With its gorgeous beaches and opulent resorts, it’s easy to understand why everyone loves Maui so much, but many visitors to the island overlook some of the smaller towns in favor of better-known tourist destinations. Next time you’re on Maui, stop by some of these towns and really get to know another side of the island paradise.
If you’re staying in the glorious Wailea area of Maui, known as the “Beverly Hills” of the island due to its concentration of five-star resorts, you might be familiar with Kihei, which is right next door. Kihei is on Maui’s southwest shore, the sunniest and driest part of the island. Six miles of picture-perfect beaches make up the Kihei coastline, which are great for swimming and surfing.
Kihei’s Kalama Beach Park is a local favorite, with 36 oceanfront acres of shady lawns and palm trees. The town is full of affordable accommodations, including cottages and small hotels like the Pineapple Inn. There are lots of small shopping malls and casual restaurants, as well as some of the best nightlife on the island.
At the foot of the dramatic West Maui Mountains is Wailuku, just 10 minutes from the Kahului Airport. Here you’ll find lots of charming mom-and-pop shops and restaurants that have been around for generations. Among the new additions to Wailuku are more contemporary boutiques, chilled-out coffee shops, and stylish cafés that create a pleasant mix of new and old.
For more information, the “Rediscover Wailuku” walking tour highlights a great selection of historical and cultural attractions, including the Bailey House and Kaahumanu Church, as well as the lao Theater.
Located on the slopes of Haleakala Volcano, Makawao is the largest of the little towns in the region known as Upcountry Maui. The area's cowboys, or paniolo, as locals refer to them, have been wrangling cattle in the wide-open upland fields since the late 19th century, and for more than 50 years the Makawao Rodeo has been Hawaii’s largest paniolo competition. Held over Fourth of July weekend, the rodeo includes a parade and traditional competitions (with a few Hawaiian twists).
For a real treat, follow the locals and indulge in a famous cream puff from T. Komoda Store, which was established in 1916 and typically has long lines in the morning. Makawao is also a thriving art community, so visitors can roam the streets and watch wood sculptors, glassblowers, and painters working on their craft.
Once a plantation town, Paia is now divided into Lower Paia and Paia, which are both worth exploring. Now that Maui’s sugarcane industry is no longer booming, Paia has transformed into an art town filled with colorful storefronts and galleries in addition to one-of-a-kind boutiques and restaurants.
If you stop in Paia, popping by the Paia Fishmarket for a quick bite is a must. Hookipa Beach is known as the windsurfing capital of the world, so during the winter, visitors can enjoy watching the pros compete. In addition to Hookipa Beach, H.A. Baldwin Beach Park has a baby beach with a lagoon.
Although Hana might be the best-known small town on Maui, it still isn’t overcrowded, mostly due to its isolated location on the eastern tip of Maui. The legendary 52-mile road to Hana is tricky and can take hours, but the views along the way are breathtaking. Once you arrive, you’ll see why Hana is considered one of the last unspoiled Hawaiian frontiers.
The historic Travaasa Hana is a luxurious retreat that’s worth the price due to the privacy, exclusivity, and views. In town, there is a general store, some quirky shops, and street food vendors, but the real attractions here are the beaches. Hana Beach Park or Hamoa Beach are best for swimming and sunbathing, while Waianapanapa State Park is famous for its black sand beach and great for snorkeling. Hale Piilani, the largest Hawaiian temple, is worth a visit, and so is Kanahu Gardens, one of five National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hawaii.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Guide