Oahu vs. Big Island

The Wonders of Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii

Are you looking to visit the Hawaiian islands? Our guide can help you manifest your ideal vacation.

Do you want to spend time on the beach, snorkeling in the ocean, or hiking around Hawaii's few national parks? What about where to stay? From budget-friendly hotels to resorts to unique villas and bed-and-breakfast inns, Hawaii offers something for every type of traveler. Yet, manifesting your dream vacation depends on choosing the right island. We provide a comparison of popular destinations like Oahu and the Big Island. We've analyzed the beaches, food, drink, nightlife, and diversity to help you decide which island suits your needs.

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Hawaiian Destinations: The Best of the Big Island and Oahu

No doubt, both islands offer idyllic locations for a Pacific island getaway. Additionally, distinct features shape each of these islands’ opportunities for adventures. Here’s an overview of what each island has to offer:


Oahu features some of the most beautiful beaches, impressive waterfalls, and lush rainforests. We recommend starting your visit in Honolulu, home to the famous Waikiki area and all it offers. This vibrant area provides the perfect balance of city excitement and natural beauty. Also, the island's diverse culture draws many people. The following also makes Oahu a remarkable place:

  • Taking the off-beaten path: Ready to live like the locals? Head to the island's windward side and discover the unbeaten ways—stately mountains and uncrowded beaches reign this side. Yet, the authenticity of these smaller communities will take center stage in your adventure.
  • Wave heaven: Capitalize on Oahu's big waves, especially during the winter. Head to the North Shore to ride these killer waves.
  • Lanikai Pillbox: Most people love to start their day with a stunning sunrise. Follow the short trail to Lanikai Pillbox for incredible sunrises.
  • Romantic sunsets: Consider a sunset sail or stroll to end your days in Waikiki. You can watch as the sun sets over the ocean and enjoy a romantic meal with your special someone!

Oahu gives Big Island a run for its money, but don't make your decision just yet!

Waipio Beach on Big Island

Waipio Beach

Big Island

No destination offers a unique experience other than the Big Island with its varied climate zones. From Mauna Kea's snowy peak to the warm breezes of a sandy beach, you'll never get bored trying something new. Additionally, the beaches here exemplify diversity. Choose from beaches with white, black, and green sand. So explore this island paradise's natural wonders, adventures, and beaches! Use our list to help your planning:

  • Exploring the coast: As the most significant island in Hawaii, we recommend renting a car to savor its vast terrain. Start from the western coastal areas near Kona and proceed to sites near Hilo on the eastern side.
  • Nighttime water adventures:  The night provides a glimpse of the rare and elusive Manta Ray. Swim, dive, or snorkel to find them in their favorite haunts.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: This unique place allows visitors to explore volcanoes, caves, and other natural wonders.
  • Mauna Kea: As the highest mountain in Hawaii, this inactive volcano stands at 14,000 feet above sea level. This hike will leave you breathless with its spectacular views! The landmark stood as a cultural symbol for ancient Hawaiian tribes.

If you’re looking for a unique experience where exploring the diverse aspects of Hawaii’s natural features is a must, then Big Island is your ideal destination.

Dive into Oahu's Adventures and Activities

Some of the top experiences worth seeing on Oahu include:

  1. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay: This nature preserve offers peaceful, calm waters for snorkeling for all ages. Shallow waters make it easy to explore the coral and sea life.
  2. Hiking at Diamond Head: Diamond Head dominates WaikikWaikiki'sne. Paved hiking trails make it easy to navigate the massive crater. While admiring the panoramic view of Honolulu, consider reading the signposts explaining Diamond Head.
  3. Remember World War II at Pearl Harbor:  History buffs and tourists will enjoy paying honor to the Arizona Memorial and the U.S.S. Missouri.
  4. Bishop Museum: Learn more about Hawaiian history and Pacific wayfaring at the Bishop Museum.
  5. Iolani Palace:  Once a sovereign nation, Hawaii's family once lived there, which happens to be the only royal palace in America.
  6. Polynesian Cultural Center: Explore Hawaiian culture at The Polynesian Cultural Center (P.C.C.). Children love this family-friendly spot for entertaining, primarily because of the amusement park. Visitors make their way through a series of villages representing different island nations. The varied villages entail interactive experiences like games, exhibits, performances, movies, and boat rides.

Dive into Big Island Adventures and Activities

Whirl through a mix of adrenaline-pumping activities in Big Island to keep your inner adventurer happy. Some of your top activities should include:

  1. Whale Watching in Kona:  If you want to experience the most spectacular sight on earth, plan your winter trip to the Big Island. Don't miss the chance to see whales in the wild as you sail the Kona waters.
  2. Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park: This national park delivers a rich and diverse cultural experience. Discover the ancient Hawaiian relics here. Plus, explore Two-Step,  the best snorkeling spot on the island.
  3. Excellent Snorkeling at Two-Step: Discover the underwater world at Two-Step. Swim with an impressive variety of fish and coral.
  4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:  This national park consists of many hiking paths. Spend hours on ranger-led hikes, and find the best views of the lava flowing into the ocean. Or hike the Kilauea Iki trail and see the effects of volcanic activity on the island over millions of years. You'll descend into the caldera from the Volcano rainforest to see what life was like on this island before humans came.
  5. MacKenzie State Park: We suggest grabbing your camera and walking through the beautiful landscape. It is the perfect spot to shoot your next social media-worthy image.
  • Hilo:  The downtown area of Hilo offers an excellent day of exploring shops, galleries, and boutiques. Sample the local food or purchase local arts and crafts at the Farmer's Markets held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You can also find the Tsunami Museum.
  • Mauna Kea: For the best stargazing, spend some nights there.
  • Kapoho Kalapana Road: Drive through Puna for breathtaking coastal scenes on the island. You can also enjoy a drive along the Hamakua Coast.
  • Historic Town of Honoka: Go to the heart of this town, the Waipi'o Valley. It's a great place to enjoy a leisurely lunch while browsing the stores and art galleries and taking in some culture.
  • Rainbow Falls: The cascading water of these mighty falls is quite accessible. Thus, everyone can take in their beauty.

Oahu Beaches

For a vacation in paradise, surfing in Hawaii is the way! If you're staying on Oahu, check out Sandy's Beach, famous for its swells. But if you're looking for more of a challenge, head to the North Shore. When seeking sand and pristine blue waters, Kailua Beach, Nanakuli, and Yokohama have a lot to offer.

Big Island Beaches

Every Hawaiian island has its fair share of beaches. Yet, Big Island offers rare green sand beaches and the chance to visit a black sand beach in its infancy. The island’s shores span for miles with an assortment of colored sand.

Guide to Oahu Food, Drink, and Nightlife

Many places like Big Island can't compete with the excitement of Honolulu's metropolitan offerings. World-class food, drink, and entertainment pulsate Honolou's nightlife until the wee hours of the morning.

Nonetheless, we relish the unique nightlife the small beach communities offer on Oahu. Visit Oahu to enjoy live music, beer sampling at local craft breweries, and even cocktails in a nightclub! We hope you enjoy the island's wide variety of food and drinks that will satisfy your taste buds and your wallet.

Every Taste of The Big Island: Food, Drink, and Nightlife:

Despite a limited selection of options, you can still find thriving nightlife in Kona. Many find Kona’s nightlife far less intimidating than the one in Honolulu, and people looking for a more laid-back experience will appreciate the vibe in Kona. Hilo is not just a beautiful spot on the map; it offers diverse dining options.

Haleiwa Beach on Oahu

Haleiwa Beach on the North Shore

The Unique Features of Oahu

Oahu has stunning beaches, luxurious resorts, and many activities to enjoy. The island's cosmopolitan and diverse culture will enchant anyone seeking a new experience. Oahu's primary city, Honolulu, offers everything from shopping to relaxing spas to world-class cuisine. Oahu's activities will enthrall you, whether surfing, hiking, snorkeling, or visiting the inviting beach towns.

Akaka Falls on The Big Island of Hawaii

Akaka Falls

Big Island's Unique Strengths

The Big Island is the place for vacationers wanting a more diverse Hawaiian experience. The size of the island allows you to experience far more than other destinations. Everything here comes with choices:

  • Assortment of sand colors
  • Varying climate
  • The stunning views
  • Local cultural experiences
  • Historic spots
  • Mesmerizing terrains
  • Several quirky towns

Big Island is the ultimate Hawaiian experience, with cascading waterfalls and brilliant lava flows to ranch lands and exciting communities. Book your trip today to get in on the action!

If you want to experience the vibrancy of a world-class city intertwined with nature's beauty, choose Oahu. It offers a wide variety of things to do for everyone, from shopping to golfing and surfing. However, if you want a wider variety of authentic Hawaiian experiences, Big Island has the width and breadth to make your vacation more memorable.

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