Planning a Hawaiian vacation can be difficult because each island is so different and it can be hard to figure out which one(s) to visit. You can’t do them all but wouldn’t that be amazing? I would say choose Maui if you’re looking for a good mix of nature and villages/towns. Compared to some of the other islands, Maui is actually pretty commercialized but it makes for a great first trip to Hawaii.
Once you’ve made the decision to visit Maui, another important decision to make is which part of the island to stay in since each part has its own vibe and personality. We could not make up our mind so we decided to try out 2 different parts—the northern tip known as Kapalua and the southwestern corner known as Wailea. Both are great but it depends what you’re looking for.
Located about an hour from Kahului airport (the main airport in Maui), Kapalua feels a bit remote. The community is built around the famous PGA golf course in the green, lush surroundings. There are only a few hotels and many condos in this exclusive neighborhood. The only swimmable beach in this area is Kapalua Beach because the more north you go, the more exposure the island gets to the open ocean and the rougher the waters get. Choose Kapalua if you want peace and quiet. This is a great location for a honeymoon, naturally, but when and if you get tired of the seclusion, it is just a short drive into the old whaling village known as Lahaina filled with shops, restaurants, casual bars, a marina and a fantastic sunset.
Wailea on the other hand feels a bit busier and has more of a resort-town feel to it. This is the area that you will find hotel after hotel lined up along the beach. There is no town center like Lahaina to visit but there are some restaurants located outside of the resorts in small shopping plazas. There are more beaches for swimming on this part of the island since the water is a bit calmer and there is a fantastic paved path along the beach perfect for strolling around sunset. The big advantage of this area is that the weather tends to be less rainy and a bit warmer than the northern part of the island. It is also closer to the airport—about 30 minutes. Choose this area for more predicable weather and closer proximity to the airport.
WHERE TO STAY
In Kapalua, if the budget allows, both the Ritz Carlton and the Montage are great. Choose the Ritz for more of a hotel experience with an amazing spa (maybe the best on the island) and for the pool area which is impressive. Choose the Montage to be closer to the swimmable beach and to have a full gourmet kitchen. Also the Montage is much smaller (only 50 residences) so less of a crowd. In terms of more budget-friendly options, the Westin and the Sheraton in Ka'anapali, which is the area adjacent to Kapalua, have a lot to offer for the price.
In Wailea, you have much much more to choose from. For a splurge, go for the Four Seasons. Although the property itself is not very new, the rooms have been recently renovated. And you really can’t beat the service (think pool attendants that polish your sunglasses and spritz you with Evian water). For a hip, fresh new product go for the Andaz which tends to attract more young couples. And for something a bit more budget-friendly the Marriott Wailea just went through a huge renovation and would be a great option.
TIP: Realistically you will be spending a lot of time at your resort so my best advice is to book the best possible hotel (and room) that you can afford. You will want to spend time by the pool or at the beach or sitting at the bar watching the hula dancers. You will be happy you splurged for a room with a view (sunset mai tais on your lanai? yes please!) Sure Hawaii is about the adventures but it’s also about taking in your beautiful surroundings and doing nothing.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
A vacation to Maui can be as action-packed or as relaxing as you want it. If you decide to venture outside the resort grounds there is plenty to choose from.
Make sure you do the Road to Hana which takes you down a windy road through the rainforest. There are tons of impromptu spots to pull over and snag a photo or you can download a guide on your phone (i.e. Shaka Guide) which will tell you where the cool spots are. I would dedicate an entire day for this and note that it is not possible to drive all the way around the bottom part of the island so at one point you will have to turn around and backtrack.
While I did not personally do this, another popular activity is to watch the sunrise from the summit of the Haleakala volcano. There is a paved (but windy) road to the top for vehicles but the view from what I hear is well worth it. The volcano is located in a national park of the same name which is home to cool things like lava flows, waterfalls, bamboo forests, and natural pools which you could explore after sunrise.
If you have time, visit the cute little town of Paia which is at the northern part of the Road to Hana and not far from the airport. I recommend walking around and staying for lunch or dinner at one of the best restaurants on the island, Mama’s Fish House.
And it’s like stating the obvious to mention that Maui is home to many beautiful beaches, including Makena State Park and some with black lava sand.
The above is just a sampling of what to do on the island and there is so much more! Or you can be like us and just RELAX by the pool, sipping on things that come in a pineapple…
TIP: I highly recommend renting a car for maximum exploration potential. Most, if not all, of the above activities require you to have a car and it is worth it to be on your own time. Driving around the island was not hard and far less stressful than driving in Boston or on the 405!
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK
In Kapalua, the place to be is Merriman’s. Book a table for sunset—both the meal and the view will be spectacular. Or opt for Happy Hour at the outdoor lounge which has daily live music, yummy cocktails and pupu to snack on. Also, don’t miss Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop for sandwiches and pastry which is on this part of the island just outside Lahaina.
In Wailea, don’t miss Monkeypod which is by the same owners as Merriman’s but more gastropub-by than fine dining. Also Morimoto at the Andaz has great sushi. Even if you’re not staying at the Four Seasons, I suggest you go for a drink in the lobby lounge just before sunset. What’s so special about it you ask? Well there is a torch lighting ceremony every night with live hula dancers. Totally worth it for that $20 mai tai!
If you’ve made it this far, mahalo for reading! Now who wants to go to Hawaii?
P.S. Hawaiian Airlines recently announced non-stop service from Boston to Honolulu starting April 2019. At over 5,000 miles and 11 hours there/10 hours back, it will be the longest domestic flight ever (a little avgeek fun fact). So get ready Bostonians, you soon will get to hear ‘aloha and mahalo’ over the loud speaker at the airport. Something about it just gets you excited!