Picking the best Hawaiian island for your trip is much like shopping at Hilo Farmers Market. It’s just hard to go wrong. But that having been said, we’ve seen visitors who weren’t entirely happy with their choice either. It all comes down to expectations and having some understanding in advance of the unique qualities of each island.
Which is the Best Hawaii Island to Visit?
Oahu: the choice for travelers looking for beaches, activities, value and choice, nightlife and a city experience.
Hawaii’s only real city is a eclectic blend of cultures, nature and activities. You’ll often find the best deals on airfares (but not always), with the largest range of accommodations and prices. With 80% our state’s population residing there, there’s an endless supply of things to do which includes excellent shopping, major museums, unlimited dining and good entertainment. Oahu is home to renowned Waikiki Beach, great surfing for all levels, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay and historic Pearl Harbor. For a more laid back lifestyle, drive to the other side the island where a more rural environment exists. While Waikiki previously offered the greatest choice in cheap Hawaii hotels, those are becoming harder to find.
Maui: spectacular beaches, an interesting blend of action and relaxation, and tremendous variety in all regards.
The second most populated island has something for everyone, which often makes it a great pick for families with children. Famous resort locations along South Maui and West Maui include Kapalua, Kaanapali, and Wailea among others. These also feature some of the islands most beautiful beaches with views to neighboring islands of Lanai and Molokai. To escape the crowds, head upcountry including amazing Haleakala National Park or east to beautifully remote Hana. Some of the best cheap flights to Hawaii are found between the west coast and Maui. Nightlife, resorts, white, black and red sand beaches, Maui has it all.
Big Island: larger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, with a unique landscape sculpted by ongoing volcanic action.
Big Island is vast, diverse and magical. You’ll need some time to drive around and experience all it has to offer. Highlights of the Big Island include Volcanoes National Park, Kona town, renowned resorts of the Kohala Coast, and coffee plantations in the Kona and Kau areas. Also beautiful waterfalls including Rainbow falls, ancient Hawaii fish ponds, and charming Hilo town. A side trip we recommend is the eerie, historic Mookini Heiau.
Kauai: spectacular scenery, rural charm, resorts and great beaches.
Kauai to this day retains its rustic charm, with natural wonders that include North Shore Kauai and magnificent Hanalei Bay, Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks, and South Shore Kauai and its beautiful resorts along Poipu Beach. This is a perfect place for anyone who loves the outdoors and hiking.
Quick changing Lanai offers two world-class resorts and golf while Molokai features smaller accommodations.
Both of these islands are a step back in time. Molokai highlights include a visit to the historic Kalaupapa leprosy settlement, incredible beaches, and the Coffees of Hawaii Molokai plantation. Neither island has mainland direct flights so you’ll pay somewhat more for the quiet life. Lanai is rapidly evolving now that new owner Larry Ellison is at the helm, has acquired Island Air and plans another world class resort.