- I'm a Hawaii local and live on Oahu, but Maui is my favorite island to visit for it's charm.
- Full of hidden and magical places, here are my must-do activities to enjoy the island like a local.
- Visit Insider's hub for travel guides, tips, and recommendations.
I live on Oahu, but Maui is my favorite neighboring island to visit because it doesn't feel as crowded or dense as Honolulu. It retains old island charm and is home to some of the most picturesque beaches and valleys in the world.
I try to make it to Maui a few times a year, but I know that crowds and tourist traps can take away from that sense of rural, remote paradise. As such, I've carved out a go-to list of off-the-beaten-path places that honor the Maui I grew up with: unspoiled, raw, and visually extraordinary.
From secret beaches devoid of crowds to incredible snorkeling and surfing spots, as well as hidden hikes tucked inside verdant valleys, and volcano craters that peek out from above the clouds, these activities will allow you to enjoy Maui like a knowledgeable local.
I only ask that you be careful and follow the Hawaiian expression of mālama ʻāina (it's our responsibility to respect the land) and leave places just as you found them so that future generations can enjoy them. Take your trash and never take things like lava rock or sand back home.
Avoid crowds at these lesser-known beaches.
The beach is probably the thing you're most excited about in Hawaii. When I have free time, I too can be found surfing or relaxing on the sand, so I know that a crowded, touristy beach is a totally different experience than unwinding on a quieter, lesser-known stretch of waterfront.
Makena Beach, known as "Big Beach" to locals, is a popular Maui beach that runs for two-thirds of a mile. Along Big Beach, you can find more secluded spots that crowds don't know about, like Oneuli Beach or Paako Cove.
The south shore of Maui is also known for its stunning, swimmable beaches like Wailea Beach, where the Four Seasons and other resorts are located.
A lesser-known area on the south shore is Chang's Beach, which is a small pocket of sand tucked into the residential area of Wailea.
I also want to share a few warnings when it comes to Hawaiian beaches. If lifeguard signs indicate there's a strong current or riptide, please don't try to swim into the ocean. Also be careful about where you step or kick, as you might hit a sea urchin, called wana in Hawaiian, tucked into a rock and get their spines in your foot. I've gotten a few stuck during surf sessions and limped around in pain for days.
On that note, about 9 to 12 days after a full moon, the south and west shores commonly have box jellyfish, which sting. If you see a jellyfish or purple Portuguese man-of-war on the beach, I wouldn't risk getting in the water.
Ride the waves at these beaches for all levels of surfers.
Surfing is iconic to Hawaii, and besides Oahu, Maui is the best island to ride waves. There are spots for every level, but some are dangerous and unforgiving, so always follow the Hawaii lifeguard saying: "When in doubt, don't go out."
For those with little experience on a board, I suggest the beginner-friendly waves at Guardrails, which isn't as crowded as fellow beginner spots, Launiupoko or Breakwall. But newbie surfers should never go out alone, so consider enlisting the help of an instructor, like from the woman-run surfing school, Maui Surfer Girls.
Those with a little more experience will have a lot of fun at Olowalu, which breaks in multiple places so you can avoid crowds.
Advanced surfers have their picks too, like the world-famous Honolua Bay, known for its glassy barrels, or Hookipa. Even if you're not on their level, you should still stop by to see these surfers do their thing — it's like watching magic.
Go under the sea at standout snorkeling spots.
With calmer waters and fewer crowds than Oahu, Maui is the best main Hawaiian island for snorkeling, in my opinion.
I recommend the south shore especially. A lesser-known spot is La Perouse Bay, which is located as far south as the road allows and requires a brief hike through lava rock, so wear closed-toe shoes. Look for Makena Alanui Road and when you park, make sure you don't park on lava rock — your tires will thank you. Go in the early morning and you might catch a glimpse of spinner dolphins.
Or, book a trip to snorkel or dive around the crescent-shaped Molokini Crater, the state's only island marine sanctuary. With crystal-clear waters, you can catch glimpses of vibrant fish, and if you go during winter, maybe even a breaching humpback whale.
Check out under-the-radar hikes.
One reason why Hawaii is such a great place to visit (and live) is that you can easily go from lying on the beach to hiking deep in the forest on the same day. There are hikes on Maui suited to every level, but many popular choices are often too crowded to truly enjoy.
For an easy hike with the potential for adventure, check out the Waihou Spring Trail in Makawao, which will take you through a shady forest reserve. I also suggest taking the more difficult and quieter offshoot trail to visit Waihou Springs.
Visit a farm to connect with nature.
One of my favorite qualities about Maui is its abundance of farms. A brief stop or tour at a farm will give you an inside look into how people in Hawaii take care of and live off of the land.
Surfing Goat Dairy Farm, located at the base of Haleakala in Kula, is known for its adorable goats and creamy goat cheese. Or visit Alii Kula Lavender, a lavender and botanical farm lined with fragrant lavender fields.
Foodies will want to book the Maui Pineapple Tour, which takes you through the Maui Gold Pineapple Plantation to learn about Hawaii's plantation history and iconic export, and then to the award-winning Haliimaile Distilling Company for lunch and libations.
Learn about marine life at the Maui Ocean Center.
At Maui Ocean Center, you can dive into the Pacific Ocean without getting wet. I'm always in awe of the immersive and educational offerings at this aquarium, like cage-free shark diving and yoga classes in the serene Open Ocean exhibit.
Not only can you see the largest collection of live coral in the world and other beautiful marine life here, but you'll learn about how Native Hawaiians lived in harmony with the ocean. You'll leave with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the vibrant life in Hawaii's waters.
See historic sites along Hoapili Trail.
This 5.5-mile-long trail is also known as the King's Highway and takes you through the history of south Maui. It's distinct from other popular trails on Maui that are more green and lush, but still offers gorgeous views. The trail was formally expanded in 1824 and named after then-Governor Hoapili — in the 1700s, only King Pi'ilani and other royalty were allowed to use the pathway.
The path takes you along the shoreline and up past some historic sights, like a heiau (ancient temple) and an old lighthouse. Even though the trail is pretty flat, I recommend getting an early start since there's barely any shade on this trail, so it can get very hot. You'll traverse lava rocks (which can be sharp) from an ancient volcanic eruption, so wear appropriate shoes and bring water.
Enjoy peaceful waters at Ulua Beach.
Along the stretch of Wailea Beach is Ulua Beach, a small cove flanked by two rocky points that protect it from currents and wind. The sandy bottom means it's easy for kids and beginner swimmers to enter, and the shallow reef is home to vibrant marine life for snorkelers to view (including the ulua fish, which the beach is named after).
Since this little beach is in the center of Wailea, there are plenty of nearby stands to get snorkeling gear, bodyboards, or whatever else you may need for your beach day. Ulua Beach also faces west, making it the perfect spot to catch a long sunset.
If all of the above is too much, or you only have time to do three things on Maui, make it these:
Visit the historic and spiritual Iao Valley.
Make a visit Iao Valley State Park and you'll quickly understand why it's a must-see Maui destination known for its historic and spiritual value. The valley has been used as a sacred burial site for Hawaiian royalty. In 1790, it was the site of the famous Battle of Kepaniwai, a decisive moment during King Kamehameha's quest to unify all the Hawaiian Islands.
Now, visitors can explore the tropical fauna and dramatic landscape. But be aware that the main hike to the iconic Iao Needle is closed until January 2023 for a slope stabilization project.
Drive the Hana Highway or the Road to Hana.
The winding 52-mile-long Hana Highway, or the Road to Hana, is a famous road that takes you across 59 bridges from north Maui to Hana, on the east side of the island. Leave early so you have lots of daylight to enjoy the breathtaking views and navigate the tricky turns. The drive could take as little as under three hours or, if you make stops, as long as six. Be considerate of locals as the road can get backed up with tourists slowing down to take in the views.
I recommend stopping at one of the roadside stands that sell fresh tropical fruit, like dragon fruit, and other snacks. Fill up on gas while you're in town because your options are very limited on the road.
Stop at the majestic Haleakala National Park.
Watching the sky turn orange and pink through the mystical clouds and over the volcano is one of my favorite childhood memories. The Leleiwi Overlook, a hidden gem at mile marker 17.5 and accessible by a short trail, is worth a stop.
Even though it's Hawaii, it gets very cold at the high altitude so dress accordingly. Besides the summit of the volcano, there is much to do in the park, from hiking desert-like trails or exploring the Kipahulu District, which is a protected area where indigenous species thrive.