When we were planning our long weekend on Maui, I tossed around the idea of staying in West Maui, specifically around Lahaina. A lot of people stay on this side of the island, primarily at the resorts. There was a lot we wanted to do on the eastern side of the island so I ultimately decided we’d stay somewhere more centrally located and then pop over to Lahaina one afternoon/evening.
This ended up being the absolute right choice for us. While we found a few redeeming qualities, our overwhelming impression of this area was !alert: tourist trap!. If resorts, chain restaurants, and stores filled with t-shirts, bags and other assorted Hawaiian-inspired items from China are your beach holiday go-tos, then this is the place for you. And it was the place for a LOT of people. I have friends who absolutely love this vibe so I’m trying to speak kindly and accurately here, but it simply wasn’t for us.
That said, we did find some experiences more up our nerdy alley – namely, historical sites, temples, and delicious food!
If you are into those things, or if you want to round out your resort experience with some a-typical activities, here are a few of our recommendations in and around Lahaina.
Self-Guided Tour of Historic Lahaina
We avoided the shops downtown and instead spent our time on a self-guided tour of the historic buildings around this 19th-century whaling village turned tourist mecca. Lahaina is very walkable with maps on many corners directing to the historical sites, and information plaques at each site with more details.
I was particularly enamored with the beautiful old banyan tree right downtown:
The Lahaina Banyan Tree is truly a landmark throughout all of Hawaii. This amazing feat of nature covers an entire acre. It was planted in April, 1873, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Protestant missionaries in Lahaina. It has been the site of numerous celebrations, rallies, and events.https://lahainatown.com/lahaina-historic-walking-tour.php
Self-Guided Tour of Maui’s Sugar History
Brian noticed a site up the road called the Pioneer Mill Co. Smokestack so we drove over to take a look. This historic landmark and community restoration project includes a small plot of land filled with the smokestack and other artifacts telling the story of Hawaii’s sugar plantation history, including antique mill and cane field equipment, two sugar locomotives, and display boards.
We’re watching Queen Sugar on Hulu right now so learning about Maui’s sugar plantation and milling history was of particular interest to us!
Established in 1860, Pioneer Mill Co. was the first plantation to grow sugar commercially in Lahaina and the company built one of Hawai‘i’s first sugar mills. For 139 years, the Pioneer Mill was a mainstay of West Maui’s economy. Almost every resident of Lahaina had some connection to the mill, and if you mention it to this day, it will spark fond memories for many. By 1935, the company cultivated more than 10,000 acres of sugar cane. At its peak in the 1960s, the mill processed 60,000 tons of sugar annually. Cut sugar cane was first transported from the fields to the mill by water-driven flumes and cattle-driven carts. Beginning in the 1880s, it was transported by train over miles of narrow-gauge railroad track along the West Maui mountain slopes. By 1953, trucks replaced the trains.https://lahainarestoration.org/pioneer-mill-smokestack-locomotives/
Lahaina Jodo Mission
A bit by accident, we drove by the Lahaina Jodo Mission and I caught sight of some of the buildings around a large stone wall. I made Brian pull over so I could take a closer look at this cultural park, including its Japanese-style Buddhist temple and giant Buddah.
There were people doing yoga in the central grassy area, which looked very relaxing and peaceful, especially as the sun was starting to set.
Mala Historic Wharf
We were looking for a spot to watch the sunset and after a quick Google search, Brian selected the Mala Historic Wharf. The old, decorative pier is dilapidated and has tons of posted warnings and barricades, but some local people were out on the end fishing (successfully!) and we saw a number of people coming in from scuba diving around its base.
There is a newer marina right next to it where people were coming in from charter fishing tours. Although not a traditional beach-y sunset viewing spot, I really enjoyed the cloudy and dramatic sunset that night, and the pier added to the effect!
Dinner at Star Noodle
Several bloggers and co-workers mentioned that Star Noodle was the hot spot to grab dinner so I went online well in advance to make a reservation. The only available slot was 7:15 p.m., which is usually approaching my bedtime, not my dinnertime. But beggars can’t be choosers!
As it happened, we headed there after sunset and decided to check in with the host to see if there was any way to move up our reservation. Happily he smiled and led us directly to a table where we enjoyed the best meal of our trip. The menu is family-style and we shared tempura shrimp and steamed buns, as well as half-orders of the garlic noodles and Lahaina fried soup (the noodle dish below featuring fat chow funn, roasted pork belly and bean sprouts).
Delicious. Outdoor seating on the water. Go there.