Travel & Day Trips

PHOTOS: Visiting Paia, An Awesome Place to Experience Maui History

Some towns on the island of Maui, Hawaii are new and gleaming. Wailuku is a newer area of the island, and many of the resorts in Wailea were built in the 1990s or even more recently.

Lahaina, Maui is one of the island’s most historic towns, but it was tragically destroyed in historic wildfires that consumed an estimated 70% of the city.

If you’re visiting Maui and want to support local businesses–as well as experiencing some of Maui’s authentic history–consider visiting Paia on the North Shore. 

Paia in Maui
Paia in Maui

Like Lahaina, it was settled over a century ago. The history and locations of these two Maui towns are very different, though.

Paia was originally established in the 1800s as the location of a sugar mill. Sugar cane production continued in Maui until the mid-2010s, and the relic of the last operating sugar mill is still standing on the road into Paia.

Maui sugar mill building
Maui’s old sugar mill

The town itself consists of historical buildings and storefronts, some of which date to these early company town days. With the tragic destruction of Lahaina, Paia is one of the only remaining places on the island to see this kind of historical construction.

Paia is also the starting place for the famed Road to Hana. You’ll see plenty of cars picking up provisions to head out on this multi-hour trek.

Paia in Maui
Paia in Maui

The Paia Fish Market is a popular place to stop in Paia.

Paia Fish Market
Paia Fish Market

On a recent visit, I tried their local fish tacos.

Fish tacos at Paia fish market
Fish tacos at Paia fish market

Paia also features many art galleries and shops owned by locals and small businesses. You’ll find plenty of places to get shave ice, too, including Ululani’s (the best shave ice in Maui) and Tobi’s.

Shave ice at Tobi’s

This place has a full palm tree growing through its roof!

Palm trees growing through the ceiling
Palm trees growing through the ceiling

After lunch and shave ice, head up to Ho’okipa Beach Park just outside downtown Paia. You can see turtles coming right up on to the sand!

Ho’okipa Beach Park

You’ll also be able to swim and see lots of windsurfers out on the water. In fact, Paia is known as the windsurfing capital of the world. There are lifeguards on duty at this beach, but I recommend staying close to the shore, as waves can be very big.

Ho'okipa Beach Park lifeguard
Ho’okipa Beach Park lifeguard

We sincerely hope that Lahaina will rebuild and come back stronger, and our thoughts are with those affected by the fires. Until that process is complete–or if you love history and want to experience both places–Paia is a wonderful spot to see older architecture and support local businesses on Maui.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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