The best way to acquaint yourself with Lahaina is on foot. Although the sun can be intense, a walking tour is an easy—and heart-healthy—way to peruse both the town’s historical sights and more trivial pursuits (read: shopping). You can start your journey at any place along the route, but a picnic underneath the Banyan Tree is a fantastic way to end or start the trip. Bring some cold water and a camera to capture your favorite finds. Slather on sunscreen and march!
1. BANYAN TREE PARK. Now over 60 ft. high, ye olde Banyan tree was planted on April 24, 1873 to honor the 50th anniversary of the Protestants’ first work in Lahaina. Today, its branches spread over almost an acre, providing refreshing shade to overheated tourists and locals alike.
2. HOLY INNOCENTS CHURCH. Although the present building was constructed in 1927, the island’s Episcopal church dates back to 1862. It is best known for its native religious artwork, in particular the altar depicting a Hawaiian Madonna.
3. HALE PIULA, or “iron-roof house,” was commissioned as a palace for Kamehameha III in the late 1830s. However, it was left incomplete, as the king preferred sleeping in a small grass hut nearby. For a while, it functioned as a courthouse, but after an 1858 storm, its stones were put to use in the construction of the newer one (see 21 below), in Banyan Tree Park.
4. & 5. MALUULUOLELE PARK & MOKUULA. Beneath the ballpark lays one of the most remarkable spots of pre-Western Hawaii. Where the bases now stand, there was once Loko O Mokuhinia (the pond of Mokuhinia), home of the powerful water spirit and lizard goddess Kilhawahine. Due to mosquitoes, it was filled with coral rubble in 1918, and the island in the middle, Mokuula, was leveled. The long-time home of Maui’s chiefs, Kamehameha III received visitors at this royal mausoleum, and Queen Mother Keopuolani spent the last months of her life there. Nowadays, the County of Maui has discontinued use of the playing field, in the hopes of restoring the site to its former splendor.
6. WAIOLA CHURCH AND GRAVEYARD. Here, both commoners and chiefs lie beside one another. Among the departed are Queen Mother Keopuolani, missionary William Richards, and Governor Hoapili. The church itself was built between 1828 and 1832, originally called Wainee (flowing water). It was renamed Waiola (waters of life) in 1953, after thrice being demolished. During the fierce Kauaula Wind of 1858, a bell fell from the tower but landed undamaged.
7. HONGWANJI MISSION. A small school and Buddhist temple was originally built here in 1910. The current version dates back to 1927, and to this day it remains the site of the annual O-Bon Dance, when ancestors return to dance with their families.
8. HALE PAAHAO. This Lahaina jail of the 1850s—literally “stuck-in-irons-house”—was constructed from the remains of the waterfront fort (see 25 below). It had shackles for the most undisciplined of the lot, and inmates were generally there for minor offenses like drunkenness, dangerous horseback riding, or working on the Sabbath.
9. HALE ALOHA. The “House of Love” was built to commemorate Lahaina’s escape from a smallpox epidemic that devastated Oahu in 1853. It was used for some time as a Protestant church and school before being rescued from disrepair by the County of Maui in 1974.
10. & 11. LUAKINI STREET. When Princess Nahienaena died at the age of twenty-one, her funeral processed down this quaint one-way street. Torn between the Western world and ancient ways, the princess worshipped a Christian god while also clinging to her birthright, eventually marrying brother Kamehameha III. On the way to her burial place in December 1837, this path was made through the groves of breadfruit and koa trees, and as you walk along it today, you can still see some dotting the road. Following Luakini to Dickenson, you’ll pass the Buddhist Church (see 12 below) of the Shingon sect, a perfect example of many plantation-era churches.
12. & 13. WAINEE ST. DETOUR. At the corner of Luakini and Dickenson, you can segue way back up to Wainee St. to see the Maria Lanakila Church (12), built in 1928 to commemorate where the first Roman Catholic mass was held on Maui in 1841. Just beyond that is the Seamen’s Cemetery (13).
14. BALDWIN HOME. Dr. Dwight Baldwin, a Protestant medical missionary, and his family lived in this two-story home from the mid-1830s to 1868. The grounds were restored to the present-day museum in the 1960s. Open daily 10am-4pm.
15. RICHARDS HOUSE. Rev. William Richards was Lahaina’s first missionary and the premiere owner of a coral stone house in the islands. He ceased his missionary efforts in the mid-1830s in order to work directly for Kamehameha III. Richards not only helped draft Hawaii’s first constitution, but he also served as the Minister of Education.
16. & 17. WHARF ST. Crossing Front St., you’ll see a taro patch where Kamehameha III often labored, in the hopes of proving the dignity of manual work to his subjects. Beside it is the remains of the islands’ first western-style brick building—the “brick palace” (16)—constructed by two ex-cons from Australia. Also nearby is the Hauola Stone (17), which is believed to have been used by Hawaiians for healing rituals.
19. LAHAINA LIGHTHOUSE. Commissioned in 1840, the lighthouse began as a 9 ft. wooden tower. In 1866, it grew to a height of 26 ft., and the caretaker’s salary reached a whopping $20 annually. Today’s concrete version was dedicated by the US Coast Guard in 1916. Its shining light, originally provided by a whale oil lamp, was the first on the US Pacific Coast.
20. COURTHOUSE. Built with stones from Hale Piula (see 3 above), it was the center of anti-smuggling activity during the whaling era. In August 1898, it was here that the American flag was first raised, formally acknowledging the annexation of the islands.
21. THE FORT. It was raised in the early 1830s, after some whalers fired a cannon at the Richards missionary house (an argument had transpired about the morality of native women visiting their ships). Serving mainly as a prison, it was torn down in the 1850s to the delight of all, as it had been seen as a sign of show rather than force.