Last year my husband and I traveled to Hawaii for the first time, and we fell in love! So I wanted to share our Maui travel tips. Chad and I flew to Maui from Oahu as part of a twelve-day trip. You can read all about our Oahu trip in this post. We explored Oahu on our own and then met Karli and Jud in Maui. We flew into the West Kapalua Airport, a small airport on West Maui, from Oahu on a small nine-passenger plane because our hotel was only a couple miles from that airport. Had we flown into the larger airport, we would have had about an hour’s drive to get to our hotel. We did have to fly home out of the larger Kahului Airport though. So depending on where you’re flying to and from and where you’re staying on the island, you’ll want to look into the airport options.
A travel tip for you: Something I always do at airports and hotels is pick up a bunch of their free brochures! These brochures often have recommendations on what to do and where to eat, they show maps of the local area, they often give some history and useful information about the location, sometimes there are coupons for local restaurants and attractions, etc. Some of the information is hard to find online, and it’s nice to have it all in one place. Plus, when your phone dies or you lose cell service in a secluded area, it’s helpful to have access to information that you might otherwise look up on the internet!
Where to Stay
We stayed in a hotel that we booked through vrbo.com called the Honua Kai Resort & Spa. When you book through vrbo you’re basically renting someone’s timeshare from them. We could have booked directly through the hotel as well. There are pros and cons to both. If you book through the hotel you will have daily maid service, whereas with the vrbo you will not. On the other hand we had a few additional amenities that came by booking through vrbo. Our booking came with a rental car included (you’ll definitely need a rental car to get around the island), and there were things like beach chairs, sand toys, a cooler, etc. that were provided for us that likely would not have been had we booked through the hotel. When I’m looking into hotel accommodations, I always try to book a location that offers continental breakfast or that has a kitchenette area. I prefer simple breakfasts for the most part (i.e. oatmeal and eggs), plus it saves you from eating out every single meal. Our room was a great size with a kitchen and living room area, in addition
to the bedroom and bathroom. So one of the first things we did after we had checked into our resort was go grocery shopping. We ate breakfast in our room most days and packed sandwiches and snacks for many of our lunches at the beach.
The Honua Kai Resort is in Lahaina, an area on West Maui that is a popular tourist location. The hotel is right on Ka’anapali Beach, which is a beautiful beach with lots to offer (snorkeling, surfing, parasailing, etc.). The resort is nice and the location is awesome if you’re looking for a recommendation. Really anywhere in the Lahaina or Ka’anapali areas are great. There are great restaurants, amazing beaches, and fun shops. Further south are a couple other popular areas, Kihei and Wailea, but they do tend to be a bit more spendy. They also have beautiful beaches. So those general areas, Lahaina/Ka’anapali and Kihei/Wailea are probably the most common locations to stay.
Favorite Maui Beaches
When I travel I love to explore. So one of the things that I loved doing in Maui was visiting a new beach each day, and sometimes multiple beaches in a given day. It’s so fun to compare the beaches and discover which ones are the best for snorkeling, swimming, surfing, sunbathing, and so on. Then you can decide which ones are your favorites and where you want to spend more time. They each have such a different feel to them. Overall it’s hard to go wrong, so I’ll just mention a few of my favorites. One of my favorite beaches is Big Beach, which is part of Makena State Park on South Maui. It’s gorgeous! The sand is so soft and there is an area of black rock that is so pretty. And if you happen to hike over a large black rock area you will come to Little Beach, which is a nude beach, if that’s your thing. We spent the majority of our time at Big Beach though. 😉 We didn’t actually snorkel there, but it’s supposed to be a great snorkeling spot.
Another beach area I love is the beach at Napili Bay, which is also a good snorkeling spot. Right by it is Honokeana Bay. If you want to find sea turtles, this is the place to be! Honokeana Bay isn’t directly accessible unless you’re staying right on it. But if you walk south from Napili Bay through the sand and rocks you will come to a gate. If you go through the gate you will reach Honokeana Bay. And if you watch closely you will see the head of sea turtles surfacing all over the bay. There is no sand/beach area here, so it’s a little tricky to get in and out of the water, but it’s definitely worth it. As you snorkel around the bay you will find turtle after turtle. It’s incredible!
If you travel to the Eastern side of the island, you won’t want to miss Hamoa Beach. It’s beautiful and not too busy because of its location beyond Hana. Many tourists don’t even get to it because it takes so long to get to Hana (read why further down in this post), and then you have to drive beyond it. We didn’t have much time to spend at Hamoa Beach, but I’ll definitely go back to it next time.
Things To See & Do
Road to Hana: Maui beaches are amazing, but there are also other attractions that are worth your time. One of them is the famous Road to Hana. In case you’re not familiar with it, the Hana Highway connects Kahului with the town of Hana. It is only a 52-mile distance but it takes about 2 1/2 hours to drive it with no stops because of the winding and narrow roads. There are about 620 curves on the road through lush, tropical rainforest. There are several stops you can make along the way, but it will obviously take quite a bit of time. I recommend doing your research ahead of time, and figure out which stops you are most interested in. You might also choose to stay overnight in Hana in order to give yourself more time. There are some beautiful beaches in the Hana area that are a bit more secluded because most tourists stay in West Maui or South Maui and Hana is on the East side. Be sure to check out Hamoa Beach and Wai’anapanapa State Park. And along the way you will find some various stands selling goodies like fresh banana bread. But you want to stop earlier in the day before everything is gone.
Snorkeling: If you ask around and do your research, you can find the best snorkeling beach areas without paying for a tour group or excursion. We also recommend purchasing your own snorkel gear ahead of time. With just a few exceptions, all Hawaii beaches are open to the public. So if you’re out exploring, it’s nice to be able to grab your snorkel gear and go. It’s crazy how many fish there are everywhere! There are definitely spots that are better than others, but we carried our gear everywhere and tried several different locations. You can rent snorkel gear, but it’s much easier and much cheaper to bring your own! This is the snorkel gear I own. I bought this particular set because of the reviews and the price, and it worked GREAT! You do feel the pressure around your nose and eyes after a while though, so next time I’m actually going to try something more like this full face snorkel mask! Or maybe even get scuba certified!
Hiking: There are also areas to hike and explore more inland away from the beaches. We spent some time hiking in Haleakala National Park close to Hana. The park is actually very large and there are over 30 miles of trails. We stayed near the entrance of the park on the Hana side in the Kipahulu Valley, and we were hiking through a tropical rainforest area that was beautiful. But if you’re interested in doing more serious backcountry hiking, you can hike to the summit of Haleakala Crater at over 10,000 feet. This area is barren volcanic desert, and because of the altitude the trails are strenuous and the weather is typically cold and windy.
Driving/Exploring: The island of Maui is relatively small and the different areas are pretty unique. We loved just simply driving and exploring. A favorite and remote drive we took is along the Northwest shore of Maui. On road maps there is actually a stretch of the highway that is described as being dangerous, narrow, drive at your own risk, do not drive between these points, driving on the road violates rental car contracts, etc. You definitely have to be careful: the road is narrow and windy in some parts, there really is only one-lane for part of it, in places the road runs along a steep area with a drop off where there is not always a guard rail. But if you’re careful and you pay attention and drive slowly, it’s a fun drive and the scenery is gorgeous (and the road really isn’t THAT bad). And we came across a yummy little food stand that sold banana bread, fruit, fresh juice, etc.
You can also pay for guided tours and excursions to snorkel, parasail, dolphin and/or whale watch, zipline, and more. We chose to do our own exploring on this trip.
Best Places to Eat
One of our favorite Maui restaurants is Duke’s Beach House, which just happened to be located on our resort property. Needless to say, we ate there several times. We liked everything we tried, and we highly recommend the Hula Pie! It’s actually an ice cream dessert like Winger’s Asphalt Pie, but with a Hawaiian twist. Trust me, you need to try it!
Braddah Hutt’s BBQ Grill: If you drive to Hana you can’t miss this spot for lunch. It is AMAZING. It’s a food truck and might not look like much, but we promise it’s some of the best food on Maui! Go early though; once the food is gone, it’s gone!
If you’re looking for a delicious burger try Cheeseburger in Paradise in Lahaina or Cheesburger Grille in Kihei. They are both part of the Cheeseburger Restaurants Company. Their menus are very similar and both are super yummy. I’ve also heard Cool Cat Cafe has great burgers but we have not eaten there.
For a quick, yummy meal, check out Maui Tacos. It’s a fast food Mexican restaurant with great tacos and other entrees as well as a fresh salsa bar with a variety of salsas.
And if you’re craving pizza, try Lahaina Pizza Company. We tried a little bit of everything-pizza, salad, pasta-and it was all delicious!
A fun breakfast spot is Slappy Cakes in Lahaina. They offer a variety of items and you can even make your own pancakes. From the banana bread french toast to the Hawaiian pancakes with bananas, pineapple, and macadamia nuts, you won’t be disappointed!
If you haven’t tried an acai bowl before, you HAVE to do it! They’re amazing!! Our favorite spot to get acai bowls is a well-known food truck in Lahaina called Baya Bowls. I could eat an acai bowl every day-they’re super yummy!
And last but definitely not least, you have to get a shave ice from Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, the best shave ice we have ever had! Note, authentic shave ice in Hawaii is “shave ice” not “shaved ice”. This is the real deal!! The flavors and syrups are nothing short of amazing. You can choose to have it served over ice cream (we highly recommend it). And if you ask for a snow cap, you will get your shave ice drizzled in sweetened condensed milk. Plus you can even get shredded toasted coconut on top! Seriously AH-MAZING!!
We’d love to hear about your Maui experiences too. What’s your favorite thing about Maui (or Hawaii in general)?!