While I love Maui, I have to be honest when I say that Lahaina was not my favorite spot on the island. A lot of cruise ship passengers visit here, which means there are tons of shops and people and some of the Hawaiian authenticity that I love so much is hard to find. But not impossible to find as I discovered one lazy afternoon on what was yet another beautiful day in the islands.
1. Banyan Tree – This is a good place to start your exploration of Lahaina, the old whaler’s port and the first introduction to Hawaii that many early missionaries saw. The tree is not only beautiful and fun for kids to play on, but it’s an important tree as well. The now enormous tree was planted in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina. For better or worse, missionary involvement in Hawaii defined the island chain that it became and cemented American influence in this far flung chain of islands. While their actions and involvement are hotly contested, there’s no denying that they are a very important part of Hawaiian history.
2. Stand on the docks – Lahaina is an important port city, just as it’s always been, and even today it’s where you go to catch the ferry to nearby Lanai. That’s why I found myself spending so much time just sitting on the rocks, looking off the harbor to the beautiful island of Lanai. My favorite Hawaiian island, this tiny island is only 18 miles long but features a remarkable diversity of environments, from sandy beaches to dense, foggy forests full of mouflon and Cook Pines. If you don’t have the time to visit Lanai, standing on the dock wistfully in Lahaina is the next best thing.
3. Baldwin house – I have an incredible interest in history and one spot I wanted to visit even before I arrived was the Baldwin House. Built in the 1830s for Reverend Dwight Baldwin, the building is key to the history of Maui and indeed Hawaii. Reverend Bishop was a missionary, but he was also a doctor and saved as many lives as souls during his lifetime on Maui. More than religious studies though, Bishop instituted a robust educational system teaching local youth in both English and Hawaiian and covered subjects as varied as literature and constitutional government. It was this methodology and the inclusion of the Hawaiian language that is part of Bishop’s ongoing legacy.
4. Mixed plate meal – My favorite meal anywhere in Hawaii, the Aloha Mixed Plate restaurant in Lahaina is a great place to enjoy this classic example of Hawaiian soul food. My favorite style of mixed plate is the chicken katsu, something I always find time for when I visit the islands. Originally of Japanese origin, tonakatsu, which refers only to the pork version, is popular throughout Hawaii. It is decidedly simple, but hearty and filling – the classic definition of a family meal. Katsu is made by frying a scaloppini chicken breast or pork cutlet, similar to a schnitzel, and is served with a tonkatsu sauce. Sides almost always found with the katsu include heaping scoops of rice and macaroni salad. Be careful though, portions tend to be large so make sure to skip a meal before enjoying this Hawaiian staple.
5. Shave ice – A true Hawaiian delicacy, enjoyed a cup of refreshing shave ice is the perfect way to finish your day in Lahaina. Hawaiian shave ice is an ice-based dessert made by shaving a block of ice. While the product can resemble a snow cone, snow cones are made with crushed, rather than shaved, ice. Shaving produces a very fine ice that appears snow-like. This extremely fine texture causes syrups added to it to be absorbed by the ice rather than simply surrounding. A properly made shave ice product rarely requires a straw, since the flavors are in the ice and not at the bottom of the cup. Although the traditional American flavors are common, shave ice in Hawai’i is often flavored with local ingredients such as guava, pineapple, coconut cream, passion fruit, li hing mui, lychee, kiwi fruit and mango.