There are no fancy resorts here, no fabricated thrills designed purely for visitor pleasure. This is where the locals live, play, and thrive. Central Maui, a hub of commercial activity and cul-de-sac charm, offers an array of attractions often overlooked by vacationers.
Wailuku serves as Maui's county seat, bustling with government workers on weekdays and host to occasional evening events. Many colonial-style buildings remain from the island's missionary and sugar boom days of the 1800s, providing touches of character among more modern edifices paving the narrow streets. Wailuku rests at the eastern foot of the West Maui Mountains, and visitors pass through town on their way to the lush 'Iao Valley. Notice the Bailey House Museum – former home to missionary and artist Edward Bailey – as well as the Hawai'i Nature Center and Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens en route to the valley. The steady influx of business people to Wailuku on weekdays has nourished competition among restaurants to offer high quality and affordable local kine lunches. Try Cafe O'Lei on North Market Street or Main Street Bistro to taste what locals have been raving about. Catch a show at the historic Iao Theater, or browse the vast collection of new and used CDs and vinyl at Requests Music, specializing in Hawaiian music and island reggae. A short drive up North Market Street brings you to Takamiya Market, a must-stop before any local barbecue due to its famous teriyaki beef and ono-licious potato-mac salad. Action peaks during Wailuku First Friday, which takes place the first Friday of each month and features local artwork, crafts, music, and flavors among various vendors, booths, storefronts, and restaurants.
The first things you see upon arriving on Maui: Krispy Kreme, Costco, K-Mart, and any other mart you've seen on the Mainland. Yes, you're on the right island, and this is its uber-commercial center. Residents flock to Kahului to take care of business such as paying a bill or three, catching a sale at Macy's, or shopping for a new air conditioner. Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, Maui Mall, and Maui Marketplace comprise Kahului's main shopping centers, featuring big name stores and outlets as well as a few local mom-and-pop shops. Ask around to discover more unique clothing boutiques, surf shops, thrift stores, cafes, and health food stores tucked along Kahului's busy roadways. A couple of perks to this commercial labyrinth: Maui Arts and Cultural Center, host to headliners such as Ziggy Marley, Eddie Vedder, and the Dalai Lama, and the Maui Swap Meet, a craft fair brimming with bargain treasures that takes place on Saturdays at Maui Community College from 7am to 1pm.
On your way out of town toward West and South Maui, note the expansive sugar cane fields blanketing the flatlands surrounding the Mokulele Highway. The fields, maintained and operated by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, culminate at the state's largest working sugar mill and serve as active relics of Maui's sugar cane industry that date back to the mid-19th century. Stop at the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum to learn more about the industry's history in the Hawaiian Islands.