BY Neal Broverman
July 08 2011 3:00 AM ET
With gorgeous vistas, pristine beaches, and sophisticated hotel and restaurant options, Hawaii has long been a favorite destination for even the most seen-it-all travelers. But the islands’ allure dimmed for gay vacationers on July 6, 2010, when Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a civil unions bill. The state that launched the marriage equality movement in 1993 when its Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage rights — a decision later rendered moot by a constitutional amendment — no longer seemed like a gay-friendly paradise.
Fast-forward to February 2011: New governor Neil Abercrombie signed civil unions legislation into law as his first act in office. Three months later Hawaii became the 13th state to ban employment discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Hawaii is also now, without question, the birthplace of our nation’s most gay-friendly president. It’s a new day for the Aloha State, and the perfect time to reward Hawaii with your company.
For gay travelers new to the islands, Maui is the ideal place to begin a Hawaiian exploration — less intimidating than the Big Island, not as frenetic as Oahu, and with more energy than Kauai. LGBT trekkers who are familiar with Hawaii or think Maui has become overdeveloped need to give the island another look, especially now—the off-season, lasting until December, offers not only the cheapest hotel rates but the best weather.
Hawaii’s largest gay resort (really its only one — Kauai has a small gay B&B) is in Maui’s resort town of Kihei on the southwest side of the island. The Maui Sunseeker (MauiSunseeker.com), popular with couples, both male and female, opened in 2008 and is in the midst of an ambitious expansion. The property, about 35 steps from the beach, is adding a pool, a breakfast nook, and 13 rooms, with part of the project set for completion this summer.
Another draw of the Sunseeker is its proximity to the island’s gay, clothing-optional beach, located at Makena State Park and colloquially known as Little Beach. Once you’ve climbed over a rocky cliff that separates Little Beach from the family-friendly Big Beach, jump in the sparkling clean water that manages to be both refreshing and warm. On Sundays it’s a party scene.
But the thing about Maui, and Hawaii in general, is that it’s not a destination for nightlife. That’s not to say there’s nothing to do (see sidebar on next page), but almost all Maui activities, other than dinner, are done while the sun’s up. And no matter if you’re from the East or West coast or somewhere in between, the time difference will have you asleep by 11 p.m. and up no later than 7 — that’s fine, as the island’s 33 miles of sandy beaches beckon.