1. Maui is the second youngest of the Hawaiian Islands. It was created by a volcano almost 1.3 million years ago. It’s also the second largest of the four main Hawaiian Islands, and has a population of about 144,000 people.
2. It’s called the “Valley Isle” but it’s a nice mix of natural and developed. Maui hits the sweet spot between Oahu and Kauai. It’s fairly quiet and you’ll certainly find plenty of “country” but you’ll also find high-end resort areas with fine dining, amazing shopping, and top-notch service. Overall, I think Maui will give you the best Hawaiian vacation experience out of all of the islands.
3. Hawaii was the 50th state added to the United States of America. Despite it being a US state, more than one person has asked me if you need a passport to travel there. You don’t. Also, when referring to the contiguous United States, you don’t call it “the states” like you would when traveling internationally. You refer to it as “the mainland.”
4. It may feel like a different country, but remember, you’re still in the US. Hawaii has a very distinct culture and its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean often makes it feel like a foreign land, so many visitors question how things are done. Here’s the deal, everything works like it does back home, except when it doesn’t : ) Seriously though, your phone service and everything works exactly like it does at home. But you will find yourself subject to the quirks of “island life.” Things move slower so relax and just go with the flow.
5. The Hawaiian Islands run on the Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zone. Hawaii also doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time so they’re 3 hours behind West Coast time (6 hours behind East coast time) when we’re on Daylight savings time, and 2/5 hours when we’re not.
6. Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures. Here’s some terminology for you: “Hawaiian” refers to anyone born with Hawaiian blood. “Local” refers to anyone born in Hawaii (except white people). “Haole” refers to white people and tourists in general. The term “kama’aina” is also thrown around which refers to anyone from or living in Hawaii regardless of their ethnicity.
7. It seems like a world away but Hawaii is actually only a 5 or 6-hour flight from California. It’s 6 hours going to Hawaii, and 5 hours coming back from Hawaii. Kahului (OGG) is the airport that you’ll fly into. You can get a direct flight to Kahului from Anchorage (Alaska), Bellingham (Washington), Denver (Colorado), Dallas (Texas), Honolulu (Oahu), Los Angeles (California), Oakland (California), Phoenix (Arizona), Portland (Oregon), San Diego (California), San Francisco (California), San Jose (California), Seattle (Washington), and Sacramento (California).
8. Hawaii sits north of the equator, so its seasons match the mainland US seasons. Our winter is their winter, and our summer is their summer. Now, winter is a relative term in Hawaii, but it generally does mean more rain and higher surf (especially on the north shore and Hana side).
9. Expect to pay more…for everything. This probably isn’t a huge surprise to anybody. The Hawaiian Islands are some of the most remote islands in the world and pretty much everything has to be shipped in. So expect to pay more for food, gas, and other supplies than you would on the mainland US. This doesn’t mean that it’s as outrageously expensive as you might think. As is the case anywhere, you can go luxury, or you can go budget. The choices are there for both and everything in between.
10. The resort areas are more expensive. As an extension of #9, generally speaking everything in a resort area will be WAY more expensive than on other parts of the island. On Maui, this is Ka’anapali/Kapalua on the west side and Wailea on the south side. Restaurants and bars will always be more expensive in resorts than in locally owned/independent places. The gas prices in these areas also tend to be higher. You’ll find the cheapest gas in Kahului.
11. Stock up on groceries for your condo or hotel room. If you’re looking to save a few bucks, or just need to pick up some essentials that you forgot to pack, you’ll have plenty of options on Maui. There’s a Costco, Walmart, and Target in Kahului near the airport as well as Safeway grocery store chains. And if you need a pharmacy/drug store, that would be Longs (this is a CVS/Walgreens equivalent). While thousands of miles away from home, there’s really nothing that you can’t find on Maui if you forget to pack it.
12. Casual is the name of the game on Maui. There’s really nowhere to go on Maui where shorts and flip-flops won’t do. Even in the nicest restaurants on Maui, ladies will be fine in a casual sundress and sandals, and men will be okay with khakis and an aloha shirt. Tommy Bahama rules.
13. It’s a decent sized island, and it can take a while to get around. There are only a few roads around the island, but you surprisingly won’t find much traffic (you’ll run into traffic going west into Lahaina and east into Paia around rush hour). Be aware of driving times when planning outings. Driving from Wailea to Lahaina can take around 40 minutes. Kahului to Lahaina can take around 30 minutes, and Kahului to Wailea can take around 20 minutes.
14. You will need a rental car. Hawaii is not an all-inclusive like destination where you’ll arrive by shuttle and never leave your resort. Maui also does not have a very good bus system, and things are surprisingly far apart so taxis could add up really quickly. You’ll most definitely want a rental car for your stay even if you’re staying in a resort area.
15. Maui has some of the best beach resorts in Hawaii. There’s a reason why they call it the “honeymoon isle.” You’ll find some amazing places to stay on Maui without all of the crowds of the Waikiki beach resorts on Oahu. But don’t worry, Maui is very kid friendly! My favorites in Wailea are the Four Seasons, Grand Wailea, and Andaz Maui. In Ka’anapali I love the Westin, Sheraton, and Hyatt.
16. You’ll likely either stay in south or west Maui. The two main resort areas of Maui are on the south side (Wailea and Kihei) and west side (Lahaina, Ka’anapali, and Kapalua) because that’s where the majority of resorts, hotels, and condos are. The west side seems to be more popular and has some of the best beaches on the island, but I prefer the south side because it’s quieter, a little more upscale (Wailea, not Kihei), and more centrally located. But you won’t go wrong with either.
17. Maui has a “hippy vibe.” Most people think of Maui as an island full of high-end beach resorts for the jet setting set and while it certainly has that, Maui surprisingly has a bit of a hippy vibe, especially on the north shore and upcountry. Head to Paia town where you’ll see signs warning “don’t feed the hippies.”
18. Spend time in the small, local towns. Maui has some of the most charming small towns you’ll find in Hawaii. Don’t miss Paia on the north shore and Makawao upcountry. They’re both full of art galleries, boutiques, and fabulous restaurants. For a taste of the real “old Hawaii,” spend some time in Hana.
19. Maui is the prime spot for whale watching. While you can see the humpback whale’s yearly migration from all of the islands, they’re thickest around Maui in the channels between Maui and Lanai and Molokai. Whale season begins in October and usually runs through April. You’ll find plenty of whale watching excursions, but you’ll be able to spot them from the shore on beaches on the south and west sides. I’ve sat on Kapalua beach and watched them breach all day long.
20. Don’t miss the road to Hana. Driving the road to Hana (from Paia to Hana on the east side of Maui) is easily the #1 must do thing on Maui, but surprisingly many people skip it because they think it’s too much of a trek. Block out an entire day and drive the 50 or so miles along with winding road to Hana. Spend the day hiking, waterfall spotting, and gazing at black and red sand beaches. And don’t forget to visit Hasegawa’s General Store for a cold drink!
21. Be well prepared for sunrise at Haleakala. This is the other don’t miss thing on Maui. Watching the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala (Maui’s dormant volcano that sits at 10,000 ft.) is truly a once in a lifetime experience. But you need to be prepared. It is COLD! Think 20-30 degrees with a strong wind. Bring winter clothes and take blankets. Also, drink plenty of water and have snacks as the quick 23-mile drive from sea level to summit has been known to give some people (ahem, me) altitude sickness.
22. Check your expectations for snorkeling at Molokini Crater. While it is considered a “must do” experience for many, it leaves many people surprisingly disappointed. The coral (although beautiful) seems badly damaged (years of allowing tourists to feed the fish) and you’ll likely be snorkeling there with 500 of your closest friends (a slight exaggeration). Molokini is only reached by boat so you’ll have to go as part of a snorkeling excursion. If you like to snorkel, I say do it! It’s still pretty cool and most boats include a stop at Turtle Town on the way back, which I think is a real highlight.
23. If you want to see sea turtles but you’re not a snorkeler, head to Ho’okipa beach. Located on the north shore just east of Paia, Ho’okipa is a “resting area” for the Hawaiian green sea turtle. At the east end of the beach, it’s not unusual to find 20 or so turtles resting on the beach. This is also a big surfing beach so you’ll most likely get a good show!
24. Spend time upcountry. The most overlooked part of Maui is where I think most of Maui’s charm is. Maui’s upcountry (on the slopes of Haleakala) is wide-open farmland and cattle country. This is where many of the locals live and you’ll get a VERY different feel for Maui if you spend some time up here. Also, the views are AMAZING! You can see out across almost the entire island. A couple of my favorite spots are the Ali’i Lavender Farm in Kula and Maui Winery in Ulupalakua. Stop at Grandma’s in Keokea for waffles.
25. Have dinner at Mama’s Fish House. This is where my proverbial “last meal” will take place. It’s that good. It really is the best restaurant on Maui and something that I think everyone should experience. Skip the luau if you have to but make it out to Mama’s! Try the lobster and crab stuffed mahi-mahi.