Nestled between the West Maui Mountains and the cobalt blue waters of the Pacific, Maui’s western coast is home to the colorful 19th-century whaling village of Lahaina, which now concentrates on excursions to watch the whales its sailors once tried to harpoon. In 1820, when whaling thrived and ships lined the Lahaina Roadstead, King Kamehameha moved the royal capital from Kailua-Kona to here, where it remained until Honolulu assumed the mantle in 1845. By 1860, sugar had taken over as the driver of the island’s economic engine, a position it held for more than 110 years. Today tourism is the big kahuna, with visitors thronging Lahaina’s walkable streets, lined with art galleries, trendy cafes, restaurants, and shops—many, many shops.
The town’s heritage lives today through the Historical Walk, which includes 20-plus sites marked with plaques and noted on an easy-to-follow map. Among the main sites are the 1836 Baldwin Home, built for the first missionary to Lahaina; the Old Lahaina Courthouse, now housing the Lahaina Heritage Museum and art gallery; and the plantation-style Pioneer Inn, built in 1901 and still accepting guests. There’s also the Old Prison, where whalers who refused to return to their boats at sunset were confined; and Hawaii’s biggest banyan tree, planted in 1873 to mark the 50th anniversary of Lahaina’s first Christian mission. Only 8 feel tall when planted, it now reaches more than 50 feet high, has 12 major trunks, and covers nearly a full acre’s worth of park near the courthouse.
Lahaina has also made a name for itself in the culinary world, with a growing number of renowned restaurants. The bistro-style David Paul’s Lahaina Grill offers unique Pacific Rim cuisine, and French born and trained chefs Gerard Reversade of Gerard’s and Patrick Callarec of Chez Paul (just outside of town) combine Gallic traditions with local ingredients. For cultural entertainment there’s ‘Ulalena, a sort of Hawaiian version of Cirque du Soleil that tells the story of Hawaii in chant, song, original music, acrobatics, and dance.