Choosing which islands to visit on a trip to Hawai‘i is difficult, especially for travelers who are visiting the state for the first time. Each of the four main islands—O‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i, and Hawai‘i Island (a.k.a. The Big Island)—offers a distinct experience. Depending on whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway, an adventure vacation, or a family-friendly trip, read on to see which island best suits your travel personality.
O‘ahu is the most populous Hawaiian Island, and the most developed. Honolulu, Hawai‘i’s capital city, offers visitors an active nightlife, great restaurants, entertainment, and cultural events. Waikīkī, a district of Honolulu, is a bustling urban center and home, too, to the famous Waikīkī Beach. Oʻahu is quite family-friendly, too, with an abundance of museums and historical sites that cater to audiences of all ages. Because of the island’s accessibility and budget-friendly hotel options, Oʻahu is a great choice for vacationers looking for affordability.
Oʻahu’s north shore is more remote than the greater Honolulu area. This part of the island is endowed with miles upon miles of beaches and during the winter, the north shore is a surfing Mecca. Serious surfers from around the world head to Oʻahu to ride the north shore’s notoriously huge waves.
Home to Hawaiʻi’s most beautiful beaches, Maui is heaven for beach bums. But there’s plenty of reasons beyond the beaches that Maui was voted Best Island in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler last year. Maui is also famous for its sunsets, which, combined with its secluded resorts, attract many newlyweds to honeymoon on the island.
Adventurous travelers should take advantage of Maui’s hiking trails, which offer views of the island’s iconic waterfalls and lush vegetation. For those who enjoy watersports, there are many windsurfing and surfing opportunities, as well as snorkeling and diving tours that explore the island’s scenic inlets and coves. Visitors interested in ecotourism can enjoy Maui’s farm-to-table food culture and a landscape that is dotted with agricultural pastures and organic gardens.
Hawaiʻi Island, otherwise referred to as the Big Island, is known for its sublime landscapes and unique geography, such as Punalu’u Beach pictured above. The black sand is the result of molten lava coming into contact with the ocean.
Visitors can go on expeditions that offer a glimpse of wildlife in a tropical rainforest, see active lava flows while visiting Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, or scuba dive in Kona, where divers swim beside manta rays and other ocean life. The Big Island is a great fit for vacationers who want to actively explore Hawaiʻi’s cool landscapes, but it’s not the best destination for people who want only to chill out on the beach. Due to the size and breadth of the Big Island, visitors should plan to rent a car in order to enjoy the The Big Island’s spectacular offerings.
Kauaʻi is well-suited to people who enjoy remote locations and appreciate visually stunning natural scenery. Easy-going types will adapt easily to Kauaʻi’s backdrop of rugged vistas and laid-back pace of life. Outdoorsy types will like Kauaʻi’s rustic and rural landscape, where wildlife is still abundant and easy to see. Kauaʻi’s canyons and Nā Pali Coast—which is famous for its dramatic cliffs—attract lots of outdoor enthusiasts. For people who want to escape and get away from it all, Kauaʻi is the place to go. It’s not the island on which to enjoy an active nightlife, but for people who want to surround themselves with the beauty of nature, Kauaʻi is a winning choice.