What to do in Maui: Sunset and palm trees

What to Do in Maui if You Don't Have Much Time

For a smallish island, Maui has wildly diverse ecosystems and communities—there’s a lot to see and experience. If you only have three days, concentrate on some of Maui’s most quintessential experiences: a beach, a luau, the scenic Hana Highway, and the view from the top of Haleakala, a 10,023-foot-high dormant volcano.

Our itinerary starts at Kahekili Beach. To get there from Lahaina/Ka‘anapali, take Hwy. 30 north toward Kapalua. Turn left on Pu‘ukoli‘i Street and follow it to the shaded parking lot.

What to do in Maui: Kahekili Beach
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Day 1: Kahekili Beach

Check in to your hotel, and then head for Kahekili Beach, named for an ancient Maui king. You’ll feel like royalty when you sink your toes into the deep sand here. Don’t overdo the sun on your first day. Bring water, sunscreen, and a hat. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent snorkel equipment—the reef here is vibrant. Otherwise, simply bask like a turtle on the sand and enjoy the perfect temperature. 

Retrace your route back to Hwy. 30 and turn right, continuing into Lahaina town.

What to do in Maui: Hawaiian shave ice
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Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

Cool off with this uniquely Hawaiian treat (790 Front St.). Snow-fine ice shavings are topped with tropical fruit syrups. Try liliko‘i and coconut with ice cream or a “snowcap” (sweet condensed milk).

What to do in Maui: Lahaina
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After an hour or two at the beach, spend a couple of hours walking this historic oceanfront town, which was once the royal capital of Hawaii, and later a favorite spot for both whalers and missionaries. Today, you can browse an array of unique storefronts, restaurants, and nightlife spots. 

Things to do in Maui: sunset luau
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Old Lahaina Luau

To really feel as though you are in Hawaii, immerse yourself in Polynesian culture at this beachfront luau (1251 Front St.). The festivities begin at sunset and feature Tahitian and Hawaiian dancing and chanting. The food is a mix of Pacific Rim and traditional Hawaiian, from imu-roasted kalua pig to baked mahi-mahi to teriyaki sirloin steak. 

From Lahaina take Hwy. 30 south to Hwy. 380 and turn right (east). In Kahului, Hwy. 380 becomes Dairy Road. Turn right (east) on Hwy. 36.

Maui in three days: Drive the Hana Highway.
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Day 2: Hana Highway

Wake up early on day 2 and get out as quickly as you can to hit the scenic Hana Highway. Allow at least 3.5 to 5 hours for the journey. Pull over often (where it is safe and legal to do so). Get out to take photos, smell the flowers, and buy fresh banana bread. Move off the road for those speeding by, and breathe in Hawaii.

After mile marker 16, Hwy. 36 becomes Hwy. 360 and starts with mile marker 0. Our next stop is just past mile marker 32.

How to see Maui in 3 days: Wai'anapanapa State Park
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Wai‘anapanapa State Park

Just before reaching Hana town, stop at this state park and hike down to the black-sand beach and cave pool. 

Back on the Hana Highway, a couple of miles down the road between mile markers 34 and 35 is . . . 

Things to do in Maui: Hana Fresh Market
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Hana Fresh Market

This small, outdoor farmer’s market and deli sells lunch items made with locally grown produce. I highly recommend the poke bowl and grilled veggie panini. Enjoy a latte made with local coffee before you leave 

About half a mile after mile marker 35, you come to the outskirts of Hana. Veer right at the police and fire station.

3-day Maui itinerary: Hana
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While you’re here, make sure to hit three of my favorite spots: the Hana Cultural Center and Museum, the Hasegawa General Store, and Hana Coast Gallery. Spend the night in Hana.
Things to see in Maui: Oheo Gulch Kipahulu at Haleakala National Park
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Day 3: The Backside of Haleakala

On day 3, pack up to leave Hana and head out toward the lush Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park. Bring snacks, water, and a charged camera or phone to capture the stunning vistas you will encounter.

Stop at the waterfalls in Kipahulu (save your park receipt for entrance to the summit later). Continue on the cliff-hanging road through the dry, cattle country of Kaupo. The road turns to gravel in a few spots, but it isn’t too bad. Drive slowly and watch for cows.

Stop for ice cream at Kaupo Store. Proceed on Pi‘ilani Hwy. 31 into the rolling green hills of ‘Ulupalakua. Take a spin through the vineyards of MauiWine and try the burgers at the ‘Ulupalakua Ranch Store

Pi‘ilani Hwy. 31 becomes Kula Hwy. 37 after ‘Ulupalakua. Follow it to Kekaulike Hwy. 377 and turn right. Turn right again onto Haleakala Hwy. 378 to go to the top of Haleakala.

Pictured above: Oheo Gulch Kipahulu at Haleakala National Park

Maui in 3 days: Haleakala National Park volcanic crater
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Haleakala National Park
Cruise up to the 10,000-foot dormant volcano, Haleakala. You won’t have time for a hike, but spend at least an hour gazing into the crater’s moonscape.

Retrace your route down Hwy. 378 to Hwy. 377, where you turn right and head north to Hwy. 37. Turn right onto Hwy. 37 and, at the next light, turn right onto Makawao Avenue to drive to the town of Makawao. To get to Pa‘ia from Makawao, head downhill on Baldwin Avenue.
What to do in Maui: Makawao and Pa'ia
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Tour the old cowboy town of Makawao and plan a sunset dinner in Pa‘ia before heading back to the airport. If you’re feeling luxurious, make reservations well in advance for Mama’s Fish House

From Hwy. 36 in Pa‘ia, drive west to Kahului, turning right on Airport Road.

For more ideas on making the most of your time in paradise, get a copy of Frommer's Maui Day by Day, available in paperback and e-book versions.