14 Ways to Experience the Real Maui: Off The Tourist Path
There is so much more to Maui than just beautiful resorts and beaches. Our island offers fabulous activities designed specifically for visitors, but to fully experience the heart and soul of the island — the REAL Maui — I suggest you step off the well-worn tourist path for a while. Explore the grassroots offerings of our island. Here are 14 suggestions for ways visitors can experience Maui’s land, sea, culture, and community on a truly authentic level.
EXPERIENCE THE REAL MAUI
Attend a Local Community Event
There are dozens of community events each year on Maui celebrating whales, the ocean, sports activities, food, wine, beer, music, Hawaiian history, culture, and various other ethnic celebrations—like Chinese New Year in winter and the Japanese bon dances in summer. These are the real Maui. Join in!
For an authentic slice of Maui life, there’s nothing quite like the annual Maui County Fair, kicking off with a parade and continuing all weekend with carnival rides, food, exhibits, entertainment, and local competitions like the Maui Fire Department chili cook off.
And check out the Maui Town Parties that take place on Friday evenings each month in different towns across the island. Great fun for both visitors and residents, with local food, entertainment, and vendors. (UPDATE: half of the Maui Town Parties have been temporarily suspended since COVID, stay updated in the link above.)
Plan Your Visit Around A Cultural Festival
Check dates in advance and plan to visit Maui when a major Hawaiian cultural festival is taking place. There are numerous such festivals on Maui each year, celebrating Hawaiian traditions, history, and culture, like the King Kamehameha Day parade (*see photo at bottom) and the Prince Kuhio Festival in Lahaina, various hula festivals and competitions, the Wa’a Kiakahi Sailing Canoe Festival (pictured) in Kaanapali, the annual Taro Festival in Hana, and ukulele, slack key and steel guitar fests. The real Maui!
Celebration of the Arts (every spring) in Kapalua provides an opportunity for locals and visitors to experience authentic Hawaiian culture through demonstrations of hula and chant, workshops in Hawaiian arts, and genuine one-on-one interaction with local cultural leaders and artists. (Places to stay in Kapalua)
The month-long Festivals of Aloha take place every fall across the state of Hawaii with multiple events that are designed to honor and share Native Hawaiian culture and traditions. Starting in September (and often spilling over into October), you will find a variety of wonderful cultural events taking place in various regions of Maui. Concerts, festivals, parades…all lots of fun!
Sleep in an authentic Hawaii setting, away from the crowds
Nestled in the spiritual Iao Valley surrounded by monkeypod trees, fresh fruit plants, and plumeria trees, is Iao Valley Inn with a detached private cottage for two. This tranquil mountain-side cottage setting lulls you to sleep with the sound of the river and native Hawaiian birds outside your door. Explore Iao State Park just 2 miles up the road to learn all about Iao Valley and its special place in Hawaiian history.
Enjoy Cultural Activities At Resorts And Shopping Centers
Many accommodations on the island make an effort to provide their guests with a genuine Hawaiian experience by offering a variety of fun and interesting cultural programs and activities. Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, known as “Hawaii’s most Hawaiian hotel,” is the master in this regard. For decades, the management of this hotel has committed itself to cultural training for its employees and cultural authenticity for its guests. The Ritz Carlton Kapalua is another resort that is known for its authentic cultural programs.
Maui shopping centers are also a great source for interesting cultural activities and shows—lei making, ukulele lessons, hula lessons, and much more. So check ’em out!
Participate In A Volunteer Activity
Consider lending a hand in a volunteer activity while vacationing on Maui. It will give you an insider’s look at some of the island’s needs, and you’ll likely be rubbing shoulders with local residents who will greatly appreciate your participation. Take a shelter dog out for an excursion…clean up ocean reefs…count whales…remove invasive plants from Haleakala…there are lots of possibilities! This is the real Maui.
Gain An Appreciation For Traditional Local Arts And Crafts
Skip the made-in-China souvenirs and discover the unique and beautiful handcrafted items on the island. Many Maui stores and galleries feature locally-made arts and crafts, from small gifts you can tuck into your suitcase to spectacular island-inspired artwork and one-of-a-kind furnishings, hand carved from rare woods. Look for the artisan booths at community festivals and craft fairs, and you’ll be able to purchase a hand-crafted item directly from the artist. Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao is also a great source for Maui-made arts and crafts, offering tours of the historic estate, a fine art gallery, and open studios where you can see artists in action. The real Maui!
Eat Local Food
Need I say more? Step out of your comfort zone and try something that is traditionally Hawaiian or “local.” What is local food? Read more about that here.
Seek Out Local Hawaiian Music
Music is a vital part of our island culture, and there are many places on Maui to enjoy Hawaiian music. Check at your accommodations and nearby restaurants for information on local musicians. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center (the MACC) is another excellent resource for performances by Hawaii’s top musicians.
There is a free monthly concert at the Baldwin Home Museum in Lahaina, featuring local entertainers. Settle onto the lawn under the stars and enjoy a beautiful Maui evening set to music. (UPDATE: This event has been temporarily suspended due to Covid restrictions.)
There are MANY outstanding Hawaiian music performers on Maui, but if you have an opportunity to catch a performance by either of these two Maui-based “celebrity” recording artists, DO IT. They are at the top of their game. Keali’i Reichel, Amy Hanaiali’i
And for a truly local radio station, tune into Mana’o Radio (KMNO 91.7 FM), Maui’s non-commercial all-volunteer radio station. Instead of a canned, pre-programmed song list, you’ll hear local people (volunteer djs) playing an eclectic selection of the music they love best. Listen while you’re here on Maui, or live stream from their website. To find out who’s performing where on Maui, check out Mana’o Radio’s Music2Nite site for a full lineup of live music on Maui.
Experience The Sea In A Traditional Way
By all means, go snorkeling while you’re here! But also try a historically-based activity like surfing (invented in Hawaii) to experience Maui’s ocean the traditional Hawaiian way. Or enjoy an outrigger canoe tour with these companies. You’ll be accompanied by a certified marine naturalist who will instruct you on paddling, and guide you to some great snorkel spots. Kihei Canoe Club also offers a visitor paddling program, so check it out. And keep an eye out for various ocean festivals, canoe regattas, and surfing competitions on the island. Fun local events!
Explore The Land With An Agricultural Tour Or Event
The Maui Pineapple Tour is an authentic 90-minute tour of a working pineapple plantation. You’ll learn about “all things pineapple” and go right into the pineapple fields to sample fresh-picked extra sweet Maui Gold pineapple.
The Gourmet Lunch and Farm Tour at O’o Farm offers a genuine “farm to fork” experience, starting with a tour of the 8.5-acre farm, during which you will harvest the produce for your meal, to be prepared on-site by a local chef.
The annual Maui County Agricultural Festival (Maui AgFest) at the War Memorial Complex in Wailuku includes Maui’s largest farmer’s market, children’s activities, a Live Chefs’ Challenge, Grand Taste event, live farm animal exhibits, and more. It’s hosted each spring by the Maui County Farm Bureau.
A visit to Kahanu Garden and Heiau in Hana is an amazing educational and cultural experience. Part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden network, this 484-acre garden features ethnobotanical plants that were brought to the islands by the first Polynesian settlers. Also on site is the Pi’ilanihale Heiau—an ancient place of worship that is still sacred to Hawaiians.
Hike some of Maui’s fabulous trails while you’re here. You’ll experience spectacular natural beauty and views!
Visit Maui Museums And Historical Sites
The Baldwin Home Museum, although open during the day, truly comes alive at night on the weekly candlelit tours on Friday evenings. Docents will guide you through a fascinating tour of the museum, and you’ll learn about the family who resided in this home and their significance in Hawaiian history.
Lahaina has an incredibly rich history, and you can stroll at your own pace and explore Lahaina’s past with a great self-guided walking tour. Do this 1- to 2-hour walk in the morning, as Lahaina — which means “cruel sun” — is aptly named. It can get uncomfortably hot in the afternoon! (Places to stay in Lahaina)
The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum is a true gem. Resting on the site of Hawaii’s last working sugar plantation and mill (which is no longer operating), this museum captures the significance of the 180-year-old sugar cane industry in Hawaii’s history.
Catch A Group Performance By Keiki (Children)
I mean, really, is there anything more genuine than watching children perform? Anything can happen! Local shopping centers often provide free hula performances or ukulele concerts by children’s groups. It provides an opportunity for the keiki to practice their skills, much to the pleasure of those who get to watch! Also check out the keiki show that takes place every Tuesday at Napili Kai Beach Resort. The young students of the Napili Kai Foundation present an adorable 45-minute program of Polynesian song and dance. Admission is $10 for adults, with 100% of the proceeds benefitting the non-profit Foundation, which teaches the arts and culture of Hawaii and Polynesia to local children.
Stay In Hana And Spend Time Exploring The Real Hawaii
Just about anything related to Hana (pictured at top) is “the real Maui.” This is such a beautiful, historic, and culturally-rich Hawaiian community. Don’t just drive the famed road to Hana and drive back the same day! Stay a few days and really immerse yourself in this wonderfully Hawaiian place. Where to stay? Check out the condos at Hana Kai Maui and these cottages at Hana Guest Houses.
Visit the Island of Molokai
Like Hana, Maui’s sister island of Molokai is still very authentic in its character. Part of Maui County, Molokai is a rural island that is still largely undeveloped, offering a genuine Hawaiian experience. The island has no large cities, no shopping malls, no high rises, no fancy restaurants, no traffic jams. . .not even a stoplight! Molokai is an island of rich history and traditions, and a true “get away from it all” kind of place. It is not a tourist-driven island, thus Molokai is not for everyone. (If you simply cannot start your day without your Starbucks Grande White Chocolate Mocha Latte, Molokai is not for you.) But if you seek a quiet, relaxed, authentic Hawaiian community, Molokai is the place. Flights depart from Maui to Molokai several times daily.
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