When you think of Maui’s most popular towns what names first come to mind?
Maybe it’s the shop-lined streets of Lahaina, or blissfully laidback Pa‘ia, or maybe it’s Hāna with its black sand beach and waterfall-laden road.
While these towns have always been cornerstones of any visit to Maui, lately a new spot has started to emerge on savvy visitors’ radars.
Wailuku is One of Maui’s Oldest Towns
Despite its recent, newfound spark, Wailuku, ironically, is actually one of Maui’s oldest towns. Ancient Hawaiians who lived in Wailuku built heiau, or temples, high on a hill that overlooked the sea and harnessed the wai, or fresh-flowing water, to irrigate orchards and fields. In the 1800s, after the royal capital moved from Lahaina to Honolulu, Wailuku gradually assumed the role of Maui’s political hub, but when resort areas like Kā‘anapali and Wailea emerged on the scene, Wailuku slowly faded away into relative visitor obscurity.
Wailuku is on the Rise
Within the last few years, however, the town has experienced a massive revival on a cultural and culinary front, which has somehow managed to slip by unnoticed by the visitor industry as a whole.
That is, of course, until now.
With no fewer than a dozen new eateries serving fresh, affordable cuisine, and a growing collection of shops selling goods that are designed, and made, here on Maui, Wailuku has suddenly transformed itself from a sleepy backwater of aging buildings to an energetic, progressive hub of dining, theater and shopping.
True to its Local Roots
What makes Wailuku unique, however, is how the town is “modernizing” by staying true to its local roots and helping grow the culture. For an idea of this new-school, old-school fusion, take a look at the “Wai Side” bowl served up at The Farmacy Health Bar. The burgeoning superfood, acai — which originally hails from Brazil — is mixed with organic, locally made poi that’s made from Maui-grown taro. A couple of steps down Market Street, Ha Wahine is a clothing boutique selling modern women’s clothing, that’s not only designed and made here on Maui but features authentic, traditional designs with strong cultural roots.
Then there’s the case of Native Intelligence — which is arguably Maui’s best store — where exquisite Hawaiian cultural items are crafted by local, master artisans and then gathered here on the shelves. Unlike a traditional art gallery, however, the merchandise isn’t meant to be sold to collectors or casual visitors, but rather practitioners of native culture who actively use the crafts.
Aside from the food and shopping scene, Wailuku is also home to some of Maui’s best local theater, with plays regularly taking place in historic Iao Theater. Built in a Spanish Mission style, this Market Street theater was originally built in 1928 and because of its style and architecture is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — though still being actively used.