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Ultimate Guide to Lahaina

Lahaina is the only town in all of leeward Maui with a real downtown. If someone told you to meet them in downtown Kihei, you wouldn’t have any idea where they meant. Same goes for Wailea, Kapalua, Ka‘anapali or Napili. Though it’s only 1.5 miles long, downtown Lahaina is well-defined and bursting with things to see and do.

The biggest problem with Lahaina is that it’s crowded. And even when it’s not crowded… it’s crowded. A secluded stroll along Front Street is about as likely as a snowy day in Miami. But Front Street has an electricity that defies explanation. No matter how much you curse its popularity, you can’t deny Lahaina’s charm. It’s busy, tacky, weird and wonderful. It’s full of old world character and new world annoyances. It manages to energize and relax at the same time. If you visit West Maui without strolling along Front Street (abiding by that old Yogi Berra axiom, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded”), then you missed out on more than you think. Because for all its faults, Lahaina works.

Lahaina should be viewed as an event, not a place. You do Lahaina. You go there to eat, shop, walk and gawk. Lots of activities, especially boating-related, are centered around Lahaina. (This was, after all, an old whaling port.)

Lahaina Hawaii weather

Ironically, as a place to stay, Lahaina lacks many of the things that make West Maui special. Namely good, clean beaches, cool breezes and a slow pace. Plus, there are relatively few places to stay in town. (Nearly all West Maui accommodations are north of Lahaina, in Ka‘anapali, Honokowai, Kahana, Napili and Kapalua.) Of course, what it lacks in some areas, it makes up for by having a better nightlife, tons of restaurants and a more happenin’ feel.

Lahaina means cruel sun. According to one legend, there was a chief named Hua many generations ago who, in a huff, killed all his priests. Drought soon followed, and villagers referred to the area as the land of the cruel sun. Today, that ever-present sun is the very thing that attracts people from all over the world, though Lahaina Hawaii weather can get pretty hot in the summer.

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Lahaina Maui hotels

Puunoa Beach Estates

An intimate gated condominium property in a residential neighborhood on the ocean. Every unit has a direct ocean view of Pu‘unoa Beach, which is a great baby beach with pleasant snorkeling at times. The units themselves, though varied, are all nice and spacious. We didn’t see any we would be unhappy in. All master baths have large soaking tubs. Very laid-back and about half a mile from downtown Lahaina. An easy Real Gem.

Plantation Inn

What a great find! Rooms at this small inn are nicely furnished, and it’s a popular place for honeymoons and anniversaries. There are lots of nice touches, and it’s evident that a lot of care goes into the property. The Kilohana suites have double showers, and the Pana‘ewa suite has a full kitchen and feels like an apartment. We like the rooms that face the courtyard pool. Rates include a free breakfast from Gerard’s (located on site) where they give discounts on dinner. Good, because you’ll need that discount. Local calls are $0.75; room safes are $1.04. If you’re looking for a cozy, spotless and comfortable inn to stay at in West Maui, it’s hard to think of better Lahaina Maui hotels. Located on Lahainaluna Road not too far from Front Street.

Puamana

This is a huge, 30-acre gated condominium community just outside Lahaina town, but a million miles away in terms of tempo: relaxed, soothing and lovely. Think of it as a tiny village complete with children’s playground on the outskirts of a busy town. They have very extensive rules that are enforced, such as “no parties,” and come with large fines.

Units are mostly nicely furnished and clean, but some could use updating. The oceanfront units are highly coveted and worth the upgrade since they’re less than 50 feet from the water, which is part of what makes this property a Real Gem. The beach is a walking beach, not good for swimming because it’s reefy and cloudy. One of the pools literally touches the ocean. Unlike most condos, each owner owns the land as well, and variation between layouts is great. Units are large.

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Lahaina Hawaii restaurants

Lahaina Hawaii restaurants receive an Ono in our books when they stand out from the rest.

Pacific ‘O

Thanks to the awesome outdoor location next to the beach, sunsets are fantastic from here. This farm-to-table Lahaina Maui restaurant offers a relatively small but varied lunch menu of pork sandwiches, burgers, wraps, fresh fish and fish tacos. Dinner has a large fish selection, plus chicken, lamb and steak, as well as a vegetarian offering. (Love the shrimp won tons.) The tasting menu is a pricey $82 (plus $40 with wine pairing) and shifts to lamb, carpaccio, pork bellies and salads. Their bartending is decidedly high end with clever concoctions such as the watermelon royal—gin poured over watermelon ice cubes with mint, syrup and sparkling wine. It’s great if you’re patient and let it melt a bit. Service is good, but the pace is slow.

Pioneer Inn Grill & Bar

A good place to go for breakfast, especially if you’re taking a boat trip from adjacent Lahaina Harbor, because they open at 7 a.m. Service is fast and efficient. The big kahuna pancakes are giant, plate-covering items that are pretty impossible to finish off. (And hard to syrup without making a mess.) Lunch and dinner (same menu) are steak, salads, seafood scampi, fish, burgers and sandwiches. $9–$18 for breakfast, $11–$26 for lunch and dinner. Their resident parrots can be a little noisy, but one does a great impression of R2-D2. (It never gets old.)

Local Boys West

Shave ice is so abundant at Lahaina Maui restaurants, it’s sometimes hard to call out which ones shine the most. This place has nailed it pretty well. Snow-like consistency, great flavors and huge sizes. And they chill the syrups to avoid the dreaded icing on the bottom. Every time we’re near Lahaina, we re-review them, just to be sure.

Lahaina shopping

There are zillions of places to shop on the island, and it’s not practical to list and evaluate them all. So here’s some general guidance on where you’ll want to shop. If you’re looking for gifts to bring back home for family and friends (or maybe something for yourself), Lahaina in West Maui is where you’ll find the most extensive shopping on the island. Front Street is lined with art galleries and clothing shops; for marathon Lahaina shopping, start near Banyan Tree Park on the south end, and then work your way up one side of the street and then back down the other. The Old Courthouse Building (near the harbor) has a good selection of Hawai‘i souvenirs. Definitely a must-stop on your Lahaina shopping trip.

Baldwin Home Museum

While strolling around town, your personal tastes will dictate which shops and attractions work for you. Additional Attractions include the old courthouse (where they have a detailed brochure describing all historic sites in town), Banyan Tree Park (an incredible must-see tree that encompasses an entire park), Baldwin House Museum (as the oldest house on the island, you get an idea how the missionaries lived) and the old prison (called Hale Pa‘ahao, or “stuck in irons house”). It’s kind of interesting to visit this last site, made with coral walls, to get an idea of the kind of crimes that people were imprisoned for in the 1850s. They include “profanity, furious riding, adultery and fornication (the second most common offense), refusing to work on the road, giving birth to bastard children, lewd conversation, and affray.” (We had to look up that last one; it basically means disturbing the peace.)

As you leave Lahaina town going north along Front Street, you’ll find a beautiful Buddhist temple at the end of Ala Moana Street near the Mala Boat Ramp. The Lahaina Jodo Mission has a giant Buddha statue that was erected in 1968 to commemorate the centennial of Japanese immigrants arrival to Hawai‘i. And there’s a towering red pagoda that makes for some great photos, especially at sunset. Next to it is an old cemetery being swallowed by a sand dune.

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