Honestly, there isn’t a “best” island in Hawaii. All of them are special, from beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, warm weather, and friendly aloha spirit. But depending on what you’re looking for, some islands may be a better fit than others. Whether you’re traveling on a budget, with family, searching for whales, or volcanic lava, these tips will help you choose the best island for YOU.
Oahu: The Gathering Isle
Multigenerational families love Oahu. It’s perfect for all ages and there are countless activities and accommodations to choose from. From surf lessons in Waikiki to spending a day at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you won’t run out of activities to choose from.
Avid Surfers love Oahu’s North Shore. With the giant waves at Pipeline, massive swells at Waimea Bay, and awe-inspiring rides at Rocky Point, the North Shore is best suited for those with a keen understanding of the ocean and their own limitations. While there are a few beginner breaks, like Turtle Bay and Puaʻena Point, if you aren’t an experienced surfer, it’s best to stay out of the North Shore waters.
If you’re a night owl, Oahu is the best place for a nightlife scene. Unlike the other islands where most restaurants and bars close well before midnight. Waikiki and Honolulu are the places to be if you want to party until the sun comes up. There are a variety of dive bars, karaoke joints, and clubs to choose from.
Maui: The Valley Isle
All the Hawaiian Islands have a plethora of scenic beaches to choose from. But Maui is a beach lovers’ true paradise. Picture-perfect Kaanapali Beach, Wailea Beach, Kihei Beach, Hoʻokipa Beach and so many more can be found on Maui. If seeing a black sand beach is on your bucket list, Honokalani Black Sand Beach is one of the best.
Are you a foodie? Then Maui is the place for you. It’s home to a host of award-winning local eateries. Tin Roof in Kahului is so good it helped to put chef Sheldon Simeon on the map as one of Hawaii’s best culinarians. Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice is also a local favorite and has been pumping out some of the sweetest shaved ice treats for years. And course, you can’t talk about Maui restaurants without mentioning Mama’s Fish House. This Paia area restaurant uses fish so fresh, they know when it was caught, where it was caught, and the name of the fisherman who caught it. In fact, the menu changes daily based on the first that was just caught.
Kauai: The Garden Isle
With a nickname like the Garden Isle, it’s no surprise that Kauai is home to a host of lush botanical gardens. In fact, three of the nation’s five National Tropical Botanical Gardens are on Kauai! Nature lovers will find an endless supply of outdoor splendors to choose from while on Hawaii’s oldest island, from the massive Allerton Garden to the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon State Park.
Hikers also love Kauai for its endless trails and paths. Like the North Shore on Oahu attracting surfers to its world-class conditions, the Kalalau trail—which twists and turns in and around the Napali Coast, Kauai’s stunning and rugged succession of valleys and cliffs on the island’s northern coastline is a mecca for Hawaii hikers. You can take the trail to various milestones, such as Hanakāpiʻai Beach (two miles in) and Hanakāpiʻai Falls (four miles in), or attempt the entire eleven-mile trail.
Hāʻena State Park, home to Kēʻē Beach, as well as, the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail and Hanakāpīʻai beach and waterfalls, is subject to daily visitor limits and requires advanced reservations to enter the park. So, make sure to plan for these trails.
Hawaii Island: The Big Island
Hawaiian culture is everywhere in the Hawaiian Islands, from ʻIolani Palace on Oahu to the Makauwahi Cave Reserve on Kauai. But on the island of Hawaii, most commonly known as the Big Island, Hawaiian culture is around every corner. The Big Island is home to the Merrie Monarch Festival, considered the Olympics of the hula world. The Big Island and its residents love to preserve and promote Native Hawaiian culture.
If you’ve ever wanted to see an active volcano, you’ll want to book a ticket to the Big Island, which is home to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It’s the only place to see an active lava lake. Both Kilauea and Mauna Loa are located inside the park, which is larger than the entire island of Oahu. Visitors can see all sorts of alluring volcanic and geological wonders at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Lanai: The Pineapple Island and Molokai: The Friendly Island
Spending your entire vacation on Lanai or Molokai may leave some visitors wanting more as there’s not a lot to do. But if you’re looking for true isolation and a sense of old Hawaii, a quick trip over to either island is a great way to spend a day or two. Neither island is overly busy with visitors or even residents. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary to see much of either island, which is home to never-crowded beaches—Pāpōhaku Beach Park on Molokai is the largest white-sand beach in Hawaii and culturally significant point of interest, such as Keahiakawelo (The Garden of the Gods) on Lanai.
So now that you have the highlights of what each island has to offer, which one (or two) will you choose?
Dreaming of your next vacation to Disney or beyond? I would love to help you design the perfect land or sea experience for your family! Click here to schedule a “Let’s Get Acquainted Session” with me so we can start planning your family’s next great adventure.