From lava-lined trails to rustic vineyards, the Valley Isle’s sights make for a memorable three-day trip.
Text by Aja Toscano
Images by Kainoa Reponte
When most imagine Maui, thoughts of cascading waterfalls and miles of golden coastline immediately come to mind. For others, who are acquainted with the Valley Isle, the nostalgic memory of visiting a local shop, such as T Komoda Bakery for its pillowy donuts on a stick, is what they recall. What replays behind the eyelids of others, who have visited Maui’s highest point, is the Haleakala sunrise, when that first glimpse of light peeks through the layer of clouds high above the summit. Whatever your daydream, this itinerary makes the most of Maui’s picturesque slopes and coasts.
Begin your Maui Friday morning in Lāhainā town. Follow the surfers to Choice Health Bar to fuel up on a refreshing açaí bowl topped with tropical fruits and local honey. Then head north, past the beaches blocked by hotels and vacation condos. Once the road begins to hug the curves of the mountains and the horizon is unhindered by buildings, you will see Mokule‘ia Bay, more commonly known as Slaughterhouse Beach. (Its name references the Honolua Ranch slaughterhouse that once sat above it, but don’t worry, it’s no longer around.) This protected cove is framed by rocky cliffs that extend into the crystal blue bay, which is ideal for a relaxing morning spent on the sand or in the water. Keep your eyes peeled for the occasional pods of dolphins that frequent the deep waters here.
Right around the corner from Mokule‘ia Bay is one of the most famous attractions on Maui’s west side, Honolua Bay. In the winter, its legendary waves lure hundreds of world champion surfers who are worth watching in action. The rest of the year, it is a great spot to spend a day snorkeling and exploring the lush walk that winds its way beneath a canopy of towering trees.
When you’re beached out, head back to Lāhainā to Betty’s Beach Café for a happy hour cocktail on the patio, with views of the ocean and the neighboring islands of Lana‘i and Moloka‘i. You can also catch the sunset while sipping handcrafted mai tais at Merriman’s Kapalua’s Point Lounge, which serves a version of the classic cocktail with Old Lahaina rum, fresh-squeezed lime, orange curaçao, and a signature honey-liliko‘i (passion fruit) foam.
Though Lāhainā is filled with restaurants of various cultural cuisines, Frida’s Mexican Beach House is a must-try. While authentic and eclectic Mexican cuisine may not be what you imagine to find in Hawai‘i, Frida’s light atmosphere, vibrant drinks, and colorful dishes packed with bold flavors will have you thinking otherwise.
Once you have sipped a cocktail or two, tuck away for the night at Hotel Wailea, the only Relais and Châteaux property in Hawai‘i, which lies upon a vast 15 acres filled with tropical foliage, waterfalls, and winding pathways. Here, you can relax within your own luxury villa with an expansive ocean-facing lanai, and cherish time away from beachfront crowds. If you still have a hankering for food, or want a more relaxed dinner, head to The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea, which incorporates the freshest produce from Maui farms and fishermen. Its menu highlights the beauty of the island’s seasonal and artisanal foods. For a little more seclusion, book the intimate Treehouse, a private venue under a canopy of mango trees with a spectacular sunset view, where you can enjoy a five-course dinner hosted by a private chef.
Wake early Saturday morning to make the drive from Kīhei to Kula, a lush area with rich volcanic soil on the slopes of Maui’s dormant volcano, Haleakala. The hub of the island’s local farming initiatives, this region is home to farms from which Maui’s best Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine restaurants source their fresh produce. Every Saturday morning, Kulamalu Town Center hosts a farmers market that starts at 7 a.m., when vendors from around the island sell a variety of local goods. Be sure to stop by the Maui Cones booth for savory homemade mochiko chicken served on rice wrapped in a nori cone.
If this market is rained out, or you would rather sit down for your meal, head to La Provence. Grab an espresso and a few scrumptious French pâtisseries, like the almond croissants or liliko‘i meringues. Enjoy your order on the open-air patio among a small crowd of regulars, who sip coffee and dine on crêpes while talking story.
From this café, head south on Lower Kula Road to Kula Botanical Garden. With its cooler climate and the occasional drizzle of rain, the 8-acre property, with paths winding between massive sugarbush proteas, colorful hydrangeas, and fragrant eucalyptus, will make you forget that you’re in the middle of the Pacific.
No weekend trip is complete without an afternoon of wine tasting. Situated in the heart of paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country, MauiWine incorporates wine tasting with stories about the land, history, and rich culture of Ulupalakua Ranch, where the winery is located. Head into the King’s Cottage—which was built as a guest cottage for King Kalakaua, who visited the ranch frequently in the late 1800s—to sample the handmade pineapple variety; sparkling and estate wines are poured every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Then, wander the estate to get a taste of its legacy, and a view of South Maui and its neighboring islands.
Although it is true that Maui’s nightlife is slim, there are still several venues in South Maui where the island’s party starters flock. Follow the house beats and young singles to The Triangle, a bar-hopper’s paradise. This trio of bars includes a mecca of live music, deejays, and dance floors. For a more sophisticated lounge experience, Ambrosia Martini Lounge offers nightly entertainment and an inviting atmosphere for everyone to enjoy. Though it isn’t strict about labels, Sunday nights are widely known as the lounge’s LGBT evenings.
On the northern coast of Maui is Pa‘ia, a historical plantation town with a bohemian personality and constant wind and waves. Head here to spend the morning among eclectic shops and quaint restaurants. The laidback Café Des Amis specializes in Mediterranean and Indian food and is known for its mouthwatering savory and sweet crêpes. Try the Mediterranean vegetable, feta, and pesto crêpe, served with organic local greens and balsamic herb vinaigrette.
Though you may not want to grab a board and paddle out, watching windsurfers and kitesurfers catch air and play among the waves is a sight to see at Ho‘okipa Beach, arguably the world’s best spot for windsurfing. The perfect vantage point for spectating is at Ho‘okipa Lookout, located right on the edge of the cliff.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the surf, head back south, stopping in Kīhei at Nalu’s South Shore Grill, where Maui Pride hosts its monthly First Sunday LGBTQ Brunch. One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is its island-style ribs, a platter of marinated beef short ribs served over mixed grain rice alongside sides of kimchee, pickled ginger, and mac salad.
From there, continue down to South Maui’s rocky shores at Keone‘o‘io Bay, or La Perouse Bay. This windy shoreline has walking trails that pass several cultural and archaeological sites en route to popular snorkeling and diving spots.
When you are ready to trade one sunny spot for another, head back north to Makena Beach State Park, or as the locals call it, Big Beach, named so because it is one of the longest beaches in Maui. The real hidden gem is located to the right end of this white-sand stretch, where visitors climb up a lava outcropping and through a narrow opening to Little Beach, which, you’ll quickly learn, is one of a few nude beaches on Maui where stripping bare seems to fly.
Though the chance to sunbathe and bodysurf naked attracts some of Little Beach’s visitors, the lively Sunday night drum circles are what draw most. As the sun sets, the real party begins. Flaming hula hoops and fireballs glow in the darkness, twirled by enchanting dancers lost in the rhythm of the drums.
Slaughterhouse Beach: mile marker 32.2 (Highway 30 aka Honoapi‘ilai Highway)
Ho‘okipa Beach Park: mile marker 8.8 (Hana Highway aka Highway 36)
Makena Beach State Park: Makena Alanui Road, 4 miles from Wailea
La Perouse Bay: End of Makena Alanui Road, 2.8 miles from Makena Beach State Park
Things to do
Kula Botanical Gardens: 638 Kekaulike Ave., Kula
MauiWine: 14815 Pi‘ilani Hwy., Kula
Ambrosia Martini Lounge: 1913 S. Kihei Rd., Kīhei
Choice Health Bar: 1087 Limahana Pl., Lāhainā
Betty’s Beach Café: 505 Front St., Lāhainā
Merriman’s Kapalua: 1 Bay Club Pl., Kapalua
Frida’s Mexican Beach House: 1287 Front St., Lāhainā
The Restaurant: 555 Kaukahi St., Wailea
La Provence: 3158 Lower Kula Rd., Kula
Café Des Amis: 42 Baldwin Ave., Paia
Nalu’s South Shore Grill: 1280 S. Kihei Rd., Kīhei