Free Things To Do in Maui
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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 52 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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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.
- #6View all PhotosfreeNapili Beach#6 in MauiBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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.)
- #7View all PhotosfreeWailea Beach#7 in MauiBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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, Free, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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.
- #13View all PhotosfreeBanyan Tree Park#13 in MauiFree, Parks and GardensTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and GardensTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
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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