Home to one of the scarcest surf breaks in the world, Māʻalaea takes the concept of “windswept” to whole new heights from where it sits at the junction of Kihei and Lahaina on Maui’s gorgeous southwest coast.
Once a blink and you-might-just-miss-it cluster of condos and boats beneath the West Maui Mountains, Māʻalaea is now a burgeoning destination with a splendid collection of restaurants, activities, and shops—and all of it amid a spot of dramatic natural beauty.
Beyond snorkelers setting off for a cruise and the sandy-haired surfers who made this tiny corridor famous, a number of visitors to the Valley Isle only see Māʻalaea as they’re journeying by towards the West Side. Break that trend by checking out the boatload of treasures this breezy little town has to offer.
Maui Ocean Center
Boasting the largest dormant volcano in the world, one of the leading astronomy observatories on Earth, and one of the wettest rainforests on the planet, Maui is its own Guinness Book of World Records.
Add Maui Ocean Center to that list. Located within Māʻalaea Harbor, this kid-friendly aquarium claims a top spot for housing the world’s largest collection of live Pacific Coral. Within that wonder you’ll find marine life that ranges from moray eels to Hawaiian green sea turtles—not to mention sharks and thousands of fish found nowhere else on Earth.
On the island during the summer months? Check out Night at the Aquarium on Saturdays, where you can sip a tropical libation while viewing nocturnal ocean animals at play.
Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Just south of Māʻalaea on the northern edge of Kihei, the Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge takes travelers on a 2,200-foot boardwalk excursion through one of the last natural wetland sanctuaries in the state. Quiet and tranquil, this extraordinary habitat shelters a number of exquisite birds, from theae’o (Hawaiian Stilt) to the‘alae ke‘oke‘o, or Hawaiian Coot—an endemic Hawaiian bird that nests during the winter when the water is high. Keep an eye out for the Pacific Golden Plover—a migrator from Alaska—and stick to the path: The birds here are endangered.
The Mill House
Set on the lush, inviting grounds of Maui Tropical Plantation—a top visitor destination within close range of Māʻalaea and one of the oldest sugar estates in Hawaii—The Mill House is an out-and-out foodie’s wonderland. Helmed by ‘Aipono Chef of the Year Award Winner Jeff Scheer—an Ohio-born epicurean master who graduated from the Maui Culinary Academy in 2008—The Mill House takes the farm-to-table fad to brilliant new levels by serving food that’s sourced mere yards from its kitchen. With a menu that changes to reflect the plantation’s harvest, patrons are indulged with fresh, inspired offerings. Start with bites that range from House Pickles to Hebi Brandade, move on to a course of fresh-caught Ono with corn puréeand curry oil, and then splurge on dessert and one of our handcrafted cocktails. Looking to truly wine and dine? Dedicate a weekend night to our inimitable Chef’s Table—a seven-course dinner served under the stars by an assemblage of equally bright culinary maestros.
Two decades after the closure of Māʻalaea Airport—a runway that once accommodated eight-passenger flights from Honolulu before its proximity to the West Maui Mountains was deemed a potential hazard—this gusty village saw the construction of a harbor that now serves as the launching pad for dozens of whale-watching, booze-cruising, and snorkel boats to Molokini. Many commercial vessels leave from this easily accessed harbor, from small sailing yachts to large double-decker power catamarans. Relish Māʻalaea’s waters aboard one of these boats, where guests are given glorious views of Maui’s mysteriouswindmills,golden-glowing beaches, and lumbering outer islands. From early-morning snorkel trips to cocktail-infused sunsets, this is the go-to activity for those who love to glide across the ocean.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But you might be one of the relative few that arrives on Maui at a serendipitous-enough time to see what’s lionized as the world’s fastest wave.Māʻalaea Pipeline is known in surfer circles as Freight Trains for a reason: Swift right-handers peel over shallow reefs at puma-esque speeds, prompting Matt Warshaw of Surfer fame to write that “every surfer legend from the Age of Nixon to the Summer of Azalea who flies to Maui with their afterburners primed gets shut down somewhere in the echoey misty vastness of that Chunnel-length tube” but “make one from the top of the bay and you see God.” And there is something rather divine about south swells hitting this shore hard. Considering that Freight Trains’ waves (which are usually generated from storms in New Zealand) must first have to make it past the neighboring islands, it’s no wonder that Māʻalaea has also been called the Blue Moon Break: Rideable surf strikes this shore only a few times per decade.
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Happen to be visiting when the ocean is flat enough to break out the water skis? Check out Haycraft Beach. Framed by kiawe trees, with views of Kaho’olawe, Lanai, and Makena’s Pu’u O’Lai, this stretch of secluded sand is a sunbather's paradise. But coconut oil-up at an early hour—this is one of the windiest strands on the island.
Māʻalaea Harbor Shops
Slipping back into Māʻalaea’s dazzling marina, you’d never guess that its environs were once home to an amphibious training area during World War II. Now this sparkling wharf lodges Māʻalaea Harbor Shops, an outdoor mall that’s teeming with great eateries—from the buzzy Beach Bums BBQ & Grill and the airy Oceanside Restaurant to the red-roofed General Store & Deli—and terrific shops (including the aptly-named Da Beach House, which sells a sweet mix of swimwear and casual clothes). End your Maalaea adventure on a high note with a dish of bliss at Hula Cookies & Ice Cream and a round of outdoor miniature golf at Maui Golf & Sports Park. Those magnificent views from your bumper boat? Remember that you’re in Maui: They’re par for the course.
All photography was either taken by Mill House staff, from owners that have given us written permission, and/or purchased for use. We have all the rights necessary to use these images on our website.