Featured image credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) /Joe West
If vacation planning feels overwhelming, it’s tempting to simply plop yourself on the beach for the entirety of your Maui trip. And while a week of chilling out is a valid choice, it’s more likely that you’ll feel the urge to explore beyond your beach chair.
As the second largest island in Hawaii, Maui has plenty of delightful nooks and crannies to explore. But try as you might, you won’t be able to experience everything in one week. So where should you start?
We narrowed it down to 16 can’t miss things you won’t regret adding to your trip list. These are our favorite things to do while on Maui:
- Swim with sea turtles
- Watch for whales
- Milk a goat
- Indulge in a plate lunch
- Stop for banana bread
- Cool off with shave ice
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with pie
- Pick up poke from Foodland
- Chase a waterfall beyond a bamboo forest
- Traverse a beach of black sand
- Snorkel at Honolua Bay
- Marvel the sunrise (or sunset) at Haleakala
- Don a haku lei (that you make yourself)
- Hunt for souvenirs at the swap meet
- Mingle with locals at the upcountry farmers market
- Get your hula on without the luau prices
Swim with sea turtles
I often joke that we’d be hard pressed NOT to see any turtles while in Maui. If you spend any time along the shore line with your eyes peeled, you’re bound to spot a rogue turtle shell skimming the water’s waves.
When snorkeling in Maui’s waters, you’re likely to encounter sea turtles. There’s even a spot where the turtles are known to congregate: Turtle Town. Every morning you’ll find tour boats in the area, transporting snorkelers eager to float alongside the local wildlife.
Just remember not to get too close to the green sea creatures. Sea turtles are protected under both state and federal law, so keep your distance while enjoying the turtles’ gentle company.
Watch for whales
In the winter months of December to April, the waters around Maui fill with more than just human tourists catching a wave. Humpback whales migrate to the island’s warm waters to breed and give birth. If you have a keen eye, you can frequently see the whales and their aerial acrobats from shore. However, you’ll likely find the best view while on the water with a boat tour. Try tour companies such as the Pacific Whale Foundation or Kai Kanani for your whale watching adventure.
Milk a goat
Head upcountry to a rural part of Maui, away from the hubbub of the resort districts and shopping areas. Surfing Goat Dairy Farm offers farm tours, hosting visitors hankering for a unique experience while on vacation. In the past we’ve toured the farm, pet the baby goats, learned about the goat herd, and enjoyed a cheese tasting. The farm supplies restaurants around the island (and beyond) with their famous cheese, including at the Ritz Carlton and Grand Wailea.
As of January 2022, the farm offers casual 30-minute tours. More extensive farm tours, including goat milking tours, aren’t offered due to Covid-19.
Indulge in a plate lunch
Plate lunches are Hawaii’s version of fast food. But instead of a bag of burger and fries, a traditional plate lunch consists of rice, macaroni or potato salad, and some sort of protein. Think garlic shrimp, teriyaki chicken, and barbecue pork. Typically, plate lunches come with hearty portions, making the dish a substantial meal.
One popular plate lunch in Hawaii is the loco moco, a beef hamburger patty drenched in gravy and topped with an egg cooked sunny side up. The dish sits on a bed of rice. If the loco moco sounds divine, that’s because it is. It makes for a delicious — albeit heavy! — meal. So reserve ordering this plate lunch after a long hike or action-packed day.
Stop for banana bread
With the abundance of bananas on Maui, banana bread has become the quintessential baked snack when traversing Maui roads — particularly if you’re undertaking the famous Road to Hana drive. You can’t skip this mouth-watering sweet bread while you’re visiting.
And while you can find banana bread at pretty much any bakery on the island, our favorite stop was Aunty Sandy’s on the Road to Hana. Make a left just after mile marker 16, on Keanae Road. We made it there early in the morning (they open at 8:30 a.m.), and our loaf was still warm when we dug into it.
Cool off with shave ice
First off, let’s get one thing straight — on Maui it’s shave ice, not “shaved” ice.
Essentially a mound of ice flakes soaked in sugary syrup flavors, this island dessert traces its origins back to the plantation era of the Hawaiian islands. Japanese plantation workers introduced this iteration of the icy dessert, which gained traction among the different communities in Hawaii.
Nowadays, you can’t visit the Hawaiian islands without at least a taste of this sweet treat. And in our opinion, no one beats our favorite spot, Ululani’s. With eight locations on the island, you won’t have any trouble stopping a frozen treat. If you’re anything like us, our main problem is stopping ourselves from return visits!
Satisfy your sweet tooth with pie
Pie probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re visiting Maui. But it should be, considering Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop’s reputation. Located in Olowalu (near Lahaina). Alongside their famous pie, Leoda’s serves deli-style American fare such as sandwiches and salads. (We tried their turkey pot pie. It looked small at first, but it was both satisfying and filling. By my last forkful, I felt stuffed.)
Where Leoda’s truly shines is with their sweet pie. Most visitors rave about the banana cream pie, although I’m partial to apple crumb.
If you’re craving pie in South Maui, we also recommend heading to Maui Pie at the Azeka Shopping Center on South Kihei Road. This adorable bakery singlehandedly converted me into a fruit pie person with their blueberry crumble.
Pick up poke from Foodland
You won’t be at a loss for seafood while on Maui — It’s an island, after all. And you wouldn’t think it, but locals and insiders know that Foodland serves up some of the tastiest poke on Maui. Head to the deli section of the local grocery chain and pick up a container or two to get your fresh seafood fix without paying an arm and a leg at a fancy restaurant.
Chase a waterfall beyond a bamboo forest
On the Hana Highway side of Haleakala National Park lies Pipiwai Trail. The hike is just under 4 miles round trip. While there’s some elevation gain during the first part of the hike (around 900 feet), the scenery makes the effort worthwhile.
On the Pipiwai Triail, you’ll encounter an imposing banyan tree, along with a boardwalk that cuts through the dense bamboo greenery. At the turnaround point, you’ll be greeted by the stunning 400-foot Waimoku Falls.
During our last visit, swimming at Waimoku Falls was prohibited. However, we saw other visitors ignore the rules. We always recommend heeding signage — for your safety and out of respect for the land.
Traverse a beach of black sand
There are no lack of beaches on the island, but Maui’s glittery black sand makes for a spectacular and unusual sight. Maui’s popular black sand beach lies a few miles north of Hana along the Hana Highway (a.k.a. Road to Hana) at the Waiʻānapana State Park.
In response to surging tourist demand and overcrowding over the past few years, the state now charges admission for out-of-state visitors. You’ll also need to make advance reservations for a specific date and time slot. Those without a Hawaii driver’s license will need to pay a $10 parking fee and $5 per person admission fee to the park.
Snorkel at Honolua Bay
You don’t have to hire a boat tour to enjoy Maui’s underwater life. One of Hawaii’s most famous snorkeling spots, Honolua Bay is part of the Marine Life Conservation District. The designation strictly prohibits the removal of natural resources in the area, including fishing. This protection also makes the area a prime spot for snorkeling.
We often see several snorkeling tour boats anchored just off the Honolua Bay shoreline. But if you’re a fair swimmer and the surf isn’t too rough, you can park nearby and walk to the water’s edge.
With its rocky shoreline, keep in mind that Honolua Bay is more of a launching point for snorkelers (or surfers, when the surf’s up). This isn’t a good area for simply lying out and sunbathing. Also, swim away from the shoreline for the best snorkeling experience.
Marvel the sunrise (or sunset) at Haleakala
You can’t miss it. Towering over Maui, the dormant volcano sits at 10,023 feet above sea level. When you’re at the peak of the crater surveying the stark landscape around you, you feel like you’re standing on another planet
It’s much colder at this elevation and weather is unpredictable, so come prepared with sweaters, a jacket, and even a blanket if you’re there for sunrise.
Stark landscape when compared with the other parts of Maui greenery – more like standing on Mars
For a sunrise visit between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., you’ll need to make reservations in advance for $1. Slots open sixty days in advance at 7 a.m. Hawaii time. We suggest setting an alarm and booking early — slots fill up quickly.
While you don’t need reservations to visit Haleakala National Park after 7 a.m., the state charges all visitors a $30 entry fee per vehicle.
Don a lei (that you make yourself)
You might imagine yourself landing on Maui and having a lei draped over your shoulders as you step off the plane. And sure, you could hire a lei greeting at the airport.
But for a unique experience, you could make one yourself with the help of a local lei artisan. Attend a lei workshop and create your own custom lei that can be worn on the head or around your neck.
We signed up for the lei po’o (head lei) workshop at Paper Garden in Wailea. The small group workshop included breakfast and a 10% discount for shopping at the Paper Garden store on the day of the class.
The Shops at Wailea also offers a free lei po’o workshop every Monday. Find more details here.
And yes, in some cases you can even bring your lei home — as long as it meets agricultural requirements. For a list of restricted plant materials when flying back to the U.S. mainland, click here.
Hunt for souvenirs at the swap meet
If you’re a bargain hunter, you’re in for a real treat at the Maui Swap Meet. Every Saturday, the college parking lot fills with hundreds of vendor tents, tables, and wares. This flea market-style spot makes it the perfect place for sourcing treasures to bring home from your Maui trip. With so many local businesses in one spot, you’ll peruse a mix of eclectic wares — from fresh fruit to tie dyed dresses to sea glass art.
And the swap meet isn’t just a great place for bargain hunting. You can also pick up tasty street food for energy to keep you going while you shop.
Maui Swap Meet
310 W Kaahumanu Ave, Kahului, HI 96732
Every Saturday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Mingle with locals at the upcountry farmers market
At the upcountry farmers market, you can gather ingredients for a fresh, farm-to-table meal at a fraction of what you’d pay at a high-end restaurant. Source fruit, veggies, and protein by shopping directly with local producers.
Pick up both raw ingredients and prepared foods such as pastries and jams. When we were there last, we bought a Kurobuta pork roast from a local Maui farmer. It was the best pork I’ve ever had!
55 Kiopaa St, Makawao, HI 96768
Near Longs Drugs. Look for the signs!
Every Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Get your hula on without the luau prices
When you’re on a budget, spending almost $200 per person on a luau might not be in the cards. But that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the Hawaiian culture and traditional hula dance. Shopping centers such as Lahaina Cannery Mall and the Shops at Wailea periodically host hula shows — at no cost. Check the local events guide for current scheduling.
The Shops at Wailea, Polynesian show
Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Lahaina Cannery Mall, Hula show
Update: Wednesday hula shows on hold as of January 2022 due to Covid restrictions