Visiting Maui is a bucket list trip for a lot of people, and then there are those that have been visiting and returning to Maui continually since they were kids. We enjoy Maui too, but differently than most people we know and have talked to. We’ve picked our favorite things to do on Maui, considering what you can do that is accessible without trespassing on private land, what is safe to do with kids, and what visitors are welcome to enjoy.
Some may call Maui “The Valley Island”, others may call it “The Island of Love”, but we call it the hiking island. Hiking is our favorite thing to do on Maui, and you’ll see why. As you plan a trip to Maui, consider what you want to experience while you’re there, and not just chillin’ at a resort. Maui, like the Big Island or Kauai, is full of unique sights and fascinating things to learn.
If you have any questions about things to do on Maui, about how to visit with responsibility and consideration in mind, or if you have something specific you’re wondering about our experiences on Maui, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to share openly!
Need to Know About Maui
While Maui is a tropical island overall, averaging about 70 degrees year-round, its geography and climates vary wildly from one area of the island to the next. From lush, cool rainforests along the Hana Highway to arid lava rocks down south in Makena, from its sunny, sandy beaches on the West Side, to the frigid peaks of the Haleakala Volcano, you’ll never tire of what Maui’s landscapes have to offer. And yes, it’s FRIGID atop Haleakala (but amazing and one of the best things to do!).
Due to Maui’s many microclimates, it is best to stay up to date on the most recent weather forecasts across the island, as they can change at a moment’s notice. One of the best weather resources is the Maui Snorkel Report which offers visitors and locals alike a daily in-depth description of the island’s North, South and West Sides. While primarily used by snorkelers wanting to know the underwater visibility conditions, possible ocean hazards, and marine life activity, this report also provides an excellent summary of weather patterns above the waves too. Sign up for their mailing list and receive daily updates to make sure that you stay in the loop for your Maui trip.
Getting Around: the Layout of Maui
Unlike Kauai, you can drive all the way around Maui, but it’ll take you a long time and you’ll have to drive some pretty crazy roads. For us, we like to look at visiting Maui as exploring five different island parts, and this is a very helpful way to plan your time and things to do on Maui.
- East Side – Road to Hana
- Northwest Loop – includes Lahaina and the northern road (we are not encouraging trying to visit Lahaina)
- North Shore – from Wailuku to the Road to Hana
- South Side – from Maalaea to Wailea, including Kihei (these are the beaches)
- Upcountry and Haleakala National Park
There are lots of hiking spots all around Maui, so as you plan your time, you can always count on having a good climb to get some fresh air and great views. I know, not everyone visits Maui or any of the Hawaiian Islands specifically for hiking, but that’s what we really enjoy. Four or five days exploring Maui will take you to all parts of the island and get you lots of different experiences.
Where to Stay on Maui
There are lots of options for where to stay on Maui, but for the easiest spot that’s between the different sections of the island, staying in the Kihei or Maalaea is our pick. Staying at the buckle of the island makes it so you’re centrally located for visits to each area. Kihei itself has great beaches, and then it’s easy to go from here to the Northwest loop or to Haleakala.
Before Visiting Hawaii, Understand It
As you consider visiting Maui, or even just visiting the islands in general, know that it’s a complicated place. Just like how ALL OF THE USA was taken from the indigenous people (including our direct recent ancestors) Hawaii is the same, and most of it much more recent than many mainland Americans relate to. There are a lot of native Hawaiians who have stories and memories from their grandparents and great grandparents around the colonization of the Kingdom of Hawaii. With this comes a lot of hard feelings against tourism, but that is balanced with most people being exceptionally welcoming and ready to share their homeland. The Hawaiian people are gracious stewards who are willing and able to both educate visitors and work to preserve their homeland. If anything about any of this doesn’t sit right with you, stop considering a Hawaii trip now.
Visiting Hawaii is a privilege and should be treated as such. We return to Hawaii because we have friends there and we want to share more about how to be a responsible visitor. Hawaii isn’t our go-to vacation destination, but a place we can learn and have new experiences, and do it with efforts of not having a negative impact or plundering the culture and resources of the islands.
Note: yes, Hawaii is a state in the USA and yes, it’s become very reliant on tourism, but that doesn’t mean it’s a land for tourists to run rampant. As you plan a visit to the islands, consider the choices you make and what you can give back to the Hawaiian communities you visit, and not just “sipping mai tais on a beach.” (Tips for making travel decisions that positively give back to Hawaii below).
Things to Do on Maui’s East Side (The Road to Hana)
The Road to Hana is a famous 64-mile stretch of road that spans Maui’s East Side through a tropical rainforest full of jungle plants, flowers and swimming holes. Spend the day along this rugged coastline exploring its many roadside waterfalls, botanical gardens, and beaches. Be sure to devote a full day (or more) to this adventure as the drive to Hana can take up to 2+ hours (without stops), goes across 50+ one-lane bridges, and you should head back well before sunset as there are no streetlights.
While there is so much to see, keep your eyes on the road as it twists and turns dramatically, often along the cliffside! But don’t let that discourage you – this is a very safe byway that is heavily trafficked by both tourists and locals.
NOTE: you’ll see signs that remind you to give the right of way to locals. DO IT. They are very well versed on the Road to Hana and will ride your tail and pass at the first opportunity. If you have a pull-out, take it and let the locals pass you.
Start your journey at the Jaws Country Store
As one of the last prominent restaurants before the major drive towards Hana, the Jaws Store is an excellent way to start your adventure with a freshly prepared coffee and breakfast, as well as a lunch to bring along for the ride (you can also find foo in Hana). This cool spot is also an excellent place to shop for an assortment of souvenirs (if you like shopping), and don’t forget to snap a photo-op by their colorful assortment of surfboards.
DO Go Chasing Waterfalls
Looking for waterfalls is one of the best things to do on Maui, especially on the Road to Hana, aka the Hana Highway. There are roughly 15 waterfalls to explore on the way to Hana, each with their own spectacular wonder, including Twin Falls, Hanawi Falls, Waikani Falls and many more. Some waterfalls are equipped with ropes or ladders that enable you to climb from one waterfall to the next – at your own risk. Choose a handful of your favorites to stop at for a short swim or a lovely picnic, and enjoy the rest as you slowly swing past on your drive.
On such a narrow road, parking can be limited at each location, so an available parking spot might be as good a reason as any to give it a thorough exploration. Be advised that flash floods can occur during the rainy season (November to March) and can cause waterfalls to flow out into the open ocean, so always check weather reports, travel in groups and always stay safe.
- As I noted above, the people of Maui are very protective of the island. On the Road to Hana you’ll find that a lot of the stops people may recommend or show on Instagram are actually on private property or have signs that say “LOCALS ONLY” or “Kamaʻāina Only!). Respect this.
- If you want to swim in a waterfall on the Road to Hana, the best option is Pua’a Ka’a Falls which requires you to show that you have a reservation for visiting Waiʻānapanapa State Park (black sand beach). You can park and cross the street and safely access the waterfall splash pool.
Get Lost in the Bamboo Forest
While there are a couple of these forests scattered along the Road to Hana, you’ll hit one early on at about the 23 mile marker, where you’ll usually see a number of cars pulled off of the road next to, you guessed it, a whole lotta bamboo. It is a pretty magical experience, to be surrounded in this wonderfully tall bamboo forest, something straight out of a fantasy film. And if you follow the right path, you’ll end up at a series of waterfalls that you can hike and climb alongside.
Note: parking can be tricky, so be safe and only park where there is space and it’s clearly allowed. You’ll see some trailheads, but be sure to download trail maps (I like AllTrails) beforehand. Pay attention to public land vs private property boundaries.
Garden of Eden Botanical Gardens
We visit botanical gardens all over the place, and so visiting the Garden of Eden on Maui was a must. We’ve visited the Waimea Valley gardens on Oahu and the Limahuli Garden on the North Shore of Kauai, and they’re both beautiful and different, but Garden of Eden is my favorite. It turns out that this garden is one of the best things to do when you’re driving the Road to Hana, as it’s both beautiful and gives you a much needed break from the winding road.
Bamboo, giant hibiscus, waterfall views, and peacocks running around make it a great stop for anybody of any age. If you’re not up for doing the hike through the complete botanical garden complex, you can drive to the different parts of the gardens, making it more accessible for non-hikers.
Note: on the Road to Hana there aren’t a lot of activities that have a cost, so the admission cost for the Garden of Eden was worth it for us. It’s $20/adult and $10/child (5-16).
Black Sand Beach (Wai’anapanapa State Park)
Wai’anapanapa, which translates to “glistening water”, is home to one of Maui’s most breathtaking spots: the Black Sand Beach. I think Wai’anapanapa State Park is one of the best things to do on Maui, and is a wonderful break after driving the Road to Hana. Watch the seabirds ride the ocean breeze, traverse the many lava caves and natural rock arches, listen to the blowholes as the sea ebbs and flows through them, and best of all, swim at the awesome black sand beach. There are more black sand beaches on the Big Island, so if you’re island hopping, be sure to visit Punaluu or Kahaluu beaches.
Note: a bit farther up the road gets you to Kaihalalu – the Red Sand beach – and you’ll see it all over the internet, but this is not easy to access. You can hike around the point from Hana Bay Beach Park, but you need to pay attention to Area Closed signs due to the bird refuge, and then Private Property signs for certain trails to the beach.
Brave Bonus: Sky Dive in Hana
Once you’ve thoroughly explored the Road to Hana, there is always the added opportunity to take to the skies for an out-of-this-world view of the island. With Maui Skydiving, located in Hana, you can soar through the clouds in a small plane, and hop out in tandem with a trained skydiving professional to feel the adrenaline of the Aloha State. Focus on the fall of a lifetime while Maui Skydiving covers photo and video of the experience so that you can relive it once you’ve touched down.
Note: skydiving is NOT for me, but we get lots of questions about it, particularly on the different Hawaiian islands. Here in Hana and then on Oahu’s North Shore are two of the most popular places for skydiving in Hawaii.
Maui’s North Shore Thing to Do
This part of Maui feels very much like a normal place to live. There are chill towns and neighborhoods, and it’s very much the center of non-tourist life on Maui. There are also some beautiful, unique things to do on this part of the island, including hiking, town activities and surfing. The North Shore area from Kahalui to the start of the Road to Hana is a great spot to plan a mellow day for beach time, watching surfers and visiting Paia.
Stroll the Streets of Paia
Paia is the chic hippie haven of Maui, home to those that prioritize health and surf. The quaint downtown provides all kinds of attractions for Hawaiian dining, shopping and entertainment. If you’re having a chill day on the North Shore, you can take a yoga class at Maui Yoga Shala, try the catch of the day at Paia Fish Market, and catch the sunset from Baldwin Beach.
Paia is really cute and easy to visit. You can pop in for a full day or just grab a bite. That’s one of the great things about the small towns on any island, but particularly on Maui.
Beach Day at Kaulahao Beach Park
There aren’t a ton of beaches on the north shore of Maui, but Kaulahao Beach is a good one to stop at. There’s a nice long stretch of sand here and a good parking area, so it’s easy to enjoy an afternoon here with swimming and digging in the sand (that’s our kids’ favorite part about the beaches of Maui, the sand).
Watch the Surfers at Ho’okipa
Ho’okipa Beach Park is a short drive up from Paia, and is the perfect place to spend the evening watching the multitude of surfers tackle the waves that make Maui a worldwide surfing phenomenon. Or better yet – rent a board and catch the waves yourself! If you venture farther up the road toward the Jaws (Pe’ahi) big wave surf break beach, you might get lucky and witness the bravest of the brave take on waves that can reach up to 70 feet high!
Things to Do on Maui’s South Side
This part of Maui is full of mellow things to do, like beach going and strolling through Wailea and Kihei. The south side is also where you’ll find the best beaches on Maui. Becuase this part of the island is sheltered from the big waves of the Pacific Ocean by both Lanai and Kaho’olawe, you can actual swim safely, kayak and SUP very easily. We really enjoyed seeing lots of honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) on these beaches too!
Visit La Perouse Bay
Drive south until you can’t drive any longer! La Perouse is the end of the road at the southernmost point of the island through Wailea and Makena. Deemed the “forbidden coast”, La Perouse is covered in what’s called a’a lava, the last recorded lava flow from the Haleakala Volcano around the 16th Century that drenched the area in very sharp black lava rock.
Bring some solid hiking shoes and be careful how you park your car. Hike along the beautiful black rock through its many winding coves, take in the remnants of ancient Hawaiian sites, and snorkel at your own risk through the turbulent surf.
Watch the Whales at Maalaea
Join a whale watch or snorkel tour out of Maalaea Harbor, the second windiest harbor in the world! From here you can venture with PacWhale Eco Adventures to see whales, dolphins, rays, and more. The humpback migration spans from November to May, when you’re bound to see some humpbacks breaching off of the side of the boat.
We had great luck seeing a mother and brand new baby humpback whale on a trip with the Pacific Whale Foundation. They asked us and other passengers to send them our photos of the mama and baby so they could start documenting this new pair and tracking their activity in the future. I love being a part of science!
Maui Ocean Center (Rainy Day Activity)
Because it’s Hawaii, no doubt you’ll face some rain while you’re looking for things to do on Maui. There are endless activities outside, but if you need a good indoor plan, the Maui Ocean Center is actually one of the few aquariums that we’ve been to and actively recommend. It’s the most education focused aquarium we’ve been to (even more than our favorite, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga).
With detailed reef exhibits, films, interactive areas, the whole 3D humpback whale experience… We actually spent three full hours exploring the Maui Ocean Center and then had lunch at their restaurant too (great food and surprising value!). While you can for sure visit the Maui Ocean Center any day you like, I do think that it’s best to save it for your rainy plan.
Beach Day at Big & Little Beach
If you’re staying on the South Side in Kihei or Wailea, you have a number of beaches to choose from, but Big Beach provides Maui’s classic white (beige) sand and soft surf, and is a larger swath of beach than most on the island to ensure some of your own space while overlooking the West Maui Mountains. Stretching over half a mile, this is a lovely beach for groups to spread out in the sun, and head over to Little Beach for a short hike through the dunes and into a quainter cove where nude bathing is permitted, but maybe not with kids.
More Kihei Beaches to Visit
The main thing to do in Kihei is go to the beach, and that’s totally fine. Kihei has quite a few beach parks, all with parking, so it’s easy to add a little beach time to any day. I like the Lipoa Street beach because it’s got dunes separating it from the many condos, so it feels more secluded, but it’s just right in town. Other easy beach access spots in Kihei include:
- Keawakapu Beach
- Kamaole Beach Parks (there are three of them)
- Cove Beach Park
- Kalama Park
Whenever you’re on any island in Hawaii, always obey the posted signage about property lines and trespassing. There are enough public beach access points that you don’t need to march through people’s yards to get to the beach.
South Maui Food Truck Garden
Located at the south end of Kihei, I love this spot! At the south end of the gardens are actual garden shops and you can buy plants and stuff, but from there all the way to the north end you’ll find all kinds of food trucks. Ramen, BBQ, sushi, poutine and so much more can be found here. And our kids LOVED all the yard games. This is a great place to find a little bit of community while you’re visiting Kihei. Having dinner at the South Maui Gardens is one of the best things to do on the island.
Maui’s Northwest Loop
Maui is basically an island of mini-road trips, and they’re each a different sort of adventure. The Northwest Loop is similar to the Road to Hana in that a large portion of it is actually a sketchy one-lane highway. The sights are very different and the weather is a stark contrast to the east side (Hana), so if you’re down to drive one, you might as well drive the other too. It’s a wild ride.
Snorkel at Olowalu Beach
At first glace, Olowalu Beach doesn’t look amazing. You park and walk past old sugar mill ruins, and then you’re at a really rocky beach… but there’s a ramp into the water and then it’s incredible! Colorful coral, urchins, tropical fish, honu and much more are just below the surface in this shallow bay. I was so surprised at how shallow this whole area is. It was perfect for snorkeling with kids, as there are plenty of places amidst the reefs where you can stand (NOT on the reef).
Explore Historic Lahaina Town – NOT CURRENTLY RECOMMENDED
Note: nearly all of Lahaina burned down during the wildfires of 2023. Recovery efforts are strong but slow. Until the town is ready for tourists again do not plan to visit Lahaina as a tourist, BUT we recommend supporting the surrounding community as close to the affected area as possible to help keep tourism dollars with the locals directly impacted by the fires.
Once the prominent capital of Hawai’i, Lahaina is full of history, beauty and attractions including the Bailey Museum, the Sugar Cane Train, and the Brick Palace of King Kamehameha. Overlooking the West Maui Mountains, stroll Lahaina’s popular Front Street, full of food and shopping goods. Afterwards, cool off under Lahaina’s famous banyan tree that spans a full city block and is a bustling square of activity.
Hike Honolua Bay aka the Magical Enchanted Forest
This is one of my favorite things to do on Maui. To reach Honolua Bay, you must first hike through one of Maui’s most breathtaking landscapes – an old-growth forest full of monkeypod and banyan trees. This is also called the Magical Enchanted Forest. These are no ordinary trees; they’re covered in pathos vines and flowers. This forest is straight out of a fairytale. Pack a picnic and watch the light dance off of these tremendous trees, and when you’re finished, go for a snorkel / dive in the bay at the end of the trail for views of coral, fish, turtles, and octopus.
This is also a great place to watch surfers. The break at the mouth of the bay makes for really cool waves, and there are plenty of places to sit to watch. While this area, and the Magical Enchanted Forest in general, are open to the public, it’s a spot that has seen an influx of visitors, prompting locals to make lots of warning signs about being respectful to the land and the locals. Be kind and be smart when you visit.
Tip: there are two parking areas, the easternmost is the best spot to park with more spots, while the western access area closer to Lahaina is street parking. The latter parking spot has the more magical entrance to the forest though, so…
Experience an Authentic Hawaiian Lu’au
It’s here on Maui’s West Side that many of the local Lu’aus are performed. At Old Lahaina Lu’au, you can experience the native dances, music, foods and customs that are central to the Hawaiian spirit of Aloha. Witness authentic traditional hula dances while wrapped in a lei, and enjoy Hawaiian cuisine including taro, laulau and poke.
Note: attending a luau isn’t for everyone, and it’s a complex event to consider. Firstly, a luau is quite costly for a family (we’ve only done it once) and second, it’s a bit of the comodification of culture that I mentioned at the start of this article. There’s a fine line between wanting to learn about and experience a culture, and then there’s wanting a performance by an “exotic other”. I think a luau can be wonderful if you’re doing it as a way to appreciate the Hawaiian culture and support those working to keep this tradition alive.
Central Maui aka Upcountry
Getting up and away from the beach might not seem like why a person would visit Maui, but I think some of the best things to do here include hiking in the hills and mountains. The Upcountry area of Maui, from the buckle between the west Maui Mountains and Haleakela to the foothills around the National Park, it’s full of beautiful trails through state parks, preserves and more. Here, the towns of Wailuku (west) and Kula (east) make for great afternoon strolls and dining between hikes.
Hike Waihe’e Ridge
Northwest of Kahului, you’ll find one of the most notable and popular hikes through the outskirts of the Iao Valley, which boasts panoramic views of the North Shore and its surrounding scenery. There are two large parking lots for this 4-mile hike, and spots are still hard to come by! So beat the crowds and show up early to this peaceful, middle-grade hike through temperate forests. Download the trail map in advance (I like AllTrails for accurate trail maps).
On the way to the Waihe’e Ridge trail, make a stop at the Kukuipuka Heiau. This is one of the few remaining cultural sites on Maui. If you’ve explored the Big Island or Kauai, you’ve probably seen a lot more Hawaiian history sites, so when on Maui, you need to visit the few that remain as they’re fewer and further between here.
Iao Valley State Park
To the west of Kahului is Iao Valley State Park (starts with “i”), a cultural Hawaiian site where King Kamehameha trekked with his army to reach Lahaina where he would reign supreme. With its famous “Iao Needle” overlooking the park, you can explore its lush rainforest routes, and its Ethnobotanical Garden Loop to learn about native Hawaiian plants and crops including taro, plumeria and bird of paradise.
We really like the swimming holes in the stream, which are pretty mellow and if you enter safely, can be great for a dip. I think Iao Valley State Park really captures the spirit and vibe of the mountains of Maui. It’s worth making time for.
Note: there is a park entrance reservation system for Iao Valley State Park, just like Wai’anapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana or Haena State Park on Kauai.
Hike at Haleakala National Park
It isn’t a trip to Maui without taking in the 360 view from the top of the island at Haleakala National Park. Pay the entry fee of $30 and enjoy the astounding landscape of this dormant volcano that rises up to 10,023 feet above sea level. There’s more to visiting Haleakala National Park than just the view from the summit. There are lots of hikes and unique sights to see from the park boundary to the top.
As you head up to the volcano’s crater, be sure to check out the eucalyptus forest and a few of the pullouts. One of the most unique things you’ll see at Haleakala is the rare silversword plant (it’s really shiny silver!), but don’t touch it. Watch in the silversword areas for the really plump chukar birds and the Hawaiian state bird, the “nene”.
Check out our Guide to Haleakala National Park!
But the real showstopper is to watch the changing clouds and landscape during either sunrise or sunset. A lot of people like to head up to the summit of Haleakala in the middle of the night to watch sunrise, so that’s actually when the park is the busiest. If you’re heading up for sunrise, you actually need to get a park entrance reservation for entry from 3:00 am until 7:00 am or so (check to confirm restrictions).
Note: keep in mind that Haleakala can get cold – bring a jacket and warm pants with you on your trip to Maui for any time at the summit. Even when it’s 80 degrees down in Kihei, it’s cold and windy at the summit.
There is never a bad time to visit Maui. Even the rainy season from November to March there is plenty of sun if you know where to look. And sun isn’t the only thing to find here on Maui; with the wind and rain comes plenty of rainbows, whales, and waves. So many rainbows! Maui’s natural landscape is unmatched, drawing close to two million visitors a year, and for good reason. But while Maui may seem like a paradise playground, please be a mindful guest when you visit, and do your best to preserve the natural beauty of the island and its treasures – this means respecting and protecting local wildlife, leaving no trace with trash that you bring with you, and honoring the Hawaiian community that thrives throughout Maui.
If you have any other questions about things to do on Maui, where to stay, or need advice for planning your trip, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re happy to help other plan and direct to resources that support the Hawaiian community.