My Favorite Things to Do Upcountry Maui
If you’re planning a trip to Maui, you’re probably thinking about swaying palm trees, golden sandy beaches, and exotic marine life and while the land of the hula certainly has all of that, it has much, much more. The vast majority of space on Maui isn’t the shoreline where so many visitors flock each year, but rather the “upcountry.”
Stretching to include the cowboy country of Makawao, the farmland of Kula, the eucalyptus forests of Ulupalakua, and the slopes of Haleakala, exploring upcountry Maui (including the lavender farm Maui) will give you a different perspective of life on the honeymooner’s isle. This is where the people live and if you spend a day or two here you’ll understand why.
I was lucky enough to call the Maui upcountry home for a little over a year, and to me it’s the real Maui. In many places upcountry, if you couldn’t look out and see the ocean, you’d swear you were in the high meadows of Colorado or the Texas hill country.
Ranching and farming are a way of life and everything moves just a little bit slower. Communities are small and tight knit so everybody knows everybody but the aloha spirit runs deep so everyone feels welcomed. The sweeping ocean vistas, rugged green hills, purple jacaranda trees, and mom and pop shops and restaurants are the real magic of Maui. The fact that all of this is just a 30-minute drive from some of the world’s best beaches? Just a bonus.
Things to Do Upcountry Maui
Most visitors see a brief glimpse of upcountry as they’re racing down the mountain after sunrise at Haleakala to get back to the beach but this just isn’t enough! Here are some of my favorite things to do in upcountry Maui:
Enjoy the Drive Upcountry: If you’re coming from the resort areas of Wailea and Ka’anapali, you’ll have to pass through Kahului on your way Upcountry. For a bit of adventure and a look at a more rugged Maui, skip the Haleakala Highway and take the back roads instead. Drive past the sugar mill, along bumpy dirt roads lined with monkeypod trees, and wind up the mountain past small farms and sprawling estates which offer some of the best views of the giant cacti that inhabit much of the upcountry before connecting with the Haleakala Highway in Kula. For a reference point: start at the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum on Hansen Road. Take a right on Pulehu Road which will turn into Holopuni Road. You’ll eventually come to Haleakala Highway (37) and you can take a right onto the highway to continue upcountry to Kula.
Ali’i Lavender Farm: This place is not to be missed! It’s a pretty drive up to the lavender farm and on your way you’ll pass O’o Farms, which offers a farm to table tour and meal (reservations required). The lavender farm does cost a small admission ($3/person) but it’s well worth it. The current hours are also limited from Friday-Monday, 10AM-4PM. You can easily spend a couple of hours strolling through all of the different gardens. The grounds are exquisite and offer some of the very best views of Maui. They also have a cute gift shop and café that sells a lot of lavender themed items. Keep in mind that there are two lavender farms upcountry but the Ali’i wins hands down. The other does get quite a bit of traffic because it’s free and on the road up to Haleakala.
Haleakala National Park: Most people pass through Maui’s upcountry on their way to Haleakala. The most popular times to visit Haleakala National Park are for sunrise or sunset, but it’s beautiful all day long! Here is everything you need to know about visiting Haleakala National Park.
Drive Up Thompson Road in Keokea: For a nice little drive (or walk if you’re up to it), go up Thompson Road for a few miles. It’s rumored that this is where Oprah lives (confirmed when secret service patrols Keokea when Michelle Obama is visiting) but this drive will make you feel like you’re more likely in Ireland than Maui. Right across the road from Grandma’s in Keokea, take the right fork in the road. You can drive to the end and turn around, but a lot of people park their cars and walk.
Tour a Pineapple Plantation: Hawaii’s only remaining pineapple plantation can be found in Haliimaile between the upcountry and north shore. This is where Maui Gold pineapples are grown. While the tour through the fields and facilities is kind of pricey, it’s WAY more authentic and extensive than the Dole Plantation on Oahu. I enjoyed this farm tour so much that it’s now on my Maui “must do list.” Combine with lunch at the Haliimaile General Store across the street. Read my full review of the tour here.
Maui Wine: Not to be missed! A trip Upcountry isn’t complete without going out to Ulupalakua (down the road from Grandma’s towards Hana). The drive from Keokea to Ulupalakua has great views of Wailea and Makena down below and is a real highlight of the upcountry area. This place is a real example of Hawaiian hospitality. Located on a beautiful tree filled estate, the winery’s property is filled with historic buildings and beautifully landscaped grounds. They usually offer a couple of complimentary tours each day (no need for reservations, just show up) but the highlight here is the tasting room. Maui’s Winery is famous for their pineapple wines but they have a growing collection of estate wines (look for the vineyard on the right side of the road on the way to the winery) that are gaining popularity.
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Surfing Goat Dairy Farm: Goats? On Maui?? Stop by and see the goats and sample their cheese and chocolates. But if you’re going to visit, I would at least spring for the 30 minute tour ($12.50/person) where you’ll be able to learn more and help feed the goats. The real gem is the evening chore and milking tour. If you’re in the area and you’re a chocolate lover, consider stopping by and picking up some of these unique treats but don’t plan to spend a ton of time unless you’re doing a tour.
Shopping in Makawao: Makawao is paniolo (cowboy) country and the town looks straight out of the Wild West. You can easily spend an entire afternoon here. Park the car and explore the shops, boutiques, and art galleries that have revived Makawao from its days as a cattle town. While there’s quite a bit of parking on the street, there’s also a free lot behind the buildings at the northeast intersection of Baldwin & Makawao Avenue. Continue east on Makawao avenue and take the first left (Brewer road) and then turn left into the lot. It’s a bit hidden if you don’t know it’s there but once you park, there’s a staircase that takes you right up towards town (plus that’s where the public restrooms are).
Some of my favorite boutiques are Driftwood, Pink by Nature, Homme by Nature, and the Mercantile, but you HAVE to check out Haku Maui. You’ll see her sign on the mainstreet, but it’s hidden back a bit and it is the CUTEST lei shop. There’s a few things to purchase, but if your trip coincides with one of her lei po’o workshops, then booking a spot is a must!
Ocean Vodka Distillery: Next door to the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm is the Ocean Vodka Distillery, which offers hourly tours (for a small fee) of the distillery. They also have a gift shop that sells chocolates from the Surfing Goat that are made with Ocean Vodka. If you’re into touring breweries or distilleries this is an interesting stop, but if you’re not there’s plenty of other sites to keep you busy upcountry. There’s also a distillery tour at Haliimaile that you can add on the pineapple tour.
Kula Country Farms: In upper Kula, you’ll find Kula Country Farms. The big draw here is a pumpkin patch in the fall and a u-pick strawberry patch in the spring. This place gets super crowded in the fall on weekends as locals make the pilgrimage from all over the island to pick a pumpkin and go through the corn maze. There’s also a little play area for kids and a farm stand that sells fresh produce and local goods. This place has great views of the ocean and West Maui Mountains.
Maui Goat Yoga: Goat yoga (exactly what is sounds like…doing yoga with baby goats) is an increasingly popular trend and Maui is just the place to try it out! Morning classes with baby goats are offered several mornings a week, but the most popular classes are the sunset classes with baby goats AND live music. I kid you not. Hahahaha. Did you catch that pun? Goat yoga is very popular so reservations are required in advance.
Go for a Drive: Depending on where you’re coming from, try the drive over Kekaulike from the Haleakala Highway and down Olinda road into Makawao. This drive has it all, from rolling hills to eucalyptus forests to deep gorges.
Where to Eat Upcountry
The upcountry is one of my favorite places to spend time on Maui. It feels like the “real Maui” it’s chock full of farm tours, cowboy towns, sprawling hills, and the most epic views you can imagine. For my list of favorite things to do upcountry read this post. And keep reading for my full list of the best upcountry Maui restaurants:
Kula Bistro: This local spot is located in what passes as Kula “town.” They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner but the real gem here is their dessert case. Stop in and take something to go if you’re not hungry because it’s a shame to miss this spot. If you’re there for dinner, it’s BYOB and the old fashioned general store across the street, Morihara, has beer and wine. This is one of my very favorite spots upcountry.
La Provence: A French bakery that serves a limited menu including crepes and quiche is also nearby. Their patio is very pleasant when the weather is nice (they only have outdoor seating) and you must, must, must try their éclairs (you can get them to go from the bakery inside).
Grandma’s Coffee House: Grandma’s is one of the best breakfast places on the island. Everything on their menu is fantastic but their Belgian waffles are my favorite. They’re open through the afternoon and it’s a great place to stop in for baked goods, desserts, and a cold drink. There’s a funky little art gallery next door and two gas stations/general stores as well (The Ching store and the Fung store).
Haliimaile General Store: This is easily one of my favorite restaurants on Maui and it ranks on any top 10 restaurant list (order the crab pizza to start!) If you’re interested in having dinner at the Haliimaile General Store (and you totally should be!) it’s easily doable on any evening so it doesn’t have to be included on a day spent upcountry. Plan to drive to Haliimaile just for dinner from the resort areas (an easy 25-30 minute drive from Wailea).
Ulupalakua Ranch Store: If you’re out visiting the winery in Ulupalakua, you’ve definitely got to stop in the ranch store across the street. Besides some good souvenir shopping (a lot of things that are made on Maui), they have excellent burgers that they grill up outside on the porch.
Komoda Store & Bakery: Makawao’s big draw is the Komoda Store & Bakery. They’re most famous for their stick donuts. People line up early in the morning to snag donuts and pastries from this Maui institution. Many people make this their breakfast stop after catching the sunrise at Haleakala.
Casanova: One of the most popular restaurants in Makawao, this is a great Italian date night spot. They used to have a deli where you could grab a drink or a pasta plate lunch (it’s seriously a great deal…you get pasta, salad, and bread for like $7) but I haven’t been in a while and I’m not sure if it’s still open.
Humbowl Wagon: Last time I was in Makawao, I stumbled across this absolute GEM in the food truck area (there’s a small lot where several food trucks park in the middle of town). It’s the best acai bowl I’ve had ANYWHERE in Hawaii (and I eat a lot of them). Since she is mobile though, it’s best to check her site if you’re trying to track her down.
Colleen’s at the Cannery: We used to eat at Colleen’s a lot when I lived on Maui. It’s one of those places where everything on the menu looks good.
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Farmacy Health Bar: Another acai bowl favorite spot with another location in Wailuku. It’s a healthy spot so if you’re vegetarian, vegan, or just wanting a light lunch, you’ll love this place.
Kojima’s Sushi: Three generations have owned and operated this iconic sushi spot in Makawao.
Nuka: The go to spot for sushi upcountry (some people say it’s the best on the island), if you want quality sushi AND atmosphere. Also my friends may or may not have named their Frenchie from Haiku after this restaurant ; )
Polli’s Mexican Restaurant: I’m not a huge Mexican food fan, but this is arguably the best spot for Mexican food on Maui. It’s small and loud and the margaritas flow freely.
Pukalani Superette: This small grocery store in Pukalani is a local spot if there ever was one. Try their poke or their hot prepared foods (so many local style Hawaiian favorites!).
Morihara Store: A local spot across from the Kula Bistro. This is the perfect spot to try musubi or manapua (two local Hawaiian style snacks that are always best found at gas stations or general stores).
Rodeo General Store: Right in Makawao town, the Rodeo General Store is also a good place to pick up snacks and the like and they also have poke bowls and a few food options.
Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Maui: my Maui favorites, the best Maui itinerary, how many days to spend on Maui, Maui vs Kauai, where to see turtles on Maui, my favorite road to Hana itinerary, guide for sunrise at Haleakala National Park, how to bike down Maui’s volcano, my review of the Maui Pineapple Tour, 20 of the best adventure activities on Maui, 5 Maui day trips, and the best things to do on a Maui honeymoon.
More posts about where to stay on Maui: Trying to figure out where to stay on Maui? I’ve written a ton of posts that will help. I’d start with my 15 favorite resorts and hotels on Maui. Also, you’re going to want to decide between staying on the south side or the west side so this post about Wailea vs Ka’anapali is golden. Read about my favorite luxury resorts, boutique hotels, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, and condos (many under $100/night!). If you’ve narrowed down the area of the island you want to stay, but need help picking a specific hotel, read these posts about where to stay in Wailea, Kihei, Ka’anapali, Lahaina and Kapalua, and Hana. And if you just want more details (more! More! more!), read my reviews of staying at the Four Seasons and the Fairmont Kea Lani.
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