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My 3 Favorite Special Occasion Restaurants on Maui

A trip to Maui is a special occasion in itself, but if you’re celebrating something extra special and looking for one over the top dining experience to mark the occasion, I’ve got good news…you’ve got good options! The best in Hawaii, actually. 

Yes, Maui is known for its swanky resort areas and those come with endless options of nice (and expensive) restaurants…but really, when I’m looking for a special occasion restaurant…a big stand out experience, I think there are three top options.

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means I’ll make a little money on anything you choose to purchase. But of course, I only recommend my absolute favorites to you. Thank you for supporting the brands that make HulaLand possible. 

Best Special Occasion Restaurants on Maui

I won’t beat around the bush, these are my top picks: 

Mama’s Fish House 

Merriman’s 

The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea 

All things considered, this is probably the order that I would rank these in, too. But as you’ll see, these three are also all located on different parts of the island which could end up influencing your decision. 

Let’s get into the details!

Mama’s Fish House

Mama’s Fish House is easily the most recommendable special occasion restaurant on the island. Ask 100 people who’ve been to Maui where’s the one place you should go for dinner and 95 of them will say Mama’s. It’s not a “hidden gem” or an out of the way place that nobody knows about. But it’s the best.

And it really does live up to the hype. Located on Maui’s north shore just past Paia, having dinner (or lunch!) at Mama’s Fish House is a full blown experience. 

I’ve written a FULL post about it here including an extensive breakdown of whether or not it’s worth it, but the sum of it is: 

The setting is spectacular. The open air restaurant is beachfront so you’ll have views of swaying palm trees and vivid blue water. 

The service is top notch. From the complimentary valet to the hostesses, bartenders, servers, and support staff…the Mama’s family knows that every person through the door is celebrating a special occasion and they make every visit feel like an event. 

And then there’s the food. A place like this could get away with a standard menu, but that’s not how they do it. Every time I go here I’m a little worried that it won’t be as good as I remember, but it never disappoints. While everything is delicious, their signature dish is mac nut crusted mahi mahi stuffed with crab and lobster. You won’t be sorry. 

Read my full review of Mama’s Fish House here

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Merriman’s 

When you’re looking for a “special” place to eat on Maui, Mama’s may be the first place people recommend but Merriman’s is always the second. 

Chef Peter Merriman is pretty famous on the Hawaii food scene. He’s one of a handful of chefs that pioneered “Hawaii regional cuisine” and his restaurants (Monkeypod is the most popular these days!) are known for mixing local flavors with ingredients grown and raised right on the island. 

There’s a Merriman’s on each of the main Hawaiian Islands now, but the one on Maui hands down has the best setting. 

Perched overlooking Kapalua Bay in West Maui, this place has seriously impressive sunset views and while the setting could certainly be described as “romantic,” the vibe is a little more “lively” than Mama’s. There’s live music and the atmosphere is more chatty and social. 

The #1 thing I recommend getting at any Merriman restaurant is the MAI TAI. They have lilikoi foam on top and they’re the best in Hawaii ; )

The menu changes a bit seasonally, and everything is delicious but after eating at Merriman’s (and Monkeypod) so many times I personally always find myself leaning a bit more towards the appetizers (pupus) and starters than the mains. Something good to know here – if there’s a particular appetizer that sounds good, they can often do it as a dinner portion. 

You don’t need to book reservations quite as far in advance here as you do at Mama’s, but you definitely need reservations. The only thing I don’t love about Merriman’s (at this location) is that they have a $50/person reservation fee. They tell you that they’ll charge your card when you make the reservation, but in my personal experience they actually only do it if you miss your reservation. 

Merriman’s also has complimentary valet parking which you’ll probably want to take advantage of because there’s not much parking in the area, but if you’re staying in Kapalua you can also take the resort shuttle. 

Also, if you can’t get a reservation (or don’t want to commit), you can eat out on “The Point” first come first serve and they have most of the menu there. 

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Restaurant at the Hotel Wailea

The Hotel Wailea is quickly becoming one of Wailea’s swankiest spots (and that’s saying something!). The hotel and the restaurant have been racking up all kinds of accolades lately so on my last trip to Maui it was time to finally check it out. 

First things first, the Hotel Wailea is TOTALLY DREAMY and unlike the big beachfront resorts in Wailea that you can kind of stroll through even if you’re not staying there, this place is pretty exclusive. Part of it’s the location. It sits up on the slopes of Haleakala above Wailea so it’s not right on the beach, but it’s got GREAT views. It’s also adults only and just has a very lowkey (but sophisticated) hideout vibe. 

If you want the full blown experience, stop for drinks at the Birdcage first. Otherwise, plan your dinner reservation about 30 minutes before sunset. 

The setting of the restaurant is definitely romantic and enchanting and it almost has more of a European vibe than Hawaiian. 

The menu is really elevated, but still accessible. If you’re an adventurous foodie, or more of a plain jane…you’re going to eat well here. 

Here’s how it works: the menu is a set $125/person for a first course, a main course, and a dessert.

And these aren’t tiny little portions where you’re going to leave wanting more. One of the things we like about this place the most was how much food we felt like we got to try. With three people, we felt like we were able to try a LOT of the menu and nobody went home hungry. 

For first courses we had beet salad, risotto, and pork ribs. 

For mains, we had the scallops, the wagyu ribeye, and the fettuccine with braised wagyu. 

And for dessert, the chocolate mousse, tiramisu, and yuzu tapioca. 

There wasn’t anything that we didn’t like. I would just base your choices on what you’re most drawn to. 

If You Can Only Pick One

In a perfect world, I say go to all three ; ) But if you’re trying to narrow it down…

If it’s your first (and only) trip to Maui, go to Mama’s. It’s truly over the top impressive with the beachfront setting, the warm aloha atmosphere, and super yummy food. There’s really nothing like it. 

Once you’ve done Mama’s, come to the Restaurant at the Hotel Wailea for a bit of a more refined setting and elevated menu or Merriman’s for a “vibe.” 

If you’re staying in South Maui, I’d pick the Restaurant at the Hotel Wailea over Merriman’s and if you’re staying on the West Side, I’d pick Merriman’s. 

All three are in the same price range, but in general, if you’re not used to spending $150+/person on a nice meal, Mama’s is the most accessible in making everyone feel very welcome. They’re very used to hosting people who are coming there for a once in a lifetime meal. Whereas the Restaurant at the Hotel Wailea and Merriman’s feels a bit more like a place that caters to people who just live this life. Does that make sense? 

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

Things You Can ONLY Do 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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