Hang Like a Local: Maui’s Top 10
Even if whale-watching tours, traffic on the road to Hana, and luaus at big chain hotels are not your style, Maui still has a lot to offer. If you embrace the authentic “aloha” spirit, Maui can be a land of bucolic hills, soulful experiences, undiscovered beaches, charming upcountry towns, and unassuming but delicious meals. Here’s an Insider’s list of 10 top activities to hang like a kamaaina (“local”) on the Valley Isle.
Paia is a laid-back, hippie-chic beach town on the north shore of Maui. The town is just one street, Baldwin Avenue, dotted with surprisingly sophisticated boutiques, art galleries, funky craft shops, and charming cafes. At Love the Beach, design your own custom bikini from a variety of patterns and styles. At Tamara Catz, pick up a sparkling silver bangle or gemstone ring. Art Project Paia features multidisciplinary works with ocean and water themes, while Indigo Paia offers an eclectic assortment of tribal arts, antiques, and rugs from Central and Southeast Asia.
For foodies, Mana Foods is a great stop to load up on a make-your-own-salad bar, fresh hummus, Maui onions, butter lettuce, and organic fruit. Another go-to is Café des Amis, where you can dine in a rustic, open-air garden sipping lilkoi (“passionfruit”) margaritas and devouring Indian-fusion organic curry dishes. Afterward, go to Ono Gelato for a delectable salted caramel ice cream cone.
Maui Yoga Shala is a community-oriented yoga and dance studio a few minutes’ walk upcountry along Baldwin Avenue from Paia’s main strip. It’s located next to a farmer’s market, on the site of an old train station. The studio attracts a staunchly loyal following of local yogis, with a mix of the occasional traveler. The main studio looks out onto a garden and is filled with light. Salute the sun and bliss out to live music in the Maui Aloha Yoga morning class. Nadi’s teaching style blends Ashtanga and Iyengar philosophies. The class is generally packed, so arrive early and bring cash ($20 for a drop-in class).
Makawao is a cute little cowboy town in upcountry Maui. It’s located at about 1,600 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mount Haleakala. Strolling around the main street, with its antique stores, art galleries, organic cafés, and boutique clothing shops, makes for a fun afternoon. Stop by Pink by Nature to check out some beaded jewelry, elegant sundresses, edgy designer jeans, cool leather bags, and a selection of embellished flats.
The Maui Spa Retreat is not like a fancy hotel spa—it’s much more. The spa experience starts with the drive; the retreat is located on a winding upcountry road where you’ll see cows grazing, hear tall grasses blowing in the wind, and smell eucalyptus trees permeating the air. Make a turn onto an unpretentious country lane, and you’ll eventually arrive at a large estate house where the Maui Spa Retreat guests are hosted for the day by the Aromatherapy Foundation of Maui, a nonprofit whose mission is to educate, research, and advance the use of essential oils and aromatherapy as a tool for well-being.
The treatment rooms offer a sweeping view of the rolling, verdant hills of upcountry Maui. The treatment begins with a eucalyptus steam, a hot outdoor shower, and a review of essential oils—such as the delightful, 100-percent organic nut-oil blend of jojoba, coconut, rosehip, macadamia, kukui nut, and borage seed—that can be used for your treatment according to your state of mind. The 50-minute traditional Hawaiian lomi-lomi massage is both soothing and thoroughly relaxing.
5. Slappy Cakes
A Portland native turned Maui resident, Slappy Cakes restaurant takes retro-chic to a new level. The blue leather bar stools with chrome finish, the hand-painted-by-the-owner mural on the wall, the original wall distortions incorporated into the restaurant design—it’s all done with breakfast love. “Become a Pancake Pro” is Slappy Cake’s motto, and true to this saying the restaurant has flat hibachi-style grills for you to cook up your own pancakes with custom-made batter. There are also free refills on sodas and yummy lavender lemonade.
Sunday night around sunset, a motley crew of partially clad beach-goers gathers at Little Beach. Drummers. Topless dancers. Bakers selling vegan “brownies.” Hula-hoopers. Fire-throwers. Singers. Loungers. All are gathered together to watch the sunset over Molokai. The scene might resemble a tropical mini-version of Coachella. Even if drumming’s not your thing, the spectacle, the hippie-community vibe, and the beautiful sunset are all worth the visit.
Morimoto at the Andaz Hotel in Wailea is a decadent delight. The Iron Chef outdoes himself with a signature zen simplicity. A personal favorite, the duck confit fried rice, is cheekily named “Duck Duck Goose” and features frozen foie gras. Calling ahead for reservations is recommended, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood and drop by, you can always grab a poolside drink while you wait at the Lehua Lounge. A delectable signature drink on the menu is the Upcountry Buck, with white rum, ginger syrup, lime, pineapple, angostura bitters, and soda.
8. DT Fleming Beach Park and the Flemings Trail/ Mahana Ridge
DT Fleming Beach Park, located along Maui’s northwest shore just off the Honoapi’ilani Highway, is one of the beaches locals actually frequent. On Saturday, you can join folks grilling, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, slacklining, and building bonfires before sunset. If you’re hankering for a hike, tackle the trail that begins just near DT Fleming Beach. The Flemings Trail/ Mahana Ridge hike is accessible around the corner from the beach parking lot at Kapalua Preschool. Several vista points along the way allow for sunset views over Molokai in the distance.
9. Star Noodle
Star Noodle, which serves Asian-fusion food and drinks in Lahaina, is a local standout. There’s usually a line outside and about an hour wait. A little-known way to skip the line is by calling ahead at (808) 667-5400 to put your name on the list. The Hapa Ramen is a classic—roast pork, spicy aka miso, bamboo shoots, and choi sum vegetables in a savory, rich pork broth. Also recommended is the Asian pear martini, which has just the right level of sweetness with a delicious splash of fresh muddled pear.
For stimulating lectures, innovative exhibitions, and a chance to participate in the vibrant arts community in Maui, spend an afternoon at the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center. Hui No’eau’s mission is to bring people together for the common purpose of developing “artistic skill and the wisdom which derives from that expression.”
Located on a 25-acre property in Upcountry Maui, the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center offers classes in subjects ranging from “Beginning Wheel Throwing” ceramics to “Understanding Hawaiian Kapa” (a fabric made by native Hawaiians from tree fiber). A visit to Hui No’eau also offers the opportunity to purchase local art at affordable prices while supporting the only community center that offers year-round access to public studio space and fine art equipment to local artists.