By Kyle Ellison
November 05, 2014
Photo Resource Hawaii / Alamy

Did you know that Maui has the oldest high school west of the Rocky Mountains, or that the original capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii was located here in Lahaina? Also, interesting, is that Hawaii’s currency was originally known as the Dala. Between beach time, surf time, and relaxing by the pool, the fascinating history of this tropical island can often be overlooked. In just 300 years, kings, missionaries, whalers, plantation workers, ranchers businessmen, and tourists, have all played essential roles in Maui’s captivating past. More importantly, visitors who make the effort to touch on this history can add layers of depth to their visit, since the entire island becomes an outdoor museum once you learn the events that have formed it. To gain an insight into the island’s past—which in many cases wasn’t that long ago—the following museums are the absolute best for learning the history of Maui.

Bailey House Museum

Every visitor to ‘Iao Valley should stop at the Bailey House Museum. After all, they’re on the same road, and the house displays what life was like for original Missionary families. There are also ancient Hawaiian artifacts found on Kaho‘olawe, and one of Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboards rests outside in the lawn.

Lahaina Courthouse Museum

Sandwiched between Lahaina Harbor and the sprawling, block-wide banyan tree, the Lahaina Courthouse offers short movies and dozens of historical displays. Once inside, look above the stairs; there’s a Hawaiian flag encased in glass. It’s the flag that was lowered from outside the courthouse when the United States took over.

Whalers Village Museum

The 1830s were a wild time along the sandy West Maui shoreline. Hundreds of whaling ships from around the Pacific would anchor between Ka‘anapali and Lahaina, and from the low wages to the dangerous conditions to scrimshaw carved on whale’s teeth, this small museum in Whalers Village shows life aboard a ship.

Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum

Only one sugar mill still operates in the entire state of Hawaii, and the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum is set smack at the base of the smokestack. Maui’s “mixed plate” ethnic community was driven by immigrant plantation workers, and in addition to a look at the gasping sugar industry, this museum explores Maui’s different ethnic groups and the traditions they brought from home.

Hale Pa‘i Printing Museum

The introduction of the island’s first printing press meant many things for Maui—especially in a Hawaiian culture that had no written form of language. After early missionaries devised an alphabet—and brought a printing press to Lahainaluna High School—bibles, a constitution, and written laws all followed soon after at Hale Pa‘i.