If you’re taking some time to see Upcountry Maui, exploring Makawao town is a fun way to get a feel for “country” life on the island. The center of town runs along Baldwin Avenue and Makawao Avenue, a walkable area of shops, galleries, and restaurants with an artistic flair and vibrant history.
Photo by Makena Zayle Gadient
In the early 1900’s, Makawao was a farming town, part of the pineapple industry that developed in the stretch of land from Haiku to Haliimaile. Beginning in the late 1800’s, cattle ranching in the Upcountry area brought Spanish and Portuguese cowboys to the island. Known in Hawaii as “Paniolos,” these ranchers helped to grow the cattle industry on Maui. Makawao’s downtown began to expand with businesses geared towards the Paniolos and pineapple workers. During World War II, thousands of servicemen were stationed for training near town, and businesses continued to grow to accommodate the community. As military presence decreased in the years after the war, many of the storefronts closed up and remained empty for some time. Makawao finally saw a resurgence of interest in the 1980’s when an eclectic group of artists began to set up shop in the rustic, country style storefronts at the center of town. Today, you can experience the feel of Makawao’s rich history in the shops and eateries where local farming and ranching culture intertwines with artistic craftsmanship.
You’ll find plenty of great places to eat in Makawao. Polli’s Mexican Restaurant is a local favorite, serving everything from chile rellenos, fajitas, and fish burritos to vegetarian taquitos and margaritas. Across the street is Casanova, an Italian restaurant with a dance floor that is popular with the night life crowd. They also offer an attached cafe and deli with an outdoor seating area that’s great for people watching during the day. Cafe O’Lei’s Makawao Steak House is another well known eatery in town. Their dinner menu includes a variety of steaks, along with prime rib, tempura mahi mahi, and appetizers like shrimp cocktail, Kobe beef sliders, and calamari rings. There are a number of places to find excellent food in Makawao, with cafes, pizza, sushi, and even the Rodeo General Store deli. Save room for a visit to the Komoda Store and Bakery where you’ll find delicious breads, donuts, malasadas, and more.
Photo by Terry Straehley
The art scene is still very much a part of Makawao town. Galleries like Viewpoints, Maui Hands, and Makawao Fine Art feature several of Maui’s creative artists, with works in mediums from watercolor to sculpture. Hot Island Glass is a gallery and studio where you can watch glassblowers in action and see a beautiful display of glass bowls, vases, and sculptural works. There are so many galleries along Baldwin and Makawao Ave., you can spend the day enjoying the local art scene. If you’re up for a short ride on Baldwin Ave. towards Paia, you can also visit the Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center on the historic Kaluanui estate. The Hui offers a variety of classes and exhibits, along with a fun gallery shop. The grounds are lovely and the history of the estate is an interesting look into Makawao’s art community.
Shopping and Events
The downtown area features several one of a kind shops and boutiques with clothing, housewares, jewelry, and whimsical gifts. Take some time to browse while you’re in the area. There are also some great events in town. Every month, Makawao hosts a Third Friday town party with live music, food, and fun for the whole family. Of course, there’s the annual 4th of July Parade and Rodeo, a tradition on Maui where Hawaii’s Paniolo culture is celebrated along with the Independence Day festivities.
Photo by Frank Hamm
With plenty of cool things to see and delicious foods to eat, this little town is a great way to enjoy a day or evening and experience the very unique history that makes Maui so special. Makawao is a charming place with a historical feel where country living meets island style.