Beyond the resort hotels: Paia, Maui

Genie Davis March 1, 2011 No Comments


The Hawaiian island of Maui has many beautiful resort communities, plush hotels with elegant pools and luxurious hotel suites. For some families, the inclusive resort experience is so intoxicating and so much fun that you never want to leave your hotel. We’ve been there and done that, too. Maui has so much to offer besides its wonderful beaches and classic resorts though, that I would be remiss in not suggesting another way to stay with your children on the island. 

Paia, Maui - at the beach

We loved the north shore of Maui and eclectic Paia town


Paia is a north shore Maui enclave not that far from the airport in Kahilui. Here locals-dominated beaches are found at the end of short trails; boutique shops and interesting, artist owned galleries push up against old fashioned grocery stores and straight-from-the-70′s New Age book shops, and the very well known Mana foods, a large health food grocery with a good supply of organic staples and vitamin supplements, for those so inclined. Crepe shops and Mexican restaurants are joined by Willie Nelson’s own eatery, Charley’s. Charley’s features some of the best pancakes on the island and a road house ambiance. Sometimes, Willie himself will provide an evenings entertainment – we were told we’d just missed him when we stayed in town. 

And where did we stay? At the small, modern Paia Inn Hotel, located right in town. We had small but sleek looking adjoining rooms with a view of the town itself rather than the coast. Room service is provided but from a town restaurant, Anthony’s, with sandwiches and smoothies the main staples. Breakfast cereals and tea and coffee were free in the lobby. We loved the small town, local atmosphere of the Paia community and the mix of upscale shops and counter culture stores that could’ve been transported via time machine from 1960 San Francisco‘s Haight Ashbury. We also loved being able to wander out of our hotel to nibble on the aforementioned crepes and pancakes, or try the cool pizza bar, Flatbread, just across the street. We also enjoyed a pleasant early evening stroll to the Paia Contemporary Gallery for an evening opening that offered wine and cheese for adults and fruit juice for kids, who were welcomed to the reception. 

As to beach going, the hotel offers private access but via a fairly complicated path between houses. We were led to our gated destination by hotel staff who also helped us master the gate security code provided only to guests. We loved the pretty soft sand cove with gentle waves, a perfect place to spend the day with the kids. The small adventure of reaching the shore line added to a ‘secret garden’ feeling; the hotel thoughtfully provides and sets up beach chairs and umbrellas. If you stopped at Flatbread first, you’re set for a relaxing, private day. 

Once the site of a bustling sugar plantation and sugar town, Paia turned into a sleepy surfing and counter culture community with the waning of the sugar industry. Paia shows its history with its pastel colored plantation style cottage homes. Today, without the tourist crowds of Lahaina and the posh resorts in Wailea, Paia remains fairly quiet, fairly local, but is also becoming more and more of a beacon for those who enjoy an eclectic, gallery-rich street scene with a laid back, family friendly vibe. 

Paia is still situated in the midst of expansive sugar cane fields. Here on quiet northern Maui, it serves as the entry point for traversing the Highway to Hana and Maui’s upcountry communities and Haleakala volcano. It’s a small town that hearkens back to early, sleepy Maui days. 

At busy, mostly locals Baldwin Beach we enjoyed a favorite Paia past time – watching surfers. If you’re not a surfer yourself, you will still enjoy watching world class masters at play on Paia’s justifiably well known waves. You’ll find wind surfers at the beaches just north of town, which also makes for some awesome viewing. Hookipa Beach Park, is known as the wind surfing capital of the world. The rocky shore here isn’t good for swimming, but it’s fun for the kids to scramble over the stones with the wind surfers as a colorful backdrop. 

We also enjoyed chatting with the owner of Konrad’s Ship Gallery, an artistic enclave that sells hand-carved miniatures of Hawaiian canoes. The kids had to be convinced these weren’t easily purchased cool toys, but they were fascinating to look at and equally fascinating to learn about the care and technique involved in creating this art. 

Tikis at Mama's Fish House, outside Paia, Maui

Fabulous food and a fun Polynesian setting makes Mama's Fish House special


Just south of Paia, but before beginning the actual Highway to Hana drive, you’ll find fish eating heaven at Mama’s Fish house as well as another great way to spend a seaside afternoon. Come to the cover for its tide pools and soft white sand, stay for dinner in a bamboo walled, Polynesian style setting with friendly waitresses wearing flowers behind their ears and offering non-alcoholic versions of fresh fruit infused drinks to the kids. The kids are well treated on the food side of the menu as well, with junior sized portions of fish crusted with macadamia nuts or baked in ti leaves. Lots of organic veggies for those who want to pass on the seafood experience, and fresh coconut offered as a side dish. The cove is also a great place to view a sunset. 

On “Final Friday’s” Paia shops stay open late, galleries serve treats, and local musicians hit the streets to perform. Children who like to dance, clap, and sing along are more than welcome to indulge. The Maui Cooperative, an artist’s collective, also stays open late, with music, snacks, and a wide variety of art works and crafts for sale. 

So if you’re looking for an old fashioned Maui, a small town eclectic ambiance, a private beach, and an excellent entrance point for driving the Highway to Hana, Paia is a perfect starting point – or a perfect spot to settle in and relax awhile.

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

Tags: , Reviews, Travel Excursions

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