Take a trim, tidy New England whaling town, plunk it in the middle of the Pacific, sketch in some rainbow-crowned mountains, and add a generous helping of palm trees. Stir in the biggest Buddha outside of Asia, a banyan tree the size of a city block, and a history that reads like an epic novel, and you might come close to defining Lahaina, Maui.
Lahaina's Whaling and Missionary Past
This fun-loving historic town was once the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom and the seat of power for the Kamehameha dynasty in the early nineteenth century. By the mid-1800s, with as many as 400 ships at a time berthed in the harbor spilling up to 1,500 sailors ashore, Lahaina went on to become the lusty port of the Yankee whaling fleet. The whalers went wild until a band of puritanical missionaries arrived from New England. The battles between the whalers and the missionaries became legendary.
The missionaries built the first high school west of the Rocky Mountains, Lahainaluna, and, in a move that changed the course of Hawaiian history, installed Hawaii's first printing press.
They introduced a written form of the Hawaiian language and forced the Hawaiians to change their way of dressing, introducing the muʻumuʻu, a close version of the New England nightgown to cover the bodies of island women.
Historic Sites in Lahaina
Lahaina today is a reflection of its colorful past. Approximately 55 acres of the town have been set aside as historic districts containing several sites designated as National Historical Landmarks.
An excellent walking tour is available. Walking maps are readily available marking the historic sites including the Baldwin Mission House, Seamen's Hospital, Lahaina Prison and much more.
Check out our guide to the most historically significant sites in Lahaina.
Shopping in Lahaina
Replacing the grog shops and ship's outfitters that once lined Front Street are art galleries, boutiques, convenience stores, gift shops, and numerous restaurants.
Lahaina has become one of the most popular shopping and nightlife areas in Hawaii. Art has become so popular that it is celebrated in a weekly event called "Friday Night is Art Night in Lahaina." People stroll from gallery to gallery viewing art, meeting artists, watching them work, listening to music, and sampling refreshments.
Lahaina is home to West Maui's only Hilo Hattie store where you will find a huge selection of aloha wear as well as other gifts, jewelry, t-shirts and Hawaiian memorabilia and food. It's located in the Lahaina Center, just a block mauka (towards the mountains) of Front Street near the Hard Rock Cafe and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.
Boat Excursions from Lahaina
Where whaling ships once laid anchor, a fleet of pleasure boats now dock waiting to take visitors on sunset dinner cruises, snorkel and dive sails, whale watching excursions, and picnic trips to other islands.
Lahaina Harbor is also home to many of the world's finest cruise ships that anchor off shore. Presiding over the harbor is the old Pioneer Inn, built in 1901 and now owned by Best Western, with its fascinating nautical memorabilia, lodging, restaurant, and bar.
Dining in Lahaina
The restaurant scene is equally exciting. Added to the menu of fine seafood establishments overlooking the harbor are a host of innovative restaurants specializing in Hawaii Regional Cuisine.
Some are situated in meticulously restored historic buildings, and all serve the freshest local ingredients prepared with a masterful blending of classic Asian and Continental techniques with the unique taste of paradise.
Lahaina is also home to the Maui Theater and ʻUlalena, a multi-faceted theatrical experience depicting Hawaiian history with a modern twist. Brilliant dancers and exquisite talent have brought ʻUlalena to the forefront of Island entertainment.
ʻUlalena explores the relationships between people, nature, and mythology and integrates Hawaiian chants and dances, original music, choreography, state-of-the-art lighting, and projections.
Equally delightful entertainment can be found at Warren and Annabelle's Magic, a comedy and magic show headlined by slight-of-hand magician Warren Gibson. An entire evening at Warren and Annabelle's magic will last about four hours starting with cocktails and pupus in the lounge.
Annual Events in Lahaina
Throughout the year, events such as the Whale & Ocean Arts Festival, the International Festival of Canoes, and the Taste of Lahaina food festival celebrate everything from whale-watching to Polynesian voyaging and the burgeoning culinary arts.
Every Halloween, the streets of Lahaina are filled with tens of thousands of costumed revelers who dress up lavishly and compete for the prize in what has been called the "Mardi Gras of the Pacific." If you're on Maui for Halloween, this is a must activity. The keiki (children's) parade is wonderful.
Getting to Lahaina
Lahaina is convenient to Maui’s major resort areas and is connected to the Kaʻanapali Resort by the restored sugarcane train, the Lahaina-Kaʻanapali, and Pacific Railroad. The Lahaina Express shuttle runs from 6:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m., connecting various stops in Lahaina to Kʻaanapali. The major pickup points in Lahaina are at the rear of the Wharf Cinema Center along Front Street and the Lahaina Cannery Mall.
Free parking is available, but limited, especially during popular events. The best free lots are on the south end of town across from the Kamehameha School and across from the Lahaina Shores Hotel. Numerous fee lots are also scattered throughout town, the largest of which is near Hilo Hattie at the Lahaina Center. Participating Lahaina Center merchants will validate your parking ticket allowing for a reduced rate.