The beautiful Hawaiian coastline
travel guide

Which Hawaiian island should you visit?

Denise Wood

Contributing writer

Which is the best island to visit on your Hawaii vacation? If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, this is probably one of the biggest questions on your mind - and for good reason.

The most commonly visited Hawaiian islands are Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawai’i (The Big Island), and they are all very different in terms of attractions, price range and best things to do.

If you’re debating between multiple islands for your Hawaii vacation or aren’t even sure where to start - this guide is for you.

The rugged Na Pali coast in Kauai, Hawaii

At a glance

Best Hawaiian island for first-time visitors


A resort pool in Maui, Hawaii

If you are visiting Hawaii for the first time, consider heading to Maui, which is known for its world-famous beaches, beautiful resorts and jungle adventures on the Road to Hana.

Maui is also informally known as the ‘rich island,’ due to the many ultra-wealthy tourists it attracts, meaning you also have incredible hotels and dining options. Some popular things to do in Maui include trying out the local restaurants, hiking, snorkelling, and, during the winter, enjoying Maui’s famous whale season.

There are many stunning places to stay in Maui, however hotel prices are considerably more expensive in comparison to the other Hawaiian islands. If you are planning to spend your honeymoon in Hawaii and you're looking for an incredible resort that will blow your mind, Maui is the place to be.

Stay at Aston Mahana on Kaanapali Beach

Best Hawaiian island to visit for families


A young child with a boogie board at the beach in Maui

Are you traveling to Hawaii with kids? If so, you might want to consider visiting Maui, which has countless incredible resorts that are geared toward couples or family vacations.

Many of the large resort chains on Maui focus on pool areas and beach access that is child friendly, and many of Maui’s beaches are also great for kids - such as the Paia Baby Beach, Ho’okipa Beach, or Lahaina Baby Beach. 

Maui also offers numerous activities such as children’s surf lessons, a visit to the Ocean Center (a popular aquarium for kids on Maui) and easy walking trails that make the visit more smooth for families. 

Stay at Napili Shores Maui with family rooms and activities.

Best Hawaiian island to visit on a budget

Hawai’i (The Big Island)

Strolling along the beach on The Big Island, Hawaii

If your biggest concern when choosing which Hawaiian island to visit is budget, definitely consider visiting Hawai’i (The Big Island). The Big Island is largest in size in comparison to the other Hawaiian islands, and it is also more affordable in terms of hotel and food prices.

In addition to beautiful beaches, the Big Island also has areas that have more jungle-like terrain, and there is also an active volcano on the island. If you are looking for a more rustic, nature-focused vacation that won’t break the bank, the Big Island is a great option.

It’s worth noting that the Big Island is somewhat divided into two sides. The Hilo side features more jungle and volcano landscapes, and the Kona side is renowned for its beaches and sunnier weather.

Hilo and Kona are about three hours drive apart, so you may want to consider splitting your time between the two sides of the island. You can also choosing to stay on one side and make a long day trip to see the other.

Stay at the Big Island Hostel in Hilo

Best Hawaiian island to visit for hiking


Panoramic view of Kalalau valley Kauai

Hawaii is known for both its beaches and its incredible mountains, which give great hiking options that often have views of the ocean. If you are an advanced hiker, consider visiting Kauai.

Kauai has many hikes, but its most famous is the Kalalau Trail, which is ranked as one of the most beautiful and most difficult in the U.S. The trail is located in Kauai’s Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, and is 11 miles in each direction.

It generally takes hikers one day to hike in, followed by a night of camping, and then a second day to hike back to the trail’s start. 

The trail is so famous because of its panoramic views of Kauai’s famed Na Pali coastline. Na Pali has been shown in movies like Tropic Thunder, King Kong, Six Days Seven Nights, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

If you aren’t an advanced hiker, you can still hike the first two miles of the trail. This will allow you to experience some incredible views without completing the entire trail and committing to overnight camping. 

If you interested in hiking while in Hawaii but short, 1-2 hour hikes are more your cup of tea, consider visiting Oahu.

Even though Oahu is Hawaii’s most populated island, it has numerous short hikes that give you beautiful ocean or mountain views without requiring you to be an advanced hiker. Some of the best Oahu hikes take under an hour and are easy to access.

Oahu is also a great fit if you’re looking for a vacation that is a mix of hiking, beaches and nightlife, whereas Kauai is a much quieter island that focuses more on nature. 

Stay at Kauai Shores Hotel or Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani on Oahu.

Best Hawaiian island to visit for solo travel 


The view on a hike in Oahu, Hawaii

If you are traveling by yourself and wondering which Hawaiian island to visit, the best choice is likely Oahu. 

Oahu is by far the most populated Hawaiian island, and has significantly more options for hotels, dining and transportation.

Oahu is also a popular destination for younger families, single travellers and groups of friends. This makes it much easier to meet other people while on Oahu in comparison to some of the other islands. 

Popular activities on Oahu include hiking, surfing, snorkelling, checking out nightlife in Waikiki and enjoying shopping and food options in Honolulu. 

Stay at VIVE Hotel Waikiki, walking distance to the beach.

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Denise Wood

Author - Denise Wood

Denise is a former international journalist and avid traveler who lives in Hawaii. She loves helping others find the best hidden gems to visit in Hawaii, and when she’s not blogging, you can usually find her at the beach. 

Last Updated 6 September 2023

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