I just returned from a fabulous family reunion on Maui. The island truly is paradise and offers pastimes that everyone in the family—from toddlers to seniors—can enjoy.
If you’ve yet to visit Maui, make plans now and follow my suggested seven-day itinerary for first-timers…
Day 1: Arrival
If you’re traveling from the United States, especially the East Coast, you’ll likely arrive in Maui in the late afternoon. Pick up your rental car, stop off at Costco—a two-minute drive from the airport—to pick up any last-minute items like sunscreen or a Hawaiian shirt and then head for your hotel. Soak up the ambiance, have some dinner, and then hit the hay. It’s six hours earlier in Maui than it is in New York City so if you’re traveling from the East Coast, you’ll be tired!
Day 2: Sunrise at Haleakala and Then the Pool
One of the most spectacular sights you’ll see on Maui is sunrise from Haleakala, the island’s volcano. It’s best to do this tour on your first morning. Why? Well, because of the time difference you’ll wake up early in Maui anyway. Take advantage of that and do this tour, which calls for a 2:15am pick-up if you’re staying in West Maui.
When you get back from the tour at about 11am, head to the pool to spend the day relaxing. I like to pre-book a pool cabana or beach hale so I can easily control the amount of sun and shade I subject myself to. I also like having the convenience of a dedicated cabana attendant to make sure the tropical drinks keep flowing. Lunch can also be served al fresco. Contact your resort to learn about your options.
After a shower and some time in your room, head to Star Noodle at 286 Kupuohi Street in Lahaina for dinner. While this restaurant is located in an off-the-beaten-path business district, it’s worth the trip. Do yourself a favor and make reservations in advance. This place is open from 10:30am to 10pm and it is almost always packed with locals and tourists alike.
Appetizers like the steamed pork buns, yakitori, kim chee, and Filipino “bacon and eggs” are all very popular. The noodle dishes—like Buckwheat Soba with daikon, wasabi, scallion and tsuyu and Singapore Noodles with chicken, shrimp, and veggies—are outstanding. There are also island specials like fried saimin (kamaboko, spam, eggs and bean sprouts) and Lahaina Fried Soup, which is fat chow finn with port and bean sprouts. Desserts include malasadas (Portuguese-style donuts), mango pudding, and homemade ice cream in a variety of flavors.
Day 3: Zipline and Iao Valley Park State Park
For the adventurous types, try ziplining on Day 3. My sister’s family did this at Maui Zipline at 1670 Honoapiilani Highway in Wailuku. The entire family, including my nieces ages 15, 13, and 11 had a blast doing this. Located at the Maui Tropical Plantation, this is just 10 minutes from the airport or 30 minutes from both Kaanapali or Wailea.
There are five side-by-side ziplines ranging from 300 to 900 feet. The tour is $90 per person plus tax and tip. What I like about Maui Zipline is that they welcome everyone—even chickens who don’t want to zipline! This is helpful if someone in the family wants to watch everyone else hipline but doesn’t want to try it himself. There is no charge for spectators.
For lunch, visit a local favorite: Sam Sato’s at 1750 Wili Pa Loop in Wailuku (about 10 minutes from Maui Zipline). The restaurant is open from 7am to 2pm Monday through Saturday. Best known for its teriyaki beef and dry noodles (saimin, char sui, onions, and bean sprouts), Sam Sato’s is also the place to try manju, a type of Japanese dessert. This bite-sized flaky pastry is filled with either azuki bean paste or lima bean paste. This place is super affordable. Our table of nine spent $66 for a huge meal.
Next up, drive west to Iao Valley State Park where you’ll see Iao Needle, a 1,200-foot peak that was created by erosion. There’s a one-mile walkway through a botanical garden and along a fast-moving stream that leads to a scenic lookout point that was also the site of a famous battle between King Kamehameha I’s forces and the Maui army in 1790. Kamehameha conquered during that battle. This is a good bet for a hot afternoon since the hike through the botanical garden is shaded. There is a $5 fee to park your car at the lot here.
Tonight, grab dinner at one of the many restaurants on Front Street in Lahaina. Several offer fantastic views over the water at sunset. For dessert, don’t miss Ululani’s Shave Ice at both 790 and 819 Front Street. My nieces and nephews demanded that we go back to Ululani’s three times! There are 40 flavors to choose from and 10 sugar-free options. My favorite flavors include coconut, guava, pineapple, passion fruit, lychee, mango, and tamarind. There are also fun add-ons, like Roselani’s ice cream at the bottom of the shave ice, a “snow cap” (which is a sweet, creamy mixture that tops the shave ice), shredded coconut, homemade azuki beans, fresh mocha balls, and tapioca pearls in coconut milk.
Day 4: Picnic at DT Fleming Beach Park and Snorkeling at Honolua Bay
D.T. Fleming Beach Park is one of my favorite beaches on Maui’s west side. Located in Kapalua, this beach is great for boogie boarding, viewing sea turtles, and enjoying a picnic lunch at the tables situated under shady pine trees. A lifeguard is on duty here and there are restroom facilities. Pick up lunch at either CJ’s Deli at 2580 Kekaa Drive in Kaanapali (they’ll even pack your lunch in a cooler, which you can return later) or Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop at 820 Olowalu Village Road at Honoapiilani Highway in Lahaina. In addition to sandwiches, Leoda’s makes delectable sweets like yuzu-lemon tart, macadamia chocolate praline pie, and coconut cream pie. Yum!
If you’re visiting in the summertime, head to Honolua Bay—about 20 minutes north of Lahaina—in the afternoon for snorkeling. (In the winter this location is actually a good place to surf, but not snorkel. If you’re visiting in the wintertime, try a different snorkel spot like Black Rock, Napili Beach, or Kapalua Beach.) At Honolua Bay, you’ll have a short walk through a wooded area before reaching the bay, which is quite rocky and includes an old boat ramp (a good place to edge into the water).
Day 5: The Road to Hana
My husband and I have done the Road to Hana three times and each time we hired a private guide to drive us. Why? This 68-mile stretch also known as Hana Highway is an incredibly narrow and windy road that includes 59 bridges, 46 of which are one lane wide. It’s a gorgeous ride, but it can also be a white-knuckler for the driver who has to deal with narrow roadways (sometimes causing the driver to have to back up down windy hills with no guardrails in order to let others pass). Trust me, it’s a lot more fun if someone else is driving!
Most recently we booked Jonathan, owner of Hana 4 Less, to take us on the Reverse Road to Hana Tour. Our group of seven enjoyed Jonathan’s commentary about the island as we drove to Hana in reverse… in other words, reaching the Pools of O’heo (the Seven Pools) in the early morning before bus loads of tourists arrived. Indeed, we were one of the first groups at the Pools and it made a huge difference.
We made 20 stops throughout the day. Highlights included swimming at Wailua Falls and touring an underground lava tube. The stop at Keanae Peninsula was fantastic for photos and we even saw red, black, and green sand beaches. We ate lunch in Hana at Braddah Hutts, a laid-back roadside BBQ joint. We had fish tacos, BBQ pork, shrimp pasta, and salad and it was all delicious (and they take credit cards).
Jonathan was terrific accommodating our group’s requests and the van was more than comfortable for the 12-hour day. He’s lived on Maui for many, many years and I don’t think there’s a question about the island that he can’t answer. If you wish to book Hana 4 Less, call way in advance since he’s in demand and is rarely available at a moment’s notice.
A tour of the Road to Hana is a long day. You’ll start at 6am and return to your hotel or condo around 6pm. We were quite tired by the end of the day and enjoyed a simple dinner at the hotel restaurant that evening.
Day 6: Wailea Beach and the Feast at Lele Luau
On Day 6 spend some time exploring Wailea and its gorgeous beach. Visit some of the swank hotels in the area, like the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, and the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea.
Spend the evening enjoying the Feast at Lele, a Polynesia revue that includes traditional Hawaiian, Tahitian, Samoan, and New Zealand dances and food from those corresponding regions. This is a very high-end luau. It starts with photo opportunities on the beach. Beautiful setting. Drinks are included and the multi-course menu included favorites like imu-roasted kalua pig, scallops, and pohole ferns and heart of palm salad. This is my favorite luau because it’s more intimate, your party gets a private table (no shared long tables), the dancers are fantastic, and the food is gourmet quality. Even the five-year-old in our group enjoyed this show—especially once the fire dancer took to the stage!
Day 7: Shop and Relax or Snorkel Molokini Crater
I also prefer to spend the last day of my vacations picking up souvenirs for the folks back home, relaxing by the pool and enjoying the resort, or getting back to my favorite restaurants. On Maui, that means at least one dinner at Mama’s Fish House at 799 Poho Place in Paia. This has to be one of my favorite restaurants in the entire world. It’s located on a small stretch of beach and it’s a nice and relaxed “special occasion” restaurant. The food, heavily featuring fish and seafood, is right up my alley and desserts are especially delicious here. Last week when I dined there I ordered the Prawns Polynesian with Taha’a vanilla sauce and the prime beef short rib “Pulehu” with purple Molokai sweet potatoes and sautéed Hamakua mushrooms. Almost everyone at our table ordered the Polynesian Black Pearl for dessert, lilikoi (passion fruit) chocolate mousse in a pastry seashell. Delicious!
If you’d prefer a more active day, book a catamaran trip to Molokini Crater and go snorkeling in the crystal clear water. Many tours will also stop at “Turtle Town” to view sea turtles. We sailed aboard Four Winds II last week and it was perfect for our group that included five children between the ages of 15 and five. There’s a water slide off the boat and a small (really small) glass-bottom for viewing the sea life without going into the water. The crew was fantastic and this was a good bet for our group. I’d also like to try one of the tours from the Pacific Whale Foundation one of these days.
Those are my suggestions for first-timers heading to Maui. Where are your favorite spots on the island? Share them in the comments section below.
—Andrea M. Rotondo at Luxury Travel Mavens
Photos © Leonard Hospidor