Explore Maui

How to Do Maui Like a Local

A local’s travel tips for experiencing the best of Maui

There is something about the Hawaiian island of Maui that can make you happy just being here; something in the way that people smile as they pass each other on the street, and how each dawn begins a new day that is pregnant with the possibility of adventure. That said, Maui’s charms aren’t immediately evident to everyone who steps off the plane—experiencing the best parts of being on Maui means going along with its flow. The daily nuances of island life are different than elsewhere in the world, and embracing the differences and observing the surroundings are keys to finding success. Maui locals have cultivated this spirit over years of living in paradise, but for visitors enjoying a short trip to the island, the following tips will help you experience that trademark island magic.

Start Early for Morning Magic

It isn’t just watching the sunrise at Haleakala that warrants getting up early. There is a certain magic to the morning hours not felt during the rest of the day, when the entire island is bathed in calm and the air is light and still. Stand-up paddlers cut across water that is smooth as liquid glass, and since the afternoon clouds have yet to gather, morning light illuminates ridgelines that stand naked against the sky.

Tip: Maui afternoons are characterized by strong tradewinds as well as rougher, choppier waters. Activities such as snorkeling or diving are best when the day is young.

Tip: Start the day by catching a wave along the palm-fringed shoreline of Lahaina, or go for an early morning jog on Kapalua’s system of trails.

Hiking Maui's Waihee Ridge Trail
Hiking Maui's Waihee Ridge Trail (©Maridav/Shutterstock)

Tip: Take a stroll down Baldwin Beach where the water shines turquoise in the mornings, and if winter swells are kicking up surf, do some bodysurfing before heading to Paia for breakfast at Café des Amis.

Outdoors in Maui: Things to Do

Maui isn’t the type of place that you visit for the rowdy nightlife. In fact, you’re likely to find more locals out surfing at sunrise than you are to find locals out at night, drinking in the bars. It’s scientifically proven that sunshine, exercise, and proximity to nature help boost endorphins—which explains why the people of Maui seem happy, motivated and fit. Pattern your visit the same way the locals live, and you’re likely to experience that natural uplift. Here’s how to do it:

Tip: Get out on the trails and explore Maui on foot.  Go for a hike across Haleakala Crater and marvel at its lunar moonscape, or hike to the 400-foot-tall Waimoku Falls above Kipahulu’s Pools of Ohe‘o.

Tip: If staying near Ka‘anapali, start the day by snorkeling with sea turtles in the waters around Pu‘u Keka‘a (“Black Rock”). Not only is the snorkeling a good morning workout, but the hypnotic song of humpback whales can be heard from December-April.

Tip: For visitors staying in South Maui, start the day by kayaking in Makena along the historic, volcanic shoreline. Underwater sea caves house dozens of green sea turtles and thousands of colorful reef fish, and you can paddle along the shoreline of Keawala‘i Church, founded in 1832. Local outfitters like Maui Kayak Adventures will get you on the water.

Haleakala Crater Maui
Visit the Haleakala Crater for a landscape that seems to be imported from Mars. (©iStock)

Get the Locals Story

Even in this age of always-on digital connections and social media, the “coconut wireless” is still the best way of sourcing information on Maui. Take the time to talk with people and engage in conversation, and helpful bits of information will readily become available.

Tip: For an accurate forecast of the weather or surf conditions, talk to anyone who works on the water, such as surf instructors, fishermen or boat crews. If the surf will be rising, or if the winds will be strengthening, they’re the ones who are going to know about it.

Tip: For good restaurant recommendations in Maui, ditch the smartphone apps and instead ask your surf or kayak guide (and your hotel staff) for the places they go to eat. These relaxed restaurants are guaranteed to be a step off the beaten path and will likely save you a few dollars.

Maui beach
Surf, SUP, swim or snorkel? (©iStock)

Getting Around Maui by Car

Slowing down when visiting Maui is paramount to a successful trip. At no point should you ever be rushed, since the core elements of Maui’s magic can’t be grasped when moving at high speeds.

Tip: A car is a great way to get around the island, but know that the island’s speed limits and locals’ pace on the roads may seem slow compared to the mainland. Following those limits, you’ll relax and notice more of the island. Of course, any road trip on Maui is bound to include distractions like fiery sunsets and whales spouting in the blue, Pacific waters, but keep your focus or pull over to soak it in; many of Maui’s vehicle accidents occur when people take their eyes from the road.

Tip: When driving the famous Road to Hana, be sure to devote an entire day and don’t make plans for that evening. Stop at waterfalls and banana bread stands and sweeping viewpoints of the coast, and if the car behind you is riding your bumper—simply pull over and let them pass and continue at a leisurely pace.

Amazing Food on a Budget

One of the biggest critiques that Maui receives is that food at restaurants is shockingly expensive. Sure, some basic commodities are more expensive here and than other parts of the U.S., but locals know how to find the deals and how to eat on the cheap (see previous tip about asking your guides where they eat). Follow their route to well-priced local flavors at these Maui restaurants, and then cash in those savings for a couple splurge meals—or for another surf lesson.

Tip: For “plate lunch” style local food, check out Da Kitchen in Kihei and Kahului or Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina. For fish, Paia Fish Market and Honokowai Okazuya both serve mouth-watering fish plates without the prices you’ll find at fancy restaurants. Or, for an island classic that is friendly on the wallet, stop into Foodland, Tamura’s, or Eskimo Candy for a bowl of poke and rice.

Tip: Take advantage of island happy hours. Restaurants such as the Sea House in Napili and 5 Palms in Kihei offer half-priced appetizers and an oceanfront view during their daily afternoon happy hours.  

Get Involved: Voluntourism on Maui

Perhaps more so than anything else, a vibrant sense of aloha and community are what make Maui so welcoming. Locals are proud of their island home, and people here are hyper-involved with keeping the island beautiful. To tap into the local community—and lend a hand to the island—spend a morning volunteering with island organizations.

Tip: Spend a morning on a reef cleanup with Trilogy Excursion’s Blue ‘Aina program. Not only can you help clean an island reef and learn about sustainable tourism, but the trip helps raise money for environmental non-profits where you can learn even more about the island.

Tip: For a rare look at Maui’s past, help restore an ancient Hawaiian village site with Maui Cultural Lands. The group leads cleanups in Honokowai Valley every Saturday morning, and you can access a remote section of the island that isn’t open to the public. Doing your part to malama—or take care of—the island, can help to foster a sense of stewardship, which therein creates a deeper bond with the beautiful island around you.