Are you planning a dream vacation to Hawaii but have absolutely no idea which island to choose?
Hawaii is not a single travel destination, but really six different destinations. The six main Hawaiian islands are Oahu, Maui, Kaua’i, Hawaii(Big Island), Lana’i and Moloka’i.
How to Choose the Best Hawaiian Island to Visit
Choosing which island to visit can be arbitrary and difficult. A common misconception is that Hawaii is one place, encompassing all the hot spots such as Waikiki, Kaanapali, and Kona. But did you know that the Hawaiian chain is actually comprised of six separate islands that are publicly accessible? We hope this detailed guide will provide you with local insight while choosing which Hawaiian island is right for your vacation. Call today if you have questions or seek more information, and one of our friendly travel experts will be happy to help! 1-800-843-8771
Based on popular appeal, activities, and notoriousness, each of the six islands is uniquely distinct. With so much to see and do on one island, Hawaii Aloha offers custom-tailored travel packages that fit your needs and particular lifestyle. All you need to do is choose the island that suits your desires and vacation ideas! So read on to discover more about the Hawaiian Islands and we’ll ensure you have the vacation experience of a lifetime, custom-created to be exactly what you seek.
Known as the “Gathering Place” and harboring Hawaii’s state capital of Honolulu, if you’re looking for the Best Hawaiian Island to Visit and beach action in a big city, this is the island for you. A hot spot for activities, shopping, dining, surfing, nightlife, and much more, Waikiki Beach is a worldly popular location. However, don’t be fooled by travel guides telling you Oahu is only good for a party because there is much more to Oahu than just its city parts.
With diverse sides to explore on this island, you will be kept busy for your entire vacation. The pristine beaches of the east side will tempt you to stay forever. With a stunning view of the Mokulua islands, crystal clear waters, and unbelievably white sand, this site offers a wide variety of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Rent a kayak and explore the twin islands off the coast of LaniKai beach or go into Kailua town for some shopping and authentic restaurants. Surfing, snorkeling, the increasingly popular SUP (stand-up paddleboarding), swimming, and kayaking are all great ways to get to know the East Side. You will also find lookout points, waterfalls, canyons, and rainforests on this tropical side.
The north shore of Oahu is home to the world-renowned surf break, Bonsai Pipeline. Although the surfing spectacles are incredible to watch, the ocean conditions are usually unsafe for visitors here during winter. Waimea Bay is another great spot to watch the surfers, along with Sunset Beach and Turtle Bay. There are several waterfall hikes on this side, and with its lush scenery, it is easy to see why so many people flock here. The quaint town of Haleiwa is known to have some of Hawaii’s best shave ice, not to mention awesomely authentic surf shops and mean Mexican food at Cholo’s. The north shore is a relaxing, quiet retreat compared to its opposite location of Waikiki.
The west side is cropping up with new shopping centers and resorts and is a great place for solitude. The resort community of Ko Olina is equipped with a lush golf course, private beach coves perfect for leisure swimming, fine dining, and oceanfront cocktail bars. The town next door is Kapolei, where you’ll find shopping, movie theaters, restaurants, and much more. Out further west is the deep local parts of Nanakuli, Waianae, and Makaha Beach. These areas offer beautiful beaches and dramatic mountain ridges; if you’re seeking intense sun rays, this is the best place to get it!
Waikiki and Honolulu are bursting with activities and entertainment. Located on the island’s south side, this location has the feel of a big city, only it is Hawaii-style- with palm trees, blue water, and warm evenings. Here, you’ll find the high-end outdoor and indoor shopping malls of Ala Moana, Pearl City, and the Waikiki Strip. Much of the island’s historical and cultural centers are also here, so jump on several entertaining tours to traverse the island via bus. 5-star hotels, resorts, and spas adorn the long stretch of beautiful Waikiki beach. Still, you will also find surfing lessons, snorkeling, luaus, superb dining, and lively nightlife, making this the Best Hawaiian Island to Visit for many.
Known as the Garden Isle, here you’ll find the iconic representation of Hawaii. With lush mountains that seem to go on for days and rainbow shower trees that line dirt roads, you’ll find a peaceful retreat here that is unlike any other; for this reason, Kauai is also the Best Hawaiian Island to Choose. With unsurpassed tropical beauty, this quiet island is a perfect getaway for honeymooners or someone who needs to get away and find some relaxation.
The recently developing south side of Kauai is known for its incredible snorkeling sites and sunny beach weather, which many visitors when thinking about the Best Hawaiian Island to Visit. Hotels and resorts are located along the coast, including the Grand Hyatt Kauai and the contemporary Koa Kea Hotel. You will also find secluded beaches framed by verdant mountains that tower to the clouds. Sparsely populated, the south side is a great place to enjoy Hawaii at its finest. In the old town of Koloa, you’ll find museums giving information on the sugar cane mills, Kauai’s oldest agriculture industry. Many mills are still visible and offer photo opportunities as the sun sets against their tin roofs.
The small, local towns on Kauai’s west side are quaint and authentic. Visit the dwellings of Hanapepe, Kauai’s biggest little town and weave in and out of art galleries, boutiques, original restaurants, and the popular Banana Patch Studio. Here you can watch local artists hand-paint Hawaiian tiles and pottery and purchase unique gifts. The west side is also home to Kauai’s largest stretch of beach, Polihale. The direct translation of this ancient word is “house of the dead,” but don’t be too spooked! This beach is one of Kauai’s most stunning and will surely run your camera out of batteries. Waimea is another town to visit, and don’t forget to stop in at JoJo’s for some tropically flavored Hawaiian shave ice.
Kauai’s only airport is located on the east side, in the town of Lihue. Harboring much of the island activity, this is where you’ll find shopping malls, river kayaking, dining, Kauai-style nightlife, hikes, and more. Vacationers who want a little bit of everything come to the east side because here, you’ll find a centrally located area closest to all of Kauai’s shores. The beaches are long, golden strips of sand that usually sit in front of resorts, with mellow waves and sandy ocean bottoms. The mauka (mountain) side of Lihue and Kapaa is lush and beautiful, teeming with waterfall hikes and rivers you can journey up. You can paddle and put upstream to secret waterfalls and hiking trails with kayaks, SUP board rentals, canoes, and small boats. This side is also known to wash up some of Kauai’s most valued treasures: sunrise shells and glass fishing floats. Another area on the east side worth a visit is the old town of Kapaa, where you’ll find old-fashioned ice cream parlors, small boutiques, local style eateries, and art galleries. Kapaa also holds outdoor markets where locals sell unique gifts such as pareos (sarongs), koa wood crafts, Hawaiian jewelry, and much more.
The north shore of Kauai is secluded and quiet, with rainforest-bordered beaches, trickling streams running across the roads, and one-lane bridges that inspire a sense of friendly neighborliness. With amazing snorkeling sites and world-class hiking along with the Na Pali coast, this is the side to visit if you’re looking for a relaxed, tropical retreat. Only a few hotels and resorts are on this side, so many vacationers look into home rentals. With one of the world’s largest (but unfortunately nonliving) reefs, Anini Beach is a great place to get sun, camp, or look for Kahelelani shells sprinkled amongst the sand grains. These tiny shells, also known as Niihau shells, are precious plunder that were used to make jewelry for the Hawaiian royalty. This site also offers a quaint shopping village with Kauai’s famous Buba’s Burgers, bikini shops, and surf shops. North Shore has some of the best surf spots too, so if you’re looking to catch some waves while on Kauai, head north to Hanalei!
If you’re looking for a little bit of everything; relaxing beach days, adventurous hikes to waterfalls, nightlife, lively coral reefs, and resorts, then Maui is truly the ideal tropical paradise. Most first-time Hawaii visitors travel to Maui because of its diversity and popularity if you are considering the Best Hawaiian Island to Visit. Known as the valley isle, this island has incredibly beautiful scenery with an abundance of guided tours to allow some major sightseeing. From volcanoes to lush rainforests to miles of warm golden beaches, Maui is a great place to come taste everything Hawaii has to offer.
Much of Maui’s popular destination spots are divided between the West and the South sides of the island. The west side of Maui has the most visited town of Kaanapali. Kaanapali Beach has a resort community feel to it, with various hotels, resorts, and condos that are all within walking distance of one another. The beach is spectacular, offering tons of activities such as snorkeling, surfing, and swimming, and Whalers Village shopping center is within proximity as well. Kaanapali, one of Maui’s most appealing towns, is rich in history and culture but also brimming with restaurants, shopping, galleries, and a vivacious nightlife.
The south side of Maui includes the towns of Kihei and Wailea. With the resorts and hotels more spread out than Kaanapali, this side tends to be quieter and have more of a relaxed beach atmosphere. Oneloa Beach, referred to by the locals as “Big Beach” is a wide stretch of sand that is perfect for body boarding, body surfing, swimming, and snorkeling. With portable restrooms and picnic tables, this is a great family beach location, so pack a picnic and spend the day along this gorgeous coastline. On this side you can also indulge in divine cuisines, authentic luaus, and the Maui Ocean Center Aquarium. You can also enjoy free hula shows at the Lahaina Cannery Mall and visit the giant Banyan tree, a park-like setting fun for kids and mid-afternoon activities.
The famous Road to Hana is a major attraction along Maui’s east side and boasts some of the island’s most inspiring scenery. The windy road to Hana carves around mountains with dramatic cliffs that drop into the ocean and lush rainforests alive with vibrancy. Here you will also find black sand beaches, Haleakala National Park, and cascading waterfalls, all sights to be had while visiting Maui. You can also check out the popular east side attraction of Ohe’o Gulch, or Seven Sacred Pools, the series of waterfalls and natural pools within the National Park.
The towns of Haiku, Kula, and Upcountry are located in the northern territories with rustic sights of Maui’s produce farms and botanical gardens. Without many hotels or resorts, these areas act more as sightseeing and point-of-interest locations than actual vacation destinations. But with interesting and unique places like Holy Ghost Catholic Church, Enchanting Floral Gardens of Kula, pineapple canneries of Haiku, cemeteries, small restaurants, and rolling fertile hillsides with misty mountains, these high elevation areas still provide amazing scenery and unforgettable experiences.
Hawaii (Big Island)
This island originally named Hawai’i is the largest and youngest of all islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Referred to now as the Big Island to avoid confusion with the state’s name, this is home to Hawai’i’s only active volcano. With incredibly diverse landscapes from molten lava rivers to snow-capped mountains to beautiful rainforests and black sand beaches, this island is a place of wonder and excitement.
On the sunny west side of the Big Island you will find Kona, a bustling place of activity home to historic villages, shops, dining, nightlife, and beaches. The beaches here are sheltered and calm, creating perfect places for tranquil swimming and snorkeling. Dolphin and honu (turtle) sightings are common while snorkeling, but if you would like to experience more of Hawaii’s marine life, scuba diving is renown here as well. Along the Kona coast you will discover the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park that highlights Hawaiian fishponds, native wildlife, and sacred temples. You will also find the famous Kona Coffee Plantations here, so have fun on a guided tour or explore on your own.
Hilo and Puna is where you will find tropical rainforests, flowing falls, and blooming gardens. The east side of Big Island acted as the farming and fishing community during earlier times, which sheds light on its present day fertile landscaping. Now home to museums, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and the Hilo Farmer’s Market, this side remains energetic with activity. Come visit the Wailuku River State Park, home to the 80-foot Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots pools. The Liliuokalani Gardens boast 30 acres of beautifully landscaped Japanese gardens with koi fish ponds, pagodas, and rock structures. The town of Puna houses Hawaii’s oldest theatre, the Akebono, which is still open to the public with a full bar, dance floor, and performance stage. You’ll also find a variety of resorts and hotels with amenities and spas, so come relax in Hilo and surround yourself in tropical beauty and Hawaiian entertainment.
The southern tip of Big Island is know as Ka Lae, but the south side is named Kau, a vast, rural, and remote part of the island. With a small town feel and pace, Kau is home to Kilauea and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This area offers hikes, one of Hawaii’s most well-known black sand beaches (Punaluu), macadamia nut orchards, coffee farmlands, and cattle pastures. The south tip is also the place of beginnings, where the ancient Polynesians are known to have first set foot, thus naming the island Hawai’i. You can find a quaint bed and breakfast to stay in or choose a hotel, but wherever you stay, this side will offer solitude, respite, and tranquility.
North Kohala and Waimea are locations on the north side of Big Island, with green pastoral landscapes home to paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys), ranches, and scenic drives. Here you will also find the charming town of Hawi with unique boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. There is also rich historical value to this side, including King Kamehameha’s birthplace and the Puukohola Heiau National Historical Site, one of the largest and last remaining Hawaiian burial sites. Enjoy activities such as horseback riding through lush fields, ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) explorations, snorkeling, swimming and much more. A place of natural splendor and dramatic coastlines, the north shore will inspire and entrance you.