Iao Theatre // (c) 2006 Keith Higa (pineapplejuice), Flickr.com
Many Maui visitors focus on two parts of the island: the beautiful beach resort areas of Kaanapali or Wailea, and the cloud-draped crater of Haleakala in the Upcountry region. But just 15 minutes west of Kahului Airport awaits a real treasure: the laid-back town of Wailuku.
The best way for travelers to get to know this under-touristed treasure is by ditching the rental car and strolling around its tree-lined streets. Walking through Wailuku is like taking a journey back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its wooden residential homes and low-rise Art Deco buildings depict simpler times. Yet Wailuku isn’t just a throwback to the past; its modern retail stores and cafes have equal appeal to residents and visitors alike.
Wailuku was designated as Maui’s county seat in 1905 and the government center became the island’s most prestigious town in the 1920s, especially when Hawaii’s sugar industry boomed in the area. There’s history on every street, and even the town’s tiny graveyard is the resting place of Hawaiian royalty.
A good place to start is the Bailey House Museum, which displays ancient Hawaiian artifacts, shows missionary period rooms and plays home to the Maui Historical Society. 2375-A Main St., Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4p.m.; adults $7, children 7-12, $2. 808-244-3326.
Since its 1928 beginnings, the Iao Theater has gone through many stages, from near dilapidation to a resurgence after a group of volunteers worked to revitalize it. Today it’s home to a local theater group that presents such shows as “Annie,” “Chicago” and “The Sound of Music.” 808-242-6969.
At noon on Mondays and Thursdays, the State Building’s courtyard on High Street becomes filled with people of all ages and nationalities who join together for 45 minutes of free tai chi led by Dr. Lorrin Pang, a Maui District Health officer. Anyone can join this serene scene. 808-984-8200
When it’s time for a meal, the Amigo's Express carry-out next to Wailuku Banyan Tree Park is the place for cheap Mexican eats. Clients can order the daily $1 or $2 taco, and everything else is under $8. It’s fun to eat a made-to-order meal while sitting on plastic tables under the blissful shade of a half-block-long sprawling banyan tree. 808-633-6250.
Retail therapy is doled out on Market Street, where visitors can spend hours looking for rare finds in the many antique, vintage consignment, retail and music stores. Art galleries showcase local talent, and a funky shop called Requests sells the only vinyl records available on the island. 808-244-9315
Want to surprise a local? Tell them you’ve eaten at Tiffany’s Bar and Grill, an off-the-main-drag spot. It’s a favorite for hotel employees who come for the novel menu of Korean, Japanese and Hawaiian favorites (and yes, the karaoke). Sampling heaping plates of kimchi-fried rice, tear-worthy spicy shrimp and $2.50 draft beers provides visitors with instant travel cred. 808-249-0052.