We were all in Maui over the week of Memorial Day to witness the most long awaited wedding ever – that of our dear Michelle! It was one of the most intimate, beautiful, and sweetest weddings, surrounded by the ocean with the gorgeous sunset as the backdrop. It always means so much more when the ones you are closest to saying their happily ever after. Friends are your chosen family, and it cannot be any truer when it comes to this Pinky Espresso sisterhood. But enough with the sappiness, let’s get to the fun Maui travel diary part!
Molly and Renée decided to go to Maui a few days earlier before the wedding festivities to explore the island and sneak in some sun tanning time. Everything we heard about Maui is true – it is laid back, the locals are friendly, and everywhere is lush and green and beautiful.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Kaanapali. The area is called the Kaanapali Resort, which includes Hyatt, Marriott, Westin, and Sheraton. There is also a small outdoor mall called Whalers Village. We love the area as it is low key but still convenient. It is about an hour drive away from the airport.
The other two main hotel areas in Maui are Wailea and Kapalua. Wailea is the most well known, which also means more expensive. Kapalua is a short drive north of Kaanapali, and that’s where you will find the top resorts including Ritz Carlton and Montage. If you want something faraway and secluded, Travaasa Hana in Hana is the perfect gateway retreat. Of course, Airbnb is always a good option.
Most visitors rent a car when visiting Maui. Although it an island, Maui is still pretty big! And if you want to do activities such as visiting the Haleakala Summit or Road to Hana, renting a car is a must! There are tours and shuttles, but we like doing things on our own pace and time. We swear we had never seen so many Mustangs on the road in our lives. What’s better than cruising in Maui in a convertible, taking in the scene, and breathing in the fresh air?
If you want to explore Maui to its full potential, be prepared for a lot of driving, or at least transportation time. We probably spent 70% of our first two days in the car. But the views along the way are always so beautiful, you won’t even mind it a single bit.
The biggest national park in Maui is the Haleakala National Park, and its crown jewel is the Haleakala Volcano. Many go up to the summit during the day or close to sunset to admire the view from 10,023 feet up, but we recommend you go for the sunrise. And you should go on your first day when you still haven’t adjusted to Hawaii time zone (3 hours behind PST), which makes waking up at 3 in the morning so much less daunting.
From Kaanapali it is a 2-hour drive. The summit parking spots at the very top are limited, and it gets crowded so it is better to get there early, SUPER early. We aimed to leave the hotel at 3:30am to get to the Summit at 5:30-ish. Well, we didn’t end up leaving till 4am, and caught the sunrise right after we parked and battled through the crowds for a glimpse. We literally just made it, a second later we would have missed it.
As we were driving up the mountain we could already see the light of dawn filling the sky, painting the most gorgeous blue, pink, and purple ombre. Imagine if we were actually up top witnessing it from 10,023 feet up. The view was absolutely breathtaking, as we were above the clouds, like if we were in some otherworldly place, in Castle in the Sky. Many left right away after the sunrise, but we stayed around to explore and take in the view. Why would you want to leave right away after waking up at 3 in the morning and another 2-hour drive?
Words of Advice:
1. Get up early! Give yourself buffer time, you don’t want to be rushing like we did, or worse, missing the sunrise J Trust us, it is so worth the struggle. If we were to do it again we actually may get there even earlier than 5:30am, so we can do some serious stargazing.
2. Layer up! It is COLD up there. Yes you are in tropical Maui, but you are also 10,000 feet up on the mountain at 6 in the morning, needless to say, it is wise to wear something more than a pair of denim shorts and tank top. We wore leggings, thermals underneath our sweaters, and top off with Uniqlo puffers (super compactable for packing). It was still a little chilly but comfortable.
3. Drive safe! The drive up is quite something, with lots of hairpins, which means you can’t drive fast even if you want or need to. Plus you are driving in complete darkness, so better be safe than sorry.
4. Keep driving up! You will see a parking lot when you are almost at the top and think this is the parking lot. Don’t go in, keep going up! There is a tiny lot at the very top and that’s where you want to be, if it hasn’t been filled up already. And you will know if it is as the park rangers will block off the road with the “lot full” sign. Like they say, early bird catches the worm.
5. Keep the entrance ticket! If you plan on going to the Pipiwai Trail, or visiting the Summit again in the next few days, keep the entrance receipt, as it is valid for reentry to the Haleakala National Park. We left ours in the hotel when we went to the Pipiwai Trail, and the hubby wasn’t very happy about shelling out another $20. Oh well…
We visited Ali’I Kula Lavendar Farm after the Summit and filling our tummy at Grandma’s Coffee House in Keokea. The lavender farm is pretty much at the basin of the Summit, about an hour drive down the mountain, which makes it a perfect pit stop to stretch out those legs. Now don’t expect anything like the lavender fields in Provence. This lavender farm is quite small, but nonetheless still lovely for the stroll while breathing in the sweet lavender scent. There were moments when we felt like we were in the Shire in LOTR.
One of the must do’s in Maui is driving the Road to Hana. Road to Hana is a 64-mile drive on the Hana Hwy, from Kahului to the town of Hana. This road is famous for its unbelievable scenic drive, but infamous for its crazy narrow windy roads. There are multiple websites dedicated to Road to Hana, a simple Google search will give you all the information you need, so we won’t bore you with the details, but share with you our wonderful experiences.
We left our hotel at 7:30am. The trip started off not so great as it was raining, quite hard, which was really a bummer as we could barely see anything when looking out to the ocean. We stopped for gas in Kahului and food at Kuau Store in Paia before hitting the road. Food option is limited (other than the many fruit stalls along the road) and gas option is non-existent, so make sure to stock up on fuel for yourself and the car!
The first hour of the drive was the worst in terms of inducing nausea. Maybe because we weren’t used to the windiness yet. The only person who felt fine was of course the driver. Susan, who went with her husband the day after, felt so sick from the drive they had to turn back half way! It was definitely a lot rougher than we all expected. Plus there are many turns with no visibility to oncoming traffic, and endless one-way bridges. So drivers, please keep you eyes and ears open. Slow and steady is the way to go!
We didn’t stop at every stop, as our ultimate destination is the Pipiwai Trail, specifically the bamboo forest. If you are planning on stopping at every scenic point, you should time everything properly, as you do not want to be driving on Hana Hwy at night. Plus you may run into some unexpected animals and pretty awesome waterfalls along the way, so take your time and take in what Mother Nature has to offer!
Our first stop was Waianapanapa State Park, also known as Black Sand Beach, right before Hana. It was gorgeous, and it stopped raining as we got off the car, couldn’t be more perfect! The greenery and the black sand juxtaposed each other so beautifully, just like a painting. You can stay at the first beach, or if you feel adventurous you can keep following the trail and go further. There are also caves in the first beach for those who aren’t claustrophobic, and they were awesome! We picnic in the car after our little Black Sand adventure to refuel before hitting the road again.
Our second quick stop was Hamoa Beach, which we spent much less time than planned, as it looked like any normal beach. Plus after seeing the Black Sand beach, it really didn’t seem that special. Took a few pics and off we go again, to our ultimate destination!
Our last stop was the Pipiwai Trail. Lucky us it started raining again when we got there, and we seriously debated if we should go up the trail. So glad we did as it stopped raining after a while, with only little drizzle, which was actually quite nice when you are sweating profusely from the tropical heat and humidity. Two words – WEAR SNEAKERS!!!! We brought sneakers but were planning on going in just our sandals, until the lady at the visitor’s center warned us, and thank god we listened. It is a legit hike, plus it was super muddy from the rain, our sandals would not have survived. We headed up the hill first towards the waterfall. It is a 4-mile hike up and back, and took us about 2 hours to complete, with multiple picture taking stops along the trail. It is an easy hike but does make you feel out of breath in some sections. The banyan tree was impressive, but nothing compared to the bamboo forest, which was more magical than we imagined. Plus the trail was paved once you get to the bamboo forest, it really was a very pleasant walk. A little more hiking and we were at the Waimoku Falls. Honestly, it wasn’t as “wow” as we thought, but still picture worthy. Many passed the warning sign to get closer to the waterfall, but we just took a few snaps and headed back.
Of course we couldn’t miss the Seven Pools, also known as Pools at Ohe’o. We didn’t have our swimwear, but it would be amazing to jump into one of the pools after the hike. The Seven Pools are at the bottom of the trail. The Pipiwai Trail was definitely the highlight of the trip! After that we took the original route back, with much prettier views from the car as the sun was out and about. If you time your trip right, you can make a pit stop at Mama’s Fish House’s parking lot and enjoy the sunset. We grabbed a quick dinner at Paia Fish Market before heading back to the hotel for a very nice shower and slept like babies.
The main street in the Kaanapali/Lahaina area was Front Street. It is an oceanfront walk lined with restaurants and shops. If you want to leisurely stroll around, get some cute souvenirs, and eat some local food, this is a great spot. Go grab some yummy gelato at Ono Gelato, and enjoy it in their back porch facing the ocean. We were there during sunset, and nothing beats eating ice cream with a fantastic view. After more strolling we tried the shaved ice at the famous Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. We basically had desserts for dinner.
We never had a chance to stop by but we drove by multiple times. It is also one of the spots Chef Jojo recommended. It is a roadside farmer’s market by the Olowalu General Store and Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop. If you do plan on buying some tasty local fruits and produce, do it at the beginning of your trip since you cannot bring produce back to the US mainland from Hawaii. We were there in end of May/ beginning of June, and Jojo highly recommended the mangoes and lychees!
It was supposed to be one of the pit stops after our morning at the Summit, but we were too exhausted and not really big fans of goat cheese. We would certainly go there if we had more time! Surfing Goat Dairy is a goat dairy farm, which means you get to feed and milk goats and sample goat cheese!
This was the planned activity for our fourth day, which didn’t happen, as we were too tired after Road to Hana. If you love snorkeling, boating, and water adventures, this is the perfect activity. There are many options and tours to choose from, and most of them entail dolphin and/or whale watching (dependent on the season), snorkeling with giant turtles, meals on board, and enjoying the Maui coastline. Plus they usually start early in the morning around 7am, so you will be back to shore by the afternoon for a day of relaxing and sunning. We’ve snorkeled many times, but with giant turtles? Definitely a must do next time when we are back!
When it comes to food in Maui, three things come to mind – fresh seafood, spam musubi, and mixed plates! Surprisingly we also had quite a bit of Acai bowl during our trip, our way of balancing off those hefty Hawaiian BBQ.
Word of advice: Many places do not open on Sundays, so make sure to get all your favorite food spots out of the way before it’s too late!
Yes it’s a chain, but it was our first and last meal in Maui! We went to the one in Kahului as it’s by the airport. Plus it is easy, no fuss, and super efficient! Both times we ordered the Lemongrass Chicken Bahn Min, and it was super tasty. But the highlight was the French baguette, so soft but chewy at the same time.
Located in the same mall as Ba-Le in Kahului, it is definitely a local and tourist favorite. We got there at 10:55am after we returned to town from the Lavender farm, and there was already at least 20 people waiting for it to open! The place was full literally 5 minutes after it opened, unbelievable! We ordered the Katsu Moco and of course their famous fried spam musubi. We can never have musubi any other way after Da Kitchen’s musubi!
Located in Olowalu, we had one of the best pie’s we’ve had in our lives at Leoda’s. Go there for their dessert pies, which are probably all amazing, but our favorite was the Banana Cream Pie. We thought we would be #1 fans of the MacNut Choc Pie, which was still amazing don’t get us wrong, but the banana cream pie was so light and creamy it was just perfect.
It was an afternoon of not knowing where to eat but we knew we wanted mixed plate from a hole in the wall place. Trusty Yelp directed us to Ono Kau Kau near our hotel, and it definitely hit the spot. It is owned by Chinese, so there is a Chinese food menu, but of course we ordered off the Hawaiian menu! Got spam musubi and a BBQ Chicken Garlic Shrimp mixed plate. Yum!
Most people go to Kula Lodge & Restaurant for breakfast after catching the sunrise at the Summit. But we decided to venture out and picked Grandma’s Coffee House! It is an unassuming little house in Keokea, with a nice outdoor porch for you to enjoy your coffee and breakfast of choice. We ordered the Super Acai Bowl (with everything you can think of in it) and Cheese Steak Omelet, both were delicious!
As its name indicates, it serves fish. After a whole day of Road to Hana, we stopped by Paia Fish Market before a long drive back to the hotel. It was busy for sure. We ordered fish tacos and grilled salmon. Maybe our taco standard is too high, having lived to LA for so long, but their tacos were a bit underwhelming. The fish was fresh and tasty, but the dish was just missing something…
Also in Paia, Mama’s Fish House is another dining option after a long day of adventure. Susan and her husband hit up the spot before their drive to Hana. Their tummies loved the food, but not the wallet J. It is definitely a pricey spot,. But the food was good, so if you want a nice dinner in Maui, Mama’s Fish House is definitely an option.
We had a girl’s dinner at Leilani’s the night before the wedding day. Located in Whalers Village, it is a great dining option if you want a nice sit down restaurant in the Kaanapali Resort area. Most of us ordered fish dishes and they were all delicious, plus our server was awesome, definitely a wonderful experience!
So we didn’t dine there, as Chef Jojo was also on vacation for the wedding festivities, but he did make the dessert course at the wedding and it was definitely our favorite dish of the night, so we will just pretend we sampled something from Plantation House 😉 Jokes aside, if you haven’t read our interview with Chef Jojo, you should check it out to learn his success story and his history with THE Iron Chef Morimoto.
It is a famous food truck in Kahului which we had every intention to try, but the timing just did not work out. It is open only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 11am to 1pm. Better luck next time?
Other Noteworthy Restaurants from what we gathered from the World Wide Web
Aloha Mixed Plate | Lahaina Grill | 808 Grindz Café | Wailuku Coffee Company | A Saigon Café | Maui Coffee Roasters | Las Pinatas of Maui | Amigo’s | Eskimo Candy Inc. | La Provence | Kula Bistro
The best part of the trip? Hanging out with all the best of friends of course and seeing our dear Michelle get married to the love of her life! It was a perfect week of fun activities, and relaxation for the mind and soul.