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What Maui, Hawaii is Known For & Famous For

If you’re like me, Dwayne Johnson immediately comes to mind when you think of Maui, which is due to the Disney box office gold Moana. But no, Maui Hawaii isn’t known for being Dwayne Johnson’s birthplace. So what’s it known for?

Maui, Hawaii is known for its exquisite beaches, 14 lush green golf courses, and a rich collection of wildlife, and is the second-largest island in Hawaii. Also known as “The Valley Isle,” Maui is home to several beach and tree parks. You can also take in cultural and historical sites.

In this article, I’ll discuss some of the best things Maui is known for along with the best attractions to fill your itinerary with if you are planning a trip to this beautiful island.

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The Dormant Haleakala Volcano

The dormant Haleakala Volcano features prominently in any discussions about Maui, and for good reasons. The 10,000 ft (3,048 m) beauty is the perfect place to be for sunrise. 

It gets very cold up there, though, so you need to pack a jacket if you intend to visit.

If you’re a bike enthusiast, you’ll love cruising down the steep slopes of the volcanoes. Across the 37 miles (59.5 km), you can take in the sights of deep green vegetation and artistic volcanic rock formation as the cool air washes over your face.

The volcanic atoll, known as the Molokini Crater, is one of three such formations anywhere in the world. If you’re up for some snorkeling, you should check it out. It’s home to a beautiful mix of aquatic wildlife, and the crystal clear water around the crater makes for excellent pictures.

The Largest Private Island in the World 

Oracle’s Larry Ellison bought the Lanai island in 2012, making it the world’s largest private island. Fortunately, he hasn’t “walled” it off like other billionaires, so you can visit anytime. 

The Four Seasons is a spectacularly designed resort you should visit for a truly luxurious island getaway. If you don’t want to pay for time in the resort, you can just enjoy the island and head back to the other attractions.

Authentic Hawaiian Cuisine

If you’re looking for authentic Hawaiian cuisine, there are few places you can experience it better than Maui. The chefs here are always working hard to transform the readily available fresh ingredients into excellent tasting meals. 

From popular food trucks like the Maui Fresh Streatery and restaurants like The Mill House and Mama’s Fish House you’re always sure to find something to delight your taste buds.

If Celebrity Chef menus are of interest to you, be sure to visit the Asian noodle palace known as Star Noodles in Lahaina, which is owned by the popular Sheldon Simeon. He also owns the Migrant in Wailea and Tinroof in Kahului

The latter is the place to be if you want a modernistic spin on traditional Hawaiian home cooking. If you choose to visit popular food places, go early to secure your place in line.

Exquisite Beaches

You can’t talk about Maui without discussing its crisp, clean beaches. Let’s take a look at some of the popular ones you should have on your list.

Wailea Beach

Wailea is the beach to visit if you’re looking for the perfect beach for swimming. It’s the top-selling point for the several resorts dotting the landscape, and the calm waters make it an excellent choice whether you’re looking to swim or snorkel.

You won’t need to lug equipment about, as there’s an onsite rental service for water sports equipment. The beach is one of the cleanest in Maui because the surrounding resorts keep it clean. 

Visitors don’t need to pay any fees to visit the beach as well.

Hookipa Beach

The main attraction to this beach is the powerful waves that attract surfers and windsurfers in the winter. Waves can reach as high as 30 ft (9.1 m), and while the water here isn’t ideal for swimming, it’s very popular for surfers. 

If you’re not big on surfing, you can still take great pictures here. Turtles often come to shore to sleep, so be sure to watch for them so you don’t disturb them. 

The basic amenities on the beach include: 

  • Lifeguards
  • Showers
  • Parking
  • Bathrooms 
  • Picnic tables

Kaanapali Beach

Kaanapali Beach is another popular one stretching across 3 miles (4.8 km). The sand is highly coveted, but the water can be very strong, so it’s not recommended for inexperienced swimmers. 

The beach is one of the first planned resort areas in the county, so it’s no surprise that it has quite a few notable hotels, golf courses, and restaurants. You’ll also find some of the best ziplines in Maui here.

Napili Beach

If you’re looking for a family-friendly beach in Maui, the crescent-shaped Napili Beach should be top on your list. The waters here are calmer than the other popular beaches in the county. 

Both kids and adults can have a good time here swimming, boogie boarding, and paddleboarding. The beach is also a great place to be if you have some snorkeling gear. 

The reefs are home to a wide range of aquatic life forms, including sea turtles and fish. However, you’re not allowed to touch the turtles, because the county has a law against it, and you could pay hefty fines if caught.

Rich Wildlife and Tree Parks

Maui has several tree parks and rich wildlife that makes this destination worth the trip. Let’s now take a closer look at the top wildlife and tree parks in Maui.

Haleakala National Park

The immediate area surrounding the dormant Haleakala volcano is one of the most popular national parks in the county. The entire park spans across 30,000 acres (12,141 hectares) of land. 

As you’d expect, most people visit the park to climb the volcano mountain.  

However, the beautiful bamboo forest and waterfall areas make for great pictures. Do you love bird watching? There are dozens of bird species to see here, so take your time to navigate the park, and you’re sure to capture some epic pictures.

Waianapanapa State Park

The park’s name translates to “glistening waters,” but most visitors don’t come for the ocean. The jet-black sands, which are a result of volcanic sediments, often leave visitors intrigued. Away from the beach, the freshwater caves are also a huge attraction. 

There are no limitations here, so you can swim in the pools.

While hiking across the park, you’ll also find sea stacks, natural blowholes, or burial grounds of historical significance.

Iao Valley State Park

The Iao Valley State Park is another place to be if you want some time away from beach-related activities. 

The 4,000-acre (1,619-hectare) park is home to the Iao Needle, which is roughly 1,200 ft (366 m) tall. It’s the main attraction in a park littered with lots of striking rock features.  

The park is also home to numerous hiking trails.

Pick any of them to enjoy some of the best sights and sounds on the island. The Ethnobotanical Loop and the Iao Needle Lookout Trail are the most popular options, but you can choose to stay off the beaten path and hike any of the other dozens of lesser-known trails. 

Whichever you choose, go with enough water and refreshments, as you can only find refreshments around the beginning of the trail.

Banyan Tree Park

The Banyan Tree park is one of the smallest you’ll find in Maui, but it’s as attractive as some of the biggest ones. The main attraction is the very large Banyan tree brought from India in 1873. 

It has since grown to a magnificent spread of over 60 ft (18.3 m) tall. The park draws its fair share of visitors because it’s within walking distance of some of the other main attractions on the island.

Picnics under the shade are very relaxing. There are benches spread throughout the park, so you can catch your breath anytime you need to.

You can also check out the bi-weekly Art in the Park event, which gives you an opportunity to buy handmade crafts and paintings from some local artists.

Wildlife Centers 

There are few designated wildlife centers in Maui. 

The Maui Ocean Center is one of the most popular, and it’s the place to be if you want to learn more about Hawaii’s underwater ecosystem. You’ll find all kinds of aquatic life in the center, including hundreds of fish species. 

Sharks and stingrays attract some of the loudest cheers in this 750,000-gallon (2,839,059-liter) center. 

If you’ve snorkeled on the island, the center gives you a chance to learn more about the animals you’ve probably spotted. The aquarium is not the biggest you’ll find, but it’s still very attractive.

Whale Watching

Thousands of whales migrate to the warm waters of Maui to mate every year, and you can expect to see them if you visit between November and May. You can see the massive creatures while standing on the shore, but if you’re up for it, book a close-up whale-viewing expedition. 

The expedition experience is perfect if you want to improve your whale knowledge.

Snorkeling Tours

I’ve mentioned snorkeling in passing above, but signing up for the organized snorkeling tours exposes you to some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean floor.  

Travelers mention the morning or afternoon snorkeling explorations as one of the most unforgettable things about Maui. You’ll find different species of colorful fish, sea turtles, and intricate floral formations underneath, and the guided tours take you deep into where the action is.

Don’t have snorkeling equipment? Most top hotels on the island offer them as complementary additions. The top snorkeling spots to explore include: 

  • Honolua Bay 
  • Kapalua Bay
  • Kaanapali Beach 

Don’t forget the Molokini Crescent, as I mentioned earlier, as it’s home to 250 species of fish and is a Marine Life Conservation District. Touring the Molokini is the costliest, but visitors always say it’s worth the price of admission.

A Water Sports Haven

Some of the most popular water sports in existence today were invented in Maui. Surfers, paddlers, windsurfers, and kitesurfers all visit the highly-rated North Shore every year. Add in sailing and scuba diving, and you have an island that’s a water sports haven—a must-visit for any avid water sports lover.

Lush Green Golf Courses

Are you a golfing enthusiast? 

You’ll love the picturesque courses scattered around the island. There are 14 major golf courses here, some of them designed by widely acclaimed names like Ben Crenshaw and Arnold Palmer.

The Old Blue, Emerald, and Gold courses are some of the most popular. The Plantation courses at Kapalua are also worth a visit. 

In most of these courses, you’ll find scenic views of Maui’s coastline and volcanic formations.

History, Culture, and Entertainment

Beaches and volcanoes aren’t the only things to see in Maui as a first-time visitor, as the county has a rich cultural heritage you can explore. 

The Old Lahaina Luau show is an interesting introduction to Hawaiian culture. The dance, music, and the local food specialties make it an excellent cultural delight worth the price of admission.

Do you want to dig deep into Maui history? 

Feel free to visit any of the several museums on the island. The most popular ones include the Bailey House Museum and Lahaina’s Baldwin Home Museum, where you’ll find artifacts dating back to the earliest Hawaiians.

Hiking and Driving Trails

Maui has a wide range of hiking and driving trails to explore. You can find some of these in the parks mentioned above, but a few deserve special mentions.

The Hana Road

The Hana Road delivers an excellent view of Maui’s coastline, but you’ll need to rent a car to drive through this twisting road cutting through the green rainforest and the gushing waterfalls. However, the trip isn’t the easiest, so you’ll need to make sure the best driver possible is at the wheel. You can either drive the entire road in one go or stop at all the attractions on the way.

For the best experience, consider paying a tour driver, as it’s the best way to focus on taking in the scenic sights on the road. Be sure to start early, though, as the road gets quite busy as more tourists wake up.

Pipiwai Trail

The Pipiwai Trail is arguably Maui’s most popular hiking trail, which is located in the Haleakala National Park. On the trail, you’ll pass three waterfalls, striking vegetation, a bamboo forest, and more. The tranquil trail attracts a fair few visitors, but it’s not the easiest to complete. 

Be ready to trek for 3-5 hours as you attempt to overcome the 800-ft (244-m) gain.  

Kapalua Coastal Trail

The Kapalua Coastal Trail is a decent alternative to the Pipiwai if you want an easier hike. 

It offers a more relaxing hike, allowing visitors to explore Maui on foot without tiring out quickly. The trail is easy to navigate because it is paved all through and completely flat, so it’s a great option for families with kids. 

Attractions on the way include the sights of various bays such as: 

  • Honokahua Bay 
  • Oneloa Bay 
  • Namalu Bay
  • Kapalua Bay 

Watch out for whales in the water if you visit during the whale season.

Final Thoughts

Maui is one of the most beautiful islands you’ll explore. With dozens of attractions and lots of things to do, you’ll need more than a couple of visits to fully take in everything. Make a list of attractions that are most important to you to enjoy that first trip.

You can always come back in the future if you don’t do everything on your list!

If you’re planning a trip to Maui be sure to check out the Ultimate Guidebook here.