Destinations / North America / Hawaii

3 Days In Maui: Itinerary For A Relaxing Adventure

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One of the best things to happen to West Coasters in the last few years is the swell of affordable flights to the stunning Hawaiian islands. With just a 5 hour flight time, Hawaii is now an option even for long weekends!

Whether you’re just spending a few days in Hawaii or looking to build an island-hopping itinerary, 3 days in Maui is a great way to get a little taste of what Hawaii has to offer – in fact, that’s about what we had for a recent trip to Maui with kids. You should also look through these options if you’re trying to build a 5 day Maui itinerary and want more active options in between your beach days.

Even in a short time you can experience Hawaiian wildlife, get adventurous in Maui’s diverse landscapes from gorgeous beaches to lush jungles to rugged mountains, and of course eat some ono Hawaiian food.

In this article you’ll find everything you need to start planning your trip to Maui: things to do on Maui, where to stay on Maui, restaurant recommendations, Maui essentials for your packing list and Maui travel tips.

Let’s go!

3 Days in Maui itinerary summary

Day 1

  • Arrive
  • Get settled
  • Hit the beach!
  • Dinner at Paia Fishmarket or Monkeypod

Day 2

Day 3

Where to stay on Maui

If you were planning a longer trip to Maui, you might consider staying in two different areas of the island (namely one of the sunny beach areas on the west or south area and then a night or two in Hana). But since you only have 3 days in Maui, it makes the most sense to stay in just one place.

There are two ideal areas to consider: west Maui (Ka’anapali through Kapalua) or south Maui (Kihei or Wailea). Which one you choose is really about personal preference.

West Maui is full of nice resorts and hotels, has lots of great shops and restaurants and many of the island’s nicest beaches. If that sounds like a good fit for you, check out the Honua Kai Resort. We had an excellent stay at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, which offer plenty of space for families and larger groups to spread out and include laundry and a full kitchen. For a hotel resort experience, look at Westin Maui – it has great on-site amenities and an ideal location next to Whaler’s Village.

On the other hand, south Maui is a little lower key and has a wider range of accommodations to suit every budget and it’s closer to the airport (handy for a Maui itinerary of 3 days), Haleakala and the beginning of the Road to Hana. The beaches are also less eroded than some of the popular areas of west Maui. On our most recent visit we stayed in this awesome condo on Keawakapu Beach and it was perfect in every way. For additional options, look into Hale Hui Kai just a short walk north. If you want real luxury for your quick trip, it’s hard to beat the Grand Wailea Maui, the neighboring villas at the Ho’olei at Grand Wailea or the slightly less expensive Andaz Maui at Wailea – that’s where we’re staying next!

If you want save money on your accommodations and groceries by staying at a condo, check out these top-rated cheap vacation rentals on Maui. Cheap is relative, of course. For those traveling to Maui with kids, there are plenty of family-friendly vacation rentals on Maui covering the whole range of prices.

Use the interactive map to find vacation rentals and hotels in Maui, Hawaii

Tips For Your Maui Vacation

  • Renting a car on Maui is strongly recommended. Taxis and Uber are available, but add up quickly and may not be easily available for a return ride. There is a bus that runs to the major hotel areas and stops at the airport, but that won’t let you get out and explore the quieter parts of the island without paying for excursions every day. There’s a long list of what to see in Maui in 3 days, so make every moment count! Check here for the best rental car prices.
  • If you want to pick up sunscreen, souvenirs or snacks check out Walmart in Kahului, just a few minutes from the airport. They also have a well-stocked grocery section in case you want to pick up breakfast or lunch foods to save money in Hawaii.
  • Speaking of sunscreen, make sure you bring reef-safe sunscreen everywhere you go in Hawaii!
  • Don’t overpack, especially if you plan to visit Maui in 3 days. All of Hawaii is extremely casual and you probably won’t wear half of what you bring. Check out this list of Hawaii essentials to make sure you have what you need.

Want to plan the ultimate Maui vacation? Click here for step-by-step Maui travel planning help!

Psssst… don’t forget to pick up this guidebook before you visit Maui in 3 days! It’ll be your best friend on Maui:

Detailed Maui 3 day itinerary

Day 1 in Maui – Arrive and hit the beach

Welcome to paradise! Hopefully your flight was filled with relaxation and guava juice to get you in the mood for your quick little getaway of three days in Maui.

You’ll definitely want to grab a rental car on your way out of the airport. Having your own set of wheels gives you ultimate freedom to explore the island on your own time. Since you’re only staying on the island a short time, you can probably skip a stop at the Costco or Walmart near the airport for a big shop (though they’re available if you forgot something important!) – smaller ABC Stores are sprinkled throughout the island for basic needs.

But after that long flight you’re probably hungry! You won’t have many meals on Maui, so make them all count. Head to Tin Roof Maui, just a few minutes from the airport. You can choose from Asian-oriented Hawaiian food like poke, saimin and garlic shrimp plus the ever-present mac salad as a side. It’s not exactly a scenic location, but you can always take your food a few minutes away to Kanaha Beach Park to picnic before you hit the road. Kanaha Beach is a great place to watch windsurfers and take in your first glimpses of Maui scenery – and maybe even some wildlife in the air and the water!

If you opt to eat nearby, don’t miss Ululani’s Shave Ice around the corner. We eat a lot of Shave Ice in Hawaii and this is by far our family’s favorite. The Kahului location is much less busy than others.

Once you’ve stuffed your belly, it’s time to drive on to your home-away-from-home for the next few days. Drive time is 20 minutes to Kihei, 30 minutes to Wailea or 45 minutes to Ka’anapali. It will probably be early afternoon by the time you arrive at your hotel, and with any luck your room will be ready. Take a few minutes to get settled, refill your water bottle and change into your swimsuit. Of course, don’t forget the most important step.

Good news for you: it’s time to hit the beach! Since you’re only staying on Maui a short time, you won’t be able to spend every moment digging your toes into the soft golden sand. Fortunately you have a few really solid hours to enjoy it now. If lounging isn’t your style, see if you can borrow/rent a snorkel or boogie board to explore the water. It’s best to decide in advance if you want to do one of these activities, as each beach on the island has different strengths depending on the shape of the coastline and the currents. You’ll also want to make sure you can borrow or rent whatever equipment you need without too much inconvenience. Some hotels like Andaz Maui at Wailea include snorkel gear, paddleboards and more.

After a few hours on the beach, it’s time to head back to your hotel and clean up for dinner. It’s a great evening to enjoy a nice early meal followed by a perfect sunset view. I highly recommend Monkeypod if you want a fancier option or Paia Fishmarket if you want a low-key (but delicious) meal. Monkeypod in Ka’anapali will give you a sunset view, while the Wailea location won’t (nor will either Paia Fishmarket in Kihei).

Day 2 in Maui – Road to Hana or ‘Iao Valley

It’s an early day on the Valley Isle! You’ll grab a quick breakfast as you head toward Kahului to start your drive on the Road to Hana. How much of the road to drive depends on when you start, how much you and your passengers can tolerate and how late you want to stay up. Remember that you’ll be fighting jet lag come night time!

Pro tip: Download the Guide Along Maui tours to get the inside scoop through your entire day!

While it’s a little too ambitious in my opinion to drive the entire Hana loop, which takes 10-12 hours assuming no unusual road issues, you can still enjoy some of the lovely closer areas to get a taste of Maui’s lush side! Especially if you are staying in south or west Maui, you’ll need to add around 30 minutes to get to Kahului.

For a wonderful sample of what the Road to Hana offers, consider this itinerary (then double back on the return leg):

  • Kahului (starting point)
  • Twin Falls (easy waterfall hike, great smoothie stand)
  • Garden of Eden Arboretum ($20 admission or cheaper with AAA, waterfall, over 500 different tropical plants)
  • Ke’anae Peninsula (Aunty Sandy’s banana bread, stunning view, great place to enjoy a picnic lunch)
    Turn around here to return
  • Paia town (watch windsurfers at Ho’okipa Beach, stroll the shops, Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, late dinner at Mama’s Fish House)

There are plenty of other beautiful and unusual stops even on this short route!

The driving time from Kahului to Ke’anae Peninsula and back is around three hours, but you will want to stop. You could easily spend several hours at the various stops in total. Leaving from Ka’anapali at 9:30 am, you could easily not return until evening.

Don’t want to make the long, windy trek out toward Hana? You can also find one of Maui’s beautiful, lush areas in the ‘Iao Valley nestled in the west Maui mountains. My pictures don’t do it justice, but this area is beautiful and also carries historical significance as the place where Maui’s warriors took a stand against Kamehameha’s 1790 invasion. Reserve your spot in advance and allow around an hour to explore – longer if you want to tackle a longer hike.

If you’re in Paia around dinner time, don’t miss the world-famous Mama’s Fish House. Everything is fresh and locally caught, and they’re open daily from 11am to 9pm. Reserve your table as soon as you book your flights!

For tighter budgets, we enjoyed the low-key Pa’ia Fish Market. The original location is centrally located in town, though we liked the location in Kihei even better – so don’t fret if you don’t make it to the Pa’ia shop. Check out more family-friendly restaurants on Maui if you’ll have tiny travelers with you.

Remember that you’ll have a 2-3 hour time difference if you’re coming from the west coast and a 5-6 hour time difference if you’re coming from the east coast! The last thing you want is to find yourself on dark, exhausting roads when your body is telling you it’s bedtime.

Day 3 in Maui – Excursions and luau

Your final day on Maui is a great opportunity to check out a completely different side of Maui! There are plenty of options to choose from, but you won’t be able to do everything. If the Road to Hana described above doesn’t sound right for your trip, you can always try out another one of these excursions on Day 2.

Sunrise at Haleakala

If you have energy after your drive along the Road to Hana yesterday, you can start off extremely early to witness the stunning sunrise from the top of Haleakala. What is Haleakala? Haleakala the dormant volcano that dominates the topography and geography of east Maui, and has been protected as Haleakala National Park since 1961. I haven’t personally visited Haleakala for sunset but got some insider tips from friends who have gone many times.

Pro tip: Download the Guide Along Haleakala tour to get the most out of your experience!

Watching the sunrise from the top of Haleakala is one of the most popular things to do on Maui, but it definitely requires advance planning. First off, you need to make a reservation for Haleakala sunrise – it’s only $1 but secures your permit to enter the National Park from 3 to 7am. You’ll still have to separately pay for your park admission ($30) or use your America The Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass.

Second, prepare for an extremely early (and long) morning. How early should you get to Haleakala? You’ll want to check what time the sunrise is and then plan to arrive at the summit an hour before that. The drive time from many parts of Maui to the summit can be up to two hours. So if you’re visiting Maui in June, plan to be starting your car around 2:30am (unless you opt to stay close by like this lodge); if you visit in winter, you can rest easy until a luxurious 4am. These times might sound horrendous for a vacation, but remember that if you’re coming from mainland USA you’ll have a 2 to 6 hour time difference working in your favor.

Third, bring the essentials: WARM clothing and plenty of coffee and snacks. It can be downright frigid at the summit of Haleakala. We’re talking about one of these on top of one of these. You’ll probably be at the summit for nearly two hours (some of the most stunning views are long after the tour groups have left), you’ll probably want a massive supply of hot coffee to keep you going – this should help.

Spectacular Haleakala Summit Sunrise Tour, Maui tours & activities, fun things to do in Maui | HawaiiActivities.com

If the logistics sound a little overwhelming or you don’t feel comfortable driving the mountainous switchbacks in the pitch black, you can also consider booking an authorized tour to take you to the top. Tours range from 8 to 10 hours depending on where you’re being picked up and include snacks, breakfast and a guide to provide context to your experience. Click here for more information.

If sunrise at Haleakala doesn’t sound like the right option for you, that’s ok! You can read about our experience visiting Haleakala at sunset on our recent trip to Maui with kids. Alternatively you can jump straight into one of the next excursions to start your day or you can spend the morning relaxing on the beach after gorging on tropical fruit for breakfast.

You shouldn’t visit Maui without getting out on the water for at least a little while, and there are two great ways to do it.

Whale Watching on Maui

Photo from our own excursion with PWF – it was absolutely magical!

If you’re visiting Maui between November and May (which is whale season in Hawaii), I strongly recommend spending a few hours with the Pacific Whale Foundation. This non-profit offers extremely high-quality whale watching excursions with narration by naturalists the whole time. They are extremely respectful of Hawaii’s laws that prevent boats from crowding marine mammals.

Our whale watching tour with PWF was one of the highlights of our trip to Maui! Kids of all ages are welcome – we had our baby in a carrier, and for older kids there’s even a “Junior Naturalist” program akin to the National Parks’ Junior Ranger program. Get more details and check prices here for Ma’alaea Harbor departures.

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater

For visitors who want a more active endeavor, skip the sunrise on Haleakala and head straight to Ma’alaea harbor in the morning for a boat to nearby Molokini Crater. We had an amazing time on our tour! Molokini is known as one of the best snorkel spots in Hawaii, and it’s an experience you’ll never forget – this is some of the clearest water I’ve ever snorkeled in.

This tour leaves at 7:30am and will bring you back to Ma’alaea after lunch on board. Get more details and check prices here.

Explore Paia or Makawao Town

After returning from your morning activity consider spending a little time wandering around one of Maui’s charming 19th century small towns. The towns themselves date from the height of Maui’s sugar cane plantation era, and today there are plenty of fun galleries and shops to explore. Paia and Makawao are both great options and will show you a different side of the island – they feel a world away from the sunny resort community where you’re probably staying!

Once you’ve had your fill of town, I recommend squeezing in a few precious hours of beach time on your final day on Maui. Don’t forget to reapply your reef-safe sunscreen!

Want more ideas? Check out our favorite family activities on Maui – most of them will be fun for adults too!

Best Luau on Maui

To cap off your quick jaunt to paradise, you’ll spend your final evening at on of Maui’s best luaus. Why the last night instead of the first night? Luaus go late and you’ll hopefully be a little better adjusted to the time change from the mainland!

The most frequent pick for best luau in Maui is the venerable Old Lahaina Luau. We attended its sister production, The Feast at Lele (pictured above), many years ago and loved it. Sadly it was destroyed in the Lahaina fire of 2023 and appears to be gone for good. I’ve heard nothing but praise for Old Lahaina Luau and we’ll be checking it out for ourselves later this year. The food and entertainment are all Hawaiian, the service is buffet style and you have the choice to sit at family-style tables for 8 or on woven mats on the ground.

The Old Lahaina Luau is a very popular Maui luau for families thanks to reasonable kids pricing, kid-friendly menu and even some kids’ activities! We have family members who have gone in recent years and shared rave reviews with us. Click here for more details and current pricing.

Maui travel planning FAQs

Is 3 days enough in Maui?

I’ll be totally honest: with just 3 days in Maui, you’ll be scratching the surface of what the island has to offer.

But I understand that it isn’t always practical or economical to stay for longer. That’s why I’ve created this essential itinerary for Maui to show you the highlights on a quick visit.

How many days should you spend in Maui? In an ideal world, you’d be able to plan a 5 day Maui itinerary, or even 7 days (as we did).

Do I need a car in Maui, Hawaii?

For sure. The main Maui attractions are pretty spread out, and driving the island is half the fun. With just a few days you won’t want to waste time waiting around for hotel and activity shuttles. Check rental car prices for your trip here.

What should I pack for Maui?

Check out this in-depth Hawaii packing list to make sure you have all your essentials!

What is the best time of year to go to Maui?

There’s never a bad time to visit Maui! That said, summer and winter are the most expensive times of year. Don’t miss all these money-saving tips for Hawaii. Summer on Hawaii’s beachy western coasts can be brutally hot too. Winter brings bigger waves but it also brings migrating whales from mid-December to mid-May.

See all of our Hawaii travel planning resources in one place

Travel planning resources:
Compare rental car prices for Hawaii
Buy a top-rated travel insurance policy
5 simple money-saving tips for booking.com

General Hawaii resources:
How to visit Hawaii on a budget
Renting a car in Hawaii: 10 things you NEED to know
What to pack for Hawaii
Is a cheap GoPro knock-off worth it?

Hawaii with kids:
What’s the best Hawaiian island for families?
Is it worth visiting Hawaii with a baby?
Ultimate packing list for Hawaii with kids
Top 10 things to do with kids on Oahu
The best snorkel gear for kids of all ages

Oahu resources:
Best Oahu travel guide book
Perfect 7 day Oahu itinerary
Where to stay on Oahu
Family-friendly Oahu vacation rentals
Cheap Places To Stay On Oahu
10 Fun Things to do on Oahu for $10 or less
Getting the most bang for your buck on your Go Oahu discount card
Insider tips for visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center
The best beaches on Oahu (and why to visit them)
Where to find the best shave ice on Oahu
The best easy hikes on Oahu
North Shore Oahu complete visitors guide
Kayaking to the Mokes with Twogood Kayaks
Family-friendly kayaking with Holokai Adventures
Visiting Pearl Harbor

Maui resources:
Best Maui travel guide book
Family Activities in Maui We Absolutely Love
Perfect 3 day Maui itinerary
5 Things You NEED To Do Before You Visit Maui
Cheap Places To Stay On Maui

Big Island resources:
Best Big Island travel guide book
Perfect 5 day Big Island itinerary
Cheap Places To Stay On the Big Island

Kauai resources:
Best Kauai travel guide book
Best Things to Do with Kids on Kauai
Perfect 3 day Kauai itinerary
Cheap Places To Stay On Kauai

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