If you crave a more authentic experience when visiting Maui, try immersing yourself in the history and culture. Many of the traditions brought here by Polynesian voyagers over 1000 years ago are still evident today. Hawaii remains the only state in the U.S. once ruled by a monarchy. Woven into this rich history is the arrival of whaling ships and missionaries, and the beginning of the plantation era. Later, tourism evolved as a main economic driver. There are many ways to experience Hawaiian culture when visiting Maui, but here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Attend a Luau: Attending a traditional Hawaiian Luau is a great way to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture. Most luaus include traditional Hawaiian food, music, hula dancing, and other cultural performances. Choose one, like Old Lahaina Luau, that is focused on Hawaiian culture, not Pacific Island cultures in general.
- Visit cultural sites: Maui has several cultural sites that offer insight into the island’s rich history and culture. Some of these include the Haleakalā National Park, the Lahaina Historic Trail, the Maui Ocean Center, and the Iao Valley State Park (note: Iao Valley is scheduled to reopen April, 2023, after completion of restoration work). In central Maui, visit the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum and learn all about early plantation life.
- Learn about the Hawaiian language: The Hawaiian language is an essential part of the culture, and learning some basic phrases can help you connect with the locals and better appreciate the culture. You can attend free Hawaiian language classes on YouTube, produced in Maui County on the island of Molokai.
- Try Hawaiian cuisine: Maui has a variety of traditional Hawaiian dishes that you can try, including poi, laulau, kalua pig, and haupia. You can find these dishes in local restaurants or at a traditional Hawaiian Luau.
- Explore Hawaiian arts and cultural activities: Hawaii has a unique artistic culture, including traditional lei-making, hula implements, Hawaiian quilting, surfing or learning ukulele. You can take classes or attend a free workshop, such as an ukulele lesson each Tuesday at 5:45 P.M. at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. Instruments provided!
- Learn to Hula: Hula is a traditional Hawaiian dance that tells stories through movement. You can take a hula lesson or attend a hula show to experience this beautiful art form. Many Maui malls have hula demonstrations, or you can book a hula instructor for your group to have a private lesson.
- Visit Lahaina: Lahaina was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii and is now a historic town with plenty of cultural sites. You can visit the massive Banyan Tree, planted on April 24, 1873 at the request of Queen Keōpūolani, the sacred widow of King Kamehameha the Great. On the same grounds is Lahaina Restoration Society, where you can learn about nearby historic sites.
- Go to a Hawaiian Music Concert: Hawaiian music is an essential part of the culture, and attending a Hawaiian music concert is a great way to experience it. Look for local musicians playing at venues around Maui.
- Visit Hawaiian Heiau (Temples): Maui has several ancient Hawaiian temples or Heiau, which are considered sacred by the native Hawaiian people. These are some popular ones include Pi’ilanihale Heiau – one of the largest and most complex ancient Hawaiian temples, and Haleki’i-Pihana Heiau – an ancient temple complex in West Maui.
- Volunteer on vacation: You help restore cultural sites by volunteering while on Maui. Visit a sacred Hawaiian site with Maui Cultural Lands, pitch in, and get deeply moving cultural lessons along the way.
Wherever your exploration of Maui takes you, remember to be respectful and mindful of the culture and its customs when exploring and experiencing Hawaiian culture.