How a musical tradition that can be traced to Spanish settlers became the island's best dinner date.

Hawaii dance
Credit: Dusty Forster

If you didn’t know that the slack key guitar has its roots in feral cattle, there’s plenty to learn about Hawaii’s melodic, musical gift to the world. How that music has translated into the best date night on Maui is something a trip to Napili Kai will answer.

Back in the early 1800s, when the cattle that had been gifted to King Kamehameha ran wild across the Big Island, Mexican vaqueros were imported to teach Hawaiians to rope and ride. Along with their skills on the back of a horse, the ranchers brought with them their six string guitars adapted from Spanish settlers, and set in motion a chain of events that would lead to a Hawaiian style of tuning that’s known as ki ho‘alu.

On Maui, the best place to hear slack key music is at the Napili Kai Beach Resort, where the Masters of Hawaiian Music Slack Key Show is held Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Hosted by Maui’s own George Kahumoku, the show has been nominated for six Grammy awards in the Hawaiian music category—with compilation records of live performances winning a total of four times. The quality of music hasn’t faded since then, and along with host band “Da Ukulele Boyz,” the lineup is bolstered by visiting artists who are virtuosos of their craft.

For Kahumoku, one of the best parts of hosting the show is that “it gives our visitors an opportunity to experience Hawaiian language, culture, and arts," he says. "We are the Carnegie Hall of West Maui—in a Hawaiian backyard setting.” The Aloha Pavilion at Napili Kai is as low-key as it gets, where a humble stage, tent, and chairs provide an authentic, casual setting for this shot of Hawaiian culture.

To really crank up the romance, however—and experience the island’s best date night—pair the show with an oceanfront meal at Napili Kai’s Sea House restaurant. The dinner and show package is offered at $78 per person, and includes an exceptional three-course meal overlooking Napili Bay, where you can sit and watch the sun go down over a plate of the daily catch.