Maui: Friendly, Quirky, and Full of Soul
A market where you can borrow a dog for the day. The clothing-discouraged drum circle every Sunday at sunset. A honky-tonk bar that's dedicated to Willie Nelson. Yes, we're talking about Maui
As late as the '70s, Kihei's beaches were almost barren--miles of sugary sand. Now they're home to miles of condos, too. But the town still has a relatively youthful energy.
Food: Jawz Tacos started as a roadside truck parked at the entry to Makena Beach Park, but by popular demand soon grew to include an air-conditioned surfer hangout serving taco salads big enough for two. Pile on the sauces at the free salsa bar, where each topping is rated from one to five, five being spiciest. For a traditional "plate lunch"--and one of the few places outside of a luau where you can try kalua pork, pork laulau (steamed in taro leaves), and lomi lomi salmon--stop by Da Kitchen. It's in a strip mall, so get your dinner to go, drive to one of the beaches across South Kihei Road (Kamaole Beach Parks I, II, or III), and eat watching the sunset. From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, one of Hawaii's top chefs, D.K. Kodama, sells half-price sushi specials at Sansei. The catch: While you eat, people sing karaoke.
Activities: Makena Beach Park is divided into Big Beach, popular with families, and Little Beach (up over the cliffs at the north end), a stretch with an outrageous, clothing-discouraged Sunday-sunset drumcircle that attracts more than a hundred revelers. It's a happy, mostly innocent gathering the authorities kindly ignore. The adjacent Puu Olai crater, 360 feet in elevation, is a 15-minute hike. There's usually no better whale-watching spot on the island during the November to March season. Beware: Both Big and Little beaches have dangerous currents and shore breaks. Kamaole I, II, and III are safer swimming options, as well as beach volleyball hotspots. Take advantage of free valet parking at the Four Seasons Resort, then spring for a drink inside the hotel, or stroll along the Wailea Beachwalk, a public jogging/bike path that provides an oceanfront tour of the Wailea resorts.
Shopping: Here's a tip: You can get 10 percent off many purchases at the Foodland supermarket if you give them your condo address and sign up for a Maikai Card (locals also call it the "Kamaaina Card"). Or just say you left your card at home.
Nightlife: Willie K--imagine a Hawaiian Lenny Kravitz plus a hundred pounds--plays Mondays at Hapa's (there's a $10 cover those nights). You never know who'll show up: Both Prince and Janet Jackson have jammed with him. Also, the large young Irish population on Maui (they work at the resorts) makes the local Irish pub, Mulligan's on the Blue, a lively watering hole.
Haleakala and Upcountry
Upcountry Maui surprises people: The cooler temperatures, misty green rolling hills, and small farms can fool you into thinking you've wandered into Brigadoon. It makes for a heck of a contrast with the stark beauty of Haleakala, a volcano 10,023 feet high at the summit.
Lodging: Conveniently about halfway up, the Kula Lodge & Restaurant is pretty much the only stop on the drive to Haleakala for full meals and lodging. It's a cozy place to refuel, with a fire by which you can fight the chill.