Captain George Vancouver first landed his ship at Maalaea Bay in 1793, when he brought the first cattle to Maui’s fertile grounds. Since then, Maalaea has served as a major commercial port, as well as Maui’s first airport, and finally, its current status as a harbor.
After initial flights to Maui suffered faulty landings in areas of Makawao and Spreckelsville in the early 1920’s, the Territorial Legislature allotted $15,000 for Maui’s first airport to be built in 1927. Maalaea was chosen for the location, and after the property was purchased from Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, the first scheduled air service from Oahu to Maui began in 1929. Due to its low elevation and location near the ocean, however, the airport, which was technically just a dirt field, was unusable anytime it got too wet. In 1935, Inter-Island Airways added 16 passenger planes to its fleet and quickly discovered that Maalaea was too small and too close to the West Maui Mountains to meet proper safety standards. In 1938, Maalaea Airport was condemned by the U.S. Chief Inspector for the Bureau of Air Commerce.
Also recognized for its incredibly fast wave, known locally as Freight Trains, Maalaea became known for its rare but challenging surf break among the local surfer crowd.
In 1998, the Maui Ocean Center opened its doors to the public, drawing thousands of visitors annually ever since. Today, the infrastructure has been expanded to include several restaurants and attractions, as well as condominiums, though the aquarium and harbor remain the Bay’s primary draws.