There are many different climates in the different districts of Lahaina. The historic district is the driest and calmest and hosts the small boat harbor. Kaanapali is north of a wind line and has double the annual rainfall and frequent breezes. The Kapalua and Napili areas have almost four times the annual rainfall compared to the historic district of Lahaina. The historic district has preserved 60 historic sites within a small area and they are managed by the Lahaina Restoration.
Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845, when the capital was moved back to Honolulu. In the 19th century, Lahaina was the center of the global whaling industry, with many sailing ships anchoring at its waterfront; today pleasure craft make their home there. Lahaina's Front Street has been ranked one of the "Top Ten Greatest Streets" by the American Planning Association.
Lahaina's popularity as a tropical getaway has made its real estate some of the most expensive in Hawaii; many luxury homes and condos are sold for more than $2 million there.
In antiquity Lahaina was the royal capital of Maui Loa, aliʻi nui of the island of Maui, after he ceded the royal seat of Hana to the ruler of Hawaii Island. In Lahaina, the focus of activity is along Front Street, which dates back to the 1820s. It is lined with stores and restaurants and often packed with tourists. The Banyan Court Park features an exceptionally large banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) planted by William Owen Smith on April 24, 1873, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Christian missionaries. It is also the site of the reconstructed ruins of Lahaina Fort, originally built in 1832. It is the largest Banyan Tree in the United States.
Lele was an ancient name of Lahaina. The name Lā hainā means "cruel sun" in the Hawaiian language, describing the sunny dry climate. Lahaina's historic district averages only 13 inches (330 mm) of rain per year, much of which occurs from December to February.
In 1795, before unification of the islands, the town was conquered by Kamehameha the Great. Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845. King Kamehameha III, son of Kamehameha I, preferred the town to bustling Honolulu. He built a palace complex on a 1 acre (0.40 ha) island Mokuʻula surrounded by a pond called Moku Hina, said to be home to Kiwahine, a spiritual protector of Maui and the Pi'ilani royal line, near the center of town. In 1824, at the chiefs' request, Betsey Stockton started the first mission school open to the common people. It was once an important destination for the 19th-century whaling fleet, whose presence at Lahaina frequently led to conflicts with the Christian missionaries living there. On more than one occasion the conflict was so severe that it led to sailor riots and even the shelling of Lahaina by the British whaler John Palmer in 1825. In response, Maui Governor Hoapili built the Old Lahaina Fort in 1831 to protect the town from riotous sailors.
Lahaina is located at 20°53′10″N 156°40′29″W / 20.88611°N 156.67472°W / 20.88611; -156.67472 (20.886122, -156.674602).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 9.3 square miles (24.1 km2), of which 7.8 square miles (20.2 km2) is land and 1.5 square miles (3.9 km2), or 16.26%, is water.
Maui's west coast includes several different microclimates and wind lines. Lahaina's northern end gets four times as much rainfall as historic Lahaina and is cooler. The Kaanapali area of Lahaina gets twice as much rain as historic Lahaina.
Lahaina has a tropical, semi-arid climate (Köppen BSh) with warm temperatures year-round.
600 block of Front Street is home to the largest Banyan Tree in the United States. There was a ceremony when the tree was planted in 1873 and the history is displayed on a plaque under the tree.
The huge West Maui mountains have beautiful valleys visible from the historic district of Lahaina. The valleys are the backdrop for "the 5 o'clock rainbow" that happens almost every day. In 1831 a fort was built for defense, and the reconstructed remains of its 20-foot (6.1 m) walls and original cannons can still be seen. Also near the small boat harbor are the historic Pioneer Inn and the Baldwin House museum in the historic district of Lahaina.
Hale Paʻi is the site of Hawaii's first printing press, including Hawaii's first paper currency, printed in 1843.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua hosts the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions every January.
The many restaurants along Front Street offer a broad variety of food and entertainment, making it the hub of West Maui's night life. A variety of shops and galleries line both sides of the oceanfront Front street.
The Carthaginian II, a recreation of a 19th-century whaler ship, was a floating museum of whaling from 1980 to 2005, located dockside just across the Pioneer Inn hotel. The Carthaginian II, which had started life as a German freight carrier in the Baltic Sea, was sunk in 95 feet (29 m) of water about 1⁄2-mile (0.80 km) offshore from Lahaina. It now serves as a submarine tourist and diver attraction. Carthaginian II was acquired in 1973 to replace an earlier whaler ship replica and museum, Carthaginian, which had been converted in 1966 to film scenes for the 1966 movie Hawaii.
Halloween is a major celebration in Lahaina and has become a signature event in the past decades, with crowds averaging between 20,000 and 30,000. The evening starts off closing Front Street to cars so the "Keiki Parade" of children in costumes can begin. Eventually adults in costumes join in, and by dark the street becomes one big party, which has earned the event the title of "Mardi Gras of the Pacific". In 2008 the celebration was curtailed due to the objections of a group of cultural advisers who felt Halloween was an affront to Hawaiian culture. In the following years the event was poorly attended, as the street was not closed and no costume contest took place. In 2011, citing economic concerns, the County permitted the annual signature event to fully resume.
Every November, Lahaina hosts the Maui Invitational, one of the top early-season tournaments in college basketball. Sponsored by Maui Jim's sunglasses.
Lahaina also hosts the finish of the Vic-Maui Yacht Race, which starts in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. This race started in the 1960s and is held every two years.
Major employers in Lahaina include People Who Clean, Safeway, Aina Nalu Lahaina by Outrigger, the Old Lahaina Luau, Maui Jim, Longhi's, T S Restaurants, Hawai'i Department of Education, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and Aloha Mixed Plate.