9 Things to Skip on Maui (& What to Do Instead)

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Ahhhh controversy, hello old friend ; )

I’ve written a LOT about things I love to do on Maui (seriously, there is no end). But controversy always brings the eyeballs, and a lot of the things on this list are things you need to know about! 

Some of these things are things you just flat out shouldn’t do, and some are things that probably aren’t worth the money for 90% of visitors. 

I’ll also do a round up of things that you may want to skip if you just don’t have the budget (and what I would recommend doing instead). 

9 Things to Skip on Maui

Okay, let’s get started!

1.Avoid “Sensitive Spots” on the Road to Hana Like the Venus Pools & Red Sand Beach

If you’re done any research at all, you know that driving the Road to Hana along East Maui’s coastline is one of Maui’s absolute best adventures.

But in recent years, a surge in the numbers of visitors mixed with infrastructure that’s not equipped to handle it has made for a sensitive situation with locals. 

Basically, there’s one road from the remote town of Hana that connects to the main part of Maui and while it’s a spectacular drive that’s become a pilgrimage of sorts for visitors, it’s also the road that locals use for going to work, school, running errands, etc. 

So a steady stream of vehicles driving too slow, stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures, parking illegally, etc is a growing nuisance to locals. While they’ve already started to crack down on illegal parking, other interesting developments to help manage tourism in this area are starting to take shape. 

In March 2024, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau announced a partnership with three community based programs to help manage tourism in Hana as part of the East Maui Tourism Management Pilot Program.

Exactly what this will entail in the future remains to be seen (it seems like they’re still largely in the data collection phase right now), but for now, the East Maui Ready (EMR) group has issued an advisory that visitors avoid Waiʻoka (Venus Pools) and Kaihalulu (Red Sand Beach) near Hana. 

These are two popular stops on the Road to Hana that have been controversial among locals for a while now. Partially because they’re beloved local spots (with almost no parking and no maintained access) that have become overrun with tourists and partially because they both see high emergency response rates (dangers from flash flooding and steep and crumbling trail conditions). 

I’ll admit that in the past, hiking to the Red Sand Beach has been one of my favorite things to do along the Road to Hana. It’s spectacular. Here’s the deal…I’m a pretty average hiker. I don’t do extreme hikes, but I’m also not a baby. Every time I’ve hiked this, it’s turned out okay. But I’ve also always spent most of the time thinking about how it could easily go wrong. 

The trail is high off the ground (with plenty of sharp rocks at the bottom), covered in slippery pine needles, and a large part of it along a narrow rocky ledge that’s prone to rock slides when it rains. The ocean is also particularly rough once you get to the beach so needless to say it’s a spot where emergency responders are often called. 

In the past, I’ve taken the approach of “I’m going to tell you exactly what this is like so you’re prepared” and you can decide for yourself if you want to do it or not, but I think it’s time to move on. 

Besides it being fairly dangerous (the trail isn’t remotely “maintained” and the owners of the land don’t try to block people from accessing it but deny all accountability if you do trespass), for ME the deciding factor is that the people who live here are asking you not to. 

And it’s not because they’re trying to hide something from you that they want for themselves. There are serious dangers associated with these places (especially because they’re not maintained or monitored in any way) and when visitors need to be rescued, it diverts resources away from the small, isolated community. 

Anyways, there are PLENTY of AMAZING places to see along the Road to Hana so this really shouldn’t be that big of a deal anyways. (And I’m working on updating other content on my blog where I’ve recommended these spots!)

So instead of stopping at these spots, make time to visit: 

Waianapanapa State Park (Black Sand Beach): The facilities and trails here are so well maintained and organized and this is probably the most dramatic beach you’ll find anywhere in Hawaii. 

Pipiwai Trail in the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park: Hiking the Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls is easily one of the best hikes in Hawaii and it’s perfectly maintained by the National Park System.

2.Maui Ocean Center

I don’t have anything against Maui Ocean Center…when I lived on Maui we actually had an annual pass to take my niece, but I think that’s the target audience. 

While it’s a great diversion if you have little kids, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a “must do” and the price is pretty steep ($50/adult and $40/child) for what is a solid little aquarium (but likely on par with the aquarium you’ll find near where you live). 

Wildlife is so plentiful on Maui that if you go out snorkeling you’re likely to see turtles and an abundance of tropical fish. I’d put that money towards a snorkeling excursion or take a trip up to the north shore to see the turtles resting on the beach at Ho’okipa or Kua (Tavares) Bay.

3.Snooping around Lahaina

I feel like this should go without saying, but the destruction of the Lahaina wildfires is not a place to looky lou. It’s been an absolutely devastating event not just for those who lost their homes and loved ones, but for everyone on the island and it’s super insensitive to try to go “sight see” the damage. 

There are a handful of businesses that are starting to reopen on the outskirts of Front Street though like the Old Lahaina Luau, Cannery Mall, Aloha Mix Plate, etc and they really need your support. 

Something that I’ve seen posted about on social media (and on signs in these establishments)…these businesses and workers need and want your support, but don’t initiate conversations asking them about their experiences in the wildfires. It’s painful for many to talk about and while well meaning, I’m sure it gets exhausting being asked about by every person you encounter each day. 

***Want to save major $$$ on your trip to Hawaii? I get asked ALL the time how I’m able to travel so often to Hawaii and stay at really nice resorts. Well, my favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free airfare and free nights at some of Hawaii’s most high end resorts. Read my full guide on the exact system I use to max out credit card rewards here. Seriously, it’s going to save you soooo much money. 

4.Guided Tours to Haleakala for Sunrise

I’m normally all in favor of a good guided tour, but this is one that I don’t really recommend. When it all works out, I’m sure it is FABULOUS. But here’s something that some people don’t think about…sunrise is a natural phenomenon. Yes, you’re guaranteed that the sun will rise each morning. But you’re not guaranteed to be able to see it from the summit of Haleakala. 

I’ve been to the summit for sunrise three times: One time it was incredible. Textbook experience. Everything I hoped for. One time it was COMPLETELY rained/clouded out (we couldn’t see 20 feet in front of us). And one time it was shaping up to be perfect and at the last minute clouds came in and blocked the sunrise completely (although we were able to see colors on the other side of the island). 

All three of those times, there were people at the summit on guided tours. Only one of those groups got the experience that they hoped for. All three paid for it. 

If companies know in advance that the sunrise will be a total wash, they’ll cancel tours and refund your money. But a lot of the time the weather blows in once you’re already up there. If you’ve been loaded up in a van and driven to the top of Haleakala and gotten the full tour and breakfast snacks, you can’t really expect them to refund you because the weather didn’t cooperate. 

All this to say…$150/person is a lot to pay for a chance to see sunrise. 

I think it’s very doable to do sunrise (or sunset) at Haleakala on your own (and soooooo much cheaper), but you should definitely read this post first.

5.Not Renting a Car & Staying at the Resort

Hawaii is not Mexico or the Caribbean where you check into an all inclusive resort and don’t leave the property for the week. Now don’t get me wrong…Hawaii has some of the best resorts in the world and I could definitely spend plenty of time at them without ever leaving. 

But Hawaii (and Maui in particular) is a place to be explored. You’ve GOT to get out and see the island beyond the resort (and the resort bubble). 

And you’re going to need a rental car to do that. Relying on Uber/Lyft to get around isn’t feasible (Maui is a BIG island) and a lot of what you’ll want to do on Maui is adventuring/exploring where you’ll have a destination in mind but make a lot of stops along the way. 

If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

If money is tight, skip these (and here’s what to do instead)…

For the record, these aren’t things that I suggest that you skip, BUT if the budget is tight, these are cuts you can make. 

6. Skip Mama’s Fish House and…have a picnic on the beach

Mama’s Fish House is undeniably the best restaurant in Hawaii for the whole experience and while I think it’s “worth it” (read my whole post about that here) it’s hard to get out of here for less than $150/person (and that’s with minimal drinking). Instead of going to a restaurant that isn’t nearly as good (setting, food, and level of service) and saving 20-30% (that’s still a LOT of money), flip the script and have a picnic on the beach instead. 

Kihei has plenty of food trucks where you can grab food to go and take it to the nearest beach (I love the fish tacos from Horhito’s across from the Cove), but my favorite thing to do is grab take out from Island Gourmet Market in Wailea and take it to Ulua Beach for sunset. 

7. Skip the luau and go to…South Maui Gardens

Luaus are big $$$ these days, and I would usually always opt for a fancy dinner instead. BUT if you want to see the big show, head to South Maui Gardens on Wednesday night (and sometimes Sundays) for their BYOE(verything) luau show. Set up your beach chairs or a blanket and have a picnic (or buy dinner from one of their food trucks) while you watch the show. 

You can usually find tickets for about $75/person with a discount code which is SOOOOO much cheaper than doing a full blown luau and honestly…the food will probably be better ; ) 

Find more details here

Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

8. Skip the fancy resort and…do Resortpass

Prices for Maui’s best resorts have been sky high since COVID (and honestly even before), and while I usually recommend splitting your stay and staying at an affordable condo for the first part of your trip and splurging on a fancy beach resort for the last couple of nights, sometimes that’s not even doable. 

Have you heard of Resortpass? Some hotels and resorts that aren’t at capacity sell daypasses to their pools and amenities for a fee that is WAY less than the price of a room. 

One time when I was staying at a budget hotel on the Big Island, I ended up with a free unplanned day so we booked a cabana at the Fairmont Orchid through Resortpass and it was SUCH a great way to spend the day. 

Availability changes seasonally and different resorts have different prices and offerings, but you can check out Maui resorts here

It’s a great way to spend a full day living “resort life” on Maui without paying “resort prices.”

9. Skip the snorkel boat and…snorkel from the shore

My favorite Maui snorkel tour is pretty $$$ (worth it, but $$$) but the good news is you do NOT have to go out on an organized tour to do some great snorkeling. 

If you’re staying at a resort, most of them include complimentary snorkeling equipment to snorkel at the beach in front of the hotel (most hotels in Wailea and Kaanapali have decent snorkeling off the beach). 

If you’re really into snorkeling, do a weekly rental from a place like Boss Frog and you can snorkel to your heart’s content. Snorkel popular spots around the island like Black Rock at Ka’anapali, Napali, Kapalua, Olowalu, Honolua Bay, and Ulua Beach. 

And just a bit of personal advice…I’m an excellent swimmer but in recent years I’ve started always wearing a flotation belt when I’m out in water over my head. It’s something to think about. 

And there you have it! Hopefully now you have a better idea of something you want to do (and avoid) on your next trip to Maui ; )

Want to read more posts about Maui? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui // 9 Things to SKIP on Maui // 4 Day Maui Itinerary // My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary // Things to Do Upcountry // Tips for Sunrise at Haleakala National Park // Snorkeling Molokini Crater // Whale Watching

My Favorite Hotels on Maui // Where to Find Condos on Maui // Wailea vs Kaanapali // Every Resort in Wailea Ranked // Four Seasons Maui Review // Andaz Maui Review // Fairmont Kea Lani Review // Wailea Beach Resort Review // Four Seasons vs Andaz Maui // Andaz Maui vs Wailea Beach Resort

Best Restaurants in Wailea // Best Breakfast in Wailea & Kihei // Mama’s Fish House // Best Luaus in Wailea

My Favorite Things to Do in South Maui // Best Beaches in Wailea & Kihei // Road to Hana Tips // Driving the Backside of the Road to Hana // Where to See Turtles on Maui

Maui vs Kauai // Everything You Need to Know BEFORE you go to Maui

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.

P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

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