Christmas on Maui may sound preposterous to some — from the outside looking in, the Valley Isle doesn’t exactly call to mind wintry holiday vibes — but December in Maui happens to be one of the most splendid times on the island. While the rest of the world may be experiencing some of the coldest days of the year, Maui sees remarkably beautiful weather (with just the right amount of bite and breeze), Humpback whales have returned to its shores, celebrations abound from north to south, and excitement stirs in the humid, tropical air. ‘Tis the season, indeed — only with a hot, aloha feel.
Happen to be one of the fortunate ones fleeing to Maui in December? Here are 8 jolly ways to give yourself a holiday to remember.
1. Visit with Whales + Pop a Cork
From November to May, North Pacific Humpback whales — known as kohola in Hawaiian — leave their frigid Alaskan abode to frolic in Maui’s waters. Visiting Maui in December gets you in at the beginning of another epic whale watching season. Relax on the beach and you might be treated to a flash of a tail in the distance—or get proactive about the endeavor and spend a morning with Kai Kanani Sailing Charters. One of the finest ocean adventure companies on the Valley Isle, this well-run outfit takes out avid and green sea-goers on a trip directly from the beach in Makena at Maluaka Beach. For a chill-but-fun experience, select a sunset sail, where you and your crew will enjoy pupus, drinks, and up-close views of the whales’ splendor. (Particularly appealing for those who prefer the less-crowded experience of whale watching from a boat.) Another great way to see the whales is on your way to and from Molokini Crater on one of Redline Rafting’s Molokini snorkeling tours departing daily from Kihei Boat Ramp. Rinse off the salt when you’re back on land and make your way to The Shops at Wailea. Located in one of the island’s toniest enclaves, this two-story plaza boasts reputable stores (Banana Republic, Lululemon) as well as local boutiques and galleries (be sure to check out Mahina and Ki’i for stocking stuffers). Then kick back at The Pint & Cork on The Shops’ second floor—a glossy tavern that offers boutique beers and distinct cocktails. Opt for their loaded rootbeer float (prepped with Maui Brew Co’s beloved Coconut Porter) and a white cheddar and bacon burger that requires, yes, a bib.
2. Meditate + Sunset Swoon
Believed to be the heart chakra of Earth, Maui lures spiritual seekers to its shores in droves. Some stay for a spell; others, a lifetime, finding a never-ending path to peace and happiness in the island’s magical landscape. Experience a glimpse into this part of Maui’s world with a morning of meditation in Kula— a pastoral town located on Haleakala’s stunning slopes. Self-realization, healing, and tranquility are all yours for discovery at Maui Kirtan, where on select Sundays you can also sign up for a two-hour Transcendental Yoga Class and meditation circle. Extend that inner om later in the day by booking a sunset tour of one of the world’s largest dormant volcanos with Skyline Hawaii. Manned by a fun, eco-conscious crew of NAI-certified guides, this vehicular tour of Maui’s massive mountain (as well as Upcountry and the North Shore) brims with rich tales about the island’s geology, legends, and history. The sunset itself will be emblazoned on your heart for decades, while the stars that emerge will bring you even close to the divine.
3. Beach Hop + Holiday Pops
Yeah, we know there’s a reason why you’re visiting Maui in December. Stir up envy on social media by posting photos of Maui’s renowned beaches— and you right smack dab in the center of them. The island’s 81 beaches are all terrific, but you’ll find the finest, whitest sand and clearest, warmest water on the South Side. The coves in Wailea are absolute perfection; linked together by little more than lava outcroppings that are easy to hop (as long as you packed some fortitude), you can start at Keawakapu and traipse your way to Polo. Along the way, you’ll pass a bevy of gorgeous resorts — and the fruity cocktails they peddle — and plenty of opportunities for sunbathing, sleeping, and splashing in the ocean. Post-sunset, don your warmer clothes and head to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, where every year music director extraordinaire James Durham orchestrates a fabulously festive show. Featuring Na Hoku Hanohano award winners — and some of the greatest local talent — this annual performance delights and rouses.
4. Zip line + Dine on Maui in December
Modern zip lining got its start in the 1970s when wildlife biologists were keen on finding a way to study and explore Costa Rica’s nearly-impenetrable forests. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the activity became available for recreation, thanks to the opening of the first zip line course in the United States. The location? Maui. And is it any wonder? Between our own dense rainforests — as well as our enormous gorges and impressive coastlines — there’s few better places to take a tour through the sky. Maui Tropical Plantation honors this unique heritage at two zip lines on their perfumed and peaceful property — one is perfect for children; the other goes down as the longest zip line on the island. See for yourself what the excitement’s all about before touring the plantation itself. Here, you’ll find relics from Maui’s sugarcane past, Solely Aloha with incredible Maui clothing and art, a general store packed with potential Christmas gifts, and a roasting café that serves up the plantation’s own coffee. But Maui Tropical Plantation’s star jewel is its on-site restaurant, The Mill House. Helmed by a chef who was named Maui’s best in the annual (and acclaimed) ‘Aipono Awards — and winner of Maui’s Most Innovative Menu from the same source — this farm-to-fork gem finds its inspiration from the plantation’s ripest crops and other bounty across the island. Start at the bar with an Espina de la Rosa made with mezcal, pineapple, and lime before moving onto their lanai for an outstanding meal. Be prepared to want to linger long into the night: the views of the West Maui Mountain are, well, oh my.
5. Discover Your Inner Mermaid + Dance the Hula
Have you always dreamed of being a mermaid — or merman? Fantasize no longer with Hawaii Mermaid Adventures. Started as a way to give voice to the hazards our oceans face, this swimming lesson, led by certified marine naturalists, instructs individuals on how to be at one with the sea; it’s also enhanced with fun and fascinating stories about the myths behind mermaids. Enjoyable for the whole family, this unique Maui activity practically screams photo opportunity. Keep the amusement going with an evening at the Grand Wailea, where their dynamite luau, Honua’ula, is presented next to the sea and under the stars. With a full imu ceremony, an immense buffet, hula lessons, and an open bar, this awesome fete blends a rocking good time with pure aloha ethos of Hawaii. December in Maui is the beginning of busy season, so make sure to book your luau online and early!
6. Hover Above Waterfalls + Traipse Through a Former Whaling Port
Maui may be globally renowned for possessing sand that ranges from red to black (to say nothing of that glorious, pristine white), but some of its most dramatic spots are found away from the Pacific: As in waterfalls deep within jagged mountains, rainforests profuse with wild birds, and cinder deserts that give new meaning to “lunar-esque.” Experience these hidden wonders and more aboard Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Deemed the “Cadillac of helicopter tours” by Frommer’s Travel Guides, Blue Hawaiian presents a staff of skilled pilots who just happen to be equally skilled at providing engrossing tales about Maui’s myths, history, and geology. Be sure to book a tour that’ll take you to Molokai — the outlying island has the largest sea cliffs in the world. For an unforgettable night on the town, head nowhere else than Lahaina. Once known as Lele, this beachy, buzzy city on the island’s West Side was a favorite of the first King of Hawaii—so much so he named it the archipelago’s capital before its transition to Honolulu. Remnants of its significance in the islands remain intact, as well as its history as one of the largest—and rowdiest—whaling ports in the Pacific. Explore it all with a self-guided tour that starts with pupu at Lahaina Grill and ends with drinks and dancing at Fleetwood’s on Front St. Along the way, you can cross a few more peeps off your Christmas list, tour galleries filled with exquisiteness, stroll under the largest banyan tree in Hawaii, see an old prison-cum-museum, snack on shave ice, savor the sight of surfers and sailboats at sunset, get a tattoo — even converse with a parrot.
7. Hike Through an Experimental Forest + Meet Santa Claus
Break away from the beach crowds and nourish the holiday spirit with a trip Upcountry to Hosmer Grove. Located nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, and just outside the vast, beautiful barrenness that is Haleakala National Park, this experimental woodland got its start in 1910 when Hawaii’s first territorial forester began planting trees from as far away as Australia and Japan. Those efforts manifest today in a copse of sugi pine, cedar, spruce, and eucalyptus—and an enchanting loop trail through their beauty and fragrance. Keep an eye out for birds: the forest booms with several species of honeycreepers. Keep in mind that it’s cold up there, even in the summer. December in Maui is especially chilly at the summit! Sustain that wintry feel—it gets cold this far up the mountain—by heading to Maui Wine’s holiday tree lighting. Held on the winery’s striking estate in Ulupalakua, this annual event features holiday games, a movie screening, keiki activities, live music, sparkling toasts—and, of course, a visit from Santa himself.
8. Find an Epic Hana Beach + Camp Under the Stars
Balmy December in Maui is perfect to embark on Road to Hana adventure. One of Maui’s most arresting beaches is tucked just past Hana — a tiny hamlet on the island’s remote eastern coast. Hamoa Beach has a bunch of stairs or steep incline ramp, but most will be pleased with the end: a horseshoe-shaped beach, carved into rainforest, that’s covered in white sand and framed by startlingly-blue water. Astonishment at the natural beauty is unavoidable. Rather than driving back to your accommodations that night, use the services of Camp Maui-X to sleep in Kipahulu’s wilderness. (To note, campsites are assigned on a first come, first serve basis, so arrive early in the day.) With the pounding surf, cascading waterfalls, and Maui’s immense blanket of stars, you’ll feel as if you’ve been given the greatest gift of all.
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The crew at Maui Guide has been experiencing and sharing their home since the internet out grew dial up. When not surfing on the west or north shore, their team enjoys eating at the best restaurants on Maui, creating art with keiki, learning more about the rich history and existing culture of Hawaii’s ‘aina and kanaka.