MAUI – One of the great things about this island is its flexibility. You can stay at a glittering, luxurious property on the dry side of the island. Or at a casual, luxury property on the edge of a rainforest. You can stay at a hip spot steps from fabulous restaurants and bars. Or you can bed down at a superb hotel on the edge of one of the world’s best beaches.
Here’s a look at five places where you can get just about any kind of experience you desire.
IN THE ACTION Lahaina is one of the great towns of the world; with a wonderful, relaxed air, fun shops and cool restaurants like Fleetwood’s on Front, where you’ll often find a piper greeting the sunset amid mementoes from the career of Mick Fleetwood, drummer for Fleetwood Mac and a nearby resident. It’s maybe a two-minute, sun-drenched walk from the restaurant to the Plantation Inn, a small, fun property run by the folks who manage the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. The Innhas a small pool with units gathered around a courtyard. The rooms aren’t super special, but the staff is super friendly and the pool is quieter than you might expect for the middle of Lahaina. The on-site restaurant, Gerrard’s, serves fabulous French cuisine (try the duck confit or diver scallops) and, at breakfast, the best French Toast you’ve ever had.
FUNKY FUN On the other side of the island is the Paia Inn, where you’ll find a series of different styles of rooms just off the main street. There’s a lovely garden out back and the property backs onto the best beach on this side of the island. You can use their boogie boards or lounge chairs free of charge and enjoy great views of the ocean and the West Maui mountains. My first time here I had a good-sized, one-bedroom unit. The last time I had a massive, two-bedroom unit with a full kitchen and a balcony big enough to kick a soccer ball on. As with Lahaina, you’re literally steps from great restaurants and surf shops. A short drive away is Mama’s Fish House, which has the best seafood on Maui and a super-romantic, beachfront setting. If that’s not in your budget, try Sam Sato’s in Wailuku for legendary noodles. Two can dine in style for less than $20.
CASUAL LUXURY The Travaasa Hana might be the most understated luxury property on the planet. Unlike some flashy resorts, this place whispers luxury with its massive lawns and cottage-style units looking out over Hana Bay and a simple, rectangular pool that’s perfectly situated on a small hill overlooking the bay on this, the wetter side of Maui. They’re putting more of an emphasis on families of late, but there’s always been plenty for kids to do, including croquet, cycling on the free bikes they have and a super-casual, three-hole pitch-and-putt golf course. Or just veg out by the pool on an old-fashioned hammock and listen to the wind rustle the leaves of the towering palm trees overhead. There’s fine entertainment to be found in the lounge, and they put a strong emphasis on local cuisine. My mahi mahi was simply but perfectly grilled with a wonderful coconut rice, while the tenderloin cut like butter and came topped with tiny Maui onion rings. If dinner is out of your price range, try one of the casual food shacks along the road, such as the Hana Farms spot just north of town.
FAMILY LUXURY The Fairmont Kea Lani is a stunningly designed property with a beautiful lobby opening out onto gardens and pools that spill down to the Pacific Ocean. There’s a fun (trust me) water slide and also water basketball and other activities to keep kids and adults happy. And all the rooms are suites, mostly with fabulous ocean views and plenty of space. Interiors are Hawaiian enough but not kitschy. We had an enormous bathroom with a huge tab and large shower and a large deck with a table and chairs and a chaise lounge overlooking the gardens, with views of the islands of Kahoolawe and Molokini. There’s a wonderful beach, and the food is sensational at Ko restaurant, which has been named Maui’s best. The poolside tables are super-romantic, and the seafood is remarkably fresh and beautifully prepared. The sushi I tried came in a lightly fried tempura better with tuna, spicy sauce and orange roe and was one of the best things I ate this year. Great mai tai’s, too.
A PERFECT MIX If I had to pick my perfect, all-around hotel anywhere in the world the Napili Kai Beach Resort would be it. It’s relaxed enough that you can wear anything anywhere, but upscale enough to make you feel spoiled. The setting is unsurpassed on all Maui; occupying a long, narrow point on the north side of Napili Beach; for my money the best in Hawaii. There’s a large, recently renovated pool and a series of smaller ones on the units on the point, which offers tremendous beach and coastal views. It’s a very Hawaiian resort owned by Canadians out of Vancouver, and they do a great job promoting the local culture. The Napili Kai foundation was created more than 50 years ago and they do weekly kids’ hula shows (free) and weekly Hawaiian slack key guitar shows with wisecracking, multi-talented George Kahumoku Jr., a Grammy Award winner and a true guitar master. The Sea House restaurant has one of Maui’s best breakfasts (try the crater pancakes) and, at night, a wonderful torch lighting ceremony and killer sunsets. A short walk away is Merriman’s, with a fantastic terrace overlooking the water and some of Hawaii’s best food and drinks.
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