Known as the "Valley Isle," Maui is Hawaii's 2nd largest island and the largest island in Maui County. In 1786, French Captain Jean Francois de Galaup de La Perouse was the first European to step foot on Maui, later followed by traders, whalers and missionaries who introduced Western religion, medicine, government and foreign trade. Whaling became a popular industry, as did sugar production. Dating to 1835, the sugar industry brought immigrant workers from China, Japan, Puerto Rico, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Germany and Scandinavia to the island.
Today, this eclectic blend of ethnicities prevails in both Maui's population of 117,644 residents and its world-class attractions. Step back in time by exploring an authentic sleeping house, eating house and craft house at Hale Kahiko, a replica of an ancient Hawaiian thatched-roof village. The Bailey House Museum showcases 19th century Hawaiian artifacts, art and furnishings, while the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum, one of two remaining plantations on Maui, features working models of plantation machinery.
Maui's culture revolves around its geography just as much as its heritage. From the mountainous west to the beach-lined south, the island's incredible terrain is home to many treasures. Visitors can snorkel among coral and tropical fish at Black Rock Ka'anapali Beach, or see the unique volcanic red sand at the secluded Red Sand Beach in Hana. Hop on an eco-friendly catamaran run by the Pacific Whale Foundation, where guests can catch a glimpse of the thousands of humpback whales that migrate to Maui's shallow waters each year.
Back on land, guests marvel at Maui's famous Banyan Tree, a 60-foot-high, 12-trunk tree that stretches over a 200-foot area, providing shade for more than two-thirds of an acre. The famous Haleakala National Park is home to the Haleakala Crater, a beautiful reminder of Maui's once-active volcano. From its summit, visitors can view an awe-inspiring sunrise or spend the day exploring 27 miles of hiking trails.
After a long day of sand and sun, guests love kicking back with some traditional regional cuisine. One of Maui's most popular restaurants is Paia's famous Mama's Fish House, located in a converted beach house on a secluded white sand beach. As Maui's first fresh fish restaurant, Mama's daily-changing menu highlights Hawaiian opah, ahi, opakapaka and mahi mahi, and even names the boat that caught each daily fish selection. Meanwhile, the Lahaina Grill blends American cuisine with regional Hawaiian fare, creating innovative selections such as Hawaiian keahole lobster with truffle butter.
For a truly authentic dining experience, stop by the Old Lahaina Luau. This award-wining oceanfront luau dazzles guests with hula dancers and an ample spread of traditional fare such as Lomi Lomi salmon, guava-glazed chicken and taro salad. As guests enjoy the sunset among the lush, tropical scene, they'll be quick to realize why the Hawaiian phrase "Aloha" has come to mean both hello and goodbye – no sooner do visitors leave than start to plan a return trip.