Best Hawaii Island to Visit?

Which Hawaii Island Information & Quiz

Hawaiian Islands

Which is the Best Hawaii Island to Visit?

An overview of each island 

Picture this: you're sipping a mai tai, toes in the sand, watching the sun dip into the Pacific. Sounds like heaven, right? Well, that's just a typical evening in Hawaii. But with so many incredible islands to choose from, how do you decide which one to visit first?

We've been lucky enough to explore every corner of this tropical haven, and we're here to spill the beans on the best Hawaii island to visit. Whether you're a beach bum, an adventure junkie, or a culture vulture, there's an island that's perfect for you. So grab your sunscreen and let's dive in!

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.

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. If you skip a question, it will be scored as 'No.'

Waimoku Falls at end of Pipiwai Trail on Maui

Waimoku Falls at end of Pipiwai Trail on Maui

Hawaii Islands Introduction

Your perfect Hawaiian experience largely depends on what you seek. Whether it’s adventure, dining, relaxation, culture, or luxury, each island offers a distinct flavor for visitors to experience. Most of us have a favorite island, and below, we'll briefly introduce you to each island.

Oahu - The Gathering Place

Oahu is the most visited of all the Hawaiian islands, at nearly 4.7 million visitors annually.

Oahu is primarily defined by the state capital of Honolulu, as well as Pearl Harbor and the famous beach known as Waikiki. These areas attract tourists by the thousands daily.

Oahu boasts a fantastic climate, inexpensive accommodations, a large variety of shopping options, and world-renowned beaches - it's fair to say the island entices visitors from around the world. Some say this may be the one fault of the island, as many are discouraged by the large crowds of Oahu and thus dismiss the island, instead opting to visit one of the other less-visited islands in the chain.

But Oahu is much more than Honolulu or Waikiki - it may well be the most beautiful of all the major islands. You simply have to know where to go to experience the beauty that is Oahu. This island offers a perfect blend of city life and natural beauty. You can shop, dine, and enjoy nightlife in Honolulu, then take a short drive to stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and scenic hiking trails.

More on Oahu in-depth below...

Maui - The Valley Isle

Maui is the second most visited island with around 2.7 - 2.9 million visitors annually. Tourism greatly affects the nature of Maui and it boasts a very wide assortment of resorts, hotels, condos, and private rentals available across the island.

Maui is another great choice for first-timers. Known as the "Valley Isle," Maui has stunning beaches, world-class resorts, and a laid-back vibe. Some of the top attractions include the Road to Hana, a scenic drive with waterfalls and black sand beaches, and Haleakala National Park, where you can watch the sunrise above the clouds.

Often called, the "playground of the wealthy," Maui definitely caters to those looking for more expensive accommodations, sans the crowds of Oahu. But don't fret if top-notch accommodations aren't in your plans - Maui caters to all types, including the budget conscious. The island has a reputation for being a playground for all tourists, not just the super-rich.

More on Maui in-depth below...

Hawaii - The Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii is the third most popular choice by visitors, with over 1.6 million travelers annually. The vast majority of the Big Island's visitors stay in the Kailua-Kona area with its fantastic weather, abundant shopping, and the vast array of dining options. It also hosts a wide assortment of accommodations, from high-end resorts to condominiums.

The Big Island, officially named Hawaii Island, is the largest in the chain and offers incredible diversity. Here, you can visit active volcanoes, hike through lush rainforests, and stargaze atop snow-capped mountains. Highlights include Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can see lava flows and steam vents, and the observatories on Mauna Kea, one of the best places in the world for astronomy.

More on Big Island of Hawaii in-depth below...

Kauai - The Garden Island

Kauai is the fourth most-visited island, at 1.3 million visitors annually. The island is easily identified by its amazing scenery and relaxed persona. The island, arguably, we'll admit, also boasts more coastline filled with beaches than any other island in the chain. Kauai is full of sparsely-visited and secluded beaches all around the island; you'll surely find one that's just right for you.

Kauai, nicknamed the "Garden Isle," is a nature lover's paradise. With its lush landscapes, pristine beaches, and laid-back atmosphere, Kauai offers a true escape from the hustle and bustle. Must-see spots include Waimea Canyon, often called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," and the rugged Na Pali Coast, which you can explore by boat, helicopter, or on foot.

More on Kauai in-depth below...

TL;DR - The Best Island for first time visitors...

In our opinion, for most first-time Hawaii travelers, Oahu is often the best choice. Oahu offers a perfect blend of stunning natural beauty and vibrant urban experiences.

Visitors can explore the iconic Waikiki Beach, hike to the top of Diamond Head for breathtaking views, and immerse themselves in Hawaiian/U.S. history by visiting historic sites like Pearl Harbor. With a wide range of accommodations, dining options, and activities, Oahu provides a well-rounded introduction to the Hawaiian Islands.

You'll be in good company if you visit Oahu; check out the chart below to see how popular Oahu is compared to the outer islands. Oahu is, by far, the most popular choice for Hawaii visitors.

That said, there's still a lot more to consider, like which type of Hawaii traveler you are, before making a final choice. Let's dive into our comprehensive guide to find the island that resonates with your dream Hawaiian adventure!

Hawaii Visitation by Island (2023)

Hawaii Visitation by Island (2023)

Key Takeaway:

Choosing the best Hawaiian island for your first visit? Think about what you love. City vibes and famous beaches? Oahu's your spot. Crave stunning drives and sunrises above clouds? Maui calls. If active volcanoes and stargazing are up your alley, Big Island awaits. Love lush landscapes and quiet escapes? Kauai is perfect.

Kalalau Lookout on Kauai

Kalalau Lookout on Kauai

Hawaii Islands In-Depth

Oahu - The Gathering Place Image

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. Check out our Where to Stay on Oahu article for more information.

The eastern coast of Oahu is hemmed in by a gorgeous mountain range and boasts three of the islands best beaches. Surprisingly, you'll find no major accommodations here, jut a few vacation homes along the quaint towns that dot the coast. The eastern region offers many visitors an escape from the bustling Waikiki scene while still offering the proximity to the shopping and activities of the nearby city just a half-hour drive away.

The famous North Shore of Oahu is a surfer's paradise, especially in the winter months when the surf is up. Located about an hour from Honolulu, this region has a surprisingly unpopulated feel to it. Many miles of beaches stretch along this portion of Oahu, making it a popular haven for those looking to relax in the sun.

The western, northwestern, and central regions are where most of the island's residents live. For the most part, there isn't much here for the typical island visitors - just a few scattered beaches.

View from Diamond Head on Oahu

View from Diamond Head on Oahu

Hiking on Oahu

Hiking on Oahu

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 Image

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 one of the many historic towns, 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 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 Ka'anapali) or along the south shore (within Kihei and Wailea). Check out our Where to Stay on Maui article for more information.

Please also remember, portions of Maui experienced some devastating wildfires in August 2023; and Lahaina town remains closed.

The island of Maui features an abundance of beaches, especially along the west coast. Sun is abundant here, too, as the volcanoes in the center of the island block the majority of precipitation from ever reaching the leeward side of the island. While portions of Maui's west coast are often dry and barren, the eastern portions of the island are a lush green paradise boasting waterfalls in numerous valleys. Many visitors enjoy the Hana Highway (aka The Road to Hana) as it winds its way along the coast to the sleepy town of Hana in the bay.

The center of the island is where Maui earns its nickname, the "Valley Isle." The isthmus stretching from Haleakala to the West Maui Mountains is likely where you'll begin your journey- at the airport.

Garden of Eden along the Hana Highway on Maui

Garden of Eden along the Hana Highway on Maui

Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach on Maui

Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach on Maui

Maui Highlights:
Waterfall along the famous Road to Hana

Waterfall along the famous Road to Hana

Big Island of Hawaii - The Orchid Isle Image

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.

Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island

Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island

Green Sand Beach on the Big Island

Green Sand Beach on the Big Island

The ocean off the Kona coast is clear and great for both snorkeling and diving. To the north of Kona is the "Gold Coast" of Kohala. While drier and more barren than Kona, the region offers amazing beaches, great weather conditions, and several luxury accommodations to choose from.

On the other side of the island, you'll discover Hilo and the Puna region. These are good locations to stay if you're interested in exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This part of the island receives an abundance of rainfall that creates the lush green surroundings. Accommodations are harder to find, but a few hotels, small inns, and private rentals can be found, especially in the Volcano town area. The Volcano area, which is located at a crisp 4,000 ft. (1,219 m) above sea level, is dotted with a wide assortment of homes, bed and breakfasts, and small cottages for renting. This area is also a great place to stay if you're primarily interested in exploring the HVNP.

And speaking of the park, most visitors would be wise to forget anything they've seen or heard about the volcano long before they visit the island. The erupting volcano photos, the videos, and all the hype about lava everywhere are just that... hype; at least at present. The media and the park create unrealistic expectations as they try to draw in the public. Most visitors will be surprised that Kilauea is nothing more than a smoking caldera with no visible lava. The only way to get up close and personal with the volcano is to take a helicopter tour that will take you over the current eruption location. Occasionally, visitors may also be lucky enough to catch a surface pahoehoe lava flow near the end of the road; but all of these things can change in an instant. Most of the lava/magma is flowing directly underground to the ocean. Those who have an appreciation for geography or geology will love the park, though.

Despite the fact that Kilauea is the most active volcano on the planet, the volcanoes of Hawaii are nothing like their cousins on the mainland West Coast (Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Rainier). They are not explosive, pose little threat to visitors on the island, and their lava flow moves at a turtle-like speed that you could outwalk if necessary- no running required. To fully appreciate and explore the park you'll want to give yourself at least one full day, preferably two, if possible. There are many great hikes within the park and several stops which offer informative displays about the history of the region. Also, be wary of VOG (a volcanic smog) when visiting the park.

Big Island of Hawaii Highlights:
Lava Tube on Hawaii's Big Island

Lava Tube on Hawaii's Big Island

Kauai - The Garden Isle Image

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 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 be 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. Read our article on Where to Stay on Kauai to help you select the perfect location.

Kauai's North Shore features some dramatic and beautiful mountain scenery along with a variety of hidden beaches. The area also has an incredible selection of shopping and dining options. While the winter months will mean more rain for the northern part of the island, it's still one of the most popular places on the island. Hanalei Bay is a popular location for water activities and boasts some of the best beaches in all of Hawaii along her crescent shores.

Kauai's South Shore is popular due to its abundance of sunny weather, even during the wet winter months. Poipu and Lawai offer a wide variety of accommodations, fine dining, and shopping. On the East Coast- also known as the Coconut Coast- Kapaa offers a nice selection of affordable rentals and more shopping than most other areas. While Kauai has a small town feel to it, many larger store brands can still be found on the island - Costco, Target, and Wal-Mart all are present here.

Kauai's West Coast is more barren and dry than the rest of the island, and accommodations are fewer and more far between here. However, one of the main attractions on the island is present here- the Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain dubbed it the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." At ten miles long, it's an amazing sight to behold on an island the size of Kauai. The true splendor of the region, and the neighboring Kokee State Park, can only truly be appreciated by taking one of the many trails that crisscross the parks.

Tunnels Beach on Kauai

Tunnels Beach on Kauai

Waialeale Waterfalls in Central Kauai

Waialeale Waterfalls in Central Kauai

Kauai Highlights:
Kauai's Incredible NaPali Coastline

Kauai's Incredible NaPali Coastline

Hawaii Visitors by Island (2023 vs 2022)

Hawaii Visitors by Island (2023 vs 2022)

Take our Which Island to Visit Quiz

Discover the best island(s) for your travel party by scoring your personal interests. Our quiz will generate a private & personalized page, customized just for you.

Enjoying Hawaiian Culture and Cuisine

No trip to Hawaii is complete without immersing yourself in the rich culture and delicious cuisine of the islands. From ancient traditions to modern twists on classic dishes, there's so much to discover.

Learn about Ancient Hawaiian Traditions

One of the best ways to connect with Hawaiian culture is to learn about its ancient traditions. Many resorts and cultural centers offer classes and demonstrations in things like lei making, hula dancing, and storytelling. I once took a lei making class at a local cultural center, and it was such a fun and informative experience. As we wove the delicate flowers together, our instructor shared stories and legends associated with each bloom. It gave me a whole new appreciation for these beautiful garlands and their significance in Hawaiian culture.

Taste Authentic Hawaiian Food

Hawaiian cuisine is a delicious fusion of flavors from around the world, reflecting the islands' diverse cultural heritage. From classic dishes like kalua pork and poke to local favorites like plate lunches and shave ice, there's no shortage of tasty treats to try. One of my favorite food experiences in Hawaii was attending a traditional luau. The spread of food was incredible - succulent kalua pork, fresh poke, lomi lomi salmon, and so much more. And the entertainment, with hula dancers and fire twirlers, made for an unforgettable evening.

Experience the Unique Culture of Each Island

While all of the Hawaiian islands share a common cultural heritage, each one has its own unique flavor and traditions. From the bustling streets of Honolulu to the laid-back vibes of Kauai, there's so much diversity to experience. I love how each island has its own distinct personality. On Oahu, you can immerse yourself in the history and culture of the islands at places like Iolani Palace and the Bishop Museum. On Maui, you can explore the charming towns and learn about the island's history. And on the Big Island, you can witness the power of creation at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and learn about the ancient Hawaiian goddess Pele.

Planning Your Perfect Hawaiian Getaway

With so much to see and do in Hawaii, planning the perfect trip can seem daunting. But with a little research and some insider tips, you'll be well on your way to the vacation of a lifetime.

Kilauea Eruption inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Kilauea Eruption inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Best Time to Visit Hawaii

One of the most common questions I get asked is, "When is the best time to visit Hawaii?" The truth is, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your preferences and priorities. If you're looking to avoid crowds and score some deals on accommodations, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of April-May or September-October. The weather is still pleasant, but the peak summer and winter crowds have thinned out. That being said, there's really no bad time to visit Hawaii. The islands enjoy warm, sunny weather year-round, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s. Just be prepared for the occasional rain shower, especially if you're visiting during the wetter winter months.

Choosing the Right Island for Your Interests

With six main Hawaiian islands to choose from, it can be tough to decide which one is right for you. Here's a quick breakdown: - Oahu: Best for first-timers, history buffs, and those seeking a mix of city and beach life - Maui: Best for beach lovers, snorkelers, and those seeking a laid-back vibe - Kauai: Best for hikers, nature enthusiasts, and those seeking a more remote, untouched experience - Big Island: Best for adventure seekers, stargazers, and those interested in geology and volcanoes - Lanai: Best for luxury seekers and those looking for a secluded, upscale experience - Molokai: Best for those seeking a glimpse of old Hawaii and a slower pace of life Of course, you can't go wrong with any of the islands. Each one offers its own unique charms and attractions.

Getting Around the Islands

Once you've decided which island(s) to visit, you'll need to figure out how to get around. Renting a car is the most popular option, as it gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace. If you're planning to stick to one island, you can easily get by with a rental car. But if you're island hopping, you'll need to factor in the cost and logistics of inter-island flights. Another option is to book guided tours or use public transportation, like buses or shuttles, when available (mostly on Oahu). This can be a good choice if you're not comfortable driving or if you want to sit back and let someone else handle the navigation.

Accommodations and Budgeting

Hawaii offers a wide range of accommodations to suit every taste and budget, from luxury resorts to budget-friendly vacation rentals. When deciding where to stay, consider your priorities and what kind of experience you're looking for. If you're dreaming of a posh resort with all the bells and whistles, expect to pay a premium. But if you're willing to forgo some amenities and stay in a more modest hotel or rental, you can save a significant amount of money. Another way to stretch your budget is to book accommodations with a kitchenette or full kitchen. This allows you to save money on dining out by preparing some meals yourself. Plus, there's nothing quite like enjoying a home-cooked breakfast on your own private lanai (balcony). As for budgeting, it's no secret that Hawaii can be an expensive destination. But with some careful planning and savvy choices, you can make your dream trip a reality without breaking the bank.

Some tips:

  • Travel during the shoulder season for lower rates on flights and accommodations
  • Look for package deals that bundle flights, hotels, and car rentals
  • Take advantage of free activities like hiking, snorkeling, and beach hopping
  • Eat like a local at food trucks, farmers markets, and hole-in-the-wall joints
  • Use credit card points or airline miles to offset the cost of flights or hotels

At the end of the day, the memories you'll make in Hawaii are priceless. So don't let the cost deter you from experiencing all that these magical islands have to offer.

Take our Which Island to Visit Quiz

Discover the best island(s) for your travel party by scoring your personal interests. Our quiz will generate a private & personalized page, customized just for you.

Makalawena Beach on the Big Island's West Coast

Makalawena Beach on the Big Island's West Coast

Relaxing on Oahu

Relaxing on Oahu

FAQs in Relation to Best Hawaii Island to Visit

What is considered the best Hawaiian island to visit?

Oahu shines for first-timers with a mix of history at Pearl Harbor, bustling Waikiki Beach vibes, and epic hikes like Diamond Head.

Should I go to Oahu or Maui?

Pick Oahu for iconic sights and city life; choose Maui for stunning beaches, Haleakala National Park sunrises, and quieter adventures.

What is the prettiest place to go to in Hawaii?

Kauai's Na Pali Coast offers jaw-dropping scenery with its emerald cliffs plunging into azure waters—true paradise found.

Which is better Maui or Kauai?

If you're after vibrant beaches and volcanic wonders, hit up Maui. For lush trails and dramatic landscapes, Kauai's your spot.


So, which Hawaiian island should you pack your bags for? The answer is, it depends on what kind of vacation you're dreaming of. Oahu is perfect for those who want a bit of everything, from city life to stunning beaches. Maui is a nature lover's paradise, with its lush rainforests and jaw-dropping coastlines. The Big Island is an adventure seeker's dream, with active volcanoes and rugged landscapes to explore. And Kauai? Well, it's the ultimate escape, with its laid-back vibe and secluded beaches.

Hawaii is calling, and it's time to answer! Whether you're drawn to the bustling beaches of Oahu or the serene landscapes of Kauai, an incredible journey awaits. The islands have a unique charm that will captivate your soul and leave you with a lifetime of cherished moments. Don't hesitate – make those travel plans, pack your sunscreen, and prepare to fall in love with the beauty of the Pacific. Trust your instincts; you'll be glad you did!

Take our Which Island to Visit Quiz

Discover the best island(s) for your travel party by scoring your personal interests. Our quiz will generate a private & personalized page, customized just for you.

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