Escape to Maui

Text by Rika Wolf Beckley

I needed an escape. Someplace warm and exotic, with palm trees and ocean breezes… Maui! I’ve always wanted to visit Maui but wrongly thought it was a place just for couples — not so I discovered. This year-round tropical paradise can be very expensive and crowded in winter and summer months but I visited in early December – just before the holiday rush. (Other less crowded months include September, October, November, April and May)

After a short internet search, I found “The Gem of Maui” – a one-bedroom, one-bath condo on the top floor of the Maui Kai, built in 1969. This vacation home features a king sized bed, well-stocked kitchen, air-conditioning, large screen TV, internet, laundry facilities (just across the hall) and free parking.

But the lanai (Hawaiian for balcony) was my favorite feature! Maui Kai sits Just 25 feet from the water, making it the closest to the water of all Hawaiian properties. The sliding glass doors are as wide as the entire unit And each morning I enjoyed my coffee outside – watching whales and spinner dolphins play in the distance, kayakers quietly paddle by, surfers practicing on small waves, or an occasional turtle slowly floating around the coral reef. The lanai also provides a front row view of sunsets that slowly evolved in bursts of color peeking around clouds – like a giant kaleidoscope in the sky.

Maui whale season is December through March. The whales migrate from Alaska to birth their babies

The outside pool and hot tub area provide a nice place to relax, too. There is a shared kitchen and barbeque area (with shaded picnic tables) and a large refrigerator if you want to keep your beverages cool. Sitting on the famous Kaanapali Beach, the Maui Kai is also near restaurants and shops of Lahaina. Just across the street is access to the Kaanapali Beach Walk – stretching for two to three miles, along the beach.

Since I was on a budget, I found that if I ate breakfast at the condo and grabbed a snack for lunch, I was ready for a more substantial meal late afternoon. So many restaurants offer happy hour – which is a great way to try some of the best restaurants and take advantage of happy hour pricing.

On my first day, I drove into historic Lahaina Town, the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Some of the buildings date back to the 1800s and the town features the largest banyan tree in the nation, planted in 1873 and spreading out almost two acres.

Maui sunset times vary between
~ 5:40 p.m. and 7:10 p.m.

Front Street is filled with shops, art galleries and restaurants. I happened upon a Friday Night Art Walk where many galleries had live music and artists on hand to meet patrons.I particularly liked Harte International Galleries as they include works by Picasso, Rembrandt, Salvador Dali and Sir Anthony Hopkins. I sipped champagne while admiring Hopkins’ work.

For dinner, I walked to Fleetwood’s on Front Street. While waiting for the upstairs bar to open, I enjoyed $1 oysters and happy hour at the main bar (most days 2:30- 5:30 p.m.) This restaurant, owned by Mick Fleetwood, features a sunset show and lots of options for live music throughout the week. On the night I visited, both the Hawaiian dancers and the bagpiper shared the stage. The upstairs menu was a bit pricey but the “free” show was really enjoyable.

At Fleetwood’s in Lahaina you’ll need reservations for a rooftop table– make your reservations well in advance for a sunset seating. Without reservations, you may be lucky to grab one of the dozen or so seats around the bar if you wait at the bottom of the steps until they open the upstairs area

Another iconic Lahaina restaurant is the historic Pioneer Inn Grill & Bar in a circa 1901 hotel (now a Best Western). Sit outside near the parrot Alex and you may hear him say his name or whistle the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show. This restaurant is known for its breakfast menu featuring macadamia nut pancakes or huevos rancheros.

Most visiting Maui will want to explore the island and take advantage of all the activities available. I was content to sit by the ocean and find nice restaurants and shops but there is so much to do if you want it. Here are some ideas: ATV, biking, boat tour, boogie boarding, camping, craft beer sampling, dinner cruise, fishing, golfing, hang gliding, helicopter ride, hiking, horseback riding, jet skiing, kayaking, kite boarding, parasailing, scuba diving, snorkel, spa treat,emt, surfing, van tour, waterfall walks, whale watching, wind surfing and zip lining.

Thanks to a little insider information the condo host provided, I learned that on Saturdays, the Maui Arts & Culture Center hosts a swap meet from 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. Prices for locally made art, crafts, food and gifts are often much cheaper than stores in town. And only .50 admission!

Another insider tip I received was about a “hidden” labyrinth near DT Fleming Beach. I drove north past the Ritz Carlton and parked at the beach lot. I followed others over to the black rocky cliffs known as “Devil’s Teeth” named for the teeth-like shape of the lava formed rocks. There was a little path through the woods and up along the golf course to reach the jagged rocky cliffs. I kept on to find a

rock labyrinth on the grassy clifftop affording great views. It started misting as I began walking the labyrinth, and when I got to the center point, a beautiful rainbow appeared and seemed to end just at the center of the labyrinth. This magical, spiritual coincidence gave me goosebumps and I noticed that as I walked out, the rainbow disappeared. On the hike back, a sign noted that the path was on the edge of a Honokahua burial site.

Tip for Dragon’s Teeth to Labyrinth Hike: wear study hiking shoes and be prepared for sudden changes in weather

On the return trip I stopped at Lahaina Jodo Mission to see the replica of a Japanese Buddhist temple & a twelve foot Buddha & towering pagoda. This was a peaceful place to stop and I appreciated free admission and parking.

Next stop was Whalers Village Shopping Mall. This mall features lei making classes, hula and ukulele lessons, shows and music. If you eat at one of the restaurants or shops, you can get a three hour parking validation. Leilani’s On the Beach has a 3-5 p.m. happy (Aloha) hour at the beachside bar.

I tried appetizers (pupu in Hawaiian) of prawns, raw veggies with hummus and hurricane fries. Most bars serve Mai Tais and curiously this drink was first created at Trader Vic’s in California.

Close to Leilani’s is Monkeypod Kitchen (creations of well-known chef Peter Merriman) known for its Hawaiian regional cuisine with a 3-5:30 p.m. happy hour and live music most days. Here I sampled pumpkin ravioli,

shrimp potstickers and lobster deviled eggs. All delicious. With so many sought after restaurants in Maui I was fortunate to get tables at two different local’s favorites. A top 10 on Trip Advisor, Star Noodle didn’t disappoint though I had to take a 3 p.m. dinner reservation and there was no happy hour here.

Their menu features several Asian influences: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Singaporean. I tried tapas style dishes and recommend: steamed pork buns, tempura shrimp (huge prawns), Singapore noodles, fiddlehead salad, and Chinese broccoli. I’m not sure how I fit in dessert but I sampled the malasadas (like donut holes) served with three dipping sauces.

Thai Chef Restaurant, a BYOB establishment on Front Street (in a little strip mall) is casual, the wait staff welcoming, and filled with locals. Green chicken curry and shrimp pad thai are both tasty options. A bit of sticky rice for dessert was also flavorful, and prices are reasonable.

On Front Street in Lahaina neighboring restaurants. I was shown to an Oceanside table at Mala Ocean Tavern – featuring a variety of local cuisine, seafood and vegetarian/vegan dishes. I tried appetizers Ahi Bruschetta with a pureed edamame sauce and Brussel sprouts. Both are melt-in-your-mouth good.

Next door Honu Seafood and Pizza was buzzing and I ordered a to-go portion of their famous crab mac and cheese. It may have been both the most expensive and most scrumptious version I’ve tried.

In order to get another “taste” of the Island, I booked a tour at the Maui Tropical Plantation. The guide on this train tour pointed out various trees, plants and fruits that grow in Maui. This attraction has a large gift shop, a couple small boutique shops, coffee and ice cream shops, local farm stand, and a restaurant with inside and outside dining. The Mill House Restaurant has a farm-to-table approach and they offer an interactive “Chef’s Table” with advance reservations. Only ten minutes from the airport, this would be a good activity on arrival or departure days.

One day I drove south to Kihei and Waleia. In Kihei, I stopped for a nack at a popular restaurant, Fred’s Mexican Cafe. The décor is whimsical and their music could be taken from one of my saved playlists. Their menu items claim traditional Mexican meets healthy Californian. The Veggie Quesadilla was sloppy but oh so yummy.

On my self-proclaimed “Redhead Beach Day” I popped up my parasol under a big shade tree at Big Beach at Makena Park. With the blue/ green waters and clean sand it’s no wonder this is a popular (but not too crowded) beach spot. And if you’re feeling adventurous…just take the path over to the next beach “Little Beach” for some nude sun bathing.

Further down Makena Road is a large area of lava fields by La Perouse Bay – providing great photo spots. From God’s inspiring nature to man-made luxuries, the focus of my amazement changed as I browsed The Shops at Wailea. I saw mostly top-end brand name stores but found the Tasini Tiki Gallery where the artist showed me his hand

Rika Wolf Beckley

Rika Wolf Beckley was bitten by the travel bug at an early age. Her passion is still travel and she’s visited all fifty United States and forty-two countries on four continents. With a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Indiana University, Rika works part-time for the Franciscan Spirituality Center; consults with an executive search firm & manages her three vacation rental properties in the greater St. Louis area. Connect with Rika at or on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest @TimberwolfVacationRentals.

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