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Local's Guide: 10 of the Best Things to Do in Maui

If you want to really enjoy Maui like a local, you have to try these top 10. I've included some of the best snacks around town—vegan, too!

The sun setting over Lānaʻi island, viewed from west Maui (no filter). My favorite thing about sunsets and the ocean is that they are free to all, it's a beautiful wealth we all get to share.

The sun setting over Lānaʻi island, viewed from west Maui (no filter). My favorite thing about sunsets and the ocean is that they are free to all, it's a beautiful wealth we all get to share.

If My Friend Visited Maui, Here's What We'd Do

Most of the things on this list are not in any guidebook or blog you'll read about Maui. That's because they're not very tourist-y! There are plenty of super fun activities recommended to tourists and visitors all the time, like:

  • A Haleakalā sunrise
  • A whale-watching boat cruise
  • A Hawaiian lūʻau
  • The drive to Hāna

And you should totally do every one of those things (if you have time and money, and if it's whale season). My 10 favorite things to do in Maui listed below are more casual, local activities, and pretty affordable. They're also all something you can do with a friend, family, or alone.

Most of the activities involve eating, because I'm a snack monster, and Maui has soooo much delicious food! I've also included some amazing vegan, vegetarian, and healthy options. The activities are also just a little off the beaten path and will offer you a glimpse of what it's like to really live in Maui like a local.

I hope you enjoy!

1. Eat Hawaiian Poke and Maui Style Potato Chips at Any Beach

To a humble transplant (me), there's nothing more quintessentially Maui than getting some of the best fresh ahi (tuna) poke on the planet, a bag of Maui brand potato chips, and heading to the beach. Why Maui Style brand, you ask? Because the velvety-smooth poke paired with their seriously crunchy, salty chips is heaven.

There are a lot of amazing poke places on Maui, but here are my top 3. Maybe you can decide what's most convenient, based on your location!

  • West Maui: hit up Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquor at 226 Kupuohi St., Lāhainā
  • Central Maui: stop by Kahiau's Poke Truck at 520 Keolani Pl., Kahului
  • South Maui: check out South Maui Fish Company at 1794 S. Kīhei Rd, Kīhei

For My Vegans in Maui

Check out the Moku Root's daily sushi special in Lāhainā, they do some amazing things with marinated eggplant, papaya (think: smoked lox), and tomatoes!

2. Get a Snack at Mana Foods and Hang Out at Ho'okipa Beach Park

From Kahului, head south till you hit the cute little town of Paia and Mana Foods, arguably one of the best grocers on Maui for snacks. As one fan put it, "Mana Foods is a magical must." They boast a cafe with smoothies, bakery, organic and local offerings, fresh produce, homemade ravioli, gourmet meats and wheels of cheese, bulk nuts and chocolate, a natural pharmacy, a deli with hot and cold fresh foods (lots of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options), and so much more.

About a mile further south on the Hāna Hwy, you'll see the famous Ho'okipa Beach Park on your left. Not only is this the most popular surf spot on the island, but it's a world-class kite- and wind-surfing destination!

Where to Chill at Ho'okipa

Pretty much doesn't matter what day of the week it is, you're guaranteed to have some great action to watch here. There are four vantage points:

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  1. Down on the beach. There's a reef-protected section of beach to the north, perfect for chilling with tiny people, and a ton of Hawaiian green sea turtles on the beach to the south—don't get close to or touch the turtles, it's dangerous for them and very illegal for you! But do take lots of pictures, obviously.
  2. Sit on the stone wall. Right near the restrooms and lifeguard tower, this spot is perfect for leg-dangling and a good mid-level view of the action.
  3. Park at the upper parking lot. This spot offers a bird's eye view of the beach and surfers below.
  4. Sit on the grassy hill. Just north of the main beach, this is one of the best viewing spots for big swell days.

Grab your snacks and enjoy the show with the locals! Bonus: sunsets here are absolutely spectacular.

3. Get a Paniolo Burger and Hit Maui's Only Winery

Never heard of 'Ulupalakua? It's a tiny little community about a 20 minute drive past Kula, located halfway up the grassy slopes of Haleakalā (don't blink or you'll miss it). Honestly, you won't believe it till you're driving up there, but the rolling greenery up here is reminiscent of Ireland or Scotland. Plus you have a bird's eye view of Maui on the drive up!

Start off your "upcountry" adventure by getting a juicy burger at 'Ulupalakua Ranch Store & Grill. This paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) spot fires up its grill and sources their elk, beef, lamb, venison, and most of their fresh toppings straight from their ranch and local farms. It's one of my favorite burgers ever.

Once fortified, head across the street to Maui Wine, Maui's charming, elegant, and also only winery. There must be something to growing grapes in volcanic soil, because their pineapple wine is highly praised. Make sure you check their business hours!

For My Vegans in Maui

Depending on where you're coming from, grab some delicious snacks from:

  • Earth Aloha Eats food truck (locations in Lāhainā or Kahului) has "golden fish" or "Thai chicken" or "Mexican street" tacos, falafel and teriyaki bowls, gyro wraps, crispy grilled "chicken" sandwiches, pulled "pork" on a bun, and so much more!
  • Joy's Place Deli (Kīhei) has fresh smoothies, organic cold brew coffee, kombucha and chai, collard green wraps, homemade soups and chili, sandwiches on freshly baked bread, breakfast burritos, and more!

4. Spend a Day at the Beautiful Nude Beach in South Maui

Maybe you are a nudist, curious to try, or just want to get the perfect tan. Doesn't matter! As long as you have good vibes, you're invited to wear as many or as few clothes as you want at the creatively named "Little Beach", which is a short walk from... you guessed it, "Big Beach".

From Kīhei, drive south about 20 minutes to the Mākena State Park ($10 to park, and $5 entry per person) and find a parking spot. Big Beach is aptly named, a long stretch of beautiful white sand, turquoise water, and a great view of Ko'oholawe island beyond. If you swim here, be careful! If there's swell, the shorebreak can be powerful. Time your dip with the smallest wave and then get out quick.

To get to Little Beach, walk to the far north end of Big Beach, and follow the trail leading up the lava rock. Same swimming advice goes here—have fun, but be wary of an occasionally powerful rip current as there's no lifeguard here. When in doubt, just ask a local!

When You Visit Mākena Beaches, Remember:

  • Get there early for paid parking spots, but don't leave your car in the lot past 7pm or it will get locked in!
  • Bring lots of sunscreen, water, and a flashlight in case you want to stay for the stunning sunset
  • Sometimes you'll see one or two food trucks parked nearby, but don't count on it—bring your own cooler and snacks!
  • It's not much of a scramble up the lava rock trail, but you might be more comfortable bringing more grip-y shoes than flip-flops
  • There's a bit of shade in the trees, but you might want to bring a beach umbrella

Bonus: Have You Considered Volunteering in Maui? It's Pretty Special

"What makes the Hawaiian Islands truly special is not only our stunning natural beauty or our vibrant culture—it’s the deeply rooted relationship that connects them. That relationship between people and place grows stronger every time you mālama (give back). When you give back to the land, the ocean, the wildlife, the forest, the fishpond, the community—you become part of the circle." —GoHawaii.com

Several organizations offer opportunities for beach clean-ups, native tree planting, and more. Through the Malama HawaiiProgram, you could even qualify for a special discount or even a free night from a participating hotel.

5. Do a Mini-Pub Crawl in "The Triangle"

Located in central Kīhei, Maui's most concentrated little block of bars is affectionately known as "The Triangle"... it's unconfirmed, but I'm assuming that's a reference to the Bermuda Triangle, and how easy it is to get (figuratively) lost in here.

Don't expect anything fancy, this is mostly just a collection of local dives, but no Maui visit is complete without at least one circuit! It's super fun, you can safely hit 7 bars with just 1 parking spot, and you're guaranteed to make some friends.

  • Kahale's: An old biker-feel kinda bar and a true dive, faintly smelling like old popcorn, cheap beer, can get a little wild late at night
  • The Dog & Duck: They have a dartboard, fun waitresses, trivia nights, and an Irish owner who knows his alcohol and often mixes with his guests
  • What Ales You: The fanciest one in the bunch, this is a small taphouse with real wineglasses, weekly live music, and a pretty damn tasty/fresh little bar menu
  • Life's a Beach ("The Lab"): They have a pool table and weekly karaoke, and be warned: if you stay for more than one here, your fate is sealed
  • Tiki Bar: An all-wood decor featuring good cocktails, weekly live music, and pretty decent pizza
  • Three's Bar & Grill: Slightly touristy and triples as a restaurant, sushi bar, and regular bar with weekly live music
  • Vibe Bar: It's a small place, but makes up for space with very on-point craft cocktails and knowledgeable bartenders

Stay steady on those legs, sailor! Stop at Lava Java cafe next door for a tasty Maui coffee break, or for a truly local Triangle experience, soak up some of that alcohol with King's BBQ next door. Bonus: there's a funky sex toy shop and lots of little open-air markets to wander through during your pub crawl.

6. Catch a Happy Hour at Moku Roots

Thanks to their 5-star rating on Yelp, this zero-waste, award-winning spot might already be on your radar! As you wander through the repurposed wooden tables outside into the colorful, warm ambiance inside, you'll notice a big chalkboard near their menu explaining where they source every single item on your plate.

From 3–5pm, you can hit up their happy hour taco bar (with handmade tortillas!) or grab an appetizer paired with local beer, local kombucha, prosecco, or craft cocktails like the Cucumber Coconut Cooler and Guac on the Rocks.

Every to-go order is wrapped in a Ti leaf or placed in a returnable stainless steel tin (I kept mine though, perfect for traveling) or glass jar, and they are resourceful, sustainable, and source locally—a respectful nod to true Hawaiian culture. This place is vegan/vegetarian, but beloved by omnivores worldwide.

Moku Roots Snapshot

Located: 335 Keawe St. #221, Lāhainā

Don't Miss: Beer-battered zucchini fritters or marinated oyster mushrooms in a birria consomme at happy hour!

Bonus: You can also buy a seasonal produce box ($35), homemade raw Snickers bars that are to die for, freshly baked bread and pastries, homemade coconut yogurt, funny hats, chia and hemp seeds in bulk, and more

D.T. Fleming's is a laidback, delightful beach with all the facilities you might need and a large parking lot close by.

D.T. Fleming's is a laidback, delightful beach with all the facilities you might need and a large parking lot close by.

7. Take a Little Roadtrip Northwest to D.T. Fleming Beach and BBQ

D.T. Fleming's is about 20 minutes drive north of Lāhainā, and I'll tell you a secret. The northwest side of the island is absolutely magical, and a few degrees cooler than Lāhainā (if you're there in summer it can get pretty sticky).

This beach park can get crowded on the weekends, but weekdays are pretty chill. There's a few BBQ pits and picnic tables, a nice stretch of beautiful beach with some shade options, surfable waves if the swell's right, a first-class view of Moloka'i island across the channel, and even a punishing hiking trail up the mountain behind if you get bored of the beach!

D.T.'s also has restrooms, outdoor showers, wheelchair ramps, pay phones, lifeguards, and water taps. Even though there's a lifeguard, keep rip currents in mind when you're swimming here. If you get caught in one, always swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the rip (don't swim towards shore).

My Best Maui BBQ Tip

Buy some slabs of pork belly at Honokōwai Times Supermarket, cut into 2-inch squares, season with salt and pepper, and grill till cracklin'! This is insanely delicious. You must try it. I insist.

For My Vegans in Maui

Have you ever grilled fresh pineapple over the fire? It's so good! You can also pick up some beautiful fresh mushrooms to grill from one of the local farmer markets.

8. Get Some Butter Rolls and Banana Bread at Four Sisters Bakery

I never truly knew what a butter roll was before I moved to Maui and a friend brought them to Thanksgiving. Basically, it's a roll... with butter in it... but it's SO much more! It's heaven in your mouth, doled out by the sweet aunties who work at this unassuming little bakery.

Four Sisters Bakery is definitely a hidden kind of gem. Driving down the backstreets of downtown Wailuku, you'll barely notice the faded storefront from the street, and there's hardly any parking. It's.So.Worth.It. I have eaten almost a dozen butter rolls by myself with no regrets.

If you want a quality espresso latte to wash it down, check out Wailuku Coffee Company a few streets away.

Four Sisters Bakery Snapshot

Location: 1968 E Vineyard St, Wailuku

Don't Miss: Butter rolls and banana bread!

Bonus: Their cinnamon rolls are also amazing, and they do catering!

For My Vegans

There's a plenty of awesome bakery options for you, my friends! You definitely don't want to miss these delicious spots:

  • Soulfull Bakery (you can order online)
  • Pick up treats at Down to Earth (Kahului)
  • Hit up Mana Foods (Paia) heaven
  • Definitely stop by Rodeo General Store (Makawao)
  • Check out Moku Roots' daily baked goods specials (Lāhainā)!

9. Eat at Baked on Maui and Check Out The Death Store in Haʻikū

Baked on Maui: amazing local coffee; delicious breakfast omelets, skillets, waffles, biscuits and gravy; their sweet selection of baked goods is gonna have you ordering some extra to takeaway, and they're serious about their sandwiches. (They're only open for breakfast and lunch.) Plus they have cool hats to buy, and their Instagram is full of dog customer pics!

Once you can roll yourself back to a standing position, walk a few steps over to The Death Store: Doorway Into Light. They're open on Saturdays from 10am–2pm or by appointment only. It's a funky little store that is both interesting with informative displays, special books, handmade souvenirs and knickknacks... while also being very serious about dying.

The Death Store is run by Bodhi Be, a character who landed on Maui a few decades ago from the Bronx and is an ordained Sufi minister. He's an incredibly active member of the community and an intelligent conversationalist, with a focus on eco-burials and finding peace within the concept of death. He also offers burials at sea, which are legal in Maui.

10. Get a Sandwich at 808 on Main and Visit 'Iao Valley

The gourmet sammies, paninis, gigantic fresh salads, and burgers at 808 on Maui are outrageously good... you know how some places just excel in the simple things? That's them. They do stuff like rub raw garlic on the outside of their paninis before serving, so you know they mean business.

There's a location in Kīhei, too (808 Deli—if you go here try their famous pudding!), and each spot is run by one of two brothers, both flavor geniuses. Make sure you get there between 10am-3pm.

Once you've got your snack settled, keep driving towards the mysteriously beautiful West Maui mountains and into historic 'Iao Valley. This is an incredibly special and sacred place, and in order to keep it that way and reduce traffic, now you have to pay an entry and parking fee. It's so worth it.

As you drive the winding road in, you get drawn deeper into 'Iao's naturally overwhelming beauty. The volcanic craggy peaks tower sky-high on both sides, complete with lush vegetation, long wispy white clouds, a gushing crystal clear river, and winding footpaths.

'Iao has a rich cultural, spiritual, and historical heritage. It's where Kamehameha I conquered the Maui warriors in 1790 in a bitter battle, with the tall spire of rock known as the 'Iao Needle used as a lookout point. Most importantly, it's full of mana, a kind of spiritual energy and healing power which can exist in places, objects and persons. You'll feel it if you spend some time here.

Fun Fact About the West Maui Mountains

They're colloquially called "the West Maui mountains", but their true name is much cooler: Mauna Kahālāwai, which translates to "The House of Water Mountain". This is because Kahālāwai is home to an incredibly pristine watershed, not to mention dozens of endemic species. The peak, Ku'u Pukui, is one of the 10 wettest places in the world.

Beautiful scenes on a West Maui roadtrip.

Beautiful scenes on a West Maui roadtrip.

Bonus: Understand the Hawaiian Language Like a Local

Pre-European contact, ‘Ōlelo, or the Hawaiian language, was a spoken (not written) language, with a very rich oral history. Remember when humans used to be able to quote stuff like the Iliad from memory? Yeah, like that, but beautiful in a uniquely Hawaiian way.

Over time, though, ‘Ōlelo did become a written language: but with only 12 letters, and two very important diacritical marks. Ignoring these diacritical marks is the same as misspelling a word.

What Are Those Funky Little Symbols Over Some Hawaiian Words?

It's smart of you to notice these funky little symbols! Since these diacritical marks can dramatically change the meaning of words, they are very, very important to 'Ōlelo.

Because technology and the mainstream attitude has taken awhile to catch up, this may be the first time you've see these marks. But times are a-changin'... let's honor this wonderfully musical language with the correct spelling and marks!

The Okina

The "okina" is a glottal stop, symbolized by a single open quote (‘). It looks like this:

  • Ho‘okipa vs. Hookipa (a surf break in east Maui)
  • ʻUkulele vs. ukulele (a string musical instrument)
  • Kāʻanapali vs. Kaanapali (a coastal town in west Maui)

The Kahako

The "kahako" is a long stress over a vowel, symbolized by a line over the vowel. It looks like this:

  • Lāhainā vs. Lahaina (a city in west Maui)
  • Pūpū vs. pupu ("appetizers")
  • Mālama vs. malama ("to care for")

Bonus: How to Pronounce the "W" in Hawaiian

Ok, so this one is easy... it's just like the German language, where you pronounce the "w" with a "v" sound. For example:

  • "Keawe St." in Lāhainā is pronounced "Kee-ah-vay" St.
  • "Wai" (which means "water") is pronounced "Vai"
  • "Hawai'i" is actually correctly pronounced "Hah-vai-i"!

© 2022 Jasmine Hanner

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