When you’re researching places to visit while you’re vacationing in Maui, you’re sure to hear a lot about Hana and Haleakala, but Kahului should also be on your radar—and not just as the site of Maui’s main airport. Island Air offers direct nonstop flights to Kahului from Honolulu and Lanai, with fares as low as $59. Getting to Kahului is affordable and convenient, but there’s more to do here than just stock up at Costco, Walmart, and the island’s big box stores. Sure, many travelers quickly leave the airport with a rental car and head for the road to Hana or to upcountry Maui, but there’s plenty of great things to do in and around Kahului.

From Maui’s main shopping destination to a thriving center for cultural events to a bounty of parks and beaches, Kahului is definitely worth adding to your Hawaiian travel itinerary. Whether you’ve got a layover before catching a cruise or are eager to explore a less touristy section of Maui, here are 11 amazing things to do while you’re in Kahului.

1. Kanaha Beach Park

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photo via weiinqueensland

With sweeping views of the West Maui Mountains and Io Valley, Kanaha Beach Park is one of Maui’s best kept secrets. This park boasts over 40 acres of white sand beaches flanked by tall ironwood trees and shady picnic tables. There’s something for everyone at Kanaha, from beach volleyball to windsurfing to kiteboarding. There’s also mountain biking trails, camping, and canoe rental facilities here. The best part? Kanaha Beach Park is within walking distance from Kahului Airport, and is a great excuse for extending your layover in Maui. 

 

2. Kanaha Pond State Waterfowl Sanctuary

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photo via James Brennan

Once a royal fishpond, the Kanaha Pond State Waterfowl Sanctuary is home to three species of native Hawaiian endangered birds (and one moth). The Hawaiian duck, the stilt, the coot and the endangered sphinx moth use this 143-acre refuge to repopulate their dwindling numbers. Along with 90 other vibrant species that call this sanctuary home, Canadian geese often stop for layovers here as they fly south for the winter. Bird watchers and nature lovers are sure to appreciate this sanctuary, which was deemed a natural landmark in 1971. Located near the airport off Amala Road, the sanctuary offers free admission, free parking, and a birdwatching area. Bring your binoculars!

3. Maui Nui Botanical Gardens

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photo via Kaiscapes

The Maui Nui Botanical Gardens is dedicated to preserving Hawaii’s many native plant species, as well as the rich Polynesian cultural history of the island flora and fauna. Home to over 40 varieties of sugarcane and 20 species of taro, the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens offers 7-acre site tours, garden walks,fundraising events and interesting workshops like sugarcane pressing and tasting.

 

 4. The Dunes at Maui Lani

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photo via John Byrne

Many golfers have ranked the Dunes at Maui Lani the best course on the island, and have praised its course design as being similar to Scottish or British Open links courses. This public course has an 18-hole championship layout and a lit driving range, in case you want to practice your swing at night. Early bird and twilight rates make the Dunes an affordable option for every golfer, from the casual player to the experienced, and the course itself will immerse you in Maui’s stunning natural beauty. There’s also great onsite dining available at Cafe O’Lei, with a well-priced, fresh and tasty lunch menu that highlights Maui’s seafood bounty.

5. Waiehu Municipal Golf Course

 

Located four miles from central Kahului, Waiehu Municipal Golf Course is an 18-hole, 6,330-yard course that overlooks Waihe’e Reef, an environmentally protected habitat. The course shares beach property with Waiehu Beach Park and includes a restaurant, pro shop and lighted driving range. The course winds around a big hill and has sweeping ocean views. Trade winds provide a good challenge on this course. This is another great course for golfers looking for a solid 18 hole course with affordable day rates and convenient access from Kahului.

6. Maui Arts & Cultural Center

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image via Maui Arts & Cultural Center

Satisfy your Hawaiian cultural cravings with a trip to Maui Arts & Cultural Center, which hosts a wide array of concerts, performances, plays and more. In fact, you’re guaranteed to see something memorable while visiting: the Maui Arts & Cultural Center hosts over 1800 events a year! Celebrating Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage through their diverse offerings, the Maui Art & Cultural center is your go-to for unique and memorable  live performances. Check out their full schedule of events.

7. Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum

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photo via Frank Hamm

Located next to a working sugar factory in the town of Pu’unene, the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum is a great way to learn more about Maui’s sugar cane plantation past. With indoor and outdoor exhibits highlighting the culture and background of Maui’s once plentiful sugar plantations, this is a great low cost activity for the whole family.

8. Waihee Ridge Trail

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photo via Cassi Gurell

Located 20 minutes north of Kahului, the 4.75 mile Waihee Ridge Trail hike will take you into the clouds high above Maui’s coastline. Stunning 360 degree views and dramatic ridge line hiking makes this a great trail for experienced hikers and photographers. Look one way and you’ll see the ocean, turn around and you’ve got the lush rainforest valley and Makamakaole Falls and Haleakola in the distance.  At an elevation of 1500 feet, this hike remains nice and cool, but it may be a bit wet, so be sure to wear sturdy footwear and bring a windbreaker.

9. Maui Swap Meet

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photo via K. Kendall

Sure, Kahului is home to Maui’s big box stores like Walmart and Home Depot, but if you’re here on vacation, chances are you’re looking for more one-of-a-kind items to take home with you. Check out the long running Maui Swap Meet, which is held in Kahului every Saturday7:00 am to 1:00 pm. Here you’ll find all kinds of stuff, but be sure to check out the great selection of affordable local crafts and Hawaiian fabrics, many of which are sold directly form local artists here– a great way to avoid gift shop markups! There’s also a wide variety of fresh fruit and native Hawaiian flowers for sale here. This is a great way to talk with locals and find some unique treasures to remind you of your trip to paradise.

 

10. Kahului Harbor

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photo via Warren Antiola

Whether you’re boarding one of the many cruise ships docked in Kahului Harbor or embarking on a smaller boat for a day of whale watching, this is Maui’s busiest harbor. Carnival and Norwegian Cruise lines pull into port here, making for an easy connection with an Island Air flight if Kahului is either your cruise starting point or final destination. If you’re visiting between December and April, be sure to book a whale watching cruise during peak season. The Maui Nui Explorer offers great whale watching outings for as little as $39, and the cruiser zooms from pod to pod so you’ll get lots of great up close views of these amazing animals just outside of Kahului Harbor.

11. Helicopter Tours

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image via Jen

One of the best ways to experience Maui’s stunning natural beauty from a unique perspective is by booking a helicopter tour. Maverick Helicopters offers tours from Kahului airport, and their ECO-Star fleet features quiet technology and top safety measures. Past guests have raved about these tours being the highlight of their vacation. Depending on what you’re most excited to see, you can tour Haleakala Crater, Iao State Park or Molokai.

 

he Haleakala Crater, Iao State Park or Molokai