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Central Maui will satisfy your thirst for the real Hawaii

Resist the lure of resort-lined Kaanapali Beach because central Maui — from Makena up through Waikapu to Paia — offers an escape that will satisfy your thirst for the real Hawaii. It's where you go when L.A. congestion gets you down and you crave a simple poke bowl, fewer mainlanders on the beach and locals who are full of spot-on recommendations.

The tab: My partner and I spent about $1,400 for our weekend getaway in March.

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From LAX, Virgin America, United, Hawaiian, American and Delta offer nonstop service to Kahului, Maui, and Virgin America, Delta, Hawaiian, United and American offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $550, including taxes and fees.

The bed

I was concerned about our hotel choice. I'd taken annual trips to Maui for a decade and had never stayed in a hotel that was removed from the beach. But zen and seclusion reign at the luxury Hotel Wailea (555 Kaukahi St., Wailea; [866] 850-5139; doubles from $499). The former Japanese club was upgraded beginning in 2008, and cultural remnants remain in the  lobby, an open-air foyer in the shape of a geisha's parasol. The modern guest rooms have a beach-house look punctuated with limestone walls, bleached white oak floors and private lanais with chaise longues. We stayed two nights, ate like kings in the Restaurant at Hotel Wailea and enjoyed easy access to local favorite Big Beach.

A kite surfer navigates Maui's north shore at the Kiteboarding School of Maui.
A kite surfer navigates Maui's north shore at the Kiteboarding School of Maui. (Erik Aeder)

The find

We traded surfboards for kites and headed for Kanaha Beach, locally called Kite-Surf Beach. We lingered awhile before trusting our fate to the perfect Maui winds — and the knowledgeable instructors at Kiteboarding School Maui ([808] 873-0015; $260 for a three-hour semi-private lesson). The north shore of Oahu is known for surfing, but kite surfing is the north shore of Maui's claim to fame — the view itself is Instagram gold.

The lesson learned

Beware the deceiving drive to Hana. The narrow road with single-lane-bridge turns can be dangerous, but more important, the 54-mile drive will take nearly three hours one way in a lineup of Mustang convertibles. Hit the road early to make sure you see the real Hana, with stops at Garden of Eden Arboretum, Waianapanapa State Park to see black and red sand beaches, and Makahiku Falls. Oh, and catch the sunset after an evening surf session at Hamoa Beach.

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