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When Kat Perkins of Choice Travel Adventures recommended Kihei, Maui, to husband-and-wife clients, the couple returned with rave reviews about the town’s Fourth Friday street party.
“On our first night, we had great fun with the locals listening to live Hawaiian music and eating from food trucks,” they said. “It was the perfect way to start our vacation.”
Then there was the family that Perkins sent to Kihei who came back with tales of stand-up paddleboarding adventures.
“We all got up on our boards within 10 minutes or so,” they said. “Our children had way too much fun. Kihei’s access to all types of watersports was very convenient for us.”
Outdoor parties and ocean activities are just two of the lures of Kihei, a town that lines the southwest shores of Maui. With its central location, dry and sunny climate and myriad of pastimes, eateries, nightlife and value-added accommodations, it draws travelers looking for an all-in-one getaway without the big price tag.
“For clients who can only stay on Maui for seven days or less, Kihei is the perfect destination,” said Perkins, who is based in North Phoenix, Ariz. “You don’t even need a rental car to experience all it has to offer. If something you need isn’t within walking or biking distance, you can take the bus or a hotel shuttle instead.”
A beachcomber’s dream, Kihei hugs 6 miles of sand with views of neighboring islands. From nearby boat harbors, clients can book a variety of ocean tours. Redline Rafting, for instance, runs snorkel excursions on a 35-foot customized raft, including trips to the marine sanctuary of Molokini, a partially sunken crater. Maui Kayak Adventures features intimate snorkeling tours and turtle- and whale-watching outings. Independent travelers can rent snorkel gear at The Snorkel Store in town.
With its proximity to the sea, Kihei creates an ideal setting for the annual Maui Whale festival, presented by the Pacific Whale Foundation each February. The multiday affair includes a run/walk for the whales and interactive talks with experts. A highlight of the festival is World Whale Day at Kalama Park, with its parade, food booths, made-on-Maui artisans fair, whale regatta, kids’ carnival and live entertainment.
Kihei is equally intriguing on land. Nature lovers flock to Kealia Pond, a National Wildlife Conservation District with winged beauties such as endangered Hawaiian stilts and coots. Creative spirits, meanwhile, can craft a Maui memory at Island Art Party, where painting classes are enlivened by wine, beer, cocktails and snacks.
Shoppers can keep busy in Kihei, home to several small malls with island-style clothes, books, souvenirs, groceries and restaurants. At the farmers markets on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays, visitors can pick up local ingredients for their condominium kitchen, meet residents and sample delicacies such as husked coconut and lilikoi (passion fruit) butter.
Another plus for Kihei is its collection of affordable accommodations, from laid-back hotels and cottages to condominiums. Aston at the Maui Banyan and Aston Maui Hill, two members of the Aqua-Aston Hospitality brand, get high marks for their one- and two-bedroom units with full kitchens. Dan Smith of Travel By Dan in Seattle endorses Mana Kai Maui, featuring oceanview hotel rooms and condominium units.
“Mana Kai Maui is located on a lovely, long, wide beach, and it has a restaurant, lounge, general store, heated pool and well-maintained grassy area,” Smith said. “So many other properties have changed their motif to a trendier style, but Mana Kai Maui reflects the spirit of Hawaii.”
For dining and nightlife, Kihei scores points once again. Fourth Friday parties heat up Azeka Shopping Center with free entertainment, tasty dishes, arts, crafts and a welcoming small-town ambience. Kihei restaurants range from the tiny Joy’s Place, with its mom-and-pop health food, to Sansei Seafood, which serves exceptional sushi and Japanese/Pacific Rim cuisine. Ambrosia Martini Lounge, which locals call Maui’s top dancing spot, presents a mix of live music and DJs.
For Smith, Kihei works best for clients seeking a resort with beach availability and reasonable pricing.
“Kihei has all the services you need, but it puts less emphasis on tourism,” Smith said. “Walking the beach without great numbers of people provides clients with a sense of being away and a feeling of renewal. My personal favorite things about Kihei are its truly low-key atmosphere and sense of community. You can do as much or as little as you please.”