Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit

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Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit

The six most visited Hawaiian Islands offer unique experiences, surprising you with their diversity. In this guide to the best Hawaiian Islands to visit, we consider renowned sights, expert opinions, and reader input to help you choose the perfect island for your vacation. Discover the ideal Hawaiian destination from Waimea Canyon to Waikiki Beach for a first-time visit, romantic escape, or memorable family trip.

For more tips and recommendations, explore our Hawaii Travel Guide and discover the best restaurants in Hawaii to make the most of your trip.

Quick Island Comparison Table

To help you get a better understanding of each Hawaiian island’s unique offerings and who they cater to, we’ve put together a handy comparison table. This table provides a brief overview of the key features, top attractions, and the types of travelers that might enjoy each island the most. Use this table as a reference point when deciding which island best suits your preferences and travel goals.

IslandKey FeaturesTop AttractionsBest For
MauiBeaches, scenic drives, luxury resortsRoad to Hana, Haleakala National Park, LahainaHoneymooners, families, outdoor enthusiasts
OahuVibrant city life, history, beachesWaikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, Diamond HeadFirst-time visitors, city lovers, history buffs
Big IslandVolcanoes, diverse landscapes, stargazingVolcanoes National Park, Mauna Kea, Akaka FallsAdventure seekers, nature lovers, stargazers
KauaiLush nature, hiking, tranquilityNa Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, Hanalei BayEco-tourists, hikers, those seeking tranquility
LanaiSeclusion, luxury, golfHulopoe Bay, Garden of the Gods, Manele GolfLuxury travelers, privacy seekers, golfers
MolokaiAuthentic Hawaiian culture, remote beachesKalaupapa National Historical Park, Halawa ValleyTravelers seeking authentic Hawaiian culture, off-the-beaten-path explorers

Keep in mind that each island offers a wide range of experiences, and this table is meant to provide a simplified snapshot of what to expect. For more in-depth information on each island, continue reading the detailed sections below.

Maui – The Valley Isle

Maui - The Valley Isle

1 in Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit

Maui, the “Valley Isle,” captivates visitors with its diverse landscapes, agricultural heritage, thrilling surf spots, and vivid underwater world. Known for its rich culture and appreciation for the arts, the island offers a well-rounded Hawaiian experience that caters to various interests, from outdoor adventures to history and local delicacies.

📍Location on the map

Main attractions

  • Road to Hana: This legendary scenic drive takes you along the island’s eastern coast, offering stunning views, lush rainforests, waterfalls, and numerous opportunities for exploration.
  • Haleakalā National Park: Home to the dormant Haleakalā Volcano, the park features otherworldly landscapes, mesmerizing sunrises, and an abundance of native flora and fauna.
  • Lahaina: Steeped in history, Lahaina serves as a bustling center for retail therapy, gastronomic delights, and lively entertainment. Additionally, it’s a popular starting point for whale-watching excursions throughout the winter season.
  • Wailea Beach: once known as Kahamanini, is a picturesque haven boasting wide, perfect sands and inviting waters. Ideal for snorkeling around its rocky edges, boogie boarding, and body surfing, this bustling resort beach offers stunning views of neighboring islands and the chance to spot whales during winter months.

Who It’s Best For

Maui is an ideal destination for a wide range of travelers. Its romantic atmosphere makes it perfect for honeymooners and couples seeking a memorable getaway. Families will appreciate the island’s kid-friendly activities, such as visiting the Maui Ocean Center or exploring the many beautiful beaches. Outdoor enthusiasts will be thrilled by the numerous hiking and adventure opportunities, including the Road to Hana, Haleakalā National Park, and world-class surfing and snorkeling spots. In short, Maui offers something for everyone, making it a favorite among visitors to Hawaii.

Honolulu – Oahu

Honolulu - Oahu

2 in Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit

Oahu, known as “The Gathering Place,” is the third-largest Hawaiian island with the capital, Honolulu. The destination offers cosmopolitan luxury, stunning scenery, and cultural heritage. Famous for surfing, green mountains, and iconic landmarks, Oahu blends urban charm and rural Hawaiian beauty. Highlights include Iolani Palace and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Enjoy top dining, cultural events, and vibrant nightlife in this hub of Hawaiian culture.

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📍Location on the map

Top Attractions and Experiences

  • Waikiki Beach: The vibrant beach is great for surfing and is a great spot to relax, and plenty of restaurants and shop.
  • Pearl Harbor: Visit the historic site, which includes the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
  • Hanauma Bay: A marine life conservation area perfect for snorkeling and observing colorful fish and sea turtles.
  • Diamond Head: Hike the volcanic crater for panoramic views of Waikiki and the surrounding area.
  • Polynesian Cultural Center Indulge yourself in Polynesian customs and traditions, while enjoying authentic foods, dance performances and engaging activities.

Who it’s Best For

Oahu is ideal for first-time visitors, city lovers, and history buffs. Its blend of urban amenities, rich cultural heritage, and natural beauty offers a comprehensive Hawaiian experience, catering to a variety of interests.

The Big Island: Island of Hawai’i

The Big Island: Island of Hawai'i

3 in Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit

The Big Island, also known simply as Hawai’i, is the largest and youngest of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s a land of incredible diversity, encompassing everything from snow-capped mountains to active volcanoes, and lush rainforests to striking black sand beaches.

📍Location on the map

Unique Features

The Big Island’s most notable feature is its varied landscape, which includes 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. It’s home to two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, as well as the stunning Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that doubles as a world-renowned stargazing spot.

Top Attractions and Experiences

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Witness the power of Kilauea and Mauna Loa, hike through lava tubes, and learn about the island’s volcanic history.
  • Mauna Kea Observatory: Gaze at the stars from one of the best astronomical observation sites on Earth.
  • Akaka Falls State Park: Marvel at the 442-foot tall Akaka Falls, set amidst a lush tropical rainforest.
  • Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park: Step back in time and explore this ancient Hawaiian place of refuge.
  • Punalu’u Black Sand Beach: Relax on this striking black sand beach and spot green sea turtles basking in the sun.

Who It’s Best For

The Big Island is the best island to visit in Hawaii for adventure seekers and nature lovers, with its vast array of outdoor activities and diverse landscapes to explore. It’s also a top choice for stargazers, thanks to the world-class observatories atop Mauna Kea. The Big Island offers an unparalleled experience for those looking to immerse themselves in Hawaii’s raw, natural beauty.

Kauai: The Garden Isle

Kauai -The Garden Isle

4 in Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit

Kauai, affectionately known as “The Garden Isle,” is the oldest and northernmost of the main Hawaiian Islands. Renowned for its lush greenery, dramatic landscapes, and serene atmosphere, Kauai is a haven for those seeking a tranquil escape and a connection with nature.

📍Location on the map

Unique Features

Kauai is characterized by its verdant landscapes, including the breathtaking Napali Coast, Waimea Canyon, and numerous waterfalls scattered throughout the island. The island’s rugged, untouched beauty has made it a popular filming location for Hollywood blockbusters.

Top Attractions and Experiences

  • Napali Coast: Experience the awe-inspiring cliffs, valleys, and hidden beaches of this stunning coastline by boat, helicopter, or on foot.
  • Waimea Canyon: Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon offers incredible vistas and hiking opportunities.
  • Hanalei Bay: Relax on the pristine, crescent-shaped beach or take to the water for surfing, kayaking, or paddleboarding.
  • Wailua River State Park: Explore the lush surroundings, waterfalls, and ancient Hawaiian sites along Kauai’s largest navigable river.
  • Kilauea Lighthouse: Visit this historic lighthouse and enjoy panoramic ocean views while spotting seabirds and whales in season.

Who It’s Best For

Kauai is the best island to visit in Hawaii for eco-tourists and hikers, with an abundance of unspoiled nature and well-maintained trails. It’s also perfect for those seeking tranquility, as Kauai offers a more laid-back atmosphere compared to some of the busier Hawaiian Islands. If reconnecting with nature and experiencing a true island paradise is your goal, Kauai is the place to be.

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Lanai: Hawaii’s Hidden Gem

Lanai: Hawaii's Hidden Gem

5 in Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit

Lanai, once known as the “Pineapple Island” due to its history as a pineapple plantation, is now a luxurious and secluded escape for travelers seeking privacy and relaxation. As the smallest of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands, Lanai offers an exclusive and intimate experience unlike any other.

📍Location on the map

Unique Features

Lanai’s unique features include its upscale resorts, world-class golf courses, and off-the-beaten-path adventures. With no traffic lights and only 30 miles of paved roads, the island provides a true sense of seclusion and tranquility.

Top Attractions and Experiences

  • Hulopoe Beach: Unwind on this pristine, crescent-shaped beach and explore its vibrant tide pools teeming with marine life.
  • Lanai Cat Sanctuary: Visit the 600+ friendly feline residents of this unique sanctuary, nestled amidst lush gardens.
  • Garden of the Gods: Discover the otherworldly rock formations and sweeping vistas at this fascinating geological site.
  • Munro Trail: Embark on a hike or 4×4 adventure along this scenic trail, offering panoramic views of neighboring islands.
  • Manele Golf Course: Tee off at this stunning oceanside course, designed by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus.

Who It’s Best For

Lanai is the best island to visit in Hawaii for luxury travelers and privacy seekers who want to escape the crowds and enjoy a serene retreat. Golfers will also find themselves in paradise, with world-class courses offering challenging play and spectacular ocean views. If you’re looking for a peaceful and indulgent Hawaiian experience, Lanai is your ideal destination.

Molokai: The Friendly Isle

Molokai

6 in Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit

Molokai, often called “The Friendly Isle,” is a hidden gem among the Hawaiian Islands. With its strong connection to Hawaiian culture, unspoiled landscapes, and welcoming locals, Molokai offers an authentic and immersive experience for travelers seeking a genuine taste of Hawaii.

📍Location on the map

Unique Features

Molokai is home to the largest fringing reef in the United States, making it a prime destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. The island is also known for its rich Hawaiian heritage, as it has remained relatively untouched by tourism development.

Top Attractions and Experiences

  • Kalaupapa National Historical Park: Learn about the island’s poignant history as a former leprosy settlement and take in the dramatic sea cliffs.
  • Halawa Valley: Hike through this lush, ancient valley and be rewarded with the stunning double-tiered Moaula Falls.
  • Papohaku Beach: Stroll along one of Hawaii’s longest white sand beaches, offering a secluded and peaceful experience.
  • Kamakou Preserve: Explore the pristine rainforest and discover rare native plants and birds in this protected area.
  • Kaunakakai: Visit the island’s main town and immerse yourself in local culture at the farmers’ market and historic landmarks.

Who It’s Best For

Molokai is the best island to visit in Hawaii for travelers seeking authentic Hawaiian culture and off-the-beaten-path explorers who want to experience a less-traveled, more traditional side of the islands. Molokai offers a slower pace and a genuine connection with the land and its people, making it an unforgettable destination for those looking to immerse themselves in the true spirit of aloha.

Niihau and Kahoolawe: Hawaii’s Most Exclusive and Protected Isles

Niihau and Kahoolawe, two of the lesser-known Hawaiian Islands, hold unique cultural and historical significance. While both islands are not open for general tourism, they offer exclusive experiences and insight into Hawaii’s past and ongoing conservation efforts.

Niihau: The Forbidden Island

Niihau is a privately-owned island, known as “The Forbidden Island,” due to its limited accessibility. The island has a small native population that maintains a traditional Hawaiian lifestyle, with a focus on preserving the Hawaiian language and culture.

Unique Features and Cultural Significance

Niihau is characterized by its arid landscape, secluded beaches, and thriving population of Hawaiian monk seals. The island is also renowned for its intricate shell leis, made from the tiny shells found on its shores.

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Who It’s Best For

Niihau is best for those interested in exclusive experiences, as access to the island is restricted to invited guests and approved guided tours. These rare opportunities allow visitors to learn about traditional Hawaiian culture and the unique history of Niihau.

Kahoolawe: The Target Isle

Kahoolawe, once used as a bombing range by the U.S. military, is now a protected island dedicated to the restoration of native Hawaiian culture and ecosystems.

Unique Features and Historical Significance

Kahoolawe’s unique features include its numerous cultural sites, such as ancient petroglyphs and heiau (temples). The island is also home to ongoing reforestation and conservation projects aimed at restoring native habitats.

Who It’s Best For

Kahoolawe is best for those interested in conservation efforts and Hawaiian cultural restoration. While public access to the island is limited, volunteer opportunities exist through the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, allowing individuals to participate in restoration projects and learn about the island’s rich history and cultural significance.

Conclusion: Discover Your Best Hawaiian Island

Each of Hawaii’s islands offers a unique and unforgettable experience:

  • Oahu provides a well-rounded introduction to Hawaiian culture, history, and natural beauty, making it ideal for first-time visitors, city lovers, and history buffs.
  • Maui captivates honeymooners, families, and outdoor enthusiasts with its idyllic beaches, enchanting sunsets, and diverse activities.
  • The Big Island enchants adventure seekers, nature lovers, and stargazers with its incredible landscapes, active volcanoes, and world-class observatories.
  • Kauai beckons eco-tourists, hikers, and those seeking tranquility with its lush greenery, dramatic landscapes, and serene atmosphere.
  • Lanai offers luxury travelers, privacy seekers, and golfers an exclusive and intimate escape with its upscale resorts, world-class golf courses, and secluded adventures.
  • Molokai presents an authentic taste of Hawaii for travelers seeking to experience genuine Hawaiian culture and off-the-beaten-path explorations.
  • Niihau and Kahoolawe provide exclusive experiences and insight into Hawaii’s past and ongoing conservation efforts, appealing to those interested in cultural preservation and ecological restoration.

We invite you to pick which island best aligns with your interests and preferences and encourage visitors to experience the diversity and beauty in these Hawaiian Islands. With so much to offer, there’s truly a perfect island for every traveler. Embrace the spirit of aloha and let the magic of Hawaii create memories that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hawaii’s Best Islands

What is considered the best Hawaiian island to visit?

The best Hawaiian island to visit depends on your personal preferences and interests. Each island offers unique experiences and attractions, so it’s essential to choose the one that aligns with your travel goals. Our article provides an in-depth guide to help you make an informed decision.

What is the most beautiful Hawaiian island?

Beauty is subjective, and each Hawaiian island boasts its own breathtaking landscapes and scenery. Kauai is often referred to as the “Garden Isle” due to its lush greenery and dramatic landscapes, while Maui is known for its picturesque beaches and scenic drives. Ultimately, the most beautiful Hawaiian island depends on the type of scenery you find most appealing.

Which island is best for first-time visitors to Hawaii?

For first-time visitors, Oahu is often recommended as it provides a good balance of city life, history, and beach experiences. With iconic attractions like Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and Diamond Head, it’s a great introduction to Hawaii’s diverse offerings.

Is Maui or Kauai better?

The choice between Maui and Kauai depends on your travel preferences. Maui offers a mix of luxury resorts, scenic drives, and beautiful beaches, making it an excellent choice for honeymooners, families, and outdoor enthusiasts. Kauai, on the other hand, is known for its lush nature, hiking opportunities, and tranquility, making it ideal for eco-tourists, hikers, and those seeking a peaceful getaway.

Is Oahu or Maui better?

The choice between Oahu and Maui depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation. Oahu is ideal for those who enjoy city life, history, and iconic attractions, while Maui is more focused on beach experiences, scenic drives, and luxury resorts. Both islands offer unique experiences, so consider what type of vacation you’re seeking before deciding.

Why is Kauai so popular?

Kauai is popular due to its incredible natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and the opportunity for outdoor adventures. With attractions like the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, and Hanalei Bay, Kauai offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in nature and experience a more tranquil side of Hawaii.

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Founder and writer of TruToptravel.com. A passionate traveler with a dream to help people discover the beauty of our planet and inspire them to embark on adventures. Knowing the challenges that first time travelers face, I decided to create this travel website to help you plan your trip.

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