Originally by Todd Plummer on Conde Nast Traveler
From the summit of Haleakala to beaches at sea level, the island of Maui is filled with a rich variety of activities for travelers of all ages and interests. Whether you’re more inclined to just hop in a car and go, or you prefer a more relaxing afternoon of golf, the “Valley Isle” has so much to offer beyond its beaches (but don’t get us wrong—there are plenty of fabulous beaches, as well). From a farm-to-table experience you won’t soon forget, to a quaint little museum that provides a deeper dive into the island’s history, here are just a few of the best ways to spend time on your next trip to Maui.
Road to Hana
The curvaceous Road to Hana, which hugs Maui’s northeastern shore around Haleakalā National Park, is one of the island’s most memorable experiences, one that will make the hassle of renting a car worth it. The 52-mile road harks back to a Hawaii before shopping malls and crowds, with 59 bridges to cross—46 of which have only one lane. The trip can easily take a full day, two if you stay overnight. It’s a feast for the senses as well, with plenty to see as you stop along the way. Whatever you do, be sure to visit one of the many roadside stands that sell fresh fruit, smoothies, hand-carved Koa wood mementos, and—best of all—warm banana bread.
Haleakalā National Park
The highest point on Maui is also one of its most visited: Haleakalā Crater provides epic, sweeping views of the island from an elevation of just over 10,000 feet. The visitor center is a great place to start, whether you’re driving up in a rental car, opting for a sunrise van tour, or getting a little more adventurous with a backpacking trip on the famous Sliding Sands Trail. Come prepared with an extra layer—weather at this elevation can change drastically. At sunrise in the middle of summer, the temperature at the summit is likely to hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Feast at Lele
Don’t come to the Feast at Lele expecting plastic leis, screaming children, and a sad buffet line; rather, this is a quintessential Maui luau without the cheesiness. The five-course dinner (served at private tables—a rarity on the luau scene) pairs live performances with cuisine from four different Pacific island regions: first Hawaii, then Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tahiti, and Samoa. Then comes dessert. The food is great. Standouts include a five-hour braised beef with kiwi jus from New Zealand. Come hungry—the portions are large and you won’t want to miss out on the final note: a vanilla-coconut-lime mousse cake with caramelized pineapple.
Kula Botanical Garden
What began in 1977 as a native plant reserve has transformed into Kula Botanical Garden, one of upcountry Maui’s most beloved attractions, visited by thousands every year. Thanks to its location on the slopes of Haleakalā, the rich volcanic soil provides fertile ground for a great variety of plants, each labeled and many native to Maui. Admission is only $10 for adults—a fair price to pay to view more than 2,000 plants.
Tucked between a few houses and behind a stone wall, the oasis of Makena Cove has a real feeling of discovery to it. Although most visitors are familiar with Makena Beach just to the north, very few take the extra steps to this gorgeous outcrop where volcanic rock meets the sea in spectacular fashion. The waves are dramatic, the crowds are nonexistent, and the sense of adventure is real. Come for a sunset mid-week and you’re likely to have the place pretty much to yourself.
O’o Farm: Gourmet Lunch & Farm Tour
Enrich your Maui trip by spending a couple hours at the upcountry O’o Farm, a resplendent eight-acre plot that offers two tours that take you through different areas of the farm itself, which uses all-natural methods and a unique no-till approach to get the most out of these rich volcanic soils. The breakfast coffee tour begins with a steaming French press of estate-grown Maui coffee beans, followed by a tour of the grounds and a memorable breakfast, while the lunch tour begins with a walk through the rows of vegetables and finishes with a scrumptious lunch. This farm supplies a few restaurants down in Lahaina, including Pacific’O, Feast at Lele, and Aina Gourmet Market, making it particularly interesting. This tour is a must for any food-lover in Maui. You can also buy bags of coffee by the pound to bring home.
It’s about the journey, not the destination, right? On the Pipiwai Trail, it’s about both. The remote trail is about 12 miles past Hana town on the Road To Hana. There are bamboo forests, a well-maintained trail, and not one, but two waterfalls. And at just about four miles roundtrip, it’s a doable hike for people of all ages. As part of the Kīpahulu District inside Haleakalā National Park, you can expect a clean trail, beautifully maintained bridges, boardwalks, and rock steps. Make sure to stop for a breather in the bamboo forests—the sounds of bamboo trees clicking against each other in the wind is the kind of chilling nature moment people seek when they come to Maui. About three-fourths of the way through, you’ll encounter the 185-foot Makahiku Falls which is, crazily, small potatoes compared to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls where the trail conclude.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
Don’t mistake proper Hawaiian shave ice with the chunky, frigid stuff you’d find at a carnival or stadium back home. Ululani’s, an institution, makes its signature treat with purified water, cane sugar, purées made in-house with local fruit, and, of course, love. There are plenty of combinations to choose from, but take a hint from the name of the classic No Ka Oi (“the Best”), a zingy mix of mango, coconut, and passion fruit, and order wisely. Make sure to ask for a big drizzle of the coconut cream, too.
Ho’okipa Beach Park
Located miles away from the crowds, this pristine beach is nestled on the island’s north shore alongside the Road To Hana. Thanks to its consistent winds, large waves, and sprawling reef system, this is one of Hawaii’s best spots for windsurfing. Keep an eye out for the abundance of honu (green sea turtles). Many people miss these mystical sea creatures, especially as they blend in with the numerous exposed reefs and rocks along the beach. In the early evening, they tend to emerge from the sea to rest and, perhaps, to watch the beautiful sunsets. Maui institution Mama’s Fish House is just down the road, so you can fuel up on locally-caught fish tacos and lobster tails after a day on the beach.
On the outside, Foodland seems like any other grocery store, but Maui locals recognize it as one of the island’s best places for cheap, delicious poke. In fact, the Foodland poke bar has won numerous local awards for its selection of fresh fish, delicious toppings, and zesty sauces. There are some 33 locations across four Hawaiian islands, but the one on Front Street, in Lahaina, is especially worth a visit. Start with a foolproof mix of ahi tuna and tako (octopus) over a bed of warm rice, then make sure to ask what else is good that day. There are often specialties to try you won’t find at your poke shop back home, like limu seaweed or opihi, an extra-briny Hawaiian shellfish.
Wailea Golf Club
The Wailea Golf Club is one of the world’s great golf destinations. Three distinct courses offer a variety of terrain and challenges, keeping pros raving and avid amateurs coming back year after year to better their game. The Wailea Emerald course has fabulous ocean views from every hole. The Wailea Blue’s location, in the foothills of Haleakalā, provide a uniquely challenging course with unforgettable vistas over the island’s largest dormant volcano.
Bailey House Museum
The Bailey House Museum, a small lava rock and Koa wood home, has seen many lives. Built in 1833 as a mission, it served as a female seminary, then a private home, and then a base during World War II. Today, the museum houses Maui’s largest collection of Hawaiian artifacts. There’s history throughout every inch, from the well-worn doorways to the creaky floors, all of which recall a time before Maui became known as a tony resort town.
D.T. Fleming Park
With food, amenities, soft sand, and approachable waves, this is the perfect beach for families. The waves can be aggressive on occasion, but generally the water is safe. It’s adjacent to the Ritz Carlton and Kapalua resorts, so it’s not one of Maui’s more remote beaches, but that’s not why you come here. It has everything you need, from restrooms complete with outdoor rinse showers, a burger shack for a snack, plenty of knowledgable lifeguards, barbecue grills, picnic tables, a payphone (hey, who knows what you might need), and ironwood trees in case you need a bit of shade. Go for a swim, bring the kids, float around, and let loose. This is carefree Hawaii at its best.