Family Vacations to Maui, Hawaii

Maui Coast, Hawaii
Maui Coast (courtesy, Hawaii CVB)

Maui Highlights

  • Snorkel with rainbow-colored fish in a submerged volcanic crater at Molokini.
  • View the eerie craters at the summit of Mount Haleakala, a dormant volcano.
  • Learn to surf the waves and the wind.
  • Stroll and swim gorgeous beaches like Wailea.
  • Take a submarine to get a diver's-eye view of sea life without getting wet.

Maui is popular with first-time visitors to Hawaii, especially families with 'tweens and teens, for its wealth of things to see and do, from bombing bike descents down a volcano to snorkeling with schools of rainbow-colored fish. The major resort regions are Kihei/Wailea/Makena, Kaanapali, and north to Kapalua, plus the harder-to-reach Hana on the island's far eastern tip.

Haleakala means "house of the sun," an apt name for Maui's formidable 10,000-foot dormant volcano, which you explore by driving, hiking, biking, or horseback riding. At the summit, the mountain is a moonscape of ashy earth surrounding the world's largest dormant volcanic crater. Despite the two-hour drive to the top from south Maui, arriving in time for sunrise is popular and well worth the early start.

Take a guided bike trip down Haleakala, and you'll never forget the 29 hairpin turns—plus, of course, those spectacular views. Near the halfway point, the mountain morphs into a green and gold landscape of koa trees and grasses that slope off toward the sea. The minimum age for riders is 12, and they must be at least four feet, ten inches tall.

Great beaches, snorkeling, and windsurfing are also part of the quintessential Maui experience. Wailea's nearly one-and-a-half miles of golden sands come with modest waves—just enough to keep gradeschoolers interested. Nearby, Mokapu Beach has relatively calm surf in summer.

Popular Molokini, a half-submerged volcanic crater, offers great snorkeling for first-timers. Since it's a preserve, the fish, acclimated to snorkelers, get practically nose-to-mask with swimmers. For kids who want to ogle fish, but without getting wet, board the Atlantis submarine or visit the Maui Ocean Center, an aquarium devoted to Hawaiian sea life. From the Atlantis' portholes, watch tangs, parrot and angel fish, and other colorful beauties as the sub dives to depths over 100 feet below the surface. Kids must be at least three feet tall for the ride. Green sea turtles, stingrays, sharks, and thousands of reef fish star at the Maui Ocean Center. New for summer 2006 are behind-the-scenes tours of the water filtration and pumping facilities and the Marine Mammal Discovery Center, an interactive area detailing facts about monk seals, dolphins, and whales.

On Maui you can also experience such Hawaiian staples as surfing—whether by water or wind—and luaus. The Goofy Foot Surf School guarantees that at the end of a two-hour lesson you'll be riding the waves or pocketing a refund. At Ho'okipa Beach, one of Maui's prime windsurfing spots, scores of aficionados and their red, blue, orange, and yellow sails, zip and somersault effortlessly across the ocean waves. Because of the strong winds and currents, this is a place for experts only. But watching is almost as much fun.

Although most luaus are tourist traps—overpriced buffet lines of mediocre food packaged with modestly talented singers and dancers—Old Lahaina Luau is an exception. This experience is a mix of traditional and contemporary food and dancing in a pleasing outdoor waterside setting, an exceptionally nice way to spend an evening in Maui.

Tip: When visiting Molokini, go in the morning to avoid the afternoon's rougher currents.

Recommended Side Trips: Big Island, Oahu, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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