Hawaiian places each have their unique history and lore, and the town of Wailea along Maui’s alluring southwestern coast is no exception. Tradition says the name comes from Lea, the Hawaiian goddess of canoe builders who changed herself into an elepaio (a forest bird) and soared along the idyllic shoreline. The town’s name translates as “waters (wai in Hawaiian) of Lea.”
But those of us who stay closer to the ground can have amazing times there, too. Here are five Wailea experiences you shouldn’t miss.
Makena State Park
The gorgeous (and free) Makena State Park, just south of and adjacent to Wailea, is home to some of Hawaii’s best beaches. Crescent-shaped Makena Beach, which locals call Big Beach, is the best known.
Its mile-and-a-half length of golden sand and crystal-clear turquoise water looks straight out of a postcard. Big Beach is ideal for swimming and snorkeling — as long as the water is calm (check with the lifeguard before swimming here) — and for sunbathing or watching the sunset.
Other reasons to love Big Beach: It’s somewhat sheltered from the wind, and the “Makena cloud,” which stretches from the tip of Haleakala all the way to the island of Kahoolawe, often covers the beach and cools the sand. The beach is big enough that it’s often not very crowded. Also: food trucks (hit up the bright yellow JAWZ Fish Tacos truck for great tacos and smoothies).
Horseback Riding at Makena Stables
Why more people don’t explore the beautiful Wailea-Makena coast on horseback is a mystery. Makena Stables offers guided horseback riding tours in small groups — usually no more than four people. In the morning, at sunset or by private arrangement, you’ll have breathtaking sea views as you ride along rocky shoreline trails, across lava fields and through lovely Ulupalakua Ranch.
You and your horse will see the volcano Haleakala, the Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve, La Perouse Bay and five offshore islands. You may also see axis deer and, in the winter, whales and dolphins.
Sunset is perhaps the best time for your hour-and-a-half horseback ride. That’s when you get to enjoy cool trade winds and golden sunlight that fades to a thrilling pink and orange sunset panorama.
Mulligans on the Blue
People in the know stop by Mulligans on the Blue (it overlooks the Wailea Old Blue Golf Course) for its live entertainment, dinner shows and, of all things, Irish comfort food.
Maui’s only Irish pub is run by a former luxury resort chef from Ireland. On Wednesday nights it features Hawaii’s beloved favorite son, the key guitar player and singer Willie K. Other talented musicians — both local ones and those who have retired to Maui, such as Mick Fleetwood — also play there regularly.
Sit on the lanai and you can enjoy your shepherd’s pie and Guinness with an ocean view.
Mandara Spa at the Wailea Beach Resort-Marriott, Maui
Sometimes you play hard and then want to immerse yourself in a “temple of relaxation,” as the Mandara Spa calls itself. (How great does that sound?) If that’s your story, peacefully make your way to the Wailea Beach Resort-Marriott, Maui and its 9,000-square-foot Balinese-style Mandara Spa.
Either solo or with your partner, you can overlook the ocean, Molokini crater and Kahoolawe Island while receiving treatments like a blissful facial or Hawaiian lomilomi massage. One of its specialties is the Mandara Hot Stone Therapy, which focuses on your body’s energy points.
The Shops at Wailea
The outdoor Shops at Wailea provide the ultimate Maui shopping experience. More than 70 shops and restaurants offer everything from local Hawaii styles to those by internationally renowned designers such as Prada, Tiffany & Co., and Louis Vuitton.
It’s also a place for cultural activities, like learning to make a lei, weaving coconut fronds or watching a traditional island wood-carving demonstration.
And then there’s the island-style Polynesian show with its live hula and other Polynesian dances. Head to The Shops at Wailea, too, if you’re looking for a good place to eat — there’s everything from casual restaurants like the Cheeseburger Grille and Tap Room to upscale ones that serve authentic Pacific Rim cuisine.