You Had Me at Aloha

Mo and I may be back from our five day getaway to Maui, but let me just say that I am still on that “island time.” It was our first trip to Hawaii and it won’t be our last! Living on the west coast makes the flight just a short 4-5 hours away. Before we knew it, we landed on paradise.

Most people think of Maui as a place to drink Mai Tais on the beach and float around in a pool, but our experience was a little different than that. We had set aside one afternoon to “relax,” but that afternoon ended up being cloudy! So instead of laying by the pool, we played a match of tennis. We stayed on the west side of the island at The Westin Ka’aapali Ocean Resort Villa, conveniently located just 45 minutes form the airport, 20 minutes from Lahaina (for shopping and dining) and on one of Maui’s best beaches.

What to do:

  • Upgrade to a convertible
  • Feast at Lele
  • Boat trip to snorkel at Molokini and Turtle Town
  • Take advantage of (free) resort activities
  • Road to Hana
  • Haleakala Sunrise
  • O’o Farm Tour and Lunch

Where to eat:

  • Mama’s Fish House
  • Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
  • Monkeypod
  • The Gazebo
  • Star Noodle
  • Ulalani’s Shaved Ice
  • Paia Bay Coffee
  • Duke’s Beach House
  • Leilani’s

So that’s the CliffNotes version… keep reading for more details and pictures!

What to do:

Upgrade to a convertible. Well worth the extra $30/day if you plan on doing a lot of driving. Tip: 92.5FM plays great reggae if you’re looking to get those island vibes!

Feast at Lele. Attending a Luau in Maui is a must! This one in particular seats you at a private table right on the beach, and features a show and tapas style meal for four different cultures (Hawaiian, New Zealand, Tahiti and Samoa). Alcohol is unlimited so a fun atmosphere is a given, and suggested wine pairings are provided for each course. Not to mention the Mai Tai that is handed to you as you walk in and get “lei’ed”! The food and dances for each course exceeded our expectations, and we later found out that the food is sourced by O’o Farm, a produce and coffee farm we visited later on in our trip. 

Boat trip to snorkel at Molokini and Turtle Town. Beaches in Maui are beautiful and you’re missing out on half of its beauty if you don’t experience what’s below the surface! We unfortunately didn’t see any of the famous big Hawaiian turtles, but we saw a number of other fish and coral at these two snorkel sites. 

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Take advantage of (free) resort activities. Even though a lot of the resort activities cost extra money, there are a number of options that don’t! I went on a couple runs, we walked on the beach walk and on the beach itself, swam in the resort pools, listened to live music, and played tennis.

The Road to Hana. A beautiful and literal example of life’s metaphor, “Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.” The Road to Hana is a winding, narrow road that takes you all the way to the east side of the island, with a number of stops to make along the way. These stops include locals’ food stands, gushing waterfalls, black sand beaches, volcanic rocks, hiking trails, lookouts, and more. I wrote a separate blog post to give a more detailed account of where we stopped and my recommendations if you’re considering making this scenic (but challenging) drive. My biggest piece of advice would be to download the app GyPSy Guide. This drive would have been only half the experience is was (and probably a lot more stressful) without the explanation of upcoming attractions, where to park for each one, time of day check-ins and the historical and cultural commentary to keep us entertained for the long drive home. 

Haleakala Sunrise. Surely not many people would be crazy enough to wake up at 3AM to drive up 10’000 feet to the top of a volcano to watch the sunrise, right? Wrong! We joined a crowd of people, all shivering and anticipating the sun’s first appearance at 5:37AM. The spectacular views were well worth it! Because we drove the Road to Hana the day before, we were exhausted and ended up taking a nap in our car after watching the sunrise! The power nap gave us just the energy boost we needed to hike a mile or so down into the crater. Please note: if you plan on doing this, you do have to make reservations 60 days in advance OR make a reservation when a limited amount of passes are released 48 hours prior to sunrise. You wouldn’t want to wake up at 3AM, drive two hours, just to be told you have to turn around!

O’o Farm. I have to admit that I thought this was a coffee farm tour with a lunch when I made the reservation… but to my surprise, it ended up being more and better than I ever expected! A small group of us were greeted by one of the farmers, who gave us a brief history of the farm. She then informed us that we would actually be picking the spinach, romaine, vegetables, and herbs that would later go into our salad! While Chef Dan was busy at work prepping our farm-to-table lunch, we walked around the farm, learning about all the trees, vegetables plants, fruits and flowers grown on their farm. She encouraged us to pick and taste anything we wanted – from coffee cherries, broccolini, cilantro, spinach, to edible flowers and garlic grass (yes, it’s grass that literally tastes like garlic!). We also got a glimpse of where they dry and roast their coffee beans and learned about the process that goes in to making a beautiful, delicious cup of coffee. Right as she was finishing up the coffee talk, we heard the dinner bell ring and lunch was ready! Lunch was BYO and Mo and I had purchased a bottle of Maui Blanc, a dry, white pineapple wine, from a local winery just up the road.

  • First course: homemade focaccia bread with herbs, lemongrass and fennel baked into their sourdough starter
  • Second course: fresh (as in it was still in the ground 20 minutes ago) salad that we contributed to.
  • Main course #1: baked tofu with rainbow chard, red quinoa, and forbidden rice
  • Main course #2: herb crusted Mahi Mahi with greens and roasted beets
  • Main course #3: roasted chicken served with a side of kale and carrots.
  • Dessert: a “chocolate decadence” which Chef Dan described as dark chocolate blended in with their coffee cherries and citrus fruits to create a rich, but not overly sweet, ganache consistency. Fresh Maui gold pineapple was served on the side and the moment I had been waiting for… a freshly brewed pot of their light roast coffee. Needless to say, after seeing where the coffee trees were grown, where the beans were roasted AND after waking up at 3AM that morning, it was the best cup of coffee I have ever had (and will ever have).

This experience was an absolute highlight of the trip for me and I’m happy to say I bought some coffee beans back home to enjoy. 

Where to eat:

Mama’s Fish House. A very well-known seafood restaurant on the water that boosts of serving fresh fish caught within the past 24 hours, and other traditional Hawaiian dishes. Mo ordered a fish entree and I ordered a salad and sampler of three sashimi. Reservations required.

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Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop. If you love pie (and even if you don’t), this local place is a must! Their pie is absolutely incredible and they also serve breakfast and lunch… if you saved room. We tried the Chocolate Macnut and the Banana Creme pies. They were good on their own, but even better when you combined a spoonful of both! Reservations not necessary.

Monkeypod. Great happy hour specials, food, service, and atmosphere! We came early to catch the end of the Warrior’s game and stumbled upon their great selection of happy hour drink and app specials. I ordered a Bahn Mi burger and Mo got a coconut porter and flatbread. Reservations required.

The Gazebo. This cute little breakfast spot was about 15 minutes north of where we were staying in Ka’anapalii. I had read to arrive early… as in before they open. Sure enough, when we arrived at 7:15AM, there was already a line forming! I ordered a Maui omelette (ham, pineapple and swiss) with a side banana macnut pancake. Mo ordered the white chocolate macnut pancakes. Well worth the early morning and the 45 minute wait. Reservations aren’t taken. 

Star Noodle. Another highly-recommended restaurant and it didn’t take us long to see/taste why! They are well known for their ramen, noodles, steam pork buns and flavorful sides. We ordered and split kimchee, ahi avo, steamed pork buns and Singapore noodles. Reservations required. 

Ulalani’s Shaved Ice. Shaved ice… how good can it really be? I had my doubts, but this is not just shaved ice! This is a transformational phenomenon of ice to a refreshing, light dessert. I went with a combo of green tea, lychee and coconut. I’d suggest asking for their recommendation or going with one of the suggestions on the menu.

Lappert’s Ice Cream. Very, very poor customer service (worst experience I’ve ever had to be honest), over-priced, and not great ice cream. Don’t waste your time or money!

Paia Bay Coffee. We stopped at this tucked away, local coffee shop in Paia before starting the Road to Hana for an acai bowl and coffee to go. Great place to people watch and grab a quick bite! 

Duke’s Beach House. We walked down to Duke’s after the Road to Hana and were famished… Duke’s did not disappoint! Live music, outdoor seating and very good food. Mo and I ate up their fresh taro bread in an instant and split a salad, macnut-crusted fish and a Hula Pie for dessert. Reservations required.

Leilani’s. Another great seafood restaurant on the water, known for their fish tacos. We split a salad, the fish tacos and seared ahi for our entree, and ended our last dinner in Maui with an order of their sweet Hawaiian bread pudding – Mo’s absolute favorite dessert! Reservations required.

Maui, you did not disappoint! Have you been to any of these places we went to? What are your favorite places to go or eat??

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