Hawaii: Maui With Kids

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Maui is one of the most popular of the Hawaiian islands to visit and has the services to prove it from train rides to golf to sunset cruises. With a sloping, but dormant, volcano in its center and a sunny west coast packed with activity, its a great place to go with kids. The west coast has several large resort areas. The main areas are Ka’anapali just north of Lahaina and Wailea-Makena south of Kihei. The north shore is a bit more laid back and off-the-beaten path and much more lush with the famous Road to Hana.

Maui’s West Coast

There are two main beach resort areas on Maui’s west coast. In the north is Ka’anapali, whose famous beach with its black rock cliffs (pictured left) are a home to a fabulous sunset cliff ceremony where a local runs with a torch out to the cliffs to make an offering to the gods and then throws the torch in and dives in a dramatic ending.  The beach is good for snorkeling, but there are huge waves and currents, so its best for more experienced swimmers. The nearby town of Lahaina is the old capital of the kingdom of Hawaii and was once the home of missionaries and whalers.  Today the town boasts great shopping and fun restaurants.  It is also the station for the Sugar Cane Train, which takes visitors on a ride through old plantation fields and tells the story of sugar cane on the island.  Our kids loved watching the steam engine get re-filled with water in a blast of “puffy clouds”! Also based out of Lahaina isPacific Whale Foundation, which runs education-focused whale watching and snorkeling trips.  We took the snorkel trip to Lanai and the kids loved watching the spinner dolphins leap into the air in front of the boat and learning about the animals and conservation from the on-board naturalist.  The snorkeling was great too and the kids loved entering the water by slide! In the evening Trilogy Sailing offers an excellent opportunity to get out on the water under sail and watch the sunset near Black Rock in Ka’anapali. Located just north of Kihei, about half way between the two resort areas mentioned above, is Maui Ocean Center.  The center hosts over 2000 fishes in aquariums and other unique exhibits like touch pools and a 750,000 gallon tank with an acrylic tunnel through the center.  Our kids loved talking to the diver in the Open Ocean Exhibit.  Scuba certified teenagers may also dive in this tank with sharks, stingrays and other marine life. Down in Makena, there is good horseback riding along the beach with Makena Stables.

North Coast

Maui’s north coast is much more removed from the tourist hive of activity and therefore much more laid back.  Although the road to Hana can be crowded with tourists, if you make it as far as Hana and beyond, you will lose the crowds.  Before you depart, stop in Paia for picnic lunch.  There are many restaurants who cater to tourists embarking on the road and they pack sandwiches, salads and drinks in coolers to go.  Its a great break on the drive and lots of fun for the whole family.  We stopped for a picnic next to a waterfall and went for a little hike.  It was wonderful.  Note to parents with motion sickness-prone kids.  There are over 600 hairpin turns on the Road to Hana, so Dramamine may be a good idea if your kids tend to get car sick.  It is also a long drive and narrow roads, so if your kids do not like the car, this might be one to pass on.  However, the drive is beautiful and there is lots to see along the way, including waterfalls, black beaches and rock formations.


Haleakala National Park encompasses Haleakala volcano’s summit all the way down to the coast on the southeast side of the island.  It is a popular place for hiking, camping and biking.  In the morning, sunrises are incredible, if you are lucky enough to have a cloud free sky. Haleakala Bike Company has a ride that has become quite famous where they transport riders and their bikes to the summit for sunrise and then they riders coast back down the volcano on bikes.

Family-Friendly Places to Stay in Maui

We stayed at the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa, situated right on Kaanapali Beach.  It has a wonderful beach front pool with waterfalls, coves and bridges.  The kids liked building sandcastles with the flour-like sand on Kaanapali Beach and learning to hula and make leis in the Keiki (Kids) Club.

 Getting to Maui

Several airlines have direct flights from the mainland USA’s west coast to Maui, or flights with connections in Honolulu.  The best schedules and fares are probably through Hawaiian Airlines.  US Airways has lots of connections through its hub in Phoenix and Alaska Airlines flies from San Francisco and Seattle.  go! Mokulele offers hundreds of daily inter-island flights on jet planes.

Getting Around Maui

Maui Bus runs buses up and down the resort area of Kaanapali with transfers to Lahaina for $1 per boarding; however the service is limited and time consuming with transfers, so if you only have a short time, a rental car may be a better bet.  if you are planning to drive the Road to Hana, a convertible is recommended so that you can watch the beautiful tropical scenery overhead.  Most major car rental companies have offices on the island.

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