9 Things Maui Is Best Known For (You Won’t Want to Miss Them)

by | Jan 13, 2020 | Activities, Maui, Planning, Things to Do

Maui — a dream vacation for most people. But what makes heading to The Valley Isle so special?

Maui is best known for these nine things that you won’t necessarily find on any other Hawaiian island: 

  • 1. Road to Hana
  • 2. Maui whale migration
  • 3. Snorkeling Molokini crater
  • 4. Haleakala volcano
  • 5. Windsurfing
  • 6. Adults only resort (and adults-only pools)
  • 7. 3 Islands to visit: Maui, Molokai, Lanai
  • 8. Black and red sand beaches
  • 9. The Lahaina banyan tree

Read on as we cover what makes these nine things to do on Maui — and why you’ll want to add them to your list of things to see when you visit. 

What is Maui Best Known For?

Maui is a special place: the water sparkles, the fragrant flowers fill the air, and the pace of life is slow. And while you could love Maui for just that alone, it has certain features that you won’t find anywhere else. 

These nine things are just some of the unique features that make Maui special. But they are my favorite and the top 9 reasons why we moved to Maui.

1. The Road to Hana

With over 600 hairpin turns taking you to the most remote corner of the island, the Road to Hana has become one of the most popular destinations on the island. While the town of Hana itself is beautiful, what’s most special is the journey you take to get there. 

Download an app (we recommend this road to Hana app ) and take your time to stop and see the sights along the way. Make time for stops to see the red and black sand beaches, the Hana lava tube, numerous waterfalls, sacred pools, and more. 

If you’re daring, drive the full circle (your rental car company won’t stop you but they won’t come to help you if you have a breakdown) and spend the evening watching the sunset from the side of Haleakala. It’s a magical day spent discovering some of the sights of Maui you won’t find elsewhere. 

2. Whale Migration

Visit Maui between 15-December and 15-April and you’ll witness one of the largest migrations of humpback whales in the world. 

NOAA estimates that over 12,000 whales make the migration from the cold waters near Alaska to the warm waters of Hawaii to breed. 

Maui is the best island to see the humpback whales because they often stay in between the four islands that make up Maui county. If you’re lucky, you may even spot these majestic creates as you’re flying in. We see their spouts when we drive the Honoapiilani Highway to West Maui. The whales are abundant in Maui waters.

You don’t have to take a whale watching tour to get close to them. 

One of my most memorable sightings was while I was swimming in Ka’anapali. A mother and baby humpback whale came in close to shore and were jumping, splashing, and having (it seemed) the time of their lives. 

They came so close that most swimmers in the water retreated to shore — while they were beautiful swimming so close to them in the open ocean gave us a little scare. 

If you’re booking a whale watching tour, be sure to book one early on in your trip. That way, if the tour is canceled or you don’t see any whales, you still have time to re-book another day. The good operators guarantee whale sightings so you can come back for free if you don’t see any on your whale watching tour.

If you prefer to stick to the land, the Pacific Whale Foundation has trained naturalists at various stations along what is known as the Trail of the Whale along Maui’s west and south shore. 

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3. Snorkeling Molokini Crater

Snorkeling in Hawaii is one of the most popular activities on the island. The water is warm — year-round, so no wetsuit is needed. You get up close and personal with tropical fish, sea turtles, and other creatures. 

Molokini is a volcanic crater that has been deemed a Marine Life Conservation District and Bird Sanctuary. Molokini is one of the most popular snorkeling destinations in Maui. 

You’ll find numerous tour operators making day trips to the island, to give you an up-close look at the reef. Tours include visiting Turtle Arches, underwater volcanic arches, and the crater itself. 

Pacific Whale Foundation also offers a tour to the backside of Molokini for advanced snorkelers. See the Molokini Wild Side Tour for details.

But as Moloniki has become a popular snorkeling destination (translation: a lot of snorkel boats at the crater), many visitors are finding other snorkeling excursions to Lanai or around the reefs, like in Olowalu, to be much less crowded. 

Wherever you choose to snorkel — Molokini or not — be sure to use your reef-safe sunscreen and follow these rules to help you stay safe

Related read: The Safest Spots to Snorkel on Maui

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Turtle Arches near Molokini Crater gets its name for good reason. You will have a high chance of seeing Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles on your adventure.

4. Haleakala Volcano

Maui is home to the largest dormant volcano in the world: Haleakala. 

Over one million visitors head to Haleakala National Park each year, which is famous for its sunrise and sunsets. 

If you want to book a sunrise tour, be sure to do it well in advance. But here’s a local tip: sunset is just as pretty (if not better) than sunrise. Pack warm clothes as the temperature drops significantly on top of the mountain. 

From the summit of the volcano, you can look down on the clouds. The summit of Haleakala is 10,023 feet, making it the 10th highest mountain in America and 85th in the world

You also have the opportunity to hike a crater, something you’ll always remember (“hey, remember that time we went hiking in a volcano crater?”). 

You can even book a tour to bike ride down the side of Haleakala, though there are concerns about safety that you’ll want to look into before signing up. 

Related read: Maui Volcanoes: The Ultimate Guide

5. Windsurfing

Want to try your hand at windsurfing? Or just watch the pros do their thing? 

Many enthusiasts come to Maui each year to surf at Hookipa Beach Park, one of the windiest spots on the planet. While that spot is best left to the experts, there are plenty of other spots on Maui to try your hand at this water sport. 

Jordan and I took a windsurfing class at Kahana Beach Park and it was more fun — and more challenging — than we could have expected.

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Jordan and I had a blast taking windsurfing lessons on Maui. You don’t need to be a pro for Maui windsurfing.

6. Hawaii Adults Only Resort (and pools)

Kids are great, but sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a resort stay without the sounds of Marco Polo filling the pool area. 

While most hotels in Hawaii cater to the family crowd, there are a few that don’t. And specifically, there is one adults-only resort on Maui that you should head to if you really want a peaceful, kids free vacation: Hotel Wailea Relais & Chateaux.

Fair warning about this hotel: it’s a luxury stay and is significantly more expensive than other hotels on the island. But it is truly the only adults-only hotel on the island. 

If that hotel isn’t quite in your budget or if you just want a quiet kids-free experience for your pool time, Maui also has a number of hotels that boast adults-only pools. You can head to the Montage Kapalua Bay’s serenity pool, the Ocean View Pool at Travaasa Hana, and the Hibiscus Pool at the Grand Wailea

7. Maui has 3 Islands You Can Visit

When you visit Maui, you’re not restricted to just staying on one island. Maui County is actually made up of four islands, three of which you can visit: Maui, Lanai, and Molokai. 

The fourth island, Kahoolawe, is culturally protected and has unexploded ordnance thanks to the US Navy using it as a testing range.

If you’re staying on the island of Maui, Lanai is the closest option. 

A 45-60 minute ferry ride from Lahaina Wharf will get you to Lanai, meaning a day trip is easy. You’ll also find many options for snorkel tours or boat rides to Lanai so you can skip the ferry and get an up-close view of the island from the water. This is also the best spot in Maui County to see Spinner Dolphins. You’ll often find them in Hulopoe Bay, though swimming when there are dolphins in the bay is discouraged

Molokai isn’t as close, but a 90-minute ferry ride will get you from Lahaina to Molokai. The ferry to Molokai runs 3 times per day, roundtrip. 

Just a warning: each time I’ve made the journey to Molokai, the water in the channel has been rough, something I haven’t experienced with the trip to Lanai. If you plan to go, take your Dramamine!

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The beautiful and privately-owned island of Lanai as seen from West Maui. Lanai is the place to go snorkeling.

8. Maui’s Red Sand and Black Sand Beaches

Remember how I said the Road to Hana is all about the journey and the stops you can make along the way? Two highlights are definitely the red and black sand beaches on the Road to Hana. 

Kaihalulu Beach is one of the only red sand beaches in the world, and you’ll find it on Maui. While this beach is truly stunning, take caution. The less than half-mile hike to access the beach can be treacherous at points. And don’t plan to head into the water — the ocean can be rough. But it’s a magnificent sight that is well worth visiting.

If you’re ready to view a beautiful black sand beach, Maui has one of those as well. Waianapanapa Beach is just outside of Hana and is a must-see stop on your journey. If you decide to stop, plan to stay awhile. The beach is part of a state park that has hiking trails, snorkeling, and even a campsite if you want to stop and stay the night.

9. The Lahaina Banyan Tree

A trip to Maui wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Lahaina. And a trip to Lahaina wouldn’t be complete without a stroll under the Banyan tree. It may take a minute to realize, but one tree takes up an entire block. 

It was planted in 1873 and has grown to cover nearly two acres. 

Visit during the day, grab yourself a Dole Whip from the corner store, and cool off in the shade. Head there at sunset and you’ll hear the loudest flock of birds vying for the best branch to sleep on. 

The Old Lahaina Courthouse is at the Banyan Tree also and worth a stop. This museum is free to enter and contains the Lahaina Heritage Museum upstairs and art galleries downstairs, like the NOAA Art Exhibit. Clean restrooms and a visitor information desk is also inside. 

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Covering 2-acres of Lahaina, the banyan tree is the largest in the world.

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Playing under the Lahaina banyan tree is our son Henry being Super Henry during Halloween.

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Facts You Didn’t Know About Maui

While those are nine fun things to add to your list, there are still some fun facts about Maui that you might want to know before your visit. 

I live on Maui — and before moving here I’d visited annually with my family. But some of these fun facts are things that are still completely new to me:

  • Haleakala is the largest dormant volcano in the world, estimated to have last erupted in the 17th century. It could erupt again, but don’t worry, probably not on your vacation. 
  • The original capital of Hawaii was Lahaina. It’s now Honolulu. 
  • Maui is home to the largest banyan tree in the US, which covers over two acres in Lahaina. 
  • All beaches are public, aside from a few that are used by the Federal Government. That’s right, the beachfront mansions need to share their sand with everyone. 
  • Charles Lindbergh is buried on Maui. He avoided the spotlight that came with his celebrity-status by living on the east coast of the island. 
  • Maui has no billboards. Hawaii is one of four states that have banned them. 
  • Maui County is made up of four islands, with the island of Maui being the largest. The other islands include Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe. 
  • There are actually two volcanoes on Maui, which created the unique shape of the Valley Isle. 

More Things Maui is Known For Include…

Based on the nine unique things that Maui is known for, plus the lush landscape, gorgeous environment, and laid back island vibe, Maui is definitely worth visiting. 

Maui has so much to offer. That is why people, including us, come back for multiple visits.

Check out more activities and things to do on Maui in our Hawaii Recommendations page. We share all our favorite activities and tours so you will never forget your trip to Maui.

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Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman

Author

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. You will most likely find me on the water on a SUP or swimming in the waves.

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