SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Katie Pesznecker can’t sit still. She’s always on the go–and this week she’s got a trip report from Maui (with photos). This is a rough season, as nonstop Anchorage-Maui flights won’t resume until Dec. 16. Better get in the mood now so when winter sets in, you can say “Here today….gone to Maui!”
Here in Alaska, as fall foliage blushes orange and gold, snow steadily sneaks down the hillsides, and daylight draws away, it’s encouraging to remember unassailable summer remains just a flight or two away, and can be found forever in Maui.
My parents long ago bought a timeshare, so our extended family descends with some regularity on this laid-back Hawaiian island. It had been a while: our last group visit was pre-pandemic, fall 2019. So this September we were more than ready to reconvene in paradise. It’s a great time to plan a trip to Hawaii, as in the not-too-distant future, Alaska Airlines resumes direct flights from Alaska to Maui, Kona and Oahu.
Our family stayed at three different condominiums, a common Maui lodging. One was located in pretty plantation town Lahaina, and the other two were about 10 minutes north in the more suburban, seaside hamlet of Kahana. Visitors to Maui will often find themselves choosing between Lahaina and Kihei for lodging. Kihei is sleepy and beachy, the sunniest and driest spot on the island, located on Maui’s southwest shore. We’ve stayed there in the past but didn’t make it over this time around.
Lahaina is definitely busier – on the western shore, it hosts about 80 percent of Maui’s tourism activity annually. It feels like more of a tourist destination, and draws a crowd for good reason. Its beautiful sunsets showcase sail boats bobbing in the waves, and its idyllic Front Street with historic buildings and bustling shops mean there’s always plenty to do here.
Nothing on Maui is too far away from any place else, but lower-than-mainland speed limits and singular here-to-there routes often interrupted by lighted intersections mean driving can take time. For that reason, base-camping in a busy hub like Lahaina makes logistical sense.
My sister, her fiancé and my mom were the Lahaina-based family members, shacking up in a cool condo owned by my sister’s Anchorage-based company. They took advantage of quieter mornings before tourists stormed the streets, and loved walking to restaurants without fighting (and paying) for parking.
I was in Kahana, sharing a condo with my brother, his wife, and my husband. With both a rental car and Uber at our fingertips, we found Kahana to be an excellent compromise location where you’re close enough to Lahaina to enjoy the action but far-flung enough to feel that chill Maui vibe. Within a few blocks on foot from our property, we had a busy neighborhood pub, a poolside bar with a happening happy hour, a decent small grocery, a reasonably priced coffee shop, and plenty of sandy beaches.
You won’t lack for dining options on Maui, and we enjoyed some favorites on this trip. Winning the award for Most Frequented Dining Establishment by my extended family: Down the Hatch Maui in Lahaina. An appearance on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” amplified its popularity, but this cool spot is stacked with fans and accolades, including being voted Best Bar in Maui five out of the past six years.
The venue is located down a stairway off Front Street, filling an open-air courtyard that includes a vibrant bar area and plentiful seating. A daily happy hour and live music are big draws, and so is the food. A must-order: the incredible Lava Lava Shrimp, served in a chilled martini glass with pickled red vegetables and green onions.
Down the Hatch pays homage to fresh seafood and Hawaiian favorites, dishes inspired by proteins like Mahi Mahi and Kahlua pig. Famously, fishermen can bring in their daily catch and pay a reasonable fee for the chef to prepare the fresh fish on site.
Sharing the courtyard area is Breakwell Shave Ice, known for boozy concoctions that are the perfect cold treat on a humid Maui day.
Another favorite spot in Maui is Paia Fish Market. The original restaurant is in the small surf town Paia, also on Maui, but there are several other locations on Maui and Oahu, including the Lahaina location, which opened in 2016 on Front Street across from the town’s massive and iconic Banyan Tree.
Paia Fish Market offers some of the simplest but most delicious fish you’ll enjoy on the island. You choose the fish type (think Mahi Mahi, ono, or salmon) and select the preparation – like charbroiled, or blackened. Entrees are served with staples like Cajun rice, fried potatoes and crunchy rough-chopped coleslaw. It’s usually a fairly swift experience; you order at the counter and the efficient kitchen delivers orders quickly. The fish or chicken tacos here are incredible and an extremely affordable and filling lunch option. Other menu items include sandwiches, fried fish, and pasta dishes.
My third don’t-miss-it restaurant in Lahaina is Fleetwood’s on Front Street. Owned by legit rock star Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, the restaurant includes bragging rights for featuring a swoon-worthy rooftop bar, the only one in Lahaina. Fleetwood’s happy hour is a foodie paradise, with generous pricing on scrumptious treats like fresh oysters, crab and corn fritters, and a BLT bruschetta with Duroc pork belly, spicy goat cheese, and tomato jam. The vibe here is laid-back luxury, and casual classy.
Reservations for Fleetwood’s rooftop during happy hour are highly recommended and can be made 30 days in advance. It’s worth it to enjoy this delicious food with views of the sea, familiar rock favorites from the 1970s and ‘80s filling the air. Don’t miss the ground floor art gallery of iconic rock photography, with prints for sale at a discount if you’ve dined at Fleetwood’s.
A cornerstone of any family vacation to Maui is snorkeling day. There are many outfits to choose from and the itinerary is pretty standard: boat trip to a snorkel spot, an hour in the water, followed by some kind of lunch and beverages. Prices vary depending on whether you opt for more food options or an open bar. This time we signed on with an outfit called Quicksilver.
Conveniently, we boarded directly from Lahaina’s waterfront, motored a modest distance away, and spent an hour floating and flippering with our delighted faces dunked in the water, watching legions of gigantic sea turtles swimming about. Snorkeling beginner? No problem. Every trip I’ve ever been on included a tutorial for newbies. All the gear is provided, and props like floatation belts and spongey pool noodles help ease the work of being in the ocean.
The cruise included a hot dog lunch, and the cheapest cocktails in Maui ($3 a piece!) once the swimming part was over. The boat also included a waterslide and a high jump. In all, the excursion was a relaxing and invigorating three-and-a-half hours of fun in the sun.
Hawaii is always a treat and vacation costs add up quickly. One way to noticeably counterbalance that is to prepare some meals and enjoy cocktails at your home base. We always hit up Foodland, a local grocery, loading up on fresh fruit, Maui onion potato chips, and scoops of fresh ahi from the poke bar! It’s also fun to browse the beer and cider section for Hawaiian-brewed beverages. Also, most condos have poolside gas grills in addition to kitchens. And definitely take advantage of happy hour food and drinks when venturing out. Hitting up food carts and farmers’ markets can also defray expenses.
There’s been a lot of conversation lately about being responsible and respectful tourists when visiting Hawaii. Taking time to learn about the culture and making an effort to respect the people and protect the landscape is important. Every time I’m lucky enough to visit, I’m dreaming of my return before I even depart. In that spirit, I love that the word aloha means both hello and goodbye. To my cherished time in Maui with my beloved family, I bid the experience aloha.
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