One of the reasons that Maui is no ka oi (the best) is that it truly does have a little of everything: tropical weather, world-class beaches, multicultural cuisine, hidden waterfalls, and live entertainment and cultural exhibitions on par with any metropolitan urban center. Here’s where to go for your dose of culture in Central Maui.
Maui Arts and Cultural Center
Though concerts and events are regularly held at various locations around the island, none offer the big-city professionalism of the $32-million-dollar Maui Arts and Cultural Center (1 Cameron Way, 808/242-7469), a figure that doesn’t take into account the massive renovation undertaken in 2012.
Although it doesn’t look like much from the highway, when you first step inside the Castle Theater or wander through the museum-quality Schaefer Gallery, you quickly realize that this is a place you would expect to find in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. The 1,200-seat Castle Theater boasts three levels of seating, and the acoustics are designed in such a way that an unamplified guitar can be heard throughout the venue. The 250-seat McCoy Studio is a classic black-box theater which hosts smaller plays and theatrical events. The sprawling, 5,000-person A&B amphitheater has drawn some of the world’s biggest musical talents from Elton John to Prince and Jimmy Buffett to The Eagles. The Maui Film Festival is partially held here on a screen inside the Castle Theater, and movies regularly show throughout the year. The constantly changing schedule of performances is listed on the website.
Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum
There’s no place on the island where you can gain a better understanding of Maui’s plantation heritage than at the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum (3957 Hansen Rd., 808/871-8058, 9:30am-4pm daily, $10), a small, worn-down building in the Central Maui near-ghost town of Pu‘unene. This town, which was once the beating heart of Maui’s sugar industry, has been reduced to a faint pulse: a post office, a bookstore, the museum, and the stinky sugar mill are all that remain.
While the admission fee is steep, it’s worth it for the historical components alone. Exhibits discuss everything from how the sugar plant moved across Polynesia in traditional voyaging canoes to historical profiles of the island’s first sugar barons. In addition to educating visitors about the growth of the sugar industry, what makes the museum a must-see attraction is the window it provides into the daily lives of the plantation workers who came from around the globe and endured long days in the fields. The cultural exhibits within the museum include everything from the hand-sewn Japanese clothing used to protect workers from centipedes to Portuguese bread ovens used by immigrants from the Azores to make their famous staple. There’s even an exhibit relating to Filipino cockfighting.
Bailey House Museum
Regardless of whether or not you’re a “museum person,” every visitor to Maui should see the Bailey House Museum (2375-A Main St., 10am-4pm Mon.-Sat., $7 adults, $2 children 7-12) on the road to ‘Iao Valley. The Bailey House was built between 1833 and 1850, and from 1837 to 1849 this whitewashed, missionary-style building housed the Wailuku Female Seminary, of which Edward Bailey was principal. With the opening of Lahainaluna High School in 1831 (which is as the oldest public high school in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains), it was decided that the young, educated graduates of Lahainaluna would need refined, educated women whom they could eventually take as wives, hence the need for the seminary. After the closing of the institution the Baileys bought the property, began to raise sugarcane, and lived here until 1888. During this time, Edward Bailey became the manager of the Wailuku Sugar Company, and more important for posterity, he became a prolific landscape painter of various areas around the island. Most of his paintings record the period 1866-1896 and are now displayed in the Bailey Gallery, which was once the sitting room of the house. In 1973 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inside the museum, the Hawaiian Room houses artifacts of precontact Hawaii such as wooden spears, stone tools, knives made from conch shells, and daggers made from shark’s teeth. In the same room there are also stone ki‘i, or statues, depicting the Hawaiian war god Ku, expertly crafted wooden calabashes, and an exhibit of artifacts found on the island of Kaho‘olawe from both the pre- and post-bombing eras. Upstairs are two bedrooms which feature detailed information about the lineage of the Hawaiian royalty as well as missionary-era furniture, jewelry boxes, clothing, and handmade quilts. Back downstairs is the room full of Bailey’s paintings. The bookstore ranks as the best educational, cultural resource on the island where you can find many of the best titles ever written on Hawaiian history.
Though technically Kahakuloa is part of Wailuku, this old fishing village is an entity all to itself. Lonely and remote, there are few places left in all of Hawaii that are quite like Kahakuloa. Many choose to get to Kahakuloa from the west side of the island by following the road past Kapalua, Honolua Bay, and Nakalele Blowhole, but because this road is a loop, Kahakuloa can similarly be accessed from Wailuku. It will take you 30-45 minutes to reach Kahakuloa from Wailuku—and there aren’t any gas stations—so be sure you have at least a half a tank of gas before venturing out into the wilderness.
Following Kahekili Highway (Hwy. 340) past Mendes Ranch and Makamaka‘ole Valley, the road becomes narrow and the foliage dense. The first stop you’ll happen upon is Turnbull Studios (5030 Kahekili Hwy., 808/244-0101, 10am-5pm Mon.-Fri.), an eclectic sculpture garden that also features paintings and handmade crafts by local Hawaiian artists. The artist has been making sculptures at this mountainside garden for over 25 years. There are only a few parking spaces, and if it’s been raining heavily, think twice before going down the short but steep driveway in a low-clearance rental car.
Farther down the road you’ll reach the Kaukini Gallery (808/244-3371, 10am-5pm daily), which is inside a mountaintop home overlooking Kahakuloa Valley. The gallery features more than 120 local artists and their associated paintings, jewelry, ceramics, and handmade crafts, and the views from the parking lot looking up the valley easily make it the most scenic gallery on the island.
Finally, after a few hairpin turns on a narrow one-lane road, you reach the village of Kahakuloa. This place truly is unlike anywhere else on the island, and all sorts of clichés abound: “Old Hawaii,” “turn back time,” and “a place that time has forgotten.” No matter which one you like, they’re all true. Stop just before you drop into town to pick up banana bread from Julia’s Banana Bread (9am-5:30pm) stand in the bright green, wooden building.
Driving through this town of 200 residents takes no more than two minutes, and before you know it, you’ll be climbing around another hairpin turn and leaving the fishing village behind. At the overlook on the Kapalua side of the village is Kauikeolani Lunchwagon (9:30am-4pm daily), a yellow food truck that sells mouthwatering fish-and-chips and where every item on the menu is gloriously deep fried.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.