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Maui has long been one of the most popular island getaways, a standout for its lush green mountains, lovely beaches, gorgeous reefs, and variety of resorts. It's also a popular place for destination weddings and honeymoons. And now, in the years since same-sex marriage has become legal across the United States, queer travelers are considering Maui more than ever.
The island doesn't have a huge gay infrastructure, due to its smaller population. Oahu certainly boasts a larger Pride celebration and bigger numbers of LGBTQ residents. Steven, a gay local hiking guide on Maui, said that the Pride committee organizes a monthly hike / get together, but there's not a lot more than that for the local queer community, small as it is.
So, if gay bar hopping and drag shows are what you're looking for, Maui won't suit you. Or if you're looking to stay at an all-gay hotel or resort, you're probably out of luck. But not all queer travelers are looking for that type of vacation every time. So for those who are looking for anything from relaxation to adventure, the island is a truly welcoming, accepting place, with plenty to do and see.
Here were some of our favorite things from our recent visit:
1. Shop and browse the art galleries.
There are a lot of cute art galleries on the Valley Island. Paia, on the north coast, is a short ride from huge swells and the wonderful Ho'opika Beach Park (where you'll see countless sea turtles). We wandered the busy streets, checking out galleries and restaurants and doing a little shopping. Check out the stunning photography at Pueo Gallery and make sure to get the fish tacos at Paia Fishmarket restaurant. Nearby, Mama's Fish House is one of the most expensive restaurants on the island as well as one of the best.
Makawao town, part of Maui's cowboy-like upcountry, is another adorable town that features some cute art galleries and shops. It feels a world away from the beaches and resorts-and is a nice place to recharge for an afternoon. Plus, its higher elevation is a welcome respite on hotter days, when temperatures up on the mountain can often be 5-10 degrees cooler (or more!).
Lahaina is another wonderful city to stroll through, with plenty of shops, restaurants and galleries. But this former whaling capital also boasts a lovely view of neighboring island Lanai and enchanting sunsets. Stop at the city's famed banyan tree to marvel at this enormous fig specimen.
2. Make lasting memories.
Having just gotten engaged, my partner and I decided that while in paradise, we should have some official engagement photos taken. Part of the resort fee at the incredible Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort includes a free 45-minute photo session with Pacific Dream Photography. This creative program also gives guests a $50 credit toward purchasing individual photos from the shoot or an entire package.
Pacific Dream has a small storefront next to the resort's lobby. We were immediately impressed, as a same-sex wedding photo was one of the ones featured on the multiple screens. We were certainly made to feel welcome, but inclusivity is always appreciated upfront, too! Kudos to them.
Chris Haas, the company's Creative Director, explained that from the company's start at the St. Regis in Kauai and the Andaz Maui, it has grown to multiple resorts on four Hawaiian islands, and even to California, Florida and Mexico. They work with couples for engagements, weddings or families simply celebrating a vacation, and even corporate events at the resort. Our photo session, which was early in the morning (for optimal lighting), was fun and easy.
Umida, our photographer, was professional and easygoing but knew just when to push us to kiss or make each other laugh. The results were spectacular and beyond our expectations! And we'll always remember this special time in our lives-not to mention tying the Andaz into it in our minds (smart marketing!).
3. Take a hike.
Hike Maui (which Steven works for) runs a variety of tours and hikes. We opted for the Waterfall & Rainforest Hiking Adventure, which was about five hours and a ton of fun. Our group of about 10 included a newlywed lesbian couple, and everyone on our hike peppered them with congratulations about their recent wedding, and us for our upcoming one. No one batted an eye at either couple, a lovely look at what the world might be like someday.
4. Eat your heart out.
Maui has some amazing restaurants, and we ate well on our trip. Our top picks follow.
Teppan-yaki Dan: This Japanese restaurant, on the grounds of the lovely Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, strives to entertain, with chefs that perform acrobatic cooking on communal grills, as you get to know your tablemates. Highly recommended here are the scallops-amazing!-and the black tiger shrimp. Make sure to try the various dipping sauces, too-they add a lot of extra complexity to the food here.
Gannon's: This stunning spot in Wailea punctuates Chef Beverly Gannon's fresh cuisine with ocean (and sunset) views and attentive, friendly staff. Located at the Wailea Golf Club, Gannon's has the best thing we ate on the island: Bev's Famous Corn Dip. This creamy, flavorful delight has enchanted many diners, and we quickly fell under its spell.
Try the Hapa Mai Tai or the Lemongrass Ginger Frost before indulging in the entrees. We loved the cashew crusted island fish and the seared scallop risotto. Desserts here are decadent and worth saving a little bit of room for, as well.
Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman: Another Wailea spot to try is Monkeypod, a hip, happening restaurant known for its pies. But we found a lot to like on the menu here, including some great craft cocktails, poke taco appetizers and wood-fired pizzas. Other entrees here include fish tacos, excellent fish & chips, fish & lobster pasta and macadamia nut encrusted mahi-mahi.
Watch for the sunset here, too, and make sure you try the strawberry, coconut or banana cream pie-it's worth the extra calories. Monkeypod serves up some really great food for at a reasonable price (especially considering it's Maui) and is a nice option for families, too.
Maui Brewing Company: Take the brewery tour and tasting before having a meal at the main location's restaurant, which opened in 2013. The brewery makes a variety of beers (house style tends toward citrusy and fruity), whiskey, and other drinks. And the plant is totally off the grid, thanks to its 4,000 solar panels.
The menu here is fun and inventive. We enjoyed the excellent Brussels sprouts pizza (who would have thought?!) and the Baja shrimp tacos. The island root beer might be the best I've ever tasted. The added vanilla makes it reminiscent of a root beer float. Now I just have to figure out how to find it here on the mainland!
Paul J. Heney is a lifelong writer and avid world traveler. He's served as Editorial Director for several hospitality...
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