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Which Hawaii Island To Visit?

Planning a trip to Hawaii and not sure which island to visit? Here's a simple and handy guide to figure out the right island(s) for you ^_^

A simple map showing the main islands of Hawaii.
Islands of Hawaii.

Last week, an acquaintance mentioned that he was going to Hawaii with friends. I asked, which island? He said, he wasn't sure...just that he was going to Hawaii.

This struck me as odd because we have 8 main islands and they are all super unique. You would have completely different vacations depending which island you visit.

To someone who lives in Hawaii, this makes perfect sense. But for someone who had never been to Hawaii, they thought all the islands were similar.

But they are not. They are very, very different.

Before you book a ticket, make sure to figure out which island(s) is the best fit for your vacation.

Islands Of Hawaii

There are 8 main islands in Hawaii:

  • Oahu
  • Hawaii (aka Big Island)
  • Maui
  • Lanai
  • Kauai
  • Molokai
  • Niihau
  • Kahoolawe

Of these 8 islands, there are 6 that most people visit. We'll focus on these 6 islands today:

Oahu is where 80% of Hawaii's local population lives. We consider Oahu the "main" island. Oahu is home to Honolulu, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kailua, North Shore, and so much more. Honolulu is the state's largest city.

When people picture Oahu, the usually think of Waikiki. And yes, Waikiki is part of the island, but it is one very tiny and small part (some locals don't even bother to go to Waikiki). It is important to head outside of Waikiki and explore the other parts of Oahu.

This seems to be the island that most visitors know about the most. Open and gorgeous, lots of beautiful resorts. Super popular with honeymooners and a great pick for getaway, relaxation-is-the-goal vacations. Oprah lives here!

Hawaii (aka Big Island)
This island is called Hawaii, but our state is also called Hawaii. That can be confusing! This is why most people refer to Hawaii island as the Big Island. It is the biggest island, and also the youngest island.

The west side of the island is Kona, home to Kona coffee. The east side of the island is home to Hilo (and some of my favorite mochi) and Kilauea volcano (largest active volcano in the world).

Beautiful and relaxing. Has a mix of small city and country feel. Tons of nature and the most lush feeling of all the islands.

Very small island, with no traffic lights and two dreamy resorts.

The least touristy of these six islands. Mostly local.

Best Island To Visit In Hawaii For First Time

Is it your first visit? Are you tired of researching and just want a simple answer? Ok!

Go to Oahu for the first half and Maui for the second half your trip ^_^

You'll get the explore Honolulu, Waikiki, and all the super onolicious food on Oahu. After a few fun and packed Oahu days, fly to Maui where you can slow down and relax. Maui has some of the most beautiful sunsets on earth (I don't know why the Maui sunsets are so incredible but they really are).

Which Hawaiian Island To Visit

How do you decide which island to visit? It all depends on what your goal is for the trip.

Best for food and dining.
Oahu for sure!

Best for hotels and resorts.
For full on resorts: Maui or Lanai. (Maui has more options and a wider price range. Lanai only has two options, both are fancy and beautiful.)

For hotels: Oahu or Maui.

Best for relaxation.
Maui or Lanai. Go with Maui if you want to relax, but also want the option of seeing and doing more. Lanai is the island where I go when I just want to unplug and fully get away from it all.

Best for hiking.
Oahu and Kauai. Oahu will have more options.

Best for family travel.
Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. Go to Oahu if you want more of a city angle, Maui for more of resort/relaxation vacation, and Kauai for a more off the road experience.

Best for beaches.
All! All the islands have gorgeous beaches. If I had to pick two, it would be Oahu and Maui. The beaches on Oahu will be more crowded just because there are always more people on Oahu.

Best for honeymooners.
Maui and Kauai. (Maui is more big, dramatic, gorgeous, and resort-y. Kauai is more small and romantic.)

Best Time To Visit Hawaii

All year round! I know people say March through September is the most ideal time, but Hawaii is beautiful all year long and there is no "bad" month.

Summer months will be hotter than winter months. Winter months may be cooler and slightly more rain. But for the most part the weather is pretty much the same all year round.

If anything, I would try visit during the quieter periods (not holidays or peak summer season). You'll get a better overall experience if the islands aren't overwhelmed with visitors.


Do you need a car? You don't need a car to have a good vacation, but renting a car will open you up to many more options. This applies to all the islands.

Also! You don't have to rent a car for the entire trip.

Example 1: Say you're visiting Oahu and staying in Waikiki for a week. Just rent a car for just 2-3 days. You don't need a car every single day but having a car will allow you to see many other places. You can explore the North Shore (which is about 1.5 hour drive from Waikiki), visit Hanauma Bay, take yourself on a food tour across Honolulu. Having a car will allow you to see a more local (aka less touristy) side of the island.

Example 2: If you're visiting Maui and staying at a nice resort, you'll probably want to spend a few days just at the resort relaxing. You don't need a car for those days. But for the other days, you'll want a car to explore the other parts of the island.

If you don't want to drive, there are many other options. Honolulu has one of the best bus systems in the country. There are also plenty of taxis along with Uber, Lyft, etc.

Multiple Islands

Don't forget that you can also visit multiple islands on a trips. Flights between islands (which we call interisland flights) are usually $100-200 round trip and take less than an hour.

If you're visiting for a week, consider three nights each on each different islands. There are islands I like to pair:

For a mix of city and relaxation:
3 nights on Oahu, and 3 nights on Maui, Big Island, or Lanai

For a mix of relaxation and even more luxurious relaxation:
3 nights on Maui, and 3 nights on Lanai

For a mix of big city and small city:
3 nights on Oahu and 3 nights on Kauai

It can be quite a flight to get to Hawaii so you might as well make the most of it.

See You Next Time

I hope this post was helpful. I wanted to give enough info so that you can make a good decision, but don't want to overwhelm with too much info in one post. Let me know if you have questions (and if adding anything else to this post would be useful).

P.S. We are working on individual posts for each island, so stay turned for that ^_^

Mahalo for Reading!

Brea Plum

Saturday 7th of August 2021

Hi, Lana'i here - we actually have many stop signs! No traffic lights, though.


Saturday 7th of August 2021

Hi Brea! Apologies my mistake, thank you for catching ^_^ - Kathy