View west from The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & SpaView west from The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea

I fell in love with Ka’anapali during a last-minute family trip in 2009. My parents were in California for a visit, and I suggested we extend their trip and catch a flight to Hawaii to celebrate their 70th birthdays. As western New Yorkers who found travel from the East Coast to Hawaii daunting, Maui was a place they never thought they’d see, yet they later recalled it as being their all-time favorite vacation.

We landed at a two-bedroom villa at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas where we spent a week discovering all that the Ka’anapali coast – and nearby Lahaina – has to offer. I recently had the opportunity to return to this island paradise, revisiting some of our favorite spots and discovering many new ones.

Tour of the Stars at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa

Starry night sky in MauiStarry night sky in Maui — Photo courtesy of iStock / Adam-Springer

The sky and stars are significant in Hawaiian culture – believed to be the only tool that native Polynesians once had for navigating the Pacific. On nights when the weather is right, the Hyatt Regency’s Director of Astronomy, Edward Mahoney, introduces guests to the night sky from the top of one of the hotel’s towers. Using powerful giant telescopes and binoculars, Mahoney points out visible constellations – many of which cannot be seen from the U.S. mainland.

For all you romantics, there’s also an option to order champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries to nosh on between your turns at the telescope.

Exploring Lahaina

Lahaina's sprawling banyan treeLahaina’s sprawling banyan tree — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea

Once the capital of Hawaii, Lahaina is a short drive south from Ka’anapali and worth a visit for shopping, dining and seeing the sprawling banyan tree whose branches spread like tentacles across nearly 2 acres. Grab breakfast at “Top Chef” contestant Lee Anne Wong’s Papa’aina at the Pioneer Inn or book a table at Pacific’o on the Beach. Executive chef Isaac Bancaco – a Maui native – says “There’s no better time to be dining in Maui.”

Snorkeling and swimming with turtles

Snorkeling in Honolua Bay with Teralani Sailing AdventuresSnorkeling in Honolua Bay with Teralani Sailing Adventures — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea

There are plenty of options for adventure-minded travelers, from scuba diving to kitesurfing to parasailing. But don’t miss the chance to get up-close to the sea life in Honolua Bay, including sea turtles and octopus (if you’re lucky). Teralani Sailing Adventures picks up guests on the beach in the center of Ka’anapali, then anchors in a bay along Maui’s coast for a day of fun and sun that includes lunch and drinks.

Drive to Kapalua’s sacred site

A large burial site, the Honokahua Preservation Site, occupies oceanfront property near the Ritz Carlton Maui, Kapalua. At this northwest tip of the island, visitors can view (from a distance) the site where approximately 2,000 Hawaiian ancestors were buried between A.D. 850 and the early 1800s.

Native Hawaiians believe that this rocky point is a location central to the traditional life cycle of birth, life, death and transformation. Many also believe this location is where the body’s spirit leaves this world and journeys to the next. These culturally significant storied places are known in Hawaiian as “wahi pana.” (Please note that visitors are asked not to walk on any sacred ground.)

Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

Hawaii Food & Wine Festival at the Royal Lahaina ResortHawaii Food & Wine Festival at the Royal Lahaina Resort — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea

Each year in the fall, the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival kicks off with a number of events around Ka’anapali. Notable chefs from Hawaii and other parts of the U.S. serve up innovative dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Events are held at different properties around Ka’anapali.

In 2022, these included the Big, Bold & Beautiful event on the beachside lawn of the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, as well as a posh sit-down dinner at the Royal Lahaina Resort & Bungalows called Stars, Beards & Diamonds (that’s Michelin stars, James Beard Awards and AAA Diamond designations).

Dining around the destination

Banana French toast at Waicoco at the Westin Maui Resort & SpaBanana French toast at Waicoco at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea

Hawaiian fare is so much more than a traditional mixed plate, and there are plenty of dining options, including the relatively new Waicoco at the Westin Resort & Spa (check out that French toast!) and Japengo at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. Perched over the Pacific with stellar views, Japengo’s menu focuses heavily on Asian fusion, incorporating Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean cuisines but also features a selection of quality steak options. And save room for the deep-fried malasadas for dessert.

Whalers Village

Malls are rarely on my list of places to see while traveling, but Whaler’s Village, an upscale outdoor shopping center in the heart of Ka’anapali, has a number of shops featuring Hawaiian clothing and keepsakes. Set along the shoreline, it also offers plenty of dining options, from the casual Hula Grill to the well-regarded Monkeypod Kitchen. The Hawaii Wildlife Discovery Center is located on the third floor with 30-plus exhibits about Hawaii’s undersea life.

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