Lahaina is Maui’s most concentrated tourist town. It’s where visitors from Kaanapali and Kapalua come when they need a little town-time Maui style. Shopping and dining seem to be the main activities. Lahaina does have a few small inns and condos for those who want to linger. It also has West Maui’s largest supermarkets.
Start and end any visit at the banyan tree. Its branches spread over about an acre and provide a place to warm a bench and cool your feet. Stay here long enough and everyone in town will pass. It was planted in 1873 to mark the 50th anniversary of the missionary arrival. The Baldwin House Museum across the street tells their story.
Lahaina Town, as its often called, has always had a racy character. In the whaling days it provided spirits and women to sailors, who had to contend with the missionaries. The old coral stone fort, now in ruins at the waterfront, was built to protect the Hawaiian women from the whalers.
Today the honky tonk character comes from the many bars along Front Street or maybe the guy with parrots at the Pioneer Inn or the pink grass skirts at Swiss Maui Cafe. Music, mellow slack key to rock, spills out over Front Street from the afternoon to fairly late at night, though Maui is not particularly a night-life destination. Many places advertise Maui’s best mai tai or coconut shrimp on signboards.
The false-front architecture of the old board buildings looks like a page out of this past. If you want to learn more details, pick up a walking tour brochures from the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.
Shops offer everything from knock-out Tahitian black pearls to three-for-$15 T-shirts. Some have x-rated messages or graphics. Lahaina also has several art galleries with open houses every Friday. Come for the wine and look at some pictures. You’ll find astonishing things, like Rembrandt or Picasso prints. And many scenes of palm-fringed shores to remind you of Maui.
Several courtyards nooks and crannies off Front Street must triple it’s length. Lahaina has a few malls for basics: Lahaina Cannery Mall with Safeway at the north end of town; Old Lahaina Center with a Foodland, Nagasaki shops and theatrical spectacle “Ulalena”; 505 Front Street with boutiques and restaurants. Shopaholics will love the Maui Outlets.
Dining is the other Lahaina mainstay. Restaurants on the waterfront side of Front Street have fab views, especially at sunset. Longhi’s has been dispensing pasta and seafood since 1976. Kimo’s and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and Cheeseburger in Paradise are other old favorites. Foodies swarm to Lahaina Grill, Gerard’s and Pacific ‘O.
Lahaina is a party town. Every Friday night art galleries hold open houses with wine and visiting artists. Maui holds Friday town parties each week, which happens in Lahaina the second Friday. If you want to find a bit of the past’s outrageous behavior, come to Lahaina for Halloween. It’s considered high season.