Maui is a prime destination on many travelers’ bucket lists, and rightfully so. Hawaii’s second-largest island is known for stunning scenery, vibrant culture and culinary offerings, and a surprising amount of diverse sub-regions for its size.
When my wife and I were hired as destination wedding photographers for a celebration there this past winter, we made the most of this special opportunity by extending our stay to two weeks and exploring as much as possible.
1. Get a feel for the local vibes in Paia. Known for its laid-back, funky feel and eclectic mix of cafes (like Paia Bay Coffee, pictured below), boutiques, art galleries, surf shops, and restaurants, you can easily spend a full day eating, getting souvenirs, and exploring the beaches and coves in and around this one-traffic-light town.
One morning when staying in Paia, we drove five minutes to Baldwin Beach to see the sunrise. The weather was overcast, so we didn’t see much sun. But all of a sudden, we saw these large rock-like objects in the distance, and one of them started to move. We got a little closer and were thrilled by this awesome surprise of sea turtles doing their thing.
2. Looking for a chill place to stay in Paia Town? Try the Nalukai Lodge. Located next to Paia Bay Coffee on a small side street off Hana Highway, this laid-back option in the heart of Paia Town is a prime base for taking the Road to Hana (more on that later).
On top of that, you'll be right in the heart of Paia Town, one of Maui's most walkable shopping destinations. There, you’ll find gifts, clothes, art, food, and novelties for yourself and everyone in your life, with prime spots like Alice in Hulaland, Sea La Vie, and Nuage Bleu.
3. If you want to stay somewhere off the beaten path and explore an area seldom frequented by tourists, then check out Haiku. A short drive east from Paia along Hana Highway and then inland (south), this part of the island is full of lush jungle greenery and laid-back vibes.
4. For a special stay in Haiku, check out this B&B, the Haiku Plantation Inn. Set in an 1870s home, it’s quintessential “Old Hawaii” style, nestled amidst the rainforest. Fun fact: It was also Hawaii’s first B&B when it opened in 1986.
5. If your main priorities are beautiful beaches and spectacular sunsets, stay somewhere in South Maui. Technically the area on the southwest coast, spanning from Kihei down to Wailea, South Maui is a lot more commercial than Paia and Haiku (think lots of resorts and golf courses).
Still, there’s plenty to see, eat, and do on this part of the island beyond laying out on the pristine beaches. (More on that later!)
6. When it comes to specific spots to stay in South Maui, the majority of accommodations are fully stocked and furnished apartment condos situated in large complexes, like Kamaole Sands and Maui Banyan Condo Rentals.
7. If there’s one restaurant you shouldn’t miss in Paia Town, it’s Paia Fish Market. This down-home establishment features communal tables with benches and counter-service that often sees a line backed up out the door and onto the corner of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue.
8. Feeling something other than fish? Get the crispy duck fajitas at Cafe Mambo just down the street. Another casual spot in Paia where you can score quality cuisine, Cafe Mambo combines colorful paintings by local artists with killer cocktails and American, Mexican, and Hawaiian eats.
9. Whatever you eat in Paia, make sure to treat yo’self to the best Hawaiian shaved, er, shave ice at Ululani’s for dessert. With four locations on Maui and more spread across Hawaii, Ululani’s elevates icy desserts to a level that any aficionado would appreciate.
10. Grab a meal with Maui locals in Haiku at Colleen’s at the Cannery, housed in a section of a former pineapple cannery. With a laid-back vibe, it exceeds expectations when it comes to eats. The fish and chips and burgers are both on-point (when in Maui, carnivores should definitely try the local beef), as are the pizzas, pastries, salads, and larger main courses.
11. Not to be outdone by the one where you'll find Colleen's, there’s also another former cannery in Haiku where you can score great eats and shop for local products called Pauwela Cannery. If you’re looking for an outstanding breakfast, head there for eggs benedict done four ways, unique skillets, and pillowy pastries at Baked on Maui.
12. When you take the legendary Road to Hana, there aren't many options for food. So, be sure to stop at Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread, one of few outposts where you can score a tasty snack, for exactly what they’re named after.
13. Get fish tacos from one of the island's food trucks, like these ones topped with mango salsa and these shrimp tacos topped with romaine, cheese, and tomatoes from the Horhitos Mobile Taqueria, seen below.
14. Next up: Create your own picnic with Maui’s best poke from...the supermarket?? You heard that right. Foodland is the place where poke connoisseurs should head first on any trip here.
15. Not feelin’ fish? We’ve got no beef with that. Especially because you can score a decadent meal in Kihei sans seafood mere minutes from Foodland at Stewz Maui Burgers.
16. Grab pizza and get your drink on in the tasting room at Maui Brewing Co. With year-round pours like Pineapple Mana wheat beer, Coconut Hiwa porter, and Pau Hana pilsner, as well as seasonal treats and cane sugar-sweetened sodas like Maui Lime lager, Island Cola, and Island Ginger Beer, you’ll find your desired drinks whether you prefer them soft or boozy.
17. Stop in Kahului to grab some modern takes on traditional Hawaiian eats like fried spam musubi and fried noodles at Maui staple Da Kitchen. You can also try local specialties like lau laus, lomi salmon, saimin, and many varieties of loco moco.
18. Also in the neighborhood is Tin Roof, a small walk-in spot helmed by Top Chef contestant Sheldon Simeon. Check out the saimin with pork, egg, scallion, and kamaboko fish cakes, served with pork broth on the side, along with the twice-fried mochiko chicken, marinated in ginger, sake, and shoyu.
19. If there's one piece of advice to take with you to Maui, it's to explore the entirety of the island. Even if you opt to stay at a glitzy resort on the South or West Coast, you won't regret renting a car and driving to other parts of the island. A great way to start your adventures is with a trip to Maui’s North Shore to see the surfers.
The view of the West Maui Mountains from the North Shore never gets old. Do your best to wake up early to catch the sunrise as many days as you can. The colors are unreal and always a little different each morning, and if you fly in from the east coast, the five-hour time difference will make waking up at 5 a.m. Hawaiian time a breeze.
20. On top of seeing the surfers, try to catch some of Maui's resident sea turtles doing their thing. Of course, you should never get too close, as these amazing forces of nature are endangered species. Check out where they chill and how well they blend in to their natural environment.
If you want to see more detail, you'll probably want to bring along an actual camera. Check out this sea turtle photo we got with a 70-200mm lens:
21. If you're staying at the Haiku Plantation Inn, stop at the Temple of Peace just next door (and if you're staying elsewhere, pass by on your way through Haiku). You can’t miss this colorful enclave about 2 minutes down Haiku Road from Hana Highway.
22. Venture to Maui’s black sand beaches and breathtaking hidden waterfalls along its northern and eastern shores by taking the legendary Road to Hana. This is full-day road trip at a minimum and can be done in so many different ways depending on your interests.
23. Stop off at Waianapanapa State Park for a Road to Hana mini-adventure to see its spectacular black sand beach. There’s also a natural blowhole here that pumps out a powerful jet stream when the conditions are right.
24. Then continue driving along the winding Road to Hana and take breaks to beach-hop whenever you see fit. With so many spots to take in the beauty of the Maui coast, you'll easily find your own slice of paradise.
25. If you're brave enough to continue driving past Hana along a narrow, oft-treacherous dirt road along Maui's perimeter, you'll eventually get to the most pristine part of the island: Kaupo. With untouched natural splendor surrounding you, this is truly a place to behold, with special spiritual significance for locals.
Driving along Piilani Highway through Kaupo is like driving toward the end of the earth. Looking up at the southern slopes of Haleakala, Maui’s massive dormant volcano, the landscape isn't like anywhere else on the island. You'll also see lava rocks scattered everywhere from eruptions past.
26. Stop at the one place of business you’ll find out here: The Kaupo General Store, a funky place to grab snacks, ice cream and popsicles, and souvenirs like jewelry and hand-painted fabrics after the long Road to Hana journey.
27. After returning from the Road to Hana, you'll probably want to relax, so take a break at Kamaole Beach Park. With views of the windmill-dotted West Maui Mountains in the distance, this is prime real estate for sunbathers and those looking for calmer waters than where the surfers hang out on the North Shore.
28. Want something more intimate? Drive about 15 minutes south to Secret Cove Beach. Far from being an actual “secret” (you can literally Google Maps it to “secret cove beach”), this small, beautiful beach is accessible via a narrow pathway lined by a rock wall. At the end, you climb over some tree roots and voila!, you’re surrounded by sand, sea, and lava rocks galore.
Another cool perk of Secret Cove is that you can see Molokini, the crescent-shaped island glistening off in the distance.
29. Spend some time in Makawao, a small town known as the east hub of Maui upcountry. Here you’ll find art galleries, restaurants, a small history museum, and lots of places to pick up pieces of Maui culture to bring home, including an outdoor flea market with handmade soaps, jewelry, and more.
Make sure to stop in and look at the beautiful paintings at Cultural Creations (and maybe even take one home). The artists and craftspeople in Makawao, like Yelena Noah pictured below, are talented, kind, and more than happy to share the stories behind their works.
30. If you need a pick-me-up while shopping in Makawao, grab a cold brew or cappuccino at Cowgirl Coffee. This cart off Makawao Avenue is the perfect place to perk up before you continue your journey to more Maui landmarks.
31. Take a short drive from Makawao's main strip to The Sacred Garden, located at the center of a near-180-degree turn on the outskirts of town. Described on its site as “a nursery, a peace sanctuary, a retreat center, a botanical garden, a school, a creativity center, and a temple,” you can easily spend over an hour wandering the rows of native plants, flowers, and wildlife.
32. Next stop: Explore the rugged upcountry of Kula, where you’ll discover some of Maui’s best food, wine, and adventures. Kula means “open country,” and true to its name, it’s full of farms, ranches, and gardens on the western slopes of Haleakala. Driving through, you'll find farmers markets, bistros, and plenty of must-see spots that we'll highlight below.
33. Your next stop: Surfing Goat Dairy, home of the greatest goat cheese we’ve ever tasted.