Hawaiian Islands

Which Hawaii Island to Visit?

Which Island to Choose in Hawaii...

Like many visitors to Hawaii, you're probably wondering which Hawaii island to visit and thinking about which one would be best for you and your travel party. Unlike many destinations, Hawaii is not really one destination - but six unique, eclectic, and diverse island destinations that all happen to be within the same state. The six main islands, four of which we cover in detail on this site, are, from west to east, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii.

The islands are very diverse, and each one has its own unique offerings, making choosing an island rather difficult, especially for first-time visitors. And once you've started visiting the islands, coming back to a different island can often feel like a totally different place with a whole new set of experiences, sights, and attractions. Additionally, one of the most common misconceptions about Hawaii is that it's all like Waikiki (on Oahu), Lahaina/Ka'anapali (on Maui), or Kailua-Kona (on the Big Island) - that is, developed and tourist-oriented. The reality could not be further from the truth, as there are plenty of non-developed parts of the island chain, including large ranches, farms, miles of wild coastline and untamed landscapes, and an abundance of verdant valleys bursting with waterfalls.

Having been to all the major islands, we admit we have our own personal favorite. However, please know that each island truly is spectacular, and one is most certainly not "better" than another. That said, here we'll objectively tell you about the major islands in the Hawaiian chain so you can pick the island that's just right for you. And, like us, we’re sure you’ll soon have a favorite. Take the handy 'Which Island to visit Quiz' below and read our companion article, Selecting the Best Hawaiian Island, to find the best Hawaiian island for you. To get started, let's first review each major island and its highlights.

Overview of Each Major Island

Kauai - The Garden Isle

The oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian Island chain is graced with dramatic, natural beauty. Explore Kokee State Park's trails, see Waimea Canyon- the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific"- or take time to relax in one of the many beautiful gardens of the aptly named 'Garden Isle,' such as Limahuli Garden.

In our opinion, Kauai represents the most iconic view of Hawaii - lush surroundings, verdant valley, an abundance of waterfalls and rainbows. This island is probably the most "rural" of the main Hawaiian Islands. It offers the perfect getaway for romantic trips, anyone seeking relaxation away from the hustle/bustle of everyday life, or those looking to explore the backcountry trails, of which Kauai has plenty (some of the best hikes in the state can found on Kauai). Check out our Kauai Regions guide to learn more about the different parts of Kauai.

There is one main airport that services Kauai, in Lihue. There are also plenty of great places to stay on Kauai, including the North & Eastern Coasts and more recent property developments along the southern shore. Be sure to read our article on Where to Stay on Kauai to help you select the perfect location.

Kauai - The Garden Isle
Kauai Highlights:

Kauai's Incredible NaPali Coastline

Oahu - The Gathering Place

Home to the Hawaii state capitol of Honolulu and the majority of Hawaii's population, Oahu is a vibrant mix of natural and cultural wonders with the entertainment and amenities of the 21st century. Check out the waves on the famous North Shore, relive American history at the memorials and museums of Pearl Harbor, or soak up the sun and take a surfing lesson on Waikiki Beach.

Oahu is truly a hot-spot for Hawaii activities, tours, shopping, surfing, nightlife, and dining. The island is the most developed of the major islands, and it'll feel like it - it's busy here, and unlike some areas of Hawaii, there's more hustle and bustle around the clock. But don't worry, there's plenty of natural Oahu to visit, too, including some amazing trails, incredible overlooks, and plenty of stunning coastal views to go around. Check out our Oahu Regions guide to learn more about the different parts of Oahu.

There is primarily one main airport that services Oahu, and it's located in Honolulu. Most of Oahu's accommodations are located in Waikiki, but there are other lodging gems scattered around the island. Be sure to check out our Where to Stay on Oahu article for more information.

Oahu - The Gathering Place
Oahu Highlights:
  • Waikiki Beach - Iconic gathering place for visitors from around the world.
  • Pearl Harbor - Explore the historic sites recounting the Pearl Harbor attack.
  • Hanauma Bay & Nature Preserve - One of Hawaii's premier snorkeling sites.
  • Nuuanu Pali Lookout - Historic spot with fantastic mountain views.
  • North Shore - Legendary birthplace of big wave surfing.
Pali Overlook on Oahu

Pali Overlook on Oahu

Maui - The Valley Isle

The second-largest island is home to what some believe are the best beaches in the world. If you visit during the winter months, book a tour to see the majestic whales, as Maui has some of the world’s best whale watching. Wake up early to catch the sunrise at Haleakala, stroll through historic Lahaina town, or drive the majestic Road to Hana for spectacular scenery.

There's a reason many repeat visitors to Hawaii joyfully say, "Maui no ka oi" - which translates to "Maui is the best." Maui offers a little bit of everything in Hawaii, providing the best mix of nature and developed areas (towns), good snorkeling, great hiking trails, a volcano you can hike into, and so much more. Honestly, Maui makes a great island to visit for first-time visitors, and it's probably why more people who take our quiz (below) are given the suggestion of Maui than any other island. Check out our Maui Regions guide to learn more about the different parts of Maui.

The main airport on Maui is in Kahului. Many of the best accommodations are on the West coastline (in Lahaina or Ka'anapali) or along the south shore (within Kihei and Wailea). Be sure to check out our Where to Stay on Maui article for more information.

Maui - The Valley Isle
Maui Highlights:
Waterfall along the famous Road to Hana

Waterfall along the famous Road to Hana

Big Island of Hawaii - The Orchid Isle

Larger than all of the other islands combined, the island of Hawaii, also known as Big Island, encompasses most of the world's climate zones - from white sand beaches to snow-capped mountains. See waterfalls, rainforests, and botanical gardens near Hilo; explore the historic PuuKohola Heiau, north of Kona; or view Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The sheer size of the Big Island of Hawaii also gives it a 'rural' feel, much like Kauai has, but so much larger! Plus, the island's diversity is truly astounding; there's nothing else quite like it; Hawaii Island is as eclectic as they come; from lush and verdant rainforests to barren black lava fields that stretch for miles. Check out our Big Island of Hawaii Regions guide to learn more about the different parts of Hawaii Island.

Two airports service the Big Island, one in Kailua-Kona (on the west side of the island) and the other in Hilo (on the east side). Most visitors will fly into Kona's airport, as most accommodations are located on the western side of the island. Don't forget to read our Where to Stay on the Big Island to get an overview of all the major accommodation locations on the island.

Big Island of Hawaii - The Orchid Isle
Big Island of Hawaii Highlights:
Lava Tube on Hawaii

Lava Tube on Hawaii's Big Island

Selecting the best Hawaiian Island for you

As noted, selecting the right island is no easy task for many visitors. It can be a confusing and even frustrating job, and that's probably the last thing anyone wants when planning a trip to Hawaii. That’s why we’ve created this handy quiz- to help determine which Hawaiian island is best for you.

Quiz Instructions

Simply read and answer the questions below- each of your answers will earn a set number of points which will be tallied at the end. Make sure to answer all of the questions to ensure an accurate score. 

Note that while there are six major islands you can visit in Hawaii, we've only detailed four of them here; as the overwhelming majority of visitors (around 98%) will never visit Molokai or Lanai. And we assure you that, at this point, you'll be much better off visiting one of the major four. 

Please answer ALL Questions with a "Yes", "No", or "Somewhat" response.

1.) Volcanoes

Coming to see how the islands were formed? While every island has reminders of how it was formed, it's certainly a lot harder to distinguish the volcanoes on some islands than others. If it's lava you want, then the Big Island is the ONLY option. But all of the four islands have volcanic remnants to be seen.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

2.) Love and Romance

Whether it's your honeymoon or just a romantic trip for you and your significant other, you couldn't have selected a much better choice than Hawaii. Hawaii is the destination of choice for many couples looking to get away for a romantic vacation, and for good reason. If romance is important to you, keep this on your list.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

3.) Hiking

There's no question about it. We chose Hawaii because of this very option; the islands are a mecca of trails. If you're like us, crazy about hiking to see the often unseen, then definitely consider this option. From gorgeous coastal trails, barren lava hikes, to lush jungle, you can do it all in Hawaii.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

4.) Beaches & Swimming

Some of the best beaches on earth can be found right here in Hawaii. If you consider yourself a beach-going person, then you're going to love Hawaii's choices. Take your pick of white, yellow, black, green, or even red sand.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

5.) Weather

This is a really important option for some folks. If you are absolutely set on having optimal weather, then add this to your list. Keep in mind that the windward side of each island will always have a chance of showers, but that in general, some islands are just drier than others. We're going to assume in this option you're staying in one of the accommodation hot-spots on each island.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

6.) Kayaking

If kayaking is your thing, then you'll certainly have plenty of opportunities to row and explore some of the world’s most beautiful waters in Hawaii.


Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

7.) Cultural Attractions

If the history of places you visit intrigues you, then this is a category to put on your list. Hawaii has an incredibly rich history that is unique in all the world. Luckily, much of this history has been preserved throughout the islands in various historical sites.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

8.) Tropical Flora & Fauna

If you're a big fan of tropical plants and birds, then make sure to put this item on your list. Hawaii offers some of the most diverse plant and animal life on the planet, and several species are endemic to the islands, meaning they ONLY exist here.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

9.) Fishing

Can't resist the urge to grab a fishing pole and see what you can catch? Whether its local shore fishing or deep sea fishing, if you’re looking to reel in the catch of a lifetime, be sure to add this subject to your score.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

10.) Geographic Diversity

Some islands in Hawaii make you feel as though you've been on a road trip around the entire continental United States. Others remain the same pretty much all the way around. If you are really interested in the diverse ecology of the islands and you'd like to see a lot of change when driving around, then this choice is for you.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

11.) Family-Friendly Activities

If you're a family with children, be sure to select this option. Some of the islands offer an incredible array of activities and sights for families, such as zoo's, aquariums, water parks, and more.

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12.) Golfing

Take your pick of many beautiful world-class golf courses throughout the islands. If you're into golf, then Hawaii is definitely a place to take a swing at a game you'll never forget.

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13.) Luxury Dining

You'll have a variety of dining options on any of the four major islands. However, some are much better equipped to give you an incredible experience than others (for a price), while some islands are better at serving up local produce than others, and that's reflected in our score as a positive thing. General dining is the next option, so skip this one if you're not looking for luxury dining.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

14.) General Dining

Whether it's a small restaurant or a fast food place, you'll be happy. If you're not as concerned about where the food is, only that it's good and you don't have to fix it, then this option is for you.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

15.) Parks & Recreation

Hawaii certainly has its fair share of beautiful state and federal parks- it's home to two National Parks- including Haleakala National Park on Maui and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. You'll also find several National Historic Sites on select islands.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

16.) Nightlife

If nightlife is important to you, then make sure you keep this option on your list. A lot of Hawaii shuts down after dark, but if you're just starting when most are heading to bed - add this topic to your score.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

17.) Seclusion & Privacy

If you're looking to escape, and get away from it all, then put this option on your list. Remoteness isn't always easy to come by in Hawaii, but it does exist - on some islands more than others.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

18.) High-class Shopping

Take your pick from some of the world's best shops. Hawaii offers the big city names in the places you might least expect them. If fine art and high-class merchandise are for you, then add these to your list. General shopping is the next option, so feel free to skip this if you're not a high-class kind of shopper.

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19.) Souvenir Shopping

If you're more budget oriented and are really looking for some great things to take home with you, then this is the choice for you. You don't have to break the bank to take home some incredible art, local crafts, or souvenirs.

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20.) Scuba or Snorkeling

If it's what's under the waves that piques your interest, then you've come to the right place. Hawaii has some incredible opportunities for anyone interested in these two activities.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

21.) Water Sports

Love to surf, body surf, or wind surf? Then come hang on the waves in Hawaii. During the winter months, you can't find a much more optimal location, especially if you’ve got some experience.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

22.) Whale Watching

If you simply have to see the whales during your vacation, then make sure this is on your list. The months of December through April typically offer the best opportunities of seeing Humpback whales. The whales can show up as early as October and depart as late as May, but optimal times are Dec-April.

Is this subject/topic of interest to you:

23.) Accommodation Preferences

Please select ONE option below for this question!

World Class Resorts - For folks looking to live the high life on their vacation, this is the choice for you. If you're not likely to leave the resort, want to relax on the beach most of your trip, play golf, enjoy a large pool, etc.- then consider this option. 

OR Hotels - The choice of the average traveler, hotels provide very nice accommodations for a much cheaper rate than the big resorts. While they certainly don't have the same services and amenities, they serve the purpose of giving you a great place to spend your vacation. Ideal for families. 

OR Condos - The choice of many budget-oriented travelers, condos are a good way to save some money during your stay in the islands. This is also a great option for anyone looking to not spend a lot of time actually in their room. Condos often include a kitchenette for fixing meals in your room if you so choose. Ideal for families. 

OR B&B (Bed and Breakfast) / Inns - The choice of those seeking seclusion and the 'warmth' of a home on their vacation. B&Bs and inns make a very nice choice for many couples who are on their honeymoon, or for individuals looking to have a local person to talk with on a regular basis. It's a much more intimate accommodation situation, but for many, they'd choose no other option. 

24.) Transportation Preferences

Please select ONE option below for this question!

Public Transit - For folks who prefer modes of public transportation like the bus, taxis, etc., this is the choice for you. We'll be honest, your choices are limited. 

OR SUV - Despite the fact you cannot legally drive off-road on ANY Hawaiian island (without renting from a company that expressly permits it), some folks still prefer an SUV on their trip. Some islands have roads more suited for these larger vehicles than others. 

OR Regular Car - The choice of most vacationers, a regular car is the best way to get from point A to point B. 

OR Other or Walking - Applicable only on the islands with larger cities. This choice is not encouraged. 

25.) Financial Mindset

Please select ONE option below for this question!

Money isn't a concern (splurge) - If you're looking for ultimate luxury and don't consider money an option, this is the choice for you. 

OR Save a little - Want to both spend a little and save a little? Then this is the choice for you. Optimal for most visitors looking to save when it comes to accommodations, food, vehicle rentals, and purchases - but still have good fun on activities. 

OR Budget travel - If you are looking to stick to the cheapest accommodations, don't want to rent a car, and want to save as much as possible, this is the option for you. 

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