Maui’s Small Towns

With all that our island has to offer, most residents will concur that Maui well deserves its no ka ‘oi moniker. Ask us about our favorite town here, and things get a bit more complicated. So we did just that: Asked local experts what’s so good about their towns. We’re not taking sides—we love them all.

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Wailuku | Makawao | Kīhei | Lāhainā | Paʻia | Hāna

Baldwin Avenue just above Hāna Highway
Baldwin Avenue just above Hāna Highway

PA‘IA

A century ago, this North Shore town was East Maui’s largest plantation village; you can still see the old sugar mill if you travel up Baldwin Avenue, past Pa‘ia’s only stoplight, and the stupa the Dalai Lama consecrated in 2007. The discovery of Ho‘okipa as a windsurfing mecca launched a town renaissance. Today, an eclectic mix of restaurants, galleries and boutique shops inhabits Pa‘ia’s plantation-era architecture — surrounded, at least for a little while longer, by fields of sugarcane.

Our resident advisors:

  • Emma Burns, manager at Mama’s Fish House
  • Barry Rivers, founder and director of Maui Film Festival

What do you remember about Pa‘ia from when you were young?

EB: My mom used to take us to a sandwich shop called Picnics [where Mambo Cafe is now located]. We ordered at the counter, and picked our drinks from the pictures on the wall. It was a family-friendly diner, Maui style.

Baldwin Beach
Baldwin Beach

What do you like best about living in Pa‘ia?

BR: It’s in short proximity to six of the best beaches on the planet. I’m in the water twice a day, every day. I’m always so immersed in technology and running my business, when I leave my desk I just want to be in the water.

What makes this town unique?

EB: People from all over the globe come to Pa‘ia, which makes it a quirky, yet worldly surf town. Some of the restaurants have family seating, and you never know who will sit down next to you. It’s still a laid-back town, but it’s becoming more sophisticated all the time.

BR: Pa‘ia is eclectic — a mix of many different types of people. Some are out of their minds, some are steady as a rock, and some are in between. That really works for me. I’m originally from New York, and Pa‘ia is Maui’s “east side,” even though it’s on the north shore.

Favorite place to eat?

EB: Mama’s Fish House, of course! Because the fishermen bring their catch to the restaurant every morning, the seafood is as fresh as it gets. In Pa‘ia proper, Cafe des Amis offers some really tasty selections. I like the breakfast burrito that’s served with habanero chutney they make in house. And they have a new sweet crepe made with toasted pecans, maple syrup, and cream. It’s divine!

BR: I love Thai Spice. Everything on the menu is great, but I especially like the green curry and the stir-fry. The to-go counter at Hana Ranch Provisions has a pineapple/peanut cake that’s out of this world.

Any hidden gems?

EB: Sporting Club of the Pacific is a fun place to hang out. It’s tucked into a corner [behind Puka Puka on Hana Highway], and is fairly new on the Pa‘ia radar. You can order a cold-pressed fresh juice or acai bowl and enjoy it outside on a bench under palm trees.

BR: Pa‘ia Bay Coffee is a fantastic way to start your day. Their breakfasts are especially good. Next door, Ali‘i Kula Lavender has opened up a great new shop.

They also recommended:

Noshing on li hing mui margaritas and black-bean nachos during happy hour at Milagros … cooling off with a frozen treat from Tobi’s Shave Ice . . . munching on organic creations at Flatbread Company… shopping for vintage aloha dresses at Biasa Rose… tapping your feet to live music at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon. HP

1 COMMENT

  1. I used to live out near the East end of Pi’ihana Road for 8 years. Many times on Sunday mornings I would drive up to Iao Valley at 6:45am, just when the ranger was opening the gate to the Needle. When I would arrive at the top, I was the only one there and I would go hike up to the high observation point at the top of the steps. The air was so fresh and clean with a little moisture from the mist. I always felt a spiritual presence that would give me chicken skin. The silence from the lack of people made it all the more special, almost like I was transported into another dimension of space and time. One time I took my brother up to the bridge right in front of the gate at midnight on a full moon. We were silently looking down at the water below when all of a sudden a shadow came across the lone street light that’s there. As we looked up and looked back at the water, an apparition appeared on the rock below. I swear he looked like an ancient Hawaiian dressed in feathers and he was glowing white. We looked at him for maybe 4 or 5 seconds and ran like lightning to my jeep and tore off out of there. We couldn’t talk for at least 5 minutes, finally looking at one another and yelling out, “What the f*** was that…?!!!” I’ll never forget Maui, I love her with all my heart and soul. With aloha…

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