After exploring Upcountry Maui for a magazine assignment, I spent one night in the surf town of Paia, in the center of Maui’s North Shore.
As you can see by these photos, the North Shore on this island is much like it is on Oahu – a surfing paradise. This shot was taken from the lookout near Ho’okipa Beach, where it looked like several classes were going on.
If you’re going to learn to hang 10 on Maui, Paia is probably where you’d want to be.
As you might expect from a surfer town, Paia is geared toward those on a budget (well, budget for Maui). Its few blocks of storefronts are full of bikini boutiques, crowded indie cafes and more than one head shop. To be honest, it seemed a little grungy to me and it didn’t take me long to check it out (I much preferred the art galleries and shops at Makawao in Upcountry).
I did enjoy my hotel, the Paia Inn. It’s a boutique hotel that doesn’t look boutique at first glance from the street. But once you step inside the lobby of the cheerful yellow building and realize that most of the rooms are in separate buildings that wind down to the beach, you see the smarts of the design.
The suite that I had, courtesy of the hotel, was more like an apartment than a room with a living room, full kitchen, outdoor patio (and shower!). Many of the rooms have pull out sofas in addition to beds, and the property has several larger, multi-bedroom suites (including a standalone oceanfront beach house) that would be perfect for a family or more than one couple.
Mid-August proved to be a excellent time to visit Maui, as the families that flock to the islands in the summer had already gone home to start the school year and the winter rush to find the sun had yet to begin. I had worried that it might be too hot, but there was enough of a breeze to keep things pleasant (in fact, it seemed much LESS humid than the East Coast in the summer. I found no lines at restaurants and was able to walk in to get a massage. If you need an island fix, it’s a good time to go.
I had finished my story ahead of deadline, and so I walked down to the beach in front of the hotel. I grabbed a boogie board and a chair, both complimentary, and headed out to the sand. Getting to the water is a bit bumpy (you wouldn’t want to have accessibility issues), but once you’re there, the water is calm and easy to navigate. I floated out for a few hours, enjoying the sun and salt water. This is the reason to come here.
Instead of hitting the crepe and fish joints of Paia, I decided to splurged on a meal at Mama’s Fish House, one of Maui’s more celebrated restaurants, just a little bit down the road. If you come for dinner, you’ll need a reservation, but I was able to walk up and get a table in the bar with no problems (these seats don’t have a water view, however).
My job requires me to eat by myself quite a bit, and while I’m used to it, I always appreciate it when servers go out of their way to make sure that things go smoothly. That means they are solicitous without being overbearing, chatty without being familiar – and they don’t assume that you’ll tip less. Mama’s bar delivered, and the bar felt casual enough that I didn’t feel out of place among the vacationers and families.
The entree prices, however, were anything but. While I’m used to splurging on occasion meals, entrees in the $40-$50 price range are still a shock. Sure, the menu points out exactly who caught the fish (I was told that my Ono, for example, had been caught “along the north shore of Maui by Jeff Holland”). And I did love my sashimi appetizer, served with delicious Hawaiian salt varieties that I vowed to buy later. If I would have been traveling with my husband, I still would have raised an eyebrow at the prices, but we would have probably decided in the end that the romantic location was worth the premium prices.
Afterward, I took a walk along the sand out front (along with several couples, strolling hand in hand). I felt a little guilty for splurging on a rich dinner without my husband along to share. But I had needed at least one night to recharge, without worrying about deadlines or jumping on the computer. As I looked out onto the water, the humid breeze puffing up my hair, I let go of the stress that had been building up (the massage I had earlier from one of the many storefront wellness shops in Paia didn’t hurt). It was Aloha time.
Disclosure: The Maui CVB paid for my flight, hotels and rental car during the trip, but my opinions are my own.