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6 Must-Have Maui Experiences

Updated: May 26, 2023

Molokini Crater, one of Hawaii's best snorkeling spots.
Molokini Crater, one of Hawaii's best snorkeling spots.

The Hawaiian Island is a beach lover's paradise, but it's also a great destination for those seeking history, adventure, and culture, too.

On a recent trip to Maui, a group of Applebee travel advisors and I explored a wide variety of what the island has to offer. Here are six Maui travel experiences you won’t want to miss.

Discover Historic Lahaina on Foot

Explore the West Maui town of Lahaina on a walking tour with a native Hawaiian guide, who will bring the history of the island and culture of Hawaii to life. Through chants and lore handed down through generations, we experienced the arrival of the first Polynesians to the site of the royal complex at Mokuula (in present-day Lahaina). The royal complex was the private residence of King Kamehameha III and the burial site of several Hawaiian royals.

End the tour by exploring the Lahaina Heritage Museum. There you’ll learn about the town’s history, from pre-contact Hawaii through its other eras: monarchy, missionary, whaling, plantation and today’s tourism. Then enjoy lunch at Pacific'O Restaurant on the beach. It's Lahaina's only produce self-sufficient restaurant. Order contemporary specialties such as fresh-caught fish with crystallized ginger and panko crust or an all-natural Hawaiian beef burger with Maui onion aioli.

Explore more than 100 feet below sea level in an Atlantis submarine.
Explore more than 100 feet below sea level in an Atlantis submarine.

Go Deep in an Atlantis Submarine

From the heart of Lahaina, we took a passenger boat to meet a submarine at sea. We watched as the submarine emerged from the depths to meet us above water. We boarded the sub via a steep staircase. At the bottom, we found ourselves in a trendy interior, holding 48 passengers in air-conditioned comfort. The submarine reaches depths of more than 100 feet. The battery-powered craft is nonpolluting and quiet, so it doesn’t disturb sea life. With windows on both sides of the vessel, we always had a great view. We spotted sting rays and tiger sharks. An artificial reef created when the Carthaginian, a replica of a 19th century whaler ship, was sunk provides a home for several types of exotic fish.

Fly Over Maui on a Kaanapali Zip n’ Dip Tour

The tiny town of Kaanapali, just north of Lahaina, is famed as a beach destination. But it’s also known for its incredible zipline experiences. You travel up a mountain via dusty switchbacks to the zipline site. The expert guides are entertaining and add to the fun of the experience. We flew down eight different lines, feeling completely safe the entire time. The sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, offshore islands and West Maui Mountains are amazing as you fly through the sky! We finished with the last zipline, and splashed directly into a natural mountain pool. You can swim and paddle board at your leisure, or even have a snack, to finish off your four-hour excursion.

You'll have your choice of dozens of flavors of the Hawaiian dessert of shave ice.
You'll have your choice of dozens of flavors of the Hawaiian dessert of shave ice.

Indulge in Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

Hawaii’s favorite dessert is shave ice. As the name implies, it’s created by shaving a block of ice. The result is a very fine texture, which means the syrups added as flavor are absorbed by the ice. Lahaina offers several shave ice shops. But Ululani’s is the local and visitor favorite, founded by a couple who both grew up eating shave ice. It was worth the long line to enjoy a cool and refreshing local favorite. It was perfect - not too sweet or too filling in the heat. Soft and icy like a perfectly sweet snowball! Visitors have almost 50 flavors to choose from, including tropical fruits like coconut and pineapple. I enjoyed the delicious but extremely non-traditional pink bubble gum flavor.

You'll be dazzled by the underwater views of sea life when snorkeling Molokini Crater.
You'll be dazzled by the underwater views of sea life when snorkeling Molokini Crater.

Snorkel Molokini Crater

We enjoyed a continental breakfast buffet with muffins, coffee, tea, and fruit as we took off from Makena Beach in South Maui for Molokini Crater. The semi-immersed extinct volcano crater is a snorkeler’s dream, forming a perfect crescent in the ocean. The island itself is a bird sanctuary, popular for its seabird spottings. Once anchored, staff provided us with top-of-the-line snorkel gear. We could jump into the water or walk in to begin our snorkel adventure. The staff was always nearby for assistance in or out of the water. The crystal-clear water provided excellent views of so many exotic schools of fish. Other sea life in the marine preserve includes urchins and rays. The colorful coral reefs were also breathtaking.

We then moved on to another aquatic Maui travel highlight. Turtle Town is known for its large population of Hawaii green sea turtles. Some people swam near the turtles (which you should never touch) and with fish such as the Longnose Butterflyfish, Moorish idol, parrotfish and saddleback butterflyfish. Once back on the boat, we replenished our strength with a hearty buffet lunch. We made our own sandwiches, snacked on cookies and chips, and relaxed with beer and mai tais. On the way back to shore, we stopped to watch five dolphins play and swim.

Experience an Authentic Hawaiian Sailing Canoe

Starting at Polo Beach in the town of Wailea, we sailed off the coast in a Hawaiian outrigger canoe. We relaxed on the bow as our knowledgeable guides paddled us out to sea. As they did, they shared some Hawaiian history and culture. You'll learn first-hand about the ancient sailing canoe tradition, construction, and navigation. As our guides paddled, we spotted two sea turtles floating on the water. If you’re looking for more action, you can join the crew and learn the Hawaiian method of padding. Once out on the open water we were free to snorkel and swim. You can see four Hawaiian Islands simultaneously: Maui, Lanai, Kaho’olawe and Molokai. Two humpback whales swam by, only about 15 feet away. It was such an amazing and different experience than you would have on noisy powered boats. It is like we were one with the ocean. These relaxing two hours were the highlight of my Maui travel!

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