mauiLet’s be patently clear. Hawaii is our favorite preeminent vacation destination. In the world! We’ve been blessed to travel to many exotic tropical islands around the globe but Hawaii remains our number one choice. When our travel writing days come to a close Hawaii will remain as the one destination we hope to head off to for at least one vacation each and every year. And unlike many of our friends who have developed a personal allegiance to one island, we have equally strong feelings about vacationing on each of the major four islands: Maui, Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii-the Big Island. We find that each island is different enough to pique our interest to such a degree that alternating vacations to one island every four years sounds like a perfect future vacationing strategy. Heck, if the islands were as close to California as Catalina Island is to our Southern California beach cities we’d probably move there!

Maui, the Valley Isle, is the perfect choice for anyone seeking a really active vacation but still preferring an overall laid back vibe.  Maui has an abundance of activities and things to see and do only surpassed by the heavily populated Oahu, yet obviously providing visitors a much less cosmopolitan atmosphere. Blessed with three large and distinctive resort areas the island has a ton of options for vacationers so here’s our take on each of the three, based mostly on our most recent visit but also drawing on our previous stays.

maui2Wailea/Kihei area: 
When we want to relax we like to opt for at least a week in the upscale Wailea area where we recently hunkered down at the beautiful Fairmont Kea Lani Resort and Spa. We were fortunate enough to stay here when it first opened around 25 years ago and before it came under the Fairmont banner. As good as it was before, Fairmont’s involvement has really enhanced this gorgeous property. Our dinner in their Ko Restaurant was a delightful culinary sojourn. If you, your family or company are interested in the most opulent vacation accommodations we’ve ever seen on Maui be sure to check out the grandiose Ho’olei Villas at Grand Wailea. The Villas and the Grand Wailea Resort, are both managed under Hilton’s premier Waldorf Astoria collection and both exhibit the wow factor. Even if you’re not staying at the Wailea or the Villas be sure to dine at their signature floating restaurant, Humumunukunukuapua’a, named after Hawaii’s state fish. Is that the longest restaurant name ever? But not to worry about the pronunciation. Everybody calls it Humu. If you enjoy feeding the beautiful Koi fish your waiter will bring special fish food to your table for you to feed these gorgeous Koi. For a more casual dinner in Wailea we strongly endorse the Monkeypod Kitchen, part of the Merriman group of excellent dining choices. Especially high marks for their fish tacos and short ribs! Kihei offers much more variety and more reasonably priced restaurants, hotels and condos than the neighboring high-end Wailea and deserves strong consideration for a budget minded family vacation.

Lahaina was the first capital of Hawaii’s monarchy and remains an important part of their storied history and we love strolling the entire town on every visit. Today it provides the island’s party central with many nightlife options, art fairs under their famous banyan tree and a significant variety of quality
restaurants. For a special occasion dinner we’d recommend the Lahaina Grill, one of the finest dinner spots in all of Hawaii. Interested in a unique dinner show? Then be sure to sign up for the Warren & Annabelle’s Magic and Comedy Show. We haven’t been this mesmerized by slight of hand in years and the comedy was side splitting…and clean! On the opposite end of the dining cost spectrum from Lahaina Grill be sure to have at least one lunch at Aloha Mixed Plate, a local’s favorite right on the beach. If you’re an adventurous diner try a Moco Loco, a rather wild but surprisingly tasty combo of eggs, hamburger, gravy, rice and macaroni salad. Lodging in Lahaina is rather limited so we always opt to stay in nearby Ka’anapali Beach area. If you prefer large private condos on the beach, Ka’anapali Ali’i offers the perfect choice and location. These extra spacious units run from 1500 to 1900 square feet far surpassing most hotels in a similar price range. For years our favorite hotel in Ka’anapali has been the Hyatt Regency and we consider their Drums of the Pacific as the island’s best Luau. Hyatt’s newest restaurant Japengo, featuring Pacific Rim creations is a stunning addition. If you don’t mind not being directly on the beach you might wish to consider Outrigger’s Maui Eldorado condos, a more reasonably priced option and close enough to walk to their own beach club and the famous Black Rock snorkeling and diving area. Another lodging property we like to recommend is the Aston Kaanapali Shores which, unlike most Maui properties, offers a broad variety of hotel rooms, studios plus one and two bedroom condos.

maui3Kapalua and Napili Bay:
We’ve only stayed in Maui’s northern most resort region twice but always in Napili Bay area and never in the much more expensive Kapalua development where the luxurious Ritz-Carlton and Montage resorts reign
supreme. This Kapalua area may be the most exclusive Maui development with private homes and condos worth multiple millions. Our studio condo at Outrigger’s Napili Shores provided one of the most enjoyable stays we had this latest trip with one of the friendliest staffs we encountered and although not a plush lodging property we’d opt for a return stay in the near future anytime availability matches our pocketbook.

Recommended Activities and Sidetrips:
For an ultimate water adventure sign up with Alii Nui for their catamaran sailing out to the little Molokini volcanic outcropping. Super friendly crew, sumptuous breakfast and lunch offerings plus unlimited libations were as jake as the snorkeling, close-up whale sightings and scuba thrills. A visit to the Maui Ocean Center in Ma’alaea Harbor and taking the insider’s Fin & Flipper Tour you’ll learn this aquarium may just be one of the most unique on the planet: most of their sea life are kept no longer than a year before being placed back into their natural environment. A catch and release program not common in the aquarium world.

maui5  Driving up to the top of Haleakala National Park to capture a sunrise or sunset(our preference) from the volcano’s peak is a highlight. Stopping for a picnic halfway up at the Visitor’s Center was a nice outing for us. For the more adventurous souls, sign up for the infamous adrenaline rush bike ride down the mountain. Drive into the Iao Valley and hike up to see the famous Iao Needle and cascading water features. On the way back stop into to see the 1883’s Bailey House Museum and go a few extra miles to visit the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum located in the former mill superintendent’s home.;; Sign up for a rare opportunity to tour the 8 acre O’O Farm, where owners of Lahaina’s Pacific’O Restaurant have committed to growing quality local produce to give their diners a true farm to table experience. After the tour pick your own produce and sit back and enjoy an outdoor gourmet lunch prepared by a young iron-chef-to-be. If time permits, after leaving O’O Farm and you have an interest, you might want to visit and tour the nearby Organic Ocean Vodka Distillery and/or the Surfing Goat Dairy for award-winning local vodka(plus a new rum) and goat cheeses.; Pay a visit to the funky Paia Town, famous as an artist enclave, and home to numerous local craft shops. Take the time to stop into DaZoo Restaurant where our noodle bowl with pork dish would bring us back often if we lived nearby.
After leaving Paia stop at Ho’okipa Lookout to see one of Hawaii’s world class windsurfing spots. If you have up to 3 hours of time consider a drive up to Hana on one of the curviest roads known to man where incredible overlook vistas, waterfalls and the famous Hana Resort await. Take a short boat excursion over to the smaller island of Lanai onetime home to the world’s largest pineapple plantation and now famous for their Four Seasons golf resort and later to the island of Molokai, well known as the home to the leper colony run by Father Damian, now a Catholic Saint. Whether you head to Maui to play golf, engage in any of the multiple water sports available or partake in any of the activities we’ve suggested we’re confident it will be one of the best vacation choices you’ve made in years. For all things Maui to include events, more activities, lodging and dining info go to:

Special tip: If you are renting a car be sure to check out which saved us about $100/week over our best direct bid from the major car rental companies.