Imagine a place where tropical sunshine mixes with gourmet food, where artists gather in a bohemian community, and surfers chase the perfect wave. There's a good chance you'll come up with somewhere like Lahaina, Maui's historic tourist gem.
Lahaina grew up as a fishing port, and many attractions still revolve around the sea. You can head out whale watching, climb into a wetsuit and grab a board, go diving at Molokini Crater, or just perfect your tan on the beach.
But there's more than just seaside attractions. Lahaina is jam-packed with great restaurants like Kimo's, the Lahaina Grill, or Fleetwood's (owned by rock star Mick Fleetwood). It's also an artistic community, with dozens of galleries selling works by locals.
More than anything else, the ocean takes center stage in Lahaina. You can rent charter fishing boats from the harbor, join diving trips to spectacular locations like the Molokini Crater, or use a rental car to head to nearby beaches like Kaanapali or Kapalua, where you can surf, swim, water ski, parasail, and more.
The waters around Lahaina are regularly visited by humpback whales, and whale-watching tours depart during the season. Back on dry land you can join Jungle Tours Maui to see the fabulous birds and waterfalls of the island, or just chart your own hiking route along the coast.
Lahaina has become a genuine entertainment center in recent years, with great food and nightlife on offer. There are gourmet restaurants in town like the Lahaina Grill and Gerard's, great bars like the Sly Mongoose, and live music most nights of the week at Front Street venues like Kimo's.
In the 19th century, Lahaina was one of the largest whaling towns in the Pacific and you can get a good sense of what life was like back then at the Baldwin Home Museum. Before that, it was also a center for Hawaiian royalty, and there are fascinating sites like the ruined Brick Palace from the late 18th century.
Lahaina has an ideal climate for enjoying everything that it has to offer. For most of the year, temperatures are perfect for ocean-based activities and it hardly ever rains.
Since it was planted in 1873, the banyan tree at the center of this courtyard has grown to become the largest in all of Hawaii. A sight to behold in itself, this tree is also at the heart of Lahaina's greatest attractions. The Ruins of the Old Fort stand just a stone's throw away, a relic from the days of whaling in the Pacific. Just beyond, Front Street - the quaint thoroughfare of the town - extends, lined with good eats, shopping and views of the harbor.
Once named America's best beach, this stretch of sand, just to the north of Lahaina, is the top choice for locals and tourists alike. Centuries ago Maui royalty retreated to these crystal blue waters for a break, and today it continues to feel fit for kings and queens. Swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, paddle boarding - you name it, this beach has it all. The Ka'anapali Whaler's Village shopping complex and the two nearby golf courses offer even more opportunities for enjoyment.
Hawaiians take particular pride in their indigenous history, from which the most unique art forms have sprung. Lahaina's Maui Theater is the best place to immerse yourself in local art performances, whether it be a traditional historical performance or a more contemporary twist on age-old styles. One thing is for sure - you will be entertained the whole way through.
This delightfully small house-museum is one of the oldest buildings in Lahaina, and full of history. The 19th-century home was built as a missionary compound, and today it is used to educate visitors about non-indigenous life in Hawaii before the islands became a state. Not only chronicling the life of the Baldwin family and their contributions to Maui, the house also provides an intimate snapshot of what it meant to be a missionary in the 1850s.
The otherworldly terrain, unique hiking opportunities and the famously abundant nature of this national park, draw visitors from all over the island of Maui. The now dormant Haleakalā volcano formed the rugged mountain terrain around its crater, which stands in stark contrast to the lush sub-tropical forest below. Hike or drive to the peak to catch sunrise or sunset lights, and keep your eyes peeled for endangered species unique to this very park.
The best times to visit Maui are probably the shoulder seasons - April through May and September to November. You'll encounter fine weather without the high season crowds, and may well find accommodation bargains too. However, surfers might want to try January or February, when the waves are at their best.
Kahului Airport (OGG) is where most tourists touch down, and it has connections to plenty of mainland cities, including Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. From there, the best transport option is to take a hotel shuttle. However, you can also take Bus number 20 (the "Lahaina Islander") to the resort from central Kahului, which costs just $2 and comes with some beautiful views.
Car rental outlets at Kahului Airport include Avis, Dollar, and Hertz, and the cross-country drive is a pleasant one, so many people choose to drive into Lahaina. If you do so, take Route 380 southwards, bypassing Kahului town, and hook up with Route 30 into Lahaina.
Buses to Lahaina run from Kahului (route 20) between 5:30 am and 7:30 pm, so they could also be a convenient way to reach the resort. The bus stop in Lahaina is located at the junction of Front Street and Papalaua Street, right at the heart of town.
If you choose to stay in Lahaina town (instead of basing yourself at nearby beach resorts), there are plenty of hotels to choose from, and standout options include the Lahaina Inn, the Best Western Pioneer Inn, and the Lahaina Shores Beach Resort. If you are all about the beaches, try hotels in Kaanapali like the Sheraton Resort or Maui Eldorado, both of which are about 10 minutes' drive from central Lahaina.
Downtown Lahaina - centered on Front Street (and the harbor itself), downtown Lahaina is an elegant historical neighborhood that is full of restaurants. It's also home to most of the area's historical attractions, including the Baldwin Home and the Wo Hing Temple, as well as cultural hotspots like the Maui Theatre.
Southern Lahaina - tucked away from the nightlife down the Honoapiilani Highway, the southern part of Lahaina still has much to offer. It's where you'll find the closest beaches to the city center, has historic sites like Old Lahaina Prison, and family-friendly attractions like Maui Animal Farm, where kids can pet giant tortoises, goats, and even miniature pigs.
Kaanapali - a classic beach resort, Kaanapali is a couple of miles north of Lahaina. It's the kind of place that suits surfers, scuba divers, cyclists, golfers, and even shoppers, thanks to Whaler's Village shopping mall, and it also has plenty of superb hotels to choose from.
Local buses are a handy way to get up and down the coast (and to the airport if you want to save money). They are provided by Maui Bus and a single fare costs $2. The Maui Villager route is particularly useful, weaving in and out of the town's neighborhoods.
Taxis aren't a cheap way to get around Maui, but they can sometimes be essential. If you are stuck in Kaanapali and need to get home late at night, be prepared to pay a meter drop of $3.50, then $3 for every additional mile.
You don't need a car in Lahaina itself, which is best seen on foot. However, if you want to explore the beaches of northwest Maui, having your own vehicle is vital. Rental outlets in town include Hertz and Enterprise, and rates start at around $26 per day.
If you are looking for Hawaiian souvenirs or high-quality local art, Lahaina is the place to go. Souvenir hunters will love Whaler's Village in Kaanapali or Lahaina Cannery Mall, while Sargent's Fine Art, Vladimir Kush, and Peter Lik are good places to pick up artworks (all are on Front Street). In fact, Front Street is the place to head if you love window shopping, with souvenir stores like Village Gift, jewelry vendors like Golden Beach, and plenty more to discover.
There aren't that many supermarkets in Lahaina, but Foodland on Front Street has an excellent selection of products, and the Island Grocery Depot on Kupuohi St is a good place to stock up on fruit and vegetables. Groceries aren't cheap, though, at around $6 for a gallon of milk and $4 for 12 eggs.
Lahaina is one of Hawaii's gourmet capitals, and foodies will always have new options to explore. There's traditional open-air dining at Aloha Mixed Plate, cocktails and great sandwiches at Cheeseburger in Paradise, top-quality seafood at the Lahaina Fish Company, and exceptional meat dishes at the Lahaina Grill. After that, make time for a drink or two at Moose McGillicuddy's, Lahaina's premier evening hangout. Expect dining out to cost around $15-25 per head, or a little more at the finest places in town.