This Sleepy Little Surf Town Might Be Maui’s Best-Kept Secret
It's an enclave of mom-and-pop shops, farm-to-table restaurants, boutique hotels, and secluded beaches with stunning views.
Most visitors to Maui land at the airport in Kahului and head straight for the opposite sides of the island, but about four miles from Maui's Kahului airport is a small-town gem. The sleepy surf town of Pa’ia, which might normally be a pass through en route to Maui’s famed Hana, is an underappreciated enclave of mom-and-pop shops and boutiques, farm-to-table restaurants, and secluded beaches with views of both mountains and the waters of Ho’okipa, the windsurfing capital of the world. Pa’ia is potentially the best-kept secret on the island.
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Pa’ia was established in 1896 when the sugar industry began to change the landscape of the Hawaiian islands, and the Pa’ia Sugar Mill needed a location to house workers. In 1946, the largest tsunami in Hawaiian history struck the islands, and Pa’ia was forced to rebuild after extensive damage. The Sugar Mill continued to operate until 2000, when it discontinued production after more than 125 years.
Where to Eat
A cafeteria-like atmosphere with picnic table seating might dissuade passersby from Paia Fish Market, but don’t be fooled — there is a reason a crowd is waiting out front for their orders. The bright blue building on the corner of Hana Highway and Baldwin is owned by local restaurateurs Moonstar Greene and Yuri Soledade who only source their seafood from local fisherman to include in popular dishes like mahi burgers and fresh catch plates.
Finding a time to visit Flatbread Company when the line isn’t snaked around the block might be impossible, but the wood-fired clay-oven pizza is worth the wait. Flatbread has a symbiotic relationship with the farmers and producers of Maui, sourcing ingredients like beets, arugula, and various meats for pizzas directly from the community it serves.
Where to Shop
Brightly colored boutiques featuring a variety of both locally made goods and internationally sourced wares line Baldwin and the surrounding area, enticing shoppers to pick up everything from swimwear to homemade baskets and glass. Alice In Hulaland, where Willie Nelson and Steven Tyler have been known to show up to shop, pays tribute to Hawaiiana with branded hula shirts, totes, and gear for the whole family, while Sand & Sea offers handcrafted items made with local resources — think jewelry made from abalone shells and ukuleles crafted from koa and mango wood. Art enthusiasts should seek out galleries: Maui Hands, By The Bay, and Maui Crafts Guild, where artists must be a resident of the island for at least 6 months before their work is considered.
Beaches to Visit
Pa’ia is surrounded by picturesque coastline with something for every visitor seeking a day of fun in the sun (in the shade of a beach umbrella).
Baldwin Beach Park, just outside town, is a great place for watching waves and is quite popular with locals, who fish from the shoreline in the early morning for fresh catch from the deep waters offshore. A large stretch of sand makes this the perfect destination for long walks or to set up your towel for an entire afternoon. A lifeguard is on duty daily, and conditions are always updated on Hawaii Beach Safety. If arriving to Baldwin Beach Park later in the day, be sure to stick around for sunset.
At the far end of Baldwin Beach Park sits a calm-watered cutout known to north shore Maui locals as ‘Baby Beach.’’ This beach is a perfect swim spot since it’s typically not too crowded and is great for kids and beginner swimmers.
Ho’okipa Beach Park, five minutes northeast of town, is known as the windsurfing capital of the world. On any given day, windsurfers can be seen commandeering the water with brightly colored sailboards. Watching the surf break takes precedence here, and swimming in the rip currents (made stronger by the winds that blow through) is not advised, but visitors can wade in the surrounding tide pools to cool off. Keep an eye out for honu — Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles — who often pop up here to sunbathe. Be advised that touching or disturbing the sea turtles in any way is a violation of both state and federal law, so observe them from a distance.
The Maui Dharma Center, located off Baldwin Avenue about 5 minutes from the town center, seems to pop up from nowhere, and holds daily prayer sessions at 6:30 am and 5 pm that are open to visitors. The Center offers practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the Karma Kagyu and Shangpa Kagyu Vajrayana tradition, and English phonetics and translation are provided. If you cannot make the designated prayer times, visitors are welcome to walk through the 27-foot Stupa (the large white structure facing the street) to meditate while turning the prayer wheel inside clockwise.
Where to Stay
Travelers wishing to experience a stay in the heart of Pa’ia should book the Paia Inn, a cozy boutique hotel situated right on Hana Highway as you enter town. Guests of the inn can easily step from their room to the beach or onto the sidewalks of town, and just downstairs is the inn’s cafe, a backyard patio that is open for all visitors to Pa’ia from 8 am to 1 pm. Locally hailed for their brunch menu, avoid a wait for a table and make a reservation ahead of time on Open Table. Inn rates start at US $199/night for a full bed, but can reach $1,999/night for the 3-bedroom beach house (pictured) that sleeps 6.
The Mangolani Inn, a 10-minute walk from Pa’ia’s town center, is for travelers who prefer a stay off the beaten path. The Inn’s owner, Dave, offers three ocean-view options— a four-bedroom upstairs house, an adjoining mango treehouse, and three studio units. Guests have access to a community kitchen, hammocks, and beach gear (chairs, towels and snorkel sets), making this hotel feel more like home. Prices begin at $250/night for a small studio, and a 5-night minimum stay is required for advanced bookings.
Budget traveler options include the Aloha Surf Hostel, where rates begin at $42 for a dorm bed or $100 for a private room.
Plan Your Visit
Trying to squeeze Pa’ia and Maui into an existing Hawaiian Islands trip? Island hopping is easy with daily flights on Hawaiian Airlines running seven days a week in and out of every major Hawaiian island airport.
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