The Essential Maui
All you need to know before heading to Hawaii's hottest island
On Maui, bliss comes naturally: the coastline is stunning, the water warm, the breeze cooling, and the sand thick and velvety. Resorts put necessities -- such as pools with faux-stone tunnels and slides -- at arm's reach. The food and drink, fruity and decorated with umbrellas, appeal to kids. Not to mention those abundant beaches, rain-forest waterfalls, and a glorious 10,000-foot volcano. For nonstop fun -- and ease -- look no further.
HOW TO SPEND THE DAY
SURFING Catch a wave en famille during a lesson with Action Sports Maui (206A Leinani Dr., Wailuku; 808/871-5857; $55 a person, equipment included). HORSEBACK RIDING Roam the pastures with Hawaiian cowboys at Mendes Ranch & Trail Rides (3530 Kahekili Hwy., Kahakuloa; 808/871-5222; from $85 a person). SPELUNKING If the kids aren't afraid of dark, dank places, sign up with Maui Cave Adventures at Kaeleku Caverns (205 Ulaino Rd., Hana; 808/248-7308; from $29 a person) for a hike through a 40-foot-high lava tube in Hana.
TOP SNORKELING Mile-marker 14 on the Honoapiilani Highway (to get to the reef, swim out 50 feet). MOST FAMILY-FRIENDLY Kapalua Beach. BEST PEOPLE-WATCHING Kaanapali Beach. QUIETEST COVE D. T. Fleming Beach Park, Kapalua. PICNIC WORTHY Kihei's Charlie Young Beach
Related: Things to do in Maui
November through March, humpbacks appear on the scene to breach and bellow. Watch them from McGregor Point (mile-marker 9 on Honoapiilani Hwy.) or aboard a 65-foot catamaran with The Ocean Activities Center (1847 Kihei Rd., Kinei; 808/879-4485; from $55 per adult, from $35 per child).
TIPS FOR HALEAKALA
It's easy to drive the corkscrew road to the top of dormant Haleakala volcano, once you've downed some Dramamine. Families with older kids can bike the volcano with Maui Mountain Cruisers (15 S. Wakeo Ave., Kahului; 800/232-6284 or 808/871-6014; $105) or Maui Downhill (199 Dairy Rd., Kahului; 800/877-2453 or 808/871-2155; $125). The exercise starts in comfort with a van ride to the summit for sunrise and ends in a three-hour downward spiral.
AND HOW TO SPEND THE EVENING
Taking in Ulalena, a show about Hawaiian mythology and history, at the Maui Myth & Magic Theatre (878 Front St., Lahaina; 808/661-9913; $40 per adult, $25 per child). Kids will be impressed: in one act, an acrobat gives the illusion she's a lizard swimming up a waterfall that cascades from the rafters to the stage.
Related: Maui Travel Guide
THE SCOOP ON MAUI FOOD
Devour pancakes with the locals at the beachside Gazebo (5315 Lower Honoapiilani Rd., Lahaina; 808/669-5621; breakfast for four $24). Here's a value meal--Portuguese sausage with eggs and rice at McDonald's (155 S. Puunene Ave., Kahului). Everyone agrees that the open-air Plantation House Restaurant (2000 Plantation Club Dr., Kapalua; 808/669-6299; breakfast for four $32) has the best view and the best breakfast on Maui.
The plate lunch--a favorite Hawaiian takeout--consists of a meat entrée, two scoops of sticky white rice, and a salad. In many cases "salad" is loosely interpreted (by a seven-year-old?) to mean macaroni. Maui's best plate lunch is at Honokowai Okazuya & Deli (3600D Lower Honoapiilani Rd., Lahaina; 808/665-0512; lunch for two $15).
A NEW KIND OF LUAU
Hot chef James McDonald, owner of Pacific'O and I'O, has started a revolution with his Feast at Lele (505 Front St., Lahaina; 808/667-5353; $89 per adult, $59 per child), at I'O. What distinguishes the luau is that food is an integral part of the performance: each of four acts is coordinated with a tasting menu of traditional dishes such as fafa (steamed chicken and taro leaf in coconut milk). Children have their say: the star soloist is an eight-year-old girl.
FUN FOR EVERYONE
Talk back to the parrots at the beachfront Mama's Fish House (799 Poho Place, Paia; 808/579-8488; dinner for four $146), off the Hana Highway. The mahimahi cooked with Molokai sweet potato, baked banana, and fresh coconut is sublime. Roy's Kahana Bar & Grill (4405 Honoapiilani Hwy., Kahana; 808/669-6999; dinner for four $94) is as well-known for its big, lively crowd as for its big taste. Take a dip between courses in the private pool at the Bay Club (Kapalua Bay Hotel, 1 Bay Dr., Kapalua; 808/669-5656; dinner for four $140).
Kids flip for the fajitas with shrimp or mahimahi at Polli's Mexican Restaurant (1202 Makawao Ave., Makawao; 808/572-7808) and the fish tacos at hip, laid-back Milagros Food Co. (3 Baldwin Ave., Paia; 808/579-8755).
The new-American food at David Paul's Lahaina Grill (127 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina; 808/667-5117; dinner for four $200) covers the spectrum from parent- to kid-friendly. Dive into fish on the beach at Hula Grill (2435 Kaanapali Pkwy., Bldg. P, Kaanapali; 808/667-6636; dinner for four $138). At Haliimaile General Store (900 Haliimaile Rd., Haliimaile; 808/572-2666; dinner for four $120) the menu is comfort food with a fusion twist.
Don't miss pineapple-strawberry guri guri, a milk drink made only by the Tasaka family at their stand in Kahului's Maui Mall (70 E. Kaahumanu Ave.; 808/877-7559).
WHERE TO STAY
Bordered by a working pineapple plantation, this master-planned resort area encompasses five bays at Maui's northwest end
Kapalua Bay Hotel (1 Bay Dr.; 800/367-8000 or 808/ 669-5656; family of four from $360) lies on a palm-studded point with spiritual significance for Hawaiians. The well-protected beach and grassy grounds are ideal for kids. Service doesn't get any better than at the 548-room Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua (1 Ritz-Carlton Dr.; 800/262-8440 or 808/669-6200; family of four from $295). Every encounter with an employee results in eye contact and a genuine "Aloha!"--even if your child has just poured grape juice on the carpet.
The oldest resort development, Kaanapali is also the largest -- and a water-sports mecca
If you like the idea of coming face-to-face with an African black-footed penguin in your hotel courtyard, the 806-room Hyatt Regency Maui (200 Nohea Kai Dr.; 800/233-1234 or 808/661-1234; family of four from $285) is your place. A meandering layout of bridges and ramps at the 510-room Sheraton Maui (2605 Kaanapali Pkwy.; 800/782-9488 or 808/661-0031; family of four from $280) should keep the kids busy. The property is blessed with constant breezes.
WAILEA AND ENVIRONS
The showiest of resort areas
At the luxe, 380-room Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea (3900 Wailea Alanui Dr.; 800/332-3442 or 808/874-8000; family of four from $305), children never tire of the pampering: where else can they look up from their poolside chaise to see an Evian-toting attendant asking, "Care to be spritzed?" Grand is the perfect word for the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa (3850 Wailea Alanui Dr.; 800/888-6100 or 808/875-1234; family of four from $390), with its palace of a lobby and astounding water park. Much has been made of the Mediterranean-style Kea Lani Hotel Suites & Villas (4100 Wailea Alanui Dr.; 800/659-4100 or 808/875-4100; suites from $350). You'll understand why, once you glimpse the sprawling suites. The 310-room Westin Maui Prince Hotel (5400 Makena Alanui, Makena; 800/321-6248 or 808/874-1111; family of four from $300) makes a subtle statement. The hotel's recent affiliation with Westin means that the chain's Kids Club, with all its activities and games, is in full effect.
The 1,500-foot-high pasturelands are home to cattle ranches, B&B's, and a section of Haleakala Volcano's slope
The décor of Silver Cloud Ranch (Thompson Rd., Keokea; 800/532-1111 or 808/878-6101; family of four from $110) falls somewhere between turn-of-the-century summer cottage and college dorm, with crazy touches like the bright red plastic claw-foot tub in one room. Kids love the fields and farm animals.
The 19th-century whaling village has become Maui's shopping hub
The Lahaina Inn (127 Lahainaluna Rd.; 800/ 669-3444 or 808/661-0577; family of four from $198) is one of Maui's best values, but it's off-limits to children under 15. An alternative for families: the 19-room Plantation Inn (174 Lahainaluna Rd.; 800/433-6815 or 808/667-9225; family of four from $175). The design won't win awards, but there's a pretty pool, and breakfast is provided by Gerard's, which has some of the most celebrated French cooking on the island.
- ALOHA-PRINT BACKPACKS, Honalua Surf Co. 845 Front St.
- HULA COSTUMES WITH PLASTIC LEIS, ABC Store 900 Front St. (other locations throughout Maui)
- REAL LEIS, Safeway 1221 Honoapiilani Hwy.
- PINT-SIZED SARONGS AND HANDMADE WOODEN TOYS, Tropical Kids 685 Front St.
THREE GREAT DRIVES
Kahakuloa Take the serpentine Honoapiilani Highway north of Kapalua to the village of Kahakuloa. The road is narrow--expect the kids to screech--but the clifftop views are worth the fear. After 45 minutes you'll reach a smattering of wooden houses and a shaved-ice stand, where you can buy a snack and a CD of the Hoopii Brothers, leo kiekie (falsetto) singers who are all the rage on Maui. It's a great sound track for the ride down.
Hana Highway Stops not to miss along this 52-mile route: Waikamoi Ridge, a trail with an abundance of tropical flowers; Puohokamoa Falls, an easily accessible waterfall; Keanae Arboretum; the dramatic black-lava shore of the Keanae Peninsula; the 400-foot Waimoku Falls in Oheo Gulch; and the Blue Pool, less touristy than the legendary Oheo Pools, and a good place to take the kids for a dip.
Up-country Reserve an afternoon to explore the Kula Highway.Along every curve, mountain pastures give way to ocean vistas. From central Maui, take the Hana Highway, then the Haleakala Highway (Route 37) toward Keokea. Stop for a snack at Grandma's Coffee House, and then check out John Sheldon Wallau's wacky paintings on surfboards next door at the Keokea Gallery. Just for the novelty of it, taste the pineapple wine at nearby Tedeschi Vineyards.