The Road to Hana – A Gastronomic Journey to an Epic Destination

My parents reside on the island of Maui and we are very lucky to always have a place to stay when we visit. We are even more lucky that my family is willing to keep our kiddos so that my husband and I can enjoy some time alone while exploring the beautiful island. On our most recent trip, my husband and I decided that we wanted to take time to enjoy the Road to Hana as well as Hana itself. For those of you who have never heard of The Road to Hana, it is a road that despite being only 52miles long, can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to complete. The reason that this journey is so time consuming is because the road includes 59 one lane bridges, hairpin turns, and lots of amazing stops along the way. You will see waterfalls, rainforests, gorgeous beaches, public gardens, hiking trails, and LOTS of food & fruit stands along the way. It can be done in one day, but I highly recommend staying the night in Hana so that you can take your time and stop along the way.

Our journey started in Paia where we stopped at Hana Picnic Lunch Co. for breakfast and to have them pack us a delicious lunch for the road. For breakfast I had the Heavenly Hana Smoothie, and my hubby had the Smoked Salmon Bagel. Both were delicious and a great way to fuel up for our fun filled day. For lunch we had them pack us a Pua’a and a Big Kahuna sandwich along with chips and chocolate chip cookies. We brought our cooler along, but they do offer a reusable cooler bag for $6.95. We grabbed our prepared picnic lunch and carried on down the road.

Pua’a Sandwhich
photo credit – Hana Picnic Lunch Company
The Big Kahuna
photo credit – Hana Picnic Lunch Company

It was about 8am when we left Paia. It is highly recommended to get on the road early to beat traffic and to be able to find parking spots at the stops along the road. Our first stop was at the Ke’anae Arboretum. It is located just past mile marker 16.5 and this is where you can view the Painted Gum Eucalyptus Trees. These trees are marbled with neon colors and are quite surreal looking. We did a short hike to view several species of trees that grow in Hawaii and to work up our appetite for the delicious stops ahead.

Painted Gum Eucalyptus Tree
It’s crazy to see your houseplants growing in the wild!

As you leave the Ke’anae Arboretum, you will see a fork in the road that either continues to Hana or diverts you to the Ke’anae peninsula which is home to the village of Ke’anae. Here is where you will find Auntie Sandy’s. Auntie Sandy’s Banana Bread is considered to be some of the best banana bread on the entire island. They also serve lunch items if you decide you want to save your sandwiches for later. We purchased 2 loaves of warm banana bread and some coconut candy. If you decide to order food from Aunty Sandy’s or are ready to enjoy your picnic lunch, take your food further down the road to an ocean side park with fantastic views and photo opportunities! We saved our banana bread to take home and share with our family – it was tough because it smelled amazing! Once we finally had the opportunity to eat it, we were not disappointed. The bread was very moist and had large visible chunks of Maui grown bananas in it. My oldest son ate half a loaf in one sitting.

Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread
Ke’ane Peninsula Tide Pools

Our next stop was Coconut Glen’s Ice Cream. This is located at mile marker 27.5. Coconut Glen has a charming little retro van that he converted into an ice cream truck. There are some spots to sit and eat while enjoying gorgeous views of the ocean. They also have a resident kitty named Sgt. Butterscotch who loves a good chin scratch if you see him around. We decided that this was a great spot to enjoy our picnic lunch so that we could follow it up with some yummy ice cream! We eagerly unwrapped our sandwiches from Hana Picnic Lunch Co. and savored them while enjoying the gorgeous views. The bread was nice and toothy and the produce was fresh and flavorful. The Pua’a sandwich had ham, tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, and cream cheese. Cream cheese is now my favorite sandwich condiment – no kidding. The Big Kahuna included roast beef, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, red onions and horseradish mayo. Both sandwiches were delicious and not overly filling which was nice. We needed room for the ice cream!

Coconut Glen’s Ice Cream Truck
Sgt. Butterscotch

When researching places to stop, I discovered that Coconut Glen’s ice cream is dairy free and vegan. It is coconut milk based and they have 6 different tropical flavors to choose from. We both decided to try Coffee Toffee and Original Coconut flavor. The Coffee Toffee deliciously rich and had visible coffee bean flakes throughout. The Original Coconut tasted like summer and paradise. The two flavors complimented each other, and we enjoyed savoring them as we gazed out at the tropical scenery. We understood the hype after practically licking our bowls clean.

2 Flavors for $8
Coffee Toffee and Original Coconut

After lunch and ice cream, we hopped back into the car and continued towards Hana. We were excited to explore the town of Hana and to check out our hotel accommodations. As you pull into town the lush greenery, bright flowers, and turquoise ocean views take your breath away. The people who call Hana home are so lucky to be surrounded with such beauty. It was a bit early to check into our hotel so drove around and explored the area. We stopped at Hana Bay and took a short walk around to soak up the scenery. There was a trail near the pier, and we decided to check it out. The trail had a sign warning people that it dangerous and it was clear why. There were steep rocky sections that required proper footwear and an agile body. We went far enough to capture some amazing photos and then headed back to our car.

Danger Trail
danger trail picture near Hana Bay
danger trail picture near Hana Bay

Next, we headed to Hasegawa’s General Store. The Hasegawa General Store was founded by 2 brothers, Shoichi and Saburo Hasegawa, back in 1910 and is the oldest family run business on Maui. They have a very eclectic inventory and you can find anything from tourist souvenirs, fishing poles, food, quilting supplies, Maui grown coffee, clothing, adult beverages, and even machetes! It was one of the coolest stores I have ever been to. We purchased items to cook for breakfast the following morning since our room came equipped with a kitchenette. We also made sure to get some Hasegawa General Store shirts to remember our visit. At the checkout, I noticed some local made chocolate bars from the Hana Gold Cacao Plantation. We decided that we needed to try one of those too, which turned out to be a very good decision.

Hasegawa’s General Store
Photo Credit – Hasegawa’s General Store

Next, we headed over to check into our hotel room. We chose to stay at the Hana Kai Maui Resort which is a beachfront resort with kitchenettes and large private lanais. I was initially worried about the lack of air conditioning but the breeze coming off the ocean was nice & cool and the sound of the waves at night lulled us to sleep. We took a little walk around the resort grounds and discovered a little path that took us down to the ocean. The view was incredible, and we climbed up some rocks for a better vantage point and to see if there were any tide pools to check out. We saw a couple of little pools and observed some small fish and a little crab waiting for the tide to come back in. We then headed to our well-appointed room to crack open a few ice cold Hawaiian beers and to enjoy the serenity of our lanai for a bit. I made reservations for dinner at the Hana Ranch Restaurant after reading some promising reviews and we studied the menu while enjoying our delicious beers.

Hana Kai Maui
Guest Room – Partial Ocean View
Tropical Beer on the Lanai

At dinner time, we headed over to Hana Ranch Restaurant with a foodie plan and big appetites. We were happy to discover that they offered several local beers on tap as well as a full tropical drink menu. We are both big craft beer fans and both decided on Big Swell IPA’s while we waited for food. My husband ordered the “Fresh Catch” which was seared Marlin, and it came with tobiko microgreens and quinoa salad. I ordered the Kalbi Ribs with grilled pineapple and white rice. The seared Marlin was perfectly cooked and well seasoned. It was plated on a delicious cream sauce that complimented the fish perfectly. The sides were refreshing & light and paired perfectly with the fish. The Kalbi ribs were a last-minute decision for me after I smelled the most amazing BBQ smell walking up the restaurant. My mouth knew what it needed in that moment. My nose didn’t steer me wrong because the ribs were super meaty, piled high, and exquisitely tender & flavorful. The chunks of grilled pineapple complimented the teriyaki sauce that coated the ribs and the rice soaked up all the saucy goodness. We were high on life and food when we left.

Kalbi Ribs – Hana Ranch Restaurant
Seared Marlin – Hana Ranch Restaurant

One thing any traveler to Hana should be aware of is that Hana is a quiet little town that shuts down early. It really wouldn’t appeal to the party crowd who likes to stay up late and enjoy some vibrant nightlife. (Kihei or Lahaina might be more appropriate for these activities.) We are in our mid-forties and appreciate an early bedtime so that we can catch an amazing sunrise and get out before the crowds of tourists. That said, we happily returned to our room to read a book and get some rest for the next day’s adventures.

It rains A LOT in Hana so bring your raincoat and umbrella

At 5:00am we woke up to cook some breakfast and change into our hiking attire. My husband made us some Portuguese sausage breakfast sandwiches in the Style of Kihei Café (another Maui favorite) and we enjoyed some local Maui coffee, compliments of our hotel. We left the room by 6:15am and continued the Road to Hana towards Kipahulu Visitor Center. We saw the sun rise over the ocean and appreciated that we were one of only 2 cars in the parking lot. We headed to the Pipiwai trailhead to embark on a 2-mile (4 mile round trip) hike to the Waimoku 400′ waterfall. We literally had the trail to ourselves and enjoyed the sounds of nature and streams. We passed several smaller waterfalls as well as through several microclimates where the terrain and plant species changed greatly. The hike has you gain approximately 800′ of elevation in 2 miles and I highly recommend proper hiking shoes or sneakers. The final part of the trail is a full-blown rainforest complete with lush greenery, colorful flowers, and about 95% humidity. It smelled amazing. We made it to the falls where we stared in awe and documented the beauty with pictures and video. This was one of the best hikes I have ever done…and I live in Colorado! On our way back down, we came upon a wild pig and attempted to snap a picture before he realized we were there. They are surprisingly fast, and he disappeared in an instant.

Waimoku Falls
Waimoku Falls – all 400′ of it!

At the trailhead is another trail that will lead you to the Seven Sacred Pools. We decided we needed to experience that as well. We still had the trails all ourselves and basked in our happy solitude. The rainy season was just getting started and the pools were only about half full, so we didn’t get to see them in all their glory. It is still a really neat topography, and we were glad to add another mile to our shoes. By this time, we were getting pretty hungry so we headed back to our hotel room to load up our belongings and go in search of lunch.

Trail Butterfly

Hana has an amazing food truck scene. There are at least 2 food truck rallies that sit on permanent lots that include: Thai, Italian, Burgers/American Fare, Hawaiian, Seafood, BBQ, and Plate Lunches to name a few. There are also food trucks spots around the town that offer BBQ, fresh fruits/produce, Huli Huli Chicken, and local plate lunches. We read several reviews and settled on Kilo’s Kitchen for some authentic Hawaiian Eats. We had reservations for Waianapanapa State Park so we grabbed our lunch and headed to the park to have a picnic. We located a picnic table with amazing views and set about enjoying our lunch. I ordered the lunch special with was Kahlua Pork, rice, and mac salad. My husband ordered the Panko Crust Mahi Fish sandwich with battered fries. I don’t know if it was the hike hunger, the scenery, or the amazing food, but THIS was my favorite dining experience of the trip. The Kahlua pork was tender, smokey, and perfectly seasoned. I am sucker for Hawaiian Mac salad and this was the best I had tried. My husband’s mahi sandwich was huge and packed with flavor. The tartar sauce was outstanding, and I am a tartar sauce snob. The fries were crispy, salty, and plentiful. We were so satisfied and full that we decided to take a long walk around the park to digest and enjoy the beautiful sites. Waianapanapa State Park is a must-see destination!

Kilo’s Kitchen
Kalua Pork, Mac Salad, Rice
@Waianapanapa State Park
Panko Crusted Mahi Sandwich @Wianapanapa State Park

Before heading home, we had one more place to see. Remember the chocolate we bought at Hasegawa’s General Store? It was absolutely delicious! We decided to go the plantation to check it out and to buy more chocolate to bring home for our family to try. The plantation is owned by a young couple who are passionate about what they do. They live on the property and have cacao trees in all stages of fruit production. I was surprised to learn that cacao pods come in all different colors, and it doesn’t indicate ripeness. Ripeness is determined by the wrinkles on the pod. We bought several varieties of chocolate and made sure to give the owners our praises for creating a delicious product.

Cacao Pods Growing on Tree
Ripe Cacao Pod
Dark Chocolate, Coconut Chocolate, Honeycomb Chocolate

At this point, we were tired, sweaty, full, and sunburnt. We decided to say farewell to Hana and head back home. The drive home went by much quicker since we didn’t have any more stops scheduled and because traffic back was much thinner around 1:30pm. It took us about 2.5 to return home where we enjoyed a much needed shower and some rest by the pool. My parents had taken our kiddos to Luau, and we were able to steal a few more hours of peaceful alone time where we contentedly talked about our amazing getaway to Hana.

If you plan to use my itinerary on your next trip to Hana or if you have tried any of the places we stopped at, please leave me a comment and tell us all about it!

Beautiful tide pools/ocean views near Hana

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