In a nutshell: An unassuming hub of the North Shore community, Paia Town has great restaurants, interesting shops, and the best natural food store on the island.
Minuses: Parking can be difficult if you don’t know where to look (pssst..we have a map with parking below the article )
Sound-bite: “Woah, did that sign really say “Don’t feed the hippies?!?“”
Old-west style building facades painted in a patchwork of pastel colors greet you as you pull into Paia, and at first impression the small T-shaped stretch of quaint shops and restaurants is reminiscent of a funky 60’s California beach town.
Unfortunately, many visitors will only experience Paia glancing at the weathered surface through a car window on the way to Hana. Don’t be one of them!
Often visitor information glosses over Paia as little more than a place for people watching or gassing up on the way to Hana. For the better informed, Paia has become a destination in its own right – especially for those in search of reasonably priced quality restaurants and an eclectic selection of unique, interesting and affordable shops.
Another draw of Paia is that it has managed to avoid becoming touristy or gentrified, and it is still largely populated by a diverse mix of colorful and eccentric people, no doubt drawn to the independent bohemian vibe.
A stroll through Paia can have you brushing by old-school hippies, professional surfers, new-age mamas, Hollywood actors and street corner preachers. You might see an unknown kid playing his guitar in front of the Bank of Hawaii for tips, or Willie Nelson might show up unannounced to play with the local band while you’re eating a burger in Charley’s. If you’re looking for a memorable experience in a uniquely-Maui town, I suggest planning a North Shore adventure day with Paia as a stop.
A center of gravity in Paia is unquestionably Mana Foods. Not just the best (and least expensive) natural foods store on the island, Mana Foods is a social hub where a diverse North Shore community shops and socializes. If you want to absorb a bit of the funky scene (or if you’re just plain hungry!) taking a stroll through Mana’s isles to grab a treat is an experience in and of itself.
Unlike the resort areas that are littered with overpriced tourist-traps, Paia restaurants need to stand on their own with the local crowd. You really can’t go wrong just wandering into virtually any restaurant here. Paia Fish Market is casual and affordable, and also delicious. Flatbread Pizza is a great option for gourmet pizza or if you’re traveling with kids. [links to reviews of all Paia restaurant are coming soon.]
Location & Attractions
The last traffic light this side of Hana marks the intersection of Baldwin Ave and Hana Hwy. By mainland standards Paia Town is so small that in most places it wouldn’t even make it on the map; in fact, the shop-lined roads that comprise the “main drag” clock in at under a half mile. But for such a small area, unexpected variety is packed tightly.
Some examples of the significant range in offerings you may find worth a look: Surf & swimwear shops, a saloon where Willie Nelson periodically shows up for an impromptu gig, Maui’s best Hana picnic lunch, two coffee houses, fine art galleries, a Buddhist stupa consecrated by the Dalai Lama, a chic upscale inn, a chiropractic office known for inexpensive (and really good) massages, two tattoo parlors, a hemp store, new-age boutiques, a yoga studio, a yummy gelato parlor, a wine store, downhill bike shop… Whew! And I didn’t even name the half of it! (The Paia Merchants Association website lists all of the businesses.)
There is a misconception (often repeated in many guidebooks) that Paia is wet. I suppose it’s all relative – if you’re from Phoenix, maybe so… But to put it in perspective, Paia receives about the same anual rainfall as the eastern half of the continental United States. You see, Paia is located in Haleakala mountain’s rain shadow – in fact, this is the first area that sugar plantation workers slaved to bring water to (and that was quite a monumental task.)
But, if I’m telling you not to take another guidebook’s word – don’t take mine either! You can look at the University of Hawaii Maui rainfall map here yourself!
Oh, did I forget beaches? There are several beaches within walking distance of Paia town, in order they are:
Paia has a long history of transformation and rising form its ashes. In the late 1800′s Alexander and Baldwin established Paia Plantation. With the plantation came immigrant workers from every corner of the globe, plantation camps to house them, and their largest sugar mill to process the harvest. You would never know to look at it now, but by the turn of the century Paia had become a bustling plantation town – in fact, over 20% of Maui’s population lived here at one point. As the population grew, movie theaters, hotels, stores, schools and even a hospital sprung up to support the population.
In the 1930′s much of the town was destroyed by fire, but the residents quickly rebuilt; in the 40′s disaster struck again when a tsunami inundated Lower Paia and claimed many of the structures (but only one life.) The town, once again, was quickly rebuilt by the resilient population.
In the 1950′s plantation workers began to move from the camps into homes in developing Kahului and Wailuku, and this time, Paia lost the majority of its population.
Then during the 1960′s and 70′s a new wave of immigrants, hippies who had adopted Maui’s climate and back-to-nature vibe, claimed Paia as their capital (unofficially, of course.) Many saw opportunity to set up shop and are still here. In the 80′s and 90′s a newly popular watersport also found its unofficial capital in Paia: windsurfing. Windsurfers from all around the world discovered the most consistent and challenging windsurfing along our North Shore, with Paia as the town in the center.
In 2000 the sugar mill closed, and with it the last page of plantation history was written for Paia.
Today tourism is finding Paia. While tourists had always stopped to gas up and grab some food for the Road to Hana trip, word has spread about the interesting boutiques, quality restaurants and shops located in this still low-key oceanside town.
Location: Intersection of Baldwin Ave. & Hana Hwy. (Hwys 390 & 36)
GPS Coordinates: 20.916208,-156.381256
View Paia Town in a larger map