The Real Scoop On The Road To Hana, Things To Do, Places To See And Where To Drink
Maui is an island of activities.
For active individuals, Maui’s diverse landscape offers excellent scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, windsurfing, fishing, hiking and golf.
It also offers wandering, so get a car and explore. The tiny town of Paia, for example, looks like a ‘60s hippie surfing community untouched by technology or time. Just a couple of blocks in either direction at an intersection on the way to the Haleakala Crater, its businesses include a few modest restaurants, a couple of surf shops and a reggae store.
One interesting diversion is to read the postings for used cars in the coffee shop: “Honda Accord. Runs. Needs Engine.” Or “Low Milage. 125,000.”
Yet at the same time Maui is so soothingly comfortable that there’s no harm in doing, well, nothing.
All around the island there are parks and secluded coves tucked along the beaches, a mere turnoff from main roads. Just off shore is swimming, snorkeling or, in some spots, surfing. It’s a setting made for romance, which makes it little wonder there are an average of 100 weddings a week on Maui.
D.T. Fleming Beach Park is considered one of the best beaches in the America and neighboring Honokeana Cove at Napili has the kind of scenic privacy one expects here. Take a swim, bring the mask and fins and spend a good few hours letting the sun dry the water spots.
The Road to Hana – Yes or No
The most popular – and controversial, in as much something of this nature could be considered such a thing – tourist activiy on Maui is the road to Hana. Many a Maui visitor is struck with the “shall we or shant we” decision of driving the road to Hana, a small village on the remote eastern end of the island.
The hesitation is not in going to Hana itself – nobody would, as it offers a diversion no more interesting than a baseball field in the middle of nowhere and a General Store that appears to have been built around 1950 and not touched since – but getting there.
It’s the Hana Highway, more popularly called the “road to Hana,” a dramatic two-lane, narrow highway with more sharp curves than PubClub.com super model Lynn Kush. (And that’s a LOT of curves!)
It’s not a really hard drive, as it is all paved. It just takes a long time to get to the end, about 3 1/2 hours from Kaanapili. Along the way, it provides pull-over points to see waterfalls and dramatic dropoffs into huge valleys below the road. At the end, about 30 minutes actually past Hana, is the destination, the Seven Pools.
A series of pools formed by a flowing waterfall two miles above the ocean, these are natural water pools for swimming Then it’s back the way you came (the other way around the island is not fully paved and is not recommended for anyone hoping to slip this one by the rental car company).
Now, we love a good swim as much as anybody, but the Road to Hana is basically a 7-hour trip for a short dip, Parking is $15. For those with several days on the island, or repeat visitors who have yet to make the journey, it’s a satisfying day. For those on Maui for a quick vacation, leave this activity for the another time.
It is very important to note that the National Park Service has closed The Pools of ‘Ohe’o in the Kīpahulu District indefinitely due to safety concerns with landslides. Hiking trails in Kīpahulu remain open.
Those who do go are usually advised to leave early in the morning. But in the longer days of late spring to early fall, the unorthodox tourism methods of PubClub.com, we feel it’s best to avoid the traffic by departing later and having a late breakfast or early lunch along the way (at, say, Paia). Then stop to watch the windsurfers at Honkipa Beach.
Better Scene Drives On Maui Than The Road To Hana
A more scenic (and shorter) drive to consider is around the northern tip of the island. It’s just beyond the aforementioned Honokeana Cove, the soft-sand lagoon framed by a pair of restaurants, the Sea House and the tiny Gazebo, which is about the only place on the island that serves breakfast past 11 in the morning.
The road is more serpentine than Hana and requires an alert driver moving cautiously as if approaching a mine field. It’s narrow, is often just a single lane and has several blind curves. This is what it must be like if one were to drive on a pretzel. It’s almost all along the coast and goes past dramatic cliffs, secluded beaches, a couple of villages, the odd rooster, horses and cows and occasional roadside stands offering beverages and banana bread for sale.
This route has the added advantage over Hana by dropping drivers into the town of Wiaehu, which is back to civilization and a mere half-hour to a Happy Hour drink on a lanai in Lahaina or Kaanapali.
Maui Bars & Nightlife
The most obvious nightlife realization that one is in Maui and not Honolulu can be found with the booze cruises. In Maui (specifically Lahaina and Kaanapali) the cruises are not $25 but $45-$65 and are more catered to cruising than boozing.
The second is at the bar on the lanai at the pleasant Hula Grill in Kaanapaili (on the beach at Whaler’s Village). At first glance, it appears to have the same type of lively and casual bar atmosphere as Duke’s in Waikiki (in fact, it’s part of the Duke’s family), particularly at sunset. There’s daily Happy Hour specials and a happy crowd drinking them down as an end to the perfect island day.
But this is not Duke’s and singles soon discover that most people at the bar are couples or families who are waiting for a dinner table, not other singles looking to mingle. An hour after sunset, the place is back to it’s lack of frenzy and by 11 it’s closing down.
Its biggest shortcoming is a lack of service: It only has two bartenders and they never seem to be working at the busiest time, so getting a drink can be an exercise in patience. Still, the food and location are motivation enough to go and stay past the sun’s slide into the Pacific.
Next door is Leilanie’s, which is quite similar but has a smaller bar area, so finding a seat at the bar can be a challenge. The staff attitude is better here but Hula Grill gets the crowds.
Picky points to point out, yes, but that’s what we do here at PubClub. They are, in fact, the best places to soak in the sunset on Maui.
About 10 minutes away – shuttles run from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. ($1 one-way, $2 round-trip and $2.50 for an all-day ticket) – is Lahaina, Maui’s focal commercial area. Most of the bars are in Lahaina and what nightlife can be found on Maui is in this old fishing village.
The place to begin is Kimo’s.
It’s on Front Street in the heart of “downtown.” Go after dinner for its famous Tropical Itch, a potent concoction that comes with a wooden backscratcher sticking out of the glass. Have more than two and the backscratcher also makes for a handy walking cane. It’s rarely busy, but the locals easily mix with tourists at the bar. The food is quite good for those who want to mix the Itch with dinner.
From there, where to go depends on the night of the week. Here’s the Maui meltdown:
• Weekends – Sunsets on Kaanapali, followed by Spats, an Italian restaurant at the Kaanapali Hyatt that is converted into a dance spot. Young locals prefer Paradise Bluz in Lahaina ($15 cover and a collar is required, though they will loan t-shirt stricken patrons an Aloha shirt). Spats is sometimes open until 3 but you must have a stamp to get in past about 1:30.
• Mondays – Hard Rock Cafe. There’s a live reggae band and a lively crowd.
• Tuesdays – Moose McGillycuddy’s. With a $5 cover comes dollar drinks. There’s a line by 11 but note this is hardly a sophisticated crowd.
• Wednesdays – Stay in after sunset and save up the energy for Honolulu.
• Thursdays – We like this one, it’s a sushi restaurant called Sansei in Kapalua (15 minutes north of Kaanapali; take a cab). In addition to the 15% off sushi from 10-closing – the mango crab is most highly recommended – it has people attempting to sing karaoke. It’s steps from the Ritz, so wedding parties are there, as well as locals.
When is Maui like Key West?
When you walk down the street, past the endless t-shirt and souvenir stores and think “it’s to hot out here; time for a cold beverage.” But instead of heading to Sloppy Joe’s, in Lahaina the place is Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Not owned by that famous singer/songwriter, Cheeseburger is a restaurant/bar with Key West-style ceiling fans, a million-dollar view of the bay and the best bartenders in Maui. We like it best upstairs. And how are the cheeseburgers? Very tasty and patrons are indeed in paradise.
But are they the best burgers on the island? Not quite. That distinction goes to a small dive bar in Kannapali, Johnny’s Burger Joint. At the corner of the Hwy. 30 and the Kaanapali turnoff (2395 Honoapiilani Highway), Johnny’s cheeseburger is like a large In ‘N Out, big and juicy with a bun that does not get in the way of the burger.
Speaking of local dives, there are a few of them scattered about the island. It’s where the locals go, though we must point out that locals here means either young kids in a click (sometimes called mokes) or “veteran” bar hounds.
At 515 Front Street, a secondary shopping complex south of the main area of Lahaina, there’s a sort-of-sports bar called Bamboo as well as Heckock’s, which has a great location with windows open to the sea.
Coolers Restaurant and Bar at Dickenson Square is a pleasant place with a large marlin on the wall whose open windows look out to Dickenson Street. And for those looking for a real dive, there’s the Sly Mongoose in an industrial area between Lahaina and Kaanapali.
There is one other spot that unfortunately got a little too wild for it’s own good.
The Pioneer Inn is a rustic, inexpensive hotel for scuba divers on a budget with a once-raucous bar attached. It would go loud and deep into the night. Alas, it now closes at 9. Still, with those open walls and Hemmingway-inspired ceiling fans it’s an afternoon stop for one or two drinks in memory of the good ‘ol times.
It’s by the famous Banyan Tree and the Lahaina harbor and across from The Wharf, a small shopping plaza with a movie theater and outdoor patio bar, The Blue Lagoon.