One of my best friends’ wedding gave us the perfect excuse to see Hawaii for the first time. Since she’d been there several times before, it was the ideal spot for them to tie the knot. Beautiful wedding aside, we also got to experience the quintessential tourist and food spots.
Road to Hana
Would a trip to Maui ever be complete without this experience? I researched the stops, consulted with friends and selected what I thought were the best options for us. There’s so much to see, and so little time! We had to choose a few key stops to maximize our exposure.
But first, breakfast! On the way was Paia Bay Coffee. They rate high on Yelp, and for good reason. Though the options are limited, the quality of the food and atmosphere amply made up for it. Tables were hardly empty for long. The ladies who ran the place were especially friendly – which always heightens a restaurant experience for us. We enjoyed a lovely and casual meal, picked up some fun postcards and went on our merry way.
People aren’t lying when they tell you there are so many distractions along the way. The adorable town of Paia alone could easily keep you for a couple of hours. Tons of quaint shops and restaurants. There, you’ll also find Paia Fish Market Restaurant. Our friends are obsessed with their fish sticks. I know, fish sticks. But they really were good! If Gorton’s is your staple, you may want to rethink trying this. It will change your life.
I asked Clint to find a beautiful cliff for a photo with our Jeep rental. He spotted one, and we commenced to be very touristy. At least I was. Turns out, it was the parking lot for Mama’s Fish House! If their parking lot was already this scenic, what were we in for with reservations the following day?
The tricky part about Road to Hana is the lack of visible signs. You have to rely on your pre-planned itinerary and coordinate the mile markers. But a mile is pretty darn long! How do you know where along the mile it is? You don’t. You just have to see if there are other cars parked along the road that could be it. Not to mention, there’s pretty much no reception so Google Maps is out. But it’s supposed to be an adventure, right?
And for this reason, we didn’t get to our first real stop until Keane Peninsula. And to be honest, we thought we were stopping at the banana bread shops at the Halfway to Hana Stand. Ha! It all worked out beautifully. We witnessed a beautiful shoreline of lava rocks and relentlessly crashing waves. And thank goodness, right outside was a snack stand that sold one of the best banana breads I’ve ever tasted. Even better, it was still hot!
We tried a couple of other spots, but kept missing them! It was aggravating and hilarious at the same time. How is it this difficult for us? All the blogs warned me about driving back in the dark, so I suggested we just try to make our final stop and get back in a timely manner. So we skipped everything else and went straight for the Waimoku Falls & Pipiwai Trail. (Btw, free passes into National Parks for military. Score!) It’s a mile hike to reach the Bamboo Forest and then another mile to the falls. The bamboos were mesmerizing! At some points, it was just us two and these thoughts entered my head: 1) I wish we had planned ahead to dress up as ninjas and jump out at people; 2) This would be the perfect spot to film a horror flick. The waterfall wasn’t crazy impressive, but at least the locals had warned us the rainfall was minimal the past few months. Oh well. It was still a fun day overall!
We wrapped up the day with a couple of friends at Three’s Bar & Grill. Late happy hour was wonderful; but the absolute best menu item was the Red Curry Clams & Mussels. Still dreaming about this.
Mama’s Fish House
That’s right, this restaurant deserves its own section. From the minute you walk in, it’s a five-star tropical paradise. The kind of five-star where there are two check-ins and a wait at the bar; and a tropical paradise where every angle was a perfect photo op.
The menu and its prices are definitely commensurate with its five-star status. Our meals were delicious, but the star of the show was the Black Pearl Chocolate Mousse. It’s the dessert of the gods, I know it. Liliko’i chocolate mousse sitting in a pastry seashell. Everything’s edible, and we definitely licked the plate clean.
And if you’re curious, here’s everything else we ate there:
- started with an asparagus bisque amuse bouche – Clint’s favorite
- I had the mahimahi stuffed with deep sea red crab and baked in a macadamia nut crust – really fresh!
- Clint had the bouillabaisse – mahimahi, Kona kampachi, Kauai prawns, scallop and clams simmered in a saffron broth, with traditional garlic rouille – super fresh seafood, but not a spectacular dish.
- We also ordered a guava cheesecake to go, because… gluttons.
And then we took a million photos outside the beachfront property.
A Haleakalā Sunrise
The pinnacle (get it?) moment out of the entire trip (other than my friend’s magical wedding, that is) was going up Haleakalā. We woke up at 2 a.m. and rode with friends to the summit. It was freezing! Even though we’d been warned, nothing prepares you for that wind – especially coming from the tropical climate at the base.
Even at the midway point, Clint could already see tons of stars out the window. And as soon as we got to the top, we looked up and there it was: the Milky Way. My dreams had come true. It was breathtaking. Millions of stars beamed down on us and I beamed at them in a trance. But alas, iPhones cannot capture such monolithic beauty. Thanks to professional photographers, though, you can get a preview of what you’ll see when you go. Check out out Andreas Habermehl’s photo here!
The sunrise was equally stunning. And a wonderful respite from the bitter cold, if only slightly.
Nakalele Blowhole & Star Noodle
We spent the rest of the day with friends getting breakfast from Gazebo (a 1.5-hour wait), driving the charming Lahaina coastline and exploring the Nakalele Blowhole. The blowhole wasn’t active, but we got some great photos of the iconic heart-shaped rock. The trek down was very hairy and the sun blasting on your skin doesn’t help. Definitely bring better protection than we did if you go.
After racing back up the hill, we were ready to eat again. Friends and the internet told us we couldn’t miss Star Noodle, so off we went. And it was amazing! (How many times can I say, “amazing?” in this post, you think?) The garlic noodles are everything people say. But every other dish was equally tasty. The Thai nuoc cham wings were so flavorful. The tempura shrimp was made with colossal prawns, and they really were colossal! They also tasted like lobster meat.
And because we’re ridiculous, we went back another time. Yum!
Ah, the wedding. Everything about the entire affair was perfectly coordinated. From the copious amounts of delicious meals (a luau and a rehearsal dinner) to the releasing of butterflies after the ceremony, the gorgeous bride really spoiled her guests. Everyone cried at the wedding, which pretty much means they did an amazing job.
I’m so happy for the newlyweds, and just immensely grateful they let us share that special week with them.
The Mill House & Baldwin Beach
You thought it was over! We had another day, and spent it with food. Of course.
We started at the Mill House with a couple of friends. What a delightful plantation! We had reservations for the restaurant, but didn’t realize it sat on a tropical plantation – a complex that also houses an expansive gift shop and picturesque walkways. We didn’t have enough time to explore everything, but certainly recommend blocking out a few hours for future visitors. I also want to note that we got some of the best deals on jams and butters here. Definitely worth a look!
We then had to race over to meet up other friends to check out Baldwin beach. Can you believe it? An entire trip to Hawaii, and it was our first time at a beach! Baldwin doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of beachfront shops or foods. But it’s really meant to be an open-park that just happens to have a beautiful beach attached. The waters are really as blue as the photos!
Phew! I’m sure we still have a lot to see; but according to my iPhone, we covered a decent amount. 🙂