The island of Maui is incredibly diverse and offers so many wonderful experiences and attractions, where do you begin? What are the “MUST” things to do on Maui? I’ve developed this list based on actual visitor statistics – these are the most popular things people do when they visit our beautiful island.
NOTE: This blog was updated in November 2021, but due to the continuing impacts of COVID-19, some of the businesses, events, or activities mentioned in the blog could possibly change their operations. Please check with these places directly to verify their current operating status and hours. Mahalo!
TOP TEN THINGS TO DO ON MAUI
A visit to Haleakala National Park tops the list of things to do on Maui. Haleakala is the huge mountain that dominates the southeastern half of the island of Maui. Haleakala (pronounced “hah-lay-ah-kah-lah”), which means “house of the sun,” is the largest dormant volcano in the world. Rising 10,023 feet above sea level, the greater portion of this massive mountain lies below the ocean. If measured from the sea floor, Haleakala would rise to a height of nearly 30,000 feet. You can drive to the summit of Haleakala yourself, enjoy a guided tour, or experience Haleakala on foot — it offers incredible hiking.
Viewing the sunrise from the top of Haleakala (pictured here) is one of the most popular things to do on Maui, but it likely means you will have to drag yourself out of a warm comfy bed at around 3 a.m., make a two-hour (or longer) drive up to the summit, and bundle up in every piece of clothing you have in your suitcase because the temperature and wind chill will make it frigid. So, yes, the sunrise can be magical from this viewpoint at the top of the world, but it’s definitely not the most comfortable time of day to view Haleakala. (NOTE: As of 2017, an advance reservation is required for sunrise watchers.) The view from the summit is absolutely breathtaking and awe-inspiring at ANY time of day, as you stand above the clouds gazing over the vast volcanic crater with all of Maui at your feet. No matter what time of day you go, make sure you get information on current Haleakala weather, alerts, and viewing conditions before heading up the mountain. And bring a jacket or blanket, as the summit temperature can be 30 degrees cooler than the coastal areas, and the winds are fierce. It’s coooooooold up there. More info on how to enjoy the Haleakala Sunrise.
THE ROAD TO HANA
The second most popular attraction on Maui is the spectacular road to Hana. This twisting, narrow two-lane road starts on Maui’s northern shore and meanders along the coastline to the tiny East Maui town of Hana, a quiet Hawaiian community surrounded by lush pastures dotted with white-faced cattle. You must approach the Hana Highway with the understanding that the town of Hana is not the destination; the journey itself is the destination. There is no way to rush on the road to Hana, and you wouldn’t want to anyway, as you would miss the whole point. Allow approximately 2 hours one-way from Kahului if you don’t stop along the way, but you’ll surely want to stop to view the roadside waterfalls, lush rainforests, wild guava and fragrant ginger along the roadside, with numerous options for scenic picnic stops. On a map, it may appear you could make the 54-mile journey from Kahului to Hana in much less than two hours, but there are 617 curves—many of them hairpin–and 54 one-lane bridges along this narrow road. Rather than drive in and drive out in one day, consider staying for a few days in Hana to more fully explore and embrace this unique and beautiful part of the island. Here are some great book-direct Hana condos and vacation rentals.
The road to Hana is a glorious full-day excursion. If you are going to make the drive on your own, allow plenty of time to enjoy it. Be cautious on the road, respectful of the environment, and courteous to other drivers (especially local commuters who are trying to get past you). Or better yet, let an expert guide do the driving! There are several reputable tour companies that specialize in small-group Road To Hana tours.
Of course! Chances are you will end up buying something during your visit, so shopping ranks high on the list of the Top 10 Things to Do on Maui. You will find no lack of opportunities from large shopping malls with designer brands to tiny off-the-beaten-path shops and boutiques. You might even stop in for a sandwich somewhere and end up buying a piece of Maui art right off the wall. My favorite place to take visiting friends and family for a local shopping experience: Maui’s biggest Swap Meet takes place every Saturday from 7am to 1pm at the UH Maui College campus in Kahului. It’s a fun way to spend the morning. (But only if the weather is good. It’s outdoors, so don’t head over there on a stormy day!) You’ll see a mix of both visitors and locals wandering through the rows of booths. One-of-a-kind arts and crafts, souvenirs, clothing, jewelry, local food, flowers, produce, and everything else under the sun from a wide range of vendors. More Maui Shopping Tips.
Maui’s beaches are each unique and special, ranging from small coves to vast stretches, with sand that can be white, golden, brown, black, or more exotic shades like red or green. Many are well equipped with picnic areas, beach showers and restroom facilities; a few still remain remote and unspoiled. Each beach has its own character — some (like Hookipa on the North Shore) are world-famous for surfing or windsurfing, some are perfect for strolling, some for swimming, snorkeling, or families with young children. There is something for everyone, with 81 accessible beaches on this island and 120 miles of coastline. All Maui beaches are public beaches — there is no such thing as a private beach on Maui. And most have public access readily provided. Look for the beach access signs along the road and adjacent to resorts. Sometimes the beach access is a bit tricky to find, and parking may be limited. So plan to arrive early in the day at the most popular beaches. More Maui Beach Tips.
Lolling around on the beach is one thing. Actually getting into (or onto, in some cases) the water is a whole ‘nother story! There are plenty of opportunities on Maui to experience ocean-based activities on your own, by taking lessons, or through organized ocean excursions. Whale watching and sunset cruises, boat tours of all kinds, kayaking, outrigger canoeing, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, surfing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, jet skiing, parasailing, stand up paddling (SUP). It’s all here waiting for you.
No discussion of Maui beaches and ocean activities is complete without a word of caution, however. Winds and currents can be powerful, and ocean conditions can change unexpectedly, so heed all warning signs when visiting Maui’s beaches and listen to locals if they warn you about something. And be diligent in applying and reapplying the sunscreen (use ONLY reef-safe sunscreen–see my Beach Tips for more info). Maui’s tropical sun can burn you fast, even on a cloudy day, and nothing can ruin a vacation faster than a nasty sunburn.
Maui is truly a golfer’s paradise. Boasting multiple spectacular golf courses available for public play, the island offers a tremendous variety of golf experiences, including some of the most highly-ranked courses in the nation. Whether you are a novice or a scratch golfer, you’ll find Maui’s golf courses to be both challenging and memorable, and the views utterly breathtaking. There is no better place to learn the game, as most courses offer private lessons, clinics or even golf academies. So get out and hit the links! (And take your camera.)
Everybody has to eat, so of course dining is one of the most popular things to do on Maui! The choices are vast, from small mom-and-pop cafes to elaborate celebrity-chef restaurants. Expand your horizons and try a little bit of everything on Maui – a Hawaiian-style “fast food” place (like Zippys in Kahului), a fine dining restaurant featuring Hawaii Regional Cuisine (in particular, Wailea, Kaanapali, and Kapalua have many fine dining options), some local favorites like spam musubi or loco moco (pictured), or some of the many ethnic foods that are represented in our islands (like Portuguese malasadas or Hawaiian laulau).
Eating in Maui can be a great adventure! For some of my personal favorites, see the Dining section.
Hawaii’s rich culture is utterly unique in the world, and you cannot visit Maui without experiencing the island’s cultural traditions in some way, whether it be food, dance, music, language, legends, or arts and crafts. You will undoubtedly experience hula during your visit. Many resorts and shopping centers offer free hula shows. There are also plenty of museums, festivals, special programs, and tours that will immerse you in Hawaiian culture. And if you attend a luau, you’ll have a chance to sample poi—a staple of the Hawaiian diet for centuries. Poi is also available in island grocery stores, by the way, if you decide you really love it!
Music is a part of Hawaii’s heritage, so you will hear live music in many venues on Maui – at your hotel, in restaurants, at shopping centers, at the beach, in parks. There are also many wonderful and entertaining shows on Maui! And drop in on the Town Parties (temporarily suspended due to COVID) that take place on Fridays in different areas of the island, rotating between the towns of Wailuku (central Maui), Lahaina (west Maui), Makawao (upcountry Maui), and Kihei (south Maui). Featuring local food and entertainment, the town parties are great fun for both visitors and locals.
There are plenty of sights to see on Maui besides Haleakala and the road to Hana. Iao Valley State Park (pictured) is wonderful for photography and hiking. Hookipa Beach on the north shore is a great place to watch big-wave surfers and windsurfers. Maui’s small towns, such as Wailuku, Paia, Makawao, and Lahaina, offer local flavor and great strolling, and Lahaina’s landmark banyan tree is a wonder of nature — dozens of massive trunks are spread over nearly an acre of land with a canopy of green leaves overhead. You can spend a full day exploring Upcountry Maui (on the slopes of Haleakala), with its charming little towns, vast pasture lands, and incredible views of the entire island. There are a number of Upcountry botanical gardens and farms to tour–including a goat farm, lavender farm, and a vodka farm! And the fabulous Maui Ocean Center, a world-class aquarium, is situated right in the center of the island at Maalaea Bay.
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