Last December we vacationed in Maui, Hawaii. With reliably good weather throughout, it’s one of the most sought after destination for beach lovers any time of year. Maui has varied landscapes from mountains, rainforests, beaches, cliffs to volcanoes. Maui has the perfect balance of laid back remoteness and commercial enough for entertainment.
We decided to stay at the Sheraton Black Rock Hotel and Spa in Kaanapali, West Maui. The west of Maui with mountain ranges in the backdrop is very lush and exotic. It has beautiful beaches and close to many restaurants, shopping, grocery stores and nightlife in Lahaina.
However, Kaanapali is an hour away from all other major attractions like Road to Hana, Haleakala and the south. From my experience, better planning is to make Paia the base for 1-2 nights to experience the remote beauty of Hana and then relocate to west or south for the rest of the days to explore the other parts of the island.
Renting a car in Maui is an absolute necessity to explore the island. Every day we had to drive at least 30 – 60 miles every day to see major attractions like Hana, Haleakala or explore other areas as all the places are scattered. My recommendation is to rent from the airport for easy pick-up and drop-off.
Day 1 – Exploring Kaanapali and Black Rock beach
From the airport, we headed straight to the famous Geste’s Shrimp Truck at Kahului Harbor for a lunch pick-up. It’s a short drive and this place is NOT to be missed, definitely one of the best meals in Maui! Our culinary experience starts here. Huge garlic cajun shrimps served with potato salad on the side, I still dream of it.
Day 1 was spent exploring our beautiful hotel property and the beach. Our hotel, Sheraton Maui Resort is truly a tropical paradise tugged in the Black Rock Cliff at the far north point of Kaanapali beach. Every evening Sheraton hosts a cliff diving ceremony at sunset around 6 PM. The ceremony starts with the call of a conch shell, torch lighting then followed by cliff diving. Tip: The ceremony should be best enjoyed from the hotel’s Cliff Dive Bar as you sip delicious Mai Tais and watch the sun go down.
One of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii is right here at the Black Rock. This cove is amazing for turtle-spotting, swimming, snorkeling, and cliff-jumping due to abundant bright colorful tropical fishes and sea turtles. We spotted a Honu turtle and chased the most colorful fishes on the cliff side. Sheraton hotel has a store near the cliff that rents snorkeling gear for $30 all day.
Kaanapali resort area is connected by well-paved beach walk lined with tiki-torch laden restaurants, shops at the Whalers Village mall, condominiums and resorts. The scene in the evenings very lively with live music and gorgeous sunset views. We had a relaxing day 1 ending with a beautiful dinner at Leilani’s. Don’t miss the famous Hula pie here!
The list below is the best places to eat and drink around Kaanapali.
- Gazebo for brunch, one of the BEST on the island.
- Leilani’s / Hula Grill in Whalers village – Both places offer great outdoor atmosphere. Leilani’s MUST TRY – Ono fish taco and Hula Pie. Hula Grill is packed in the evenings, has great cocktails and local bands playing.
- Miso Phat is hands down my favorite sushi place. A MUST. This place was on the TV show Diners Drive-Ins and Dives and hey, Guy Fierri was here!
- Duke’s Beach House has Mai Tai which wins the top honors. Duke’s has good HH from 3-5pm daily and best live entertainment.
- Japengo in Hyatt is a classy combo of upscale and casual. The best place to enjoy the sunset with ocean view and drinks, local beers on tap, live music and hand-rolled sushi at the bar.
Day 2 – Visit Mt. Haleakala and Lahaina
Next day we started off early by 8 AM to see Mt. Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano. Most people leave as early as 3.30 AM to watch the stunning sunrise, which is like no other as the drama unfolds in the sky. But we decided to skip the sunrise and instead make it a day trip. On our way, we stopped at Leoda’s Pie Shop for a quick breakfast. Ohh, this place has the BEST PIE in the entire freaking world! MUST TRY – coconut cream pie and banana cream pie.
The road to Mt. Haleakala was a long winding one and takes at least 2 hours to reach the peak. The park is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Entrance is $15 per vehicle. At 10,000ft high, you feel like you’re at the top of the world! However, it is cold and extremely windy. Be prepared with warm clothing. Located immediately below the summit is the visitor center from where you see the most magnificent landscape – Haleakala crater. The colors of this landscape are like a painting unfolding. There are a few hiking trails that go into the crater. It was interesting to see the endangered silversword plant which is found only at Mt. Haleakala summit in the entire planet!
By the time we drove downhill it was almost 3 PM and we were very hungry. We stopped for lunch at the Kula Bistro, a popular brunch/lunch stop for visitors on way to Haleakala. The food is very good and portion served is huge.
In the evening we went to Lahaina for dinner. The 400 years old banyan tree is a sight to see! This tree covers the largest area of any tree I have ever seen covering almost a block. It’s beautiful and feels magical to stroll under its vast ariel branches shooting to the ground. There are many boutiques, stores, galleries and eateries in Lahaina.
Our favorite eateries in Lahaina not to miss are:
- Aloha Mixed Plate offers authentic Hawaiian fare at a reasonable price and a perfect sunset view. MUST TRY – Ono Kau Kau spam musubi and Loco Moco
- Honu Seafood and pizza
- Ululani’s or Local Boys West has the best fluffy shaved ice. Try the Haleakala made with coconut, leche and topped with sweetened condensed milk.
- Maui Brewing Company for drinks. Try the Hawaiian pineapple wine.
Day 3 – Paia and Road to Hana
Day 3 we set out to Paia early to explore the hipster town and then head to Road to Hana. Paia’s Baldwin Avenue is lined with art galleries and eclectic boutiques, good for some shopping.
Best beaches in Paia are the Baldwin beach with tide pools and Ho’okipa Beach. If you are looking to see the Hawaiian green turtles and surfers, Ho’okipa beach is THE place. Go up the cliff to get the best view of top-level windsurfers from the lookout above.
Below is the list of best restaurants in Paia.
- Mama’s Fish house ($$$) listed in the top 25 Best restaurants in U.S. Arrive for sunset to stroll the palm grove and hidden cove. Note, reservation must be made at least a month in advance.
- Café de Amis for excellent sweet and savory crepes
- Flatbread Pizza
- Paia Fish Market
- Ono Gelato Company – Don’t miss a scoop of homemade gelato here.
- Charley’s for food as well as drinks, a popular local hangout.
Road to Hana
Paia is the gateway to Road to Hana. We stopped to pick some lunch and fill gas before heading for Hana. The road to Hana is a grand adventure in itself as we drove through lush rainforest with ferns and tropical flowers, waterfalls, never-ending switchbacks and 54 mostly one-lane bridges, and out of this world ocean cliff views along the way.
Few things to note before starting the road to Hana:
Highly recommend getting the GyPSy app for $10 or the Maui Revealed app! This app was so useful that I can’t stress enough! It was like a guided tour of our entire trip. It tells what the next highlight is based on your GPS location, where to park the car at each attraction, its history, and importance.
Start early and return early. It will take the full day. We targetted to leave from Paia at around 8 AM for the road. We also ensured to leave the last stop (Oheo Gulch) around 4.30 PM to return safely before dark.
- Fill up the gas and pack some lunch and water at Paia, the last gas station before the drive.
- Have cash in hand since most places accepted only cash.
Wear good hiking shoes and keep extra pairs of flip flops. It rains on and off, so the trails very muddy.
- MUST TRY – banana bread, coconut chips and fresh fruit smoothies on the way!
- If you have just 1 day, plan carefully on which stops to see. 2 full days is good to cover all properly.
We stopped at the below Marker Mile (MM) points. Note: * based on level of recommendation *** being MUST SEE!
** MM #2 – It’s an easy short walk through a slippery but beautiful trail to the Twin Falls. Sadly couldn’t take a dip as the falls water was in high-risk level. On return, we grabbed some fresh sugarcane juice and locally grown fruit at the farm stand.
* MM #4.5 – Huelo Lookout. It was a super quick stop at the fruit stand to pick up a banana bliss smoothie out of freshest fruits. Nothing noteworthy to see here.
** Between MM #6 and #7 (look left) – The Painted Grove. These eucalyptus trees are a beauty to behold!!
* MM #9.5 – Waikamoi Nature Trail. We took the short 15 minutes nature trail (a mile approx) for a warm up. The trail passes through beautiful trees, ferns, and an overlook.
** MM #17 – Keane Peninsula. We took a small detour for this and it was complete worth. The rocky volcanic coastline with the sparkling blue ocean view from here is like no other!
*** MM #17 1/3 – Halfway to Hana; A Quick stop for the MUST TRY fresh baked banana bread from this place! We got some for friends and family too.
*** MM #28.8 – Nahiku Roadside Marketplace sells some Hawaiian local products. MUST TRY is the Hana coconut candy chips from Willie for $6!. Ohh these chips are legendary! Nahiku Marketplace also has ‘the best fish tacos’ in Maui. Quick stop.
*** MM #32.2 – Waianapanapa Park’s Black Sand Beach is a MUST STOP! A short path takes to the beach which also has caves to explore. The striking black sand against the blue ocean is so unique. On our visit, beach access was closed due to rough weather.
*** Hamoa Beach, a crescent public beach is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Remote location, but perfect waves for swimming and surfing. Wish I could spend more time there. It’s listed as one of the best beaches in America!
*** MM #42 – The Oheo Gulch has the Seven Sacred Pools and Pipiwai bamboo Trail. This is a MUST STOP! This was our last stop and the most awaited one. We reached around 3 PM. 1st we headed up the to the magical bamboo Pipiwai trail which is approx 2 1/2 hour hike round trip (2 miles each way) to the Waimoku waterfalls. There is a huge banyan tree on the way to the falls. The bamboo trail is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been and I was excited like a kid. On way back, we did the quick 1/2 mile Kuloa loop to see the Sacred pools (approx 15 minutes). the 7 pools is quite a wonder of nature.
Day 4 – Iao Needle and explore South Maui
We went to see Iao Needle, the iconic natural rock formation protruding from the midst of lush green. This was on my must-see list but unfortunately, the park was closed due to heavy flooding. So we set out to explore the South coastline – the beaches of Kihei, Wailea, Makena followed by dinner at Miso Phat, hands-down the best sushi in town.
The 1st town to come across is Kihei. Kamaʻole Beach, located in Kihei is divided into three distinct beach areas (Park l, ll & lll). All the three beaches have beautiful reefs for snorkeling and boardwalks through the dunes to the beach. However, Kamaole I is the nicest beach of the three with fine white sand and great swimming conditions.
Keawakapubeach is my personal favorite local beach. A short hike from here is the Kihei boat landing which is my secret little spot in Maui to watch the sunset.
In the next town, Makena Cove Beach aka Big Beach is one of the prettiest beaches on Maui!! It also gets great views of Molokini and Kahoolawe.
Hiking up the hill from the Big beach is the Little beach. This beach is a clothing optional/nude beach. However, it’s only after dark that the Little Beach comes to life and becomes a real spectacle. After dusk, all people begin to dance in a circle with fire and drums. This event is a spectacle to witness. It attracts the free-spirited hippies and adventurer or of you are looking for off-beat adventure. It’s held every Sundays and full moons. Note: Bring a flashlight to hike back over the cliff at night.
Just past the third parking lot at Big Beach hidden behind a tall lava rock wall, is the Secret Beach aka Pakao Cove. This tiny, yet most romantic beach in Maui is the #1 beach for weddings and photoshoots in all of Hawaiʻi, for its incredible beauty! The sunsets are spectacular with the island of Kahoolawe and Molokini Crater offshore and turtles basking on the lava rocks.
For dinner, we headed to the famous sushi restaurant Miso Phat from the famed TV show Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. I would suggest this restaurant to all sushi lovers out there.
Below is the list of best local restaurants in South Maui.
- Sansei Sushi has the best sushi in Maui!
- Coconut’s Fish Cafe for fish tacos. Listed in CNN top 10 must-try in the United States!!!
- Eskimo Candy Deli for excellent poke bowls
- Da Kitchen and Cafe O’Lei for simple casual dining
- Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea has one of the best lunch menus
Day 5 – Exploring West Maui and Honolua Bay
We spent the last day exploring north of Maui, driving up to Honolua Bay. We started off with a hearty brunch at the Gazebo, known for big breakfasts. Fluffy macadamia pancakes, tastiest and huge portion of Hawaiian fried rice, sweeping ocean view – Gazebo’s breakfast is legendary, not to be missed!! Be prepared to stand in line for at least 30 minutes in wait. Walk off breakfast on the spectacular gem – the Napili bay beach. This is a prime location to spot turtles and great for snorkeling, especially at the very left by the big black rocks.
Post lunch, we drove up to Honolua Bay for snorkeling. It’s a short walk to the bay through the lush beautiful jungle. This is one of the prime spots for snorkeling and spotting honu turtles. However, the shore is all rocks only and the water was murky on the day we went.
Another spot not to miss is the Nakalele Blowhole and its picturesque heart shaped rock that we have seen in so many pictures of Maui.
I feel obligated to acquaint you with the highlights of the culinary delicacies of the island with a summarizing picture. So memorable!
Having devoured the sights and sounds of Maui it was time to wind down. My memories of Maui is etched forever as the adventurer’s ultimate paradise, the land of macadamia nuts and the best Mai Tai in the world. Mahalo for reading!