From its Hawaiian royal roots, missionary and whaling past, Maui is steeped in history and has some of the best museums in Hawaii. Let's take a look at some of my favorite museums on Maui ranging from an entire town to a small, intimate gallery.
A good place to start is Lahaina Town, Maui's National Historic Landmark. The town is crammed with living history. You might say that the town itself is the biggest and most famous museum in Hawaii.
Lahaina was the capital of the Hawaiian Islands during the years of the monarchy (1795-1843). For many hundreds of years earlier, it was the playground of choice for Hawaiian kings and aristocracy. When the whalers arrived in Lahaina, it became the center of the bawdy Pacific whaling industry, much to the chagrin of the highly disapproving missionaries.
After whaling died out in the 1860s, Lahaina turned into a sleepy sugar plantation town, only to be awakened once more by the modern boom of tourism.
Today Lahaina's 31 historic sites provide visitors with a great overview of the town and island's past. Visitors can pick up a free walking guide in the gift shop within the Courthouse in Banyan Tree Park.
In addition to the Courthouse itself, the highlights include the Fort, the Prison, the Pioneer Inn, the Hongwanji Temple, Hale Pa‘i, the Wo Hing Temple, and the Baldwin Home Museum.
Whalers Village Museum
Located within Whalers Village Fine Shops & Restaurants in the Ka'anapali Beach Resort, the Whalers Village Museum offers visitors the chance to learn about the era when the Lahaina area of Maui was the whaling capital of the Pacific.
Within the museum are numerous displays and artifacts including Hawaii's largest collection of harpoons, tools, sea chests, sailor journals, and ship logs. You'll find numerous exhibits of items made from whale bone and tooth ivory including an excellent collection of scrimshaw. There is also one of the largest scale models of a whaling ship in existence.
Your $3.00 adult admission includes a free self-guided audio tour and three hours of validated parking.
Bailey House Museum
The Bailey House Museum in Wailuku in another "must-see" Maui museum.
Operated by the Maui Historical Society, the museum, the 1850 home of a missionary family, is dedicated to both pre-contact Hawaiian artifacts (the best and most complete collection on Maui), and post-contact missionary life.
The house itself is also noteworthy, with heavy sandalwood beams in the ceiling and stone walls that are nearly two feet thick. The grounds also include a flourishing tropical garden, an authentic Hawaiian outrigger canoe, and a seminary building.
A few minutes away by car from the Bailey House, set in the lush 'Iao Valley, Kepaniwai Park is an outdoor museum that educates visitors about Maui's cultural heritage.
The charming, pastoral setting is enhanced by oriental gardens, arched bridges, a taro patch, and the sound of the 'Iao Stream in the background.
In strolling through the grounds, you'll discover a Portuguese villa, a New England "salt box" with white picket fence, a thatched Hawaiian hale, and a type of bamboo house popular among the early Filipino immigrants, among other cultures represented there.
The park is the site of a decisive battle in which Kamehameha I defeated the army of a Maui chief in 1790.
Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum
The historic plantation town of Pu'unene, near Kahului, is the home of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum.
The museum's displays illuminate the history of Maui's sugar industry and plantation era. Photographs and documents show the quality of life in the cane fields, how the workers lived on the plantations, and the workings of a sugar mill as displayed in a model. Across the street is the active, authentic version, where sugar cane is still processed today in the last working mill in Hawaii.
The museum's exhibits give a glimpse into a once-thriving industry that left its mark on Hawaii, and then declined. While the rest of Hawaii's sugar industry has shut down, the industry on Maui has displayed a remarkable resilience in its struggles to survive.
Hana Cultural Center & Museum
With its roots firmly planted in native Hawaii values, East Maui's Hana is a living example of the Hawaiian cultural resurgence.
Intimate, true and endearing, the Hana Cultural Center & Museum is the town's official repository of artifacts.
The center's modest size and scale allow you to get close to the stone tools, hand-stitched quilts, photographs, wood crafts, and old Hawaiian games that residents have preserved through the years.