I’ve been babbling about my farmer trip to Hawaii on social media and dribbling out tidbits to you all here for over a month now so I’ll try to get straight to the details and be brief in telling you about how magical my trip to Maui was (because I have a feeling you got that message already).
In mid-October I went to Maui with my darling husband and our farm couple friends Jon and Steph. We had two very long days of travel sandwiched around six very perfect days on the island. During the middle of our journey, we met up with two other friends (Kyle and Ashley) in Kihei for beers, beaches and a snorkel adventure. The decision to go was spontaneous (based largely on a flight deal). The choice to invite friends we’d only hung out with a handful of times was a risky. The timing of the trip was terrible for our CSA season. But we dove in anyways. I’ve traveled a lot and had a lot of seriously great trips but this one rivals my honeymoon, four gorgeous days in Portugal, and my solo, month-long trip to Italy for the best vacation of my life. And trust me, that’s saying something.
The magic of Maui is near impossible to put into words, but if you’ve been there I bet you know what I’m talking about. Time seems to have its own schedule, crawling along so we could experience every moment fully but not dragging in a way that felt slow. I’ve never felt how I felt on Maui: so raw and open, so simultaneously strong and vulnerable. The beauty is surreal. The terrain is varied. The history is heart-wrenching. The beaches are stunning. The landscapes are massive yet somehow so small. The food is fine, just good enough to satiate your every craving without pulling any attention away from the mystical surroundings. Maui was truly an immersive experience making every part of me feel more alive.
I was surprised to find that on an expensive island, our favorite moments cost practically nothing. On our first day, we stood in the rain, half of us without raincoats, drenched and barefoot watching a sea turtle swim into the ocean while giggling with joy. We followed a path through some farm fields to a natural pool off the side of the road. We jumped into the cool water from high rocks and spent hours treading water and watching waves. We watched the full moon rise over the I’ao Valley mountains with a six pack of beer under a starry sky while listening to the ocean. I don’t do things like that when I travel. I don’t stop on a whim to appreciate my surroundings that fully. I wish I could say that I did, but I’m usually too much of a planner for that.
Below, I’m going to share the amazing places we went, but only if you promise to prioritize your time on this tiny island in a way that doesn’t feel rushed. And only if you promise to experience for the sake of experiencing instead of with some hurried need to check off some boxes. We were luckily enough to be guided before vacation by our former farm employee Kristen so that we understood the power the island contained. The way it literally makes time feel as though it’s standing still. She lived there for years so we listened. And though I created what I thought was an unattainable to do list full of sites on every side of the island, we made it to most of them without hurry and without effort. The things we missed will make our next trip all the more beautiful. I encourage you to use the below as a resource and not a guidebook so that you feel open to wandering, discovering and experiencing in a way that only Maui will allow.
Of all the parts of the island, this is where I would live if given the chance. It’s close to the airport, close to most everything and had the best food of our whole trip. The beaches are very low-key and the energy of the whole area is just so relaxed. We started here and couldn’t help ourselves from continually coming back throughout our six days.
Paia // This small town makes a perfect home base for exploring the island. It’s a quaint surfer town with minimal nightlife, but if you want a walkable town that’s a 30-45 minute drive from most of the island’s most exciting places, this is where you want to be. There are two main streets with a dozen or so blocks of sweet storefronts selling swimwear and offering up delicious eats. My favorites are listed below.
Tobi’s Shaved Ice // Our first (and possibly best) meal of the whole trip. We got the poke of the day with suicide sauce and it was mind-blowing.
Paia Bay Coffee & Bar // Spend your mornings, afternoons and/or evenings here. The coffee is great. The happy hour is spectacular. The outdoor ambiance is alive and vibrant in a way that makes lounging easy. There is local art on the walls and local music most nights. If I lived in Paia, this is where I’d spend the majority of my time away from the beach.
Flatbread Company // Amazing wood-fired pizza, fun casual atmosphere, our first sips of Maui Brewing Company beer Absolute lunchtime perfection. This is the place that inspired my brisket pizza with coleslaw.
Aloha Surf Hostel // This little hostel is everything. We chose it on price alone (the single rooms are $115 a night instead of area hotel rooms starting at $250), but I’d stay here every time I go to Hawaii for the massive (and beautiful) common area kitchen, free morning pancakes, free daily group trips, cozy spaces, beautiful courtyard, friendly hostel cat and amazing staff.
Mana Foods // A small but mighty grocery store in Paia that has pretty much everything you could need. We knew we’d be getting produce from roadside stands so stocked up on butter, cheese, sausage, pasta and iced coffee.
Baldwin Beach // We easily walked from our hostel to downtown Paia to a tiny local beach in about 10 minutes and then meandered along the shoreline until we found Baldwin Beach. You could also drive straight there, but if you are into strolling there is really no need. You can get there on foot (it’s a little over a mile from the hostel) and the local beaches on the way are really lovely. This is the beach for relaxing without crowds, splashing in the waves, taking strolls (it’s nearly a mile long), and listening to locals play music. It’s not fancy but understated has always been my travel style. It also happens to be 10 minutes from the airport if you need somewhere to say goodbye to Hawaii before flying out.
Ho’okipa Beach // This beach is a bit further away and less of an all-day lounging beach, but it is strikingly beautiful and worth a couple hours of your time. Surfers and windsurfers share this beach so there will be plenty to watch on a windy day. It’s rocky, which makes it beautiful but a little less fun for swimming and splashing. Sea turtles also love this spot so it’s likely you’ll see a couple either on the sands or in the water. If you are planning to take the Road to Hana in one day, save this stop (at the start of the Road to Hana) for another day so you can really savor it. The upper part of the beach park has some seriously great hot dogs and shaved ice thanks to Bob.
If it wasn’t SO remote with so little in the way of food, gas and groceries, this would be my favorite part of the island and I would tell you to spend all your time here. But alas, it is incredibly remote and that makes it perfect for three or four nights but maybe not a whole trip (depending on the goal of your vacation). This is the retreat side of the island: the less busy, less crowded, black sanded, quiet paradise. If you don’t have the right mentality going in, you could even find it boring. That’s exactly why I loved it. This is where you should go when you are in need of a little recharge. It’s not especially easy to get here (see The Road to Hana below), but once you do, it’s worth staying for awhile.
The Road to Hana // My Carrot and I were nervous for the Road to Hana. There are lots of articles online talking about how unnerving it is with hundreds of hairpin turns and some very exact number of one-lane bridge (sixty maybe?) and that’s all true, but it really wasn’t so bad. The road is packed with nervous tourists, all with expensive rental cars, all equally terrified, all going very slowly. Which could be obnoxious except that there is so much beauty to take in you will really want to only go 10 miles per hour. Plus, there are guardrails the whole way. So thing number one to understand about the Road to Hana: it’s not scary.
Thing number two to know: Don’t try to do it in a day. Just don’t. One way, without traffic will take anywhere from 1-2 hours. With traffic it could take 2-3 hours. That’s of just driving. Though you can technically get to Hana and back in a day, it’s the kind of “check the box tourism” I in no way endorse. You won’t have time to explore or get off the beaten path or linger in Hana or perhaps most importantly, feel the island magic. It was on the road to Hana that we found secluded pools to swim in. It was on the road to Hana we swam in the ocean for the first time (at sunset on black sand beaches). It was on the road to Hana that we made meals of roadside snacks stopping once, twice, maybe three times in the span of ten miles. It was on the road to Hana that we let the realities of a traumatically hard CSA season wash off of us. Please spend at least one night in the charming town of Hana so you can travel at your own speed and savor every magical minute of this wonderful road. Or, if you are really smart, spend two or three nights here. The lack of consistent internet will cleanse your soul.
Now, a couple logistics. I very much recommend downloading the Gypsy App for $5 to guide you along. It highlights all the key stops along the way and then shares amazing Hawaiian and Maui history on the way back. We loved it. We named our guide Ron and had many conversations with him. Next, if you are a tropical plant and flower lover, spend the $15 per person and check out the breathtaking Garden of Eden. It is not the same as the arboretum (as Ron will tell you). It’s so worth the expense. Lastly, please please, don’t just stop where the guide tells you. Pull off the road anywhere that looks safe with a shoulder and jump on an unmarked trail. If it says no trespassing, obviously obey, but if it doesn’t, go for it! We found a secluded bamboo forest to wander through this way. But also do stop where the guide tells you if it sounds interesting. This is your trip and your adventure and if your going slow, you can see every single thing you want to!
Coconut Glen’s // On the road to Hana, about 10 miles before Hana you will find a lovely little vegan coconut-milk-based ice cream place. It’s heaven.
Hana Farms // My very favorite farm stand on the road to Hana (I also have a favorite on the road past Hana– see below). Here we got a loaf of (still warm) macadamia nut banana bread (it was the most delicious banana bread I’ve ever tasted) and a spicy kale and ham pastry (also still warm) that my Carrot picked out and actually blew my mind. I’m on attempt number three of trying to recreate it. Stay tuned.
Laulima Fruit Stand // Ok, so now we’re well past Hana. About 45 minutes past to be exact so this lovely little fruit stand is only for the folks who stayed the night. Also, may I use this opportunity to explicitly state that the road PAST Hana is not the friendly, slow-going, no fear-inducing road as its friend the road to Hana. The road from Hana to Laulima made me cry so I guess you should keep that in mind. It’s also totally worth it with views even more dramatic and stunning that the road to Hana, but again, breathe deep because there are far less guardrails.
Anyway, now that you have your warning, you should absolutely venture to this heavenly fruit stand. It’s part of the Laulima Farm (which you are free to roam around and take a self-guided tour). The store sells fruit, avocado, tumeric, and other goodies. We lingered over a breakfast of apple bananas, popcorn coated in nutritional yeast, avocado toast and so much coffee for hours while sitting in a little bamboo grove. My dream farm has been discovered and it only takes three flights and a terrifying road to get there.
Though I wouldn’t say this was my favorite part of the island, it’s likely where we’ll wind up buying a condo (if that dream really does become a reality) because a) it won’t invade the locals territory– this area is built for vacationers, b) we could possibly afford it, and c) it’s still incredibly accessible and close to most of the places we want to explore. The magic here isn’t as strong as other parts of the island but the affordability factor makes it worth it. Just maybe thinking about getting your food somewhere else.
Maui Brewing Company // The brewing company is the main game in town for local beer (which is available all over the island), but the brewery has a tasting room with the full line up of twenty incredibly delicious and well-made beer. Try their saisons, which are more like fruity sours. Yum! Just be wary of the food in the restaurant side of the brewery. It’s expensive as can be and not all too impressive. Worth it if you’re starved. Skip it if you’re not.
Sugar Beach Bake Shop // As I said, there’s not a ton of great (not totally overpriced) food on this side of the island, but we did find a quaint little bakery that had amazing cinnamon rolls, French pastries, and traditional malasadas that changed daily (we had the lilikoi).
Snorkeling the Molokini Crater // The only “excursion” type thing we did on this trip was a morning snorkeling outing to the Molokini Crater. It was over $100 but included breakfast, lunch, and hours of snorkeling in the best reefs I’ve ever seen followed by free flowing $2 Mai Tais. I’ve snorkeled a couple times but never with such abundance and variety of beautiful fish. We were supposed to go to Turtle Town after the crater but some big waves led to zero visibility. Instead, our captain followed the tip of some local boaters and headed on over to a pod of spinner dolphins which swam with our boat and performed tricks for 15 minutes. Maui = magic. Have I made this point yet?
Makena Beach // We didn’t actually make it to this paradise but know from friends that it is heaven on earth. It will be a first or second stop the next time we make it to Maui. The day we had planned to venture here was over 90 degrees and we’d already had an overwhelming amount of sun. For fear of turning into lobsters, we used our Makena Beach day to explore the western side of the island and have no regrets.
We didn’t spend a ton of time over here, hearing rumors that it was expensive and the most touristy side of the island. I think we got lucky on our Wednesday of exploring not finding anything especially busy. We really enjoyed spending an afternoon over on these wild green hills.
Waihee Ridge Trail // We somehow experienced this hike on a cloudless day and could see most of the island from the outlook at the top of this trail. I don’t think that’s a common occurrence but hiking straight up forest-covered mountains is never really a bad idea in my opinion (regardless of whether you end up with stunning views or floating in the clouds at the end). But do keep in mind that this hike is four miles round trip, the first two being straight up hill. This hike is definitely not for the faint of heart. Nor is the winding road that gets you there.
Makaluapuna Point (Dragon’s Teeth) & Labrynith // Now this, this is off the beaten path. It was so hard to find. We started going down two wrong trails. Eventually we discovered we had to drive through ritzy suburbs and a golf course to get to the “trailhead,” but the weird jagged rock formations and opportunity to pace a labyrinth while listening to crashing waves and enjoying beautiful views was so worth it. The tranquility and peace of mind in a place so magical will forever be a highlight of a perfect trip.
Nakalele Blowhole // Not only is it incredibly fun to say blowhole in conversation twenty times during a ten minute downhill hike, but also, this blowhole (a hole in the rock where waves crash through so it resembles a geyser) is pretty epic (and mesmerizing). We sat for a very long time watching this beauty having an absolutely giddy time (see video above).
Lahaina // This is probably the most well-known town in Maui. It’s small and quaint, historic and touristy. There’s a famous luau here and some stellar restaurants. We didn’t feel the need to do much more than pass through but made time to head to the town square and check out the 150-year old Banyan tree is worth it. It sprawls across a city block sprouting new trunks from it’s branches. I’ve literally never seen a tree so powerful. And I’ve spent significant time in the Redwoods. The spirit of this tree is not too be missed, even if you have to put up with the tourists.
Aloha Mixed Plate // I love so much about this place which is why I almost don’t want to tell you their entrees were extremely disappointing. The space is perfection, open air and right on the ocean in Lahaina. We ate at 4 p.m. so enjoyed $4 margaritas and Mai Tais followed by amazing wings and a fun plate of house-made spamp masabi (we wanted to try this island classic all trip but just couldn’t get behind eating spam). We should have stopped there and headed somewhere else for dinner. The entrees (at least the Loco Moco and Kalua Pig Plate) were terribly bland and fairly expensive.
I’ao Valley // Honestly, I didn’t expect this to be so cool or so different from all the other magical, beautiful green spaces we’d already been. But it so was. The drive into the valley can only be described as epic. The green mountains rise around you and it’s overwhelming in grandeur. This is part of a state park and doesn’t have a ton of trails so even if you aren’t the best hiker, you enjoy this lovely spot.
Haleakaela // This massive volcano is part of the only national park on Maui. We drove to the top while it was clear blue skies and took in some stunning views of the island and the crater before the clouds rolled in, completely immersing us: an unbelievably surreal feeling, but also totally annoying as our hike into the crater was strenuous and filled with no views– only white. Apparently your best chances for clear skies is morning and night (there is a observatory here that has the third best viewing of the stars in the world) thus the mad rush of tourists at sunrise and sunset. We’ll add that to the “next time list.”
Upcountry // This is a spot I’ll have to come back to because everyone I know who’s been to Hawaii kept telling me I would love it. But it just kept falling low on the priority list. Outside of Kula, we didn’t spend much time exploring this vast farming country and rural foodie paradise. Next time.
Kula Bistro // We chose this place on a whim as we headed down Haleakaela largely because it promoted itself as BYOB. We had a cooler of Maui Brewing Company beers left and only five hours to drink them before our flight home. The food wound up being some of the best of our trip. Plus the small town of Kula was the taste of Upcountry we were dying to experience. Understated, friendly, rustic, and not a tourist in site, this Italian restaurant should be on your must do list if heading towards Haleakaela.
See you on Maui next winter!