Paia’s funky hippie vibe and surfer crowd cement the town’s reputation as one of the most vibrant towns on the Valley Isle. Spend a few hours exploring the historic plantation town that once played a key role in Maui’s sugar industry — and now welcomes visitors to its bustling shops, galleries, and restaurants.
About Maui’s Paia Town
The name Paia (pronounced pie-EE-uh) means “noisy,” a nod to the loud crashing waves on the north shore. And the town itself? Since its development, vibrant Paia has never remained quiet, either.
First, an influx of sugar mill workers brought the town to life. Then the flower children arrived in the 1960s, followed by a surge of surfers to the shoreline. This north shore town has seen its share of change.
Yet for many Maui visitors today, Paia is simply the last chance to fuel up the car and grab some snacks before venturing on to the Road to Hana.
But Paia is more than just a pit stop along the highway.
Originally developed in the 1800s to support Maui’s sugar industry, Paia was once the site of the Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) sugar mill. Housing and shops sprouted up to support the workers who migrated from other countries to work on the island.
By the 1930s and 1940s, the town burgeoned along with the success of its sugar. But in the 1950s, development in Kahului caused a downturn in the area. Still, Paia remained afloat. The Paia Mill continued operating until 1994. And the town’s location along major thoroughfare Hana Highway, as well as growing tourism on the island, kept Paia alive.
In the 1960s an influx of free-spirited flower children changed Paia’s demographic drastically. With workers moving to new Kahului developments, Paia’s new residents transformed the area into a hippie enclave.
Paia’s reputation as a surfer’s paradise grew in the 1980s, along with its popularity as a tourist destination. Surfer Magazine recognized the town as one of the best surf towns in the U.S. in 2009.
Today, spectators flock to Paia’s shores to catch sight of surfers riding impressive swells. The vibrant town still retains a bohemian reputation because of its relaxed atmosphere and artistic bent.
You’re more likely than not to find Hana Highway traffic slow to a crawl when passing this section of town. And you’ll see plenty of people popping in and out of the boutiques and galleries that line the street.
Just prepare to be patient when you look for parking. Even though the town has both a public parking lot and street parking, finding an open spot nearby feels like winning the lotto.
Things to Do in Paia
1. Watch surfers ride the waves (while the turtles sunbathe) at Ho’okipa Lookout
While nearby Peahi Beach (a.k.a. Jaws surf break) may be the famed surf spot on Maui’s north shore, it’s not an easy spot to get to. With the rough and pothole-ridden access road, you need a 4×4 vehicle to get there.
On the other hand, the lookout at Hookipa lies just off of Hana Highway, with nearby parking and a drive that won’t wreak havoc on your rental car’s suspension.
When the surf’s up, watch the pros master the waves from this lookout point. Then head to the beach below for sea turtle viewing. In the afternoons, bales of sea turtles creep onto the sand for a respite before heading back to the ocean.
2. Order the crispy duck at Cafe Mambo — or pork quesadillas
Duck into Cafe Mambo, a funky spot on Baldwin Avenue, for a bite. Local art dots the walls, and the restaurant exudes surfer town vibes. With their casual menu, Cafe Mambo also serves locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
We ordered their famous crispy duck fajitas. The sweet marinade gave the dish an Asian fusion taste that we weren’t expecting. It was delicious.
But the surprising standout to our meal? The pork quesadillas. Cafe Mambo didn’t skimp on the pork or the cheese, which made the quesadilla a hearty meal.
3. Indulge in a scoop of (or two) of sea salted peanut butter chocolate chip from Artisan Ice Cream
We’ve dubbed Artisan Ice Cream the best ice cream spot on the entire island. The small batch ice creamery uses organic ingredients in their cream, and they make toppings and sauces in house.
Try the sea salted peanut butter chocolate chip in a freshly made waffle cone. Don’t miss this spot.
4. Strum along at Mele Ukulele
There’s nothing like the soothing strum of a skilled ukulele player to remind you of your time on Maui. Bring home your own artisan instrument from Mele Ukelele’s Paia location, or simply admire the craftsmanship behind every piece.
5. Perfect your downward dog by taking a yoga class
Paia welcomes yogis with open arms, if you consider the number of yoga studios along Baldwin Avenue. Whether you’re new to the practice or setting your sights on a teaching certificate, head to Paia for an invigorating yoga session to keep your mind and body centered.
Yoga studios in Paia:
- Infusion Barre & Yoga
- Maui Yoga Shala
- Maha Yoga & Wellness Center
6. Soak in Paia vibes with a cup of joe (or acai bowl) at Paia Bay Coffee & Bar
This casual cafe is a perfect breakfast or lunch stop. From their iced caramel coconut latte to their toasted banana bread, Paia Bay Coffee & Bar serves unique island fare.
Stop in for their happy hour — daily between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Or Taco Tuesday, which starts at 1:00 p.m.
7. Treat yourself (or a loved one) to a new vacation outfit from Mahina Boutique of Lilikoi Paia Maui
Is any vacation complete without some shopping? Whether you’re a window shopper or a big spender, pop into one of the many shops in town for a souvenir, gift, or a new resort outfit.
Other boutiques in Paia:
- Nuage Bleu, 76 Hana Highway
- Sassabella Boutique, 36 Baldwin Avenue`
- Biasa Rose, 104 Hana Highway
- Boutique Aloha, 72-A Hana Highway
- Wings Hawaii, 100 Hana Highway
- Pearl Seaside, 71 Baldwin Avenue
- Lele, 20 Baldwin Avenue
- Soley Aloha, 83B Hana Highway
8. Take a selfie at the famous surfboard fence at Aloha Surf Hostel
A short walk from the hustle and bustle of the main intersection at Hana Highway and Baldwin Road lies this Instagram and Pinterest-famous surfboard fence.
The colorful display celebrates what Paia is arguably most known for — the tall swells that draw surfers from all over the world. And it happens to be a perfect backdrop for the ultimate north shore selfie.
9. Celebrate a special occasion at Mama’s Fish House
The price tag on a meal at Mama’s may be a doozy, but we think it’s worth it if you’re a seafood lover. Mama’s Fish House never fails to deliver both impeccable service and a delectable meal. The experience includes an immersive island ambiance with the restaurant’s wood rattan interior, tropical foliage, and water view.
Don’t forget to peek at the small beach in front of the restaurant — You’re likely to find a sea turtle or two sunbathing on shore.
10. Search for a Souvenir at Maui Hands
Bring home the perfect souvenir while supporting a local artisan when you shop at Maui Hands. The consignment shop carries artwork, crafts, jewelry, and home goods created by local hands.
11. Snag some healthy treats from Mana Foods
In 1983, health food store Mana Foods opened in its current space along Baldwin Road. The grocery outlet has since expanded from its original 400 square foot shop. It’s now a mainstay in the Paia community, buoyed by the business’s commitment to ethical and environmentally-minded business practices — and reasonable prices.
Stroll down the organic produce section, where around 50% comes from local sources. Vegetarians and vegans will appreciate their hot food bar. And don’t forget to grab a cookie near the checkout area.
12. Pose in front of a sea turtle mural
A town known for its arts scene, Paia has its share of street art murals. You’ll find several on the sides of buildings in the public parking lot off of Hana Highway. But our favorite is the sea turtle and swimmer mural on Nalu Place, on the east side of the building that houses the Sand & Sea gift shop and Maui Cyclery.
How to get to Paia town
From the Kahului Airport (OGG), head east on the Hana Highway. Paia town lies approximately 15 minutes east of the airport.
Approximate drive time to Paia town:
- From Kaanapali – 55 minutes
- From Lahaina – 45 minutes
- From Kihei – 30 minutes
- From Wailea – 35 minutes
Finding an open parking spot in Paia town is notoriously difficult, particularly in the afternoon hours. The town has a free public lot along Hana Highway, just after Paia Mini-Bypass Road. Some street parking may also be available along both Hana Highway, Baldwin Road, and surrounding side streets. Watch out for No Parking signs.
Weather in Paia
According to Weatherspark, Paia tends to be warm, muggy, and windy. The temperature generally ranges between 64°F and 87°F, with the warmest weather occurring during the months of June to September.
Paia: Frequently Asked Questions
Is Paia, Maui worth visiting?
Yes, the historic town of Paia is a worthwhile visit while you’re on Maui. Eat, shop, and people watch while you meander streets. You won’t need the entire afternoon to explore the area — two or three hours should be more than enough time.
Is it worth staying in Paia?
If you’re more interested in beaches and a bohemian vibe than resort restaurants and pool service, Paia may be the perfect place to stay while you’re on Maui. You won’t get the same upscale ambiance as you would at a West Maui or South Maui resort. But staying in Paia offers a unique experience with easier driving access to the Road to Hana and Maui’s rural upcountry.
What is Paia, Maui known for?
Historically, Paia is known for its role as a sugar mill town. Nowadays, Paia is known for the surfers that flock to the north shore waves and its offbeat bohemian hippie vibe. This vibrant place is also where passersby start their journey along the Road to Hana.