Forgive me, friends…I’m about to torture you. As I mentioned last week, the hubs and I recently got back from eating, shopping and lounging our way through a week on Maui, one of our most favorite spots. And I have to tell you all about it!
We actually went right before the holidays. And it turns out that going in December is kind of fantastic. Not crowded at all, and the island was all decked out for the holidays. Christmas lights and Santas in board shorts – it was fantastic. Granted, a little surreal hearing “Sleigh Ride” when it’s 85 degrees out, but still.
I’m nothing if not an exhaustive researcher, so I ate, shopped and lounged my way through the island to find the cream of the crop. For you, my friends. It’s a dirty job. Whether you have Maui on your agenda or just on your bucket list, get ready for some serious wanderlust.
To Eat. I’ll admit, I’m a foodie first – especially when I travel. Maui offers up so, so many delicious things to nosh on, and you’re already wearing stretchy pants.
- For casual fare, my favorites are Star Noodle (owned by a Top Chef contender), Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop (two words: banana cream), and Honu (a little pricey, but beachfront and with a great laidback vibe you’ll welcome after being at a fancy resort).
- The best sushi on the island comes from Sansei. It’s actually pretty casual too, and prices are remarkably reasonable. The fish is fresher than you’ve ever had, and everything is outstanding. I typically stick with the sushi, but their miso-glazed butterfish is some of the best around.
- My favorite dining experience this time around was at the Fairmont Kea Lani’s newly-remodeled restaurant, Ko. The menu is inspired by all of the many cultures on the island, instead of just being generic Asian fusion like so many other high-end spots on Maui. Service, food and ambiance were absolutely impeccable.
- Brunch at the Hyatt’s Swan Court is always a highlight of a trip to Maui. It’s an above-average buffet brunch in an amazing open-air room set on a private little pond with – yes – swans swimming around while you eat. Go late morning, take a book, and you can easily manage breakfast and lunch in one sitting. It’s the quintessential Hawaii experience, I think.
To Stay. For me, Maui is all about the resorts. Plant me in a beach chair, bring me a pina colada, and I’ll see you in a week. So, the more lovely the pool and the more attentive the service, the happier I’ll be. My top three resorts:
- Fairmont Kea Lani (Wailea). The Fairmont is everything you want in a luxury resort. Every room is a suite, and a gorgeous one at that (for an upgrade, feel free to rent a villa, where they’ll even send a chef to cook you dinner). The pools are divine, particularly the adult-only pool, and the view was spectacular. Service is amazing throughout the resort, and they’ll bring you fresh pineapple while you sunbathe.
- Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Bay. Kapalua is about 15 minutes north of Lahaina, so it feels like a real escape, but you’re still close to town. The Ritz property there was built up on a cliff, so it’s a downhill stroll to head to the beach, but if you’re only in it for the views (as I am), you won’t mind a bit. Service at the Ritz blew my mind – every last person we dealt was above and beyond. The rooms nailed that “upscale island” vibe, which is really tricky to do, and the spa…well, if I’d known how amazing it was, I’d have spent the entire day there. Bonus: You can get surprisingly good rates at the resort if you do a bit of research.
- Hyatt Maui (Ka’anapali): Despite my frustration with their completely unresponsive PR team, the Hyatt Maui is one of my favorite spots on the island. The rooms aren’t exceptional, but the ambiance at the resort is unlike anything else. Not especially fancy or upscale, but very Hawaii. Exotic birds everywhere (penguins too!), a huge open-air courtyard, oceanfront hammocks…I just love it. If you can, book a package that includes daily breakfast at the Swan Court.
To Buy. Oh, if I must find something not to love about Maui, it’s the shopping. But there were a few gems.
- I kind of loved the kitschy quality of Sir Wilfred’s, and their coffee was better than anyone’s. (Buy some Maui Upcountry guava butter while you’re there. It’ll change your life.)
- I also loved Village Galleries in Lahaina – they have an art gallery and a gift shop, and both feature pieces from actual Maui artisans (instead of cheap souvenirs made in Taiwan).
- Maui Hands, inside the Hyatt, has some gems mixed in with the usual tourist schlock – I fell hard for the art by Linda Whittemore and jewelry by Pratima Design.
- If (and only if!) you’re already headed that way, the gift shop at the Bailey House Museum in Wailuku is a gem of a place, but it’s so out of the way of anything else, I’d hesitate to recommend it. Once we were there, though, we ended up finding nearly all of our souvenirs for friends, and a few things for ourselves.
To Do. Honestly, I’m a complete laze-ball when I go on a tropical vacay. But this time, we did go on a whale-watching tour, which was maybe my favorite experience of the week. I did a little too much research on this, and landed on the Hula Girl. They have a kitchen onboard, and the food was actually quite good. Some cruises include an open bar in the price, but Hula Girl did not, which I actually preferred – 40 drunk people on a boat is not my idea of a good time. Hula Girl felt more upscale, and the crowd was more my speed. That said, all of the boats I considered all ended up in the exact same spot in the water, watching the exact same whales (we saw whales!). So, don’t stress too much.
And that, in a nutshell, is everything I know about Maui. Do you have any tips to add? I’m all about crowd-sourcing!