Turquoise and deep blue water, sea turtles, black sand beaches, waterfalls, waves, bamboo forests, and signature sunsets; Maui is a lush, wild place full of beauty and opportunities for adventure. If you’re looking for a more relaxed, umbrella-in-your-poolside-drink kind of vacation, Maui can provide that too, though here we’re focusing on the unique experiences the island provides.
Before You Go
The second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is home to Haleakalā, a volcano rising over 10,000 feet. It’s also where you’ll find Peʻahi, aka Jaws, an iconic surf break where expert big wave surfers ride breaks the size of mountains in the winter months. If you plan on trying surfing for the first time on your trip, stick to the spring and summer months when the waves are much smaller. As a general rule, get your ocean activities in early, unless you’re a kitesurfer or windsurfer, as the wind picks up in the late morning.
The diverse geography of Maui makes for incredible views everywhere you look. To make the most of your time on the island, rent a car at the Kahului Airport (OGG), as Haleakalā and the Road to Hana are best enjoyed at your own pace. And while 4WD isn't necessary, you will want to select whatever car you are most comfortable driving as the Road to Hana is a windy one with narrow stretches and tight corners.
Seeing the sunrise from Haleakalā National Park is a decision you have to make and prepare for before your Maui trip begins. The sunrise experience from this vantage point has become so popular that a reservation is now required for each vehicle entering the park from 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. However, you can book a reservation up to two months in advance. If you’re past that window, another batch of tickets will be available to reserve two days before arrival, at 4:00 p.m. HST (Hawaii Standard Time). The process is easy and only costs $1.00 through recreation.gov.
Bring a sweatshirt and jacket (in the winter you may even see snow here) and get on the road early (3:00 am early) as you’ll want to beat the crowds and arrive in time for this majestic view. Be cautious of bike riders on the access road too. Yes, riding a bike down the access road, 22+ miles is another way to experience this incredible sunrise at your own pace, and if this sounds like your idea of a good time, Bike Maui can provide everything you need to make this happen.
As far as lunch spots, if you want to enjoy pool and beach time where you’re staying, grab lunch to-go. The poke bowl, a Hawaiian staple, from Takamiya Market is delicious. Fish tacos from Coconut’s Fish Café are another great option, as are a salad or acai bowl from Choice Health Bar for those who are vegan or just want something a little lighter.
Later in the afternoon, head to Lahaina for shopping and a sunset dinner on Front Street. Be sure to check out the largest banyan tree in the U.S., which is located in the Courthouse Square. For a great happy hour, head to Down the Hatch followed by a sunset dinner at Fleetwood’s On Front St. Owned by Maui resident, legendary drummer, and co-founder of Fleetwood Mac Mick Fleetwood, the restaurant has a daily sunset ceremony at 5:45pm on their rooftop with live music each night. Book well in advance to guarantee rooftop seating as having dinner while the sun goes down really is key. Be sure to arrive extra early so you can spend time in Fleetwood’s General Store, which not only houses amazing paraphernalia from the band, but is also home to Morrison Hotel Gallery, an extensive gallery of music photography.
Saturday you’re up early again, but this time you can enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of your hotel or rental before hitting the Road to Hana, which is a scenic, all-day adventure. Before you go, be sure to eat breakfast, stock up on snacks and water, fill up on gas, and make note of all of the best stops to see along the way. (Gas stations, food stops, and cell service all range from nonexistent to spotty at best.)
Starting out from Paia, this curvy road will definitely test your driving skills. As you wind slowly through the sometimes-narrow roads with steep drop-offs to the ocean, remember that this drive is all about the journey, not necessarily the destination of Hana. Use the mile markers to orient yourself and determine how far you are from your next desired stop – this is how you’ll find waterfalls, bamboo forests, black sand beaches, swimming holes, and cliff jumps, among other sites along the way. Below, we’ve listed a few of the best Road to Hana stops, and their accompanying mile markers. A word of caution though: never leave valuables in your car, as points along this road have been prone to break-ins.
- Twin Falls (Mile Marker 2): An easily accessible pair of waterfalls near the start of the Road to Hana.
- Grove of Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees (Mile Marker 7): This stop has rainbow eucalyptus trees with naturally occurring pops of lime green and bright orange that (almost) look like they’ve been painted on.
- Garden of Eden (Between Mile Markers 10 and 11): A botanical garden with thriving native plants and the gorgeous Puohokamoa Falls.
- Keanae Peninsula and Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread (Between Mile Markers 16 and 17): Home to jagged lava rocks, crashing waves, and the best banana bread on the island.
- Upper Waikani Falls (Between Mile Markers 19 and 20): Also known as Three Bears Falls, this waterfall is split into three separate cascades and is one of the most popular waterfalls on the Road to Hana.
- Waianapanapa State Park (Mile Marker 32): A beautiful state park with freshwater caves, historical sites, and a black sand beach. Be sure to make reservations to visit in advance.
After several amazing stops, you’ll eventually reach Hana. This sleepy town isn’t necessarily filled with visitor-friendly spots, but there are still some fun things to do. You can learn about Hawaiian culture at the Hana Cultural Center and Museum, hike the moderate 1.5-mile hike to Fagan’s Cross, or stop at the Hana Farmers’ Market for some fresh tropical fruit.
Technically one of the most popular stops on the Road to Hana is after the little town of Hana. The Pipiwai Trail, which rises from The Seven Sacred Pools, is one of the best hikes on Maui, and is four miles out-and-back. First, you’ll pass Makahiku Falls, about ⅔ of a mile into the hike. You’ll continue on, walking beneath a large banyan tree, and into a boardwalk path through a bamboo forest. As you continue through this magical forest, you’ll finish at Waimoku Falls, a waterfall that ends the hike. Be sure to bring water along and be considerate of your hiking partners and their abilities. This is a moderate hike that all ages can enjoy, but the heat can make it challenging.
After finishing up the Pipiwai Trail, drive the Road to Hana all the way back to Paia, where you can stop for a late dinner at the Flatbread Company for some excellent pizza and a well-deserved drink.
Start your Sunday with a morning Molokini adventure snorkel on the Maui Magic – Molokini is a sunken volcanic crater that is now a marine sanctuary. The Maui Magic departs from Maalaea Harbor (located between the Kahului Airport and the Lahaina/Ka'anapali resort areas) at 7 a.m. The trip lasts five hours, as you’ll visit a few different spots where they’ll anchor while you swim with honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) and coral fish like the humuhumunukunukuapua'a (trigger fish), which is the official state fish of Hawaii. The staff aboard also provides a breakfast of tropical fruit and pastries, grills up lunch, and supplies all the snorkel gear you need, along with drinks at the end to celebrate a fun day at sea. Consider bringing your own snorkel mask and flippers too if you plan on driving to explore off-shore snorkel spots like Honolua Bay or Ahihi Kinau, aka "The Dumps."
Snorkel Etiquette: Do not touch the sea turtles as they are federally protected and it's illegal and harmful to touch or harass them. Reef-friendly sunscreen is essential too.
For the afternoon, head to Iao Valley, which is known for the striking, upward-pointing mountain known as the Iao Needle. While this natural landscape is striking enough to draw visitors on its own, it also has some ancient Hawaiian significance. Once upon a time, the people of Maui used this mountain as a lookout point for incoming invaders. This came in handy in 1790 at the Battle of Kepaniwai, although, in the end, the people of Maui did end up losing this battle to King Kamehameha I’s invading army.
If you’d prefer to stay closer to the Kahului Airport, book a reservation at Tin Roof. This restaurant is run by Hawaii-born chef Sheldon Simeon, and features the best of Hawaii’s local flavors. Try the rice flour-covered mochiko chicken, the ulu (breadfruit) mac salad, or the local Asian-inspired noodle dish known as saimin.
Fly home on a red-eye that night, and if you can, plan for a full day or two of recovery, as the adjustment from island time to mainland time isn’t an easy one, especially after everything you packed into this long weekend.
Where to Stay
Check out rentalsmaui.com for affordable condo rentals all over the island – choose where you want to focus your adventure and find a condo that suits your need. The Road to Hana begins near Paia, which is a central part of the island and a key reference point for your trip. Additionally, Wailea and Kihei have some of the best beaches on the island. The Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort is a boutique resort option, and an excellent choice for renting a cabana, ordering a tropical drink poolside, and chilling out. For iconic sunset views, shopping, and West Maui adventures, stay in Ka'anapali or Lahaina.