Maui: Off the beach and off the beaten path

Photo of a Virgin America plane arriving in Maui for the first time under a water arc.

On the heels of our recently launched service to Honolulu, Hawaii, last month Virgin America began service from San Francisco (SFO) to Maui (OGG) with some fun surprises for guests onboard the flight.

Upon arrival at Maui, the inaugural flight VX39 was greeted with a “water lei” (water cannon salute) – an aviation tradition used to welcome an airline to a new airline into a destination. Guests were then treated to a lei greeting in the terminal and a formal welcome by the Mayor of Maui, Alan Arakawa (pictured below with our flight crew).

Photo of Virgin America flight attendants with Mayor of Maui, Alan Arakawa at the Maui Airport.

Since this was my first time in Maui, I definitely made sure that I experienced all of the usual Maui beach activities in Kaanapali like snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, attempting to work on my tan and treating myself to a tropical cocktail or two.

Photo of a beachside resort and pool in Maui.

The mixologists at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa even created a custom cocktail for the launch of Virgin America’s new service – The Flight 39. To make your own, add:

  • 1oz Ocean Vodka
  • 2oz Pineapple Juice
  • 1oz Cranberry Juice
  • Lime Wedge
  • Maraschino Cherry

Lightly stir, fill with ice and enjoy! And as I was taught, “Okole Maluna” or bottoms up!

But perhaps most surprising for me during my time in Maui were the amount of amazing activities that didn’t involve the beach. After leaving Kaanapali, I checked into the beautiful Fairmont Kea Lani Resort in Wailea and headed to Upcountry.

Photo looking out of hotel across the courtyard to the beach. The courtyard is lush with plants, flowers and palm trees.

For those unfamiliar, Upcountry Maui is one of the higher elevation areas around Haleakala that include ranches, botanical gardens, farms and Hawaii’s paniolo or Hawaiian cowboys. There you can experience some of Maui’s most famous exports – sweet onions, lavender, pineapple and coffee – as well as some of the lesser known but equally amazing cheese, wine and spirits.

Maui Wine is located next to Ulupalakua Ranch (great place to grab a quick bite between tours) and when you first arrive, you’re immediately greeted by a strong sense of history and hospitality. Walking towards the King Cottage tasting room, you first pass through the “hula circle” a group of carved of trees where hula dancers would perform for Hawaii’s last king, “the Merrie Monarch,” King Kalakaua. Originally planted in the 1870s, in 2012 two of the trees were badly damaged in a storm. To help preserve them, Maui sculptor Tim Garcia was commissioned to carve the trunks and help share the story of this celebrated Hula Circle and its cultural and historical significance.

photo of a wine bottle next to a glass of red wine with vineyards in the background

After checking in, we headed to the winery’s 23-acre vineyard nestled in the southern-facing slopes of Haleakala between 1,700 and 1,850 feet in elevation. Here the Maui Wine team produces traditional methode sparkling wines and exclusive small production estate wines in addition to their classic pineapple wines. Some of the highlights for me included the 2014 Ulupalakua Vineyards Estate Grown Rosé, the 2013 Ulupalakua Estate Grown Syrah (pictured here), the Lokelani Hawaiian Sparkling Rosé and the Hula O Maui Pineapple Sparkling Wine – which, if you haven’t tried a fruit wine before, is a real treat. For more information about touring the winery, click here.

The next stop on our Upcountry adventure took us to the Hali’imaile Distillery – home of handcrafted, locally made, authentic Hawaiian brand spirits like Pau Vodka and Paniolo Whiskey. Using the Maui Gold Pineapple as a base, Master Distiller, Mark Nigbur, expertly crafts each spirit in small batches to create ultra-pure products and innovative flavors that have caught the eyes of celebs including Sammy Hagar – who partnered with the distillery to produce Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. Best known for their Pau Vodka, Mark and team also offer one infused with cognac and, my personal favorite, one aged in oak barrels (like a whiskey). And speaking of whiskey, Hali’imaile Distillery creates their own by starting with straight bourbon from Kentucky and then mixing it with their signature pineapple distillate to make Paniolo Whiskey in three unique flavors: chocolate coconut, coffee and brown sugar – which is amazing in a Manhattan (think hot buttered whiskey).

Photo of Whiskey Barrels with mustaches painted on them.

To checkout the distillery on your next Maui visit, click here.

And finally, while actually located much closer to Wailea in Kihei than upcountry, our last stop in paradise was at the Maui Brewing Company. Founded in 2005, the brewery focuses on local and sustainable ingredients with a strong commitment to the neighboring community and environment. This commitment starts with sourcing local ingredients for their beers (when possible) and continues through the entire process as the spent grain is given to local farmers for feed and compost – contributing to local sustainability.

photo of beer flights featuring small samples of light and dark beers.

After our tour, we relaxed in the tasting room and sampled a beer flight that included Bikini Blond Lager (a beer I’d frequently enjoyed back home in San Francisco), the Mana Wheat Beer infused with Maui Gold pineapples, the Doppelshot Doublebock that features fresh Yellow Caturra MauiGrown coffee from Ka’anapali and the Coconut Porter – a dark brew with hints of chocolate, coffee and coconut. Click here to experience the brewery tour for yourself at Maui Brewing Company.