Best Things To Do in Maui
Maui's various attractions and activities cater to just about every interest. While adventurers hike the dormant Haleakala volcano, more relaxed travelers can soak up the sun on one of many shorelines or test the fairways at one of the island's 14 golf courses. But Maui isn't just for beach bums and active types: The island offers up its own history and culture at sites like Iao Valley State Park, Banyan Tree Park and the Old Lahaina Luau. And those traveling with kids can learn all about Hawaii's underwater residents at the Maui Ocean Center.
Updated September 21, 2017
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To find excellent views of Maui's beautiful coastline, all you need to do is drive. The Road to Hana is a scenic highway (Highway 360) that twists through the lush rainforest and past the cascading waterfalls that line the island's eastern shore. Most people start their trip in Kahului (home to Maui's main airport) with the intention of motoring 55 miles to Hana. The trip isn't always easy: The route often surprises unfamiliar drivers with hairpin turns. But those who decide to step on the gas aren't sorry they did. Despite all the hype and mental preparation, travelers are regularly surprised by the drive's beauty.
The Road to Hana might seem short, but traveling it will most likely take all day given the number of scenic lookouts and other places to stop. Those who have driven the Road to Hana highly recommend taking your time and stopping as often as possible. Reviewers also recommend starting your drive early in the morning, as the road grows congested as the day progresses. If you'd rather let someone else do the driving, there are several tour companies that offer tours in luxury vans, including Valley Isle Excursions and Temptation Tours. Though pricier than driving yourself, taking a tour allows you to focus on the incredible scenery while someone else focuses on navigating the winding curves.
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After you've experienced Maui through the eyes of a fish, consider getting a bird's perspective on a helicopter tour. Recent travelers describe this experience as a "splurge" (tours can cost between $150 and $350 per person, depending on the tour operator and the duration of your flight), but they also concede that seeing Maui from the air is an incredible sight. What's more, helicopters can access parts of the island unreachable by boat, car or foot.
Most operators offer tours of West Maui and Molokai, and Hana and Haleakala, though some also take passengers on scenic, hourlong flights of the whole island. No matter which route you choose, you'll be rewarded with stunning vistas of Maui's waterfalls, craters, cliffs and valleys. Some of the most popular operators include, Air Maui, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Maverick Helicopters. Most tours depart from the Kahului Heliport in west Maui (packages do not include transportation to or from the helipad). For more information on tour inclusions and prices, visit each company's website.
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One of Maui's most popular strips of coastline, Kaanapali Beach stretches across 3 miles of the island's northwest coast, offering plenty of space to surf and sunbathe. (Be careful while swimming, however, as travelers say the currents can be deceptively strong.) But coveted sand is just one of this beach's many highlights: Kaanapali was Hawaii's first planned resort area, and today it features several notable hotels and restaurants, two championship golf courses and the lively Whalers Village open-air shopping center.
Yet for many recent visitors, Kaanapali Beach's man-made comforts don't come close to trumping its natural and more traditional features. This is also an excellent place to catch sight of the many diverse creatures that call the Pacific home. The waters here are shallow, making them good for snorkeling, and many travelers report seeing whales off the coast. Another highlight of a visit to Kaanapali Beach is the daily sunset cliff diving spectacle at Puu Kekaa (Black Rock), which pays tribute to King Kahekili, Maui's last independent king who ruled in the 18th century.
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It can be easy to become mesmerized by Maui's multicolored beaches, verdant hiking trails and breathtaking sunsets, but don't forget about the world that lives beneath the surrounding Pacific Ocean floor. According to travelers, setting aside a morning or afternoon to explore Maui's underwater creatures is an unforgettable experience. With the help of a snorkel or scuba mask, you'll see a bevy of colorful fish, sea turtles and intricate coral formations around the island's reefs.
Many of the island's top hotels will offer guests complimentary use of snorkeling equipment; some will even arrange boat tours for you. With your equipment in hand, consider exploring well-known spots, such as Kaanapali Beach, Ulua Beach and Honolua Bay. The crescent-shaped Molokini (which is located off Maui's southwestern coast) is also a popular snorkeling and scuba diving destination (in fact, it's a Marine Life Conservation District home to 250 different species of fish), but it can only be reached on a boat tour. Though a tour to Molokini won't come cheap (individual tickets can cost upward of $135), it's a must-do, according to recent Maui visitors.
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Every year, more than a million tourists visit Haleakala National Park, home to the world's largest dormant volcano. The entire park occupies 30,000 acres of land in Upcountry Maui, though most visitors focus on a few specific areas of the park. Of course, there's the mountain: Haleakala's summit stands more than 10,000 feet above sea level (in fact, you can see it from any point on the island). Travelers recommend planning your visit to the summit in the morning to see the sunrise (keep in mind you'll have to make reservations online in advance and you'll be required to pay a small fee). A fairly winding road (Route 378) will lead you to the top. No matter when you visit, be sure to wear warm layers. The air up top is thin and chilly, according to past visitors.
Once you reach the top of Haleakala, you can keep going down into the mouth of the volcano. The Haleakala Crater measures 19 square miles and offers a stark glimpse into Hawaii's early beginnings. Trails into the crater will lead you past a desert-like landscape, making for unique photo opportunities. But don't limit yourself to just the volcano. The park's most popular trail, Pipiwai, is actually at sea level, meandering 4 miles (round-trip) along Maui's southeast coast to the Waimoku Falls and the Pools of 'Ohe'o. The hike takes three to five hours to complete, but you'll walk away with some stunning photos. Note: The Pools of 'Ohe'o in the park's Kipahulu District are closed due to rock slide concerns. Check the National Park Service website for updated details.
- #6View all PhotosfreeNapili Beach#6 in MauiBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Though not nearly as expansive as Wailea or Kaanapali, crescent-shaped Napili Beach is particularly popular with families. Napili's waters are much calmer than those at other Maui beaches, so kids and adults alike can take to the seas for swimming, paddleboarding and boogie-boarding. Plus, Napili Beach provides a quiet, laid-back atmosphere that sunbathers love.
If you plan on visiting Napili, make sure you bring your snorkel gear. Napili's waves conceal a wide array of fish, not to mention a sizable sea turtle population. (Just note that it is against the law to touch sea turtles; those who violate that law could face up to $100,000 in fines and prison time.)
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You visit Hookipa to see Maui's daredevils hang 10, and you head to Kaihalulu or Waianapanapa for multicolored sands. So which beach do you go to just to swim and relax? Wailea. This shoreline caters to the sun-seeking guests of several nearby resorts. Wailea feels much less rugged than some of Maui's other beaches: The tawny-colored sand is lined by palm trees and a paved walkway connecting the shoreline to the area's hotels, shops and restaurants. What's more, visitors to this beach will have access to water sports equipment rentals. And because the waters here are relatively calm, Wailea Beach is great for those looking to swim or snorkel.
Recent visitors said the surrounding resorts do a great job keeping Wailea Beach clean, and though the region features several other prominent shorelines, travelers enjoy the hustle and bustle of Wailea. And the best feature: Wailea is free to enjoy at any time of day. You'll find these prized sands on the Maui's southwest coast.
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In Hawaiian, "Waianapanapa" means "glistening waters." But it's not the ocean that draws travelers to Waianapanapa State Park – it's the jet-black sands. The shoreline here is composed of volcanic sediment, which acts as a stark contrast to the bright blue waves and verdant jungle.
Most visitors make a quick stop at Waianapanapa to snap a photo before continuing along the Road to Hana, but there's more to see here than just the beach. Those who hike along the park's primary trail (which traces the coast past the black sand beach) will discover Waianapanapa's freshwater caves. According to Hawaiian lore, these caves were the site of the grisly murder of princess Popo'alaea who, along with her attendant, was murdered by her cruel husband, Chief Ka'akea; today, visitors can enter the caves and even swim in the pools. Those who prefer to stay dry can visit the wealth of ancient sites that line the coastal hiking trail, including pictographs and burial grounds.
- #9View all PhotosfreeHookipa Beach#9 in MauiBeaches, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
The wintertime waves at Hookipa Beach are so white and frothy that hardcore surfers and windsurfers can't stay away. The water is definitely too rough for swimming, but if you're even remotely curious about surfing, you should pause at Mile 9 along the Road to Hana to take in the action at this stretch coastline near Paia in Upcountry Maui. Even if you're not one for water sports, travelers say that the photo opportunities alone are worth stopping for. What's more, the beach is also known to attract sunbathing sea turtles (especially in the afternoon).
There aren't many changing rooms around Hookipa, and there are no restaurants to speak of. But there are a few lookout points and picnic benches set up, so pack a snack to enjoy with the scenery. (Some recent visitors mentioned that a few snack stands also set up shop here.) Surfers typically hit the waves in the morning, while the windsurfers take to the water in the afternoon. To learn more about Hookipa Beach, visit the County of Maui's website.
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Like Haleakala National Park, Iao Valley State Park offers visitors the chance to admire something other than the beach. This 4,000-acre, 10-mile-long park in Central Maui boasts a verdant landscape and striking rock features – the most famous of which is the Iao Needle. Rising roughly 1,200 feet into the air, the Iao Needle (known in Hawaiian as "Kukaemoku") was formed by erosion and is now dressed in the island's tropical foliage, leading it to appear green. In addition to the stunning landscape, Iao Valley visitors will be exposed to the park's legendary history: It was here that Maui's tribal army lost to the forces of King Kamehameha I during the Battle of Kepaniwai in 1790. It was the victory at this battle that allowed King Kamehameha to unite the entire Hawaiian archipelago under his rule.
Iao Valley State Park features numerous hiking trails, many of them leading to or offering excellent views of the Iao Needle. The most popular path is the 0.6-mile Iao Needle Lookout Trail and Ethnobotanical Loop, a paved walkway that leads straight to the iconic rock formation and through a botanical garden. Even if you don't plan on exploring beyond the Iao Needle Lookout Trail, travelers recommend bringing plenty of water; although the park has restrooms (located at the beginning of the Lookout Trail), there is no drinking water or other refreshments offered on the grounds.
- #11View all Photos#11 in MauiGolf, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDGolf, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Travelers who prefer greens to beaches will find plenty of places to put their clubs to good use. Maui is home to 14 highly acclaimed golf courses, some of them conceived by such pro designers as Arnold Palmer and Ben Crenshaw. Some of the more popular courses include the Gold, Emerald and Old Blue courses at Wailea and the Bay and Plantation courses at Kapalua. Depending on the courses you choose to play, you'll find fantastic views of Maui's coastline or volcanic formations.
Kapalua's Plantation Course is a favorite among reviewers for its spectacular setting and excellent amenities – which include a pro shop and a restaurant. From its location on Maui's northwest coast, the Plantation Course boasts spectacular views of the mountainous West Maui Forest Reserve, as well as the neighboring island, Molokai.
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The Old Lahaina Luau is one of the most popular things to do for first-time Maui visitors; those who have taken in the show highly recommend devoting an evening to this luau in particular for a fun intro to Hawaiian culture. Those who put on Lahaina's luau pride themselves on sticking to tradition, rather than catering to tourists' preconceived notions of the ceremony. Though entry rates may seem steep, previous visitors say that it's worth the cost to see the award-winning dancing and music. While you admire the performers' hula and firedancing skills, you'll dine on Hawaiian specialties, such as kalua pua'a (pork roasted in an underground oven), fresh mahi-mahi and poi (mashed taro plant).
Although some reviewers were overwhelmed by the ticket prices and underwhelmed by the food, most luau attendees were pleased with their experience.
- #13View all PhotosfreeBanyan Tree Park#13 in MauiParks and Gardens, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDRead More
Sitting near the courthouse and the harbor in the town of Lahaina on Maui's northwest coast, this relatively tiny park is centered around something huge: One of the largest banyan trees in the country. The tree – which was brought to the island from India in 1873 – rises more than 60 feet in the air, offering afternoon picnickers copious amounts of shade. The park also hosts a variety of events, including Art in the Park. Held every second and fourth weekend of the month, Art in the Park features a variety of local artists selling paintings and handmade crafts.
According to recent travelers, a visit to Banyan Tree Park doesn't take much time, but it's worth a stop. The park is also within walking distance of Lahaina's shops and restaurants, not to mention the Courthouse Museum and a variety of other local attractions. There are a variety of plaques stationed throughout the park detailing the tree's history, but you can also pick up a pamphlet at the courthouse if you want to learn more.
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If you find yourself facing a rainy day on the island, consider spending some time at the Maui Ocean Center. This facility was created to cultivate visitors' interest in learning about Hawaii's underwater ecosystems. The vast Maui Ocean Center offers a variety of ways to get up close and personal with the island's nautical residents, including touch pools and a tunnel beneath the 750,000-gallon Open Ocean exhibit (which houses more than 2,000 fish). While here, you can catch a glimpse of everything from stingrays to sea turtles to sharks.
Recent visitors described the aquarium as small, but charming. Many travelers were especially impressed with the Open Ocean tunnel. And for reviewers who had snorkeled around the island, the aquarium provided a more in-depth education into the animals they had spotted underneath the water's surface.
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