Maui Musings: Insider Tips from a Local Living Aloha

Baby Beach
Locals favorite, Baby Beach, on the north shore of Maui minutes from Paia

Spending months at a time on Maui, my favorite island in the world, has opened my eyes to many unique experiences you won’t typically read about in most guidebooks or hear about from your hotel concierge. Everyone knows that Mama’s Fish House is the bomb but did you know that late lunch or early dinner is the best time to book a table for the best views and fewer crowds? And, if you can’t score a ressie, just walk in and sit at the bar where the same menu is served. If you go at lunch, request to sit in my friend Karen’s section for the best service.

As a part-time resident of the north shore, just past the cutest little town of Paia five minutes from Mama’s and the gorgeous beaches at Ho’okipa and Baldwin, I’m surrounded by the best of the best when it comes to private instruction of everything from yoga to qi gong to kiteboarding, surfing, diving and tennis. I know the island’s most gifted healers and how to find them. I know where the turtles like to hang out, and where to get the best sushi at an adorable Japanese restaurant NUKA in Haiku, a mostly locals zone. Nuka is another “no reservations” type of place so going early is always a good idea.

When you want to try your skills on the water, Todd Davis, owner of Learn 2 Kite Maui is THE guy to know and he’ll give you three hours of kite/surf/SUP lessons for the price of two if you tell him you know me. He can also take you to the hidden hikes and best dive and snorkel spots around Maui, having lived here as an adventure-seeker for decades.

Learn 2 Kite Maui
Learn 2 Kite Maui, minutes from the airport, is your one-stop shop for all things ocean-related

My recommendations lean primarily towards the north and south shores of the island where I spend most of my time, with a few suggestions for Lahaina as you can’t beat the dining experience at Mark Ellman’s Honu, Mala’s and Frida’s. Also in Lahaina is where you’ll find Thai Chef. It’s hidden in a strip mall behind Front Street and has the best homemade Thai food on the island apart from Nutcharees located in a strip mall in Kihei (10 minutes from the Wailea resorts).

Depending on where you are staying, it’s always a good idea to rent a car and I’d recommend getting Avis Preferred or Hertz Gold before arrival to avoid waiting in lines at the always-busy rental counters. This is an island you should want to explore, especially since some of the best restaurants and people and beaches and fun are found in the small upcountry and north shore towns of Paia, Makawao, and Haiku. I also love steering friends and clients to Wailuku if only for a visit to the revitalized downtown area and coffee + snacks at the adorable Wailuku Coffee Company or delicious Vietnamese food amongst locals (translation: no ambience but the best food!) at Saigon Café.

Plan to devote at least a day to exploring Paia, Makawao and Haiku. If yoga’s your thing, drop into the Maui Country Club off Hana Highway for a class with one of my favorite teachers Sammy Seriani or Matt Goldhill or Tommye Jones. Guests are always welcome to drop in ($12-$15/class) and the schedule is accessible online. Bring beach attire to change into and check out locals’ favorite Baby Beach afterwards, followed by a delicious snack at nearby Paia Bowls owned by local surfers Ian and Luke Walsh. In Paia, you’ll also want to check out our local health food store, Mana Foods, which recently opened a smoothies/juice bar and has all kinds of snacks/treats and the occasional Owen Wilson sighting.

Paia Bowls
A new addition to the Paia scene is the Walsh brothers’ Paia Bowls offering smoothies, acai bowls & coffees al fresco

If you enjoy Kundalini or yin yoga, a class with my friend Ruby Wong is a must and you can track her down at either Mesh Yoga in Paia or at Lumeria in Makawao. If you’ve been wanting to try Qi Gong, Maui is now home to the greatest teacher I know, Tyler Stattin who can also advise on Chinese medicine, nutrition and connect you to other local healers.

Other experiences you probably won’t read about in a Maui guidebook but are on my short list of favorite activities include floating in Maui’s only flotation tank and getting massaged by gifted energy healer/acupuncturist Jessica Montana. Another must if you have the time are reiki treatments in Makawao with reiki master Lucia Maya. Build your days in Paia and Makawao around these wellness experiences and try to include time for lunch at the new Habibi or at local favorite Market Fresh Bistro, tucked away off in a cute little courtyard.

If you’re on the island on a Saturday morning, do yourself a favor and do as the locals do: Get up early and drive up Haleakala Highway to the Upcountry Farmer’s Market . You’ll experience a beautiful assortment of local vendors and their locally grown/created products from Justin Orr’s HI Spice (perfect for take-home gifts) to just-smashed coconut water to amazing baked goods made with local ingredients. It’s a fun experience and one that most locals have on their weekly calendar.

Lumeria is one of the island’s most peaceful settings for a yoga class with Ruby Wong

Back in Kihei on the south shore (closer to the main hotels of Wailea), two additional friends of mine offer incredible healing experiences in their non-touristy home-based settings. They’re often booked far in advance but take that as validation they’re as good as it gets and let them know I sent you for priority booking slots. Naya Rice and Deborah Manzano will take extra special care of you if they know I’m your referral source.

If you’re a dog lover who might be missing your own pups while you’re on Maui, check out the Beach Buddies program offered by the Maui Humane Society which pairs visitors with a local shelter dog for a day. Be sure to sign up in advance as this program regularly sells out due to the popularity of the pups!

If you’re looking for some fun later in the days or into the evenings, be sure to check out local island celebrity musician Eric Gilliom at the Four Seasons Wailea every Friday evening and performing at other fun spots around the island ranging from Fleetwood’s in Lahaina to aboard the Pacific Whale Foundation sunset cocktail cruises every Wednesday and Sunday 4:30-6:30pm out of Maalea Harbour.

Local favorites for after-dark fun include Charley’s Saloon in Paia and the Friday evening parties that take place weekly in different parts of the island. If you’re like me, and prefer green juice/mocktails or coffee drinks and healthy treats to cocktails and bar food, a few spots not to miss include: Sip Me Maui, Belle Surf Café and the brand new Greek Oven Maui serving up Greek coffees and a gluten free variety of treats and sweets.

Belle Surf Cafe
Belle Surf Cafe is a favorite for creative coffee drinks in Kihei, near the south shore beaches

If you’re a fan of films and love the idea of mingling with celebs and watching incredible movies in beautiful settings, including an outdoor cinema, then you will want to put the Maui Film Festival on your calendar for June 21-25. Check out details on the website and of course, be in touch for assistance with any preferred hotel and travel arrangements to and on the island.

Regardless of when you plan to visit Maui, Elite Travel International has preferred partnerships and strong relationships with all of the top hotels here, including Four Seasons Resort at Wailea, Fairmont Kea Lani, Andaz Wailea, Hotel Wailea, Grand Wailea, Montage Kapalua Bay and the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, as well as unique access to private luxury rental homes and condos island-wide.

To plan your next Maui visit filled with insider tips and unique experiences, contact me via email at or call 561-351-5907.

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