Paia ranks as one of our favorite, less known small towns (along with Ojai and Springdale). The atmosphere is best described by those who call Paia home including Willie Nelson, Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson – which should give you a good idea of the vibe in this small surfer town. Most people only notice Paia on their way to the Road to Hana but it is one of the best kept secrets (if that’s possible in Maui).
The other advantage to Paia is its location. A favorite with surfers due to its proximity to the large waves of the North Shore, the town is right at the entrance to the Road to Hana and the road up to Haleakala if you plan to visit for the sunrise. As we’ve mentioned, Maui is typically a five or six-hour time difference for most people and you can use this to your advantage by planning any early morning excursions from this area. For instance, we arrived around 2:00 pm in the afternoon and after picking up the rental car and dodging chickens in the road by the rental car center. We made our way to the Paia Inn which is a great location and provides you with some much-needed parking in the one-stoplight town. If you chose to stay on your hometown time, you can be in bed by 5:00 local time (for us, this was 10:00 at home) and then easily wake at 2:00 (7:00 our time) for the sunrise at the top of Haleakala.
But for your first dinner and before bed, we highly recommend Flatbread Company next to the hotel. We enjoyed it so much we stopped again right before our flight home. Your first taste of Hawaiian food should include the Mopsy’s Kalua Pork pizza with kalua pork, pineapple, goat cheese and BBQ sauce. And their Herb and Cheese pizza goes very well to cut the sweet flavor of kalua pork and BBQ sauce.
Haleakala is the dormant volcano which formed Maui and there are a number of biking tours down the volcano. Please note, these are for the more adventurous and those comfortable on bikes at high speeds. Most of the tours are guided which means you move in a pack down the mountain at faster speeds (and with less stops and a shorter tour) – which did not really appeal to us as a family. Luckily, we found Maui Sunriders who will take you to the top of the volcano before sunrise (over 10,000 feet in elevation and one of the fastest inclining roads in the world) to see the sun rise above the clouds. It’s quite amazing to see at that altitude.
Afterwards, the company will then take you down a bit to set up for your bike ride. They will provide you with rain coats as you travel through five different micro climates on the way down so you can bet one of them will include rain as well as backpacks, gloves and helmets. After that, it is up to you to go at your own pace.
Please note, this is not for the faint of heart. There is no bike lane and descending 10,000 feet over 26 miles means you only have to pedal once or twice but will travel at 20 to 40 mph. But being self-paced was a great choice. We could travel at a slower pace as our daughters got more comfortable riding – and as you get used to sharing the road with cars descending from the top. However, I will say the cars were all very good about giving us a wide berth. And there have been accidents but if you keep your head forward; stay out of the road and keep a good eye out at the end of the trip (where drivers are less apt to expect bikers to be coming by), it makes for a great ride as you go from being above the clouds – to riding through the clouds – all the way to the back to the beach.
The other advantage is you can stop wherever you would like. And we highly recommend having breakfast at the Kula Lodge. By the time we arrived it was around 8:00 so we were very hungry and it was a great pit stop with views of the valley below. And another chance to try some local food. After some convincing from my husband, we decided to try the Loco Moco and banana pancakes with macadamia nuts and coconut syrup (none of us really like coconut). Loco Moco is local dish with rice, topped with a hamburger and a fried egg and then covered in gravy. Even our daughters liked the Loco Moco so much we ordered it again for another breakfast on the trip. And the coconut syrup was more syrup than coconut – with only just a hint of coconut and went so well with the banana and nuts. And, of course, fresh pineapple juice and very strong Hawaiian coffee.
After shopping a bit at the store next to the restaurant, the next city you come to will be Makawao. We really enjoyed spending some time in the shops as it is very similar to Paia as well as stopping at the T Komoda Bakery, for guava malasadas (which are Portuguese donuts that taste more like churros than donuts) and butter rolls. Please note, the bakery is closed on certain days so if this is important to you be sure to check which days they are open.
This also gave us a chance to stretch our legs for a while and rest our hands. Yes, your hands are very tired after holding the brakes continuously for a few hours. And in true Hawaii fashion, we stopped to watch a local on the side of the road painting the clouds and volcano above. When asked if we could take his photo, he only smiled and responded with a hang-ten hand sign and went back to painting.
After Makawao, it is a beautiful drop back down as the beach rises up to you – passing the church in Paia. As you travel the island, historic churches dot the landscape in some very beautiful places.
Afterwards, we decided to turn in our bikes and stop next door at the Mana Foods grocery to pick up snacks and drinks for our drive the next day. We also stopped in town for a gelato and then a quick visit to Charley’s. Charley’s is owned by Willie Nelson (and being from Texas that meant we had to stop) and includes many of his gold records and a one-of-a-kind painting of Willie Nelson, Owen Wilson and several others playing poker. As for seeing Willie himself, we were told he is there quite often when he is in town but was on tour at the time. They added you can often find Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson walking around Paia together as well when they are there.
For dinner, Mama’s Fish House is only a few minutes from Paia (and if you go, you really want to make reservations beforehand). People travel from all over Maui to eat at Mama’s so it can be quite busy. The restaurant is known for fresh fish caught that day – but for us the highlight was the Polynesian Black Pearl dessert and the views. The dessert is a combination of chocolate mousse, Tahitian vanilla and Lilikoi sauce served as a black pearl in a pastry shaped like a shell. Please note, Mama’s is very expensive but if you only plan to visit Maui once, it is worth the visit.
At the end of your first day, it will be easy to pack up and sleep (you’ll be tired) as you are also right at the beginning of the Road to Hana – so you will be able to leave before the crowds with an early morning departure.