If you’re looking for a classic beach resort town with all the shops, restaurants, perfect weather, and great beaches nearby – Lahaina on the island of Maui is perhaps your best choice. This little town exudes country tourism charm. Be warned though – during the peak season this little village swells from a population of about 12,000 to nearly 40,000! That’s not even including the nearby resorts of Ka’anapali and Kapalua.
Still, Lahaina is a fun place to go and offers something for everyone. However, if you are looking to buy a slice of Hawaiian paradise, this may not be the place for you. Lahaina has some of Hawaii’s most expensive real estate with homes that can cost as much as $5 million dollars.
There’s a reason for those prices. Prior to contact, Lahaina was the capitol of the Maui Kingdom. It was also the capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820-1845 under King Kamehameha III – he preferred it to Honolulu. There are still vestiges of that legacy there. Front Street, the bustling main drag of Lahaina dates back to that period. While some guides will tell you that the big banyan tree at Banyan Court Park was planted by Kamehameha III’s queen, it’s not true. It was planted by William Owen Smith in 1873 to celebrate 50 yeas of missionary work. There is no larger banyan tree in the United States. Nearby are the reconstructed bulwarks of Fort Lahaina.
It’s a sunny spot which is reflected in the Hawaiian name – meaning ‘cruel sun’. It’s dry most of the time but gets a bit of rain in the winter months. Lahaina was an important center of the whaling industry in the 1800s and the conflict between conservative missionaries and horny sailors was the stuff of legends. Fort Lahaina was actually built to protect the town against rioting sailors! The whaling has stopped but Lahaina is still a heavily used port for whale watching cruises from November to May.
There is no shortage of historical or tourist attractions in Lahaina. Among them the Bailey Museum, the Lahaina Courthouse, and the Prison. Walking maps are available at the Baldwin House Museum for a couple of dollars. There are a huge number of restaurants, bars, and shops on Front Street.
The biggest celebration in Lahaina every year is Halloween with huge crowds walking up and down the main street. It’s not exactly kid friendly after dark because of the many drunks staggering around. Mardii Gras of the Pacific is what I’ve heard it called, but I think that overstates things by quite a bit.
I’ve always enjoyed spending time in Pa’ia on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, but I have to admit – on this last trip – after more than a decade since my last visit – I wasn’t too keen on it. I’m sure it would be cool if it was your first time to go there. My wife and daughter liked it. The thing is – it used to be kind of a hippie art town – but like most hippie things (granola, brown bread, tofu, soy products, hemp) it’s now sort of trendy, chic, and over-priced. For me what made the hippie stuff great was that it was cheap AND healthy. Now, the cheap part is gone.
Same goes for Pa’ia – although, I will say that the natural foods store is still offering far better prices than the other food places on Maui. Mana Foods is a hell of a lot cheaper than Whole Foods or Down to Earth here on Oahu. There are some decent restaurants in Pa’ia – the most expensive and most famous of course being Mama’s Fish House – which used to be a bit of a secret until Oprah let the world know about it.
There are art galleries, tourist shops, and a couple of surf shops.
Pa’ia is the first town on the famous “Road to Hana.” It used to be a sugar town. Then it became sort of a forgotten and overly wet artist and surfer spot – cheaper than Lahaina or the other beach towns. The sugar mill closed in 2000 and like most places – it started catering to tourists. Pa’ia is sometimes called the capital of wind-surfing and has some world class spots for it. There are also some amazing beaches around this north shore town, but I’m not going to spoil them any further by calling them out. You’ll just have to explore to find them.
Pa’ia has about 3000 residents and lots and lots of tourists. It is the gateway to upcountry Maui and the road to Hana. It’s a cute little town – a place where hippies used to hang out and now it’s a place where tourists come to pretend to be hippies. It’s definitely worth a visit.