The Ultimate Guide to Maui: Maui Adventures & Great Dining
By: Carly Felton
Just a 30-minute plane flight from Honolulu, Maui is an island of paradise. From the crystal-clear blue waters to the black, red and white sand beaches, to the mountains and volcanoes, Maui offers attractive scenery at every glance. Activities and dining options are plentiful. Here are a few of our favorites.
Departing from the Kahului airport, Air Maui offers helicopter tours of Maui and Molokai that provide gorgeous aerial views of the water and land. Space is tight: The copters seat six plus the pilot, but the pilot’s friendly demeanor and informative narration made me feel comfortable right from the start. We flew from Maui over the Pacific Ocean and into the valleys on Molokai, passing waterfalls and natural pools along the way. My favorite part was the view of the water from up in the air—the blues and greens and shadows from the reefs are brilliantly defined from above and look absolutely stunning! It was only a quick 45-minute ride but it certainly made a big impact on my trip.
As authentic as it gets, Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures is a local company run by Sage Spalding and his business partner Vene Chun, native Hawaiians. They took me and my travel partner on an hour-long boat ride on their sailing canoe and taught us about Hawaiian history and culture. It was an enlightening experience and a unique opportunity to see the beauty of the area from on the water. There’s nothing like the feeling of the wind in your hair as you ride the waves on a bona fide Hawaiian sailing vessel. It was definitely was one of the highlights of my trip!
By far and large the BEST restaurant I’ve ever eaten at, Mama’s Fish House is a Maui must! Featuring beautiful gardens with palm trees, tiki torches and many photo opps, Mama’s boasts a serene setting for comfortable fine dining. The interior is open-air, so diners can enjoy the ocean breeze while sipping tropical cocktails like Mama’s Keiki Punch—a mixture of pineapple, lime, lilikoi, guava and orange juice—or any of the numerous fine wines available. The fresh sashimi is legendary, though I’d recommend Mama’s macadamia nut crab cakes. My dining partner doesn’t even like crab cakes and we practically licked the plate! Pan-seared in a little olive oil, they were crispy on the outside and soft inside, and when topped with fire and ice relish had the perfect amount of kick to them. For entrees, the uku sautéed with Haiku tomatoes, garlic butter, white wine and capers captured our attention. It was interesting to note that the menu lists the name of the person who caught the fish, as well as the location. Dessert, too, was unbelievable—banana macademia nut crisp with homemade Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream. It’s a gooey banana bread meets cobbler and a taste I’ll savor forever!
Centrally located in Lahaina, Mala Ocean Tavern offers a beautiful view of the ocean and many boats docked nearby. With a quaint open-air patio and a warm interior, Mala doesn’t look like much from the front, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The view alone made my night. All diners are served corn chips with tomatillo sauce and edamame puree to start. From there, my dining partner and I tried the ahi bruschetta on 10 grain flaxseed toast baked locally and topped with edamame puree, organic tomatoes, seared ahi, microgreens and 20-year-old balsamic—delish! The entrees convey seasonal, regional and international influences with a focus on seafood. The whole wok-fried fish is a signature item and perfect for absorbing the flavors of the area. The signature dessert, Caramel Miranda, is also a hit, but with melted dark chocolate and caramel sauce, dragon fruit, pineapple, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, figs, banana slices and mango topped with vanilla macadamia nut ice cream, how could it not be?!
A big name in Hawaii, Chef David Paul Johnson recently opened this chic restaurant on Lahaina with a focus on what he calls “New Island cuisine.” The décor is concentrated around a color scheme of neutrals, frosted glass and a blue-green strongly reminiscent of the ocean. There’s a walk-in wine cellar, patio lounge, oceanfront dining terrace and private dining room. The result is elegant and welcoming—or “casual island chic,” as Johnson calls it. The food is based on sustainability, and chef’s philosophy is “all about food—drop the attitude.” From watermelon goat cheese and crab salad with balsamic and E.V.O.O. to tequila shrimp with firecracker rice to grilled spicy orange duck “ravioli,” each piece of food is like Johnson’s own private work of art. Seared ahi with foie gras and flourless chocolate decadence cake are just a couple of the top delicacies, but you’ll want to try them all!
You can’t go to Hawaii without attending at least one luau, and the Sheraton Maui does a great job in presenting an interactive, fun-filled feast and show. Set in a green area near the ocean, the luau is decorated with totem poles and tiki torches. Attendees receive a shell lei upon entrance and then enjoy an open bar all night, complete with fruity drinks like mai tais. Dinner is buffet style but diners can observe the pig pit before enjoying everything from the kalua pig and mahi mahi to fried rice and poi. We played Hawaiian games before dinner, then enjoyed Hula dancers and live music afterward.
Set on a pretty golf course with the ocean in the distance, The Pineapple Grill provides a slightly different (yet still pleasant) view than you normally find in Maui. Rolling hills and mountains are framed by tiki torches (are you sensing a theme here?) outside, and inside, the décor is simple and comfortable with lots of wood. Much of the food is locally sourced. I especially enjoyed the Kula baby spinach salad with macadamia nut goat cheese, Kapalua Farms cherry tomatoes, chilled asparagus spears, shaved red onion, toasted macadamia nuts and sherry-shallot vinaigrette. The lemon porcini-dusted Hawaiian monchong was also tasty. The Maui Gold Pineapple Upside Down Cake is the restaurant’s signature dish and comes highly recommended.