International travel is slowly opening up, which means a trip to the Med might not be that far off. In the meantime, Hawaii is the next best thing.
Maui, the second-largest island, is positively buzzing with exciting new ways to let out a year of pent-up travel energy between visits to old favorites (like Mama's, of course) and new hot spots.
Travel to Maui is booming, so you'll want to make your reservations (for lodging, restaurants, experiences, and rental cars) as far ahead in advance as possible. Covid tests are still required before entering Hawaii from out of state and restaurants are currently operating at 50 percent capacity. But trust—once you're sitting on the beach with a mai tai, none of the pre-trip hassles will matter.
These are the can't-miss stops.
Maui's New Ocean-View Stays
(Courtesy of Wailea Beach Resort)
AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea
There's rarely new construction happening on Maui, but the AC Hotel marks a truly unique occurence: the opening of a brand new, ocean-view resort in Wailea. The AC is also different from its neighbors in that it has just 110 rooms, so it feels much more quiet and intimate. Rooms are super modern, clean, and minimalist and a tiki bar serves up bento boxes and original cocktails. There are also tennis courts and an infinity pool complete with floating loungers, chic, a-frame cabanas, and fire-pits. The only drawback: you can't walk to the beach, but you're still very close. // 88 Wailea Ike Place (Wailea), marriott.com
Ka'anapali Beach Hotel
One of the island's oldest and most traditional resorts — a place where you can learn how to string leis and hula dance — is in the middle of a head-to-toe makeover. The first phase of this was the completion of new ocean-view rooms, which look right out over one of Maui's largest (three miles long) and most pristine beaches, Ka'anapali Beach. These rooms provide the perfect post for enjoying the sunset, people watching, and spotting sea turtles that wash up on the shores around dinner time. The resort is also opening a new beachfront restaurant, Huihui (which doubles as a sailing academy) in July. // 2525 Kaanapali Pkwy (Lahaina), kbhmaui.com
Wailea Beach Resort
You can't beat the views from Wailea Beach Resort's new Sundeck Collection Rooms featuring spacious, private lanais with chaise lounges. Book an Oceanfront Sundeck room and find yourself mere feet away from the waves, enjoying an unobstructed view for the sunset, whale watching, and even people watching. A pair of beaches are an easy walk away and for pool time, you may want to splurge for the overwater cabana at the adults-only infinity pool, though it's definitely worth a quick trip to the family adventure pool for a ride down one of the water slides. // 3700 Wailea Alanui Drive (Wailea), marriott.com
Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort
The Andaz' new Ilikai Villas are perfect for a post-pandemic reunion with your closest, vaccinated family and friends. Located at the highest point of the property for the best ocean views, these three-bedroom villas clock in at 1,900 sq. ft., have their own gourmet kitchen, private lanai, and even a plunge pool (for the ground floor units), so if you don't want to mingle with the other resort guests, you don't have to. Andaz also has a Morimoto restaurant, beach access, and the coolest pool situation in Maui with four levels of pools stacked on top of one another. // 3550 Wailea Alanui Drive (Wailea), hyatt.com
If you've been to Maui before, perhaps this time you'll consider getting away from the resort-lined beaches for a bit of an off-the-beaten path experience. Post up for a few days at the rustic-luxe Hana-Maui resort along the Road to Hana, where you'll have easy access to the lush rainforest, raw Hawaiian landscape, waterfalls, and uncrowded beaches. The best part: You can now skip the traffic and even fly there directly like a real VIP. Book the new Plane to Paradise package and pick up your private, 10-seater Cessna connection at one of four Hawaii airports. Your stay will also include dining and spa credits. // 5031 Hana Hwy (Hana), hyatt.com
Explore Maui by Land and Sea
(Courtesy of Kai Kanani)
Mau's Best Snorkeling
You'll probably be waking up early the first few days of your trip due to the three-hour time difference, so you may as well book the sunset snorkel trip on a catamaran with Kai Kanani. This boat takes you out to Molokini, Maui's famous crater for snorkeling (inhabited by over 250 species of fish), before any of the other boats arrive, enabling you to explore these treasured, fish-frenzied waters with just a dozen or so others. Next, they'll take you to "turtle town," where you're almost guaranteed to get up close with several sea turtles, which are generally quite active in the early morning. This excursion includes breakfast, hot beverages, and breakfast cocktails for the trip back.
But many of Maui's beaches have incredible reefs right off the sand, which means there are plenty of chances to snorkel on your own — for free. Rent gear for the extent of your trip from Snorkel Bob's (there are a ton of locations all over the island) so that you have it at the ready whenever opportunity strikes. Some of the best beaches for snorkeling include Ulua Beach, Black Rock at Ka'anapali Beach, Kahekili Beach, and Chang's Beach. Honolua Bay is pretty incredible too, and while it is a bit of a trip out to northwest Maui, it's worth it. While you're out on that part of the island, save time to stop by Julia's Banana Bread stand and get the passionfruit butter. You won't regret it.
Outside of snorkeling, there are ample opportunities to rent equipment (check with the resort you're staying at) to stand-up paddleboard, kayak, surf, windsurf, scuba dive, and more.
The Road to Hana
Most of your Maui vacation should be centered on total R&R, moving between the pool and the beach and the pool. But, you should take one day away from the lounge chair or cabana to drive the famous Road to Hana, a 64.4-mile otherworldly trek through the jungle that's a big change of scenery from the resort-lined beaches throughout the rest of the island.
In order to do the whole trip out and back in one day — and attempt to avoid traffic — you'll want to leave early. You should do your own research ahead of time to plan what stops you want to make and where you can find them, for they're often very poorly marked (or not at all). Don't miss the black sand beach at Waiʻānapana State Park (during the pandemic they were requiring advanced reservations, so check ahead of time), Kaihalulu, the red sand beach in Hana, or Wailua Falls, which has a moderately accessible swimming hole at the bottom.
One of the best parts about this drive is the food, though some of the usual stands might be closed due to the pandemic, so bring some snacks just in case. Top stops include Aunt Sandy's Banana Bread and Coconut Glen's for ice cream in flavors like coconut, coffee toffee, pineapple banana, and chile chocolate. The ocean-view Hana Ranch Restaurant at Hana-Maui Resort is the perfect place for a sit-down dinner before making the long drive back. It's super casual and serves up exactly the kind of food you want to chow down on after an exhausting day of chasing waterfalls: burgers and chicken sandwiches, wings with a Korean Gojuchang glaze, fish, steak, and of course, ahi tuna offerings if you haven't had enough of that already.
Where to Eat & Drink in Maui
(Courtesy of Star Noodle)
This is a great first stop when you leave the airport, especially as you're likely starving after the five-hour flight. Owned by Top Chef Sheldon Simeon, Tin Roof is a strip mall mom and pop shop known for their Kau Kau Tins, which are what plantation workers would carry into the fields for lunch. Get the Mochiko chicken; the thighs are marinated overnight in ginger sake shoyu, covered in a sweet mochiko batter, fried twice, and topped with housemade su-miso sauce and gochujang aioli. Pay extra for their killer garlic noodles and a 6-minute egg. // 360 Papa Place Ste. Y (Kahului), tinroofmaui.com
"Star Noodle v2" has a great new location as of late 2020 — it used to be in an industrial park — and now has the feel of a modern tiki bar set right on the water. One of the best spots on the island for garlic noodles and other Asian-inspired delights, the best strategy here is to bring friends and order as many plates off the menu as possible to share, like the steamed pork buns, Nuoc Cham wings with peanuts, mint, and cilantro, and adobo ribs. // 1285 Front St. (Lahaina), starnoodle.com
Tucked back in The Shops at Wailea complex, Lineage is another project (like Tin Roof) by Top Chef Sheldon Simeon, though he recently handed over the reins to new executive chef Mijin Kang Toride, who spent many years in the Bay Area with stints at Terra and Morimoto in Napa Valley, plus Ame in San Francisco. Most people come here for the Korean fried chicken, but the crispy shrimp and scallop toast, honey garlic shrimp, and garlic Szechuan noodles are standouts too. For drinks, the menu has a solid tea and sake selection, plus inventive cocktails. The Gimme da Chicken Skin (Prairie Cucumber vodka, Broker's gin, Carpano Bianco, false lime, false 'awa, shoyu, habañero shrub) is literally served with a side of crispy chicken skins.
Mama's Fish House
A Maui classic, Mama's continues to draw tourists and even celebrities for what's generally known as the best meal on the island. But, this also means that snagging a reservation isn't always easy, so book as far in advance as possible (if this doesn't work, grab takeout and eat it on the beach next to the restaurant). Forget salmon and tuna, Mama's is the place to try fresh-caught, exotic-sounding fish that you've probably never heard of, like Ono, Uku, and Opakapaka. The Kona Kanpachi stuffed with lobster and crab and baked in a Macadamia crust is the stuff of dreams that will haunt you weeks after. // 799 Poho Place (Paia), mamasfishhouse.com
South Maui Fish Company
The poke bowls served from this food truck are so fresh, you'll probably find yourself going back the very next day. Find the red truck (proudly displaying Guy Fieri's John Hancock) tucked back in the Aloha Market Place in Kihei, but be warned that sometimes their posted hours are a little unreliable and that they often run out of poke early. It's worth the gamble. // 1794 South Kihei Rd. (Kihei), southmauifishco.com
Head to the adult's only Hotel Wailea for Happy Hour at their new lobby bar, the Birdcage Bar. One of the best spots on the island to view the sunset, cocktail in hand, The Birdcage offers 180-degree ocean views and a seriously chic design that pays homage to the real-life lovebirds (and not in a kitschy way) that live in the rafters. They're known to fly home just as the sky turns pink and join guests for an aperetivo. 555 Kaukahi St. (Wailea), hotelwailea.com
If for some reason you tire of poke and seafood on your trip, head to Matteo's for an authentic and homey Italian meal that feels just far enough away from the tourist crowds. You can often watch chef/owner Matteo Mistura cooking your dish from the lively open kitchen; try his famous chicken parmesan, butternut squash ravioli in a brown sage butter sauce, or saltimbocca. Matteo's also has one of the best wine lists in all of Maui, a welcome break from the sugary Mai Tais. // 161 Wailea Ike Pl. (Wailea), matteosmaui.com
A trip to Hawaii isn't complete without shaved ice and Ululani's is the undisputed MVP, which means yes, there is going to be a line and yes, it's worth the wait. There are six locations on Maui, so there's really no excuse to skip it (the original is in Lahaina). The hardest part will be deciding on your flavor combo, though luckily, they suggest a bunch for you, like No Kai Oi (mango, coconut, passion fruit) and whatever you do, add the ice cream. // ululanishawaiianshaveice.com