Tattoo parlors and toe-ring emporiums coexist with galleries and bikini boutiques in Pa‘ia. Its false front buildings hark back to the town’s plantation days when the central part of Maui and the Haleakala foothills were filled with sugarcane fields.
Then, in the 1970s, hippies discovered Pa‘ia, far from the big resorts at Ka‘anapali and Wailea. You’ll still see gray-haired ponytails on men and women and a few relics of tied-dyed shirts in the shops. Their culture has morphed into something a little New Agey.
When the surfing and sailboard crowd found nearby Ho‘okipa, they stopped in Pa‘ia for food, and so cafes and bakeries were born. Two of Maui’s most interesting art galleries are here. Even the tattoo parlor has exhibits. And today Pa‘ia is moving toward resort chic, but it’s still an interesting place to stop.
Paia is also a pit stop on the Hana Highway, popular for picnic supplies for the long road trip. Some of the cafes will lend you an ice chest to keep the sandwiches cool. There are lots of choices for a quick bite. It’s also become the reward after the long bike trip down Haleakala where cyclists stop for a bountiful breakfast. For serious dining, there’s Mama’s Fish House and even Flatbread Company has a foodie following. You will get a decent lunch or supper at almost any of the cafes near the intersection of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue, where you’ll encounter Pa‘ia’s only traffic light.
Unfortunately for those in a hurry, the light can cause horrendous traffic jams, and parking can be very tight. There’s a public lot on Hana Highway about a block west of the intersection and another along Baldwin Avenue to the south of it. You can also take the bypass if you’re just going through town to or from Makawao.
Add a few inns to the scene, and you could spend a Maui vacation in Paia.