7-Day Maui Itinerary for First-Timers

Kaanapali Beach

Kaana­pali Beach

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.

Sunset at Haleakala

Sun­set at Haleakala

Sev­eral com­pa­nies offer this sun­rise tour for about $115 per adult and $55 per child. Some well-known tour oper­a­tors include Temp­ta­tion Tours and Gray Line/Polynesian Adven­ture Tours.

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.

Iao Valley State Park

Iao Val­ley State Park

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!

Feast of Lele Fire Dancer

Feast of Lele Fire Dancer

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!

Ahi Tuna Appetizer at Mama's Fish House

Ahi Tuna Appe­tizer at Mama’s Fish House

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

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  1. Lisa says:

    Mahalo Andrea! Gor­geous pho­tos Leonard! I feel like book­ing a ticket now. Your piece has things to do even for some­one who has been there before. The last time I was in Maui was to film the big wave surfers at “Jaws” for a tv show called EXTREME HAWAII. I also remem­ber hear­ing whales sing while snor­kel­ing there. I am a big fan of Kauia and the Big Island– but you’ve got me want­ing to explore Maui some more! And take my cam­eras! Fan­tas­tic fire dance photo! I am off to Venice now for a dif­fer­ent water adventure!

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