rediscovering makawao: the biggest little town in upcountry maui

BW_MatsuiStoreMakawao Town in Upcountry Maui may, at first glance, seem like just a blip on the map. But this historic paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) community is a charming destination all its own, brimming with eclectic shops, unique boutiques, sophisticated art galleries, and top-notch eating establishments. Rather than making it a quick stop on your way back from Haleakala, you’ll definitely want to spend an entire day exploring this lively and intriguing town. Here are some suggestions.

Where to Shop

A great place to begin your Makawao adventure is the Courtyard, at the corner of Baldwin Ave. and Nakui St., where there’s ample parking in back. First stop is Upcountry Legends, where proprietor Taryn Bernabe demonstrates her keen knack for merchandising: browsing this little store is like being surrounded by a rainbow! Loofah soaps, soy candles in poi bowls, silk scarves by Stuart Epstein, jewelry by local artists like Debra Mack and Rhoda J, keiki clothing by Cookies Maui (made from recycled t-shirts), and easy-to-wear colorful island apparel await you at this gem of a local shop.

The hottest game in town is at Hot Island Glass, where you can watch master glassblowers Chris Lowry and Chris Richards transform molten glass into colorful works of art. Vases, plates, bowls, sea creatures, and even jewelry are just some of the stunning one-of-a-kind treasures you’ll find here.

Viewpoints Gallery is an artists’ cooperative featuring the works of 40 local artists, including George Allan, Joseph Fletcher, Betty Hay Freeland, Ronaldo Macedo, and Suzy Papanikolas. Featured exhibitions rotate every couple of months.

At Altitude, France-born shopkeeper Jeannine DeRoode shares her exquisite sense of style with popular clothing lines like Lilla P. dresses and blouses, Glima t-shirts and hoodies, NYDJ (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans), Nic + Zoe, Hobo bags, and flattering equestrian slacks.

Across the way from Altitude, Zforrest Maui offers contemporary crafts like eye-catching kiawe wood bowls, cutting boards, and benches enhanced with crushed turquoise stone in the wood’s natural crevasses. They also carry items created by renowned woodturner David Chung, and framed photography by Maui artist Gwen Arkin.

Leaving the Courtyard and walking up Baldwin Ave., your next stop is Designing Wahine Emporium. A heavenly aroma greets you as you enter, and to your right is the year-round Christmas tree, featuring made-on-Maui ornaments that make ideal gifts for friends and family back home. Other tempting items include home furnishing like Maui Beach Sheets and Annie Fischer pillows; Bu Tiki brand leather bags and wallets; Sorial clutches; Keiki Kruisers t-shirts and onesies; Makawao t-shirts and hats; Olu Kai, Tom’s, and Italian Shoemaker footwear; and popular scents from Archipelago, Tokyo Milk, and Maui Organics. This store is positively addictive!

Continuing up Baldwin Ave., past the infamous Komoda Store & Bakery (see Where to Eat), turn right onto Makawao Ave. and stop into Maui Hands, which represents 300 artists, 70 percent of whom live on Maui, and the other 30 percent on neighbor islands. There are approximately 185 pieces of art in this gallery, all on consignment, making it the largest in the county. Rare shell leis from the island of Ni‘ihau, koa wood art by Juli Morsella, one-of-a-kind hand-turned Cook Island pine vases by Gerald Filippelli—every artist bring his or her own personality and touch to this cornucopia of works by the best of the best in the state of Hawai‘i.

Now backtrack a bit, cross Baldwin Ave., and enter the historic Matsui Store building where you’ll find Holiday & Co., offering perennial best-sellers like Lily & Laura bracelets, hand-crocheted bracelets with glass beads made by female artists in Nepal, Before + Again tees in gorgeous colors, Paige jeans, and EKA hand-woven cottons from India.

A little ways down the street you’ll find Collections, where you can while away an hour or so perusing their eclectic assortment of merchandise: Maui-made items from Maui Jelly factory and Maui Rose Soap; Makawao shirts and hats; clever Dog is Good apparel and gifts; a huge selection of reading glasses, including sunglass readers; Cathleen Bunt’s Charms of Aloha, which are compatible with Pandora and other charm bracelets; hand-selected greeting cards, including puzzle cards; and luscious clothing lines including PJ Salvage, Michael Stars, and XCVI. See what I mean?

When you enter The Mercantile, the scent of local Rainbow Ridge Farms goat milk soaps washes over you like a summer breeze. The Mercantile is the only merchant on Maui that carries Kiehl’s Natural Skin Care and Beauty Products—the oldest apothecary line in the U.S. (since 1851). They also have smart-looking Frank & Eileen button downs for both men and women; and John Robshaw quilts, pillows, and shams, all block printed in India and hand stitched.

The brilliant colors emanating from the artwork of Sherri Reeve will beckon you to stop in to her gallery and gift shop. This open-air showroom features Sherri’s pastel expressions of Maui’s landscapes, flora, and fauna. You’ll find everything from matted and framed artwork, to t-shirts, placemats, calendars, and notecards, all of which can be personalized for you by Sherri herself, who’s there most days.

At Pink by Nature, a store dedicated to feminine sophistication, you can shop for Mother Denim jeans, Goya leather sandals, and innovative lifestyle fashions for women by Bella Dahl. You’ll also find Linea Pelle handbags and belts, BCBG shoes, and Havaianas—known as the world’s best rubber slippers (flip flops).

With more than 30 years of retail buying experience Rene Wineland is putting Makawao Town back in the saddle with unique Western wear, decor, and tack at Aloha Cowboy. She carries cowboy boots to die for, Wrangler jeans, and a large inventory of keiki clothing. You’re sure to find something that trips your trigger at Aloha Cowboy.

Hurricane is a contemporary boutique featuring classic clothing and gifts from around the globe. Owner Malia Ullin carries a huge selection of Gretchen Scott Designs, chic items from Vintage Highway and Desigual, plus Maui headbands and bobby pins that she handcrafts herself. There’s even Malia’s Corner, where you’ll find gently used designer apparel.

A colossal collection of perfect pitch, no rust wind chimes hangs outside Goodies, which also carries an extensive selection of plus-size clothing for men and women, Simply Silk aloha shirts, Bamboo Boxers made in Hawai‘i for the discriminating gentleman, and popular apparel lines such as Jams World, Oh My Gauze, and locally-designed Rainbow Jo. Their Anuschka hand-painted leather bags are absolutely gorgeous.

Volcano Spice Co. offers 12 tantalizing spice blends for those of us who loves to cook, but don’t have the time to run around and buy 30 different spices to keep in on hand. Besides spice blends, there are also BBQ sauces and bath salts, and free samples so you know what you’re buying. It’s literally an eruption of flavors!

The last stop on Baldwin Ave. is Gecko Trading Co. Boutique, where you’ll find contemporary fashions from Impulse and Cut Loose, along with Gecko Girl jewelry and perfume, vintage collectibles, and local art. Their unique greeting cards will make you laugh out loud!

If you’re visiting Makawao on a Wednesday, you’ll want to hop in your car and drive up Baldwin Ave., past the intersection with Makawao Ave., and stop at the Original Farmers Market located at historic Po‘okela Church. Hours are 10am to 2pm, and there’s ample parking in the church’s lot. It’s a great place to pick up locally grown fruit, produce, and other made-on-Maui products.

Where to Eat

Start your Makawao adventure with breakfast in the Courtyard at Market Fresh Bistro. Chef Justin Pardo, who’s originally from New York, whips up especially tasty and sophisticated cuisine, and his philosophy is global influence…local ingredients. Try the smoked salmon or blackened fresh catch eggs Benedict. Chef Justin whips up a mean hollandaise sauce, and his oven fried potatoes are the stuff dreams are made of. You can even sit outside, weather permitting, in the quaint courtyard.

Rodeo General Store is the only grocery store in Makawao, and it’s also a fabulous place to pick up take-out items for picnicking Upcountry or at the beach. Their exquisite deli contains tempting salads and outrageous looking sandwiches all made on homemade bread. Popular salads include quinoa tabouli, cooked beets, power slaw, and raw kale. The best deal is their one pound of food (your choice) for $9.99.

Makawao Garden Cafe’s owner Kathi Sparks personifies service with a smile. This little gem of a lunch spot is tucked next to Sherri Reeve’s gallery with outdoor sidewalk seating under shady market umbrellas, European style. Kathi has cheerful Sherri Reeve placemats on her tables, each showcasing a different design. Sandwiches like the snow crab and avocado, baby brie and bacon, and catch of the day come in whole and half sizes, and are served with a side of Caesar salad with creamy dressing. Favorite entree salads include curry chicken, Asian, and quinoa.

No trip to Makawao would be complete without a stop at the famous Komoda Store & Bakery on Baldwin Ave. Once inside, and enveloped in the fantastic smell of freshly baked goods, you’ll feel as though you’ve taken a step back in time—several decades, in fact! Stick donuts, cream puffs, butter rolls…what’s not to like? Keep in mind Komoda’s is closed Wednesday and Sunday, and the owners take a three-week vacation every year.

Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli, at the corner of Baldwin and Makawao Avenues, has been satisfying visitors and locals since 1986 with their excellent Italian cuisine that’s created with the best available ingredients and presented with a sense of pride. Serving lunch and dinner (and breakfast at their adjacent deli), their huge selection of antipasti, salads, pizzas, pastas, and entrees ensures there’s something for everyone’s palate. Service is professional and Upcountry friendly. Live entertainment Wednesday through Sunday runs the gamut from Casanova’s famous ladies’ night, to local performers, to benefits for Maui’s own radio station, Mana‘o 91.7 FM.

On the opposite corner from Casanova is Polli’s Mexican Restaurant, whose motto is “Come in and eat or we’ll all starve.” South-of-the-border delicacies include tostadas, tacos, sizzling fajitas, burritos supreme, enchiladas, chile relleno, and pork chile verde. Their yummy guacamole is made fresh daily with Maui avocados. Tuesday is kids’ night, when keiki can eat for $2.50. You’ll enjoy the lively atmosphere at this Maui institution—an Upcountry landmark for more than thirty years. Ole!

But the granddaddy of all Makawao eateries is the Makawao Steak House, now part of the Cafe O’Lei family of restaurants. Mosey on in to this historic paniolo-themed steak house for some good grub, like sizzling Midwestern steaks grilled over an open flame, delectable side dishes and, of course, their famous salad bar.

–heidi pool


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