This past month, we caught a ride on one of the best direct flights you can take from Sacramento’s airport: At 9:30 am, you’re in the air. And by 11:30 Hawaiian time, you’re in Maui. Our entire week was a most-generous gift from Aron’s parents, who had chosen to fly the whole family out for a vacation together (Aron’s parents would arrive with his sister and her family a few days after us).
We flew with Hudson’s car seat once again, but it’s starting to put him awfully close to the seat in front of him (he’s a tall 2-year-old). Still, love that he falls asleep in it, and we love that we can relax knowing he’s strapped in if we do. Besides, we’d be bringing it along anyway for the car rental.
We were booked for eight nights at the Marriott Ocean Club on Ka’anapali beach. From the airport, it’s roughly an hour’s drive.
There’s a wonderful (if expensive) fruit stand on the way to Lahaina and Ka’anapali—around mile marker 15 or so. I’d wager there are better deals to be had elsewhere, but I must admit we didn’t find them. Food in general is expensive on the islands.
We brought some papayas, mangoes, passion fruit, bananas, avocados, and limes back to our hotel to snack on throughout the week. Ask for help picking the ripeness for the day you wish to eat it, and be sure to take them up on the offers for samples (especially of the coconut candy, which I still regret not buying).
And don’t pass up the $5 fruit smoothies—they are well worth it!
Because our flight landed early in the day, we rushed straight up to the room to put on our bathingsuits and to remind ourselves how soft sand can be. Despite his many trips to the beach, Hudson still seems to experience it anew: it took a little convincing that the sand was not “dirt.”
And thus began the learning of a whole new set of words: it was fun to realize, by the end of the trip, that he was routinely talking about the ocean, sand castles, palm trees, wind (we rented a convertible), and turtles (“torties”).
The Marriott’s Ocean club was an immense, beautiful property with the most-family-oriented pool you could envision… water slides, volleyball nets, a vast shallow end perfect for toddlers, and a children’s section with a pirate ship and sand banks. It’s certainly not a spot to “get away from it all” and I wouldn’t recommend it for honeymooners, but it’s the stuff of 6-year-old dreams! All three cousins were thrilled at the sight.
For my part, I was especially excited to be back on the beach where my parents took me so many times as a child and teenager. We generally stayed just down the shore at The Whaler—two towers of apartments that sit adjacent to nearby Whaler’s Village. You can see them behind Hudson and I, below.
Ka’anapali beach was one of the first planned resort areas on the island and the wide, sandy beach is host to many hotels. But despite its popularity, it remains a great place to stay on the island. In fact, some of the best snorkeling you can do from shore anywhere on the island is probably at “Black Rock,” the promontory that juts out from the north end. There are some nice shops and a whaling museum at Whaler’s Village, and plenty of delicious restaurants with beachside tables (we especially liked the Hula Grill and Maui Fish & Pasta).
We’d often walk along the beach walk, a pedestrian path that follows the coastline for nearly four miles, down Ka’anapali beach to Black Rock (at the Sheraton hotel) and start the day snorkeling there (the best finds are almost always early in the morning). Routinely we’d be rewarded with sightings of Eagle rays, turtles, schools of colorful fish, and, occasionally, an eel.
Sadly, because the beach is so popular (it would get quite crowded by midday), much of the coral is in decline and you’ll see much brighter displays elsewhere. (Remember: never touch or stand on coral!) But it’s a great place to please everyone: Hudson loved being buried in the sand, his cousins appreciated the small waves for practicing atop boogie boards, Aron and I loved taking turns snorkeling, and braver souls than I (like Aron!) can jump into the water from atop Black Rock.
We stayed close to the hotel our first night, eating at the hotel’s restaurant “Longboards,” but on most evenings we’d drive the 15 minutes or so south to the charming Old Town Lahaina.
Though it has its share of tacky t-shirt shops and flashy galleries, you couldn’t ask for a more lovely setting for the history-filled village of Lahaina. The Banyan tree is always an awesome sight: only 8 feet tall when it was planted in 1873, the tree is now 50 feet tall and spans nearly 2/3-acre with 12 rooted trunks.
Two top picks for eating there (of the spots we tried): Kimo’s and Pacific’o. Kimo’s—like most restaurants we enjoyed—had a surf-and-turf menu, with plenty of options for local fish. Be sure to request a table downstairs by the bar (rather than upstairs in the restaurant). Both have gorgeous views, looking across the water at sunset toward Lanai, but downstairs is practically on the water.
Pacific’o is a bit off the central stretch of Lahaina’s Front Street, and has many of of its tables set just beyond the sand. It’s a beautiful setting, just beyond where they host their version of a luau, The Feast at Lele (you can see the dancers practicing as they wait to go on stage). The restaurant’s emphasis is on fresh seafood, and farm-to-table accompaniments—where the farm in question is their own. (They give tours; it’s upcountry—sounds fun to visit!)
One of the other best stops you can make in Lahaina is at one of the shaved ice vendors. We’ve heard good things about Ululani, but tried Local Boys. Theirs was the real deal: truly soft, shaved ice (nothing like the crushed variety you find in “snow cones”). You can get Roselani ice cream (a local brand) on the bottom and a sweet sauce called Kauai cream on top (I’m guessing it’s a bit like sweetenened condensed milk, but they wouldn’t say) at no extra charge.
If Hudson had his way, we’d probably have spent far more time in the room, looking at the lovely mountains. Toddlers don’t really need vacations: his requests generally involved “choo choos” and reading books, just like at home. But fortunately he’d get over the disappointment of going to yet another beach after breakfast.
Some of our favorite beaches to visit with him were along the Kapalua Coastal Trail.
Above is Kapalua bay, where we spotted a turtle just off shore—close enough, in fact for Hudson to watch him from the sand—but found the snorkeling a bit cloudy.
And this is Napili bay, where the reef offshore kept the waves in the bay perfectly gentle for small children and paddleboarders.
There, too—and on each of the multiple times we returned—we found turtles feeding off the rocks, close to shore (close enough for even Hudson to see).
(That’s him, beside me, in the water!)
We also happened to meet up with friends of ours—our old neighbors from New York—and enjoyed lunch together at the beachside restaurant, The Sea House, tremendously!
You can park anywhere around Napili Kai where public parking is allowed to visit either Napili or Kapalua (or to start the coastal walk), but there’s a small lot just north of the hotel that is officially for beach access. There are many small coves along this stretch of coast. The one pictured above is the small beach at Kahana Sunset, where I stayed with my parents as a very young child (and remember being terrfied by my first sighting of an eel); and my father reminded me that we used to love snorkeling north of here in Mokule’ia bay, also called Slaughterhouse beach, where the beach is virtually non-existent, but the fish-life is plentiful.
I wish I’d remembered this before our trip; we didn’t quite make it as far north as Honolua and Mokule’ia bays. The other spot in West Maui I’ve heard recommended for snorkeling is Kahekili Beach, just north of Ka’anapali. And of course, the best snorkeling may be that off-shore. It wasn’t the right time to go (with Hudson), but I’d love to do a dive or snorkel trip out to Molokini crater.
Other beaches we stopped at included a small black-sand beach just off the highway at mile marker 14, where the snorkeling was great (with huge swaths of electric-yellow coral) roughly 100 yards from shore; and Polo Beach, in front of the Fairmont hotel in Wailea.
On our third day, we decided to brave the drive to Hana—the longest 50 miles you’ll ever cover, with something like 600 turns, multiple one-lane bridges, and (potentially) plenty of visitor traffic stopping alongside the road to look at waterfalls.
We started with breakfast at Charley’s (where they made us a delicious macadamia nut pancake, and put down coconut sauce beside the syrup) before continuing up the mountain. We made fewer stops than most might—bypassing the fruit stand and lovely twin falls, for example—and made our first stop at Waikamoi nature trail. The short 3/4-mile loop was described in our guidebook as appropriate for everyone from toddlers to grandparents, and Hudson loved it. Though I’d caution that there are plenty of roots crossing the trail and a couple of steep grades that would give me pause on the grandparent commendation.
I really loved this brief opportunity to stretch our legs and see a more densely forested bit of Maui (even if I did come away with a few mosquito bites).
We stopped at Honomanu Bay County Beach Park, just after mile marker 14, and stepped out onto the rocky black shore; and we paused to take in the view of the Keanae peninsula, where Taro fields stretch out to the sea.
I looked forward to the halfway point, remembering that my mother always raved about the shaved ice stand. We all shared one of the gigantic mounds and agreed that they flavors of guava and passionfruit were incredible (even if the shavings were slightly more fine at Local Boys). They also sold delicious (warm) banana bread.
As soon as we reached the halfway point, I’ll admit I was growing a bit impatient with the long ride. And so was Hudson: just as we finally reached Hana (and lovely Hana bay) and were considering whether to continue to Oheo Gulch (the “seven” sacred pools), he fell fast asleep. It seemed wise to turn around and make most of the return trip with him dozing quietly in the back.
Still, if you can stomach the windy road, it’s a great way to take a break from the more typical beach day. Just be prepared to truly take a full day away.
Another highlight of the week was an evening at a luau with Aron’s family. There are many options for luaus; we chose the Hyatt’s, just a short walk away.
The whole affair begins around 5pm (a steamy first couple of hours in the sun) with a large buffet dinner featuring a pig roast (the pig is buried in the sand atop hot rocks to cook for 8 hours). Then the show begins, with dances from old Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga, and Rarotonga—including an impressive fire dance.
Sure, it’s a bit touristy, but it’s a fun evening with memorable performances. My favorite part, however, was watching Hudson’s reactions—especially to the fire dance, when he tried to imitate the spinning motion with his own hands.
We had also made arrangements—just Aron and I—to ride down the volcano, Haleakala, at sunrise. I had done the sunrise descent once before, with my dad when I was 15 or 16, and remembered it being amazing. Hudson went to bed in his grandparents’ room and we set our alarms for 1:30am. The shuttle picked us up (thankfully we were some of the last on its route) at 2am and drove us 45 minutes or so south-east to the bike tour’s base camp.
However, once there, I made the mistake of checking the “I’m pregnant” box on liability waiver and was told then that I’d have to be a van-rider. We declined and were driven back to the hotel… where we finally climbed back into bed around 4am. Ugh. What a disappointment! We were so looking forward to the ride down.
If you do have a chance, check it out. You’ll need warm clothes and closed-toed shoes, so be sure to pack those items if you’ll planning on trying it. They no longer start the ride from inside the park as they did the last time I went. A van drives you to the summit to watch the sunrise and then drives you 10 miles down to begin the ride outside of the national park. But that sunrise was worth it, in my recollection.
I can’t believe how lucky we were to be treated to such an amazing trip; we left talking about all of the return visits we imagine to be in our future, especially now that we live so much closer.
Have you been to Maui? What were the highlights? What would you recommend?
Update: We’ve also since returned for a stay at the Grand Wailea.