Learning to swim in Hawaii was just one fun part of a week of Maui highlights for a California four-year-old.
By Maria De La O
It started with a fight.
As my finger hovered over the online registration button for municipal swim lessons in San Francisco, my four-year-old daughter began to wail, “Noooo! I DO NOT want to take swim lessons.”
“But how are you going to be safe in the water in Maui if you don’t take swim lessons before we go?” I reasoned. Digging in, she yelled, “I’ll take swim lessons in Maui!”
Why does she have to be so difficult? I thought to myself. But a second later, I realized that maybe she was right. What better place to get my daughter excited about swimming than in Maui, where we’d be surrounded by surf, sun and water everywhere?
I’ve long thought that the best vacations were the ones with some kind of quest: the search for an Elvis snow globe in Memphis, the hunt for a gay wedding chapel in Las Vegas, the pursuit of the perfect clam bellies in P-town. Teaching the kid to get over her fear of water and at least begin to do some rudimentary paddling would be our goal for Maui.
Of course, this wouldn’t be swim boot camp for preschoolers. It would still be a vacation and fun and exploration would be our primary goals. This would just be a vacation with a little added structure. I eagerly typed “swim lessons Maui” into Yelp.
The ROAM Report: Maui
- Travelers: Alice, Maria and Vivi (4)
- Date: 10 days in May 2018
- Itinerary: West and North Maui
- Budget: Lodging $2500-$3000(Kihei); Air $1300; Car $500. 4 Swim Lessons: $270.
THE GOOD STUFF
Swim, Baby! I settled on Float On for Vivi’s swim lessons, and I was glad that I did. Owner/operator Emily Stout is a Colorado native and former competitive swimmer who is Red Cross–certified and has been teaching swim lessons for more than a decade. She always has a smile on her face, is great with kids and, best of all, she carries insurance that allows her to teach at your condo, AirBnB or hotel pool – that’s right, Emily will come to you. Now that’s what I call service.
Blink and You’ll Miss It West Maui is known for its spectacular sunsets and almost every beach offers a great vantage point, but you should check out crowded, touristy Kaanapali Beach at least once. Long and wide, featuring a paved beach walk dotted with resorts and restaurants, it’s popular for a reason. At the north end, in front of the Sheraton, is Black Rock, where at sunset every evening a torch-bearing Hawaiian runs across the black lava, tosses a lei into the ocean, and dives off the 30-foot promontory. It’s easy to miss, but don’t worry if you don’t get the timing right. Tourists have taken the dive ceremony as a personal challenge, so you have a good chance of seeing some fool jump off the cliff any time of day.
Blow Hard Who wants to see an ocean wave push through an ancient lava tube and then spurt out 100 feet into the air? Then get in the car, we’re going north to the Nakalele Blowhole! Yes, you do have to hike down a steep cliff and pass by multiple signs warning of the danger of getting too close, but this is science in action. Be careful, and don’t forget to check the little tide pools for glimpses of small fish and crabs.
Put the Lime in the Coconut On the way to the blowhole, along coastal Highway 30, check out the Coconut Caboose and Honolua Bay. The coconut-themed food truck is located on a scenic overlook just above the bay and features organic and locally sourced fresh coconut (with or without a squeeze of lime) and coconut ice cream, popsicles, soda and shave ice. After replenishing your electrolytes, head down to the bay itself: Just keep driving to the bottom of the hill and park your car at the next pullout. It’s a short hike through lush banyan forest to get to the rocky beach. (Tip: Bring light folding chairs if you can, as there isn’t much room between the rocks to spread a towel down.) The beach here is protected and calm, so it’s great for kids and snorkelers alike (it’s an official Marine Life Conservation District). The point out here is also known as the best surf break on the whole island, maybe even the state, so bring your board if there’s a north swell.
Down on the Farm A great thing about Maui is that it’s such a small place that you can drive to entirely different parts of the island and enjoy different ecosystems and microclimates fairly easily (as opposed to the aptly named Big Island!). One day, we took a shortcut through the middle of the island’s cowboy country to rainy-side Haiku, home of the Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Leilani founder Laurelee Blanchard leads farm tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays (sign up a couple of days ahead to reserve your spot). During the tour, Blanchard will share the story of how she gave up corporate life to rescue abandoned and abused animals – including pigs, cows, deer, chickens, bunnies, cats, goats and a donkey – all of which your kids will love meeting and petting. Outside of Haiku, is charming Paia, a former plantation town that’s become a windsurfing mecca and home for boutiques and restaurants. We stopped for a Tex-Mex-Maui lunch at Milagros, which featured both a nicely stocked tequila bar and a Etch-a-Sketches on demand.
Shut Your Pie Hole! No trip to West Maui would be complete without a trip to the famous Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, off Highway 30 in Olowalu, just south of Lahaina and Kaanapali. Come for the coconut cream – or the Olowalu lime or macnut chocolate – and stay for lunch.
Beach Bums Once Vivi started paddling around with her swim teacher, it was pretty hard to get her out of the pool. (Luckily, the second place we stayed, the Sands of Kahana, 10 to 15 minutes north of Kaanapali, featured a restaurant right next to the pool, so we could keep up our strength.) But we insisted on some beach time too. Mostly, we stuck to the beaches in front of our condos, Waipuilani Beach Park (nice and calm for kids) in front of the Maui Sunset condos in Kihei, and the small beach in front of the Kahana. But if you’re looking for that really awe-inspiring beach that feels like the sand goes on forever and you’re just about the only person in paradise, then we’d recommend driving south to Big Beach (otherwise known as Oneloa or Makena) – the waves were a bit rough for my child, but this is an absolutely gorgeous spot.
Dive Boat Snorkeling was decent at Honolua Bay and also at Napili, but I decided to take a half-day boat trip around the nearby island of Lana’i with Ocean Riders and I was so glad I did! Each snorkel spot, of three locations around the island, was better than the last, culminating in the feeling of being lowered into a giant aquarium. If that wasn’t enough, we also spotted a pair of endangered monk seals (only about 1,000 of them are left in the wild) and a giant pod of spinner dolphins that went on and on.
Oodles of Noodles You’re welcome to walk in to Star Noodle, an unassuming Asian fusion joint in residential Lahaina, but if you’ve got antsy children with you, you might as well book a reservation, and you should probably book it along with your plane ticket. Yes, it’s that popular.
Date Night Another great thing about Maui is that the food tends to be better than on many of the other Hawaiian islands; it’s not hard to find good grub at a variety of price points. But if you want to have a fancy family dinner or a special date night, we recommend The Mill House, located in central Maui on an updated plantation, or pacific’O, where the produce is sourced from its own upcountry O’o Farm (where you can also visit and enjoy a lunch tour). Fleetwood’s on Front St., owned by Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac fame, is also worth checking out in downtown Lahaina. While the food at Fleetwood’s isn’t up to Mill House or pacific’O standards, you might see a quality band (Mick Fleetwood was actually playing in the nightclub the night we were there). You should also browse the music photography gallery downstairs, but be prepared to get sold: We went home with a small Patti Smith print.
Yellow Submarine Since my child wasn’t quite ready for snorkeling (although her swim teacher did get her to use a mask and snorkel in the pool), I had been looking forward to our trip on the Reef Dancer, which is one of two submarine-type adventures that leave from Lahaina. (The other option is the Atlantis.) The problem is that even though a diver looks for sea life to grab and bring over to the window, you really don’t see much in the short jaunt around the Lahaina harbor. A few fish, maybe an octopus or a sea urchin. Mostly sand. Plus, it gets really hot (and loud from the boat engine) on the bottom, ocean-viewing level. For someone who gets seasick, the heat and the rocking of the boat is a bad combination. Alice got sick topside over the rail, losing her Maui Jim sunglasses in the process.
Hitting the Road Everyone will ask you if you’re driving the Road to Hana when you’re in Maui. It’s arguably the most popular attraction on the island. And yes, we know it’s lush and beautiful, full of magical waterfalls and small towns right out of Old Hawaii. But it’s also about a 12-hour drive there and back. Even if you stay overnight in Hana, it’s two pretty solid days of driving hairpin turn after hairpin turn. Do you really want to do that to your kid?
GOOD FOR NEXT TIME
Aquarium Delirium We kept meaning to go to the Maui Ocean Center on some rainy day, but we never got around to it. This world-renowned aquarium would have been a much better sea life viewing option than the Reef Dancer for our little one.
Haleakala Crater Bike Ride This one is definitely on my bucket list, although I may have to wait a few years until Vivi is old enough, since 12 is the minimum age. A number of cycling outfits will gear you up and drive you to the top of the Haleakala volcano crater to watch the sunrise and then set off for the 26-mile downhill ride to Paia. Awesome!
GOOD TO KNOW
The big resorts are located in Kaanapali – touristy, crowded and beautiful. If you don’t mind going a bit off the beaten path, you can probably get a better deal in a condo or at a resort that isn’t so centrally located to the action of the Kaanapali-Lahaina area. We stayed in sunny Kihei, a town where people actually live year-round, where you’ll find a huge selection of affordable, good restaurants, pubs and supermarkets. Note, however, that Kihei is a bit far south from the main tourist action up in the Kaanapali-Lahaina area, and there can be a bit of traffic if you’re headed up there. We also stayed in Kahana, just about 15 minutes north of Kaanapali. Here we were closer to many popular spots, but there’s a microclimate that brings quite a bit of rain (by westside standards anyway), as well as rainbows.
Oh the places you'll go... from home!
Locals' favorite family-friendly lakefront destinations
Same coast. More value. Fewer crowds.
25 unique & classic must-drive vacations for families
Incredible golds, oranges and reds of the coast, high desert and mountains.
Gotta get away? Check these ideas for COVID-19 trips
Armchair trips for active families.
Take the grandparents on a cross-state odyssey of Wild West vistas & outdoor majesty
Your one-stop-shop for 2020 family vacation ideas from all the top travel writers.
First-rate recreational activities to tackle in the Second City