Drop A Pin: Living Aloha in Maui

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There’s something special about “living aloha.” On the Hawaiian Islands there is a sense of kindness, peace, harmony, unity, and tradition. I crave to have an aloha mindset even while I live in a wild city such as Los Angeles. This is why I love vacationing in Hawaii. For a total of seven times, I’ve visited the Big Island, Oahu, and now Maui. Ever since I was a kid, each trip to the islands acted as a reminder for what a slower paced life feels like. It feels meaningful, calm, and simple in the best way. For a good chunk of my childhood, I mistakenly thought I was a tiny part Hawaiian because my great-great grandfather was buried on the Big Island. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my facts straight. I later learned he was just a resident who had moved there from China. No Hawaiian blood is pumping through my veins, but I embrace the islands.

This summer for my annual trip with my mom, we went to Maui for my first time. Prior to our vacation, I searched Pinterest for things to do and received many delicious sounding restaurant suggestions from friends. I like having a loose plan for every trip, especially to a new destination, so that time each day isn’t wasted by trying to figure out what to do.

Here’s a list of all the places in Maui we explored, shopped, and dined at for five nights and five and half days during the last week of May, as well as some travel tips. Bookmark this page for future reference!

The Hotel

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We stayed at the oceanfront Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa with direct access to the Ka’anapali Beach. Not only is the view and property beautiful, but they also have a fantastic pool with two sections connected by a “lazy river.” Bonus: they provide floats for the pool and have two pool bars . The resort is also conveniently located in the town of Lahaina and near the 30 highway, which will lead you to other parts of the island. Overall, we really enjoyed our stay and would definitely book a room again.

Tours & Hikes

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The Maui Tropical Plantation exceeded my expectations and we ended up spending a few hours there. Our main agenda was to ride on their tropical express for a 45-minute tour of the grounds, inclusive of a coconut shucking demonstration and fruit tasting. The tour guide was super informative and intertwined jokes in her dialogue without sounding corny. Pro tip: buy tickets for the tour online in advance. It’s worth it.

After our tour, we had lunch at the plantation’s restaurant The Mill House (more on this below), bought souvenirs at their two gift shops, and picked up a coffee and matcha latte from their Mill House Roasting Co. We also stopped by their Kumu Farms Stand which is located near their parking lot and has a bunch of tropical fruit and produce.

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Not too far from the Maui Tropical Plantation is the Iao Valley State Park (we visited them on different days). Iao Valley is great for people who want to experience an easy hike. More accurately, it’s an inclined walk with a paved path surrounded by beautiful tropical flora and surrounding mountains. As a non-frequent hiker, it was perfect for me. We climbed stairs up to a viewpoint to see the “Iao Needle” and then walked down to the valley stream where I actually stripped down to my swim suit and climbed in. The water was a little too cold that day to lounge in, but I took a quick dip. Pro tip: when in Hawaii, wear your swim suit everywhere or pack it in the car because you never know when a good opportunity to jump into a body of water will come up.

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Shopping

Walking distance from our hotel (via a beachside walking path) is Whaler’s Village, a two floor outdoor center with shops, restaurants, and even an escape room venue. We probably went there to dine for at least one meal a day. More on that below!

About a 10 to 15 minute drive from the hotel is Old Town Lahaina. It is great for Hawaiian souvenir shopping and checking out cool historic buildings with an ocean view. To take a break from walking down Front Street, we stopped to watch a bunch of surfers catching waves. If outlet shopping is more your thing, you can check out the Outlets of Maui nearby.

Lastly, my favorite boutique clothing shop on the islands is Mahina. I bought the cutest romper two years ago on the Big Island and this year on Maui I bought a two-piece matching set with pants and bandeau top. I’m excited to add a little tropical flavor to my wardrobe.

Places To Eat

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We were able to try most of the eateries on our list of places to check out and were always satisfied. Seriously, I’m craving some of these meals right now.

Breakfast

  • Choice Health Bar: This superfood counter spot was where I tried my first unsweetened acai bowl. I was a little apprehensive because I think I’ve previously only had sweetened acai, but I really enjoyed it. I think the honey and delicious fruit helped satisfy my sweet tooth. They also offer juices, smoothies, and grain bowls. Location: Whaler’s Village

  • Island Vintage Coffee: In addition to being a coffee shop, they also sell huge acai bowls. We had them twice and could barely finish, but they were refreshing!

  • Joey’s Kitchen: I ate here twice for some Hawaiian grub, once for breakfast and once for dinner on two different days. Located in a food court, it was more budget-friendly than other places and was great for when my mom and I were craving completely different types of food. For breakfast, I had pancakes with bananas, macnut, and coconut syrup with a side of spam. For dinner, I had a poke dish and my mom opted for fish tacos from the neighboring Ohana Tacos booth. Location: Whaler’s Village

  • 808 Grindz Cafe: This place is a family-owned staple for Hawaiian breakfast. I devoured the Spam Moco (crispy Spam, eggs, rice, and brown gravy) and my mom had the Moco Moco (pork chop, eggs, rice, and brown gravy). This place is tiny, but worth the wait even if you get stuck in the breakfast/brunch rush. Pro tip: if you don’t have time to wait, order to-go! Location: Main town of Lahaina

Lunch and Snacks

  • Tin Roof: After landing at the Kahului Airport, we were starving and I luckily was prepared for that. I had heard of a great spot to try before we started our 45-minute drive to the hotel. Tin Roof doesn’t have any seating, but there was some space to stand and eat. My mom had their pork belly plate and I ordered a garlic shrimp kau kau tin, plus a maui-made kombucha. I was originally going to order poke, but they only had their spicy kind available that day and your girl does not handle heat well. Location: Near the airport and Costco

  • The Mill House: As I mentioned in the “Tour & Hikes” section of this post, Mill House was convenient for when we were touring the plantation. It was delicious, filling, and had a beautiful view of the lush mountains. My mom and I shared a few dishes: the chopped salad, taro leaf risotto, and braised beef pasta. Pro tip: you don’t need to buy a ticket for the tour in order to dine and explore the public parts of the property. Location: Maui Tropical Plantation

  • Cheeseburger in Paradise: We didn’t get a full lunch here, but stopped in for french fries and a couple tropical cocktails. With an awesome ocean view, they also have a great beach shack vibe. Location: Old Town Lahaina

  • Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop: We were primarily there to try their pies (one banana cream pie and one chocolate haupia pie), but my mom also ordered a hot dog. This is a MUST GO. So delicious. They also have a variety of salads, sandwiches, burgers and more, which I’ll hopefully try next time. Location: roadside off the 30 highway

  • Next to Leoda’s is a really cool outdoor fruit and produce market, a colorful juice truck, and a small indoor convenience store. I got a small bag of dried mango slices to bring home and my mom found her beloved candied ginger.

  • Honolulu Cookie Company: They have some of the most delicious shortbread cookies. From chocolate to tropical flavors, they are mouth watering good. They have a ton of different bundles to choose from, but we opted to select our own cookies to fill a customized box. The cookies are on the pricier side, but worth it as a special treat.

  • Foodland: This is a local chain supermarket (similar to Ralphs, Vons, Safeway, etc). My favorite part about their store is the variety of fresh poke with different sauces and seasonings in their seafood section. For $5, I got 1/2 pound of furikake poke (straight up, no rice or extra toppings) and it was delicious. I took it back to the hotel and ate it by the pool. Pure bliss. Location: Main town of Lahaina

  • ABC Store: In the major towns, there is legit one of these on every block on all the islands. It’s a great place to pick up water, snacks, sunscreen, swim toys, Hawaiian apparel, and more. Location: Seriously, all over. We frequented the one at Whaler’s Village.

Dinner

  • Star Noodle: I am a huge fan of Asian fusion, so I was excited to dine here. With an aerosol spritz on my side of the table, we shared tasty steamed pork buns, nuoc cham wings, and star udon.

  • Hula Grill Ka’anapali: A friend of mine and her parents happened to fly to Maui on our second to last day, so we met up with them for dinner at Hula Grill. They have a barefoot bar section for casual diners who want to eat with their feet in the sand and also a standard dining room that still has an ocean view. We opted for the dining room. My mom had the poke tacos, I had the charred short ribs, and my friend and her family tried the fresh tomato soup, heirloom spinach, and the fish special. Everyone was satisfied, and I loved how tender my short ribs were.

  • Leilani’s On The Beach: We ate here twice for dinner (day one and day five). This restaurant has two different sections next to the beach. Upstairs was a bit fancier than we were feeling for our first night, so we opted for their downstairs spot with a more casual vibe and shorter wait time. I had an ahi poke dish with taro chips and fell in love with it. When we went back on our last night, we ate in the upstairs dining area and I got the poke dish again because I think it’s the best poke I’ve ever had. Pro tip: The menus for both sections vary slightly so make sure to double check them before you decide which area you want to dine in! Location: Whaler’s Village

The one place I was bummed we didn’t make it to was Mama’s Fish House, which was a HIGHLY recommended restaurant. The reservations were fully booked until the middle of June and a local told me there was a super slim chance of getting in without one. Next time we’ll go! Pro tip: make a reservation as soon as you book your trip. I’m serious. We met a newlywed couple that made their reservation six months in advance.

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Travel Tips

  • Long flight ahead of you? Research restaurants near the airport ahead of time so that you’re not searching Yelp while hangry and tired from the 5+ hour flight you just had.

  • Unless you plan on never leaving your hotel, rent a car. It’s worth it, even if only for a couple of days. Cabs and ride-share services can get super expensive, especially when some of the more adventurous and scenic activities will be around 30 or more minutes away from where you’re staying. Or in the case of the Road to Hana (which we opted out of this time around), three hours each way.

  • Pack a non-plastic bottle and stay hydrated. If your hotel doesn’t supply a water station in the lobby or near the pool to refill a reusable water bottle, grab some standard water bottles from your local ABC store or Foodland. *If you know a more earth-friendly / non-tap water solution, share below in the comments!

  • Bring a beach towel. While we mostly used the hotel’s pool towels, it was handy to have our own personal towels in case we wanted to lounge on a beach that wasn’t a part of the property.

  • Always put on sunscreen. Even when I’m home in LA, I try to remember to put on sunscreen every time I’m going to be outside. And it’s very important to continue that habit while on vacation. With the amount of direct sunlight you get while on the beach, near a pool, or on a tour/hike, it’s crucial to protect your skin. The goal is to come back tan, not burnt and peeling.

  • Fanny packs and water-proof bags are key. There’s no need to bring a ton of stuff with you when you’re out and about. Lighten your load by throwing your essentials into a cute, but practical, fanny pack. Water-proof bags are great for beach/pool/hiking days as well.

  • Many places in Hawaii (because of tourism) have long wait times, but you learn to go with the flow and stay flexible. The beauty of island living is you typically aren’t in a rush to get anywhere. When planning meals, think about wait times. Last thing you want is to get to a restaurant starving and be greeted with a 45-minute wait. Think ahead and try anticipating when you’ll be hungry so you can show up a little bit before your stomach starts growling.

  • Pack a plastic bag for wet items. Example, my mom and I took a dip in the pool in the morning prior to our afternoon flight and the last thing I would want is pool water drenching the rest of my belongings in my suitcase.

  • Write in a journal. This helped me remember what we did each day and allowed me to reconnect with our experiences.

  • Remember to relax. It’s vacation! But being in a new place is exciting and stimulating, and sometimes it can be easy to burn yourself out with a jam packed schedule. While we stayed active each day, we still found plenty of time to balance that out with much needed pool lounging time and rest. We also did the more time/energy consuming activities every other day.

  • Put your phone down. Yes, I love capturing memories and content, but don’t spend your entire trip doing this. Experience the island with your own eyes and savor those moments in real time. Be present.

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Mahalo for reading! Where should I go next?