Which Is The Best Island To Visit In Hawaii?

Best island to visit in Hawaii

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Wondering which island is the best one to visit? Here’s my breakdown based on what kind of activities and vacation you’re looking to do.

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Is Oahu The Best Island To Visit In Hawaii?

It’s definitely well known with iconic locations and landmarks such as Waikiki, the North Shore and Diamond Head, but is it the best?

In a nutshell, I think Oahu is the best island to visit if you want the convenience of a city. Of course, there are city problems like traffic, crowds and lines to consider. But there’s also huge benefits such as finding places to eat late at night, several events to choose from on the weekends, and a variety of options if you need to stick to a budget.

Best island to visit in Hawaii
Beautiful Waikiki and Diamond Head on Oahu.

I think Oahu is great for people who:

  • Need convenience. Traveling with kids and need to buy snacks, band-aids, souvenirs all on the go? Plan to do a lot of shopping or eating? Or, maybe you work remotely and need solid access to the internet? Oahu is the best option if you need convenience.
  • Are first-time visitors and aren’t sure what to expect. If you haven’t really had a vacation like this before or not sure if you’d like the quieter neighbor islands, Oahu is a great choice.
  • Are on a budget. With most of Hawaii’s population living on Oahu, that means everything is a little bit cheaper on Oahu. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but there are more options when it comes to booking tours, hotels and entertainment.
  • Need access to a good hospital. Do you have health conditions that could inhibit your vacation? If an emergency happens on a neighbor island and the local hospital can’t treat you, more than likely you will have to be flown over to Oahu – that’s a big delay in treatment time and a huge bill!
  • Are considering to use public transportation only. The bus system and rail are affordable and convenient and you can get to most places via bus.
  • Want a little bit of everything. Despite Oahu having Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu, there are also plenty of accessible beaches and hikes if you’re looking for some peace and quiet.

Oahu is not a good option if you are:

  • Looking for total seclusion and want to totally disconnect.
  • Someone who tends to avoid any and all tourist hubs.

It’s difficult to run out of things to do on Oahu. There’s a huge variety of choices of food, activities, tours, hikes and beaches. Yes, there are a lot of tourists and crowds, but don’t let that turn you off Oahu completely. The reason why it’s so popular is because any and all choices are right at your fingertips. Oahu is a great “first” island to sightsee and experience most of what Hawaii has to offer.

Is The Big Island (Hawaii Island) The Best Hawaiian Island?

The Big Island is known for its volcanoes and lava and range of outdoor activities. With 8 different climate zones, the temperatures range from sunny days on the beach to freezing cold on the mountains. There’s plenty to do and see as it’s literally a “big” island to explore.

Local Tip: The Big Island is also called Hawaii Island or Hawaii.

Best island to visit in Hawaii
Big Island lava flowing into the ocean.

The Big Island is great for those who:

  • Want to see lava. This isn’t guaranteed, but it’s the only island that has active lava. If you’re interested in geology, geothermal energy, lava fields and lava tubes, the Big Island is where you want to be.
  • Interested in black sand beaches.
  • Love stargazing. The Big Island has vast areas of complete darkness away from the city lights.
  • Want to dive at night with manta rays, enjoy world-class golf courses or are interested in long-distance biking.
  • Love Kona coffee.

The Big Island is not a good option if you are:

  • On a budget and cannot afford renting a vehicle.
  • Only here for a few days. If you’re trying to see the whole island, you’ll lose a lot of time driving so your time is better spent on a smaller island where everything is closer together.

Is Maui The Best Island To Visit In Hawaii?

Maui is another great choice if you aren’t too sure which island is the best for your first visit to Hawaii. While not as populated as Oahu, there is still a good mix of things to do to keep you busy.

Best island to visit in Hawaii
Humpback whale breaching in Maui’s morning light.

Maui is a good choice for those who:

  • Want to see humpback whales. In my opinion, Maui is the best island to see whales from during whale watching season, although it is very possible to see them from all islands.
  • Are looking for a classic Hawaii experience. Maui has beautiful beaches, coves, snorkeling, hikes and waterfalls. There are few large buildings and plenty of small shops that give it that country atmosphere.
  • Want to visit 2 islands in Hawaii. Maui has a little bit of everything that is sure to please everyone in your group. It is a great 2nd choice if you’re having a hard time choosing between islands.

Maui is not a good choice if you:

  • Want seclusion, zero crowds and empty beaches. A lot of the popular locations attract a lot of people and the two biggest attractions (Road to Hana and Haleakala) naturally draw in a lot of people.
  • Want to relax in a resort and never leave. Maui is known for its natural beauty outdoors so if you plan on just staying in a resort, you might consider Lanai, Kauai or even Oahu instead.

Is Kauai The Best Island To Visit In Hawaii?

Kauai is completely different because it’s the oldest island in Hawaii, which makes its outdoor experience stand out from all the other islands. The sweeping cliffs and canyons are something you won’t see anywhere else in Hawaii.

Best island to visit in Hawaii
Na Pali cliffs from the air.

Kauai is great for those who:

  • Love the outdoors and plan to do a lot of hiking and water activities on your trip.
  • Enjoy shopping at farmers’ markets and small town shops.
  • Want to see the country life in Hawaii.
  • Are interested in Kauai’s freshwater rivers.
  • Want to disconnect.

Stay away from Kauai if you:

  • Need city life, departments stores, convenience stores and a nightlife.
  • Do not like rural areas.
  • Do not like the outdoors.
  • Are a beginner snorkeler. This is not a strict rule, but I’ve just found Maui to be a much better choice for beginner snorkelers.
  • Are on a budget. I find Kauai to be one of the more expensive islands when it comes to accommodation and tour/activity fees.

Should You Go To Molokai Or Lanai?

I don’t usually recommend first-time visitors to Hawaii to choose Molokai or Lanai as their first island. There’s just so much more to do and see on the 4 major islands. However, if you’ve been to Hawaii before and are interested in exploring these two quieter islands, I’d say go for it!

Best island to visit in Hawaii
Molokai coast.

Visiting Molokai

Be ready for a laid-back vacation with peace and quiet. Most likely you’ll be renting a beach house or condo, which means you’ll need to prepare your own food if you aren’t in town. There are only a couple of grocery stores and a few restaurants and bars. Flying to Molokai may require riding a small plane and renting a car is an absolute must. There’s no recreational shopping here and only a smattering of small shops. Reception can be spotty.

Lanai is an island that delivers on luxury.

Visiting Lanai

I find Lanai to be a bit more tourist-friendly than Molokai. There’s a convenient ferry that runs from Maui to Lanai, making Lanai a great day trip option. You can also make arrangements for a tour and the scuba diving in Lanai is great. If you plan to stay in Lanai, you might find it expensive. Lanai (and the Four Seasons) is heavily marketed to the wealthy.

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