Maui First Timers Guide to Hawaii’s Valley Isle

For Maui first timers, it’s the very definition of island paradise. Our Maui blog post will help guide to you make the most of your visit to Hawaii’s Valley Isle.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links.

Note: A devastating fire has destroyed much of Lahaina and other areas as of August 9, 2023. Please double-check with your accommodations and adjust your expectations if you are planning to visit.

We fell in love with Hawaii as Maui first timers. Maui was our very first date with Hawaii, and even though we went on to go steady with Kauai and lived there for a couple years, everybody always remembers their very first date, don’t they?  Let this Maui blog post introduce all Maui can offer you.

Maui first timers
Maui First Timers – falling in love with Maui on the Road to Hana

Quick Button Links for Accommodations on Maui

For readers who just want to get on and book your accommodations on Maui before you read the rest of this Maui guidebook, use our quick links. You can easily match a choice geared toward the type of traveler you are and who is in your party. Just click the appropriate button to be taken to Trip Advisor resources.

All Inclusive Maui Vacation – For those that want to be pampered without a care in the world choose from one of many Maui all inclusive hotels and resorts.

All Inclusive Maui Vacation

Couples/Romantic – Maui has long been a special romantic occasion and honeymoon destination. Whether you’re planning a romantic escape, a wedding/honeymoon or renewing your vows use the button blow to discover the best honeymoon resorts in maui.


Family/MultiGeneration – an island getaway is popular with family groups of all ages and sizes, but not having the right accommodations to meet everyone’s needs can dampen the experience. For some that will mean full-scale hotel amenities; others will prefer the flexible atmosphere offered by Maui condos. Make sure you’re aware of all the options.

family friendly
vacation rentals

Luxury – when only the best will do, Maui knows how to deliver. Luxury accommodations range from the quietly understated to over the top glitz and glamour.

Beachfront – Being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves, enjoying a sunset cocktail on the balcony, and gazing out to sea are the perfect ingredients to a memorable Maui vacation.

beachfront e1497307798386

Budget – it’s entirely possible and can be greatly satisfying to enjoy Maui without breaking the bank.

bb and inns

Bed and Breakfast Maui/Unique Inns – beautiful sanctuaries and hidden retreats off the beaten path, some are up country, many “old Hawaii” style, away from the crowds.

What Can Maui First Timers Expect

Hawaii Islands - Maui.PNG
Hawaii Islands – Maui.PNG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maui is the 2nd largest of the Hawaiian Islands at just over 700 square miles. Compared with its crowded neighbor Oahu (where the city of Honolulu is located), it has a relatively low population of around 150,000. Maui has over 30 miles of beaches, but it is known also as the “Valley Isle.” This is due to the large isthmus-like region between its “doublet” of volcanoes.

The older of these two volcanoes has eroded over the centuries into what are now known as the West Maui Mountains (Mauna Kahalwai), with peaks rising to just under 6,000 feet high. The younger volcano, Haleakala, is more than 10,000 feet above sea level. It is actually one of the world’s tallest mountains, measuring over five miles from the sea floor to its summit. Haleakala is considered dormant, having last erupted several hundred years ago.

Maui County is actually comprised of four islands: Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i and Kaho’olawe. Kahului, population 27,000, is the largest city in the island’s center, where the airport is located. The four islands comprising Maui Nui (all of Maui) were originally joined together around 20,000 years ago.

Maui Beach
Maui By Jawed Karim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Maui First Timers will be Blown Away

If, like us, your first visit to Maui is also your first visit to Hawaii, you’ll be blown away. We heard countless stories from locals that all went something like this: “I came here for a vacation and I just never went home.” or “My sister was getting married on island and I was her maid of honor. Thirty years and two marriages later and I’m still here!” Maui attracts people from all over the world who are seeking the special combination of carefree island lifestyle with just the right amount of convenient, real world amenities.

Maui has several distinct microclimates: the reefs and beaches, what is called up-country in the more central highlands, rainforest, dry leeward and wet windward. These microclimates offer a variety of scenic vistas and set the stage for exciting and satisfying activities for Maui first timers and repeat visitors alike.

TIP: Check out the available apps for your phone. There are several Maui apps that will help you navigate the roads, find beaches, historical sites and more.

Make the most of your time on the island. For reading ahead of your stay, any of the guidebooks below will help you plan your days. Amazon offers the opportunity to purchase these together with other titles at savings. ***Please Note: The Maui Revealed guidebook is controversial. Some Maui residents object to it on the basis of recommendations to cross private land to access attractions. As well, locals have alleged the author disrespects “kapu” (“forbidden”) warnings which are in place to protect sacred or unsafe places. The author has responded to these objections by publishing revisions and admonitions against illegal or unsafe access. You can read more about the controversy here: Revealing More about ‘Hawaii Revealed.’ If you do choose to utilize this guide, please be respectful and use common sense.***

For historical context, we recommend: Maui: A History – Filled with compelling, nuanced, and fact-based historical storytelling. Exploring Lost Maui, Places of Power, History, Mystery and Healing  – At the time of this writing, free for Kindle, this book tours ancient sites with research and fascinating lore to inform you of the mystical aspects of Maui’s past. Ancient Sites of Maui, Molokai and Lanai  – A well-researched guide to well- and lesser-known cultural and historical spots on all three islands: caves, fishponds, heiau (temples and altars), and pohaku (sacred stones). The author has published similar guides for the Big Island and Oahu.

For more great ideas to help you with planning your trip to Maui, have a look at the curated items in the Travel Essentials section in PassingThru’s Amazon Store.

The Top Five Things To Do In Maui For First Timers

Haleakala (“House of the Sun”)

According to Maui legend, Haleakala was the home of the god Maui’s grandmother, who helped him slow the sun’s journey to assist his mother’s cloth-making process on the Big Island. Haleakala sunrise at 10,000 feet is the main attraction at this dormant volcano on the southern half of the island.

1024px Sunrise over Haleakala
Photo of Haleakala Sunrise By Ewen Roberts [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Maui first timers may not be aware that there is a reservation system in place since February 1, 2017. You’ll need to visit this page from the National Park Service up to 60 days before you plan to visit to book a reservation. The price is $1.50 per car, and the reservation holder must be present with a photo ID and reservation receipt to display on the vehicle dashboard to enter the Summit District. There are 150 parking spaces available per day.

Additional entrance fees will be collected at the National Park itself. If you have a national park pass, have that ready along with your ID at the park gate. Reservations are not transferable to different days that you have reserved, and are only available for sunrise. No refunds or exchanges. This system was implemented for safety and quality experience reasons, and to protect natural and cultural assets.

Haleakala Crater
Haleakala Crater Photo: Public Domain

Plan to arrive between 3am and 7am depending upon the time of sunrise on your date. There are four viewpoints on Haleakala: the summit at just over 10,000 feet, the Visitor Center at 9,740 feet, the Kalahari Overlook at 9,324 feet, and the Leleiwi Overlook at 8,840 feet, which is a 10 minute hike from parking.

If you are camping in the summit district and do not travel to any of the four parking lots between 3 and 7am, you will not need a sunrise reservation. Native Hawaiians who want to practice traditional culture at the summit will not pay a fee.

Haleakala Sunrise
Haleakala Sunrise Photo: Public Domain

Other tips: Haleakala weather at the summit is cold, often below freezing. No food or gas is available in the park. This is a sacred and remote place; be quiet and respectful. Understand that emergency services are one hour away. Once you are in the park, you will drive another 30 minutes to the summit. Drones are prohibited.

Iao Valley  

The historically significant and naturally beautiful Iao Valley State Monument is the place where King Kamehameha defeated the warriors of Maui during the Battle of Kepaniwai in 1790. Today’s 4,000 acre park is 10 miles of tropical greenery in north central Maui, capped by the Iao Needle, a 1200 foot natural rock formation. Closed since the fall of 2016 due to heavy rain damage and massive flooding, the Iao Valley State Monument is due to reopen as of this writing on Monday, April 10. The upper section will remain closed for damage assessments and repairs. Cultural sensitivities were triggered when cleanup efforts moved and destroyed sacred rocks. Lookout trail and “ethnobotanical” loop. Parking fee for non-Hawaii residents is $5.00 per car.

Iao Valley State Park
By Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand (Iao Valley State Park Maui.) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Road to Hana Maui

Designated the Hana Millennium Legacy Trail in 2000, this east Maui highway is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many waterfalls and other attractions are scattered along the route.

The history of this road dates back to the 16th century, when King Pi’ilani built a “long road” where travelers crossed the many streams along its route by swinging on vines. Pi’ilani’s son later paved the original road and an extension with lava rock. The modern road was opened in December 1926, but only completely paved 40 years later.

Today, the road to Hana rewards Maui first timers with a white knuckle driving experience which includes incredible scenery from more than 600 hairpin turns, black sand beaches, numerous waterfalls and pools, more than 50 one-lane bridges, and local fruit, baked goods and juice stands. Note: bring cash!

Check prices for a guided Road to Hana tours here.

The road to Hana is a rite of passage for Maui first timers. Here are a few road to Hana tips:

  • Certain guidebooks ignore the fact that many stops and attractions along the highway lie on or beyond private property. Please respect the local property owners!
  • Get gas and a box lunch (we like The Hana Bay Picnic Company) in Paia.
  • If you are driving the road to Hana, respect the locals who will travel this road at faster speeds than you may be comfortable. Pull aside when possible to let them pass.
  • Learn the one-way bridge etiquette. Many of these bridges date from the 1930s and are impossibly narrow. Honor the right of way: first to approach crosses. If there is more than one car, local courtesy is cross in groups of five to seven, then allow oncoming traffic to do the same.
  • “Kapu” means “keep out!” This word can appear on a sign to indicate anything ranging from private property, an unsafe area, to an ancient spiritual site.
View from Hana Road
View from the the Hana Road, Maui, Hawaii, United States, by Neil916 == Licensing == {{cc-by-sa-2.5}}

If you are squeamish, there is no shame in taking a road to Hana tour. While a little less flexible in terms of overall schedule, you’ll be able to gaze and take photos without worrying about staying on the road. If you’re self-driving, leave plenty of time to drive home while it’s still light out. Or, consider spending the night in Hana.

Check prices for Hana hotels and B&B rooms here.

Lahaina Banyan Tree

This centennial plus tree was planted in 1873 to honor the 50th anniversary of the local mission started by the widow of King Kamehameha. The Lahaina Banyan Tree anchors courthouse square and is an unmistakeable landmark in the former Kingdom’s capital. Located at Front and Canal Street. The largest banyan in the United States, it now spreads over one acre of land.

Lahaina Banyan Tree
Lahaina Banyan Tree Photo attribution: By Melikamp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Whale Watching in Maui

Maui whale watching season is from November to April, humpback whales spawn and mate in the warm waters in the Hawaiian archipelago. It’s important to know that it has been prohibited to poach, fish or harass humpbacks by a variety of international agreements. Polynesian petroglyphs document their presence in Hawaiian waters since about 1600 AD. Hawaiians believe the whales are aumukua (ancestors) and kanaloa (a god of the ocean underworld who taught magic), part of a spiritual duality with the god kane in a version of the yin and yang concept.

Betsy Whale Watching
Betsy Whale Watching

On many a bucket list, Maui whale watching can’t be over-estimated. There are a variety of ways to check this activity off your list: You can watch from the shore – perhaps your ocean view hotel or condo balcony, or a scenic overlook. They can even be seen from busy Highway 30 outside of Lahaina. In other parts of Maui, look for whales from Paia Bay and Ho’okipa on the north, and Kihei and Wilea on the south.

Whale Watching Boats of Maui
Humpback off the stern!

We think the best way to see whales (and other marine life) is on the water. The law allows you to approach whales up to 100 yards, but we had seemingly curious whales come much closer. There are a variety of Maui whale watching tours you can book: catamaran cruises, small groups, kayaks and outriggers, even stand up paddle boards. You can take a breakfast or a sunset cruise and combine with snorkeling, open bar and a tasty meal.

Humpback Whales Near Maui Hawaii
Humpbacks off Maui

We had a wonderful time with Teralani out of Kaanapali Beach, which offers early bird, morning, mid-day, sunset and dinner sunset cruises. Private charters are also available. Snorkel trips can include a barbeque or cold buffet. Please note aerosol sunscreens are not allowed in order to protect the reefs and marine life. Teralani’s award-winning fleet of catamarans are spacious, but limited to 49 passengers, with inside and outside seating. Naturalist on board, five time winner of Trip Advisor Excellence Award.

The Next Top Five Things To Do In Maui (Our Personal Opinion)

Kahekili Highway

Highly scenic, the stretch of State Highway 340 on the east side of Maui has very slow speed limits (15 mph is common), few reflectors and not very many guardrails. Your rental car agreement may prohibit you from driving this road. Even though this route is shorter as the crow flies to West Maui, you’ll not save any time. The road is narrow, rock slides are common, and there are many blind curves which must be taken at 5 mph.

Your reward will be views of Kahakuloa village and Kahakuloa Head, a 600 foot rock east of the village. Please note this road is not recommended for the casual tourist. As recently as last year, a vehicle plunged down a 200 foot ravine, killing its local driver and injuring his passenger. If you’re squeamish, no worries on foregoing this experience!

Maui Swap Meet

Visitors say “if you can’t find it here, Maui doesn’t have it.” The Maui swap meet is Saturday 7am – 1pm on the grounds of University of Hawaii Maui College (formerly Maui Community College). Ample parking, 50 cent admission. Over 200 Maui swap meet vendors selling produce, crafts, souvenirs, flowers, food, jewelry, art. Many vendors accept credit cards. This event is a combination flea market, farmers market and craft fair. If you’re staying in a condo, this is where to get great value on groceries.

Wailea Beach Walk

A free and accessible coastal path past multiple resorts from Polo Beach northward to Keawakapu Beach, Wailea Beach Walk is a wonderful stroll. Climb to Wailea Point and look for whales, meander through a mile and half of lovely plantings, marine ponds and lava rock, all within easy distance of nearby resorts. Five separate beaches offer a variety of swimming and snorkeling options. Public restrooms.

Alii Kula Lavender Farm

Located at approximately 4000 feet on Haleakala, Ali’i Kula is a 13.5 acre farm which grows about 45 different kinds of lavender. Lavender, although not native to Maui. is the perfect crop to grow on the arid southwest slope. In a vision based upon sustainable and connective aloha, Ali’i Kula offers outreach and educational programs to celebrate the connection between planet and human. General admission is $3.00 (kama’aina (Hawaii resident), military and senior discounts are given) for adults; children are free. Group rates available. Guided walking tours provide historical facts and inspiration on the half hour every hour from 9:30am to 2:30pm at $12/pp for walk-in or $10 advanced reservations. Alii Kula lavender products can be purchased online or at their retail store in Paia.

Alii Kula Lavender Farm
Photo: Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

Maui Tropical Plantation

In light of the fact that portions of the Iao Valley remain closed to visitors due to heavy rain damage, a visit to the Maui Tropical Plantation will satisfy your curiosity about native Hawaiian flowers, fruits and crops. A tram tour leaves on the hour from 10am to 4pm, but isn’t necessary. You may prefer to walk through this show plantation’s grounds using their guidebook app, which you can download: The Maui Tropical Plantation also has the Mill House Roasting Cafe, two ziplines (family-friendly and extreme) and restaurant.

Red Asiatic Lilly 2

For Active Maui First Timers

Snorkeling in Maui Hawaii

While there are myriad locations for snorkeling Maui, the Molokini snorkel tour epitomizes the best experience. Molokini is a partially submerged volcano crater teeming with sea life, including species that normally reside in deeper water. Catamaran tour includes glass bottom boat for keiki, breakfast, lunch and open bar. Departs from Maalaea Harbor, goes only to Molokini for maximum experience.

1024px Molokini Aerial
Forest & Kim Starr [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There are many operators offering snorkeling trips on Maui. The Maui Dive Shop with four convenient locations is Maui’s premier underwater sports resource, in business since 1978. Offering both dive and snorkel charters geared toward wildlife, wreck and lava formations. PADI and SSI courses, gear rentals.

For experienced snorkelers who want to go it alone, there are many places to snorkel in Maui but the best snorkeling beaches in Maui tend to be on the west part of the island. Napili beach snorkeling is safe with calm water, perfect for kids to snorkel and one of the best snorkeling beaches in Maui. One of the best beaches in Maui for relaxing and sunning also has exceptional snorkeling. Kaanapali Beach offers some of the best snorkeling in west Maui. Another highly rated beach offering some of the best snorkeling in west Maui is Kapalua Beach. You could easily make a day of it snorkeling all three. You can find a comprehensive list of Maui snorkeling beaches and reviews here.

Maui Surfing and Maui Windsurfing

Action Sports Windsurfing has offered lessons, tours, multiple day courses, kids camps, speed and aerial jump clinics since 1996. Patient, professional instructors use strong, stable beginner boards. Located at Kanaha Beach, Kahului.

Maui Surfing Lessons offers group and private lessons for beginners and intermediates, board and gear rentals. Located across from Kalama Park, close to the Kihei break. Lessons are a value beginning at $59, for ages 5 and up. Not to be confused with Maui Surf Lessons which offers private, individualized and small group surf instruction, canoe surfing, and standup paddle board lessons in Lahaina and Kihei seven days a week. Each lesson comes with free digital photography and privacy, emphasis on respecting the ocean environment with mini beach cleanups before each lesson.

essential maui guide collage

Picking the best surf spots in Maui will depend on your level of skill and the time of year. The best surfing in Maui for accomplished surfers can be found at Ho’okipa Beach. Pe’ahi (Jaws surf break) is home to Maui surf competitions and world class long waves can be found at Honolua Bay. Surfers of all levels will find the reefs around Lahaina great fun. This area is one of the best beginner surf spots in Maui.

Sports: Ziplining in Maui, Kiteboarding, Parasailing and Paragliding

Kiteboarding School of Maui  Hawaii’s premier training center offers a novice discovery package, personalized lessons for all experience levels with expert instructors, and exclusive CORE equipment.

Please understand that the parasailing season on Maui is May 16 – December 14 in order to accommodate the humpback whale migration. In business since 1984, West Maui Parasail has over 200,000 flights under its belt, offering single and tandem parasails with takeoff and landing from the boat’s flight deck. Two locations: Lahaina and Kaanapali near Whalers Village. Make reservations early, group rates available.

west maui parasail
Photo: West Maui Parasail

Located at the Waipoli Flight Park on Haleakala, Proflyght Paragliding offers a tandem experience with certified instructors to gliders at least 12 years of age. Descents of 3000 and 1000 feet, solo instruction, military discounts available.

Zip lining is a Maui tradition, giving the opportunity for thrill seeking to keiki (children) as young as age 5 at Maui Zipline. Plan for about 2-½ hours for the complete tour.

maui zipline
Photo: Maui Zipline

Extreme zipliners will want to check out the Flyin’ Hawaiian Zipline, which has 8 lines ranging from 250 – 3,600 feet long.

Paddleboarding in Maui

Paddle On Maui offers private, guided excursions on paddle boards and kayaks, with a rare five star rating on Trip Advisor. Their small, tight-knit crew is dedicated to providing a magical ocean experience, including whale watching in season.

paddle on maui
Photo: Paddle on Maui

Outrigger Canoe Tours from Hawaiian Paddle Sports offer whale watching and canoe surfing with guides in an environmental and cultural context. Launch and land the performance canoe, options for families with children, also offers kayak, SUP and surf lessons to empower visitors with a deeper appreciation of Hawaii’s marine environment.

hawaiian paddle sports
Photo: Hawaiian Paddle Sports

Top Beaches In Maui

Here are several guides beachgoers will find helpful: Snorkel Maui and Lanai: Guide to the underwater world of Hawaii  – Maps and details on more than 80 separate snorkeling sites with 39 maps will orient you to the diversity of beach and snorkel experiences available in Maui County. Great for ferreting out the harder to find access, organized geographically. Maui for Dummies  – The main benefit to this book is the tear-out “cheat sheet” full color maps and its handy size. Maui: Ten Ways to Enjoy the Best Food, Beaches and Locations – While on Vacation  boasts how to find the best beaches, and the “perfect” beach. Bonus travel guide includes maps, travel tips, grocery shopping lists, restaurant rankings. Author Paul Brodie isn’t afraid to zero in on specific recommendations from his own experience. Read the reviews on this one and decide if it’s for you as Maui first timers.

Or for those who prefer to carry their information on their phone, there are many popular Apps to download. Some are free.

Beach characteristics will appeal based on your personal preferences. For Maui first timers who want to see and be seen, you won’t go wrong with Ka’anapali Beach which stretches along West Maui’s “resort row,” or the popular Kapalua Beach Maui, just minutes from Lahaina is one of the best beaches for kids in Maui. Also close to Lahaina, Napili Beach has good swimming conditions.

unnamed 10

South of Kihei, Mokapu Beach Park gets close to a perfect rating from Google reviewers, with Wailea not far behind.

For secluded beaches in Maui, Little Beach or Baby Beach Maui are good bets. Black sand beaches include Wai’anapanapa State Park near Hana on the east side, and Oneuli Beach on Makena Road near Kihei. For something completely different, check out the red sand Kaihalulu Beach also on the east side.

black sand beach
Black Sand Beach

For Maui Culture and Maui History Buffs

Tahitian and Marquesan Polynesians were the original inhabitants of Maui, creating a society which revolved around the kapu. Kamehameha I first invaded Maui in 1790 and overcame it a few years later. Although Captain James Cook sighted Maui in 1779, the first European to actually set foot on Maul was a French admiral, the comte de Lapérouse, in 1786. European missionaries joined traders, whalers, sandalwood dealers in the early 1800s, settling around Lahaina. Their Lahainaluna Mission School from 1831 still exists today.

Lahaina was a major whaling center for two decades in the mid-1800s after which the industry declined in favor of petroleum based products. Kamehameha’s royal lineage was replaced in 1872 by another family of chiefs, from whom Lili’uokalani was descended. She was Queen in 1893 when the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown and subsequently annexed by the U.S. in 1898.

Maui Nei Native Expeditions offer walking and immersive experiences of two and three hours to orient you to the ancient traditions, as well as the Hawaiian monarchy and Plantation cultures.

Asian laborers from Japan, China, the Philippines and Koreans served sugar plantation owners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Plantation lands were acquired by purchase, lease, and via quid pro quo arrangements with Hawaiian royalty. Technological projects including a series of irrigation ditches combined into the East Maui Irrigation System, electric powered and lit mills, and rail transport from the fields, grew the sugarcane plantations to the largest in the world. The plantation caste system divided workers by ethnicity; to communicate with each other, they developed a hybrid language called “Hawaiian Pidgin,” which contains elements of Hawaiian, English, Japanese, Chinese and Portuguese. Today, Maui’s Spreckelsville, a former sugar company town founded in 1878, is the site of the Maui Country Club.

Other agricultural operations on Maui produce tropical flowers, pineapple, papaya, macadamia nuts, and coffee. Sugar production on Maui ended in 2016, eliminating the controversial cane field burning. Maui has voted for a moratorium on genetically modified crops (GMO) but legal challenges at the federal level brought by Monsanto and others were adjudicated and federal court upheld a state statute prohibiting individual Hawaiian counties from regulating agricultural matters.

For specific Maui historical sites, check out these reviews: Kahanu Garden (Combine this visit with your drive on the road to Hana Maui), Pi’lanihale Heiau featuring a sacred ancient Hawaiian temple, stroll down Lahaina Front Street and see the one acre Banyan tree at the old court house, visit and walk the trails of the iconic Iao Valley State Monument. A not to miss opportunity is the Bailey House Museum which showcases the largest collection of Hawaiian Antiquities on Maui.

Authentic Local Eats on Maui

Af you’re a Maui first timer, you’re probably thinking you want to attend a luau. Be aware not all luaus are created equal. For the most authentic Hawaiian experience, the Old Lahaina Luau is generally considered to be the best. Buffet style dinner features all the traditional favorites: kalua pork, mahi mahi, sweet potato, taro and much more. Open bar. Entertainment honors the evolution of Hawaiian culture by the various forms of hula.

old lahaina luau
Photo: Old Lahaina Luau

A non-traditional, romantic luau is presented with private seating and four course gourmet menu at the Feast of Lele. Entertainment mirrors the cuisine, featuring Hawaiian, Maori, Tahitian and Samoan traditional dishes, dancing and singing, including the fire knife dance.

For a family friendly setting, the Kaanapali Beach and Capricorn at the Grand Wailea are both excellent. Choose the one in closest proximity and avoid the long drive back. Both feature buffet dinner and traditional dancing, including Samoan fire knife.

Traditional Hawaiian cuisine can be found elsewhere on Maui without having to attend a luau, though. You can “break da mouth” on diverse culinary traditions which reflect the immigrant heritage ranging from Asian to Polynesian, Hispanic and mainland American.

AMP location2 07
Photo: Aloha Mixed Plate

For breakfast and lunch, check out Sam Sato’s in Wailuku, in business since 1933. Plate lunches feature Asian flavors like dry mein (chow mein with crispy noodles), pork, teriyaki beef, and kimchee. Eat with mostly locals for under $10. Also in Wailuku, you’ll want to visit A Saigon Cafe for authentic Vietnamese food, or Tasty Crust “World Famous Pancakes,” in business for over 50 years. Kihei Caffe has over 40 breakfast options, voted best breakfast on Maui for six years in a row.

Upcountry, stop at Ulupaluakua Ranch (in operation by several different families since 1856). The Ranch Store and Grill serves burgers and kalua pig; plate lunches feature coffee gravy with your beef, lamb or elk main.

In Kihei, a casual, family-friendly stop is Coconut’s Fish Cafe which made CNN and Travel & Leisure Top 10 Lists for the entire USA. Famous for fish tacos, coconut shrimp and seafood caesar salad. Locals also list Home Maid Cafe as a favorite here in the Azeka Marketplace.

Local Watering Holes on Maui that Don’t “Break Da Wallet”

There are tons of places to drink on Maui, as you might imagine. As Maui first timers, you might spend a lot of money before you realize it on island, particularly if you’re staying at a resort. Go down to drink at the resort bar, and the prices might “break da wallet.” Fortunately, there are ways around this, with a few favorite local watering holes you can frequent away from the touristy hordes and touristy prices:

The Sly Mongoose in Lahaina is our absolute favorite dive bar on Maui. Located in an industrial park on the mauka (away from the water) side of the highway, this is a tiny little, ultra-casual place with prices locals and visitors alike can afford.

Hang Loose Lounge in Kahului close to the airport is an open-air joint in a strip mall with a biker vibe. Friendly locals and good music.

On the Road to Hana Hawaii 8

Dollie’s Pub and Cafe is a sports bar atmosphere, with pub fare and pizza in the Napili area north of Kaanapali. Close by is Maui Brewing Company Brewpub with original beers and pub grub.

Spanky’s Riptide is right on Front Street in Lahaina, so subject to crowding, but if there’s a bar dog – and there is here, named Spanky – we are there! Lots of TVs and Packers fans on Sundays.

Finding Accommodations and Wheels on Maui

We’re always surprised when we hear people say they’re paying close to retail for accommodations on Maui. There are just so many great options out there that it isn’t necessary at all. Our first visit to Maui was due to one of those ubiquitous timeshare deals where you have to listen to the presentation. We did, and (amazingly) walked out without buying anything to enjoy a beautiful week’s stay right on the ocean. Others we know use hotel points or other exchanges to stay for free or close to free.

If you’ve exhausted those options, head to websites like Airbnb, VacationRentalByOwner and Craigslist. I wouldn’t be afraid of a last minute deal. Lots of times condo and timeshare owners have plans that have changed and in order to have someone occupy the unit, they’ll offer a deep discount. Also, pay attention to school and seasonal holidays. Australians, whose seasons are opposite those in the Northern Hemisphere tend to come on school holidays. Likewise, you’ll see an influx of Californians and other west-coasters coming in June once school is out to escape typically foggy weather at home. Obviously, the Christmas and New Year holidays are going to be prime time, so you’ll do great between Thanksgiving and about the second week of December. As well, shoulder the main winter season with a stay in March or April for good deals (avoiding Easter/Spring Break).

As well, renting a car from a local as opposed to a national car rental agency can save you the big bucks. Discounted rental cars are available from private companies on the island. The advantage to renting with these companies is that you won’t be immediately recognized as a tourist. Your car, instead, will be slightly used for those who want to spend the minimum, or choose a newer car for an intermediate price. Check out Kimo’s Rent-a-Car for details where base rates begin at $140/week. Long term rentals available, too. You will also find inexpensive car rentals on Craig’s.

What to Bring to Maui

First of all, don’t overpack! Maui is a very casual place. Most of the locals wear board shorts and a t-shirt (men) or a sarong over a bathing suit (women) with “slippas” – which is island lingo for flip-flops. Dressing up means an aloha shirt with cargo shorts or jeans for men, and a maxi or sundress for ladies. You will probably find that you wear the same or similar things over and over, with half of the stuff you bring never making it out of the suitcase. Plus, you will want to leave room for souvenirs. Also, be aware that leather goods will quickly mould in humidity, so keep shoes, handbags, and belts in mind if your rental isn’t air conditioned.

Certain things are far more expensive in Hawaii than they are on the mainland (which makes sense because almost everything has to be flown in). While you may want to indulge in shopping just for fun, make sure you’re prepared with certain necessities so that you don’t waste precious island time looking for them or paying exorbitant prices.

If you’re wondering about or need to replace luggage, check out our detailed post, Which Luggage is Best for Travel. Spot your luggage quickly on the carousel or hotel transfer cart with these attractive, durable luggage tags, made of solid acrylic imprinted on the back with your custom details:

hawaiian luggage tags

Clockwise from top left: Pink Palm Trees, White Aloha, Tree Frog, Keep Calm and Hibiscus Honu (Turtle).

Practice Your Aloha (Use Common Sense and Courtesy)

People move to Hawaii to partake of the aloha lifestyle. Island residents describe this as “living the life you love, and loving the life you live.” Aloha is a healthy state of mind that is comprised of happiness and equanimity. When you get to Maui, you’ll probably need at least a day to decompress and leave all your mainland stress behind. For some people, this is impossible to do during their entire stay. Others are so excited to be on vacation in paradise that they sometimes fail to pay attention to their normal good sense.

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva

Some of the things you can do as Maui first-timers to practice good aloha:

Understand traffic and safety laws begin and end with courtesy. Pedestrians always have the right of way, no matter where they are. Speed limits are going to be lower. Narrow roads and one-lane bridges demand courtesy.

Respect the beautiful environment and the fragile wildlife. Pick up your trash and give protected species like the nene (Hawaiian goose), humpback whales, honu (sea turtles) their space. Understand how chemical sunscreens are destroying the fragile reefs and ocean eco-systems. Bring environmentally responsible skin protection products to do your part.

Don’t pick up rocks and coral to take home; there is a big kapu (forbidden curse) from the Goddess Pele associated with removing natural pieces from the ‘aina (land). If you temporarily lost your mind and brought home rocks, you can “reverse the curse” by returning lava rocks to Haleakala National Park, P. O. Box 369, Makawao, HI 96768.

On the Road to Hana Hawaii 4

Embrace the inherent spirituality and kindness of the island vibe. Many people move permanently to Maui because they feel a magnetic connection with the environment and the aloha. You might, too. Even if your time is limited, be open to the changes you can make in your outlook and interactions with others. No harm taking the aloha back home, brah!

Thanks for making it to the End of Our Maui First Timers Guide!

Even though all good things must come to an end, we are grateful you took the time to read our Maui First Timers Guide. Thank you and we hope you find it helpful. Aloha!

Disclosure: Certain links in this post are affiliate links. This means that should you click or make a purchase via our link, we will receive a commission which will not affect the price you pay.

Pinnable Images:

Maui First Timers Guide
Great Guide to Maui
maui guide

Tips for Trip Success

Book Your Flight
Find an inexpensive flight by using Kayak, a favorite of ours because it regularly returns less expensive flight options from a variety of airlines.

Book Your Hotel or Special Accommodation
We are big fans of We like their review system and photos. If we want to see more reviews and additional booking options, we go to Expedia.

You Need Travel Insurance!
Good travel insurance means having total peace of mind. Travel insurance protects you when your medical insurance often will not and better than what you get from your credit card. It will provide comprehensive coverage should you need medical treatment or return to the United States, compensation for trip interruption, baggage loss, and other situations.Find the Perfect Insurance Plan for Your Tripimage 9133145 14418597

PassingThru is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

To view PassingThru’s privacy policy, click here.


Friday 5th of May 2017

Maui really does sound like a dream destination - thanks for this complete guide, I didn't realize there were several microclimates and I didn't know that you had to book to visit the "House of the Sun" either.

Agness of Fit Travelling

Thursday 4th of May 2017

I would like to visit Hawaii as soon as possible. Your post is truly motivational, Betsy!

Alice Clover

Friday 28th of April 2017

A visit to the Hawaiian island of Maui is a dream come true for many visitors but the cost of having fun in paradise can overwhelm the budget-conscious visitor. While many of the publicized activities on Maui are expensive there are also plenty of things to do that are free or nearly free like spend the day walking around the village of Lahaina. Lahaina has played a key role in Maui history. With an exciting mix of old and new, Lahaina offers something for everyone. Maui is a paradise filled with beauty, history and adventure.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Betsy Wuebker

Friday 28th of April 2017

Hi Alice - Yes, it's possible to spend a lot of money on Maui. Prioritize and allocate!