Maui, The Valley Isle


We started to discuss vacation in June as soon as the kid finished first grade because, you know, first grade is such a harrowing experience to endure so you get rewarded with an all-expenses-paid vacation.  When we initially checked out Disneyland as a possible destination, we did in fact cost it out and a 3-night stay at the Grand Californian, 4-day park hopper passes, food and gas would come out to about as much as a weeklong vacation in Maui.  So yeah, you do the math.

We just got back last week and I’m still jonesing for that aloha spirit.  So I’m going to spend some time on this post telling you about our favorite tours, accommodations and restaurants and include links.  Support these local island businesses!

Star Noodle: When I was dating Pru, I thought no one can be that awesome past the first date.  Like baked cookies, fed me french toast while I was so sick that I managed to infect him with pinkeye–awesome.  Here we are together more than 20 years and still awesome… solid, consistent performance with bold flavors and great service that never disappoints.  Wait, I switched to Star Noodle just then–but yes, perfect analogy for this eatery with very reasonable prices–I keep waiting for them to stop living up to the hype and still they do.  Try the Vietnamese crepe and the deconstructed sisig. Thanks Rose for the pro tip!


Malasadas with trio of dipping sauces/nuts at Star Noodle

Hali’imaile General Store: Bev Gannon’s restaurant is elegant yet still manages to be homey at the same time.  I think they do it with the well executed food and fantastic service that makes you feel like you’re the only one in the joint.  The sashimi napoleon is truly one of my favorite things on earth and I found myself eating slowly on purpose so that I can savor every bite and enjoy all the textures that explode in your mouth–the crackle of the fried wonton, the creaminess of the wasabi dressing, the salty bite of the smoked salmon, the spiciness of the ahi tuna tartare.  It’s too much.  But then it isn’t.


Sashimi Napoleon at Hali’imaile General Store

Sansei Sushi: If you haven’t found religion, you’ll find the next best thing in the panko crusted ahi.  When you take the first bite, your eyes will momentarily roll back in your head and you might even utter “God is good,” when really you meant, “God, this is good.”  The sushi is wrapped in arugula and spinach and served on a bed of soy butter sauce.  Pru and I share less important things like mortgage payments, debt and raising our son.  We do not share the panko crusted ahi.  I even tried to recreate it once but sadly, I overcooked the fish.  There are lines out the door which sometimes results in an hourlong wait when they first open because of their 25% off early bird special.  Time is at a premium while I’m on vacation so I don’t waste mine with meager discounts.  Call for reservations.


Tempura fried ice cream at Sansei because we polished off the ahi before we were able to take a picture

Ululani Shave Ice: OK, li hing powder is a little weird.  It’s like eating tamarind for the first time but in powder form.  It’s salty, sweet and sour and it makes you pucker partly from shock of all those flavors at once and then the realization that you just put all that in your mouth.  But sprinkle it on one quadrant of your shave ice so that way, you only have a small area on which to ponder your regret.  But you won’t because it’s goo-ood.  There are 6 branches on Maui…Front St is the busiest and Dairy Road is the least.


No li hing powder on this shave ice, Ululani’s in Kahului

Trilogy Excursions: Twice we’ve gone sailing with them and again an amazing experience from the crew to the breathtaking sights and great apps served on board.  Go for the sunset sail and be amazed by the sights and sounds of the open ocean and the sun setting in the horizon.  The crew serves mai tais, beers, pineapple juice as well as heavy apps like purple taro rolls with shredded pork, shrimp rolls, chicken satay skewers.  You will enjoy all this with a gentle rocking of the boat and background of soft Hawaiian music.  The cruise is about two hours long and yes, you’ll get a little wet, kissed really, by the gentle ocean breeze and splashing waves below the hammock.  Heed Captain Kevin’s advice: fix your eyes on the horizon and you will not get seasick.


Laying on the hammock gives you a new perspective

Kapalua Golf Villas: Hotels and I have a very important relationship.  People say that you won’t spend much time in a hotel room anyway, why bother spending inordinate amounts of money on something you’ll see for no more than 8-10 hours a day.  I don’t buy this rationale because 1) that’s at least 1/3 of my vacation 2) this is the place I lay my head on, cleanse in and 3) entrust with my family’s safety and shelter in an unfamiliar place.  So yeah, this is arguably the most important expense of my vacation and therefore bear no shame in saying I spare no expense on my living quarters–within reason.  Enter: VRBO.  When using VRBO, look at not only the home/condo but also the neighborhood in which said house/condo is situated.  If there’s video and most reputable places do, even better.  We were not disappointed in this beautifully appointed 1 br/1.5 ba condo that overlooks the 10th hole on a world class golf course in Kapalua, home of the Ritz Carlton and 1700$/night Montage Resort.  And by the way, I won’t be staying at the Montage; I do draw the line somewhere.


The views, walking along the paths at Kapalua Golf Villas


Breakfast at our lanai every morning was a treat with this view

Surfing Goat Dairy: If you have small kids, immediately take them to feed goats, milk goats and do goat cheese tastings.  Located in upcountry Kula, the drive from Lahaina is about an hour and you’ll think you’re lost about 2/3 of the way in because you’re looking at nothing but open fields and dirt country roads.  It also seems hotter and drier on this part of the island but when you hear the story of how German expats–former computer programmer and teacher–moved here after falling in love with Maui you’ll start to envision doing the same thing.  Then you’ll brush away that thought, distracted by the fantastic varieties of goat cheese you’ll eventually sample and bring home with you.


Goat milk?  Then love each udder.

Kapalua Coastal Trail: Best thing I did on this vacation was hiking this trail almost everyday.  When I researched this on Yelp and Tripadvisor, some reviewers said this isn’t really a trail.  To those buzzkilling naysayers, I argue that just because you didn’t almost die or get bit by a snake or wore flip flops while hiking it–get over your Patagonia-loving, Teva-wearing, granola-eating selves and just appreciate its many sights and wonders.  It’s a TRAIL that takes you along some fantastic views of the ocean, horizon and remnants of a land born from volcanoes.  It is mostly paved paths but also some gravelly and rocky terrain that my Merrells can handle (see, I can be granola too) and what rewards you at the end will be some misty rain that will gently hit you while you stand in awe of the waves crashing against the rocks below.  Kapalua is the wetter side of Maui so be prepared to wear close toed shoes when you hike this TRAIL.


Start your hike by 8am to get the trail to yourself; about 3.5 miles round trip

Maui Zipline: When I was younger I thought I wanted to go skydiving.  Then I had a kid.  That and Pru once said “I’ll need to explain to your parents how you talked me into letting you do this asinine thing.”  Picturing such a conversation taking place at the morgue, I reconsidered this poorly hatched idea and opted for the zipline.  Kainoa, Miles, Eddie and Jessie were our very chill guides–deceptively chill because they are also very safety conscious, did harness checks with every zipline–there are 5–all the while sporting that aloha vibe throughout our experience.  I suppose it doesn’t inspire much confidence if your guide is more nervous than you so the chill factor is very important.  We zipped through a tropical plantation amidst fields of pineapple, coconut trees, starfruit and despite the 7-year old getting stuck halfway through on 3 out of the 5 ziplines, he maintained a cheery optimism after the initial reaction that hovered near panic.


Safety first; Maui Ziplines is good for kids under 10


Nearing the end of this particular zipline, he stuck the landing on that platform


Mahalo, Maui for your gracious hospitality, unrivaled beauty and for letting us share in your aloha each time we visit.