I had 3 weeks for winter break, so I spent the first week back home in Chicago with family and then headed to Maui for the last 2 weeks. I even got to bring Bella!
Bringing your dog to Hawaii is quite the process and very expensive. Bella had to get special blood draws, a permit, and a veterinary inspection upon arrival, all planned months in advance! But it was definitely worth it.
Up at 530AM, I tried to tire out Bella by throwing the ball around the house. The backyard was pretty damp and the last thing I wanted on the 6-hour flight was a wet, muddy puppy! At 630, we were all loaded up into the Suburban and headed to the airport.
Flying with Bella is pretty stressful, but only because I only have so many hands! I’ve taken her on at least 14 flights now, and she’s only 1, so she’s an absolute pro at it. But, timing her going to the bathroom as close as possible to take off is challenging. And she HATES the animal relief areas at the airport.
Side note, the animal relief areas at the airport are pretty gross. If they even have fake grass, (the one in the United terminal at LAX was literally just concrete) it smells so badly of chemicals that it really freaks Bella out.
Typically I take her to the bathroom outside in a grass area before heading in, but I wasn’t able to find any outside the United terminal. So, she had to go in the animal relief area for the first time! After 5 minutes of patience, I finally broke out the treats and told her to “go pee.” She loves food so much that she peed within 10 seconds just so she could get the treat!
This was Bella’s longest flight by an hour and a half. But she did amazing as usual. Not a peep from her the whole flight and made some friends as well!
Up at 730 and already on island time, I took Bella down to the grass (20,000 sq. feet!) right next to the ocean with Leo. We ran her for 35 minutes then headed for some coffee to start the day.
Taverna is the creation of renowned Maui restaurateur Chris Kaiwi, former longtime managing partner for Pineapple Grill and general manager/managing partner for Plantation House.
For breakfast, we went to Taverna for their new weekend brunch offering. I can’t comment on the food, because I intermittent fast and I never eat breakfast, but the overall consensus was that it was average.
There’s not a lot of options in Kapalua, so I’d give it a shot if you haven’t been before.
Groceries, and food in general, are pretty expensive on Maui. So a good way to try and save some money is to cook at your place a few nights. Personally, I think it’s always super fun!
For taco night, the best night of the whole trip, we picked up 5 pounds of Hawaiian ground beef and got cooking. We had a full taco bar spread, buffet style, of guacamole, sour cream, tomatoes, onions, peppers, tortillas, and beef! I’m thinking about opening my own Mexican restaurant 🙂
Woke up and tried to take Bella to the grass but it was raining! So headed to the gym for an early morning lift. There was no sign that the rain was going to stop, so we headed into Lahaina for some pre-Christmas shopping.
Down The Hatch
DTH is a tucked away little place with maybe 20 tables, all outdoor seating, a small little bar and live music. It is worth a stop no matter where you may be if you’re on the west coast of the island.
The food has so much flavor and is so fresh! The portion sizes are plentiful as well. I ordered the Mahi Mahi, a side of brussel sprouts, and also tried the Kalua Pork Quesadillas. They were all amazing!
Pre-Fixe Christmas Eve Menu
Started by Peter Merriman, Merriman’s is one of the best restaurants on Maui, hyper-focused on supporting Maui regional cuisine. Merriman’s uses sustainable ingredients sourced from local farms, ranches, and fishermen.
The highlight of the night were the two Sinequanon bottles we drank, but the food wasn’t bad either. Most pre-fixe meals end up leaving me hungry and annoyed, but Merriman’s was not only satisfying, I think the fewer amount of dishes they had to deal with in the kitchen allowed them to put a little more attention to the preparation.
Since both of these wines are very young, and most would say it’s even too soon to try them yet, they were decanted for over 3 hours before dinner.
2013 Sine Qua Non Syrah Le Supplément
Composed of 89% Syrah, 6% Petite Sirah, 3% Grenache and 2% Viognier, using 28% whole cluster.
This continued to open up throughout the dinner to reveal hints red fruits, cooking spices, and roasted meats. The palate is almost unbelievable. Very clean and strong that leaves you wanting another sip immediately!
2013 Sine Qua Non Grenache Jusqu’a l’os
Produced from 79% Grenache from the 11 Confessions Vineyard along with 18% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah, using 89% whole cluster and aged for around 38 months in 51% used oak, 6% new French oak and 43% concrete tanks (bottled December 6, 2016).
This wine is drop dead tasty. Dark purplish ruby red. Layered and deep nose with tons of herbs, perfume, anise, and dark fruits. Heavy tannins and full bodied. Rich and powerful finish with tons of strawberry jam, black fruit, spices and herbs. All around fantastic. Long and killer finish that is the norm for most Sine Qua Non Grenache.
Woke up for homemade Norwegian breakfast. These pancakes were unbelievably delicious. Also known as Pannekaken, these pancakes are easy and versatile. Served rolled like a crepe with syrup or jam. The best part of all is that they’re way healthier than the traditional American pancake!
Cane & Canoe
Stayed at the Montage for a Christmas buffet. I did a crazy 12 Days of Christmas WOD before hand to really get the metabolism going. It definitely worked. I took down 5 plates at the buffet!
Food was pretty good. The service was non-existent, and for $115/person you would’ve expected a lot more… but oh well. It is a buffet!
After big Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners, we decided to do takeout from one of my favorite restaurants in Maui, Star Noodle.
A staggering menu selection. Delicious food, big servings, and very affordable. Star Noodle is a not-so-up-and-coming restaurant on the Lahaina food scene.
Serving up eclectic Japanese food, the best way to experience Star Noodle is to order multiple different plates and sample around the table. Doing takeout from here is actually a good option, because gone are the days of just showing up and getting seated! If you don’t go early, expect 30+ minute waits.
My favorite dishes are the Tempura Shrimp (Colossal Prawns, Faux’nagi Sauce, and Garlic Aioli) and the Adobo Ribs (Pork, Garlic, Black Pepper, Vinegar, Shoyu). To be fair, every item on the menu is worth trying at least once!
Merriman’s on the Point
The right way to do Merriman’s is out on the point, overlooking the Pacific with a nice bottle of wine in front of the fire. It’s one of my favorite spots to spend after dinner or for a late nightcap.
It was a beautiful day in advance of the downpour expected the next day, so I tried to take full advantage of the area around the Montage, mainly Kapalua Beach.
Kapalua Coastal Trail
Just a short walk from the beach path, the Kapalua Coastal Trail takes you to the the black rock cliff, which has several different levels to jump from. It also has steps and a metal hand rail to climb back up. I had a blast taking in the views and jumping into the water. I even met a massive Green Sea Turtle who decided he wanted to take in the cliff jumping action!
In the heart of Lahaina Town just two blocks down from Honoapiilani Highway is the best restaurant on Maui, no questions asked. Opened in February of 1990, Lahaina Grill is flawless execution matched with extremely high-quality ingredients serving new American cuisine in a contemporary bistro setting.
The Lahaina Grill comes highly recommended. It’s won numerous awards including being rated top 10 fine dining restaurants in the US by Tripadvisor, winning the hale ‘aina award for best Maui restaurant (26 years in a row) from 1994-2019 and many more.
When you go, make sure to bring a credit card with a big limit, and order the blue corn panko crusted chile relleno! It’s the best dish I had during the 2 weeks I was in Maui.
We headed back to Merriman’s for an early 6:30 dinner on Friday night. Usually a quick beach walk from the Montage, it was pouring outside so we had to take the shuttle.
I got the ahi ginger poke and warm goat cheese & arugula salad to start. The ahi was fresh, light, and super refreshing. At almost every restaurant in Hawaii I end up ordering some sort of Ahi dish!
The salad left a lot to be desired, I could’ve eaten 300 of these and still been hungry. But, the fried goat cheese ball was delicious! A slight tangy flavor and a firm, buttery consistency paired well with the naturally sweet Kula strawberries.
With half of the group returning tonight on an evening flight from Kahului Airport, we decided to make the trek with them and visit the up and coming Mill House at the Maui Tropical Plantation.
Led by executive Chef Jeff Scheer, The Mill House dining experience is the ultimate “farm to table” model by growing and sourcing unique and timely ingredients that are literally yards from the kitchen.
The menu changes daily. And it is delicious! Everything tasted fresh, healthy and light.
Sansei is the best Japanese food on Maui hands down. It’s a little bit Americanized, looking at you “Shrimp Dynamite”, but it’s delicious and what else can you expect on a US tourist island!
Sansei is a small chain, consisting 5 restaurants, with their flagship in Kapalua having opened its doors in March 1996.
Sansei is a lively environment, on most nights you’ll find karaoke and plenty of sake to go around!
When you go, make sure to try the Panko Crusted Ahi Roll. It’s unlike any roll you’ll be able to find anywhere else. The dish consists of Ahi, arugula & spinach wrapped in nori, panko crusted, flash-fried, and served with Sansei’s mild soy wasabi butter sauce.
My favorite course of the night was actually dessert! I’m more of a savory than sweet guy, but this deep fried ice cream was just too good to pass up. I don’t even know how they do it, but make sure to save some room to order this super healthy dish 🙂
New Year’s Eve on Maui isn’t exactly “lively”, especially in Kapalua. So, we had our second iteration of taco night for dinner and then heaved over to the point at Merriman’s to ring in the new year with some Sine Qua Non.
Maybe it was the wine doing it’s work but the Parmesan Truffle Fries were 10/10. A must try.
Sale Pepe was started by a couple from Brooklyn transplanted in Maui. Michele, from Rozzano, Milan is behind the cuisine of the restaurant. Their pastas and artisanal Italian pies are crafted by a certified pizzaiola with fresh, local ingredients in classic and creative presentations.
We ordered takeout and got 6 pizzas for the group. They were all pretty tasty and definitely the best, and maybe the only, Neapolitan pizza you’ll find in Maui.
I recommend ordering take out from this place, as the service can be so-so, but the food is delicious!
It’s just too good to not go twice. We headed back to Lahaina Grill for a late night reservation and a lot of meat.
Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is the crown-jewel of Hawaii driving tours. You’ll pass through lush rainforests, see dramatic and rugged ocean vistas, while encountering countless waterfalls and pools.
This is NOT for the weak of stomach, there are over 600 turns on the trip! Bella threw up both ways 🙂
I knew I wanted to make it out to Hana again, even though it’d only be for one day, so we headed out around 8am to make the long drive. If you REALLY want to do Hana though, I’d definitely recommend spending 2-3 nights there so you can see all of the nature sights and do all of the hikes!
Our first stop was in Paia. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Kapalua to Paia, and this is right near the official start of the Road to Hana (the 0 mile marker). Don’t bother looking for the 0 mile marker, it’s been stolen over 100 times!
We stopped at the Paia Bay Coffee & Bar to grab coffee and then headed out!
Just past the town of Hana, is Pipiwai Trail with easy access via Haleakala National Park. The trail is safe, well maintained, and pretty easy for any age range. The only part with a slightly steeper grade is the first half mile.
There’s even a boardwalk through the trail parts that the NPS has added to make it even easier.
The Banyan Tree on the Pipiwai Trail is rumored to be the second largest banyan tree on Maui. The branches burst from the forest and twist through the wild green jungle. This is a great photo opportunity before you continue on the rest of the hike!
Tip: Take all warning signs seriously. Flash-flooding, rock falls and cliff/bridge jumping have taken several lives, and many natural dangers occur suddenly without warning.
The Bamboo Forest
About a mile into the hike, you’ll come across the Bamboo Forest. Don’t worry about missing this one, it will look like there are 30 foot bamboo stalks for miles once you get there!
As you’re walking through, be sure to stop and look up when the wind picks up, as the bamboo stalks will sway together and bump into each other creating a sound that is almost musical.
The bamboo forest is about a half mile long. We took our time walking through, convincing the kids that there were “pandas” on the island.
Interest fact, if you reach out and touch the leaves you’ll find they’re actually pretty sharp!
Continue your way to the Waimoku Falls.
Just a bit further along and after some mini rock hopping your hike will culminate at the base of 450 foot cliffs with the marvelous Waimoku Falls falling right in front of you.
The Park Service sign and myself would suggest you keep your distance from the base of the falls, and seriously consider how all the countless boulders you’re standing in front of got there… numerous people have died swimming under it… but if you must then go at your own risk.
The Falls are a sight to behold. They are the most famous of the waterfalls in Hawaii and for good reason.
The Road Back to Kapalua
Since we started the day late and got there late, we were only able to do the one hike and still make it back at a reasonable time. So after our 2 hour hike we loaded back up in the car and set off to take the 600 turns back to civilization!
Just like every year, we ended the last night of the trip at Merriman’s. And, just like every year, it didn’t disappoint. Even ordered the delicious truffle fries we got at New Year’s Eve!
The last day… Always the saddest day of the trip, but typically I’m ready to go home after 2 weeks on laid back island time. This time, I was super disappointed to be headed home. The trip just flew by and I feel like I could’ve spent an extra week!
Down the Hatch
On the way to the airport we stopped in downtown Lahaina one more time. A group favorite the first time we went, we stopped at Down the Hatch again. The new item we tried was the chicken n’ waffles. Wow! I was not expecting this to be so good.
United Airlines Sucks
We already know how awful of a reputation United has, but I thought maybe it was a bit overblown. Nope!
Like I always do (I’ve already flown with Bella over 20 times since I got her a year ago) I sent in my paperwork weeks in advance of the actual flight. Low and behold, when I arrive to the gate with Bella they tell me I can’t get on. Not only am I not in their system but they can’t even find my ticket.
I carried with me the hardcopies of the paperwork as instructed online, but they told me that wasn’t good enough to get on. After 30 minutes of arguing and the team members shutting the door to close boarding, they finally said they “trusted me” that I wasn’t “faking” my paperwork.
First of all, how the hell would I have gotten to Hawaii in the first place? Second of all, I clearly have all the paperwork, doesn’t it seem a little bit counterproductive to harass and stress out the guy with the ESA?
Needless to say, I won’t be flying United again.
Maui is a great travel destination for all ages. It’s not as crowded as Honolulu, but you still get all the same great perks of Hawaii. Whether you’re a couple, a family, or a group of friends, the island offers many adventures, great food, and of course endless beaches and nonstop sun.
April through June and September to early December are the cheapest times to visit Maui. These are the “off-seasons” when you can expect the least amount of tourists and the friendliest rates for accommodations and airfare.Loading Likes...