Brimming with lush valleys, easy-going surf, pristine beaches, top-of-the-world hikes, and wow-factor sunsets, Maui is often voted the top island in Hawaii by leading travel magazines—think Travel + Leisure—because of its breathtaking beauty and culture of aloha. Here, locals are proud of their Pacific Ocean Eden awash with surf and turf activities that keep them feeling forever young. To zero in on what in-the-know residents do when they want to play in paradise, we spoke to a travel industry insider and a local jewelry designer to see where they tote their surfboards, stand in awe of nature, and please their palates with aloha.
Insider Surf Spots
Surrounded by warm water and consistent swells of varying strengths, Maui’s shoreline is dotted with surfers from sunrise to sundown. From tots getting used to the motion of the ocean on their parents’ boards to pros catching big waves offshore, there’s a surf break for every level—just pick your beach! Longtime resident, Minti Sloan, and co-owner the Maui-based jewelry outfit, Twin Pieces Maui, has parlayed her passion for the sport into a family outing, telling us she and her husband “select our beaches around how the waves are breaking at each spot.” The mother of three goes on to say, “our favorite surf hangout is Grandma’s Beach on the Pali Highway—my girls love surfing and are just learning, and this spot has the perfect waves for kids (and beginners of any age) with extra-friendly people who are gracious with the learning littles.” Other spots the jewelry artisan and her family adore are Cove Park in Kihei or Launiupoko Beach Park in Lahaina because each haven offers easy beach-entry surf and a ton of sand for the kids to play. Win-win.
Maui is nicknamed the Valley Isle, and for good reason: Between the beach and volcanic peaks, the topography looks as though a potter ran their fingers down a cone of clay. At the helm, find Haleakala, a 10,000-foot, cloud-cresting peak with views showcasing the island’s hilly landscape cascading into the Pacific. A trip up to this famous viewpoint for sunrise tops most visitor itineraries—it’s so popular you need to make a reservation and there can be traffic at 4 am—but Maui local, Hillary Sandbach, prefers to skip traffic, wake up at a reasonable hour, take in similar views, and get a workout! The in-the-know PR professional suggests, “while everyone knows to head to the Haleakala Volcano for sunrise (or my favorite: sunset), there are a variety of hiking trails throughout the National Park’s summit district that draw you beyond the visitor center and into the incredible ecosystem.” Her top pick for a sky-high hiking experience is Halemau’u, which she favors because “the trail ends with a dramatic overlook into the crater—a view you’ll likely have all to yourself.”
The lure of sand in your toes and sea breeze-styled hair is not just for Vitamin D-deprived tourists. For those who call the Aloha State home, beaches throughout the Hawaiian Islands are sacred places of peace, play, reflection, and celebration. When Maui folk need some sand therapy, they beeline for beaches outside of the resort areas. Sandbach’s go-to strands include Kanaha Beach Park in Kahului (within walking distance from the island’s international airport), for its “interconnecting beaches with powdery sand, a flat approach and turquoise water,” and Baldwin Beach Park in Paia where an uninterrupted swath leads to “Baby Beach, deriving its name from the natural rock walls that break the waves and make the shoreline placid.”
Magical Forest Adventures
Whether you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Maui, or the tropical isle is hovering at the top of your go-list, you’ve probably heard about the world-famous Road to Hana. The curvy route, clothed in one-lane bridges and arching palm leaves, is nothing short of magical, leading to wonders such as black sand beaches, sacred pools, and a bamboo forest—one of the Sloan family’s favorite locations for adventure. Located 12 miles past the town of Hana in the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park, the bamboo grove is a nature lover’s dream with thousands of leafy shoots soaring as high as city buildings. Head here to stand in awe of the lush outdoor cathedral, or tread on one of many trails winding past streams and up to powerful waterfalls.
Insider Tip: Leave early and don sturdy shoes for this day-long adventure into Maui’s verdant Eastside.
While a swell of swish dining addresses with sunset views and celeb-chef names dot the shoreline in Wailea and Kapalua, locals tend to indulge their taste buds in the local towns of Kihei and Paia where resort wear is optional. In Kihei, don’t miss Smoke & Spice BBQ truck, which Sandbach calls “a cult-favorite Texas BBQ joint done with Maui soul.” It’s hard to miss: You’ll smell it—and see the smoke—from afar as local ingredients broil and sizzle under the Texan-fuelled Maui fire. Nearby find two more eateries focusing on locally-sourced fare: the Sloan crew is sweet on Nalu’s South Shore Grill for their bacon- and chicken-topped waffles with sage-infused maple syrup, and Wow Wow Lemonade for their mouth-watering acai bowls (a tropical superfruit served as thick smoothie and topped with organic coconut flakes, banana slices, blueberries, and local honey). Finally, in Paia, enchant your palate with Mediterranean-style crêpes and crisp Rosé at Café des Amis, the boho-chic town’s it address for pre- or post-beach lunches in an open-air courtyard. Pssst: Après lunch, take an extra moment to browse the nearby clothing boutiques with finds that define Maui style.