Aloha and welcome to the island of Maui with its stunning scenery, sleepy towns and upscale resorts. There is a variety of activities on Maui to delight ocean and land lovers alike. It is important to have the richest experience possible but stay within budget. Where do you begin? Here are some of the best free things to do on Maui.
There is no doubt that the number one activity on Maui is whale watching. From December to May, an estimated 12,000 humpback whales swim over 3000 miles from the Gulf of Alaska to Hawaii to breed, calve, and nurse their young in the shallow, warm waters around Hawaii. There are many ways to see the whales on your trip to Maui, including a boat, kayak, standup paddleboard, outrigger canoe, or even a helicopter. All of which cost money. But they can be seen from shore for an equally magical, totally free experience.
Our favorite spot to see whales is from Papawai Scenic Lookout off Honoapiilani Highway between Ma’alaea Harbor and Lahaina. Parking can be tricky because the lot is so small (about 10 spaces), but it is well worth the patience getting in and out.
An employee or volunteer from The Pacific Whale Foundation is also at the point. They will answer any of your whale questions. During the height of the season, humpback whales can be seen breaching in all directions. It is a good idea to bring binoculars. You will be amazed after seeing firsthand beauty and grace of whales breaching in the glistening Pacific Ocean.
The best to view is early morning or right before sunset when it’s cool and the sky is colorful. This is also a breathtaking spot to see the sunset.
Ka’anapali Beach, Maui
You wouldn’t be in Hawaii if you didn’t want to go to the beach. Ka’anapali Beach was once named America’s Best Beach. It has three miles of golden white sand and crystal clear water. Enjoy snorkeling, whale-watching, scenic walks, or just enjoy a gorgeous Hawaiian sunset. There is public access beach parking (free) but it lot only holds 15 – 20 cars and is usually full by 10am. The Sheraton offers paid parking for $20 and you can get it down to $5 if you get your parking ticket validated at one of the restaurants.
One of the best snorkel spots in Hawaii is at Black Rock, on Maui’s Kaanapali Beach. Depending on ocean conditions, the area is generally calm, and the water is clear. The reef is about 20 feet below so the views are pretty good.
Black Rock is a small lava rock cliff that sits at the north end of Kaanapali Beach, right in the backyard of the Sheraton Maui resort. A small wing of the hotel actually occupies the cliff with a killer view! A nightly professional cliff diving and torch lighting ceremony is also held at Black Rock on Ka’anapali Beach every evening to coincide with the setting sun. It celebrates the legendary leap of the last chief of Maui, Kahekili. The program is free to the public and includes tales from Hawaiian mythology. Arrive before sunset for live music and hula dancing. This memorable ceremony is just one more reason why Ka’anapali Beach ranks as one of Maui’s signature beaches.
Lahaina Historic Trail
Learn about Maui is rich culture, history, and wildlife by taking a free tour of Lahaina town. Lahaina, the former Hawaiian capital, was the center of the global whaling trade, and its Historic District is a National Historic Landmark. Take a walk through Lahaina Town to some of the most historic sights and landmarks on Maui, including the Wo Hing Museum, Lahaina Jodo Mission, Baldwin Home Museum, Lahaina Heritage Museum, Lahaina Lighthouse and Hale Pa’ahao (Lahaina Prison). You can download a self-guided tour map here.
Get started in the morning as Lahaina heats up in the afternoon. After your tour head down to Lahaina’s famous banyan tree for a relaxing time in the shade. Even though climbing on the tree is an allowed, this is one of the best spots on Maui to people watch to your heart’s desire. You can catch art in the park, which is a local arts and crafts fair, with live music, every second and fourth weekend of the month. There are public bathrooms located at the South end of the harbor.
Lahaina is a fun town to explore. It is rich with funky art galleries, exotic restaurants and pubs, and unique shops that rarely close early.
Ulupalakua is home to MauiWine which offers one of the Islands’ most enticing products – wines that carry the essence of Hawai’i, the spirit of Maui. It takes a little bit of a drive to get to the winery, but it is well worth it. It is in a beautiful location upcountry sitting on a hill overlooking the southern coast. The grounds are beautiful and the tour (free) is good. They have a free tasting and you can choose any 3 wines on the list.
Visitors to MauiWine gather in the tasting room located in the King’s Cottage, built in 1874 specifically for the celebrated visits of King Kalakaua, last reigning King of Hawai’i. Guests are invited to follow in the footsteps of Ali’i (royalty) and Paniolo (cowboys) on a guided tour of the historical grounds. Tastings are offered here every day from 10 AM to 5:00 PM, and guided tours of the historic estate, production area, and wine cellar depart the King’s Cottage lanai at 10:30 AM & 1:30 PM.
It is the perfect afternoon trip!
5 Fridays, 5 Towns, 5 Parties!
If it’s Friday on Maui, there’s a party going on! Maui Friday Town Parties happen every Aloha Friday! Spearheaded by the Maui County Office of Economic Development, each party highlights one of Maui’s historic small towns and along with their unique, local businesses. Whether it’s an eccentric art show in Lahaina or a paniolo party in Makawao, each town creates an authentic atmosphere including great food, stellar music and local vendors. Both residents and visitors greet the weekend with a special night of Maui culture, friendly faces, and free entertainment.
Wai’anapanapa State Park
If you’ve ever felt the need to come to a place that remains as close to nature and the beauty of all creation as possible. Wai’anapanapa State Park, located at the end of Waiʻanapanapa Road off Hana Highway, is nothing short of spectacular. This is the reason you drive the “Road to Hana.” It has untouched black sand beaches, stunning cliff side views, and trails that will take you all the way to the Bay. The tide pools here at Waiʻanapanapa State Park turn red several times of a year. Scientists indicate that it’s because of the arrival of small shrimp, however folklore says it’s the blood of Popoaleae, a princess that was supposedly murdered in a nearby cave by her husband, Chief Kaakea.
The park also has seabird colonies, lava tubes, blowholes, freshwater caves, and a natural stone arch. There is a fee for camping and reservations should be made several months in advance.
These are 6 of the best free things to do on Maui. With a little patience and an adventurous spirit, Maui can be surprisingly inexpensive.