Boasting a super well-connected airport, a comparative dearth of tourist traps, and an up-and-coming dining scene to rival its firmly established surf scene, Maui’s largest city offers a welcome respite from more overrun island destinations. The population hovers around 30,000 at any given time, representing a healthy mix of mainland expats and local lifers raking in a household income that falls within the top 10 for small American cities. Bars and restaurants run the gamut here, as do other attractions like shopping districts, art, and cultural museums, but let’s get real—this is Hawaii, and you’re here to hit the beach.
Surfers of every skill level can be found splashing among Kahului’s inviting waves, while casual beach-goers admire their efforts from their posts on the soft sand. Windsurfing, parasailing, and kitesurfing are commonplace at Baldwin, Kanaha, and Ho’okipa Beach Parks. Further inland, verdant natural escapes like Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary (with its plethora of colorful birdlife), Iao Valley State Park, and Maui Nui Botanical Gardens offer the turf crowd plenty to see and do.
Must eat & drink: From celebrity chef-helmed restaurants to sandy roadside stands, there’s no going hungry here. Food trucks abound, with standout options including Geste Shrimp Truck, Maui Fresh Streatery, Sumo Dogs Maui, and Plate Lunch Market’s Thai Me Up, Ono Teppanyaki & Seafood, Like Poke, Tacos Maui 8 Wonder, MoOno Acai Bowl, and Kalei’s Lunch Box. Elsewhere, Top Chef vet Sheldon Simeon packs a punch at Tin Roof, fancy fare dominates Bistro Casanova, Poi by the Pound peddles the best bang-for-you-buck Hawaiian eats, buzzy Wow-Wee Maui’s Kava Bar & Grill whips up the best Loco Moco in town, and nothing hits the spot on a sunny day better than a pineapple sherbet from Tasaka Guri-Guri.
Don’t leave without: Cruising Hana Highway, a 64.4-mile stretch that winds dramatically around Maui’s eastern coast, passing through dense tropical rainforests, quiet shorelines, majestic waterfalls, and a whopping 59 richly historic bridges. —Meredith Heil