of switchbacks, so if anyone in your group is partial to carsickness, put them in the front seat. Also, you have to make a reservation in advance. There were a few signs along the mountain saying, "if you don't have a reservation, turn back now." The reservation fee is only $1.50 and can be made online through the NPS. We booked ours a week in advance, but during the busy season, you really should try to book out a few weeks to a few months ahead of time.
One last thing: it's cold up there! Somewhere around 40℉, but believe me, that feels a lot colder than normal 10,000 feet up. We all wish we would have packed gloves because our hands were so freezing, and gloves take up virtually no space in your suitcase. So, if you're going to watch the sunrise, dress as warmly as you can, and wear gloves!
Last but not least, you should enjoy your time in Maui by RELAXING! Hawaiian time moves slow, and everybody is laid back. Pick up on the local approach to life while you're there, and slow down. Go to the beach, read a book, watch the sunset. Drink a Mai Tai. Take time for yourself and for the people you're with. Enjoy the calm.