The second largest Hawaiian island, Maui is a good choice for families seeking activities, cultural opportunities and resort amenities while still experiencing a laid-back tropical getaway. Although the island is large, it doesn’t feel like a big city. In fact, in addition to the popular tourist areas, there are many small, quaint towns anchored by mom and pop shops and restaurants. With temperatures averaging in the 70s and 80s year-round, any season is ideal for visiting Maui with kids.
Family Vacation Guide to Maui
Maui was the first Hawaiian island my kids visited. They loved everything about it, from the beaches and parks to attractions and scenic drives. I’ll never forget the first time we went on an exhilarating snorkeling cruise in the morning, and then drove to the top of the dormant volcano Haleakala for stunning afternoon views of Maui. It was on this island that they learned to surf, stood atop a crater, and ate shave ice for the first time.
On return visits, we’ve explored the island’s lesser known attractions. We’ve driven on quiet roads to lavender and goat farms nestled on the slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakala. There are so many things for families to do on Maui. Or not do. Maui has more than 30 miles of beautiful white, black and red sand beaches perfect for soaking up the aloha spirit.
Sometimes we like staying in fancy resorts with large pools and spa services (sign me up!). Other times we enjoy the convenient amenities of a resort residence. One thing we always do is rent a car in advance from either the Kahului or Kapalua Airport so we can explore Maui at our leisure.
Under the Sea
Although there are many places to snorkel on your own (Black Rock in Kaanapali is popular with strong swimmers), there are benefits to exploring the undersea world with a snorkeling outfitter like Four Winds II. First, it can be safer. At Four Winds and other outfitters, staff is Red Cross certified.
But most of all, it’s a lot of fun. On a typical morning tour, you sail to one or two great spots to snorkel with colorful fish and sea turtles at Molokini Crater. The water is so clear and it’s amazing how much you see! The Four Winds II catamaran has a water slide, kid-sized gear, and boogie boards with viewing ports. After snorkeling a BBQ lunch is prepared onboard.
If snorkeling isn’t your thing or your kids are too young, you can still get a good look at underwater creatures aboard a submarine. The spacious submarine is designed with large portals for viewing a variety of sea life. Fish and other forms of marine life increase as the battery-powered sub descends 100 feet.
Maui Ocean Center
More than 60 indoor and outdoor exhibits showcase sandbar sharks, moon jellies, turtles, tropical fish and other marine animals that live in Hawaii’s waters. At the Open Ocean exhibit, you can walk through a 54-foot-long clear acrylic tunnel that provides a 240-degree view of nearly 2,000 fish. The Tide Pool and Turtle Lagoon exhibits offer close-views of Hawaiian sea life.
Ready to eat? The onsite Seascape Restaurant has a great lunch and dinner menu. Island fish tacos, Kalua pork sandwich and a variety of burgers are among the kid-pleasing options.
Must-See Attractions on Maui
Once a whaling port and plantation settlement, this cozy, coastal town has numerous dining and shopping options. It’s a great place for lunch and a stroll. Pick up a walking map from the Lahaina Visitor Center and take a self-guided tour along the Historic Lahaina Trail, which leads to 62 historic sites. Treat your family to shave ice and sit under the massive Banyan Tree, planted in 1873.
Road to Hana
To enjoy this super scenic drive and sights, plan for a day trip. Be sure to pack the car with food and drinks and get an early start. The drive is just 52 miles long but – with 620 curves and 59 narrow bridges – it can take a few hours round trip. We go crazy taking photos of roadside waterfalls, natural pools, rain forests and beaches along the way.
We like to stop and stretch our legs at the charming town of Hana, where we shop for souvenirs and buy snacks in the Hasegawa General Store. Or we opt for the amazing beaches along the way, including Hana Beach Park, Hamoa Beach and Waianapanapa State Park, a beautiful black sand beach.
In Kipahulu,there’s Oheo Gulch, better known as the Pools of Oheo, a series of beautiful waterfalls that spill into tiered pools leading to the ocean. Although swimming is allowed, the rocks are slippery and at times there are flash floods (check with the visitor center for weather conditions). Hiking in the surrounding bamboo forest is another option.
Haleakala National Park
No visit to Maui is complete without a visit to Haleakala, the dormant volcano which is Maui’s highest peak. At 10,023 feet above sea level, the summit is an ideal place to catch a sunrise or sunset. But daytime views are also stunning. High above the clouds, the rugged terrain creates a surreal landscape. Stop by the visitor center for ranger programs. Bring a sweater, as it gets windy. The drive itself is scenic and you may see grazing cows.
Off the Beaten Path Family Outings
Iao Valley State Park
For a low-key family outing, take a walk through a rainforest in this serene, 4,000-acre park, home to one of Maui’s most recognizable landmarks, the 1,200-foot Iao Needle. A paved path leads from the parking lot to the lookout point. Also situated in the park is the Hawaii Nature Center, where kids can learn about local culture and animals through interactive exhibits and programs.
Surfing Goat Dairy
Located in lower Kula on Haleakala’s slopes, this working dairy farm may not be what you’d expect to see on Maui. You can pet, milk and feed goats and learn about the cheese-making process. If your family loves cheese, stick around to sample the award-winning cheese products.
Where to Eat
From casual eateries to upscale dining, Maui has many restaurants to satisfy every palate. We like to eat where local families go. Some local favorites include Da Kitchen, which serves traditional plate lunches (meat entree with steamed rice and potato mac salad); Star Noodle, where homemade noodles are served for lunch and dinner; and Mama’s Fish House, known for fine dining and ocean views. In addition, food trucks are a good option for budget-friendly meals on the go.
For dessert or a snack, shave ice (much better than a plain snow cone) is always a treat. Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice has locations in Lāhaina, Kīhei, Kahului and Wailuku.
Where to Stay
Maui has many fabulous lodging options from budget to luxury.
If you’re debating between a hotel and condo, consider a Vacatia resort residence, which combines the best of both worlds. You get the perks and luxury of a hotel (daily housekeeping), and the benefits of condo amenities, which include more room, a washer and dryer and kitchen.
Vacatia works with about 30 properties around the island. Some examples include Lahaina Shores Beach Resort, Maui Eldorado Kaanapali by Outrigger, and Wailea Grand Champions Villas.
The island of Maui offers a vacation paradise to families of all sizes and ages. The beauty of the scenery is surpassed by the spirit of the island and the welcoming nature of the people you’ll meet.