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Wailuku, Maui, has hosted a colorful cast of characters over the centuries. Ancient Hawaiian chiefs, Christian missionaries, sugar plantation workers and government leaders all have played a role in the town’s story, with the west Maui mountains as a steadfast backdrop.
Today, as Maui’s county seat, Wailuku still calls to a range of visitors. Wooden storefronts and longtime family businesses evoke days gone by, while entrepreneurs keep things fresh with trendy boutiques, cafes and events.
Wailuku is located just 10 minutes from Kahului airport. Here are five reasons to add it to a vacation itinerary.
Bailey House MuseumOn the grounds where Kahekili — Maui’s last ruling chief — once lived stands this 1833 stone house, originally built for missionaries. Visitors can see artifacts such as a 100-year-old canoe carved from a single log and 19th-century paintings reflecting the lifestyle of the times.
Grounds feature native plants, and a shop sells works by island artists. The museum, which doubles as the Maui Historical Society’s headquarters, occasionally hosts special events and live tunes by island musicians.
Maui Tropical PlantationWith agricultural exhibits as its focus, this 60-acre attraction provides an up-close look at a working plantation. A narrated tram tour winds past crops such as papaya, macadamia nuts, coffee, mango and guava.
Clients can see a coconut-husking demonstration, buy local products in the country store and eat fresh food made with area-grown ingredients. The family-friendly Maui Zipline crisscrosses above the plantation as guides talk about the area’s distinctive plants and history.
Iao Valley State ParkWelcome to Wailuku’s best-known natural attraction. The 4,000-acre state park is home to Iao Needle, a rock formation jutting 1,200 feet in the air.
The 1790 Battle of Kepaniwai was fought in the state park, helping King Kamehameha I gain control of Maui. Today’s visitors can hike, picnic and take photos of streams and waterfalls. Within the valley is Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, where structures such as a Japanese teahouse and Chinese moon gate represent the different cultures that settled on Maui.
Iao TheatreFrank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney have graced the stage of this 1928 gem, which also screened the Hawaii premiere of the 1953 movie, “From Here to Eternity.”
The oldest theater building in Hawaii, the renovated Spanish Mission-style structure earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. These days, it’s Wailuku’s go-to place for live plays and musicals presented by the island-based troupe Maui OnStage.
Wailuku First FridayOn the first Friday of each month, vehicles are barred from Wailuku’s Market Street, which turns into the setting for a town party. Locals and visitors rub elbows, stages hum with live entertainment, restaurants hand out samples of their specialties and galleries and boutiques stay open late. It’s a family-friendly atmosphere with magicians and children’s activities, though it does draw in the adult crowd with its beer garden. Running from 6 to 9 p.m., First Friday provides a great excuse to usher in the weekend in Wailuku, Maui.