Maui – Our Travel Guide to a Hawaiian Paradise
Imagine this: a warm sea breeze, the fragrant scent of hibiscus hanging in the air, the feeling of impossibly soft sand beneath your toes, and the permanent vacation soundtrack of waves hitting the shore. Aloha! You’re not dreaming, you’ve just stepped off the plane on Maui and it’s everything you dreamed it would be. It’s enough to make you want to drop everything in your life back home, buy a surf board and move to the beach. There is something special about Maui that you can’t find anywhere else. We’ve been to two other Hawaiian islands and we love them all for different reasons, but Maui has a little bit of everything for a perfect family getaway: that special laid back aloha lifestyle, surf + sun + sand, beautiful hikes, waterfalls, coastal jungles, and delicious eats. This island calls us back time and time again, and bringing Ollie with us was EVERYTHING.
Table of Contents
Our Travel Guide to a Hawaiian Paradise
Our Maui Experience
This was our fourth visit to Maui but our first visit as a family of three, and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Sand, waves, and heat are what we crave coming from the winter drizzle of Vancouver, but it’s all a little scary when you’re toting around a baby who’s almost on the move. (Don’t want to know what happens after a baby eats fistfuls of sand!) When we arrived, all that nervousness melted away and we immediately felt at ease in the tropical climate. We’re happy to report that Maui IS as perfect as they say it is for a family getaway! It’s easy to rock your own Maui routine once you get to know the island, so here’s a little about what our day-to-day looked like in Hawaiian paradise.
Getting there with WestJet
One of the reasons we love going to Maui so much is because it’s SO convenient, so it’s easy for us to justify the trip. Since we first started travelling with newborn baby Ollie last October we’ve been inundated with questions from new or expecting parents about our experience, and we’re excited to share what’s made travelling as a family work for us. There are so many reasons why we always fly to Hawaii with WestJet, and it’s only partially because we find the BEST deals with them. They’re our favourite airline because of our continuous exceptional experience with them – from the friendly and fun attitude of their flight attendants, (we’ve made many friends on our flights, and Ollie sure has fans with WestJet!), to their outstanding ability to keep us updated and in constant communication with any travel need-to-knows. WestJet always keeps us entertained and comfortable on our flights, (we love watching free movies and shows on our devices via their WestJet Connect app), and when we leave Hawaii, they help to bring the Aloha spirit back home with us. We can’t say enough about them – and WestJet will continue to be our Hawaiian getaway airline of choice!
As soon as we arrive on Maui we hit up Costco, (load up on food for the week, beach towels, local pineapple, Hawaiian granola and chocolate coconut macadamia nuts!) Whole Foods, (healthy beach snacks, fresh local fruit and the Bubby’s ice cream mochi bar), and any local grocery stores for supplies. We generally recommend to Vancouver area families to take the day-time flight from YVR, as it allows you to get all your errands done to prepare for your stay, and make it back to your accommodations in time for your first sunset on Maui.
Where we stay
We picked Kihei as our home base for this trip and for us, this decision was easy. Being on the southwest side of the island, Kihei is often dry, (almost desert-like in some areas), and usually has great weather. The beaches are family friendly and very swimmable, with some of the best beaches being steps from the vacation homes and condos that fill the area. Kihei feels like a community, with great restaurants and cafes, coffee shops, health food stores, bakeries and markets.
A Day in Maui
In Hawaii, we become morning people. It’s the best time of day. Every morning we’d wake up and grab a coffee, (our faves are Akamai Coffee Co or the cold brew at Beach Street), and set up camp at Kamaole Beach Park II. We’d take turns running along the shoreline or doing a quick workout on the beach, (gotta earn that shave ice later!), while the other stayed and played in the sand with Ollie. We’d either hop in our rental car and head to one of the many great places in the area for our breakfast acai bowl, (completely addicted and had to have one every morning), or we’d wander over to the Beach Street stand and grab one of our fave acai bowls there. (We loved the Hawaiian Bowl with fresh papaya, and the frozen blended Maui Mocha Monkey coffee, SO GOOD.) We’d spend as much time as we could in the morning swimming or snorkelling at some of our favourite beaches, as mornings always boast the clearest and calmest conditions. We were particularly careful about not having Ollie out in the sun during peak hours, so we’d usually drag our sandy butts back from the beach around noon, and seek out some shade.
Depending on where on the island you are, afternoons are usually when the tradewinds pick up. (This is what keeps the climate so lovely!) Quite often the day can get blustery enough for you to want to move to a more sheltered beach, or it can also be the best time to watch surfers catch some waves. Afternoons for us were reserved for exploring. We’d head to a different area of the island for a hike, a walk through a jungle forest, a wander through the surf town of Paia or the old town of Lahaina, or to a beach to check out the turtles and watch the waves. There are some great, calm beaches suitable for young families (or those seeking a peaceful swim) that are lovely all day, or you can head to a beach for some fun boogie boarding (try D.T. Fleming Beach Park or Kamaole Beach Park!) Lunch was usually fish tacos, fresh ahi poke bowls or a fresh fish plate from one of our fave spots, or we’d grab a sandwich and some snacks and have a picnic on the beach. Oh, and once you’re nice and hot, don’t forget to cool down with a delicious shave ice from Ululani’s (must have a scoop of the haupia (coconut) or mac nut ice cream on the bottom – don’t think about it, just do it). Repeat this every day if necessary. 😉
The sun sets pretty early in Hawaii, (at around 6:40pm while we were there), but after a day in the sun and playing in the waves, we promise, you’ll be ready to hit the hay early. By evening time, our favourite thing was to bring refreshing drinks to any one of our sunset spots, (a tropical lemonade from Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade, an iced coffee from Akamai Coffee Co, or a cold coconut water), and a delicious Hawaiian pie (our faves were the chocolate Mac nut from Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop or the lilikoi pie from Maui Pie). Sunsets on Maui are absolute magic and cannot be missed…no matter how many you see, they NEVER get old. Expect an audience depending on your sunset spot of choice, it’s part of the daily routine for most when visiting Maui! After the sun dipped below the horizon we’d head in for the evening and make dinner back at our vacation rental. If you’re travelling without young children or a family, there are tons of great dinner spots all over the island. Another great way to spend an evening, (we did this a few times), is to pick a beach and set up camp during the late afternoon, and bring a picnic dinner in a cooler. There is nothing quite like lazing on the beach in your swimmers, taking turns dipping in the ocean to cool off, munching on delicious snacks, and playing in the sand until the sun goes down. Try Big Beach or Baby Beach in Lahaina. Get lots of rest, because you’ve got another day of adventures coming up tomorrow. There are no bad days on Maui!
When to visit Maui
So when is the best time to visit Maui? Obviously this is a trick question. The correct answer is…whenever! The island of Maui boasts an eternal summer by our standards – the weather is near perfect year round. It is generally noted that March to May and September to November are the ideal shoulder seasons to visit, with temperatures in those months hitting the low to mid 80’s, (averaging around 27 degrees Celcius for us Canadians!) and rarely dipping below the mid 70’s (low 20’s in Celcius). One thing you can always predict are the trade winds. They follow a similar pattern every day of the year, with the morning starting out calm and still, and the winds picking up as the day progresses. It’s kind of like a permanent air conditioning, giving Maui the most perfect and comfortable climate.
The winter months do see more rain and stormy conditions, so if you’re into waves – this is the time to go! If you’re worried about rain, don’t worry – it doesn’t usually rain like it does in Vancouver. Give it 20 minutes to see if the rain moves on, or try driving to a different part of the island to see if the weather improves. (PS: avoid checking weather apps for Maui’s forecast, they are notoriously incorrect!) Summertime is surprisingly busy on Maui, and the island generally heats up during these months.
Where to stay in Maui
There are so many beautiful areas to stay on Maui, and it all depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. Here’s a run down of the most popular areas to stay, based on our experience:
Based on the southwest side of the island, Kihei is relatively dry and can often be desert-like, giving it ideal beach conditions! There are still tons of palm trees, tropical fauna and colourful flora, making it beautiful year round. Kihei has some resorts and hotels, but is full of perfectly situated condos and vacation rentals that are beach adjacent. Book somewhere right on the beach or across the street so you can grab your snorkel gear and head to Kamaole Beach Parks I, II or III first thing in the morning for ideal conditions, or grab your boogie board to play some waves in the afternoon! Watch the sunrise from your lanai in the morning, and the sunset from your local beach in the evening. Tons of walkable cafes are situated close to Kamaole Beach Park, so keep that in mind when looking for a place to book.
Looking for that high end, stunning resort experience? Wailea is as beautiful as it gets. If you’re in the position to splurge a little, even if only for a few days, this is the place to do it. You’ll know when you drive into the area. Lush greenery, perfectly manicured golf courses, palm trees that belong on postcards, and the most beautiful pink flowers you’ve ever seen. You may never want to leave your resort, although some of the best beaches can also be found in the area! There is a shopping mall close by with both high-end and more affordable shops, restaurants with world-class dining, and Kihei is only a short drive away.
Lahina is a small Hawaiian town along the coast, known for its massive banyan tree, (largest in the US, and the oldest on Maui!) Front Street shopping and eats, and rich cultural history. Once a whaling village during the mid-1800s this town is now frequented by tourists year-round. Here you’ll find lots of luxury homes, and some hotels and vacation homes on or near the water. Lahaina tends to have less of a breeze so it can get quite warm, and is a popular spot for whale-watching from November to May.
The “resort” area! By far the most frequented area for family resorts on the island. We’ve stayed in Ka’anapali once before and loved it, although we did stay in a vacation rental as opposed to a resort. Each resort is connected by a boardwalk along the water that you can walk day or night, and end up at Whaler’s Village for shopping or food. If you’re looking to have everything in one place – look no further! The beaches along this stretch are stunning with the softest sand, and have some of the best snorkelling on the island.
Paia is a very small beach town, and convenient if you love to wind surf. The town itself can be touristy and gets very busy, but the surrounding areas are quiet, authentic, and peaceful. It’s close to the beginning of the Road to Hana, as well as Ho’okipa and the world-renowned Mama’s Fish House. It’s not far from the airport, and for most visitors, it’s a day-trip stop, or a place to explore on the way to or from the road to Hana.
Oh the road to Hana – a MUST do on Maui! However, the white-knuckle drive can be exhausting for some, and others may want to spend extra time hiking or exploring the stunning and pristine beaches that dot the coast up to the town of Hana. We’ve heard amazing things about camping here – another thing to add to our Maui bucket list. With only so many hours in the day, people often stay in Hana for a day or two to break up the trip, and give some extra time for adventure. Keep in mind it rains a lot here, so come prepared!
If you don’t already have snorkel gear to bring with you, you’ll want to either invest in some gear when you get to Maui, or rent some during your stay. (Not to worry, there is no shortage of rental spots around!) By far, snorkelling is one of our absolute FAVOURITE activities on Maui. There is nothing quite like swimming amongst schools of the most beautiful tropical fish just off the shore of a breathtaking beach. You’ll be sure to see colourful varieties of Butterfly fish, long and skinny Trumpetfish, Parrotfish, and of course, the Hawaiian state fish, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. (Try and say that five times fast!) And lets not forget the magical experience of snorkelling with the gentle and giant honu, or the graceful Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. Head out early for the best conditions as the winds generally pick up later in the day, and be sure to check out the daily snorkel report here: Maui Snorkel Report
Our favourite spots to snorkel include:
- Maluaka Beach
- Olowalu Beach
- Honolua Bay
- Ahihi Kinau
- Ka’anapali Beach, Black Rock
- Kapalua Bay
- Napili Bay
One of the best things about Maui is the diversity of activities available to you. While the island has a relaxed lifestyle, (you can spend all day on the beach and not feel at all bad about it), there are also amazing hikes that take you through lush greenery, across ridges, through valleys, down craters, or amongst dense bamboo forests.
Some of our favourite hikes include:
- The Pipiwai Trail and Ohe’o Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools) in Haleakalā National Park – hike through a dramatic bamboo forest to the incredible 400 ft Waimoku Falls, by far one of the most stunning hikes you’ll see on Maui
- Twin Falls – heavily trafficked, but very accessible and still definitely worth the visit! First stop on the Road to Hana. A great place to experience lush Hawaiian greenery, beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes.
- Wai‘anapanapa State Park – a stunning park on the Road to Hana with hikes leading you to the black sand beach, a blowhole, sea arches, fresh water pools and caves, and along an incredible black basalt lava coastline.
- Waihee Ridge Trail – an 8km (5 mile) round trip moderate hike in the west Maui mountains that ascends 1,500 ft. through a lush forest, and offers stunning views of the Waihee Valley and the distant West Maui Forest Reserve waterfalls.
- Kapalua Coastal Trail – an easy, beautiful coastal walk along the northwest coast of Maui.
- Iao Valley – not so much of a hike, but rather a short walk through this lush valley to an iconic view of the Iao Needle.
- Honolula Bay – a short but beautiful jungle walk through the forest to the bay (one of our faves!)
Road to Hana
You can’t read a guidebook or look at a brochure about Maui without hearing about the Road to Hana, and with good reason. Okay, yes, it’s a tad scary. No, it’s not great for people who get car sick. (But don’t let this deter you!) Yes, it takes at least 2.5 hours to drive 84km because of how slow you’ll want to go. This crazy, winding, and sometimes terrifying drive will take you through a beautifully lush area of the island with minimal development, where you’ll see vibrant green rainforests, vines hanging from the trees and spectacular waterfalls around every bend. Hairpin turns, narrow roads, and one-car bridges make this white-knuckle journey one that’s not for the faint of heart, but we cannot recommend it enough. Make sure to stop along the way, with Twin Falls being the highly trafficked first stop along the drive, (but still worth the visit!), the Huelo Lookout Fruit Stand, Pua’a Ka’a Falls, Wai’anapanapa State Park, (ohhh this magical black sand beach…), Hamoa Beach, ‘Ohe’o Gulch, (Seven Sacred Pools and the Pipiwai Trail), and Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread. DO IT. You’ll be so glad you did!
Haleakala National Park
As you make the winding drive up, up, up to the summit of Haleakalā Crater, it feels as though you’ve landed on a different planet. The air up there becomes thin and cool, (you’ve driven almost 10,000 feet above sea level!), the terrain is barren and rocky, but it is so beautiful in its sweeping alien landscape. Go for sunrise or sunset for the most spectacular show you’ll ever see – but remember to bring extra layers as temperatures can dip below freezing. (This can be a shock to your sunburnt skin!) A few things to know: the park requires a reservation if you’re planning to visit at sunrise, and it can take up to 2 hours to drive up to the summit. Visit:
https://www.nps.gov/hale/index.htm to find out more!
Molokini Crater is a beautiful, crescent shaped volcanic crater that is a protected seabird sanctuary. This means you can’t walk on it, BUT, you can take a boat to it, and snorkel in the crystal clear, sapphire blue waters that surround the area. (Seriously…we’ve never seen a shade of sparkling blue like this in real life before!) The flourishing reef here boasts an insane level of visibility, (you can usually see over 150ft deep!) which means you’ll have a clear view of the over 250 species of fish that frequent the area. A few things to keep in mind: this area is not shallow, so if you are wearing a lifejacket or using a floaty noodle, you’ll have to dive down often. And secondly, as this is a popular tourist destination, you will see other tour boats during your visit! A super fun morning/daytime activity on Maui.
On the northeastern tip of the island, you’ll find Nakalele Point, which is known for its famous and spectacular blowhole. The Nakalele Blowhole sprays a massive geyser of water over 100ft high, and it’s truly a sight to see! There is a short hike down to the blowhole, but be careful as it is rocky and uneven and lava rock is known to be slippery when wet. Appropriate footwear is definitely advised. Most importantly, avoid getting too close to the blowhole itself as it can be extremely dangerous – the force of it is NO joke. Enjoy the spray from a safe distance, so worth the visit!
Whale season on Maui is from December to May when the humpbacks cruise to the Hawaiian shores for the winter. (Who wouldn’t want to winter here?!) If you’re lucky, they can often be seen frolicking off the shores, from off the side of your boat as you head out to Molokini Crater, or from one of the many whale watching tours on the island. Whatever you do, if you’re on Maui during whale watching season, keep your eyes peeled!
Best Beaches in Maui
Big Beach in Makena State Park
One of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in Hawaii, let alone Maui. A long stretch of soft, golden sand, a massive shore break, constant rolling waves, and beyond stunning sunsets. Located in an undeveloped area, this beach is absolute magic and can’t be missed.
Kamaole Beach Parks I, II, and III
Three central beaches in Kihei. Dotted with palm trees, surrounded by lava rock and with multiple daily turtle sightings, Kamaole Beach Park has it all. Afternoon winds may pick up, but morning snorkelling, swimming, boogie boarding, paddle boarding and sunbathing are all popular activities here! Grab an açai bowl and watch the turtles cruise by – that’s what we did pretty much every morning on Maui.
Kapalua Bay Beach
When you dream of Maui, an image of this idyllic bay may come to mind. It’s lined with palm trees and has golden sand that makes the turquoise water pop. It’s perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and lounging, and is suitable for all ages. The downside? It can get pretty busy.
Ho’okipa Beach Park
Come here to check out the surf and the incredible views. This beach is world-renowned for windsurfing and board surfing, and is an amazing place to bring a fresh poke bowl and sit and watch the pros. While it may not be the safest place to swim, there is a great little pool that is perfect for little ones, and you can be guaranteed to see at least half a dozen turtles dozing on the beach (one time, we saw over 30!)
Ka'anapali Beach, Black Rock
A three mile long beach located along the resort stretch of beaches on the northwest side of Maui. This beautiful beach has impossibly soft golden white sand, and is one of the most popular beaches on the island. Come here for excellent snorkelling, swimming and sun bathing, and take in the magic sunset views and seasonal whale sightings.
Wai’anapanapa State Park
This spectacular park is located in Hana, and is known for its beautiful, volcanic black sand beach. The black sand is offset by the vibrant green shrubs and foliage that line the beach, and the water is an incredible turquoise blue. By far one of the most unique beaches you’ll ever see!
Baby Beach at Baldwin Beach Park in Paia
We discovered this beach on this most trip to Maui, and we’re so glad we did. Baby Beach is a calm, protected lagoon that is created by a long stretch of reef, and it’s perfect for kids to swim around. It’s also a beautiful beach, so it’s really the best of both worlds!
Don’t let the fact that this stretch of beach is just off the highway deter you, in fact, this beach is SUPER convenient! Park right on the sand, set up your beach gear, and spend alllll day snorkelling in the crystal clear water. We love this beach because the snorkelling is unreal, the water is always warm, and conditions are usually calm. Head out into the reef, (but never stand on it!) or lounge on the shallow sandbars that stretch out for ages. (Tip: watch out for the spiky thorns from the Kiawe Trees that litter the ground and hide in the sand…ouch!)
Baby Beach in Lahaina
You’ll find lots of parents and young children here! This beach has a large, calm and shallow area that’s far from the ocean waves, protected by an exposed stretch of reef. Close to the town of Lahaina, you’ll have tons of great places to eat and shop close by, and it’s a beautiful spot to watch the sunset.
South Maui Food Company
A great foodtruck in Kihei with sustainably caught fish. Get the fresh fish tacos, fish plate, or ahi tuna poke. All freshly caught, (they only serve what they JUST caught and they close when they sell out, so get there early), and possibly the best meal we had on Maui! Even their pineapple coconut milk coleslaw is mouthwatering.
Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors
Okay, it may sound weird, but we got this tip from a part-time local. AMAZING poke bowls. Get the ninja, fried garlic or the spicy ahi poke – our favourites!
Hawaiian Moons Natural Foods
Paia Fish Market
Nalu’s South Shore Grill
Choice Health Bar
Mama’s Fish House
Farmer’s Market Maui
Fish Market Maui
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
Akamai Coffee Co
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
Sugar Beach Bake Shop
Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade
Olowalu Juice Stand
Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread
Family Tips Round-Up
- Best beaches for babies and infants:
- Baby Beach in Lahaina
- Baby Beach at Baldwin Beach in Paia
- Maluaka Beach
- Honokowai Beach Park
- The natural pool at Ho’okipa Beach Park
- Olowalu Beach
- Launiupoko Beach
- Kamaole Beach I, II, and III, depending on conditions
- Napili Bay Beach
- Kapalua Bay Beach on a calm day
- Island transportation: Rent a car. If you want to see all Maui has to offer, (and we can’t recommend this enough – this island is SO diverse!), you’ll need to drive.
- Flight: We generally recommend to Vancouver area families to take the day-time flight from YVR, as it allows you to get all your errands done to prepare for your stay, and make it back to your accommodations in time for your first Maui sunset.
- Arrival: As soon as we arrive on Maui we hit up Costco, (load up on food for the week, beach towels, local pineapple, Hawaiian granola and chocolate coconut macadamia nuts!) Whole Foods, (healthy beach snacks, fresh local fruit and the Bubby’s ice cream mochi bar), and any local grocery stores for supplies.
- Where to stay: We are partial to vacation rentals, (cheaper accommodations can be found in Kihei), but if you’re looking for a place where most days you can relax and never have to leave your resort, Ka’anapali is your dream destination. You’ve got amazing pools and the most beautiful beaches, (WITH snorkelling!) all at your doorstep, although don’t forget to reserve a few days for island exploration.
- Amenities: If you’re travelling with a small family, we focused on looking for a place with the following resources or amenities:
- Stroller accessible (ground floor, elevator or one floor walkup)
- Air conditioning (not always required in some places due to the season, fans, and amazing cross breezes!)
- Free wi-fi
- Separate bedroom
- Kitchen and/or full-sized fridge and freezer
- Beach towels/chairs/toys/umbrella/gear/etc
- Baby gear: If you don’t want to bring or buy baby supplies, (the struggle is real when packing for a tiny human!) you can rent a crib, car seat, stroller, beach toys, plus ANY other baby gear you could possibly think of from Maui Baby Rentals.
- Sun shade: We’d recommend either a beach umbrella or a beach tent to protect your little ones from the blazing sun. If your hotel or vacation rental doesn’t provide one, we got a great tent for a great price at Costco!
- Swimmers and sun protection: Besides using natural, reef-safe sunscreens, (both for the sake of our skin and to protect Hawaii’s beloved reefs), we loved the swimmers from SwimZip. Cute patterns AND sun protection, the perfect combo! (Plus matching suits for the whole family!) The hats were especially great for little Ollie.