Lāhainā is the largest census-designated place (CDP) in West Maui, Maui County, Hawaii, United States, and the gateway to the famous Kaanapali and Kapalua beach resorts north of the community. As of the 2010 census, the CDP had a resident population of 11,704. Lahaina encompasses the coast along Hawaii Route 30 from a tunnel at the south end, through Olawalu up to the CDP of Napili-Honokowai to the north. During the heavy tourist seasons, the population can swell to nearly 40,000 people.
Until permanently moving to Honolulu, Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. In the 19th century, Lahaina was the center of the global whaling industry with many sailing ships anchored in at its waterfront; today a score of 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 caused its real estate to be 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, 5th Moi of Maui, after he ceded the royal seat of Hana to the King 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 is often packed with tourists. Banyan Tree Square features an exceptionally large banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) planted on April 24, 1873, by William Owen Smith 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.
Lele was an ancient name of Lahaina. The name Lā hainā means "cruel sun" in the Hawaiian language, describing the sunny dry climate. Lahaina averages only of rain per year, much of which occurs from December through February.
Prior to unification of the islands, in 1795, the town was sacked 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 island, , in a fishpond near the center of town. In 1824, at the request of the chiefs, 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 the shelling of Lahaina by whaleships.