Lahaina is the largest town in West Maui and the gateway to the Ka'anapali and Kapalua beach resorts to its north. You access it either by using Hawaii Route 30 from a tunnel at the south end or to the CDP of Napili-Honokowai to the north. The population can be as high as 40,000 during the busy season.
It used to be the royal capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845 after which year the capital was moved to Honolulu.
Lahaina is just a great place to vacation in or visit during your stay on Maui. It has lots of things to see as well as great shops and restaurants. The town borders beautiful beaches like Ka'anapali and Napili, and has a very cool par named Banyan Tree Park where you can see a humongous one-of-the-kind banyan tree. Its historic downtown is a must see so make sure to visit it to as well as the museum.
What to do in Lahaina
The Lahaina Restoration Foundation is a wonderful organization which has done a tremendous work to restore and maintain the beautiful sites of Lahaina. We encourage you to support them in any way you can by either visiting the various museums or donate.
Lahaina Heritage Museum - Located in the Old Lahaina Courthouse near the Banyan Tree Park (648 Wharf Street), the museum is a wonderful place to learn about the history and culture of Lahaina, Maui, and Hawaii.
"Lahaina Heritage Museum offers visitors a comprehensive, interactive look at the rich and varied history of Lahaina from pre-contact Hawai‘i to the Monarchy era, including the missionary and whaling period, and from the Plantation era to early tourism. Not only has Lahaina seen it all, but this picturesque village has played a significant role in the development of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Republic, Territory and State of Hawai‘i. The museum exhibit, "Always Lahaina" marks the first time Lahaina's full story is told in one location.
Complementing the museum on the second floor landing is a large, topographical map of Maui island with features that light up when touched, an historic timeline of Hawai‘i's history, and the 1898 Kingdom of Hawai‘i flag that once flew over the courthouse. Displayed along the ground floor hallways are poignant black-and-white photos of Lahaina's sites and scenes in the early 20th century.
Educational panels about the islands' natural environment, a touch-screen kiosk and videos about the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary are also incorporated in the exhibits, since Lahaina's calm waters are birthing and breeding grounds for North Pacific humpback whales. A grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, the nonprofit arm of National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, provided funding for the interpretive displays, cases for artifacts, narrative recordings and the video theater."
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Balwin Home Museum - Located in the Old Lahaina Courthouse near the Banyan Tree Park (648 Wharf Street), the museum is a wonderful place to learn about the history and culture of Lahaina, Maui, and Hawaii.
"The oldest house still standing on the island of Maui, Baldwin Home is a recognizable landmark in the heart of historic Lahaina. The original four-room, single level structure was built by Reverend Ephraim Spaulding between 1834-35 in what was then referred to as the "missionary compound." This area offered a direct view to the Lahaina landing and roadstead beyond where whaling ships would anchor.
When Rev. Spaulding became ill in 1836 and returned to Massachusetts, a medical missionary, Reverend Dwight Baldwin, and his family who had been living in a grass hale (hut) in the compound moved into the home … and the legacy of a Maui pioneer began.
Newlyweds when they embarked, Baldwin and his wife Charlotte Fowler traveled by ship from New England around South America's Cape Horn on a six-month voyage to the island of O‘ahu. They were assigned to Hawai‘i Island first, arriving on Maui in 1835. The couple had eight children, all born in Hawai‘i, although two children died of dysentery before the age of three."
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Wo Hing Temple Museum - It is located in the Old Lahaina Center which also has lots of gift shops and eateries.
"The earliest Chinese to arrive on Maui came on trading or whaling ships. It was these men who helped to build tunnels and irrigation systems through the mountains. If you've ever driven the famous Road to Hana, you've seen outstanding examples of their labor in the East Maui Irrigation System of bridges. During the years 1852-1898, many thousands of Chinese came to Maui to work on sugar plantations and in sugar mills.
Chinatown in Lahaina began as one-story shops and housing on Front Street, and as more Chinese were attracted to the area, two-story wooden buildings were built to accommodate them. But the Chinese immigrants maintained social and political ties with their ancestral home and in the early 1900s, they formed the Wo Hing Society. At one time, it was a branch of the Chee Kung Tong (a fraternal society with chapters worldwide) but it is no longer affiliated. The society was formed to nurture the ex-pat community, providing social contacts, support in times of crisis, and housing for retired workers. It also supported the revolutionary activities of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, renowned as the Father of Modern China, and first provisional president of the Republic of China."
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Masters' Reading Room - The Officers' Club of Lahaina
As whaling ships, with their officers, mates and crew, began to arrive in droves and anchor in the calm roadstead of Lahaina to reprovision, town officials saw the need for ship captains to have a meeting room. So in June of 1833, Lahaina missionaries resolved to build a reading room, or gentlemen's club retreat. They would stock it with publications, newspapers and writing materials so officers from ships could catch up on news and record in their logs.
The American Mission agreed to contribute $200 and asked the public for additional support. A written request, co-signed by Reverends Richards and Spaulding, was presented to visitors, asking for gifts of any kind to further the endeavor. Some of the whalers offered money, but many donated gifts such as a looking glass, pitcher, soap, chairs, planks and a spyglass.
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Banyan Tree Park
Dominating the courthouse square in downtown Lahaina is one of the most remarkable aboreal specimens. Covering an area of one quarter mile, its octopus- like limbs stretch outward, spreading a vast network of branches, leaves and aerial roots towards the streets and buildings surrounding it. Extraordinary, almost surreal, it seems more like a fantastic prop from a Tim Burton film than a real life living thing. How did this giant come to lay its roots in this tiny port of Lahaina? Here's the story.
On April 24, 1873, to honor the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, which was started at the request of Queen Keōpūolani, the sacred wife and widow of King Kamehameha the Great, Sheriff William Owen Smith planted the exotic Indian Banyan. At the time it was only eight feet tall. After settling in, the tree slowly sent branches outward from its trunk. From the branches, a series of aerial roots descended towards the earth. Some of them touched the ground and dug in, growing larger until eventually turning into trunks themselves. Over the years, Lahaina residents lovingly encouraged the symmetrical growth of the tree by hanging large glass jars filled with water on the aerial roots that they wanted to grow into a trunk. In time, what was once a small sapling matured into a monumental behemoth.
It now stands over 60 feet high, has 16 major trunks in addition to the massive original and stretches over a 200-foot area. Maui County Arborist Committee carefully maintains the health and shape of this majestic tree. It is the largest banyan tree in the entire United States. In recent times, the courthouse square was renamed "Banyan Tree Park" in its honor. Lahaina Restoration Foundation takes care of the park grounds.
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The Lahaina Lighthouse stands as a beacon at the edge of Lahaina Harbor, guiding vessels to the landing for almost two centuries. In old Hawai‘i, its site at Keawaiki, which means "the small passage," referring to a narrow break through coral reef leading to protected anchorage, held an observatory platform for oracles to read celestial bodies in the night sky.
In 1840, Kamehameha III commissioned a nine-foot tall, box-like wooden tower to be built as a navigational aid for ships entering Lahaina's roadstead. At the top was a lamp that was lit with whale oil and tended by a Native Hawaiian caretaker. When it was lit on November 4, 1840, it was the first lighted navigation tower in the Hawaiian Islands, predating any lighthouse on the U.S. Pacific Coast.
As shipping traffic increased, so did the tower's height, stretching to 26 feet. Improvements were made and on November 8, 1866, the tower with a storehouse featured stairs leading to the light room and keeper's sleeping room with a lamp on top, which burned kerosene.
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Hale Pa'ahao - Lahaina Prison
Hale Pa‘ahao (stuck-in-irons house) was Lahaina's "new" prison in the 1850s. During the peak of the whaling era, as you can imagine, the small village of Lahaina was rampant with rowdy sailors who were ready for fun and relaxation along with villagers who were willing to play and trade with them.
Under the wary eyes of missionaries and town officials, Lahaina saw a growing need to control the actions of the whalers and house the ones who were no longer "guests" of the government. In 1851, "an Act relating to prisons, their government, and discipline" was passed by the legislature and approved by the King. It authorized a new jail for Lahaina which was to be built to "keep entirely separate from each other the male and female prisoners, and to have a yard enclosed by fences of sufficient height and strength to prevent escapes …"
This new prison was to replace the small jail located under the Old Fort on the waterfront. So in 1852, the fort was razed for its thick coral blocks that would be used to surround the prison yard. The imposing wall at the corner of today's Prison and Waine‘e Streets is several feet deep and high.
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There is strong evidence to suggest that Kamehameha III commissioned the construction of the two-story stone building in 1833. At the time, Lahaina did not extend much farther north than today's Dickenson Street, which was then a stream flowing alongside the missionary compound. This building was deliberately situated about a mile from the homes of the missionaries and devout Christian Governor Hoapili.
The King approached a Honolulu merchant to build a house on his property that would cater to visiting sailors as an inn and a store. Kamehameha III also had another purpose in mind: he needed a place to indulge in activities not condoned by the influential missionaries and to be away from their prying eyes. They frowned on the use of "ardent spirits" not to mention keeping the old tradition of a sacred marriage between closely related high chiefs. So it was here the King could meet with his beloved sister, Princess Nahi‘ena‘ena.
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Hale Pa'i Printing Museum
When the first missionaries arrived in Lahaina in 1823, they stressed to the ali‘i of Hawai‘i the importance of education and literacy for their people, and a seed was planted. By 1831, Lahainaluna Seminary was established, becoming the first secondary school west of the Rockies. Lahainaluna survives today as Lahaina's public high school. On its campus is Hale Pa‘i, the House of Printing.
School records tell us that in 1834, an old Ramage Press was shipped from Honolulu and installed on campus in a small thatched-roof hut. Students were taught how to set type, operate the press, create copper engravings and bind books. Textbooks and teaching aids were created and continually improved. The original press printed the first newspaper published west of the Rocky Mountains on February 14, 1834. It was a four-page weekly called "Ka Lama Hawaii."
In 1837, construction began on a new building, which would provide a permanent home for the school's press. Fieldstone was gathered from the surrounding hillsides, timbers were cut from forests on the opposite side of the island and laboriously hauled to the site. Lime for mortar was made down at the shoreline by burning coral that had been culled from offshore reefs. The result was a strong, pitched-roof, two- room house that served the school for more than a century.
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Pioneer Mill Co.
Established in 1860, Pioneer Mill Co. was the first plantation to grow sugar commercially in Lahaina and the company built one of Hawai‘i's first sugar mills. For 139 years, the Pioneer Mill was a mainstay of West Maui's economy. Almost every resident of Lahaina had some connection to the mill, and if you mention it to this day, it will spark fond memories for many.
By 1935, the company cultivated more than 10,000 acres of sugar cane. At its peak in the 1960s, the mill processed 60,000 tons of sugar annually. Cut sugar cane was first transported from the fields to the mill by water-driven flumes and cattle-driven carts. Beginning in the 1880s, it was transported by train over miles of narrow-gauge railroad track along the West Maui mountain slopes. By 1953, trucks replaced the trains.
Pioneer Mill Co. erected a 225-foot high, brick-and-concrete smokestack in 1928. It was the tallest smokestack in Hawai‘i and became a natural landmark for drivers as well as a navigational guide for fishermen out at sea. When the mill's boilers were burning bagasse (fibers leftover once juice is extracted from cane stalks), cloud-like puffs rose out of the smokestack, indicating steam was being produced to generate electricity. People living near the mill or driving by it couldn't help but wrinkle their noses at the smoky-sweet smell emanating from the stack.
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As the whaling era faded and sugar dominated Lahaina, more and more native traditions retreated. In 1860, the plantation era was ushered in and remained active in Lahaina until 1999. This time period coincided with the founding and closing of the Pioneer Mill Co., one of Hawai‘i's first sugar mills.
Sugar plantation operations were the impetus for laborers to be imported from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, Korea and Puerto Rico to harvest crops in West Maui. The company built self-sustaining camps with housing, a post office, general store and recreational facilities to provide for the workers' families. These camps thrived in Lahaina for over 100 years.
When pineapple cultivation began after the turn of the 20th century at Honolua Ranch, more plantation camps were established throughout West Maui. In the 1920s, Baldwin Packers opened a pineapple cannery in Lahaina, which remained one of the town's largest employers until the early 1960s.
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Ala Hele Mo'olelo O Lahaina - Lahaina's History Trail
Did you know that Lahaina has 65 significant sites, museums and buildings that represent the history and culture of the town over a period of more than 500 years? It's easy to locate them and learn their stories by viewing the colorful map- brochure and large maps installed in kiosks throughout Lahaina.
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