Kaanapali Beach from Black Rock, Maui, Hawaii

The Best Things to Do in Maui

BY Hilary Harty | April 11, 2022

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Maui? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Maui?”

How do we love Maui? Let’s count the ways. We love the long stretches of red, black and white sand beaches. We love the cerulean blue and turquoise waters gently brushing against each sandy coastline. We love the rich history of the island and the cultural rainbow of Hawaiian individuals. We even love taking medicine so my stomach can handle the undulating catamarans, winding roads of Hana and the high elevation of Pu’u’la’ula Summit during sunrise.

Maui may be the second largest island behind Hawai’i and the second-most populous behind Oahu, but it is arguably the most luxurious. The Valley Isle is also a popular vacation destination for celebrities, some of whom have homes on the island, like Oprah Winfrey, Woody Harrelson and Mick Fleetwood, to name a few.

Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of glistening waterfalls to see, sapid foods to taste and unforgettable adventures to take while visiting Maui. And although lounging on a beach, sipping lava flow cocktails and going to a luau (we recommend the Old Lahaina Luau) is always a scream, the Valley Isle is rich with beauty, history, culture and flavors that expand well past the amenities of a resort. Since a trip to Maui can be pricey, we recommend checking out our suggestions below to craft an exciting itinerary to maximize your time — and as always, make sure to pack reef-safe sunscreen and practice pono while visiting the dazzling Aloha State.

Check In and Zen Out

Kā'anapali Beach Hotel
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Kā'anapali Beach Hotel

Kā'anapali Beach Hotel

2525 Ka'anapali Parkway, Lahaina, HI, USA

Affectionately dubbed “Hawaii’s Most Hawaiian Hotel,” Kā’anapali Beach Hotel highlights Hawaiian traditions through its unparalleled suites and experiences on one of the state’s most revered beaches. What the family-friendly stunner lacks in luxury, it makes up for in long-established accommodations brimming with rattan and wicker fixtures and tropical motifs that will help you ease into island life after a lengthy flight from the mainland. Moreover, guests can learn about the history of the Hawaiian language and hula dancing before trying their hand out at the ukulele or attending a lei-making workshop.

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Napili Kai Beach Resort
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Napili Kai Beach Resort

Napili Kai Beach Resort

5900 Lower Honoapiilani Road, Lahaina, HI, USA

Steps away from one of Maui’s premier snorkeling spots, the Napili Kai Beach Resort is a historic and captivating inn beloved by families, golden-agers and travelers looking to explore the diverse array of marine life that call Napili Bay home. Unlike the towering behemoths you might find on the shores of Kā’anapali or Wailea, the plantation-style accommodations at Napili Kai are just two stories high and surrounded by lush palm foliage that likely predates the resort’s opening in 1962. Visitors can look forward to an 18-hole putting green, weekly mai tai parties and four swimming pools that overlook the bay’s crystalline waters. Don’t be surprised if you spot sea turtles lounging in the sandy cove on your way to tuck into a delectable breakfast at Gazebo

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Paia Inn
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Paia Inn

Paia Inn

93 Hana Hwy, Paia, Hawaii, USA

If you’re planning a trip to the Valley Isle, then the North Shore’s Paia Inn should be on your vacation radar. Situated in the bohemian town of Pa’ia, the cream-hued and ultra-modern haven offers just three rooms, five suites and one beach house, making it an essential destination for those seeking intimate and relaxed accommodations. Each of the contemporary quarters has an open-air ingress, and the suites’ décor is beachy and minimal. The inn’s prime location makes it a superb place to stay after riding the Road to Hana (more on that below) or before heading to surfer-friendly Ho’okipa Beach Park.

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Explore Maui's Pristine Beaches

Kama’ole Beach Park. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Kama’ole Beach Park. Photo via Shutterstock.

Kama’ole Beach Park

Kamaole Beach Park I, Alanui Ke'ali'i, Kihei, HI, USA

Kama’ole Beach Park is actually three beaches known colloquially as “Kam 1,” “Kam 2” and “Kam 3” in the west Maui town of Kihei. While the entire park offers a total of one-and-a-half miles of white sands, craggy lava formations separate each of the three beaches and are home to some of the most pristine coral reefs on the island. The beaches are in a sweet spot between Wailea and Lahaina, and are fantastic spots for seaside picnics. After a day of sun and surf, cool off with a Blue Hawaii coconut lemonade from nearby Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade.

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Looking down on Kaanapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Looking down on Kaanapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii. Photo via Shutterstock.

Kā'anapali Beach

Kaanapali Beach, Kaanapali, HI, USA

West Maui’s Kā’anapali Beach is an international darling that has landed a spot as one of the world’s best beaches for decades. The popular tourist destination stretches three miles of sandy beaches and provides a canvas for Maui’s famed turquoise clear waters. The beach has a little something for everyone, from snorkeling, scuba diving or even lounging around and working on your tan all day. Kā’anapali Beach is also a stone’s throw from Whaler’s Village and its boutique shops and restaurants like Monkeypod Kitchen, where you can sip on a celebrated mai tai topped with lilikoi foam. Can’t get away for vacation but still want to take in the beach? Watch a live stream of all the action via the Kā’anapali Live Cam.

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Kapalua Bay
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Beach at Kapalua Bay in the morning light, Maui, Hawaii. Photo via Shutterstock.

Kapalua Bay

Kapalua Bay Beach, Kapalua, HI, USA

Pristine golden sands, soaring palm trees and beautiful coral reefs grace Kapalua Bay, a crescent-shaped cove teeming with tropical marine life on the northwest side of Maui. If you’re hoping to spot sea turtles, parrotfish and moray eels, look no further, as the jagged and rocky edges of the cove make the glassy waters ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. The bay is also home to ultra-luxe resorts like Montage Kapalua Bay and the palatial Ritz-Carlton and is a family-friendly spot for kids learning to get their sea legs. Those who’d prefer to stay on dry land can take in the marvelous views of the Pacific from the approachable, two-and-a-half-mile out and back Kapalua Coastal Trail.

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Aerial view at Puu Olai cinder cone, little and big beach of Makena State Park. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Aerial view at Puu Olai cinder cone, little and big beach of Makena State Park. Photo via Shutterstock.

Mākena State Park

Mākena State Park, Makena Alanui, Kihei, HI, USA

Just south of the opulent and ritzy resorts that line the white sands of Wailea is Mākena State Park. A magnificent and secluded coastline spread over three beaches, the park surrounds a 360-foot-high volcanic and dormant cinder cone. Oneloa Beach, or “Big Beach” as nicknamed by locals, covers nearly half of the park and is loved by sunbathers for its cooling sands, while Pu’u Ola’i Beach, or “Little Beach,” is a famous spot to swim in the buff. The park also is home to Naupaka Beach, one of Maui’s only stunning black sand beaches. Make sure to stop by Little Beach on Sunday nights to enjoy fire dancing and drum circles.

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More to see

Haleakalā National Park
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Haleakalā National Park. Photo via Shutterstock.

Explore Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii, USA

As one of two national parks in Hawaii, Haleakalā National Park is a bucket-list destination for outdoor enthusiasts across the globe. Named after the dormant volcano within the park’s boundaries, Haleakalā covers nearly 25,000 acres of precious Maui land and offers voyagers 30 miles of hiking trails ranging from short out and back trips to journeys that can span days. Paths can lead through the shrublands of the summit district and into the volcano’s crater — a red and orange region of the park that looks like you’re trekking across Mars — or can wind through a subalpine zone and down into the Hana rainforest district. Tourists who can’t dedicate a huge chunk of time to park exploration can make a reservation and head to the summit to watch the sunrise over Haleakala — an experience that is unforgettably beautiful.

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Drive the road to Hana
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Drive the road to Hana in Maui. Photo via Shutterstock.

Drive the Road to Hana

Hana Highway, Haiku, HI, USA

Affectionately dubbed the “Road to Hana,” the awe-inspiring Hana Highway spans nearly 65 winding miles down the windward side of Maui, passing through the island’s lush rainforest, thick with tropical vegetation and rushing waterfalls. The roadway is notoriously narrow and chiefly one lane, featuring over 600 hairpin curves and covering almost 60 bridges to Hana town. That said, riding the Road to Hana is widely considered an incomparable experience that is less about the destination and more about the journey. Along the run from Kahului to Hana, excursionists can visit surging cascades like Twin Falls, the Seven Sacred Pools, Wailua Falls and the unparalleled Waimoku Falls, accessible via Haleakalā National Park’s bamboo-dense Pipiwai Trail. The east Maui highway also boasts lava-formed tubes, rainbow eucalyptus forests, an arboretum and Wai’ānapanapa State Park reservation-only black sand beach. Along the way, grab some mangoes and passion fruit from fresh fruit stands, or freshly baked banana bread from Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread, organic ice cream from Coconut Glen’s or Huli Huli Chicken from a stand overlooking the breathtaking Koki Beach. We recommend checking into a tropical suite at the palatial Hana-Maui Resort and unwinding in their massive pool overlooking Hana Bay.

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Take a Farm Tour

The Valley Isle may be known for its stunning beaches, lush rainforests and shimmering waterfalls, but if you want to take in the intricacies of island life, you must make time for a farm tour in Maui’s wonderful countryside. Lucky for you, there is no shortage of tailor-made tours across the island to pique your interest, like the O’o Farm Breakfast & Coffee Tour, a seed-to-cup tour where you’ll wander the dense Waipoli forest to follow the journey of your jitter juice. The island’s balmy weather also means Maui is ripe for growing tropical fruit, and tours like the Hali’imaile Pineapple Tour, the Punakea Palms Coconut Farm Tasting Tour and the Maui Dragon Fruit Farm Tropical Fruit Tasting Walking Tour (a mouthful) are exceptional places to learn about Maui’s agricultural endeavors. If coffee and fruit don’t sound like a bonne bouche, visit one of the island’s fantastic wineries, distilleries, cacao estates or maybe an animal farm.

Learn About Hawaiian History

Beyond the frozen cocktails with paper umbrellas and wide-brimmed hats, Maui is teeming with opportunities to learn more about the culture and history of Hawaiians at places like the ʻĪao Valley State Monument. Tucked away in the surrounding West Maui Mountains, the valley is home to the ʻĪao Needle Lookout Trail leading through a thick rainforest where the Battle of Kepaniwai took place in 1790. Not far away, the Kepaniwai Park and Heritage Gardens memorializes the various cultures that have made an impact on Hawaii through thoughtful displays across the lush grounds. If you’re looking to dig into the roots of Hawaii, check out Hale Hō’ike’ike at the Bailey House, a collection full of historical artifacts and photographs maintained by the Maui Historical Society. The Valley Isle also offers outrigger canoe tours that teach voyaging tourists about the cultural significance of the traditional vessels while exploring reef formations in places like Turtle Town.

Visit the Small Towns That Make Maui Extraordinary

If you want to get a feel for how the locals live on Maui, visiting any of the island’s picturesque towns is a fantastic way to begin. A trip to old Lahaina town is just minutes away from Kā’anapali, and visiting popular shops, restaurants like Down the Hatch, and the colossal banyan tree (it spans an ENTIRE city block) is a memorable way to spend the day. Alternatively, if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of beach life, take a trip to the Upcountry village of Makawao and see how the Hawaiian cowboys ranched way back when. The Paniolo charmer has a surging art community, which means the streets are lined with treasured art galleries and bespoke boutiques to peruse — just make sure to visit any day but Wednesday or Sunday to ensure you can taste an ambrosial guava malasada from the 106-year-old T. Komoda Store and Bakery. And don’t even think about sleeping on the North Shore gem of Pa’ia town. Nicknamed the “Windsurfing Capital of the World,” Pa’ia is cherished by locals, hippies and surfers for the bohemian vibes and big swells. Stop by Pe’ahi — also called Jaws — and check out big-wave surfers catching gnarly breaks.

Get on a Boat

If you make it to Maui, you have to check out the Pacific pleasure cruises. Whether you choose to visit the neighboring island of Lanai via Trilogy Excursions to tour the island’s rocky terrain or ride the Princess ferry to Moloka’i for an overnight stay at the tranquil seaside Hotel Moloka’i, there’s no wrong way to take in the South Pacific scenery. Snorkel and scuba enthusiasts will want to visit the Molokini Crater, a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater home to over 200 phenomenal marine species. While you can’t actually step on the federally owned sea bird sanctuary, local tour companies like Kai Kanani offer exclusive catamaran tours to the crystal clear waters surrounding the islet. If you’d rather take in the panorama from the boat, you can set out on a whale watching tour like the Pacific Whale Foundation’s sail from November through April. For the honeymooners set, there are romantic cruises like the Royal Sunset Sail from Alii Nui. 

Taste the Flavors of the Valley Isle

Foodland Farms
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Foodland Farms

Foodland Grocery Stores

345 Keawe Street, Lahaina, HI, USA

Hear us out — while a grocery store may not be the first place you choose to taste the fare of Maui, Foodland has been voted “Hawaii’s Home for Poke” for the last nine years, meaning it’s highly favored by locals and a great place to taste the flavorful dish. Thankfully, the grocer sells the delicacy by the pound, meaning you can pick up a little ahi wasabi and shoyu poke to enjoy on the sandy shores of your favorite beach. We also suggest snagging some Spam musubi and a Hawaiian Sun to enjoy as a tasty post-snorkeling snack.

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Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop
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Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop

Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop

820 Olowalu Village Rd, Lahaina, HI, USA

Situated across the street from Olowalu Beach on the island’s leeward side, Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop may be the crown jewel of lunch spots in Maui. Devotees love Leoda’s piled-high sandwiches like the seared ahi and club, but what the eatery is really known for is their pies — oh my! Leoda’s personal pies come in scrumptious flavors like rich chocolate mac nut, silky coconut cream and the sweet guava chiffon pie. 

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Mama's Fish House
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Mama's Fish House

Mama's Fish House

799 Poho Place, Paia, HI, USA

Mama’s Fish House is one of the exceptional restaurants in Maui. The open-air eatery was established in 1973 and sits on Maui’s North Shore, overlooking lofty palm trees and the sandy shores of Kula Cove. Admirers of Mama’s Polynesian fare include locals, tourists and celebrities like Helen Hunt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Frank Sinatra once upon a time. The celebrated restaurant updates its menu each day with the name of the daily catch they receive from local fisherman and even include information about which waters the fish is from and the name of the fisherman’s vessel. Reservations can be competitive, so we suggest booking a table five months in advance, which is a minor inconvenience for entrees like Big Island kanpachi stuffed with lobster and baked in a macadamia nut crust.

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Tin Roof Maui
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Tin Roof Maui

Tin Roof Maui

360 Papa Place, Kahului, HI, USA

Nestled in the North Shore port of Kahului, Tin Roof Maui is the brainchild of Hawaii native and “Top Chef” alum Sheldon Simeon. Chef Simeon and his crew take a farm-to-table approach to the restaurant and work intimately with local farmers, fishers and suppliers to serve the people ono food like kau kau tins stuffed with pork belly, garlic shrimp and mochiko chicken. Before heading to the airport, pick up a signed copy of Chef Simeon’s outstanding cookbook “Cook Real Hawai’i” and a jar of house-made kimchi while you’re there.

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Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice
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Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice

Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice

61 South Kihei Road, Kihei, HI, USA

For the umpteenth time, it’s SHAVE ice, not shaved ice, y’all — and I’ll be damned if I allow you to compare it to a sno-cone. All jokes aside, the significance of shave ice to Hawaii’s food history can’t be overstated, and Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice is just the place to try it on Maui. The frozen dessert is made when a block ice shaver grates the ice down to perfectly smooth flakes that then get covered with handcrafted syrups like creamy coconut, tangy mango and citrusy calamansi. It’s melt-in-your-mouth soft — there is no crunching of ice with shave ice — and absolutely refreshing on a warm Hawaii day. Add some macadamia nut ice cream or a haupia snow cap if you’re feeling wild.

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