Thanks for visiting! If you want to visit Maui and have the BEST experience, join me as I give you a tour of my favorite spots from the perspective of a local (me!).
You’ll find this list useful if:
You’re excited to get off-resort and live your best life without spending a ton of money
You don’t need to be pampered and have a 5-star resort (they’re great, but this isn’t that list!)
You like independence and doing your own thing, finding things not every visitor sees
You’re less focused on shopping and more focused on experiencing the island
You like supporting small local businesses and believe in voting with your dollars
You’re ready to explore and see some cool things you can’t see elsewhere
You’re a respectful person who will honor nature and not break good nature etiquette for a selfie (don’t be that tourist!)
You believe that when traveling, you’re there to learn as a guest in someone else’s home
Sound like you?
Great. Let’s plan your trip.
First things first, let me give you the back story. I first visited Maui in 2017 on my honeymoon with my husband, like so many people do. I fell in love with it. I returned at the beginning of 2019, and in only 9 short months, I became a resident on September 1st, 2019. I lived there for a year and 4 months, and during the pandemic. I saw the best of the island and there is a lot of that! While I may have moved away (for now), I still love Maui with my whole heart and soul and want to help you love it too.
Maui’s economy was gravely injured by the pandemic in 2020 and into 2021, and if I can help you have a great time, and support the island my heart calls home, that’s a double win. Thanks for being here and bookmark this page! I have LOADS of goodies for you and spent weeks creating this resource for you. There’s a lot!
Maui The Beautiful
Before I give you my juicy favorites, I want to talk about the reason people love to visit (and move to!) Maui. Nature. Nature always calls me home to her loving embrace and I never feel more spiritually alive than when in nature. With that incredible connection comes great responsibility.
I strongly believe in and advocate for responsible tourism. There are some core principles to responsible tourism that will set you apart as a true traveler, versus obnoxious tourist.
You never expect the local area to bend to your preferences, you bend your preferences instead
You never litter, disrupt the natural environment, or steal from the land
You spend your money on local businesses and contribute to the local economy
You learn a few of the local terms and use them where appropriate (see below!)
You take the time to learn about where you’re visiting, and conduct yourself as a well-behaved guest
If that’s you, congratulations on being a classy traveler the world appreciates. If you’re still learning, that’s great too! We can always be better (me too!). I hope this list serves you and offers you some love and insight to help you be the most savvy Maui traveler out there.
This page has a LOT. Skim by topics below to find what you’re looking for and BOOKMARK THIS PAGE on your phone. It has all the links that will open on Google Maps on your phone so you can easily get directions from where you are!
No seriously. Bookmark this page. Right now. I’ll wait.
I’m going to break my advice down into some important sections to help you get the most out of your adventure. I’m going to help you make the most powerful memories, eat the tastiest stuff, save money, see wildlife, and be a damn good guest to the islands who will receive the most love and aloha from the locals (and nature!).
I’ve been to all parts of the island and loved the south side of the island most, which is where I chose to live when I moved there. There are loads of wonderful things everywhere, but you’ll notice that many of my recommendations are focused around South Maui. It’s because I’m heavily biased and I’m not sorry.
Let’s start with the one creature we all associate with Hawaii, and the one I love the most. The sea turtle.
If you ever take a look at a majestic sea turtle and notice it’s got puffy lesions on its skin, you might be wondering what they are. After spending some time with a marine biologist one day (and peppering her with questions), I learned that they are herpes lesions. The herpes virus passes to the turtles by way of human contact, and stress exacerbates the condition (ahem – getting too close to them). The lesions can interfere with their sight, rendering them more vulnerable to being munched on by a hungry shark, they can make it hard for the animal to swim and escape danger like sharp rocks in waves, and can interfere with the ability to feed properly, rendering the poor animal unable to eat. Basically, if you don’t want to kill turtles (what monster would?!), don’t touch them. Ever.
But why? What does touching have to do with it? A lot, sadly. We carry viruses on our hands and skin that may not affect us and remain neutral in our systems for our lifetimes. But when we come in literal contact with wildlife, it doesn’t always have that neutral impact – in the case of turtles… not at all.
#1 – NO TOUCHIE. ONLY LOOKIE. Even if they swim up to you in the water (and they may). Pretend you’re being robbed. Hands up!
#2 – Distance. 15’ feet away is the law. I recommend 20’ with a good zoom lens. Respect the turtles and let them live in peace. You like peace and distance, right?
#3 – Move. If a turtle approaches the beach and you’re standing in their path, MOVE. Make way for them to rest. I’ve seen too many tourists stand in the turtles way thinking the turtle is coming over to them (it’s not), and the turtle ultimately leaves because they can’t rest. Don’t do that.
#4 – Don’t be a creep. If you’re snorkeling, swimming, or free diving and encounter a turtle, be grateful for this incredible moment! And… don’t follow them. Let the moment be a moment, not a stalking.
OK, commandments complete. Easy, right?
Bottom line, please recognize that your choices have an impact and yes, you matter.
Everybody knows about the Ho’okipa lookout where you can see turtles basking in the sun, and it’s a popular spot for a reason. Bring your zoom lens because you are NOT going to be able to get close to the turtles. Too many visitors disrespect the turtles need (not want…. NEED) for space, so there are local volunteers there to make sure you don’t hop over the rock barricade.
Not everyone knows about this spot, but it’s a reliable spot to see turtles. But you’re going to have to get wet. Remember the commandments? Did you memorize them? This is a spot that’s not as carefully guarded so you’re going to have to be on your best behavior and accountable to God.
Every day around sunset, the turtles swim around and haul their bodies up on the rocks to rest. You can take pictures if you like or just appreciate them.
If you like to swim with turtles (and who doesn’t!?!), you’re going to love being at Kamaole Beach Park 1 in the mornings. Don’t even think about going in the water until an hour after sunrise (sharks), but when you do, be prepared to see turtles. You’re not going to see much past 1 pm. You can, it’s just not as likely. The turtles like the calm water. They’ll swim by you and poke their little heads up. After your 1,000th turtle sighting, you might still get excited (I do!).
If you appreciate a good tidepool like I do, and enjoy finding all kinds of neato wildlife, you’re going to appreciate these spots. If you’re more of a “sit in the tidepool and sunbathe” kind of person, I’ve got one of those for you too. Many of the same commandments as turtles apply when it comes to the creatures that inhabit the tidepools. Urchins can and will sting you, sea cucumbers will literally expel their guts out their anus if you mishandle them (gross and not good), and many of the shells have inhabitants.
Commandment #5: RESPECT. (Looking for commandments 1-4? Read the Sea Turtles section)
Best Off-The-Beaten Path Tidepool
20.797001225414654, -156.4957733020048 ß these are the coordinates. Put that in your GPS. I’ve found baby eels, starfish, cowrie, and some really interesting shells in there. You’ll need to park at the park or right after it.
I’ve seen some neat things in the tidepools, but these are calm and great for sitting and catching rays without being knocked over. Great for a good selfie if you want one! Right in front of the Five Palms restaurant. The link is for the free public parking and beach access.
Charley Young Beach (which is a blended beach with Kamaole 1) has a great cluster of tidepools as far down to the right as you can go. Be mindful what you step on! You might get hurt, you might hurt someone small and spiky!
A trip to Maui wouldn’t be complete without a visit to these favorite spots. Everyone goes on and on about Mama’s Fish House, and yes, it is great, and you will be treated very well and have a nice memory to walk away with. The experience is worth the money and that’s what you pay for. Is it the best on the island, though? Depends on your preferences. The below are my favorites for experience, flavor, value, and best overall feeling when I leave.
Nope, not “shaved” ice – I didn’t spell it wrong. It’s Shave Ice. And it’s more popular than ice cream. Lots of places have it, and only one place does it like a boss. Think – snow cone on steroids.
My favorite, Ululani’s is staffed with friendly teenagers and young people that know how to make you the tastiest treat you’ll ever have. For my 40th birthday, I had a shave ice, not cake. They have multiple locations, but the best one is in Kihei.
Lil advice? Get the three flavors you want the most (for me it’s guava, passionfruit, and pineapple), with macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom, snow cap and coconut shavings on top. Decadent… amazeballs.
My favorite is hands-down, Paia Bowls in Paia. It feels uniquely Hawaiian, it’s tucked back from the road, the flavors are great, the pricing is reasonable, the staff is great… and as an added bonus, there are *always* those adorable little green Madacasgar Gold Dust geckos hanging out nearby. They’re so fun to be around, don’t bite, and aren’t very shy (great for pics!)
Paia Fish Marketis one of my two favorites. I prefer it to Mama’s actually. They’re on the expensive side, but worth it. You’ll drop $60 for a 2-person lunch (I’m not kidding), but the flavors, the freshness, and everything will be flawless. I’m partial to the one in Kihei (I lived in Kihei, but also they’ve got the most outdoor seating).
My other favorite is Coconut’s Fish Café(and in truth, my #1). Everything they have is fresh and their coconut shrimp is incredible. Their prices are more reasonable than Paia Fish Company, and the freshness is equal. I routinely got the Mahi salad, cajun style. Juicy, fresh, tasty, and absolute perfection.
Skip Starbucks. They’ve got enough money. Akamai coffee(parking in the back) is an incredible place that’s super cute and great pricing. Owned by locals, it’s a great place to spend a little time, get a great beverage, and friendly service.
Best on the island. If you want Pad Thai (and I am a fan, I must admit…), these three will knock your socks off.
Full disclosure: I am PICKY about Sushi. One bad bite and your stomach will be repulsed by sushi for months, years, or even a lifetime. I’ve had a lot of sushi on Maui. These are the ones I can enthusiastically say were consistently fresh, delicious, and priced fairly.
Isanain North Kihei has incredible flavors and is very very fresh. It’s not in an area where you’d expect to find restaurants, so pay attention. Once you know it and love it, you’ll be back. Reasonable prices.
Miso Phat is so good and I’ve never been disappointed. Fresh, friendly and creative. Lots of restaurants nearby and reasonable prices also. Small dining room, but so fun! Has a location in Lahaina as well.
The grocery stores offer some great options at lower prices. Check Safeway and WholeFoods for your best options. Pro Tip: let it get to room temperature before you eat it. About 30-45 minutes for the best texture and flavor.
Now let me give you a little education. Poke doesn’t rhyme with yolk. It also doesn’t rhyme with hokey pokey. It rhymes with okay, accent on the first syllable. Say it with me now… POKE-ay. Look at you, killin it like a local! Poke is the Hawaiian staple for fresh fish and bomb flavors. Two places on the island do it best, and lots of others are worthy competitors. You can get it at most grocery stores and get it by the pound. Want your taste buds to do a happy dance? Try these two:
Eskimo Candyin Kihei is hands-down the best on island, and it’s tucked away on a little side street. Sometimes poke can turn your stomach because you get something that’s not 100% fresh. These folks fish daily and you will never get anything less than 100%. Inexplicably, their prices are great for what you get. Get the poke bowl. You’ll get all 4 flavors of poke and have a very full, very happy tummy.
If you’re more of the grab-and-go kind of person, Tamura’s Liquor store is famous for their poke selection. Wait, a liquor store? Yep. Good prices on hooch and famous for poke for a reason. They have multiple locations.
There are actually a lot of options. Here’s the list on Google. Some of them allow you to see the ocean a little from where you are and the ocean is WAY across the street, others are right on the water. Look at the pictures to find what you want.
These are the ones I like the most for varied reasons, and these all have incredible ocean views, with the property being right on the water.
Monkeypod Kitchen became my favorite restaurant after my true favorite closed permanently mid-pandemic in 2020 (The Mill House). The food is great. The drinks are off-the-hook amazing, and the happy hour pricing (3:30 -5:00) makes it all even more fun. The service is great. My home was in Kihei, and there’s one there and in Lahaina (ocean views!).
Spagoat the Four Seasons is elegant and fancy, and worth every penny. Incredible views (even though you’re set back on the property – you’d never know it), food, service, and you will 100% pay for what you get, and 100% get what you pay for.
If visiting the islands without sampling the fruit seems insane to you, you’re in the right place. Tasting weird fruit from around the world is my favorite. Maui has a lot to offer. These are the ones you’ll probably like the most.
Lilikoi is the Hawaiian Passionfruit. It’s yellow, unlike it’s purple cousin you may have seen in grocery stores. It’s sweeter and more flavor than what you’re used to, if you’re used to passionfruit at all. It’s a distinct flavor that you won’t forget. You can find the flavor on shave ice, in ice creams, in cocktails, pastries and other goodies – for a reason. Try one fresh if you can get your hands on one (or several!). Here’s a great article that shows you what they look like and gives a great explanation of what they are and how to integrate it in your cooking.
To eat it fresh, you can either bite the outside without squishing the fruit and try to crack it in half. You can also use a serrated knife to cut it in half. Don’t squish it! When you get it open, scoop out the yellow or orange juicy bits and eat it all whole, mashing it with your tongue. Don’t chew it. You won’t love the texture. The seeds are edible. Down the hatch!
Pro tips for selecting the very best lilikoi: find one that’s heavy, and when you shake it, makes ZERO sound. Older fruits will have drying-out innards and they aren’t as fresh, hence the shaking you don’t want. It’s ok if it’s wrinkly or has some bruisy spots on it so long as it’s heavy and makes no sound. If you can find one that’s cosmetically perfect, great, but it’s not necessary.
If you’re upcountry on a hike toward the colder months of the year, you might get lucky and find banana passionfruit. It’s edible, and not as sweet as it’s hard, yellow cousin, but it’s SO refreshing when you’re been hiking for a while and you’re getting tired and/or thirsty!
Maui Gold Pineapple is the pineapple that’s grown in Hali’imaile (Ha-lee-ee-MY-lay) on the slopes of Haleakala. It’s exclusive to Maui and has some of the lowest acid you’ll find, therefore it’s easier on the tummy, easier on the inside of your mouth, and has a flavor you’ll never forget. Sniff the bottom to make sure you find one that smells like fresh, clean pineapple. If it smells like nothing, or smells like mold, keep shopping. Fun fact! If you fall in love with Maui Gold like I have and want to plant your own, you can! Twist off the crown, pluck off the leaves to leave about an inch of stalk exposed and put it in a glass of water for about three weeks, changing the water every few days. Soon you’ll have roots! Put it in the right kind of soil, and in about 2-3 years, you’ll get your very own pineapple at home.
Bonus pineapple find… if you can find it… The Kauai pineapple, the sugarloaf pineapple, is occasionally found at WholeFoods in Kahului. Lordy – it’s expensive (like $18 for one pineapple!), but it’s the best pineapple you’ll ever have in your whole life. It’s so sweet, so low-acid, and so tender that you can eat the core (and should). Savor every last bite. And yes, you can grow one of these too, using the same tips I just gave you. You’ll never be the same.
Good luck finding a fresh island Guava in the store. They’re so perishable (one day!) that it’s almost impossible. Not 100%, but damn close. Your best bet is when you’re hiking in the summer and fall and happen to visit one of the trails that has guava trees. You’ll know there’s fruit nearby when you can smell the rotting fruit that fell off the trees.
Do not – and I repeat – do not climb the trees. It’s not only disrespectful to the island, but the fruit isn’t even ripe or good to eat. Hunt on the ground for one that just fell. You’re looking for bright yellow, unblemished skin. Brush the dirt off, either rip it in half, or bite it. Eat the tasty cotton-candy pink innards, leave the firm yellow rind. It should not be hard, it should have the texture of a ripe banana. Seeds are edible.
Strawberry Guava is another island treat you’ll find on hikes, if you’re super lucky and have a keen eye. Same rules apply as the yellow guava. Be careful you’re not eating poisonous stuff, ok? This one has a red outside, and lemony yellow inside. And yes, it tastes like strawberry and guava. It’s awesome!
Canistel (or the Egg Fruit) is creamy, custardy and a pretty interesting little fruit. It’s got the texture of a baked sweet potato and the flavor is like a mix between a mango, banana, and a sweet potato. If you get lucky enough to find one at a fruit stand, grab it. It should have the firmness of the palm of your hand with relaxed muscles before eaten, in that it should have some fleshy “give” before you eat it.
There are lots of other kinds of fruit you can try on the island and some are harder to find. If you’re at the local fruit stand and you see something you haven’t tried before, ask about it, try it and take the plunge! Ask what it is, how to eat it, when to eat it, and make sure you have time to eat it before you leave the island. No, you can’t take island fruit with you on the plane – only in your tummy!
The Upcountry Farmer’s Marketis the place to be every Saturday morning for local fruit, local vegetables, and interesting flavors you won’t find on the mainland. Lots of great staple items for your stay and some great things to take home. You can get things to eat while you’re there, eat at your lodging, and eat back at home. Plus… lots of friendly faces and supporting independent farmers and local artisans. Oh, and it’s fun.
It’s open from 7am to 11am. If you want fish and the best selection, get there at 7 or 8. The best stuff sells out early!
Mana Foods in Paia has some of the best food prices on the island that I’ve found and one of the best health-focused stores on island with a large selection. Some of the prices were even better than Mainland USA. I love this store and the staff is super nice.
Hawaiian Moons in Kihei. I lived near this store, and for a while there, I refused to shop there because of their insane, almost-offensive pricing. It’s steep, y’all. But… everything they have is top quality and they have many brands that you will be challenged to find elsewhere on the island. Care about organic? Their produce department is small, but all organic. Care about non-GMO products? They’ve got it. Want grass-fed beef? Got it. Pasture-raised eggs? They’ve got it.
Typically has lilikoi in stock when it’s available. Get some. Gently slice around the outside and pry open gently. Accent on the gently. Eat the juicy flesh inside, and don’t chew. Life changing.
Once I got over my stubborn cheap ways, I came to love this store more than any other. I prioritize what goes into my body and Hawaiian Moons makes it easy, and you do get what you pay for.
Look. Food on Hawaii takes a while to get there, and it’s reflected in the pricing. For your typical shopping experience, you’re going to spend more for everything. And if you want to save a few bucks for a typical shopping trip, head to Safewayon Pi’ikea. Bonus points to this store for having a local produce section. Kahului has a location, but the Kihei one is much better, IMHO.
Down to Earth is a great vegetarian store with lots of options for the plant-conscious eater. Vegan, no. You will not find flesh in this store at all, beyond the random customer with no shoes and no shirt. Their pricing is reasonable and they have good options.
Costcois epic. It just is. When you see Big Island honey in the big jar at other stores, they want like $38. Seriously. But not Costco. They want like $16. The savings are that impressive.
I’m 100% about supporting the local economy, and while Costco is a big-box store, they employ local labor and a good many of their items are locally sourced products, so I can still include them on this list with a (mostly) clear conscience. You need to be a member to enjoy their benefits, so you may wish to join your local club before visiting the island.
Beach chairs. Towels. Maui Gold Pineapples. Dairy. Macadamia Nuts. Eggs. Water. Snorkel Gear. They’ve got it, and for much better pricing than you might find elsewhere.
The view from above the clouds is unparalleled. Sunrise requires a reservation and the link above provides the page you need. They open 2 weeks in advance (as of this posting), and generally are fully booked within a few minutes (literally). You need an itchy trigger finger to get a reservation.
Tour or no tour? I vote no tour. Just come and go as you please. Always easier to control your own destiny, more fun, and you save money.
But you know what’s equally beautiful? Sunset. And you don’t need a reservation. It’s stunning… and just as cold.
Pro tip: If you’re traveling there on the new moon (when there’s no moon in the sky), and the sky is clear, go up there and wait for all the tourists to shut their damn headlights off (groan), and gaze into the heavens. You can see the milky way and get a beautiful photo with a camera on a tripod and the right settings.
Dress appropriately and you’ll be in heaven… perhaps literally. Gloves, hat, jacket, pants, and proper shoes (even in August). Allow yourself the time to fully relax into the experience of watching the sun dip down into the sea (or clouds, depending on the day) watching the light leave the sky and the stars appear. It’s magical.
As with all things in nature, there are no guarantees. It’s over an hour drive from Kahului, over 90 minutes from Kihei, and over 2 hours from Lahaina. Still worth it. Also… just because it looks cloudy from the base of the mountain doesn’t mean the top isn’t clear as a bell. Take the risk and go.
So you want to see baby sea turtles, do you? ME TOOOO!! This lovely aquarium was rated one of the best in the country, and for good reason. With lots to see inside and outside, you won’t be bored and you’ll get to see lots of great things, including their current crew of turtle rescues, and even learn about the Hawaiian islands. 100% worth it. Great to do on a rainy day, or really any day.
There are many whale watch tours that you can do, but I like this one the best. They have a guarantee that you WILL see a whale on your trip, and if you don’t, you get to ride again for free. These folks are so friendly, knowledgeable, and the money goes to a great organization that truly cares about the whales and supports research and responsible tourism. The prices are good and the boats are comfortable.
When to go? Whales visit the islands reliably from December through March. You can see them occasionally slightly outside these months, but not as often.
Pro tip: Book early into your trip so if for some reason you don’t see a whale, you have time to go again.
If you want to get yourself harnessed up and zip over lush canopies upcountry, you will love this tour. I took my 74 year old Dad, and he had the time of his life and was a kid again. It’s safe, responsibly operated, and led by tour guides who will help you stay safe, have a wonderful time, and learn about the island all at the same time. One of the lines is nearly a minute long… and not to be missed. Go for their bigger tour; you won’t be sorry.
This recommendation might get me in trouble with the kind folks in Hana, but if I explain this properly, perhaps not. Bear with me.
Hana itself is not a destination; there isn’t much to see or do. However, the journey to get there boasts breathtaking views, waterfalls along the ride, and some places to stop for sight-seeing. There are the standard stops along the way that everyone does (and are totally worth doing), but also some things to keep in mind.
Do a tour? Sure, if that’s your thing! I’m an independent soul and I love to stop and take my time when I find something I just LOVE. If you’re like me, rent a car and you’ll be so glad you did. Pack a lunch. Otherwise, there are so many places that can take you on a tour and all you have to do is look at everything in amazement. Look for smaller tour companies and do a private tour if you can (you’ll see more).
Stops to make along the way
Get the GyPSy Guide – thank me later. Wear sneakers you don’t mind getting wet, slippahs (flip flops), bring your lunch, a towel to keep in the car (not to schlep with you to the falls… just be wet for a little while!), your camera, and a swimsuit under your clothes. Keep it simple and don’t be a diva. You’ll have more fun. Also bring a few dollars in case you want to stop at the one or two places you’ll spot along your journey. These four places are my absolute favorite places to stop, and the guide I recommended has many many more.
Three Bears Waterfall
Open this link on your phone to get directions to this spot on the Road to Hana:
The road is old, narrow, and is the main road in and out of Hana, and largely the “only” way that’s routinely used by the locals that live there. Tourists often are loud, rude, and drive way too fast for the little road. Or too damn slow. This infuriates the locals and it’s not fair to them; it’s their home. If you see a Tacoma behind you, crawling up your backside… pull over when you can. (Yes, the Tacoma is the unofficial state automobile for locals).
Never park where it’s not explicitly allowed, even just for a minute (nobody is so special that being rude to the local community is OK!).
Never park on private land, even if it does promise the perfect photo op.
Never enter private land. Kapu… remember?
If you can’t see around the corner and it’s a one-lane section, you should honk when going around the curve in case there is another car on the other side.
If it’s dry where you’re staying, it could be raining and the road could be very slippery. Also, the waterfalls could be choked with water and unsafe for swimming.
Check the weather for Haiku and Hana before you go to bed the night before. You’re looking for a dry day before you go, and a dry day the day you go.
There is a loop that goes all around and through Kaupo, but you really should have an AWD vehicle for it – instead of turning around once you get to Hana, keep going (it’s my favorite, I get less car-sick).
Plan for an entire day. Leave where ever you’re staying at dawn, or before dawn. Yes, I’m serious. There’s so much to see and just the drive alone (if you do the loop), not including travel to/from your lodging, is 4 hours. Soak that in.
Respect nature! Don’t wear that garbage sunscreen in the waterfalls. It goes down the river, affects the fresh water aquatic life of all kinds, and washes into the ocean. Reef safe, rash guards, or nothing… pretty please.
I’m not much of a swimmer, in full disclosure. I nearly drowned as a kid and it left some scars. But I do snorkel, I will get in the water, and I love it. Safety is important for anyone, and especially important for you, being the visitor who isn’t used to this stuff.
(I know you don’t want to read the paragraphs before the listings. But please do, for your safety’s sake.)
Ocean Safety and Not Getting Bit by a Shark or Drowning
Sharks are a real concern, but not if you follow ocean safety rules. When you see whales, remember their babies are with them… and sharks would like to eat those babies. Sharks also have their babies with them and are particularly aggressive in parts of the year in defense of their babies. December through March is the most whale-dense part of the year, as they swim down from Alaska to have their babies in the warm water. Sharks are always present, but less of a notable threat outside of these times.
Here are some good rules of thumb for you to memorize. Yes, memorize.
If the water is murky/sandy/churned up, DO NOT go in. Sharks love that kind of water. Yes, sharks. People get bit and it doesn’t always make the news because it’s bad for tourism.
The north and west side of the island is swimmable in the warmest months of the year. If you want to go snorkeling up there during the colder months of the year, you’re asking to get bit by a shark, pummeled by waves and get injured. Just don’t.
Never go in the ocean alone.
Don’t go in the ocean until about an hour after the sun has come up. Again, sharks.
NEVER turn your back on the waves for a second.
The water is calmest between dawn and noon. Plan accordingly based on what you like.
Swim and engage in ocean sports according to your ability. Same as skiing, actually.
Pay attention to the flags when you go to beaches that have flags. Swimmers, paddlers, snorkelers and all kinds of unsuspecting folks are OFTEN swept out to sea and need to be rescued when they go out too far and are over-confident. There’s a hell of a current out there that you can even see if you know what you’re looking for. You’re thinking, “that won’t happen to me” – but it can, and being cavalier helps it happen. It drains local emergency resources and takes away from other local needs. Remember, you’re a guest in someone else’s home. It only makes the local news, which means you won’t hear about it on the mainland or wherever you’re from, which makes it appear less common.
Check out the UV index from your phone any day you want to be in the sun for a while. Wear a good rash guard shirt and reef-safe sunscreen.
Don’t touch the sea life. Appreciate with your eyes. Otherwise it’s just rude, possibly harmful to the sea life, and to you.
Don’t take sea shells home if they still have a resident. ?
Don’t stand on what you think are rocks. It’s likely coral, which is a living thing. Standing on coral kills it, and it takes literally thousands of years to grow. Need a break? Get the hell out of the water and don’t be a selfish ass.
Don’t stand on algae-covered rocks, thinking you’re doing better because it’s not coral. That’s a food supply for fish, turtles and other ocean life. You stand on it, you kill it, and you destroy a food supply.
Choose a reef-safe sunscreen. Why? Maui alone gets over a million visitors a year in typical times. If each tourist uses 2 containers of non-reef-safe sunscreen during their stay…. That’s TWO MILLION BOTTLES OF TOXINS being poured into the ocean and coating the wildlife, which can disrupt their nervous systems, natural reproduction, and ability to thrive/eat/live and ward off disease. Yes, your choice matters. Signs are on many of the beaches. Signs are at the tourist spots. Maui is literally begging you to make a good choice, in defense of the sea life that surrounds the island. If you’re going to sit by the pool all day and fry yourself that way, it still matters what you wear because when you wash it off, guess where that water ends up. Yep, the ocean, eventually. Be smart. Reef-safe, 100% of the time. Or, rash guards and hats so you don’t even need sunscreen. Please honor and love the environment through more than just visiting and taking… give love and respect by making good choices.
I love snorkeling, and I want you to love it too.
Sign up for The Snorkel Report to have ocean conditions delivered to your inbox every morning by 7am local time. Look for the number 8 and above for the best experiences. You don’t need to do a snorkel tour to have a great experience. Not by a long shot. But when you want the clearest water with zero sand, that is often your only chance. Furthermore, if the mere idea of sharks stresses you out, go with a tour company. Sharks tend to cruise the shoreline from a distance. Will you see one, ever? Highly unlikely in any circumstance, but depending on your nerves and tolerance for such things, choose wisely. I never did a snorkel tour when I lived there – I just walked out from the water and jumped in.
I once did a snorkel tour to Molokini, but I fully do not recommend it. Too many people. Maybe it’s different now. Up to you to decide to try or not.
There are some great spots that I highly recommend, when the snorkel report says those zones are A-OK. See the section on ocean safety about sharks and times of year. More than anything, trust your own eyes. When the water is that beautiful deep blue with glints of deep, clear turquoise and the waves are tiny… you’re snorkel-ready! The water looking a bit light at the edge? Stay on the sand that day.
Great walk-out snorkeling at Kamaole Beach Park III and where I’ve seen the most turtles.
Maui has the best beaches on the planet, in my humble opinion. You really can’t go wrong. If you see a beach and want to check it out, this is going to help you decide which area is right for you to look in, based on what you want.
The South Side (Kihei, etc.) has a very calm shore in the mornings and is typically not amazing for surfing, better for snorkeling. The surf kicks up around noon to 1pm daily and gets progressively more intense throughout the day. Pay attention to the color of the water (deeper blue = calmer, lighter = more intense) to choose the best conditions for your preference. Included in South Shore is Ma’alaea and North Kihei, which are often windy and the beaches are not as populated. Go in the mornings for calm. Sugar Beach in particular has 5 miles of sand to run/walk/play on. Surfers hang out at The Cove (and you can take lessons if you want).
The North West Side (Lahaina, etc.) has great sandy beaches and lots of rocky beaches. You’ll find great swimmable bays (like Honolua in the summer), and famous beaches like Black Rock. Many options to choose from, and be prepared to walk to some beaches.
The North Shore (Paia, etc.) has the best surfing, and is home to world-famous the “Jaws” surf spot. Calm water can be found here, but you’re more likely to find surfing conditions. Great for relaxing in the afternoon and enjoying some shade under a palm tree.
The East Side (Hana, etc.) has pretty beaches and lots of black sand beaches. It’s also the “youngest” part of the island in terms of the island’s age, which is why you’ll see more black sand, which is broken down lava. While not that quick and easy to get to, the beaches (like Hamoa) are truly stunning.
Polipoli Spring State Recreational Area has some incredible loop trails. Go on a clear day, otherwise the fog can really mess you up and you’ll get lost. There are redwoods (yes!), eucalyptus trees, fruiting trees, and such varied plant life that you’ll feel like you’re hiking in 10 different forests. 100% incredible. Plan for a few hours, snacks, and a full liter of water (or more).
ʻĪao Valley StatePark has some incredible walking and gorgeous streams coming down from the West Maui Mountains with lots of pools to jump into, relax near, and hop over. Lush plant life and maybe a few edible treats for you. Keep your eyes open!
Waihee Ridge Trail has some of the most breathtaking postcard views you’ll find. It’s a LOT of uphill climbing and 100% worth it. You’re parking at the VERY NICE OWNERS lot… who generously allows passage to the trail. If you see the guy on his quad or horse, flash a big smile and ALOHA! Bring water and a good pair of lungs.
King’s Trail in Makena is a trail for the morning. It gets roasty toasty and there’s little refuge from the sun. It’s a long trail and a hike in and back out kind of trail. You must be steady on your feet and able to handle walking on very uneven ground and over rocks. Worth it, and you might even see goats.
Hosmer Grove in Kulahas something very special about it – the eucalyptus trees and the heavenly, aromatherapeutic fragrance in the air. Very easy. It’s not flat, but it’s easy and most non-disabled people can do this with ease.
I remember learning “aloha” as a word and thinking it made me an official resident. Silly me. *Laughing out loud.* I learned the word… and then I learned the true meaning of the word and started to “Live Aloha” which is entirely different. Around the island, you’ll hear a few common words on this list, and then you’ll encounter signs that take an English sentence and replace one word with a Hawaiian one, and you can’t pick up the context, and you’ll be left scratching your head. Or maybe that was just me. I’m here to help, either way. ?
I’ve included a few examples in italics to help you see things used in a sentence.
I have to start with this one. It’s hello, it’s also goodbye… and so much more, and aloha being more than something you say at greeting and parting is where this word becomes magical. Aloha is love, kindness, respect, gratitude, compassion and so much more. Aloha is an embodied love for something beyond yourself, and an inclusive mentality. To live aloha is to live lovingly and peacefully toward all around you, to understand your place as part of the whole, and to live in harmony with others. There are many definitions online, and the idea of Aloha as a way of life beyond just a word is truly what makes this word special.
This one’s easier. Mahalo means thank you! Used everywhere and commonly.
Mahalo Nui (ma-HA-low NOO-ee)
Thank you very much. Used in some settings but not a lot.
Mahalo Nui Loa (ma-HA-low NOO-ee LOW-ah)
Thank you so very much. Used rarely, and is the ultimate expression of thanks.
Ohana means family. Mahalo for being a part of my ohana.
And… it also refers to a small, separate cottage or family dwelling on someone’s property. If you need to find a place to live for not a lot of money, make sure you look for an ohana to rent.
Pau Hana (pow-HA-na)
This refers to the time right after work, and can also mean “after work socializing.” Pau hana at 5:00? Wanna hit the happy hour?
Women. You’ll see it on women’s bathroom doors.
Men. You’ll see it on men’s bathroom doors.
You’ll likely see this on signs at the entrance to private property or sacred land. Kapu means forbidden, and is the Hawaiian way to say, “keep out.” Best to heed the warning.
You’ll likely see this on signs as well, as “please kōkua”. It means to help or cooperate.
You might see this one on bumper stickers, believe it or not. Pono is goodness, righteousness, correctness, excellence, and duty. When you see the bumper sticker, “Live Pono” – it basically means “be a good doobie.”
A hui ho (ah-HOO-ee-ho)
This one means, “until we meet again.” I heard this a lot when I moved away. *sniff*
Nō ka ‘oi (NO-ka-oy)
It means “the best.” You’ll find this on a lot of menus, cocktail menus in particular. Largely used to describe the best drink on the menu. Monkeypod restaurant has a cocktail by this name and it lives up to it for sure.
This friendly greeting isn’t Hawaiian, but it’s pidgin. Pidgin is a blend of many languages and was used in Hawaii for many years when cultures blended together and people needed a basic way to communicate and English and Hawaiian weren’t getting the job done. It first emerged on the sugar plantations in the 1800s. This cute little phrase means, How are you? How is it going? Hey brah! Howzit?
You’ll often see this written as “haole.” Lots of folks say this word as “HOW-lee” and that’s wrong. This word has taken on a derogatory meaning over the years by lots of angry natives and locals when tourists aren’t being respectful, or they’re just mad in general at anyone who isn’t a native (yes, this is a thing). The original meaning of this word is fairly neutral, and refers to the culture of the Hawaiians where greetings once included a sharing an exhale and inhalation, or the breath of life (known as “ha”). Many Caucasian settlers came to the islands and didn’t partake in the sharing of breath greeting ritual, and became known as “hāʻole,” which means “no breath.” While today it largely has a negative connotation, and one you should definitely be aware of, it’s good to know the origin.
If you’re disrespecting Kapu signs, you’ll most likely hear, “Get off my land, you stupid haole!” Or something a bit more aggressive. Be respectful to the land, the animals, and to the locals, and you’ll likely never hear the word.
There is a LOT of Hawaiian history that should be learned when visiting any of the islands. I’m not a historian by a long shot. But I can encourage you to learn, and it’ll help you understand why many native Hawaiians refute the inclusion of Hawaii as a part of the United States of America, refer to it as The Kingdom of Hawaii, and largely don’t want to see you at all. It’s not personal. It’s deep and painful for them and represents a lot.
If you happen to travel the Road to Hana, which is great if you have a strong stomach, I highly recommend downloading the GyPSy guide (yes, it’s capitalized that way) before you go. It’s worth the money. https://gypsyguide.com/tour/road-to-hana-maui/
Fun Bonus Knowledge
The Hawaiian language is fun to speak and listen to. There are not 26 letters like in English, rather, there are 13, plus an official punctuation mark that’s very important to the language.
The current official Hawaiian alphabet consists of 13 letters: five vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and eight consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, W, and ‘). Driving around the island, I encourage you to try and say the words you see on street signs and practice your pronunciation.
The basic “rules” of the Hawaiian language that differ from English are these:
A is pronounced “AH”
E is pronounced “AY”
I is pronounced “EE”
is pronounced “OH”
U is pronounced “OO”
W is pronounced “V”
You pronounce every letter
And then there’s the ‘. That’s called an ‘okina, or a glottal stop. With such a limited alphabet, it became necessary as the language evolved and included writing. When you’re driving to and from the south side of the island, you’ll most likely drive on Pi’ilani Highway. Pi’ilani is a Hawaiian word, Highway is obviously not. When you think about the ‘okina, think of the phrase in English, “uh oh.” You don’t just say “UHOH” as one word with two syllables. That would sound weird. You have to restrict airflow in your throat to make the distinction between the UH and the OH.
When it comes to Pi’ilani Highway as an example, start by saying it slowly as two words:
How you pronounce it is this: PEE (stop) ee-LAH-nee.
Now try Ho’okipa (the turtle-hangout!). HO (stop) oh-KEE-pah.
One you get the hang of it, you’ll sound like a local in no time.
Choosing Where to StayLaura2021-02-06T11:42:31-05:00
So you want to come to the island and experience the best of Maui. AWESOME. Every traveler is different and has different tastes. Hawaii has many options for you, and here are the insights.
I’ve seen many travelers request an all-inclusive resort recommendation. In short, they don’t exist on the islands at all. If you want to be pampered and stay on the resort, just expect that you’re going to have to pay for your lodging and your food and entertainment separately.
Maui has some incredible (and I truly mean incredible) hotels to stay at. You’ll want to think of the area you want to be in, what you want proximity to, and the amenities that matter to you. You’ll find budgets will begin around $300 per night and go up sharply from there. Lots of travelers request a hotel/resort that’s walkable. That’s really not a thing on Maui, but there are a few exceptions in Ka’anapali. Plan to drive short distances to get where you want to go… and believe me, you’ll appreciate your freedom.
As for my recommendation, The Grand Wailea has the island’s best pool and one of the best you’ll find anywhere. It’s great for kids, adults, and full relaxation. Some of the rooms are a little tired, but you’re not there to be in your room. The spa is famous around the island and elsewhere, and for good reason. This resort is a bit expensive, but if you plan to be at the resort to truly unwind, it’s a good investment.
South Maui (Kihei/Wailea) has a very cool, low-key neighborhood vibe once you leave the resort, with lots of small businesses you’ll fall in love with. Very sunny, amazing weather almost every single day. Wailea is very elegant and is home to five large resorts, including the Four Seasons. Shops in proximity.
Sugar Beach (Ma’alaea) is very beachy, and you’ll find some good options at lesser prices than other parts of the island. Very high wind, lots of sunshine, but not as much as South Maui. Great for whale watching from your room. You’ll need to drive 10-15 minutes to get to things in South Maui, but there are a few things to do in that area.
Ka’anapali/Nipili has an upscale vibe catering to visitors. Teeming with things to do, great snorkeling at Black Rock beach 80% of the time, and beautiful beaches, it’s popular for a reason. This area is elegant like Wailea, but has a more resort-tourist vibe. Shops in proximity.
There are lower priced options for visiting the island, including a Days Inn. They are harder to find on a Google search (the resorts with all the money to pay for advanced search engine optimization come up first), and my advice to you regarding motels is to pull up Google Maps (or click here) and search that way.
For me, the ultimate luxury is getting to have my cake and eat it too. I like to spend my time away from my lodging, and spend my money in the small businesses in the area. I like a pool, and I like comfortable amenities. What’s great about this option is that you get a home away from home, with a kitchen. For me, I do not like eating breakfast out. Ever. I like to do things that AirBnb’s and VRBO’s offer: make my breakfast, wash my clothes, visit the beach with chairs/towels/toys/umbrellas/etc. and feel like I’m at home. And not pay a fortune for it. I get to visit where I’m going more and longer and stretch my dollars.
That said, get the app you prefer and search by area and amenities. Here are the amenities I can’t live without:
1 bedroom (not just a bed)
Many places include beach things like chairs, etc… and that alone saves you $$. Wealth is not about how much you have, it’s about how much you keep. For me, I like to live well, and keep as much money as possible for myself and for the things I care about (like supporting small businesses).
Maui is expensive. But… it doesn’t have to be. It depends on what you do and where you spend, and where you choose to save. Many of the recommendations I’ve made here are for the traveler who likes to have a wonderful time and not break the bank to do it. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you calculate how much money to bring.
Lodging – $300 per night up to $1200 a night (average) for a typical 4-family accommodation. Plan for resort fees of around $25 per day, housekeeping tips of $5-$20 per day, bellman tips of $1-3 per bag. Bring this down by staying in an AirBnb.
Airfare – $600 – $1200 each ticket, roundtrip for coach from the mainland USA, typically. Pricing can be less or more depending on demand. Business and first class are 2 – 10 times more. Bring this down by using apps like “Hopper” and cruising for the best deals.
Transportation – you need a car. Period. Public transportation will not take you where you want to go. It’s for locals, by and large. Car costs range and you can get older cars (like Kimo’s rent a car) for less money, or newer, fancy cars from Alamo and the like for $125/day and more. If you want insurance, add that too. Gas is about 50% higher than the mainland. Bring this down by renting from places you find on Page 2 and 3 of google. Rent an older car that works. Skip the convertible. It’s hot and you’ll get a sunburn anyway (says the woman who had a convertible for 8 years).
Gratuitites – 20% is expected for all services, with the exception of what’s noted above. Bring this down by not doing tipped things as much – not by being a cheapskate.
Excursions – plan for $100 per person for each activity you do. Some are less, some are way more, but this is average. Plan for 1 excursion per day for the whole family if you want to do touristy things (budgeting this way allows you to have less excursions but better ones like helicopters). If you hit the trails, many of them are only a park entrance fee that you pay by the car load ($5 to $25). Plan to tip your host or tourguide $5-$20 each. Bring this down by doing self-guided excursions as I mentioned in other sections.
Food – you’re going to pay a premium on everything you put in your mouth on Maui. Food, drinks, and groceries will be 30% – 100% higher than you’re used to on the mainland, USA. Typically spend $200 for a dinner for four? Plan to spend double that. Plan for three meals per day + 1 snack per person. Bring this down by staying in the AirBnb and making your own breakfast and packing lunches. Use the grocery stores to your advantage.
Spending Money – I recommend $100 per person per day for fun, doo-dads, luxury goods, souvenirs, and whatnot. Bring this down by making more memories and bringing home less crap you’ll never look at!
A recent full-cost non-budget vacation cost me $1200 for round trip airfare for two (total), 14 days of lodging at $325 per night including taxes + $25 per day resort fee ($4,900 total), car rental ($1,750 total) + gas of about $200 total, excursions of $800 total for both of us, food was $225 per day average for a $3,150 total, and spending money of $1000 each for $2,000 total. The total cost of my two week trip was $14,000 not including gratuities or airport parking or transportation locally.
I’ve also spent half of that on a longer trip (and had a better time!) by taking the “Bring this down by” tips I shared above.
Plan ahead and you’ll have a better trip by knowing exactly what you want, and budgeting accordingly.
Thank you again for visiting my page and helping me to bring much-needed economy back to Maui. We vote with our dollars, and I appreciate the opportunity to help you vote for a healthy economy.
If you haven’t explored the rest of my website, I’d be grateful if you did! I am very proud and grateful to be the #1 Bestselling Author of The Six Habits (a practical guide to help you be happy when you’re not on Maui!), a TEDx speaker, CEO of an award-winning marketing company in Massachusetts, and serious turtle-appreciator. I’m married with 3 fur-children and I now live in Florida (for now). I’ll be back on Maui in a few years. 🙂
Parting Tips & Wisdom
Always offer respect and you’ll get it in return. A big smile (or smize, with a mask) and friendliness go a long way.
Maui (and Hawaii) is largely Democratic and is very serious about mask mandates and their Covid response. While you might be visiting from a state with different ideology and may not agree with the political landscape, remember you are a guest in someone else’s home and to treat others with Aloha and you’ll have a great time (even if you have to set your values aside for a little while). The rules change often and you can follow Maui Nowfor regular updates, mandates and restrictions.
Maui has thirteen micro-climates. South Maui has one of them (very dry, desert-like). Some parts of the island see rain every day like part of Haiku (referred to as “Wet Haiku”) and Hana, and you can’t assume that the weather is the same everywhere. It’s rarely the case.
Yep, Maui gets seasons. We joke and say there are two: whale season and not-whale season. HA HA. But sincerely, Maui gets basically two seasons and you’ll see it in the plant life and in the temperatures. In the winter, the waves are huge on the north shore, whales visit, sharks are more prevalent, leaves fall from the trees, certain fruits are available, and some parts of the island (upcountry) get COLD at night and brisk during the day. In winter, the wind is stronger, the air is cooler, and some find it completely perfect (I do). Driving around upcountry, you’ll even see poinsettia hedges in full bloom. In the summer, the waves are calm and snorkeling is best, whales are gone, flowers are in bloom everywhere (including Plumeria!), more fruit is available, and you get that epic searing heat that you can sit on the beach with and bake for hours (ahem – reef-safe sunscreen).
Never honk your horn unless you’re on the one-lane S-turns in East Maui (Road to Hana) or West Maui. It’s not a thing and you’ll look like a real jerk.
NEVER… and I can’t stress this enough… NEVER leave your valuables in your rental car. Leave them in your lodging or just don’t bring them. Yes, break-ins are a thing and they happen.
“Aloha time” is a real thing. It means late or not at all. It can be frustrating… or you can learn to exhale, take your shoulders down from your ears, and really relax and let things be what they are. This took me a while to learn. It was a blessed change within me that I am grateful for.
If you’re not happy with the service, food, or experience at a local establishment – talk to them about it and be honest. The meanest thing you can do is to write a terrible review for a business trying to survive after a pandemic punched it in the gut. Live aloha, my friend. Karma is real.
Take this list as a helpful guide to point you to things you might love, with lots of context. Take what you want, leave what you don’t.
Buy pictures when you get home. Don’t waste a sunset by trying to capture “the perfect shot.” I saw this more times than I can count and it broke my heart every time. Countless people entirely missed the splendor of the sunset for a photo they’d probably never look at again, angling to pose, capture, and get “just the right angle.” Please don’t rob yourself of the joy of Maui. Just be with the sunset, or whatever it is. Make a memory, be present, and cherish these moments in Maui. They’re fleeting. Savor them.
When you get to Maui, let it all go. All of it. Leave your troubles behind, and be a local for a little while. Soak up some local flavor, chat up a stranger, make friends with a lizard, be present, make memories, and let your plans be fluid and joyful. You’ll thank me later.
Well, that’s it. We’ve reached the end of our journey together, and hopefully the beginning of your amazing, incredible adventure on the most perfect island in the world. Reach out to me through any of the links at the bottom of the page and let me know what you did, what you loved, and what else should be added! And don’t forget… LIVE ALOHA.
A hui ho,
I’m so excited to share my island favorites with you. Living on Maui is one of the best decisions I ever made for myself in life, and I’m richer (inside!) for it. I learned so many epic things and I can’t wait to share my favorites. Enjoy this page and let me know which things you fell in love with. I can’t wait to hear from you.
(PS – if you like the idea of making your dreams come true and being happy every day (not just when you’re on Maui!), grab a free chapter of my book, The Six Habits. You deserve to live your fullest, most joyful life – we all do!)