"Maui no ka oi" is what locals say — it's the best, the most, the top of the heap. To those who know Maui well, there are good reasons for the superlatives. The island's miles of perfect beaches, lush green valleys, historic villages, top-notch windsurfing and diving, stellar restaurants and resorts, and variety of cultural activities have made it an international favorite.

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Places to Explore in Maui

Central Maui: Kahului, where you most likely landed when you arrived on Maui, is the industrial and commercial center of the island. West of Kahului is Wailuku, the county seat since 1950 and the most charming town in Central Maui, with some good, inexpensive restaurants. Outside of these towns are attractions from museums and historic sites to gardens.

North Shore Maui: Blasted by winter swells and wind, Maui's North Shore draws water-sports thrill seekers from around the world. But there's much more to this area of Maui than coastline. Inland, a lush, waterfall-fed Garden of Eden beckons. In forested pockets, wealthy hermits have carved out a little piece of paradise for themselves.

South Shore Maui: Blessed by more than its fair share of sun, the southern shore of Haleakala was an undeveloped wilderness until the 1970s. Then the sun worshippers found it; now restaurants, condos, and luxury resorts line the coast from the world-class aquarium at Maalaea Harbor, through working-class Kihei, to lovely Wailea, a resort community rivaling its counterpart, Kaanapali, on West Maui. Farther south, the road disappears and unspoiled wilderness still has its way.

Upcountry Maui: The west-facing upper slopes of Haleakala are locally called "Upcountry." This region is responsible for much of Maui's produce — lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, sweet Maui onions, and much, much more. You'll notice cactus thickets mingled with purple jacaranda, wild hibiscus, and towering eucalyptus trees. Keep an eye out for pueo, Hawaii's native owl, which hunts these fields during daylight hours.

West Maui: Separated from the remainder of the island by steep pali (cliffs), West Maui has a reputation for attitude and action. Once upon a time, this was the haunt of whalers, missionaries, and the kings and queens of Hawaii; now it's one of Maui's main resort areas. Lahaina Town was not only once the kingdom's capital but also the playground of the alii (royalty). Today the main drag, Front Street, is crowded with T-shirt and trinket shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Farther north is Kaanapali, Maui's first planned resort area. Its first hotel, the Sheraton, was opened in 1963. Since then, resorts, luxury condominiums, and a shopping center have sprung up along the white-sand beaches, with championship golf courses across the road. A few miles farther up the coast is the ultimate in West Maui luxury, the resort area of Kapalua. In between, dozens of condominiums and strip malls line both the makai (toward the sea) and mauka (toward the mountains) sides of the highway. There are gems here, too, like Napili Bay and its crescent of sand.