First time to Maui? If so, you’ll want to get acquainted with the most popular sights and destinations when planning your itinerary. Below, we dive into Maui’s top attractions to help you get the lay of the land.
You might be wondering: Why highlight areas and points of interest that are already well-known and often-visited?
Well, places are popular for a reason, and if a lot of people are drawn to a particular spot, there must be something to it – that is, there must be something that is adding value. While we agree that the crowds at many popular places are not ideal, we find they are worth navigating in some cases (especially if you visit during off-peak hours). Come along as we take a look at Maui’s most iconic areas and attractions.
Many of the most-visited places on Maui are, not surprisingly, centered around its beach towns and volcanoes.
Kaʻanapali is the island’s largest resort area, stretching several miles north of Lāhainā. It’s home to a string of hotels and resorts as well as the island’s longest white sand beach. People flock to Kaʻanapali for its variety of rooms, well-manicured properties, golf courses, paved beach path, shopping centers, restaurants, and pristine coastline.
If you’re a beach bum looking for long days in the hot sun, Kaʻanapali is a great place to put your feet in the sand. The water is usually calm and safe for swimming, and offshore views of Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi add to the appeal. During whale season (November-March), you can spot humpbacks from the coast.
While the area can get busy due to the number of rooms available, its beauty cannot be ignored. We find that you can still escape the crowds in the mornings and late afternoons – our preferred time for a beach walk.
Rising up to more than 10,000 feet above sea level, the Haleakalā Volcano makes up the majority of Maui’s landmass. The Haleakalā Highway runs 37 miles from Kahului to the summit of the volcano, passing many attractions, trails, and points of interest along the way. The journey is one taken by many visitors to Maui, most driving to the summit for a short walk or photo op.
If there’s any part of your brain thinking that Haleakalā’s popularity makes it a tourist trap, forget it immediately. Its status as a National Park keeps it well-maintained and protected, and the sheer size of it means there is plenty of room to spread out. The summit area offers a variety of hiking, biking, stargazing tours, camping, birding, and scenic view points.
To learn more, check out our guide to the Haleakalā National Park.
Lāhainā is arguably the busiest beach town in all of Maui thanks to its combination of sunny days, beaches, boat harbor, beginner surf breaks, historical/cultural significance, and myriad of restaurants and bars. On any given day, Lāhainā’s streets will be packed with visitors exploring its waterfront and enjoying its local offerings.
But once you get over the bustle, you’ll see there are many reason to love Lāhainā. It’s the former capital of Hawai‘i (before it was moved to Honolulu in 1850) and was also the epicenter of the worldwide whaling industry in the 1820s. Ironically, its harbor is where many whale-watching excursions depart from, as well as a variety of other snorkeling and sight-seeing tours. Waterfront dining, local breweries, and nightlife (which is absent from many other areas of Maui) are what keep people coming back. The beaches surrounding Lāhainā, such as Launiupoko, are great for families, barbecues, and beginner surfers.
For more information, check out our following guides:
- Places to stay on Maui, which breaks down Lāhainā’s pros and cons in more detail.
- 15 Best things to do in Lāhainā, where we list our favorite things to do in Lahaina and explain why we like them.
Located at the beginning of the south shore, Kīhei is bigger and more residential than Lāhainā. It does, of course, have its hotels and visitor offerings, but overall, it feels more like a local community than it does a tourist town, boasting a number of excellent beaches and plenty of local restaurants to try.
In this sense, Kīhei walks a nice line – it is definitely a popular area of the island, but, generally speaking, it caters more to locals than it does to visitors. It’s a good place for beach bums, and its central location is also perfect for travelers who expect to be out and about each day, with easy access south to Wailea, north to Lāhainā, or east to Haleakalā.
For more, see our guide of places to stay on Maui. There, we dive deeper into what you can expect from Kīhei.
While nearly all beaches and outdoor areas on Maui are considered kid-friendly, here are some other attractions that families will enjoy.
Maui Ocean Center
There aren’t many places in the world more suited to host an ocean center and aquarium than Maui. The ʻAuʻau Channel off the island’s west coast is a humpback whale breeding ground, and you’ll find many other protected marine sanctuaries along Maui’s coast.
For young children, a visit to the Maui Ocean Center gives them a chance to see Maui’s reefs and its sea life up close. Be on the lookout for its special exhibits, such as Hawaiians and the Sea, that dive into the cultural relationship between the ocean and Maui’s inhabitants.
Though pineapple is no longer a major cash crop in Hawaiʻi, it is still grown in the islands. The farms of Maui Gold – a very famous pineapple brand in Hawaiʻi – is located in Upcountry Maui. It offers tours of its fields and packing facilities, which include pineapple tastings and a free pineapple as a take home gift (boxed and ready to fly).
The scenery in the agricultural fields offers beautiful views of Maui from the slopes of Haleakalā, and it’s a great environment for families and a fun, educational experience for all.
Do you like farm tours? See our list of Maui Farm Tours.
Black rock cliff diving
Every night at sunset (just before their Luau), the Sheraton Maui Resort puts on a simple show at Kaʻananapli Beach – a diver climbs up a rocky outcrop at the end of the beach, torch in hand, and then jumps off the 30-foot cliffs into the water.
The dive, which has been taking place since 1963, pays homage to a Hawaiian legend that Maui’s last king, Kahekili, once made the same leap. Though it is now part of a major tourist area, Black Rock is a sacred space for Native Hawaiians, believed to be a portal to the afterlife.
This is a great event for families to enjoy. Pack a small “happy-hour” picnic with fruit and refreshments and enjoy the show and sunset from the beach before heading out to dinner.
Maui has a myriad of outdoor areas and points of interest to explore. Here are some of the most famous:
The back side of Haleakalā National Park is known as the Kīpahulu District. It is located at sea level along the coast with hiking trails, a campground, and other points of interest. Many people stop here along the Road to Hāna.
The main draw at Kipahulu are the hikes. Specifically, the Pīpīwai Trail (bamboo forest) and the Seven Scared Pools. Those who camp out at Kīpahulu are in prime position to beat the crowds along the trails. Otherwise, we encourage patience, as the bamboo forest and waterfalls are absolutely worth it.
Located outside of Pāʻia along the Road to Hāna, Hoʻokipa’s is the most popular, active beach on Maui’s north shore. Its waters are typically filled with surfers, paddleboaders, and windsurfers, and sea turtles often nest on its white-sand beach, where there’s plenty of room for sunbathing and picnics.
Backdropped by sea cliffs, many people choose to simply sit and catch a bird’s eye perspective of the water activity below. From the cliffs, you can also take in views of the West Maui Mountains. Whether you make it a quick stop along the way or settle in for the afternoon, a visit to Hoʻokipa should be on your list.
Maui is surrounded by other islands, and all of them can be spotted from the western and southern shores: Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, and Molokini. The latter is the remains of a submerged volcanic crater, small in size and crescent moon in shape, that sits off the south shore.
Though you cannot step foot on Molokini, thousands of people visit its waters each day. It is by far the most popular snorkeling destination in Maui, with a large reef and a variety of tropical fish. The draw is not only a visit to the protected reef, but the scenic boat ride to get there that allows for views of the other islands as well as a look back at Haleakalā and Maui itself.
Whale watching tours
Each year from November to March, more than 10,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawaiʻi from Alaska to give birth. Most of them end up hanging out in the ʻAuʻau Channel off the west coast of Maui, making it the hub of whale activity and a sanctuary for its reproduction cycle.
During this season, whale watching tours are extremely popular and extremely rewarding. Breaching, tail slapping, and skyhopping are all seen with regularity on tours, which range from large, full-service vessels (bathrooms, lunch service, bar, etc.) to smaller, no-frills zodiacs. Regardless of which one fits your needs, you should not pass up the opportunity if you visit during whale season.
To learn more about whale season in Hawaiʻi, read our guide to water activities on Maui.
Hawaiian History, Art, & Culture
If you’re looking to add some historical or artistic flavor to your adventures, try visiting these classics on Maui. For more options have a look at our overview of historic and cultural sites on Maui.
Makawao is a small town located in Upcountry Maui. Surrounded by ranch land, its roots trace back to the era of the paniolos, or Hawaiian cowboys, that settled and worked the area during the plantation era.
Today, the downtown area has been redone to honor and reflect this past, and meanwhile, Makawao has become an artistic community, with art galleries and shops to peruse. Stop by the Makawao Museum to learn more at its exhibits, or jump on a walking tour of the town.
ʻIao Valley will be closed from August 1, 2022 until January 15, 2023 for the final phase of the slope stabilization project and parking lot improvements.
Most people who go to ʻIao Valley do so because it’s beautiful. The lush, green valley is home to a unique rock formation that shoots more than 1,000 feet up into the air, known as the ʻIao Needle. There are walking paths that allow one to wander and take in the different views of the needle and surrounding valley. But, some context will enrich the experience even further.
ʻIao Valley’s history is sad but significant. It was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history, fought between the armies of Maui and the Big Island. So many people were killed in ʻIao Valley that it was said the river turned red with blood and that the bodies clogged it up. Gruesome, yes, but it ended up changing the course of Hawaiian history. The battle at ʻIao Valley was a turning point in the war, pushing King Kamehameha (Big Island) forward on his quest to conquer the other islands and unite them under his power.
Be on the lookout for information signs along the walking path to get the most out of your experience.
Scenic and Photogenic Spots
If you’re looking for scenery, Maui has a number of beautiful natural areas. Bring your camera!
Road to Hāna
This classic Maui adventure is so popular because it provides a little bit of everything. The winding, coastal road makes for an exciting road trip, and there are more places to stop than you could visit in a single outing. The variety and abundance of things to see and experience, which include hiking, waterfall chasing, and scenic viewing, are why people repeat this day trip time and time again.
We recommend all visitors to Maui to make this drive, and our guide to the Road to Hāna is a good place to start. It’s classic in that way, and it won’t disappoint. We do, however, encourage you to respect local parking regulations and avoid trespassing on private property.
La Perouse Bay
Located at the end of the road at the far southern end of Maui, La Perouse Bay is a popular destination for snorkeling and hiking. Its coast is comprised almost entirely of lava rock, but there are slices of sand to be found as you explore. At times, the “frontcountry” of La Perouse Bay – that is, the main lava fields, beach, and bay adjacent to the parking lot – can be quite busy.
However, those who venture a bit beyond the “frontcountry” will find La Perouse Bay to be full of nooks and crannies where one can find solitude and take in the beauty of the coastal lava fields. Take a hike down the Hoapili Trail (one of our Best 15 Hikes on Maui) to explore the lesser-visited parts of the bay, and don’t be afraid to walk the lava rock and find your own vantage point or sitting area along the sea cliffs.
Don’t think “outdoors” in terms of high-adrenaline or active adventure; instead, consider Kula that peaceful, tranquil agricultural area where the cool upcountry air breathes life into its fields. Featuring small farms, inns, lodges, and bed and breakfasts, Kula provides a glimpse at a different kind of Hawaiian lifestyle, one where the concept of a beach seems so far away.
Check out the variety of farm tours to learn more about how the crops being grown in Kula are fueling the restaurant scene down below. Consider spending the night at a place like the Kula Lodge, or simply stop in along your journeys around Haleakalā. The views from Kula are about as good as it gets, with ample opportunity for photography and scenic vantage points that overlook the island and ocean.
These suggestions aren’t really hidden, as you will be able to locate them just fine, and you probably won’t be the only person there. These sites do remain lesser-visited, however, or in some cases, overlooked in comparison to other places on island. Consider checking them out on your next trip.
Though visitors to ʻĪao Valley pass right through Wailuku on their way in and out of the park, few make time to check out this budding town, and in that sense, it seems to be hiding in plain sight.
The last few years has seen Wailuku develop its own vibe, with local coffee shops, stores, restaurants, and some of the most affordable hotels on the island. Backdropped against the West Maui Mountains, the area is lush, green, and tranquil. We recommend spending an hour or two in Wailuku – grab a coffee (Wailuku Coffee Company) or an empanada at the Empanada Lady – and check out this town in transition.
Waiʻanapanapa State Park
This state park near Hāna is certainly not a secret, and its campsite is often booked up by locals. But given its out-of-the-way location, and given that most visitors to Hāna are not spending more than a few hours, Waiʻanapanapa State Park remains a wonderful place to pass a day.
Important: Entry and Parking Reservations are required for all non-residents, and can be made here.
With coastal hiking trails, a black sand beach, and bright green foliage, visitors will soak in the eastern Maui landscape, which is noticeably absent of development. Swimming here can be dangerous at times (check conditions before entering the water), but bring your hiking shoes and a chair to enjoy this unique slice of coast. If you can snag a camping permit, even better.
Everyone knows about the Road to Hāna, and there’s really nothing quite like it. However, those who have already done it or find themselves put off by the crowds might be in the market for an alternative. If so, take a look at the Kahekili Highway, which runs northwest from Kahului.
Though it lacks the jungle and rainforest ecosystems of the Road to Hāna, the Kahekili Highway hugs the coast and offers plenty of scenic views, both of the ocean and the mountain forests. The road is narrow and tight at times, with large cliffs, remote residential neighborhoods, and ranch lands.
If you drive from Kahului around the northern tip of the island to Lāhainā on the west side, you’ll encounter much less traffic than you would on the Road to Hāna, and you’ll also have a number of scenic areas to check out along the way, including Waiheʻe Ridge (see picture below), the Olivine Pools, the Ohai Trail, Nakalele Blowhole, Punalau Beach, and Honolua.
Pāʻia is a relatively new hub on Maui. Once strictly an artsy and hippie hangout, it has evolved in the last decade into a beach bum town. It lacks big hotels and resorts, so the overnight crowds are light, limited to vacation rentals and Airbnbs. It is most crowded during the day, when many tourists pass through along the Road to Hāna and stop in for lunch or a stroll through its small downtown area. If you visit at the “wrong” time – say, during the lunchtime rush – Pāʻia can feel very crowded and congested due to its small size and general lack of parking.
However, there is still charm to be found in this town. Baldwin Beach is a beautiful local hangout, with plenty of room to spread out and a wonderful vantage point of the West Maui Mountains (it’s spectacular during the sunset; see the area’s other beaches here). Because there is minimal overnight lodging, peace and quiet can still be found in the mornings and evenings. The Pāʻia Fish Market is well-known throughout the island for its quality seafood.
For more information, see our guide of places to stay on Maui.
Lists of best places to see on the other islands
Are you also visiting other islands?
If so, then we recommend to have a look at our other “favorite sights and destinations” guides for Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, and the Big Island. These guides use the same format as this one (a few favorites in each of the following categories: most visited, kid-friendly, hidden gems, most instagrammable/scenic, outdoors, and history & culture) and are a great introduction to where to go on those islands.