On this jagged coast of free-spirited cowboy towns and extreme surf breaks, Maui’s wilder, more eccentric side is seeing a hopeful reset. Here’s how to spend a few adventurous days.Less
The parking lot of Maui’s quintessential locals’ beach is packed with camper vans and surfboard-stocked pickups belonging to neighborhood dads and the pros who put on an air show here all winter. Don’t expect to swim during the winter surf season—the waves are too choppy—but there’s no better place to splash in the tidepools or relax on the sand with a beer and watch homegrown stars like Kai Lenny and Matt Meola surf, windsurf, kite, and hydrofoil as the sun sets.
This remote volcanic landscape is a sparse, frigid dreamland 10,000 feet above sea level that last erupted between 1480 and 1600 (it’s currently dormant). The Haleakalā (“house of the sun” in Hawaiian) summit is sacred for Native Hawaiians, who fiercely opposed construction of a massive solar telescope here (alas, they lost). Bring food and hike a mile down into the desert-like crater. Or make a reservation and head to the summit at sunrise, when traffic is limited to 50 cars.
At this otherworldly farm, situated at 4,000 feet in the sleepy Upcountry town of Kula (home to panoramic views of Central and West Maui and the Pacific beyond), wander among 55,000 lavender plants and shop for fragrant soap, honey, and shortbread. After, if you’ve got 4WD and a sense of adventure, head straight up Waipoli Road, a snaking lane of deserted mountain switchbacks, toward Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area, where you can hike among the eucalyptus and redwoods.
Upcountry’s busiest spot is a tiny, historic paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town now dotted with shops, galleries, and food trucks but still steeped in that horsey vibe (with an annual rodeo). Makawao dates to the mid-19th century, when migrant workers from China, Portugal etc. flocked to Maui to work in its agricultural sector and King Kamehameha III enlisted Spanish cowboys from Mexico to control the cattle herds. Today, the saddles may be gone, but plush leather goods remain at Holiday & Co.
A popular and easy paved run or stroll in KeoKea, near Kula, scenic Thompson Road is an eden of breezy rolling pastures bisected by low rock walls, boasting bajillion-dollar views of Haleakalā and sea-level Maui down below. (No wonder Oprah has a house here.)
A highly curated store from the owners of Designing Wahine in Makawao and Hale Zen in Lahaina that cofounder Molly Payne hopes will serve the residents who kept her family businesses afloat during COVID. The Shoppe highlights distinctive products by local makers, including hand-screen-printed pillows by Maka Sea, turkish towels by Kipa Beach, and pastel-hued prints by local artist Margie Rice.
Open since 1973, Mama’s isn’t new or hip (or cheap), but it remains the island’s definitive restaurant experience, a necessary pilgrimage for visitors and a special-occasion splurge for locals. The ahi with caramelized Maui onions may cost $60, but you’ll also get thoughtful service with aloha spirit, a story about the provenance of each catch down to the fisherman’s name, and a cute beach out back where you can collapse on your towel after brunch and sleep off your Mai Tai.
This popular juice bar and lunch spot opened in the middle of town in 2018, but it already feels like an institution, a place where residents flock for their morning celery juice and visitors order delicious burrito bowls made with plant-based meat and cashew cheese. Stop in for a smoothie after your hike or surf (we recommend the Chronic, a minty-cacao concoction with hazelnuts and coconut meat).
Paia’s newest coffee spot—opened amid the pandemic by local college students Taylor and Summer Rusnak, their dad and some friends—is trying to beam good vibes into a community still regrouping after an epic tourism downturn. Go for the animated locals scene, the matcha lattes with homemade almond milk, the “pounded pesto” toast (made with bread from a local baker) and treats like banana power waffles, vegan chai cinnamon buns and gluten-free strawberry donuts.
A casual eat-in or takeaway taco joint built by the owner of the nearby Paia Inn, Surf Club opened in late 2019 with a Mexico City-inspired, locally sourced menu featuring plenty of inventive vegetarian options (like a delicious breadfruit taco). Closed during the pandemic, it’s now chugging back to life.