Maui is the second-largest Hawaiian island. It’s home to abundant nature, soaring volcanic peaks and white sand beaches lapped by sparkling waters. When you’re not surfing or kicking back on the sand, you could be hiking the island's lush interior at Haleakala National Park, cruising along the Hana Highway, or glimpsing migratory whales just offshore.
All of this is punctuated by a scattering of towns. Some steeped in history, some less so, these provide the perfect bases to explore this Hawaiian paradise. Whether you’re looking to stay somewhere quiet, or if you want out and out luxury, Maui has a lot to offer all visitors.
Famed, like most places in Maui, for its beaches, Lahaina is also a hub of history. Located in the west of the island, this was once the royal capital of Maui, as well as a whaling village. There’s a whole historic district to spend time exploring, where visitors will find well preserved 19th century buildings, pointing to the port’s importance.
It’s one of the most popular destinations in Maui for people to base themselves, with a coastline dotted with resorts and vacation condominiums. To help keep all the visitors entertained, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes serving up fresh fish and other local delights - and you'll find many of the most kid-friendly restaurants in Maui here too. There’s also a whole host of shopping opportunities nearby, so you can purchase souvenirs.
One particularly interesting part of Lahaina is Banyan Court Park, which is home to a huge banyan tree - the largest in the entire United States.
The nearby Kaanapali Beach is up there as one of the best beaches on the island, all three miles of it. Lapped by the crystal clear seas, there are a collection of high-end resort areas strung out along the length of this beach. In fact, Kaanapali was Hawaii’s first planned resort area, and has since become the template for resorts around the world.
Kaanapali boasts two championship golf courses, while there’s also the chance to enjoy other activities such as taking boat trips to spot whales and paragliding. One of the biggest attractions in the area is the nightly cliff diving ceremony. This takes place on Puu Kukaa (“Black Rock”) at sunset.
Stay at Aston Mahana on Kaanapali Beach with a pool and beautiful views
Paia is a laid-back surfer town situated on the famed Hana Highway. Paia is home to around 3,000 people, and is a north shore haven for those looking for a slower, more local pace of life.
Since the 1970s, Paia has attracted surfers. They were lured there not only by the fantastic surf, but also by the affordable rents and the hospitable community itself. Today the quaint area has become well known for its colourful storefront, interesting local art galleries, and fantastic local food.
The windsurfing community is also well represented here. Local Hookipa Beach is actually often dubbed the “windsurfing capital of the world” and is a hub for pro windsurfers and kitesurfers come winter. You’ll find Hookipa Beach a mile or so outside of town on the Road to Hana.
For something a little more family-friendly, there's Baldwin Beach Park. Here you'll find calmer waves lapping a soft sand beach. Elsewhere, a stroll through the town will reveal old-school hippie hangouts and authentic local shops that have avoided becoming overly touristy.
In terms of accommodation, don’t come expecting huge resorts, but if you do fancy staying in this part of the island, there are a handful of family-run hotels and boutique inns to stay at.
Stay at Paia Inn, a charming and quirky hotel near the water
The sprawling beachfront town of Kihei sits in what is called a rain shadow, meaning it receives less rainfall than other parts of the island. That combined with the gentle trade winds and the hefty helping of sunshine gives Kihei an idyllic climate that is hard to beat.
Located on Maui’s southwest shore, Kihei is surprisingly underdeveloped compared to other tourist-focused areas of the island. Because of this, it’s also a more affordable spot. Accommodation consists of local hotels and guesthouses, as well a handful of dreamy Airbnbs.
For beach lovers, it can’t be missed. The six miles of beach here, featuring wide sweeping views of the island’s interior and the Pacific Ocean, boast perfect swimming, snorkelling and kayaking conditions. Along the Kalama Beach Park, beach-goers can enjoy 36 acres of palm trees and pretty lawns to picnic on. It’s here that you’ll also find The Cove - a cool surf spot that’s edged by beach volleyball courts, a skate park and basketball courts, to name just a few.
For wildlife enthusiasts, nearby there's the Kealia Pond. Located at the north end of Kihei, this is part of a larger National Wildlife Conservation Area that protects native Hawaiian birds. There's also the chance for visitors to see whales off the shore here - just bring a pair of binoculars, or alternatively, you can take a boat trip from nearby Maalaea Bay.
Stay at the Kohea Kai Maui for more affordable prices near the beach.
Just a stone’s throw from Maui’s Kahului Airport, Wailuku is a bustling hub of commerce and government on the island. Despite this modern importance, Wailuku is actually one of the oldest towns on Maui. In particular, it was here where Hawaiians of the past built temples (called heiau) that overlooked the sea. The town started to change once the royal capital moved to Honolulu in the 1800s, when it began to morph into a place of political importance.
In light of the growth of resort areas such as Kaanapali and Wailea in the late 20th century, the urban hub of Wailuku lost its lustre. However, in recent years the town has had something of a rejuvenation. There’s been a focus on cultural institutions and culinary delights designed to make Wailuku a more attractive offering for residents and visitors alike.
Now the town has transformed and it has a modern energy all of its own. However, it still retains much of its historic roots. Wailuku’s old town is awash with old buildings, making for an attractive backdrop for wandering; these include the pastel-coloured Spanish colonial revival Iao Theater (built in 1928) and Kaahumanu Church (1876). For history buffs and architecture lovers alike you can embark on a Rediscover Wailuku walking tour to find out more.
For a taste of Maui before colonisation, however, there’s the lush Iao Valley: once a sacred burial ground for Hawaiian chiefs. The valley is also home to the dramatic landmark that is Iao Needle, a 1,200-foot outcrop that juts into the sky.
Stay at the Old Wailuku Inn, a traditional bed and breakfast near Iao Valley State Park.
Famed for its sprawling, wild-feeling beaches, Makena is a south shore destination featuring resorts and vacation rentals for those who want to indulge in a slice of Hawaiian paradise. Despite the accommodation options, there’s a slower pace of life here than in busier tourist destinations on Maui. Here visitors can indulge in Makena’s glistening coastline and rich natural landscape.
The town of Makena itself is a small beach community, backed by beautiful mountain scenery and looking out across the sea. Also situated in a rain shadow, Makena is blessed with dry, sunny weather year round and makes for the perfect conditions for days spent laying on or exploring the beaches.
It’s here also that some of the most recent volcanic lava flows have occurred. The shoreline is accordingly shaped by black rock formations and covered with grasses and cacti. Makena State Park stretches for four miles, and although it can get busy on the weekend, most of the time it feels almost deserted. The beaches here are home to turtles, which you can spot easily thanks to the crystal clear waters. From here you can also look out to sea and glimpse the Molokini Crater.
Stay at Makena Surf in a fully-equipped beachfront condo
Kula is situated on the western slopes of Haleakala in an area known as Upcountry. Traditionally, Kula has been a place for full-time residents of the island to live, as it’s cooler and less tourism-focused than other areas of Maui.
The word Kula actually translates to "open meadows" and the district is the largest on the island, extending from the coastal area to the highlands and its ranches. Here you'll find vegetables and crops growing in farmland. Astoundingly, the climate and rich soil allows some crops to yield three or four harvests per year!
In short, Kula is a local part of Maui and, as the local saying goes “everything is cooler in Kula”. Among the rolling hills, the temperature will definitely be an attraction for visitors who aren’t used to the heat and prefer a slower pace of life.
Because of the abundant farmland in the area, the food and general farm-to-table eating scene is big here; there’s a number of fantastic eateries where you can indulge in local produce. There are some places you can go, such as O’o Farm, where you can harvest your own ingredients and have them cooked to perfection.
Away from the farmland, there’s Hosmer’s Grove. Situated in the boundaries of Haleakalā National Park, this eucalyptus woodland is a mystical highland destination: think misty hiking among pine groves and bird watching.
Stay at Ha'le Kiana, a beautiful Upcountry holiday home near Haleakalā National Park
Last Updated 16 September 2022