Oahu vs. Maui

A Comparison of Oahu and Maui

No doubt, Hawaii is one of the most desirable vacation destinations on earth. It offers everything you could ever want in a vacation from breathtaking views to luxurious accommodations and a foodie’s heaven to activity central. The piercing blue waters, sandy beaches, and ideal temperatures all work together to call weary vacationers to Hawaii’s shores. But how do you ever decide which island is right for you?

Having to choose just one doesn’t seem fair, but it will certainly help you when booking your dream vacation. Here we compare the lovely islands of Oahu and Maui based on the adventures and activities, beaches, food, drink, and nightlife, and diversity of each island to help you make this difficult choice.

Victoria Derrick
Published by: Victoria C. Derrick
Publisher / President

Oahu and Maui Overview

First, you’ll want to get a glimpse of what each destination offers. The islands are set about 65 miles apart, with Molokai in between them. If you wanted to island hop, you’d be looking at a plane ride of about 40 minutes. While both are known for their crazy beautiful beaches, they each have their distinct features.

Diamond Head

Diamond Head

Overview of Oahu

Honolulu is the major city on Oahu where you’ll find a vibrant area offering everything a vacationer could possibly want. Its unique ability to provide tourists with the best of both worlds, allows you to enjoy the hotspots of city life with the stunning views and activities of the great outdoors. So, what are the most important secrets to enjoying the best Oahu has to offer?

  • While most tourists are attracted to the hotels and conveniences of the Waikiki area of Honolulu, you might find a more authentic vacation experience on the windward side of the island. Here you’ll discover majestic mountains and less crowded local beaches. It is home to smaller communities where you can enjoy a true view of island culture.
  • If you are visiting Oahu in the winter, you can’t miss the big waves on the North Shore.
  • A sunrise hike at the Lanikai Pillbox will instill a memory that’s hard to outdo.
  • End at least one day with a sunset sail in Waikiki.

Now that you have an idea of what to expect in Oahu, we can take a look at Maui.

Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden.

Overview of Maui

Maui encompasses everything tourists expect when they imagine a vacation in Hawaii. Its stunning beaches, imposing volcanoes, and swaying palm trees offer the quintessential picture of Hawaiian life. However, Maui also offers the opportunity to explore local agriculture. If you’re trying to escape city life, Maui doesn’t have one to speak of, so that’s a bonus. Because of this, Maui has a low-key, laid back vibe ideal if you’re looking to chill. But you won’t ever be bored, with all the attractions Maui offers.

  • Maui is known for its beach experience where you’ll find medium-sized beach towns filled with personality and life.
  • If you’re looking for a trip to enjoy a diverse, beautiful landscape and biodiversity, Maui is the spot for you. Volcanoes, whale watching, and the remote, untouched beauty of areas such as Hana, you’ll experience nature and all its powers.
  • You can get a glimpse into a simpler up-country life visiting the small farms on the hillside of Haleakala. Farm tours in Kula offer a diverse set of experiences including coffee, lavender, pineapple, and protea. You can also visit a local distillery and sample wines at the winery. When visiting these areas, you’ll also take in memory provoking views while experiencing Hawaiian life from a different perspective.
  • There are plenty of must-see excursions including beaches, the summit of Haleakala, and if you visit during whale season, a boat ride to the Auau Channel.

If nature, getting to know the island and its culture, and taking in all the unique beauty Hawaii has to offer is on your agenda, then Maui is the ideal vacation destination for you.

Oahu Adventures and Activities

While there is no shortage of adventures and activities on Oahu, some of the top experiences would include:

  1. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. The peaceful calm waters of this state-run area provide a haven where people of all ages will enjoy snorkeling in the shallow waters to explore the corral and sea life.
  2. Hiking at Diamond Head. Diamond Head is perhaps one of the most recognized sites of the Waikiki skyline. The massive crater provides a panoramic view of Honolulu accessed via paved trails. You can also learn how it helped form the Hawaiian Islands.
  3. Remember, World War II at Pearl Harbor. History buffs and tourists alike flock to this popular attraction to view the Arizona Memorial, the U.S.S. Bowfin, and the U.S.S. Missouri.
  4. Learn More About Hawaiian History at the Bishop Museum. The Bishop Museum provides insight into Hawaiian history and Pacific wayfaring.
  5. Discover Hawaii’s Royal Roots at Iolani Palace. Many people don’t know Hawaii was once a sovereign nation, and you can visit the Iolani Palace where the royal family once lived.
  6. Explore Hawaiian Culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center. The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), is ideal for families with a series of villages representing different island nations. The theme park concept provides a unique educational, interactive experience with games, exhibits, performances, movies, and boat rides.

Maui Adventures and Activities

If you are all about exploring and taking in all mother nature has to offer, Maui has no shortage of adventures to experience:

  1. The Road to Hana. Experience the unsurpassed beauty of the island with this 50-mile drive through some of the most scenic landscapes found in Hawaii. Starting at the North Shore you’ll wend your way along the Hana Highway with an estimated 600 curves and 60 bridges leading to Hana. Watch for ocean views and cascading waterfalls, hop out and take a short hike, or buy some local produce at the many small farm stands along the way.
  2. Hiking in The Haleakala Crater. This once in a lifetime opportunity allows you to get an intimate view of Maui’s largest volcano, Haleakala. This major Hawaiian attraction is located at Haleakala National Park, where you can choose from several hiking trails to explore the impressive terrain. You can hike or take smaller walks along the Pa Ka’oao Trail or the Leleiwi Overlook. There are trails to suit everyone’s physical ability including more advanced hikes along the Sliding Sands Trail.
  3. Snorkel and Kayak at Kaanapali Beach. Take in some of the most majestic views of Molokai and Lanai from Kaanapali Beach. You won’t want to leave your spot, where the sand, beach, and peaceful area resorts provide the ultimate Hawaiian beach experience. With three miles of sand and waterfront, you can rent snorkel gear or a kayak, or take your pick of dining, strolling the paths, or shopping to indulge in everything this area of Maui offers.
  1. Walk the Paths at Iao Valley. This West Maui Mountain location is known for its 1,200-foot Iao Needle rock formation. Here you can walk the paths of the lush, green valley, and view the colorful gardens and river. Signposts mark important locations of the island’s history where King Kamehameha conquered the island of Maui.
  2. Whale Watching. From November to March, tourists get to see the spectacular gathering of 10,000 humpback whales. A boat ride to the Auau Channel has the perfect shallow waters for a nesting ground for the mighty creatures. You can also get views from shore at Lahaina, Kihei, Kaanapali, and Wailea.
  3. Snorkeling. Snorkeling tours take you to your pick of snorkeling destinations. During winter months, you can also enjoy whale-watching form many locations on tour.
  4. Boat Tours. Enjoy a boat tour off Maui’s west coast and enjoy the view of Maui from an ocean perspective. You’ll also get a better look at nearby islands including Molokini, Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe.

Oahu Beaches

Oahu is known for its beaches including the popular surfers’ spot, Sandy’s Beach. The North Shore is surfer heaven, thanks to its huge swells making it a world-renowned hub for the surfing crowd. The windward side of the island has its fair share of sand including Kailua Beach. And let’s not forget Nanakuli and Yokohama on the leeward side.

Maui Beaches

The beaches of Maui are quite diverse from no-nonsense beaches like Mai Poina to the exclusive beaches of the luxury resorts of Wailea. Kaanapali is a major resort area thanks to its seemingly endless string of white-sand beaches. What really sets Maui beaches apart from the beaches of Oahu is the red sand in Koki Beach Park and black sand at Waiʻānapanapa State Park.

Oahu Food, Drink and Nightlife

Maui has no choice but to bow to the excitement of Honolulu’s metropolitan flair. Here you’ll find world-class food, drink, and entertainment options for a vibrant nightlife hard to beat. But there’s more than Honolulu to Oahu’s food, drink, and nightlife pluses. Some of the small beach communities can hold their own including Kailua, Waianae, and Haleiwa. From live music at local hot spots to sampling beer at local brewpubs and dining on the highly diverse cuisines of the island’s restaurants your thirst is quenched, your tummy is full and your need for excitement is satisfied.

Maui Food, Drink and Nightlife

Although Oahu outdoes Maui when it comes to the excitement that urban life has to offer, Maui has developed a unique “downtown” feel in colorful Lahaina. This area has its own fair share of hot spots where you can wine, dine, and take in some entertainment. Here you’ll find celebrity-owned restaurants, a popular brew pop and an endless list of restaurants with plenty of local panache. While the nightlife is not quite up to par with the sophistication of Honolulu, you can also find some high-class entertainment at the luxury resort area of Wailea.

Byodo-In Temple

The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park.

What makes Oahu Unique?

If you’re looking for nightlife, entertainment, and world-class culinary options, Oahu is your island. It also tends to be more exciting with a wider variety of things to do from rad surf breaks, to unparalleled hiking trails and visiting the inviting beach towns to a diverse selection of activities not found on Maui.

Pipiwai Trail Bamboo

The Pipiwai Trail.

What makes Maui Unique?

If you’re planning a laid-back vacation where nature and all its attractions are front and center, Maui is the spot for you. Unpopulated areas like Haleakala take up large expanses of the landscape with unimaginable beauty ranging from magnificent volcanoes to unique red or black sandy beaches. Here you’ll be close to every adventure the outdoors offers from hiking and biking to camping and from whale watching to stargazing the endless expanse of sky.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for a fun-filled vacation close to a major city and an assortment of beach town quirkiness, Oahu is the destination for you. Here world-class cuisine and entertainment are perfectly balanced with the natural beauty you expect to find in Hawaii. On the other hand, if the beauty of nature and activities in the great outdoors is a must, Maui is calling your name.

Terms of Use & Disclosures

This website's use is your expressly conditioned acceptance of the terms, conditions, and disclaimers found within our Disclaimer of Warranty and Limitation of Liability page without any modifications. Your use of this website constitutes your acceptance of all the terms, conditions, and disclaimers posted herein. If you do not agree with any part of these terms and conditions, you should not use this website. We also receive a small commission from travel partners for some of the links found on this website. All partners and related links comply with our Advertising Disclosures. For example, as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. These links do not cost you anything and help provide the necessary funding to maintain this website. Mahalo!