Maui is the Goldilocks of Hawaii. Not as cosmopolitan as Oahu nor as sleepy as Kauai, not as spread out as the Big Island or as small as Lanai or Molokai, it’s just right for anyone who wants a little of everything the fiftieth state has to offer. Here, GFF editor, Maui addict Erika Lenkert (aka me), shares her favorite spots for fun, sun, and flavor, including plenty of gluten free restaurants Maui style.
Photography Maren Caruso
If you do nothing else, make time to snorkel, paddleboard, surf, or boogie board. Along with the comfort of warm, crystalline waters, you’ll get up-close run-ins with colorful fish, sea turtles, and, if you’re lucky, dolphins. Hotel activity centers rent gear, but you’ll get it for less at nearby shops like Snorkel Bob’s (snorkelbob.com).
There’s no better way to spend a sunny Maui day than on the water, especially during whale season (November to May), when breaches and tail slaps are as bountiful as the mai tais included in the price of your trip. Cruise options vary from snorkel, dive, or sunset themes and vessels range from small, crowded dive boats to catamarans (our fave!) to spacious, two-level boats; concierges and activity centers can point you to the most convenient option for you.
Yes, there’s beachfront access pretty much everywhere, but some of the island’s strips of sand are worth a special trip. Check out Kapalua Bay or Napili Bay for mellow waters and quality snorkeling; Baby Beach for shallow, kid-friendly shores; Kā‘anapali for lively promenade strolling and casual, beachfront dining; and Red Sand Beach for a rugged, dramatic, and notably red backdrop like no other.
Lahaina Banyan Court Park
While this is the location of a historic fort built in 1831, the real wow here is a single Indian banyan tree planted in 1873. It’s one of the largest in the United States, with a trunk and aerial root system that takes up almost a full block. Stop for a group photo once and it’ll become a tradition. At Front Street and Canal Street in downtown Lahaina
Raised on Maui and regularly performing in Wailea and Lahaina, Willie K is a musical force of nature who effortlessly vacillates between Hawaiian a capella ballads, wicked Hendrix-style guitar licks, and everything in between. Expect a wonderfully schizophrenic combination of comedy, traditional Hawaiian music, and good old-fashioned rock and roll. williek.com
Road To Hana
Some love it, some loathe it, but for better or worse, the insanely winding and slow drive to the less developed side of the island is one of those things you must do if you want to get the full Maui picture. Expect an all-day affair, most of which will be in your car, with amazing photo ops along the way. Once in Hana, the somewhat precarious but short hike to stunning (and clothing optional) Red Sand Beach is worth considering.
Sunrise At Haleakalā National Park
Driving to the top of this volcanic crater 10,000-plus feet above sea level to watch the sunrise is a top tourist activity. It’s also a totally awesome experience. To do it right, get there early enough to stargaze before the sun comes up, and stop at the impossibly charming Kula Lodge for breakfast on your way back down.
From flat, one-mile walks that lead to stupidly stunning waterfall-backed swimming holes to all-day forest or volcanic-crater excursions, Maui’s got an adventure for anyone game enough to get off the lounge chair, throw on walking shoes, and get exploring. A little online research or chat with hotel staff leads to a lot of options, but you can also go guided via Hike Maui (hikemaui.com).
Everyone’s favorite health food store, this Paia-town destination has the biggest GF selection at the best prices and is a must-stop if you want to load up on groceries for your stay. It’s also got a killer deli section. manafoodsmaui.com
Napili Kai Beach Resort
An oasis of old-Hawaii hospitality, this cluster of updated, low-slung plantation-style oceanfront condos stretches along one of the island’s most beautiful, tranquil, and kid- and snorkeling-friendly beaches. It’s also got a little-known restaurant with a robust GF menu and unbelievably picturesque view. Walk through the tunnel off the parking lot to enjoy another legendary beach, Kapalua Bay. napilikai.com
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort And Spa
Our favorite family-friendly high-rise resort along bustling Kā‘anapali Beach has all the bells and whistles, including a huge pool with a sandy kid section, waterslides, and a waterfall-flanked cave bar. The grounds are lush with tropical growth and live flamingos, penguins, swans, and talking parrots, the restaurants usually carry gluten-free beer, the gym rules, and there’s a fun luau. maui.hyatt.com
The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui
Low-key luxury awaits at this whitewashed all-suites resort along the exclusive Wailea shorefront. Perks include bathrooms big enough to live in, a café, allergen-sensitive menus at all on-property restaurants, a great gym, a beach cove with complimentary chairs and umbrellas, an endless supply of eco-friendly sunscreen, and complimentary poolside Pack ‘n Plays for parents with babies in tow. fairmont.com/kea-lani-maui
DRINK IT IN
Comfy oceanfront seating, a fire pit, and a full bar make for a crowded but festive sunset cocktail hour—and endless selfie-taking scenarios—at this addendum to famed Hawaii chef Peter Merriman’s Kapalua Bay restaurant. merrimanshawaii.com/kapalua
Fleetwood’s On Front Street
Mick Fleetwood, of rock band Fleetwood Mac, has had a home on Maui for decades, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he threw his hat, and guitar, into the hospitality ring. Head up to the roof deck for chic lounge environs, a great happy hour, tasty cocktails, a menu featuring locally sourced ingredients, and, when there’s live music, a standing-room-only scene. fleetwoodsonfrontst.com
Leilani’s On The Beach
The bar at Leilani’s on Kā‘anapali Beach is a fun place to be, especially from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday when $5 drink specials are flowing, a live band is playing, and the salty locals are mingling with the sunburned tourists over mai tais and discount munchies. leilanis.com
While only one of the following restaurants is 100% GF, all go out of their way to cater to the gluten-free guest.
Note: Restaurants change their menus and recipes all the time, so be sure to confirm with your server that all the dishes you order are in fact, gluten-free.
Honu Seafood & Pizza
Our favorite great-meal sure thing, relaxed and airy Honu is so close to the Lahaina shoreline that you can practically grab one of the crabs navigating the rocks from your table. But veteran Maui chef Mark Ellman, with his sous chef Cindy La, gives every reason to keep your view focused inside, including a ginormous gluten-free menu of gorgeously composed dishes and a whimsical local art collection. Must-tries: Grilled Spanish octopus with tomato beurre blanc and edamame hummus (request GF bread); kale salad with preserved lemon vinaigrette; and white gulf shrimp mojo verde pizza. honumaui.com
A reliable sushi (and cooked Japanese food) menu, GF beer, and a 25% discount before 6 p.m. each night makes this stalwart a regular stop during our island visits. The Kapalua location is smarter, but the Kihei outpost has a more happening bar scene. Both have seriously entertaining karaoke on certain nights. Ask for the GF menu and tamari sauce instead of soy sauce. Must-tries: Nigiri sushi, mango crab salad roll. sanseihawaii.com
Choice Health Bar
Counterbalancing the island’s standard heavy-food options is Lahaina’s hidden, homespun organic café featuring smoothies, frozen “açaí bowls” (think ultra-thick smoothies with toppings like fruit and bee pollen), mixed plates, and salads. Ever packed with colorful locals and backed by the perpetual hum of blenders, it can easily become your health-food home away from home. Must-try: Nearly everything is GF, so the choice is yours, but we’re crazy for The Chronic smoothie. There’s a second location in Paia! choicehealthbar.com
Located in Wailea, the Fairmont Kea Lani’s swank and pricy alfresco restaurant serves up luxurious tastes of the islands’ diverse culinary influences. Hardly Hawaii’s sweet and over-sauced fusion cuisine, chef Tylun Pang’s menu highlights authentic Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese dishes with contemporary twists and plenty of GF options. Must-tries: Spicy tuna poke bowl (tell them you’re GF!), Sapphire Kawili cocktail, grilled local catch of the day with miso butter and Asian slaw, or grilled lamb chops. korestaurant.com
Crowds out the door and a menu heavy on gluten-laden pancakes could be a deterrent, but if you’re in the neighborhood and want a huge, straightforward breakfast with a heavy side of laid-back, open-air atmosphere, this gazebo on the bluff of the Outrigger Napili Shores condo complex is the place. Must-try: Omelet with your preferred fillings. outriggernapilishorescondo.com
The drive up the Lahaina hillside to the ends of a desolate industrial area makes this destination seem like a secret adventure. But the crowds gathered by the podium prove you’re not the first to hear about this hip spot hawking house-made Asian noodle dishes. If cross-contamination is an issue, be sure to ask the staff to prepare your noodles in a separate wok. Must-try: Pad Thai, Singapore noodles, Vietnamese crepes. starnoodle.com
Maui Brick Oven
Not only is this narrow, ultracasual Kihei restaurant 100% GF, complete with way-greasy-crunchy onion rings and fried calamari, it’s also home to the best pizza crust we’ve tried. Owned and operated by the Covington family, seven of whom have celiac disease, it takes its gluten freedom and pizza seriously. If you long for the floppy, thin-crust goodness of New York–style slices, definitely come here. Also, BYOB. Must-try: Pizza! mauibrickoven.com
Ignore the sterile atmosphere and focus on the beautiful, local, seasonal cuisine at this upscale restaurant in Wailea’s too-chic Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. The island’s cleanest, purest expression of contemporary farm-to-table cooking showcases local seafood, dairy, and produce in refined, unadulterated preparations. Must-tries: Grilled octopus with watercress and asparagus (sans bread) or ahi tataki. maui.andaz.hyatt.com
The boutique East Coast chain with a winning combo of wood-fired clay-oven flatbreads (think pizza) and organic salads accentuating locally sourced ingredients found its way to Paia and into GF food lovers’ hearts. They offer all their darned tasty flatbreads GF for an extra $7, cook them on foil, and will even prepare them in a separate room upon request to avoid cross-contamination. Must-try: Flatbread! flatbreadcompany.com
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice
Inexplicably fluffy, dry, and finely shaved frozen water and an overabundance of flavored syrups makes this a Hawaii “shave ice” experience like no other. Lahaina and Kihei locations are close to the major resort areas, while the Kahului outpost makes one last indulgence en route to the airport a temptation worth considering. Must-try: Your favorite flavors, or the Haleakala (coconut syrup and sweetened condensed cream mixed with cream); add an optional scoop of vanilla ice cream and adzuki beans to take it over the top. ululanisshaveice.com