To say Maui is expensive is an understatement. Maui is one of the most expensive counties in the United States, and with hotel rates, gas, food, and rent prices skyrocketing, locals and visitors feel the pinch. Whether you're a resident seeking something free to do this weekend, or a visitor looking for a memorable experience that won't break the bank, here are our favorite free things to do on Maui.
Maui is home to more miles of swimmable beach than any other Hawaiian Island. You could visit a new beach every day on a two-week vacation and still not see them all. Luckily, hitting the sand is totally free! Well, unless you're trying to visit a state park like Makena or Waiʻanapanapa. Then it'll cost you (interisland visitors needn't worry about this, Hawaii residents are exempt from state park fees). Kihei alone boasts six miles of beaches, and its golden sands are the perfect place to kick back and relax.
Lahaina Town is the most lively of Maui's towns. The town's main drag, Front Street, is dotted with art galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars. Front Street is also home to the famous Lahaina Banyan Tree, where craft fairs and local vendors often set up shop.
If you need a dose of history and culture, check out the Lahaina Restoration Foundation's free walking tour app. The app directs visitors to 60 historic sites near Front Street.
The Shops of Wailea offers a cultural show or free activity every weekday, from coconut husking and lei making to ukulele lessons. However, the Polynesian Show is The Shops' crown jewel. The Polynesian Show takes place every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm. This free show highlights Hawaiian hula and dances from around Polynesia. The performance is the next best thing to a luau— especially since you don't have to cough up over $100 per person to enjoy it.
There is no shortage of free public hiking trails on Maui, thanks to the state-funded Na Ala Hele system, which maintains a collection of trails across the island. Avid hikers will enjoy the sweeping views from the Lahaina Pali Trail or the greenery-abundant Waiheʻe Ridge Trail. Check out the Na Ala Hele trail database for a complete list of free public hiking trails. Remember thattrails in national and state parks require an entry fee.
Each Friday, a different town on Maui hosts a town party. These epic weekly community events feature live music, keiki activities, local vendors, lots of food, and lots of fun. First Fridays take place in Wailuku, second Fridays in Lahaina, third Fridays in Makawao, fourth Fridays in Kihei, and the occasional fifth Friday in Lanai. (It's worth noting that at the time of publishing, only the Kihei Fourth Friday Town Party is currently running. However, other towns are expected to follow suit as soon as they have the funding to do so!)
Maui's famous paniolo town is lined with local boutiques, eateries, and art galleries. While Makawao's boutiques are far from budget-friendly, admiring the town's many art galleries doesn't cost a dime. Maui Hands features an extensive collection of pieces from artists of nearly every medium, while Viewpoints Gallery boasts stunning island-inspired fine art. Also, be sure to add Hot Island Glass to your list. If the artists are in the gallery, you might be able to watch them craft incredible glassworks.
The Upcountry region is unlike anywhere else on Maui. This area is made up of rolling green pastureland, farms, botanical gardens, and parks— accompanied by stellar bi-coastal views. Upcountry lights up in the springtime when the jacaranda trees bloom, erupting in purple blossoms and dusting the road in violet flowers. Blooming season is a sight that's almost too good to be free!
Kepaniwai Park sits at the mouth of ʻIao Valley. Unlike the ʻIao Valley State Monument further up the road, access and parking at Kepaniwai Park are free. This gorgeous, oft-overlooked park is home to a collection of heritage gardens honoring the many different cultures that immigrated to Hawaii. Visitors will find Japanese pagodas, Portuguese gardens, Chinese moon gates, statues of historical figures, and much more. Kepaniwai Park also features several pavilions and picnic tables, ideal for picnic lunches and soaking in the beauty of ʻIao Valley.
The Hui Noʻeau has undergone many phases, transforming over time from a bustling sugar plantation to a visual art center. Today the center is home to a sleek art gallery that hosts rotating exhibits and a multitude of regular art classes. The estate's gallery shop is also an excellent place to shop for unique souvenirs made by Maui artisans. In addition to art, the Hui Noʻeau highlights its extensive history with a free, self-guided walking tour of the property.
You might have spotted Kihei's enormous coastal salt marsh while flying into Maui. This is Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, a 700-acre refuge home to some of Hawaii's most endangered waterbirds. The marsh is one of the last remaining natural wetlands in Hawaii. Visitors can explore the refuge via Kealia Boardwalk; a ½-mile raised boardwalk that runs along the coast and pond. The walk presents excellent views of the West Maui Mountains, and visitors can spot native and endangered birds and learn more about the habitat from informative panels along the way.
While volunteering might not be your idea of a relaxing vacation activity, volunteering with Kipuka Olowalu is highly recommended. The volunteering opportunities at Kipuka Olowalu allow visitors to form a deep connection to Hawaiian culture and the aina through restoration work. The work at Olowalu centers around planting native plants, invasive species removal, and loʻi (taro patch) restoration. Throughout the day, volunteers gain invaluable knowledge about Hawaii and the land— from the ancient Ahupuaʻa system to the importance of freshwater flow and how it relates to the ocean. If you're looking for an authentic cultural experience, skip the expensive luau and volunteer with Kipuka Olowalu. There's no cost to volunteer, but donations are welcome.
Did you know that the entire Hawaiian Island chain is a humpback whale sanctuary? The Humpback Whale Sanctuary Visitor Center in Kihei is a fantastic resource for learning more about humpback whales and other marine animals. This small center packs an informative punch, featuring countless displays and informative panels about whales and their ocean habitat. In addition, friendly volunteers are always on hand to answer all of your whale questions. The visitor center is also nestled on a 500-year-old fish pond and offers a plethora of information on the area's history. Not to mention, the visitor center's porch serves as a prime whale watching spot in the winter months.