Lahaina, whose name means 'Merciless Sun,' is the main tourist town of Maui. However, don’t let that put you off as it is one of the few places in Hawaii that has managed to preserve its rich history, most recognizable in its attractive 19th-century buildings.
Before the Europeans arrived, Hawaiian chiefs and kings ruled this hot and dry ocean region. At one point after King Kamehameha had united all the Hawaiian islands, he made Lahaina the royal capital. Thus it remained until 1845, when Kamehameha III moved the capital to the larger town of Honolulu.
During the 1840s the whaling industry was at its peak and hundreds of ships docked at Lahaina every year. Front St. would have swarmed with drunken sailors 24 hours a day in search of bars and brothels in which to spend their hard-earned money. Herman Melville, the writer of Moby-Dick, must have been able to research much of his material in Lahaina.
Lahaina’s next boom, a mere twenty years later, transformed the town into a sugar mecca. Most prominent was The Pioneer Sugar Mill Co., which still exists today.
Today it is now the hordes of tourists who crowd Lahaina’s mile-long drag, browsing the boutiques, art galleries (such as the excellent Curtis Wilson Cost Gallery, where you buy breathtaking paintings of Maui Landscapes!) and trendy bars or touring the historic sights. Probably the most popular landmarks include: the enormous Banyan tree planted in 1873, which fills an entire block and provides shade for artists to set up their wares beneath it; The Pioneer Inn, adjacent is a beautiful bar reminiscent of a bygone era; and docked across from the Inn is the Carthaginian, a replica square-rigger museum ship.
Lahaina makes a great day-trip away from the resorts and is also the venue of 'Old Lahaina,' probably the best Lu’au on the island of Maui, but also one you have to book days in advance, even during the off season. Another consideration is that car parking gets very scarce, so make sure you get there early!
From Lahaina’s wharf, you can also enjoy an ‘island hopping’ trip to either Molokai (perhaps the most untouched Hawaiian island), or Lanai, the former Dole Pineapple plantation island.