Residents and visitors are drawn to the unique small-town lifestyle across the state of Hawaii. Our unique geography and topography, in addition to our plantation past, precipitated the establishment of many small municipalities circling our beautiful islands. As sugar mills and pineapple plantations sprouted up across the state, plantation workers came from around the world to work here. Often they lived in plantation camps – and towns often grew up around or near these pockets of plantation and sugar mill workers.
With the decline of these industries, plantation life left behind a legacy of captivating little towns and villages, many not more than a single road pass-thru that provide amenities and gathering places for nearby residents. Many of today’s small-town main streets feature Old-West style building facades, often painted in brightly contrasting or pastel colors. Maui’s North Shore is not unlike the rest of Hawaii – punctuated by small-town gems bursting with local culture and abundant charm. They serve as centers of gravity for local residents to get together, talk story and share some local food. Here are a few of our faves on Maui’s sunny North Shore.
Pa‘ia can best be described as “boho chic” in style. This engaging little town is often bypassed by many a tourist headed on the popular, winding Road to Hana. It’s a shame because they’re missing out on the vibrancy of this gem on Maui’s North Shore. With so many nearby big waves, you’ll find yourself immersed in Maui’s North Shore surf and beach culture in this delightful spot. Billed as a shopper’s paradise by the Pa‘ia Merchants Association, you won’t find any big malls or chain stores in Pa‘ia.
Replete with boutique shops and wonderful restaurants, Pa‘ia is an eclectic mix of artists, young families, pro surfers, sun-burnt browsing visitors, hippies old and new, and the occasional sighting of Willie Nelson. He’s a local you may have heard of, who occasionally turns up to jam with a local band at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon (its name a nod to local paniolo – or Hawaiian cowboy culture).
Naturally, there are plenty of surf and bikini shops, but you’ll also find well-stocked boutiques filled with beautiful, upscale home goods in a beach-friendly style (Pearl Butik, Luna & Tide, Indigo and some favorites), local tattoo parlors, and cafés serving everything from international cuisines to health food.
On the subject of healthy grindz, Mana Foods is Pa‘ia’s natural foods market and a hub of activity for locals. Maka by Mana is their vegan and gluten-free café – a favorite stop for breakfast bowls, fresh juices, smoothies, shots of healthy goodness (with ingredients like spirulina, ginger and turmeric), coffee and kombucha. For the more traditional, Mama’s Fishhouse is a local landmark with incredible ocean views and a seaf00d-driven menu.
If you’re looking for some quiet reflection, don’t miss the Maui Dharma Center and Peace Stupa – a place for the study and practice of Tibetan – or tuck in to the quaint and almost picture-perfect Holy Rosary Church located in Pa‘ia Town.
Like its counterparts across the state, Pa‘ia sprung from the sugar industry when Alexander & Baldwin established Pa‘ia Plantation and a corresponding Pa‘ia Sugar Mill to process the local harvest in the late 1800’s. Plantation workers arrived, plantation housing was built, and soon enough, Pa‘ia Store opened to meet the local population’s needs. At one point in its history, Pa‘ia was home to a full 20% of Maui’s total population.
Haiku & Haiku-Pauwela
Don’t miss the delicious coffee and breakfast offerings at Jaws Country Store, at the 14.5 mile marker on the Hana Highway. It’s a fave for locals and visitors throughout the day for grabbing great sandwiches or a fresh poke bowl.
A little further inland, but also along the early section of the Road to Hana, you’ll find the sweet little community of Haiku. While most are familiar with the Japanese Haiku poem, this village was named for the ancient Hawaiian ahupua‘a (a pie-shaped land division) of Haʻikū, which means “talk abruptly” or “sharp break” in the Hawaiian language. Haiku was once a thriving pineapple plantation with two canneries. It is one of the primary towns in Maui’s “Upcountry” – a term that describes both the area on the slopes of Haleakala, as much as the lifestyle enjoyed there. When you think Upcountry, it’s Country (sort of an equivalent to the term as used on the mainland) and it’s up high. Haiku sits at almost 800 ft. above sea level.
Best described as rustic, this hidden treasure is tucked away from the main road (the Hana Highway) about halfway between the Ho‘okipa Beach Park and the epic big wave surfing at Jaws (or Pe‘ahi, which is its Hawaiian place name). The steady winds at Ho‘okipa Beach Park make it a world-renowned windsurfing destination – often referred to as the windsurfing and kite0surfing capital of the world (*note: wind sports zealots may argue this point, but we know better).
Jaws (Pe’ahi) is Maui’s biggest surfing break and more often than not when pro surfers win the “biggest waved surfed this year” kudos, their perfect confluence of wind, wave, athleticism and sheer luck came together at Jaws. Increasingly, pro surfers are using the name of the nearby ahupua‘a after which the break is named, to draw a connection to the local culture. The Pe‘ahi Lookout high on the bluffs overlooking Jaws is often the best place to view pro surfers at work, or if you’re an exceedingly great wave rider, to check to see if Jaws is going off.
Meet the animals at Leilani Farm Sanctuary, a local nonprofit that teaches kids and adults about animals. Its a picturesque haven for baby goats, cows, deer, donkeys, ducks, dogs, cats and more. Take the Maui Chocolate Tour and witness the bean-to-bar production process of everybody’s favorite treat, grown and made by hand right here on Maui.
A haven for artists, Maui’s North Shore enjoys a unique cultural scene. Makawao, in particular, is formerly a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town turned artist colony that sits Upcountry at almost 1,600 feet above sea level. Paniolo have their own, rich, unique culture that distinguishes them from their mainland counterparts. But you won’t need chaps or a cowboy hat these days (unless you want to wear them!).
Makawao is soulful and eclectic and geared towards art, food and nature lovers. Visitors and residents can instead explore their artistic abilities under the tutelage of professional artists at the Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center. The lovely art studios and exhibition gallery play an important role in Maui’s broad and robust art community. The hui (a group or association) features artistic works from local artists and creatives from around the world. The hui is a nonprofit, community-based visual arts education hub located in the heart of Makawao.
Maui residents island-wide flock to T. Komoda Store & Bakery (or more commonly, Komoda’s) for their morning fix of delicious cream puffs, malasadas and stick donuts – and they’ve been doing so for more than 100 years! Komoda’s is a Maui institution. You can also enjoy some of the best examples of Hawaii Regional Cuisine at renowned chef Bev Gannon’s Hali‘imaile General Store. Chef Gannon has long been at the forefront of Hawaii’s farm-to-table movement and is a James Beard award-winner, not to mention a Maui favorite. Head to the nearby distillery in Makawao to taste some local spirits like Pau Vodka, Mahina Hawaiian Rum, and Fid Street Gin at the Hali‘imaile Distilling Company, as the perfect end to a North Shore Maui day!