Maui, with it’s pristine white, red, and black beaches, has so many memorable things to do for all types of travelers. It’s the perfect island getaway for anyone who loves soaking in the warm sun, playing in the ocean, exploring waterfalls, and fun excursions.
I used to visit Maui every other summer when I was a kid. My mom still talks about the first time she went to Maui in a 20 seater airplane that landed on a dirt strip near Ka’anapali. In my youth, we always stayed in the same condo in Napili and found plenty of things to do. We went to luaus, shopped in Lahaina, snorkeled in Molokini, drove to Hana, watched the sunrise over Haleakala Crater, and played in the water at Big Beach. Most of that is still the same today with just a lot more cars and restaurants.
There’s a sense of ease that I get when I’m in Maui. For one, you have a lot of options. You are never far from towns with resorts, restaurants, and activities to enjoy. Second, it’s warm. I know what you’re thinking, “it’s Hawaii, aren’t all the islands warm?” Actually, no.
Nowadays, we almost always travel to the north shores of Oahu and Kauai in the wintertime and I usually need my Patagonia puffy jacket when I’m there. Except for Haleakala, Maui is warm and it was so nice to relax on beaches in January, soak in the sun, and be able to get in the water without getting a bit chilly.
Last, all roads connect. I love road trips and loved the fact that I could now complete the drive around the entire island. Before, the road on the northeast and southwest corners of the island were dirt roads and required 4WD. Not anymore. This is important because unless you plan on going to Maui and sitting in your resort the entire time, you will be driving probably more than you’d expect.
What You Need To Know Before You Go
- There are 2 main resort areas of Maui- Kaanapali and Wailea. They are very similar and choosing either one as your home base is great.
- If you seek adventure and want to see all the best parts of Maui, you’re going to have to drive quite a bit. Even though I said the roads were in good condition, there are a lot of one-way roads where it would be easy to get in an accident. Therefore, I highly recommend having travel insurance or pay for extra coverage on your car if your insurance doesn’t cover accidents.
- Maui isn’t raw and filled with tons of lush beauty. A lot of the island is filled with cities and resorts that are very built up. Many people like this and it’s why they choose to come to Maui, however, if raw nature is what you’re looking for, you’re going to want to spend more time in Hana and Haleakala or even consider a different island.
- Overall, Maui is very warm year round especially compared to the north shore of Kauai. This makes it a great destination in the winer, but can be quite hot in the summer.
Most Memorable Things To Do
These are the things we feel you absolutely have to do on your first visit to Maui in order to get a complete taste of the island.
Drive the Road To Hana
A lot of people don’t make time for this drive and for good reason. After all, you’re on vacation and the thought of spending all day driving the 600 sharp turns and 59 one-lane bridges can be quite exhausting. It is gorgeous, however, and in my opinion, it is the best thing to do in Maui, which is why I highly recommending spending one night in Hana in order to see it all. Be sure to stop at Coconut Glen’s for the best vegan ice cream ever!
If you are considering driving the Road To Hana, be sure to read our Complete Guide To Hana first to help you make the most of your day exploring this
Hike in Haleakala National Pak
You can access Haleakala NP from two sides, either driving up the Haleakala Highway towards the summit or choosing to access the southeast side by driving the Road to Hana. Both are worth doing in my opinion, but on two separate days.
Read our Guide to Visiting Haleakala (COMING SOON) to decide which hikes are best for you.
Drive the Backside of Haleakala.
I preferred making the Road to Hana a loop and continued on past Haleakala National Park, driving Highway 31, the Piilani Highway, back.
The views along the Pilani Highway here are some of the best in Maui!
The first 5 miles from when you leave Haleakala is an unfinished road and the next 5 miles is a dirt road with a few one-way sections. It’s totally doable in any car, but you’re going to want to go slow and use caution so you don’t hit a cow.
You’ll pass the tiny town of Kipahulu, tall grassy ranchlands, and black jagged lavascapes. We drove back at dusk and enjoyed gorgeous sunset views the entire time. There are quite a few overlooks and some trails you can explore along the way.
Hike Through a Bamboo Forest
Maui is home to several clusters of bamboo forest. While the popular bamboo forest hike near the rainbow trees on the road to Hana is now closed, however, there is another fun hike through a nearby bamboo forest that takes you to a beautiful waterfall with a pool you can swim in.
You can also opt to hike Pipiwai Trail which starts at the Oheo Gulch parking area in Haleakala National Park (mile 60 on the road to Hana).
Snorkel Honolua Bay
There are many options for snorkeling but none compare to the gorgeous backdrop of Honolua Bay. Check the wind conditions here first because one day we went and it was perfect and another it was too mixed up. You don’t want to go when the winds are northwest.
Honolua Bay is also a famous and popular surf spot in Maui.
This was my first time to visit Maui in the winter and my mind was blown with how many spouting blowholes I saw just from the side of the road and beaches.
I later researched to discover that about 10,000 humpback whales migrate here from Alaska every year!
Peak time to see them is November through May. We were there in February and it really was an incredible sight.
Catch Sunrise or Sunset Haleakala
Watching the sunrise over the clouds when you are standing at the top of Haleakala Crater is truly an experience you will never forget.
Part of this is because it is incredibly scenic and the other part is because it is insanely cold.
We are talking “pack as if you are going on a ski trip” cold. Our Patagonia puffy jackets did not cut it. I wish we had at least packed gloves and beanies.
I personally think hiking here during the day is a more enjoyable experience and then you can easily stay late and watch a gorgeous sunset from the top.
Click here to get our full guide to hiking, camping, and sunrise/sunset at Haleakala National Park (COMING SOON).
There are many places to go cliff jumping in Maui. We chose to jump off Black Rock in Ka’anapali, which is also a popular place to see Hawaiian sea turtles. If you are staying near Kapalua, we saw people jumping near the Cliff House.
Sit Beneath The Banyan Tree
A trip to Maui wouldn’t be complete without visiting the historic harborside town of Lahaina. While there, be sure to check out one of the world’s largest banyan trees. It currently covers 2/3 of an acre and has 17 trunks.
Drive Hwy 30: West Maui’s Road to Hana
This was actually one of my favorite things to do in Maui. It’s not for the faint of heart though. This stretch of highway between Kapalua and Wailuku has some of the most scenic vistas you’ll ever drive. (Think Highway 1 to Big Sur.)
However, much of the road is along a steep cliff with many one lane sections and blind turns. If you’re a confident driver, it’s really not that bad, but if you tend to be nervous then you can skip driving the entirety and only drive to the Waihe’e Ridge Trail from the south and to Kahakuloa from the north side.
Maui Guidebook has a very thorough description of the stops along the drive.
Hike the Waihe’e Ridge Trail
This well-maintained trail is a perfect hike for most. While it is a 2-mile climb to the overlook, the trail is wide, with plenty of places to rest and enjoy the views of the valley and out to the ocean along the way.
It is a popular hike so parking can be difficult. The parking lot is right at the trailhead, however, there is an overflow lot that you’ll pass on your way up which you can park at but will add a mile each way to your hike. From the main parking lot, go through the gate and path that go uphill. When we were there, there were porta-potties at the trailhead.
Camp at Black Sand Beach
The black sand beach, Honokalani Beach at Waianapanapa State Park, has been often voted the most beautiful beach in the world. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it is a good spot to camp for a night. Since it is such a popular stop on the road to Hana, it’s very crowded during the day. But if you camp, you can enjoy the beauty of it without the crowds.
If you choose to skip the road to Hana, you can visit another black sand beach, Oneuli Beach, near Makena, although it’s not nearly as stunning as the Honokalani.
Photograph Red Sand Beach
Also a stop on the road to Hana, but not quite as crowded, is the beautiful red sand beach, Kaihalulu Beach. It’s a short, but slippery, hike to get here but worth the view. This pristine cove is great for snorkeling and wading. Note that there are no facilities here.
Swim in a Waterfall Pool
On the road to Hana, there are dozens of waterfall pools to play in. See our Road To Hana Guide for details on a few of our favorites.
Explore the Resorts
Both Ka’anapali and Wailua have a 3-mile beachfront sidewalk that runs in front of all the luxury resorts. You can easily spend a few hours enjoying the warm sun, lying in the hammocks or chill in the grass, get a drink or meal at one of the many oceanfront restaurants, or watch sit and sunset.
Tips: In Kaanapali it costs to park at the Whaler’s Village. You can get your parking validated for 3 hours of free parking with a purchase at any of the restaurants or stores. You can also park in Ka’anapali for free here. In Wailua, you can park here for free.
Shop in Paia
Paia is a funky beach town with an eclectic mix of boutique shops, colorful cafes, and a very laid-back feel. We absolutely loved the vegan ice cream at Cafe Des Amis or eat at Mama’s Fish House, Paia Fish Market, or Vana Paia.
Visit a Historic Town
Three other popular, and historic, towns worth visiting include in Makawao, Wailuku, and Lahaina. Makawao is famous for its donut on a stick at Komoda Store however I think the charming shops and buildings are what make it worth a visit. Wailuku is known as the site of famous Hawaiian battle history but its proximity to the lush Iao Valley and stylish, laid back main street makes it extra appealing for visitors. Lahaina, a historic whaling village from the mid 1800s, has evolved into quite the tourist hub and is filled with artsy stores, surf shops, and lively restaurants.
Chill at a Beach
There are so many great beaches to choose from. These are our top 5 recommendations:
- Ho’okipa Beach- The windsurfing capital and also a good beach to spot sea turtles in the afternoon.
- Big Beach – Great for playing in waves on the shore break.
- Red Sand Beach – Beautiful surroundings, calm, shallows waters, and less crowds.
- Kaanapali Beach – Lively, pretty water, and great snorkeling.
- Hamoa Beach – Less crowded, more peaceful, some facilities.
Spoil Yourself With a Tour or Excursion
One of the best parts of Maui is that there are so many great guided adventures and excursions you can do. As a kid, I loved taking the boat ride out to Molokini to snorkel. Winter is the perfect time for whale watching or visit the Maui Ocean Center and see wildlife up close. My mom still talks about how fun her ATV adventure on Haleakala’s upcountry was. Kihei is a perfect place to learn to surf. With so much to choose from, it’s hard to squeeze it all in!
- Snorkel at Molokini + Swim With Turtles at Turtletown
- Bike Down Haleakala
- Explore Hana by Helicopter
- Learn to Surf
- Go Whale Watching
- Sunset Dinner Cruise
- ATV Adventures
- Maui Ocean Center
Be sure to read our Maui 1 Week Itinerary. Besides giving you a day-by-day plan, it also has a list of the best resorts, tips on saving, and some of our favorite places to get food.
Related Maui Blogs:
- Ultimate Maui 1 Week Itinerary
- 7 Stunning Stops on the Road to Hana
- 12 Best Campgrounds in Hawaii
- 10 Best Things to do in Oahu
- Guide to Camping in Hawaii
- Minimalist Hawaii Pack List