Since it first opened in 1998, the Maui Ocean Center has been offering sustainable, close-up encounters with an incredible assortment of marine life—some only found in Hawaii, and all under care by a team of professional marine biologists and divers.
A visit to the state’s biggest aquarium isn’t complete without checking out one of the largest collections of live Pacific coral reefs on earth, as well as the new Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & Sphere, a multi-million dollar immersive 3D exhibit and the first of its kind in Hawaii.
One thing you won’t find at this aquarium, however, are any cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Maui Ocean Center complies with a County of Maui ordinance which prohibits the exhibit of cetaceans for safety and conservation of the animals.
Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & Sphere
If there is one Maui Ocean Center exhibit that visitors travel far and wide to see, it would have to be the virtual whale encounter in the Humpbacks of Hawai‘i Exhibit & Sphere.
Opened in 2019, the Maui Ocean Center’s Sphere uses state-of-the-art technology to bring humans eye-to-eye with Maui’s humpback whales in an electronically fabricated natural habitat. The Sphere is open every day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., with specialized showings every half hour (no reservations required).
The first of its kind in Hawaii, the exhibit utilizes integrated 4K imagery, 3D active glasses, and a 7.1 surround sound system. Produced and directed by filmmaker Daniel Opitz of award-winning documentary film company, Ocean Mind, the film includes real-life footage from two mating/birthing whale seasons in the waters around the island of Maui.
Kaho‘olawe Exhibit: Steeped in cultural and historical significance, the small island of Kaho‘olawe has been marked by controversy ever since it was used as U.S. military target practice from 1941 to 1990. Maui Ocean Center unveiled the “Kaho‘olawe: A Story of History and Healing” exhibit in collaboration with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission to showcase the island’s unique story.
Living Reef: Since opening in 1998, the Maui Ocean Center has focused on raising and maintaining coral colonies by nourishing them with saltwater from Ma‘alaea Bay. The Living Reef exhibits will introduce visitors to more than 40 shallow and deep water Hawaiian coral species.
Turtle Lagoon: This exhibit features a top and underwater view of the aquarium’s honu (native Hawaiian green sea turtles). Get up close and personal with the special species; the largest hard-shelled sea turtles in the world, they can grow up to four feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds.
Hawaiians and the Sea: Explore the connection between Native Hawaiians and the sea in this exhibit about the history, culture, and traditions of early Hawaii.
Open Ocean: Featuring up to five species of sharks, stingrays, and fish, this 750,000-gallon underwater world is one of the aquarium’s biggest highlights. For scuba-certified visitors, the Aquarium’s Shark Dive Maui program gives guests the chance to dive in the exhibit.
- Shallow Reef: 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m.
- Blacktip: 10:15 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.
- Turtle Lagoon: 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
- Open Ocean: 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Tide Pool: 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4:15 p.m.
- Nursery Bay: 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.
Behind the Scenes
On select days throughout the year (about twice per month), the Maui Ocean Center stays open after dark to let visitors experience the exhibits and animals at night.
You can also take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Aquarium Lab, where you will learn about sharks and turtles as well as assist with a feeding. This one-hour guided tour is appropriate for ages five and up; space is limited to 12 guests.
Exploring the largest aquarium in Hawaii is bound to work up an appetite. Luckily, the Maui Ocean Center provides several different options for food without having to leave the grounds.
Check out the Seascape Restaurant for an award-winning menu of island-inspired cuisine and harbor views. The eatery is also certified as a platinum “Ocean Friendly Restaurant,” which reflects a dedication to serving a healthy, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly seafood menu.
For something quick and light, the Reef Café offers to-go selections such as sandwiches, salads, and pizzas with casual outdoor seating. The Coffee Shack in the central Harbor Plaza has drinks and snacks as well.
The Maui Ocean Center is open every day, 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry is at 4:30 p.m.).
- Adult: $34.95
- Senior: $31.95
- Child (ages 4–12): $24.95
This aquarium is located just under 10 miles south of the Kahului Airport, making it one of the best ways to kill time before a flight. And, with a centralized location in-between the popular tourist areas of Wailea, Kihei, Lahaina, and Kaanapali, there’s really no excuse not to add it to the itinerary.
Take the Honoapiilani Hwy from Lahaina down the coast until you reach the Maalaea Small Boat Harbor; the massive Maui Ocean Center will be hard to miss. From Wailea or Kihei, just head north on the Piilani Highway.