Maui, Hawaii, lets you get off the beaten path
Sample the cream puffs at a historic Japanese bakery. Test your driving skills on a one-lane stretch of mountain road that weaves along coastal cliffs. Buy a pineapple at a roadside stand. Watch the owner slice it with his machete. Then eat it as the juice drips down your chin.
If you're a first-timer on Maui, the guidebooks can help with the official checklist: Sunrise at the Haleakala volcano. Snorkeling at Black Rock. Paddleboarding off the coast in Lahaina.
Been there, done that -- or just looking for something new? Pry yourself out of the lounge chair and put together your own mini-adventure.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Maui is Hawaii's second-largest island, but away from the resorts and shopping malls, it's mostly a collection of small communities. Take a morning or afternoon to soak up a bit of laid-back island life at these places.
PAIA It's close to the Kahului airport on Maui's north shore and on the road to Hana. Once dominated by a sugar planation, Paia attracts a relaxed crowd of windsurfers from nearby Ho'okipa beach.
Stroll the two main streets lined with flat-roofed wood buildings painted in faded pastels. Shop for shoes and bags made from hemp at the Hemp House (16 Baldwin Ave.) or bracelets made from island pine at the Maui Hands Gallery (84 Hana Hwy.).
Chances are good you'll meet a local artist behind the register at the Maui Crafts Guild store, where 20 craftsmen, jewelers and painters sell their work in a canary-yellow building (69 Hana Hwy.).
MAKAWAO It's a former cowboy town in Maui's rural upcountry, where Japanese and Portuguese immigrants settled in the late 1800s.
Follow your nose to Komoda Store & Bakery (3674 Baldwin Ave.), owned by the Komoda family for almost a century. Third- and fourth-generation family members start after midnight making doughnuts filled with guava and sweet red bean for customers who begin showing up at 7 a.m. Cream puffs -- $1.50 each -- are the house specialty.
Order a sack of doughnuts to go, then take a stroll through the gardens at the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center on the estate of former sugar baron Harry Baldwin and his artist wife, Ethel.
Lining Baldwin Avenue are art galleries and boutiques. Shop for ethnic jewelry at Little Tibet inside an old gas station, then grab a stool at the bar under the chili-pepper lights at Polli's Mexican Restaurant and cool off with a margarita.
THE 'OTHER' ROAD TO HANA
Everyone knows about the drive to Hana on the road that twists through tropical forests along the bottom of Haleakala. Less well-known, shorter and scenic in a different way is the 30-mile drive over the top of the West Maui mountains (Highways 30 and 340), starting just past Kapalua in West Maui and ending in Wailuku.
Andrew Doughty, author of the "Maui Revealed" guidebook, describes this drive as "Hana Highway without the traffic." Hana is an all-day excursion, but this drive took us only three hours, including stops for short hikes and snacks.
Driving west to east, as Doughty suggests, turned what some describe as a white-knuckle experience into a relaxing scenic drive. Driving clockwise, there were few (if any) blind spots on a short stretch of one-lane road, and we were able to travel along the inside lane -- the road is paved and two lanes in most places -- rather than along the edge of steep cliffs.
At the Little Grass Shack, a pineapple stand on a secluded bay just outside Honokohau Village, pineapples go for $2 a slice. A few miles north is Nakalele Point, where a steep path of red clay and lava rock leads to the Nakalele Blowhole. At high tide, with a strong surf, water spurts up from the hole like a fountain going on and off without warning. Navigate with caution and keep your distance from the hole -- a California man died last year when a large wave knocked him into the blowhole.
Driving gets more challenging just outside the village of Kahakuloa. There, the road narrows to one lane for about three miles and has no guardrails. The scenery is stunning, with green mountains on one side and coastal views on the other, but keep your eyes on the road.
Perched on a cliff above Kahakuloa is the Kaukini Gallery, where 120 island artists sell pottery made with beach glass and whimsical sculptures crafted from discarded divers' tanks. Four miles from Kahakuloa, near mile marker 10, is Turnbull Studios and Sculpture Garden. Visitors are free to wander around the grounds and studio, which sells works by local artists.
If a helicopter tour or zip-line adventure isn't in your budget, no worries. Spend a day enjoying some of the simple treats locals treasure.
WAYS TO SAVE
Visiting Hawaii during the slower seasons -- early February and early March, late May, early June or fall -- is one strategy for making travel more affordable. But if that's not possible, don't give up. There are other ways to save:
GETTING THERE Airfares are higher this year, so flexibility is key. Travel midweek, if possible, and if you're still not having any luck, try moving your dates by a week or two. To find the least expensive travel dates, consult low-fare calendars on such websites as kayak.com and alaskaair.com. Use bing.com's Price Predictor to gauge whether fares are likely to rise or fall in the coming weeks.
GETTING AROUND Renting a car off-airport can save $100 or more on a week's rental. Agencies with off-airport locations can't pick you up at the airport. You'll need a cab for that. But most will take you back.
Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island have inexpensive public bus service. Fares on Maui Bus are $1 a ride, making it easy to jump off when you see something interesting.
WHERE TO STAY "Buyer beware" are the watchwords when it comes to sifting through advertised "deals" for hotels, rentals and vacation packages. Hidden cleaning and resort fees, parking and taxes can lift the bottom-line price higher than it first appears.
Online-booking sites can turn up deals, but first check directly with hotels. They might offer the same or a lower rate, and AAA or AARP rates might be less.
Package-tour operators negotiate volume discounts, but the deals may include extras you don't need. Before paying for a vacation package, figure out the cost of each component if booked separately. You'll gain flexibility and avoid extra change or cancellations fees.
Find lodging in homes, cottages and condos at airbnb.com. Among its listings is a $69 room on a Big Island farm and an $85 condo with a pool near Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu.
Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com) is a reliable site with hundreds of listings and photos for homes and condos.