By Alan Dickeson
Grab your snorkel, sun block, and sense of adventure! Here are 16 Must-See Maui, Hawaii Tourist Attractions that will make your vacation one you’ll remember for a lifetime. Take a look at these exciting activities, hot spots, and natural wonders, and you’ll know why in the islands people say, “Maui na ka oi.” (Maui is the best of all the Hawaiian Islands!)
1. Haleakala Summit
The crown jewel of Maui tourist attractions has inspired countless visitors, including Mark Twain, with its majestic peak and regal presence. Haleakala, which translates to “House of the Sun,” earned its name from a famous tale about the demigod called Maui who trapped the sun from atop Haleakala to please his grandmother, Hina. The magic of Haleakala, and the expansive views it commands are highly cherished, especially at sunrise. Every year, thousands of travelers make the long drive up the winding road to watch a new day dawn. Pristine morning air, bulbous clouds dancing across the summit, and red-violet light spreading across the Pacific is a poem waiting to be written. Admission fees are $10 per vehicle, or $5 per person with no car, and $5 for a motorcycle. The Park is open 24/7, 365 days per year.
2. Kula Lodge and Restaurant
There is a fine-dining establishment on Maui that rises above the rest—literally. At an elevation of 3,200 ft, the Kula Lodge & Restaurant offers patrons mouth-watering food, an authentic lodge-like ambiance, and captivating views of Maui below! Choose from scrumptious morning breakfast fare of eggs, fresh island fruit, and griddle dishes, to more enticing lunch or dinner items like mango BBQ ribs, cioppino, Cornish hen, Maui steaks, fresh fish, or vegetable quesadilla. The Kula Lodge also has 5 bucolic chalets available for overnight rental. Open 7 days a week at 7 a.m. Located on Hwy 377, not 37, about six miles past Pukalani.
3. Beginner’s Surfing at Puamana/Launiupoko/Kalama
It’s amazing many tourists never experience the thrill of surfing. This sport of ancient Hawaiian royalty is actually affordable and easy to learn. Many great beginner spots on Maui provide gentle, small waves that even most children can handle. Be sure to visit Launiupoko and Puamana Beach Parks on the west side of Maui, just south of Lahaina. In Kihei, rookie surfers catch waves at the south end of Kalama Beach Park. A longboard is preferable for these locations, and one can be rented on-site or nearby, with or without lessons. Most county parks are open 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
4. Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC)
This powerhouse of a performing arts venue is one of Maui’s top attractions. For almost 20 years, the MACC has hosted one stellar performance after another. Whatever your thrill is, you can probably enjoy it at the MACC in the form of dance, song, art, multi-media, or video. Past shows have featured Tony Bennett, the Harlem Globetrotters, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Margaret Cho, The Who, and many more! The MACC features a 1,200 seat theater; the smaller, 300-seat McCoy Theater; an outdoor dance platform dedicated to hula; a museum-quality art gallery; a pavilion stage under a glass-domed roof; and the Founder’s Courtyard which offers outdoor, bistro dining before performances. The MACC is open Monday thru Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Ticket prices vary.
5. Maui Helicopter Tours
Without question, one of Maui’s jaw-dropping activities is a helicopter ride over the long and lush expanses of hidden Maui. There are several companies on the island that will ferry you and your guests for a fascinating ride you’ll be talking about for years to come. Hover close to plunging waterfalls, skim through mysterious valleys, cruise near the top of Haleakala—all with an experienced tour guide. It’s fairly expensive, but one friend recalled recently how they wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Most helicopter tours originate at the Kahului airport. Rides are usually 30 or 60 minutes.
6. Makena State Park/Oneloa Beach/Little Beach
A list of Maui’s best beaches would have to include two sparkling gems on its south shore. Big Beach, which is located at Makena State Park, is called Oneloa beach by the Hawaiians. Little Beach is the strip of enticing sand a short walk from the west end of Oneloa. Makena State Park is a premier tourist destination for swimming, lounging, picnicking; and for locals, it’s a premier body boarding spot. The water at both beaches is remarkably clear and reflects a gorgeous, translucent, blue-green color. Little Beach is known for its Sunday drum circle, bodysurfing, and a clothing-optional attitude. Every Sunday, drummers, musicians, singers, and fire dancers arrive at Little Beach for an outdoor fest that culminates in a huge bonfire and jovial mayhem at sunset. Open 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.
7. Waihee Ridge Trail
The Waihee Ridge Trail is one of Maui’s best kept hiking secrets. This adventure features stunning views, a challenging trail, and a very remote setting. It’s over 4 miles roundtrip, and most of the first half is uphill. After a very steep beginning, the trail continues uphill along a wonderful ridge high above the Waihee valley and stream. A nice reward waits at the end of this trail in the form of a massive hilltop, sometimes shrouded in clouds or mist, with one lone picnic table. It’s extremely serene. To get to the Waihee Ridge trail head, drive north from Kahului on Hwy 340, sometimes listed as Hwy 3400. Turn off the highway (by the Mendes Ranch) onto Maluhia Road and go 0.9 miles. You can also look for a red sign that says, “Camp Mahulia BSA.” A sign on a fence marks the trailhead.
8. Iao Valley State Park
Nestled in the womb of Maui, this natural attraction is a beauty beyond words. No trip to Maui is complete without seeing Iao Valley and swimming in its refreshingly brisk waters. There are several swimming places along the entire Iao Valley stream, but many are on private land. At the end of Iao Valley Road is the actual Iao Valley State Park. After parking, you’ll walk past restrooms, cross a foot bridge, and go left down several steps to find the stream. You can also climb steps that lead to an observation deck. Iao Valley State Park is located just above Wailuku, Hawaii. Follow Main Street west (out of Wailuku) and it will turn into Iao Valley Road if you take a right where the road forks. Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
9. Ho’okipa Beach Park
If you’re looking for advanced surfboarding and windsurfing conditions, Maui’s Ho’okipa is unrivaled! Known as the world’s windsurfing mecca, Ho’okipa provides a gritty, blustery set of conditions that can challenge any windsurfer. Professional board surfing is every bit as popular at Ho’okipa, a Hawaiian term that means “hospitality.” Come see why it’s perfect for hanging out, talking story, or watching surfers do things mortals only dream about. Ho’okipa Beach Park is about 2 miles east of Paia on the Hana Hwy.
10. Napili Beach
If there could be only one top-rated Maui beach, Napili Beach might take the crown. There’s just something extra charming about this swath of golden sand that makes it a favorite among locals and return visitors. Because it’s located right between the arid, calm conditions of Lahaina to the south, and the invigorating breezes and trade showers of the north shore, Napili has its own unique weather. Often it’s sunny, yet misting at the same time. Rainbows are common. At the north end of the beach is an award-winning restaurant. Several small, adjacent hotels provide cozy lodging a stone’s throw away from the water. If there was a heaven that had a beach, it surely would look like Napili. Napili Beach is located about six miles north of Lahaina on the Lower Honoapiilani Rd.
11. Sugar Museum
The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum preserves the heritage of the sugarcane industry on Maui and chronicles the significant effects it has had on Maui’s economy, cultural growth, and the use of its water resources. Tucked in a grove of monkey pod trees in Pu’unene, the Sugar Museum boasts an interesting collection of information and exhibits tracing the saga of sugar cultivation that began when Polynesians introduced sugar to Maui over 1,000 years ago. One exhibit shows the intricate, inner workings of a sugar mill. Another describes how water was cleverly brought from Maui’s windward slopes to the sugarcane fields. In the “Plantation Room” a video describes how cane is converted into sugar. Located at 3957 Hansen Rd. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., every day. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $2 for kids aged 6-12.
12. Ulalena Theatre Show of Ancient Hawaii
The mesmerizing theatrical production called ‘Ulalena reflects the mystery and beauty of the Hawaiian culture from an artistic, historical, and spiritual perspective. Perfect for the entire family, ‘Ulalena combines traditional theater, special effects, and vibrant costumes for an extravagant blend of entertainment you’ll find nowhere else but on Maui. Watch the genesis of Hawaiian culture from the volcanic birth of the islands to the arrival of foreigners. You’ll swoon as acrobatic actors perform amazing physical feats onstage and in the air while visiting with various Hawaiian gods. Adult tickets are $79.99, $69.99, or $39.99. Online discounts and dinner show packages are available.
13. Maui Road to Hana
Stretching 52 miles from Kahului to Hana, this world famous drive is known for its 620 curves, 42 one-lane bridges, and a parade of stunning vistas, parks, hikes, pools, and waterfalls. Many of the sights are not marked, so it’s helpful to have a guide if possible. Some prefer to take a tour van to see all the highlights, and to avoid driving which can be challenging, especially if raining. There are also various new applications, The Road to Hana CD, and The Road to Hana GPS Guide for those intrepid drivers who want to go it alone. Favorite stops include Keanae Peninsula, Twin Falls, Waianapapa State Park, Honomanu Bay, Garden of Eden, and Waikani Falls.
As the gateway to several of the most popular beaches in the entire world, including Kaanapali and Kapalua, Lahaina is an enormously alluring town with a colorful history located on the western shore of Maui. It was once the capital of all of Hawaii and the center of the global whaling industry before it evolved into the top-ranked resort destination it is today. Lahaina in Hawaiian means “cruel sun” which makes this locale the perfect choice for vacationing mainlanders avoiding winter back home. With an average of only 13 inches of rain per year, visitors are consistently blessed with ideal weather to experience many of Lahaina’s best attractions. You’ll be sure to enjoy the many specialty shops and restaurants along Front Street, the gigantic 300 year-old Banyan Tree in the Courthouse Square, a ride on the Sugarcane Train, the Hard Rock Cafe, and the old Pioneer Inn and Restaurant which lets you cook your own fish entree if you wish!
15. Old Lahaina Luau
Often regarded as the most authentic luau in all of Hawaii, the Old Lahaina Luau places great emphasis on traditional hula, Hawaiian foods, music, costumes, and crafts. Such cultural authenticity combined with a romantic, oceanside ambiance has allowed Old Lahaina Luau to be chosen the ‘Best Luau’ on Maui by the Maui News year after year. Partake of the Luau’s Polynesian culinary delights (like Kalua pork and lilikoi mousse) under swaying palm trees and tiki torches while graceful hula dancers lull you into a state of bliss! The Luau is held nightly and is located in Lahaina next to the Cannery Mall. Show times vary in winter and summer. Adult admission is $99 (13 and up); $69 for children (3-12).
16. Twin Falls/Maui Farm Stand
There are so many waterfalls and swimming spots on Maui, it’s hard to choose a favorite. But with a convenient location and an amazing fresh fruit stand that boasts “over 100,000 coconuts served,” Twin Falls may be the most tourist-friendly, underrated attraction on Maui. A wide trail begins near the parking lot and takes you on a short, easy hike to a fork in the path. If you take a left, and walk about 100 yards, you’ll see one of many huge waterfalls that lies parallel to the path you just came up. Take a right, for a slightly less-traveled path that goes across a cool little bridge before it begins to follow another stream on the left. If you go far enough on this path, you’ll find several ideal pools, one of which has a ledge 8 feet above the water that can be used as a diving platform. Twin Falls can be found on the North Shore of Maui on the Hana Hwy about 15 minutes east of Paia. Look for a parking lot on the mauka (mountain) side of the road, and the bamboo, thatched-roof fruit stand.
Have a great Maui vacation! With an array of diverse activities to choose from, you’ll never run out of ways to enjoy the fun, excitement, history, and Aloha spirit that is the heart of Maui. If you have spent time at any of these 16 Must-See Maui, Hawaii Tourist Attractions, we’d like to hear your comments below!