If you’re looking for a tropical dream vacation, a trip to Maui should be at the top of your list. This Hawaiian island is perfect for laying on the beach, hiking, doing water activities, or just driving around soaking in the sights. The picturesque scenery is perfect to capture in photos, and that’s why we chose this island for a road trip. While you can’t travel to other Hawaiian islands from Maui by car, we think you’ll find there is so much to see and do here, you won’t want to leave.
Getting to Maui is straightforward if you’re coming from the West Coast of the United States. There are 6-hour non-stop flights from Los Angeles International Airport, or it’s just over 5 hours to fly non-stop from San Francisco International Airport. It’s crucial to have a car while on Maui, especially if you want to explore beyond the beachfront resorts. We picked up our car, a Jeep Wrangler, at the SIXT counter in the Kahului Airport and were on our way to see all of the places listed in this article.
Day 1: Lahaina/Kaanapali
We stayed in Kihei and Wailea during our trip, both of which are on the central west coast of Maui. From there we drove for 30-40 minutes along the coast to Lahaina and Kaanapali where we went shopping, hung out at beach bars, and checked out Black Rock Beach where we cliff jumped. On the way, we drove through the West Maui Forest Reserve for a quick hike down to a river where we were able to swim.
Just south of Wailea is Makena State Park, where we got to see hardened lava right on the beach. Speaking of beaches, one of our favorite parts of staying in this area was relaxing on the sand. We spent a lot of time at Ulua Beach and Wailea Beach and loved both of them!
Day 2: Maalaea
On our second day, we drove to Maalaea, which is just south of Kahului on the Maalaea Bay. This is the place to go if you are into marine life or whale watching. the Maui Ocean Center and Aquarium of Hawaii are located here, as well as the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. You can go snorkeling or rafting in the area, if that’s your thing, and if it’s the right time of year you can spot some whales. We opted to take a boat out to Molokini, the moon-shaped island off the coast, for snorkeling with fish and sea turtles.
Day 3: The Road to Hana
We made the most of our Jeep and drove on this fabled route. The Road to Hana is actually the Hana Highway (Highway 360) that runs along the northeastern coast of Maui from Paia to Hana. The 42-mile-long route is full of bridges and hairpin turns, and you won’t be able to drive very fast. But the journey is completely worth it just for the scenery and photo opportunities. This was our longest day of driving, and we made it as far as Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach at Hana. We took a short hike to get to this beautiful red sand beach nestled into the side of a cliff.
We highly recommend driving the Road to Hana to see some of the most beautiful landscapes we’ve ever seen. Bring your own snorkeling gear, or rent it for the duration of your stay so you can stop and snorkel any time you want!
What to Know Before You Go
We visited Maui in September, which is considered the offseason. Everything was less expensive and less busy, and the weather was still incredible. It was in the mid-80s for the entire trip! Here is some other information you might be interested in.
If you want to stay at a beach resort, you’re going to find most lodging options on the west coast of Maui. Luxury options abound, especially at Kaanapali Beach.
There are a bunch of local specialties to try, including dishes made with Spam, a plate lunch or loco moco, the raw fish dish called poke, fried doughnut balls called malasadas, and, of course, fresh fish and seafood.
There are so many activities to do on Maui that it might be hard to choose. We tried cliff diving, snorkeling, hiking, and swimming in the ocean, and there is so much more to discover. One of the most popular spots on the island is Haleakalā National Park that features a dormant volcano and wildlife.
About the Traveler
Andrew Wille, @andrewoptics on Instagram, is a photographer and photo editor based in the San Francisco Bay area.