It’s that time of year. Jack Frost has taken his first bite out of winter and on the most dismal of days we start dreaming of leaning palm trees, swaying hula dancers, and any drink with an umbrella teetering on top. While driving or walking to work dodging sideways sleet, it's settled, our dreams turn into plans, and our island itinerary is set: indefinite sun, never-ending beach strolls, and overflowing Mai Tais await. Having made the over-ocean journey to the Hawaiian Isles more times than I can count, may I suggest Maui as your your muse for a complete getaway that puts tropical before touristy and sand before scene. I've found two beachfront locations that fly under the radar of most visitors' viewfinders.
Just a 10-minute drive from Maui’s main airport, Paia is positioned between sugar cane fields and the white ribbon beaches of the North shore. Filled with casual millionaires and hippie surfers, it’s not uncommon to see locals shopping barefoot for veggies at the town’s organic grocer, hair still dripping from a beach session. Most tourists pop into Paia for a just-caught fish taco at the Paia Fish Market or an apple-brie-balsamic crepe at Cafe Des Amis, yet it's the fish- and farm-to-table restaurants, independent clothing boutiques, and walkability that make it the ideal vacation spot at the crest of local culture.
Vibrant during the day and quiet at night, Paia’s a place visitors can blend into day-to-day life. Devoid of multi-room resorts or activity outposts dotting every inch of the shoreline, a very small number of boutique hotels have planted themselves at the ocean's edge beside former plantation houses and dot com-boom villas. For these reasons, Paia has grown in popularity with the kind who prefer to hide behind sunglasses and under hats.
Frequented by Hollywood celebs and Apple executives, Paia maintains its nonchalant island flow without A-list rates. For a boutique taste of the town, check into the Paia Inn, a petite collection of cottages and hotel room clusters secluded in a secret garden corridor amid the main drag and the beach. Within walking distance of all the beach town has to offer, coupled with the seclusion the A-list'er in all of seeks, rooms start at $189.
Another removed retreat basking in the Pacific Ocean’s spray is almost lost between the Ka’anapli and Kapalua resort realms on the Island’s northwestern shore. Mostly occupied by local homes hugging half-moon shaped bays, Napili has one small grocery store and a few quaint restaurants to write home about. One such haunt is The Gazebo, a seaside eatery boasting out-the-door line-ups at 8:30am – going out on a limb, I think it has something to do with joys of turtle-spotting while filling up on turtle-sized banana macadamia nut pancakes.
Just down the beach is a hotel built before the tidal wave of posh resorts started settling on the neighboring shore. Napili Kai recalls vintage Maui with its plantation-meets-tiki style of architecture in 11 low-rise condo clusters built over the 60s, 70s and 80s. Hovering so near the ocean, from inside some of the rooms, it feels like you're in a stateroom aboard your private yacht.