Hawaii off the beaten path: The hidden charms of Maui’s Paia

April 4, 2016
Chef Daniel Eskelsen of O'o Farm discusses the menu for today's gourmet luncheon, which includes a salad of greens and fennel flowers collected by our tour group, as well as herbed focaccia and roasted rosemary chicken, baked in a wood-fired oven on-site, as well as the fresh catch, sauteed in lemongrass oil and served wtih farm vegetables....

PAIA, Hawaii — The plantation town of Paia, with its single stoplight along a main drag edged with bikini shops, arty boutiques and tempting little locavore eateries, is a surfer haven these days.

While American tourists throng Lahaina, a 45-minute drive to the west, Europeans head for this windsurfing capital on the north shore for all the right reasons. There are no big resorts here, just a handful of small inns and a few dozen vacation rentals.

But Paia’s charms are appreciated by celebrities, surfers and French expats alike. Willie Nelson occasionally drops in at Charley’s bar, we’re told. And Gene Simmons opened a Rock & Brews here two years ago.

There’s a rock ‘n’ roll meets beer hall vibe at the latter — an open air sipping-noshing spot with long communal tables, flat screens airing surfing competitions, ball games and rock footage, and plenty of rock memorabilia. It’s all caressed, blessedly, by a cooling breeze. Order a Local Flight ($10) and the pours, which include Maui Brewing’s Bikini Blonde and Big Swell, arrive on a Stratocaster-shaped serving tray.

The town, which makes the perfect jumping-off spot for treks to Hana or Maui’s Upcountry, is flush with quirky little spots to grab a bite or get your java fix. Stroll down an unprepossessing driveway just off the main street and you’ll find Paia Bay Coffee, for example, where you can sip a latte in an oasis of lush tropical plants. Other local eateries range from the 26-year-old Paia Fish Market to the 6-month-old Hana Ranch Provisions, which celebrates the organic ingredients raised at the end of the famous Road to Hana.

Need bottled water, bison jerky or another critical food item? The Mana grocery store is so winsomely crunchy, it makes Whole Foods look corporate. There’s an entire aisle devoted to the seaweed genre, from nori to furikake. Organic, vegan, gluten-free — you name it, it’s here someplace in the towering, narrow aisles.

We’ve grown accustomed to Bubba Gumped seaside scenes, with their trademarked restaurants, beer o’clock T-shirts and souvenirs that run the gamut from tacky to tawdry. But this is the opposite. Paia’s main street is blissfully bohemian, the beach vibe translated into hand-blocked prints on covet-worthy bedding at Pearl Butik, cheeky bikinis at Maui Girl and other swimwear shops, and stunning underwater photography at John and Dan Cesere’s photography gallery.

This beach town has a beach, too, with playful waves rolling up the strand.

It’s pretty much perfect.

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IF YOU GO

Here’s a sampling of attractions in Paia proper:

Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon: 142 Hana Highway; charleysmaui.com

Cesere Brothers Photography: Find this underwater photography gallery at 83 Hana Highway; www.ceserebrothers.com.

Flatbread Company: There’s always a line at this wood-fired pizza restaurant at 89 Hana Highway; www.flatbreadcompany.com.

Hana Ranch Provisions: This farm-to-table restaurant is at 71 Baldwin Ave.; www.hanaranchprovisions.com.

Mana Foods: Shop for grocery items at 49 Baldwin Ave.; manafoodsmaui.com.

Maui Girl: A beachy boutique at 12 Baldwin Ave.; maui-girl.com

Paia Bay Coffee: Grab coffee and breakfast at this outdoor cafe, which is actually around the corner from its street address of 115 Hana Highway; www.paiabaycoffee.com.

Paia Fish Market: Find this casual seafood eatery, which is known for its fish burgers and fish tacos, at 100 Baldwin Ave.; www.paiafishmarket.com

Pearl Butik: A home decor store at 71 Baldwin Ave.; www.pearlbutik.com

Rock & Brews: Find Gene Simmons’ brew and nosh spot at 120 Hana Highway; www.rockandbrews.com

 

 





 


Associated Press