Do you think that Maui is nothing but beach towns? Lahaina will change that! While there are incredible beaches to the north and south, in Lahaina’s town center you will find a strong emphasis on art, history, culture, and community. I think it’s the perfect base for a Maui getaway -- or for a day trip when you want to get away from the resorts and absorb local life.
Between the cultural attractions and amazing food and shopping, you’ll want to come back again and again. That’s certainly what happened to me!
Here are some of the best ways to spend a day in Lahaina.
Visit The Old Lahaina Courthouse
The Old Lahaina Courthouse, built in 1859, was strategically positioned next to the harbor to serve as a warning to smugglers and other hooligans. Over the years, it’s acted as a courthouse, customs house, and jail, but today, it has a more peaceful function. It hosts the visitor center, the Lahaina Arts Society, and the Lahaina Heritage Museum. The place is humming on Friday nights, and it’s well worth spending 30 to 60 minutes here.
Stop By The Wo Hing Museum
Built in 1912 as a meeting hall, this historic building provided Chinese immigrants with a place to socialize and celebrate their culture.
Today, the Wo Hing Museum is a cultural museum with historic photos, ceremonial costumes, and a tiny theater showcasing footage captured by Thomas Edison from as early as 1898. It’s a rare look at a community that few visitors know about. A short visit of 30 to 60 minutes can be hugely rewarding.
Go Whale Watching With The Pacific Whale Foundation
There are a number of whale-watching tours that depart from Lahaina, but what makes the Pacific Whale Foundation stand out is that it’s a nonprofit. The naturalists there have a great reputation for being friendly and engaging. The whale-watching cruises also come with a guarantee that you’ll spot a whale -- or your next tour is free.
The Pacific Whale Foundation also operates a Volunteers on Vacation program that allows visitors to contribute to environmental and community-based projects if they have extra time to devote to the area.
Tour The Baldwin Home
The Baldwin Home is the oldest Western-style building in Lahaina. The Reverend Dwight Baldwin once lived here and served as a doctor in Lahaina’s first medical clinic, known today as the Baldwin Home Museum.
Visitors can step back in time and see historic items from when Baldwin lived and worked in the community. The building has the distinction of being the oldest house on Maui, and for those who are interested in history, it’s well worth popping in for a short visit.
Learn To Surf At Nancy Emerson
There are great surfing schools all over Maui, but none has the pedigree of Nancy Emerson Surfing, the oldest surfing school on the island. Nancy herself is a champion surfer and is especially skilled at working with beginners. Most introductory lessons are 2 hours long, and the majority of students succeed in standing up on their boards.
Get Artsy At Art Night
Every second Friday night of the month in Lahaina is Art Night. Along Front Street, Lahaina’s main drag, you’ll see dozens of galleries and craft shops open until 10 p.m., with lots of other shops and restaurants getting in on the action. You can meet the artists (and sometimes enjoy free wine and nibbles!) and browse to your heart’s content with no pressure to buy. Some of the museums also stay open late, offering candlelit tours or other special events, and there’s live music at most bars.
You can see a full list of the planned activities on any given month here.
Eating In Lahaina
Some of Maui’s best restaurants are in Lahaina. From casual cafes to upscales eateries, there are options for all price points and flavor preferences. Happy hours are a particularly good deal, and you’ll find them at beachfront bars and upscale restaurants alike. You could easily make a meal of inexpensive pupus (appetizers) -- and half-price Mai Tais, of course!
These are some of the restaurants I visit time and time again in Lahaina.
Cool Cat Cafe
The Cool Cat Cafe has a 1950s vibe and is famous for its Angus beef burgers, which many people say are the best on Maui. All the menu items, which are named after songs, artists, and trends from the 1950s, come with hearty portions and a variety of delicious sauces and toppings. There is a good selection of vegetarian, gluten-free, and healthy items on the menu as well, plus loaded milkshakes for desserts. Note that the sides are sold separately from the burgers.
Betty’s Beach Cafe
Betty’s Beach Cafe offers classic breakfast combos and hearty main courses with a strong emphasis on burgers and seafood. Treat yourself to macadamia nut crushed ono or delicious fish and chips, and take advantage of the amazing happy hour. Treats such as sweet potato fries, quesadillas, and house nachos (with optional kalua pork) start at $5, with drink specials ringing in at $6 or less.
Next door is the Feast at Lele, an upscale beachside Polynesian luau that pairs each course with a different style of dance -- Hawaiian, Maori, Tahitian, and Samoan. If you’re visiting Betty’s at night, you might catch a glimpse of the action!
Sunrise Cafe is a low-key, tucked-away, cash-only cafe well known for its breakfasts, which range from $6 to $14. Pancakes, fruit bowls, and huge platters of eggs, meat, and toast are popular here. Lunch specials of roasted chicken, tofu in curry sauce, and kalua pork come with rice and pasta salad or tossed salad. Sandwich plates are accompanied by pasta salad, tossed salad, or chips, offering good value at $8 to $10. Mango barbecue beef sandwiches, classic tuna salad, and BLTs with cucumbers, sprouts, and honey mustard are also on offer.
Aloha Mixed Plate
A “mixed plate” in Hawaii is an economical and delicious lunch option featuring a scoop of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and a hot, savory main course like teriyaki chicken.
Aloha Mixed Plate takes this lunchtime favorite and elevates it to an art form. Hot main courses include mochiko chicken, kalbi ribs, and fresh fish with pineapple salsa. You could also try the poke bowl of the day, a sandwich or burger on a fresh potato bun, or a mouthwatering dessert like the flourless pineapple upside-down cake.
Pacific’O is an elegant, reservations-required kind of restaurant that’s located on the beach. Kimchi tacos, cognac hen liver mousse, lobster ravioli, harissa sesame lamb, and carrot-miso butter glazed fish with black garlic are just some of the menu items here. This is definitely the place for a romantic night out.
Home of the original hula pie (macadamia nut ice cream on a chocolate cookie crust topped with chocolate fudge -- yum!), Kimo’s is well worth a visit just to indulge your sweet tooth, but I’d suggest making room for a full meal there. The turkey, bacon, avocado, and pesto sandwich is terrific, as are the fish tacos, the Caesar salad, and the coconut shrimp.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice arguably has the best shave ice in all of Hawaii. The ice itself is freshly shaved and incredibly fluffy. The syrups -- including lychee, guava, wedding cake, tiger’s blood, and pickled mango -- are homemade and deliciously flavorful. I visited Ululani’s at least once a day, and I bet you will, too!
Shopping In Lahaina
There are gaudy souvenir shops aplenty in Lahaina, but there are also a lot of unique, locally run small businesses. Some of the best arts and crafts in all of Hawaii can be found here.
These are some of my favorite spots.
Maui Hands has an excellent selection of locally made crafts, including ceramics, textile arts, sculpture, glass, wood, prints, and jewelry. Master quilter Noreen Tretick is represented here, and her incredible Hawaiian quilts are available for sale.
If all the time you’ve spent in Lahaina has you dreaming of a move to Maui, your emotions will be in overdrive when you see the estate at MauiGrown Coffee. Gorgeous houses sit amidst the hillside coffee estate, where delicious coffee is carefully harvested and roasted on-site. Between the bags of beans and the coffee-related souvenirs and the to-go cups of fresh coffee and espresso drinks, this is one of my favorite spots in Lahaina.
Featuring shirts tinted with beer, coffee, rum, chilis, and even volcanic crater dust, Crazy Shirts really does live up to its name. It’s a great place to pick up that classic souvenir T-shirt, plus hats, sweatshirts, shorts, and accessories.
Game Over Comics
A classic comics store is just a short walk from the beach. Has there ever been a better location to pick up comics, books, collectables, toys, and trading cards? Game Over Comics is the perfect stop for anyone traveling with grandkids.
If you appreciate old maps, vintage prints, quirky photographs, and all things Hawaii, you will love poking around Lahaina Printsellers. The shop sells everything from small old-fashioned movie posters and prints for under $100 to gorgeous huge canvases that retail for more than $1,000.