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Maui Family Vacation: Where to Stay, Play & Eat

Maui is for Lovers – of all ages! When it’s time to feel the sand between your toes again, pack up the family, grab your sand toys and head for the palm trees and tropical drinks of Maui, the playground island. Direct flights touch down in this kite surfing Mecca after only a 5-1/2 hour flight from the west coast. Maui is home to quaint historic towns such as Lahaina on the west shore and legendary surf town Paia near Ho’okipa Beach–home to the Jaws break– as well as the resort towns of Ka’anapali and Wailea whose pool systems rival the natural water features found all around this relatively small, but incredibly diverse, Polynesian island.

Where to Stay:

Grand Wailea Hotel
It would be easy to park permanantly on the grounds of the Grand Wailea Hotel on Maui’s southwestern shore. The most difficult thing you’ll do is decide what to do! Their rambling pool has slides, a rope swing, a whale shaped wading pool and a sandy “beach” for kids of all ages. On the authentic beach below, reserve anything from a cabana or snorkeling gear to a HobieCat! Camp Grande will keep kids 5 and older happily occupied while mom and dad take in Spa Grande (a Top 10 Spas of the US), a hula class, or a round of world-renowned golf. Inside, the hotel offers  a movie theater, Nintendo game room and Kiddieland with legos and board games. Take a morning stroll(er) on a paved path–known by locals as the “hotel walk”–to meander the coastline and drop into the coffee shops of equally spectacular neighboring resorts. Drive further south and you’ll discover families playing volleyball and picnicking at the soft sands of Makena Beach. While the shore break is ideal for body surfing, keep an eye on the little ones and remember to take your slippers (flipflops) on the walk from your car to the beach.

Marriott Maui Ocean Club
Ahoy Matey! Kids can pretend to be pirates and climb aboard the shipwrecked vessel found in the sandy beach pool or splash their way down a waterslide in the Marriott Maui Ocean Club’s newly expanded Superpool. When you simply can’t stand the water any more, why not relax, enjoy a BBQ dinner and swing on the hammocks? Located along the legendary white sandy beaches of the Ka’anapali Coast, newly remodeled rooms come complete with kitchen and dining areas. Request a room or suite in the new tower on a lower floor for easy access to both the pools and beach and to guarantee a kitchen. Or take a walk to Whaler’s village and enjoy the historical charm of Front Street’s cafes and galleries. If you are there between November and March, keep an eye out for a spray or a fluke slapping the water, you may just see a mama whale enjoying these same waters with her young! Hint: For extra savings,  contact individual timeshare owners  through VRBO or Redweek.

Hawaiian Tree Houses – Upcountry and Hana
Want an alternative to a beachfront resort or ocean condo? Try a Hawaiian Tree House! Off the beaten path, you’ll wake up to the sound of birds and pick fruit off of the trees in a rustic cottage that breathes old Hawaii at the Banyan Bed and Breakfast Inn. Located only 20 minutes from the airport, “upcountry” Maui is a sweet surprise with a slower pace and cooler temperatures.  Or if your family loves to camp, then hike in and stay in a true tree house (albeit Swiss Family Robinson style!) at Hana Lani Farms. Not for the faint of heart, these tree houses require renting a 4-wheel drive and are lit by tiki torches at night as there is no electricity! They are located right outside of Hana town (of the “I survived the road to Hana” t-shirt), so be sure to take in both red (Kahailulu)and black (Wai’anapanapa) sand beaches as well as the ‘Ohe’o Gulch pools if you make it that far!

Thing to Do:

Eco-agriculture at its best:
A visit to a vineyard on Maui may not sound family-friendly, but Tedeschi Vineyards provide a perfect picnic spot while supporting three examples of Hawaiian eco-agriculture. First, pick up hot sandwiches and fixings from Ulupalakua Ranch Store’s Deli and Grill (don’t forget to grab a few Maui Cattle Company steaks to BBQ for dinner). Near the tasting room, find a shady spot, and let the kids run off energy after the scenic drive (allow approximately 45 min from the airport). Plan time to stop at Alii Kula Lavendar on the road back down and wander through the lavender fields with spectacular views and blooms year round. Just try to resist (if you can!) picking up tea and scones for later. The highlight of the kids’ day will be the “Evening Chores Tour” (make reservations for 3:15 p.m. on Tues, Thurs, Sat) at the Surfing Goat Dairy farm further down the road. The kids will help herd the goats back in from the grassy fields for their own hand milking lesson and feed the goats their dinner, all while learning how cheese is made. As the sun sets over the ocean, nibble lavender scones on the drive back, then grill up those sizzling steaks with goat cheese at the days end.

Set Sail and Island Hop:
Pull the kids out of bed in their pj’s to set sail on the smooth waters from Lahaina Harbor, with a cinnamon roll in one hand and water proof camera in the other, to the island of Lanai. In this case, the journey to discover Lanai is as much fun as the destination! Trilogy boasts an impeccable safety record aboard their catamarans and is committed to sharing their knowledge of Lanai’s heritage and ecosystems, so their guides will try their darnd’est to answer any questions your children throw at them. Forgo the optional dolphin cruise in favor of splashing in the shallow and very private waters of the Hulopo‘e Bay Marine Sanctuary, building castles in the sand, and teaching the little ones how to snorkel with the help of Trilogy’s experienced guides. Before you know it, the mesquite BBQ will have your mouth watering and you’ll be back aboard the boat sandy, happy, and maybe able to spot a dolphin after all!

Where to Eat with Kids:

Mama’s
You’ll wish Mama’s was part of your ohana (family)! Delicious food, tiki torches set in a white sandy cove make the picturesque drive to the north shores of Maui a special treat. Be sure to come early and take some family photos, then let the kids run in the sand and splash in tide pools before you sit down to fish so fresh you’d think it jumped from the ocean onto your plate! Dinners come with locally grown greens and veggies, many from the staff’s own gardens, and all children’s meals include a keiki’s drink and mama’s dessert, so no one leaves hungry.
Paia Fish Market
If you are looking for fresh fish, but prefer a bench over a sit down dinner, don’t miss the sandwiches at the Paia Fish Market. This is the typical hole-in-the wall restaurant that would be easy to miss – if it weren’t for the line out of the door, and serves the best fish burger you’ll ever have. It’s a tough choice between the Mahi Burger Plate (topped with slaw and tartar sauce, fries on the side) or the charbroiled Ono Burger, just be sure to grab a bench at a picnic table if you see one open up! Be careful, because you’ll probably end up as messy as the kids…not that anyone would notice.

Stella Blue’s Café
This locals’ favorite restaurant is located midway between Wailea and Ka’anapali in the beatnik town of Kihei. The family run bar and café have really yummy home cooked food (including a sizeable vegetarian menu), good live music, and a noisy, friendly vibe worth the stop for breakfast pancakes or lunch sandwiches. The crowd is mixed with tourists, families, seniors, young couples and former Grateful Dead fans! Portions are large, so be prepared to share. If the kids are itching for a playground again, make a stop at the grassy park of family friendly Kam 3 Beach, right around the corner.

Down To Earth
Down To Earth is Hawaii’s local version of Whole Foods, albeit 3 years their senior. While this is the perfect health food stop to stock the minibar with nutritious snacks, soymilk and organic fruit; the takeout at the vegan deli and salad bar can stand on its own! Rehydrate with a “Real V-8” drink (but watch out for the beet juice – good on the digestive system, not so much on the rental car interior!) and grab a “mango Lassi” (frozen yogurt) for the kids.

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