10 Unique Things to Do on Maui: You Can ONLY Find These on Maui

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I could give you a list of 100 things you absolutely don’t want to miss on Maui (and believe me I have on this blog), but I’m going to keep it short and sweet here. You can go to ANY Hawaiian island and find beautiful beaches and fun adventures like snorkeling, surfing, paddleboarding, horseback riding, tennis, golf, zipline, etc. You get the drill. 

There are a lot of things that while 100% amazing, you’ll find some version of it on every island. 

Unique Things to Do on Maui

So this post is all about things that you can ONLY do on Maui. This is what makes the island unique and hopefully it’ll help you put together an itinerary whether you’re coming for three days or three weeks (or if you’re just starting your vacation research and trying to decide which island is perfect for you).

Here’s a quick “table of contents” for what’s in this post:

  • Drive the Road to Hana (Waterfalls, Bamboo Forests & Black Sand Beaches)
  • Haleakala National Park
  • Snorkel Molokini Crater
  • Whale Watching
  • Bike the Volcano
  • Dinner at Mama’s Fish House
  • Spend Time Upcountry
  • Iao Valley
  • Day Trip to Lanai
  • Old Lahaina Luau

Drive the Road to Hana

Maui’s most epic adventure is driving the famed “Road to Hana.” Hana is a tiny town in the Eastern jungles of Maui, but it’s not about Hana itself, it’s about the journey to get there. 

Tales of the harrowing drive along narrow and windy roads along cliffs, through jungles, and past waterfalls have only built up the folklore surrounding Hawaii’s most popular drive.

And taking part is practically a right of passage when visiting Maui. Set out early, stopping to grab breakfast in Paia town and see all the sights along the way. 

Your journey past rainbow eucalyptus trees, bamboo forests, black and red sand beaches, 400 foot waterfalls, and Hana town itself will give you a taste of the real Hawaii. Old Hawaii. 

Of all the things to do in Maui, you really shouldn’t miss this one. 

I’ve written a few posts about the road to Hana: 

My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary

Tips for Driving the Road to Hana

Should You Drive the “Backside” of the Road to Hana?

Haleakala National Park

There aren’t many places in the world where you can stand on top of a 10,000 ft tall volcano in the middle of the ocean and watch the sun begin to awaken. 

It’s become a pilgrimage of sorts, with bleary eyed tourists waking up in the middle of the night and donning coats and hats to make the long and windy drive up the mountain to Haleakala’s summit where they stake out spots and wait for a glimpse of those first sights of peachy orange hues peaking through the cloud canopy. 

It’s been called magical and that’s all you can really say about it. You’re unlikely to experience this kind of phenomenon anywhere else in the world. 

If you’re making the trek up to Haleakala for sunrise (entering the park between 3AM and 7AM), you’ll need a reservation through the National Park service. You can make reservations 60 days in advance and they cost $1 (plus the $30 park admission/vehicle upon arrival). 


Read everything you need to know about sunrise and sunset at Haleakala here

But there’s more to Haleakala National Park than just the sunrise. If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll want to put hiking down into the crater on your list. 

And if the extreme weather (and wake up call) for sunrise is a little off putting, it’s still 100% worth going up to Haleakala during the day.

Snorkel Molokini Crater

Located three miles off Maui’s southern shore, Molokini Crater has long been Maui’s (and possibly Hawaii’s) most popular snorkeling and diving destination and it’s easy to see why.

The partially submerged volcanic crater with its famous crescent shape is not only home to an extensive coral reef with 250+ species of tropical fish, but it also has an incredible quality of water that boasts up to 150 feet of visibility.

There are some amazing snorkeling spots on Maui that can be accessed by beach or even by boat, but Molokini is completely unique. Because the crater is volcanic rock and it’s miles off shore, there’s not a trace of sand or soil in the water. This is what gives the incredible clarity that’s unprecedented in Hawaii.

Sounds pretty great, right? So what’s the downside? The downside is the number of boats that take snorkelers out to the crater that can make it CROWDED, and many tour providers operate under conditions that can make the experience less than ideal. Not that it’s ever bad, but when you’re paying a premium, you want the best experience possible.

Showing up to Molokini mid morning with a dozen other boats (some with as many as 150 people!) after an hour boat ride just isn’t magical. But don’t worry-I’ve got the scoop on how to see Molokini the best way. Uncrowded.

My favorite way to snorkel Molokini is with Kai Kanani on their Sunrise Deluxe Snorkel

Read all about it here.

***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. 

Whale Watching

Humpback whales migrate from the cold waters of Alaska to the warm waters of Hawaii each year to mate, give birth, and raise their young. While the whales can be seen in season around all of the Hawaiian Islands, if this is a bucket list experience for you, you’re going to want to visit Maui in February. It’s PEAK whale season and they are EVERYWHERE.

There are a TON of companies that take visitors (and locals alike!) out on boats to get a closer look at the whales. Humpback whales are protected in Hawaii so all boats are required to stay 100 yards away from whales (unless the whale approaches the boat), but (despite extremely rare circumstances) that’s MUCH closer than you’ll be if you’re viewing them from the beach.

Personally, my favorite way to go whale watching is on a catamaran. It’s a sizable enough boat that it feels very stable and “safe” while offering all of the creature comforts (bathroom, galley, snacks and drinks, etc.) yet there are not so many people onboard that it feels crowded.

There are a lot of great commercial companies offering whale excursions, but I personally feel like there’s one stand out choice on Maui: PacWhale Eco-Adventures. PacWhale’s ocean ecotours include snorkel trips, sunset cruises, and of course, WHALE WATCHING. The best part is all of the profits of their tours go straight to the Pacific Whale Foundation. And each cruise has a certified Marine Naturalist so you’re sure to get an education along with your entertainment. My favorite cruise is the Whale Watch Sail that departs from Ma’alaea in the morning. 

I’ve got way more info about whale watching on Maui here.

Bike the Volcano

While many people ascend to the summit of Haleakala each morning to watch the sunrise, the adventurous ones follow it up with a downhill bike ride from summit to sea.

In my opinion, seeing sunrise at the summit and then biking down the slopes of Haleakala is one of the best ways to experience the crater and Upcountry Maui while getting a little dose of excitement (van tours can be sooooo boring!). 

You don’t even need to be in great shape to do the bike ride…it’s all downhill! When I’ve done it, I probably pedaled less than about 10 rotations the entire time.

There are a lot of different tour options with different companies (some that include sunrise at the summit and some that just include the bike portion), but I’ve personally done this tour with Maui Sunriders with my family and we had a blast! 

It was actually a little different when I did it (you rode the whole way down by yourself), but now they pick you up and drive you in the van through a more congested/highway portion so it’s even safer.

Dinner at Mama’s Fish House

When asked for my list of must dos on Maui, I can provide you with endless things to do, see, and places to eat. But the list you really want is my “short” list. Not necessarily the list I throw out to every reader or traveler who asks for tips. This is my “if I only get one day on Maui, how would I spend it list.”

And at the top of that list has always been dinner at Mama’s Fish House. It’s easily the most recommendable special occasion restaurant on the island. In ALL OF HAWAII. 

Tell 100 people who’ve been to Maui before that you’re going to Maui and 95 of them will ask “are you going to Mama’s?”

It’s not a “hidden gem” or an out of the way place that nobody knows about. But it’s the best.

Since it’s such a hot spot, you NEED a reservation. They take reservations about 18 months in advance, and honestly they’re usually pretty booked up for dinner at the six month mark. So reserve early! 

You’ll want to check the time of sunset during your trip, I recommend making your reservation about thirty minutes before so it’s still light when you arrive and you can hang out on the beach while you wait. The waves on the north shore are so impressive, plus you’ve got to take a picture at the picture tree. 

The only way to describe the ambiance of the actual restaurant is as a luxurious beach shack. I call this place “Gilligan’s Island meets fine dining.” The inside of the restaurant is layered and welcoming while still being impressive. Like maybe you’re eating in someone’s home or family restaurant. It feels very Hawaiian too. But not snobby. It’s not modern, trendy, or uppity at all.

Request a table with a window view if you’re dining early, but after dark (which is as early as 5:30 or 6 sometimes during the year), it doesn’t really matter where you sit. Since the restaurant is located on the north shore, you’re not going to see the sunset and some people complain about that. “Why pay all that money when you don’t even get a sunset view.” Trust me, you won’t miss it at Mama’s. There’s plenty else to impress you.

One of my favorite parts is that the menu is printed fresh everyday so they can list not only which fish they’re using in each dish, but where on the island it was caught and the name of the fisherman. I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere else.

My Usual Order: I must confess, I get the exact same thing EVERY time I’m at Mama’s. I mean, when I’m paying this much for a meal and I find something outstanding, I just don’t like to mix it up.

Drink: Guava Fizz

Appetizer: Crispy shrimp wontons. 

Entree: Mac nut crusted mahi mahi (stuffed with lobster and crab)

Dessert: The Pearl (Honestly, I’m usually too stuffed for dessert but this is their signature)

It’s not cheap, but it never disappoints. And it really is an EXPERIENCE. Read more about it  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.

Spend Time Upcountry

The slopes of Haleakala are home to an area called the “upcountry.” It’s by far the largest area of Maui, it’s a predominantly local area, and if you couldn’t look out and see the ocean you’d probably think you were in the Texas Hill Country or Colorado high meadows instead of Hawaii. 

The lava rock has created super fertile soil and that combined with the moderate climate make for spectacular agricultural conditions. 

You’ll find every type of farm tour you can think of here. 

On my “don’t miss” list is the Ali’i Lavender Farm, Maui Wine, and Maui Pineapple Tour. 

The lavender farm has beautiful gardens, a quaint gift shop, and a nice café but the views of the island are what makes this a do not miss attraction. They have activities you can sign up for every week, like making wreaths out of succulents and there’s also a scavenger hunt through their gardens. 

My other favorite is Maui Wine. The drive is reason enough to go, but the tasting room on the charming property and unique pineapple wine make Maui Wine a truly unique experience. Buy a few bottles to take back to friends or walk across the street to the ranch store for an elk burger and some souvenir shopping. There are a couple of free tours offered daily. 

And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Maui Pineapple Tour is the most underrated experience on Maui. Everybody talks about the Dole Plantation on Oahu (it’s just a big tourist trap), but this tour takes you behind a working pineapple farm. You’ll see the whole process of growing Maui Gold pineapple from start to finish…from planting to harvesting to packaging! You’ll get to sample plenty of pineapple plus take one home with you! You can book the tour here.

Also O’o Farms has a farm to table experience that’s super cool and if you have kids they’ll love the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm.

Read more about the upcountry here

Iao Valley

Maui’s Iao Valley is where you’re going to want to go to get those “Jurassic Park vibes.” Jagged, green mountains are the backdrop to a lush jungle that seems like it could be home to a spare dino or two. In terms of actual history, this is the site where King Kamehameha I defeated Maui’s army and united the Hawaiian Islands. 

You’ll need to do a little light hiking to get the best views, but it’s a great easy hike on Maui. There’s a 0.6 mile paved walkway that leads to an overlook of the Iao Needle.  There’s also a small botanical garden where you can learn about the plants brought to the valley by the Hawaiians who first settled there.

Iao Valley State Park closed in August 2022 (with an expected reopening date of April 2023) to do some major improvements so check its status before your trip. 

Parking is $10 plus a $5/person entrance fee. 

Day Trip to Lanai

I know a lot of people are interested in island hopping during their trip and I get asked a lot of questions about taking ferries instead of planes…well Maui and Lanai are the only two Hawaiian Islands that are currently connected via ferry. 

You’ve got two options here: 

  1. Take the public ferry from Lahaina (Maui) to Manele (Lanai). Roundtrip tickets are $60/adult, $40/child and there’s a handful of departure and return times to choose from. The ferry ride takes about an hour and you’ll dock in Lanai within walking distance to a pretty great beach. But if you want to see much of the island, you’ll either need to book a tour/excursion or at least a taxi/shuttle into town. 
  2. Book a boat trip with a company like Trilogy that includes snorkeling and a beach BBQ on the island. 

Lanai is a beautiful island, but nowadays it’s largely privately owned and a playground for the rich and famous (there are two Four Seasons resorts on the tiny island). There’s a cat sanctuary that interests some people but 4×4 rentals/tours are the main draw. But really…unless you’re going to stay at the resort, I feel like most people go to Lanai for the day just to check it off their Hawaii island list. It’s a great day trip, but unless you’re been to Maui before (or you’re spending more than a week on Maui), I would probably skip it and just spend the day on Maui.

On Another Note: If you’re looking for a condo or vacation rental for your trip, I’ve put together a post about where to find condos on Maui. It breaks down different areas to look for condos depending on your budget and what you’re looking for. Seriously, don’t miss this post

Old Lahaina Luau

Ok yes, there are luaus on every Hawaiian Island, but I strongly believe that the Old Lahaina Luau is the best luau in all of Hawaii. Maybe a bold statement, but I’ve been to a lot of luaus in Hawaii and I know when I’m impressed. And I’m impressed. So if you’re doing a multi island trip and you’re trying to decide where to do your luau, pick this one. 

The Old Lahaina Luau does absolutely everything right. I’ve got a full post about the Old Lahaina Luau with all of the details here, but in a nutshell…

  • The setting is oceanfront and so dreamy
  • The venue is custom built (no folding tables on a lawn) and designed so well
  • There’s traditional seating (on cushions at low tables) which is so fun but also table and chair options
  • As the sun sets, the dancers are framed by palm tree silhouettes
  • Arrival experience is top notch (fresh flower leis and proper mai tais in actual glasses)
  • The open bar has amazing restaurant/bar quality drinks
  • The food is traditional Hawaiian luau food
  • The dancing is phenomenal and the show tells a story that’s paced just right (but there is NO Samoan fire knife dancer)

Well I’m not sure what else I can say. I’ve been to a LOT of luaus and honestly most of them kind of run together, but this one is special. Besides everything I’ve already told you, I guess the best way to sum it up is…while a lot of luaus feel like a production or a list of experiences to check off (Imu ceremony, check…hula lesson, check…taste poi, check) the Old Lahaina Luau feels more like a pleasant evening spent with friends enjoying good food and entertainment. Which at the end of the day, is what makes it feel so authentic.

Since this luau is the most popular one on Maui (in all of Hawaii really), it often books up months in advance, so I recommend making reservations as soon as you know your travel dates. Last time I visited, I booked our tickets about 3 months in advance and we had great seats (your seating assignments are made in the order that tickets are reserved).

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.
















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