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If heaven is a place on Earth, it’s going to be found on Maui. The scenic Hawaiian island is storied for its pristine beaches, fresh cuisine, and laid-back energy, all informed by its rich and proud culture. Depending on the time of year of your visit, there’s no shortage of exploration and adventure, whether your aim is to relax or enjoy mother nature’s splendor. Much of Maui operates as part the “Dawn Patrol” — locals are typically up with the sun, maybe catching some waves before work, and tucked into bed early to do it all again tomorrow. And while this lifestyle may differ from other vacation destinations, letting the spirit of aloha guide you on your trip to Maui is crucial to enjoying the island on a deeper, more resonant level. Below, find NYLON’s comprehensive guide to getting the most out of Maui, including its most luxurious accommodations, its best local flavors, its finest outdoor experiences and, of course, how to do it all while paying respect to the Hawaiian culture.
What To Do
Attend A Luau
Getting the obvious out of the way, a luau is the most interesting and time effective way to learn about Hawaiian culture. While feasting on roast pig, freshly caught mahi-mahi, poi, and other luau favorites, your emcee will guide you through Hawaii’s myths and legends, all while hula and fire dancers play out the scene. There is a a somewhat draining participatory element to the luau — there’s a generous portion of time dedicated shaking your hips and engaging in call-and-response moments — but the food, art, and feeling of community more than make up for it.
Road To Hana
Every Maui travel guide lists the Road to Hana for good reason — it’s a marvel of the natural world. The 64.4-mile-long drive takes you through the island’s verdant environments including heavenly waterfalls, oceans views, and more. You’ll need to devote a full day to this adventure, which can clock upward of 10-12 hours. The driving terrain can be tricky, with many one-lane roads and bridges; no one is stopping you from renting a car, but there are plenty of tours dedicated to the cause, which alleviates traffic and allows for more cultural insight within the excursion.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys getting in a workout while in nature, a traditional Hawaiian outrigger experience will be well within your wheelhouse. After pushing the outrigger — essentially a long, thin canoe-type boat — past breaking waves and into the ocean, you’ll row into the Pacific Ocean using a huli (with the help and guidance of a professional rower, of course) and see the bounty the water has to offer. While the experience undoubtably ranks among the more physically taxing of island activities, witnessing volcanic rock formations up close and swimming amongst curious sea turtles makes for a truly magical excursion.
Honey Macadamia Nut Massage
Mother Nature reigns supreme across the island, but for those who would rather channel Venus during your vacation, booking a massage is a crucial addition to the itinerary. Grand Wailea’s Mōhalu by Spa Grande offers plenty of indulgent treatments, but their prize jewel is the Honey Macademia Nut massage. Kicking off the luxury with a bee propolis mask to boost immunity and soften the skin, the treatment continues with a whipped honey and macadamia nut oil massage that gently relaxes stiff muscles and ushers in a sense of warm oblivion. And if that wasn’t enticing enough, the treatment is capped by a scalp and foot treatment. The only caveat is the price; coming in at over $300 for 110 minutes, it’s a true splurge that may not be in everyone’s budget. But then again, can you really put a price on ultimate relaxation?
Kihei Craft Fair
The Kihei Craft Fair is a one-stop shop for every type of island trinket your heart could possibly desire. It’s the ideal local to shop for souvenirs from local artisans, all without breaking the bank. I left with a few divinely fragranced, locally made soaps and a baby pink, freshwater pearl necklace.
Where To Stay
From the first moment you step onto the Grand Wailea property, there’s a noticeable uptick in serenity. Rows and rows of colorful, meticulously planted orchids and commanding Hawaiian statues line the walkways of the hotel’s open-air lobby — and you’re immediately treated to glimpses of the expansive Pacific Ocean and local flora from its floor-to-ceiling windows. This is a place for relaxation.
Sitting on 44 acres of land, the Grand Wailea was not only designed to evoke harmony on every level, but is beautifully intentional with how it incorporates Hawaii’s storied culture. Structurally, the hotel is shaped like a giant sea turtle and is in alignment with the cosmos’ solstice points; aesthetically, it’s designed with the Hawaiian concepts of hina and ku in mind. Hina’s gentler female energy occupies the right side of the hotel throughout the use of decor and foliage — think beautiful, lush arrangements — while the left side is balanced by ku, the embodiment of wilder, male energy that evokes the feeling of traversing through the island’s rainforests.
Scenes from Grand Wailea’s rooms, lobby, and pools.
Grand Wailea is also home to one of the largest collections of Columbian artist Fernando Botero’s voluptuous sculptures; you can dine among nine of the pieces at the hotel’s Botero Lounge, which boasts some of the finest sashimi I’ve ever had. I really appreciated its sultry nighttime atmosphere, as well as its comically authentic head chef; while dining, I overheard a couple ask for sriracha and get denied because the chef forbids the condiment even more than he forbids take-out sushi. That’s the level of culinary artistry I want!
The hotel recently underwent a major renovation, updating their accommodations to the industry standard of sleekness without abandoning any Hawaiian charm. My room included a soaking tub, shower, and a terrace with breathtaking views of the ocean. A stay at Grand Wailea includes access to the hotel’s many water features — including multiple pools, a lazy river, and waterslides — as well as access to the pristine and fairly uncrowded public Wailea beach. Rent a beachfront cabana, order a few mai tai cocktails, and dip into the refreshing waters for a perfect day in the sun.
Where & What To Eat
Hawaii runs on musubi. Consisting of fried spam on a block of rice that’s wrapped in nori, this simple, savory snack is a staple of the islands and Polynesia at large — and one of its most convenient. Musubi is pre-made and available in almost every grocery store, and the best part is that it only costs a few dollars. If you’re a fan of Japanese onigiri but new to spam, musubi is an excellent and filling entry point.
This sweet, vividly purple yam is one of Maui’s most ubiquitous flavors. In the span of 24 hours, I had ube pancakes with ube syrup, followed by a poolside ube cocktail, and then an ube flavored gummy candy. Ube’s level of sweetness is subtle, never saccharine; a root vegetable building block with the prettiest final products.
Ube pancakes and cocktails.
South Shore Tiki Lounge
To scratch the partying itch, head to Maui’s South Shore Tiki Lounge. The relaxed bar was buzzing during the day, likely due to their imaginative and strong cocktails. Grab a seat at the bar, order a Volcano Martini (or two), watch surfing competitions play out on the TV, and people watch.
Once in a while, you’ll have a dining experience so spectacular it’ll sear itself into your memory for this lifetime, and possibly the next. For me, one of my most memorable meals in Maui was at Grand Wailea’s Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. Named after the Hawaiian state fish that’s steeped in the culture’s mythology, Humuhumunukunukuapua'a floats above above a beachfront lagoon, offering an idyllic, open-air atmosphere and spectacular views of the sunset as it reflects upon the water. My meal was the pinnacle of what I had come to expect from Hawaiian cuisine: absolute, mind-blowing freshness. Every course was delicately flavored with gorgeous presentation, from the pan seared scallops with a truffle emulsion to the otherworldly tropical vacherin. The proverbial cherry on top? The phenomenal service, including a gentle, knowledgable staff.
Dispatches from Humuhumunukunukuapua'a.
How To Do It All With Respect
Being a tourist and feeling like a tourist are two completely different journeys, and in a post-White Lotus world, the exploitation of the Hawaiian people was on the forefront of my mind during my visit. I asked a few locals what exactly they disliked about tourists, and their answers boiled down to a simple ethos: don’t be an asshole. Are you smoking on the beach? Don’t leave your cigarette butts in the sand. Are you out drinking? Don’t get belligerent and harass the staff. On the Road to Hana? Don’t drive recklessly. If it all seems obvious, it’s because it is. Maui may be your vacation, but it’s someone else’s home — act like it.