Minimalist packing: It's Maui, after all. How much clothing does one need in a tropical climate? Ever since I traveled to Iceland in January using only a carry on bag, I've challenged myself to whittle my packing requirements to the bare minimum. Choosing like colors and versatile items, I was able to mix and match my wardrobe over the five days we were in Hawaii. These sandals were my staple shoes for most of my outfits. They're extremely comfortable, surprisingly durable and stylish to boot! At $14.99, I'm tempted to stock up on other colors. If you plan on exploring the various trails and outdoor excursions, I'd recommend bringing a pair of tennis shoes or hiking boots to provide you with the necessary support. As I'll describe in subsequent paragraphs, hiking can take its toll on your feet and blisters are the nemesis to a relaxing vacation.
Airline/Transportation: Alaska Airlines out of Bellingham. Non-stop flight on a newer jet with ample leg room, seat chargers and complimentary Mai-Tai drinks prior to landing! The Bellingham Airport was an absolute dream and breeze to fly with little to no wait. There isn't a true TSA Pre-Check line but they do issue cards to indicate your cleared status so you don't have to remove your shoes. It's a trade-off to avoid the Sea-Tac crowds.
We rented a vehicle through Avis at the airport and somehow were convinced to upgrade to the convertible option. Yes, it was pretty cool to cruise around the island with the top down but was it worth the extra money? For us, it was not especially when we viewed how beat up the rental car was.
Lodging: Kihei condo via Airbnb. We adored our rental condo! It was very modestly priced and was furnished with everything we needed to enjoy Maui. Ideally located, we were just north of Wailea and a short drive from tourist-central Lahaina. Since the condo was equipped with a small kitchen, we opted to stock the refrigerator with some fresh fruits and vegetables we could prepare there. Let this serve as a warning: the grocery stores in the nearby area are ABSOLUTELY CHAOTIC! Food shopping isn't for the faint of heart in those parts!
Dining: While we follow a vegetarian/pescatarian diet, we weren't in short supply of options anywhere in Maui! Hear my sigh of relief? Ahhhh Most restaurants were moderately priced and what I would expect from a tropical mecca. If cost is a concern, I strongly advise cooking in your own rental or seeking out discounted plate lunches.
Here are the dining highlights along with pricing information:
- Nalu's South Shore Grill Even if you're not a vegetarian, you'll be blown away by the Nalu's Loco Moco made with a tofu quinoa patty. I don't know if the mushroom gravy or the sea salt is the magical component but either way, it works! For any seafood lovers, try the Ahi club. It was delicate and flavorful. Save room for the malasadas...save a ton of room for them. They're spongy and covered with nuts, whipped cream and pineapples. This dish brought me back to my childhood when my mom would make us cinnamon sugar "doughnuts" out of canned biscuits. Worth mentioning-Nalu's has three free beverage dispensers filled with fruit/veggie infused water! Approximately $30 for two.
- Hawaiian Shave Ice from Peace Love Shave Ice is right in the parking lot of Nalu's South Shore Grill. You gotta love a place where the owner posts her phone number and tells you to call to see if her stand is open beyond posted store hours. You're going to receive outstanding customer service at this stand! Enjoy the weather as you eat your shave ice on bar stools surrounding the booth. Approximately $12 for two.
- Maui Brewing Company One of my dear friends generously purchased us a gift card to this brewery all the way from Florida! This facility does offer tours but we opted to get beers from the bar and sit on the solar panel patio. The brewery does not serve food but there are food trucks outside every day that offer everything from Thai to BBQ! When we visited in the daytime, we had no problem grabbing a table but when we came back on a weekend night, the demand for real estate soared. Get there early to snag a spot especially if you have a large group. Otherwise, ask someone at one of the picnic tables if they'll share their available table space and make some new friends! Approximately $7 per beer, give or take.
- Sugar Beach Bake Shop Holy malasadas! These Portuguese delicacies are served fresh daily but do try some of their macarons or house-made lemonades. You won't be disappointed. Less than $10 unless you go hog wild on the desserts!
- Sea House Restaurant After reading about the fabulous happy hour from 2-4:30 pm at this restaurant, we stopped for a quick lunch and a million dollar view. Location-wise, you can't go wrong. The restaurant is located within a beachfront resort near the Kapalua Golf community. We weren't overly impressed by the food but the service was friendly and the scenery gorgeous. We were too early to take advantage of happy hour and quite frankly, we only wanted to drink water after the trail so we spent a little more than what happy hour specials would have cost. Approximately $45 for two.
- Cafe OLe'i This restaurant came highly recommended by someone in Washington and I'll be perfectly honest-I thought it was a Mexican joint. Despite the unassuming facade of this strip mall location, this restaurant really wows! The interior design was slick and the kitchen was open. One word to summarize Cafe OLe'i: BUSTLING! Don't visit if you want a quiet, candlelit meal. The floorplan is sprawling though so you won't feel too crowded. With an extensive wine and cocktail offering, you'll soon be adding to the volume of those chattering voices. Try the rich Maui onion soup if you're a fan of classic French onion soup. Approximately $55 for two with wine.
- Piko Cafe We grabbed breakfast before heading out in search of black sand beaches. If you like super modern, IKEA-like finishes, you'll feel at home at Piko Cafe. We fell in love with the sweetbread french toast and meatless fried rice. Approximately $15 for two.
- Belle Surf Cafe Talk about boho vibes! This airy, pallet wood laden cafe gives you those beachy, #saltlife feels. Service is laid back (read: slow) but the crepes are savory and filling. Expect to pay a pretty penny for a fancy coffee here. Approximately $35 for two.
- Tradewinds Mart and Deli This deli is a little harder to find but worth the effort! If you're in the mood for healthy and fresh fare before you visit the Maui Ocean Center, this is the spot for you. Try the macaroni salad! Approximately $20 for two.
Attractions: No matter your budget, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Maui! Best advice I can give is to rent a car and give yourself the ability to go where you please, when you choose. I wanted to take in as many sights and experiences as possible but since this blog is all about finding great deals, I declined the normal snorkeling and zip lining attractions. Those types of activities are quite pricey and can be done on your own with proper planning-except zip lining. I don't recommend careening down any old line you see. Want to see whales? Depending on the timing of your visit, you'll be able to spot these majestic creatures from the shore. Want to snorkel? There are hundreds of beaches to bring your grocery store-purchased snorkel set to and "drop anchor."
- La Perouse Bay and Lava Fields Drive as far south past Wailea as you can. Once you're hitting bumps like a jackhammer on unpaved roads, you'll know you're in the correct spot. On the way to the parking lot, you'll see the lava flow trail from what is believed to be the most recent volcanic eruption in Maui. If you're up for a hike, take the trail that winds through shaded and exposed areas. We saw sea urchins, spinner dolphins and even some blow hole type features in the rocks. Eventually, the trail will become really rocky with rises in elevation. Be aware that this is a dry, sunny, and uneven path so wear proper shoes and bring plenty of water. Cost: Free
- Old Lahaina Luau Widely touted as the most authentic luau in Maui, guests are greeted with endless Mai Tais and riveting traditional dances enmeshed with Polynesian history. Be sure to make reservations as the earlier you book, the closer your seats will be to the stage. We purchased our tickets for table seating six months in advance and were sat in the first row behind the "traditional" seating groups which are located in the inner ring by the stage. Traditional seating is at a lowered table with cushions but I will tell you that most of those people looked extremely uncomfortable by the time the show actually began. If you're not staying in the Lahaina area, allow plenty of travel time to get to the luau. There is one main route and at times, we were barely crawling. Once you arrive at the luau facility, the check in process is extremely smooth. Additionally, a wide assortment of foods are available from the buffet including vegetarian options that expand beyond salad and more salad. There's that sigh of relief again. Cost: $78.12-119.79 per person
- Kapalua Coastal Trail Nestled between the ocean and Kapalua Resort, this 1.76 mile (end to end) trail is a must see! Much of the path is paved but other areas venture off onto magnificent cliffs where the surf batters the age old crags. Check out the jagged volcanic rock that juts out into teeth-like structures. Cost: Free
- Olowalu Petroglyphs As most travel books will attest, this cultural site is not well-marked or advertised. Most websites' directions will instruct you to park at the Olowalu General Store and walk beyond a water tower. If you heed this advice, you'll have about a .5 mile walk down a sun-beaten road to the petroglyphs. If someone in your group has mobility issues, drive up the bumpy road instead. There were no signs to indicate we were headed towards the site so we were doubtful we were going to find anything! We finally reached the small building that other visitors had landmarked in their reviews of the site and then noticed the Olowalu Cultural Reserve sign. Many of the petroglyphs are worn and the rock walls are rife with vandalism but they're still worth adding to your itinerary if you're driving past the area anyway. Cost: Free
- Lahaina Pali Trail This challenging 5 mile trail gains about 1600 feet in 2.5 miles and affords you priceless views of central valley, Maalaea coastline and even other islands. We began at the Maalaea trailhead simply because it was closer to our condo. If you visit during whale season, you should be able to spot the distinct spray of humpbacks directly from the trail! Most people park at the small space outside of the gate which can quickly fill up but you are able to drive through the gate to a designated parking lot. This is an invigorating workout if you've indulged in a little too much poke and need to make room for more malasadas. In all honesty, there's always room for malasadas or any other doughnut-like delicacy but I digress. Remember that earlier recommendation for good hiking shoes? Here's where they'll come in handy. Although the path is well-worn, some areas require bigger steps across semi-loose rocks. During our hike, we saw people of all ages making the same climb so I would consider it family-friendly. Cost: Free
- Maui Ocean Center After hiking the Lahaina Pali Trail, my boyfriend was in search of some air conditioning (big ol' baby) so we drove the short distance to this aquarium. Like most aquariums, Maui Ocean Center enthralls its visitors with glimpses of native species of fish and focuses on education. There are no whales or dolphins because MOC recognizes these animals should live their lives in their natural habitat. Expect tons of families and be prepared to take a backseat to the excitable children clamoring for a front row view of the various sea creatures. Cost: $20-30
- Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm If you're into thousands of varieties of flowers, make the drive to Kula and visit this gorgeous parcel of land with stunning views of the water. Buy lavender products, take a guided tour, imbibe some lavender tea or just mosey along at your own pace! Dress for slightly cooler weather and wear comfortable shoes to help you navigate the sloped grounds. Cost: a measly $3 per person
- One'uli Black Sand Beach Road to Hana not tickling your fancy? Do hairpin turns set you on edge? Check out this quiet little spot with black-ish sand without the throngs of visitors at Wai'anapanapa Black Sand Beach. The sand here isn't truly black. Instead, there are tones of red, black and brown that kiss the rocky coastline. Due to the waves, I wouldn't recommend this area for children to swim but I did see paddleboarders heading out to the water. Furthermore, many websites will indicate that the snorkeling here is superb. Finding this beach is a little bit tricky but follow any guidebook and you'll have no trouble getting to the destination. I do suggest wearing shoes or minding your steps because there are thorns scattered throughout the sand. You may not know they're there until it's too late. Cost: Free
As you can tell, we took advantage of many free or low cost attractions and avoided more of the popular attractions like Road to Hana and Haleakala. With a little planning and research, you'll enjoy your time in Maui no matter your budget!