What is the Best Island to Visit in Hawaiʻi? — noahawaii (2024)

OʻahuMauiKauaʻiMolokaiLānaʻiIsland of Hawaiʻi

Written By @noahawaii

From travelers looking for thrill-seeking adventures to those looking to relax and take it easy, I truly believe that each island has something special to offer every type of person.

For this reason, answering this question entirely depends on what type of traveler you are, which is why this post is all about the best things to do on each of the main Hawaiian Islands, in order to help you decide if you’ve never been to one or all of the islands before.

Why Should You Trust to My Recommendations?

I live in Hawaiʻi.

Many articles that you will see when searching for Hawaiʻi topics are written by people that don’t and never have lived in the islands.

Be that as it may, I pride my Hawaiʻi articles to be the best non-touristy things to do on each Hawaiian Island, using only photos from my own personal experiences.

All said, I never have and never will write my content with AI or stock photos, which is why I truly believe this is the best Hawaiʻi content that you will find!

What is the Best Island to Visit in Hawaiʻi?

The following list is written in no particular order of best or worst, but, more importantly, I have personally been to 5 of the 6 main Hawaiian Islands many times to give you my best and honest recommendations about each island; the only exception being Lānaʻi.


Kauaʻi is the best island in terms of scenic hiking trails, the best overnight backpacking trips, scenic drives, and the best açaí bowl that you will find across all the islands!

That being said, if you’re a hiker, plan your trip to Kauaʻi. I can honestly say that, out of all the traveling I’ve done around the world, Kauaʻi trails stand alone in Hawaiʻi with some of the best hikes on the planet!

I recommend Kauaʻi for some of the best sunset hikes, numerous of the best backpacking trips, and the best waterfall hike across the islands!

However, keep in mind that Kauaʻi is called the 'Garden Isle' for a good reason. It can rain a lot on Kauaʻi, especially during the wet winter season.

However, don’t let the rain discourage you from visiting, as Kauaʻi will rain all throughout the year, and it’s typical for showers to be quick passing rain instead of large weather systems.

Overall, there’s obviously so much more to Kauaʻi, including beautiful beaches and the stunning tours along the Nāpali Coast, but, if you haven’t been to Hawaiʻi before and you know you’re the outdoorsy type, I think the choice is obvious because Kauaʻi really is a hiker’s paradise!

Read My Separate Post: Best Things to Do on Kauaʻi


Oʻahu is the best island for learning how to surf, enjoying tourist attractions, such as Pearl Harbor, the largest variety of hiking trails, the largest variety of cultured food, nightlife, and the best shark diving tours of any island in Hawaiʻi!

That being said, Oʻahu is where the people are, it’s where the jobs are, and it’s inevitably the island that attracts the most visitors.

This is not to say that you should avoid visiting Oʻahu because of this, as there is truly so much to see and do on account of Oʻahu having the most people.

Moreover, many visitors are interested in visiting Oʻahu solely because Pearl Harbor is on their bucket list, but apart from this one tour, there is so much more to see on all sides of the island.

When it comes to restaurants, Oʻahu has some of the best hole-in-the-wall food from around the world, which I talk about extensively in my separate post!

Additionally, while Kauaʻi may have some of the best hikes in the world, Oʻahu has many amazing ridge trails that shouldn’t be overlooked. By this, I mean that one of my favorite things about Oʻahu trails is how accessible they are on all sides of the island, which is great because there’s truly not one best side of Oʻahu that I recommend booking your stay.

All said, if you want the culture of the big city backed up against the mountains, with some of the most beautiful ridge hikes in Hawaiʻi, then Oʻahu is the island for you!

Read My Separate Post: Best Things to Do on Oʻahu


Maui is the best island in terms of unique beaches, which includes black and red sand, one-of-a-kind hiking trails in Haleakalā National Park, scenic drives (Hāna Hwy), the best resorts, the best whale tours in Hawaiʻi, and the only island where you can take a helicopter tour around the tallest sea cliffs in the world (Molokai)!

Yes, Molokai sea cliff tours leave out of Maui, not Molokai.

In my opinion, Maui is the best island for couples and families because there is really something for everyone, of all abilities.

What I mean is that many of the best things to see don’t require an extensive amount of hiking, making Maui a great choice to explore with kids!

However, don’t let that be the only thing that comes to mind, as Maui has some of the tallest waterfalls in Hawaiʻi, with tons of adventures along the scenic Road to Hāna and within the Haleakalā Crater.

That being said, in order to truly see it all and enjoy the best of what Maui has to offer, I highly recommend booking places to stay on all different sides of the island, as this is truly best way to break up a vacation on Maui. To learn more about why I say this, read the opening section of my separate article.

All said, Maui is truly the island where you can have as relaxing or as adventurous of a vacation as you want, meaning if you have a rental car and the desire to drive around the entire island, there’s truly no shortage of things to see and do!

Read My Separate Post: Best Things to Do on Maui

Island of Hawaiʻi (The Big Island)

The Island of Hawaiʻi is best known for being the only island where you can see lava (Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park), its unique black and green sand beaches, wide-open scenic drives, the tallest point in Hawaiʻi (Mauna Kea), the stunning Kohala Mountains, and the famed Kona Coast.

That being said, of all the islands talked about so far, the Big Island is truly a stand-alone topic in terms of how different it is from the rest.

By this, I mean that when you think of the Big Island, think youngest! The Big Island is the only island in Hawaiʻi that’s still actively forming. Therefore, it’s the island with the least amount of erosion.

Unlike Kauaʻi at the end of the island chain where erosion has formed these steep and dramatic ridges, the Big Island is by and large 'less dramatic.'

This also means that the Big Island has less beaches than the other islands. However, there are beaches, and the beaches on the Big Island are some of the most unique in the world, with Papakōlea Green Sands being my favorite.

Overall, if you decide to visit the Island of Hawaiʻi, know that spending time on any side of the island is always spectacular.

Whether you spend more time on the wetter Hilo side for the National Park or the famed Kona Coast for Hawaiian coffee and beautiful sunsets on the beach, there’s really something to do for everyone, of all abilities, on the Big Island.

However, just like any island, it’s not fair to try and sum up everything to see and do in just a few sentences, but if you get out and explore, the adventures that span from the Kīlauea Volcano to the coast and up to near 14,000 ft. (4,267 m) are truly endless!

Read My Separate Post: Best Things to Do on Hawaiʻi Island


Molokai is the best island in Hawaiʻi for a quiet vacation, meaning few tourists and an authentic small-town Hawaiʻi experience. Furthermore, Molokai is all about making your own adventure. From the trails to the beaches, the restaurants, and more, you’re not going to see a lot of people on Molokai compared to the other islands.

For this reason, if you like a slow, do-it-yourself vacation, Molokai may be for you!

I believe that Molokai is the best island for splitting your time between Molokai and another island, like Oʻahu or Maui. I say this because you will easily be able to see and do many of the best things on the island in just a few days. So, if you want to make the most of your time, you may only want to spend three or four days on Molokai and then fly elsewhere.

That being said, when I wrote about Molokai, I wrote about how I don’t believe the island is meant for everyone. I said this because Molokai really is that quiet!

Businesses close early, they may not be open on certain days of the week, there’s not a lot of people that visit or live there, and because of all this, there’s simply not a lot going on!

However, this is what gives Molokai its charm, and it’s also why Molokai is really about making your own adventure, finding secluded private beaches, and enjoying Hawaiʻi for how peaceful it can truly be.

Overall, I don’t continually stress how quiet Molokai is because I want to discourage anyone from visiting, as the island and its remote peaks and valleys are some of the most stunning across all the Hawaiian Islands. This is also, without saying, that in my opinion, Molokai has the single-most beautiful hike across all the islands: the Pēpēʻōpae Bog.

However, if you don’t have the opportunity to do the hike and are also planning to visit Maui, I highly recommend booking a Molokai sea cliff helicopter tour, as flying along the tallest sea cliffs in the world is truly second to none!

Read My Separate Post: Best Things to Do on Molokai


Lānaʻi is the only island that I have yet to visit, and when I do, I will update this article.

Native Plants in Hawaiʻi

I wanted to include this last section on this post because this is a subject that’s personal to me.

The native plant biodiversity in Hawaiʻi is insane! 90% of the native plants that you will see around the islands are found nowhere else on earth, and I say these things for two reasons.

The first is that I ask that you please do everything you possibly can to minimize your impact on our trails because so many of our native plants are at risk of extinction. The second is that if you have personal interest in the subject or may be curious about something that you found, I wrote a separate post entirely about native Hawaiian plants. I wrote it to help others around Hawaiʻi ID anything that you might be curious about.

For example, this tree in the photo below can only be found on the island of four of the six main Hawaiian Islands and nowhere else on earth.

Read My Separate Post: Native Hawaiian Plant Guide

HawaiiHawaiʻiBigIslandMauiMolokaiLanaiLānaʻiOahuOʻahuKauaiKauaʻiVisitTravelHikesHikingTourHawaiʻi Island GuideHawaii IslandHawaiʻi IslandBig Island



Iʻm a self-taught adventure photographer living on the island of Oʻahu.



What is the Best Island to Visit in Hawaiʻi? — noahawaii (2024)


What is considered the best Hawaiian island to visit? ›

With such great variety, there's always a reason to come back again.
  • Oahu Brings the Best of City Life and Country Living. ...
  • Maui is Considered Heaven on Earth. ...
  • Hawaii Island is for Volcano Lovers. ...
  • Kauai is Nature at Its Finest. ...
  • Molokai and Lanai Offer a Laidback Getaway.

Which side of the island of Hawaii is best to visit? ›

The west side of the Big Island is hands down, the best. Here you will find dry sunny days, balmy tropical evenings, beautiful beaches, world-class snorkeling, a developed coastline, quaint shopping areas and more. Popular areas of the west side are the Kohala Coast region, Waikaloa and Kailua-Kona.

Which island is better, Maui or Oahu? ›

Oahu vs Maui: Oahu is right for you if you want more of a cosmopolitan vacation, enjoy the nightlife, are excited about historical and cultural activities, or want to travel on a budget. Maui is right for you if you're looking for a romantic island, great snorkeling, a relaxing vacation, or more outdoor activities.

Which is better, Maui or Kauai? ›

While there are a few exceptions, the waters on Kauai are quite a bit rougher than the waters on Maui. So if snorkeling is high up on your Hawaii bucket list, Maui is the right island for you. Between the famous Molokini Crater, the Kanaio Coast, and Poolenelena Beach, the rocky beaches on Kauai don't really compare.

What is the number 1 vacation spot in Hawaii? ›

As the most popular Hawaiian Island – to visit and to live – O'ahu is bustling! In Honolulu and Waikiki, you'll find skyscrapers and luxury hotels, traffic and nightlife, all of the hallmarks of a big city.

Which Hawaiian island is friendliest to tourists? ›

Molokai: The Friendly Isle

If you want to escape the resorts and crowds and get a feel for everyday island life, this may be the place for you.

Should I go to Maui or Honolulu? ›

Hawaii is a stunning location with plenty of fun things to do, no matter which island you visit. If you're in the market for a beachy, relaxing vacation, you may want to head to Maui. Otherwise, consider Honolulu for its abundance of hotels, things to do and plentiful flight connections to other U.S. cities.

Is it cheaper to stay in Oahu or Maui? ›

Oahu was the cheapest. with an average price of 2000 dollars per person. for a 5 night stay. Maui was the most expensive. with about 30 $500 per person. The average price of a trip to Hawaii was lower on Oahu, mainly because of the abundance of hotels, activities, tours, and attractions.

Should I go to Kauai or Oahu? ›

Oahu is Hawaii's most popular island, famous for great hikes like Diamond Head and stunning white sands like Waikiki Beach. On the other hand, Kauai is Hawaii's most tropical island and is a paradise for those after rugged coastlines and vibrant rainforests.

When not to go to Kauai? ›

While there may not be a “bad” time to visit Kauai, the late fall and winter months can be considered the island's low season. From October to December, Kauai experiences slightly higher rainfall, which can lead to more overcast days.

Why is Kauai so special? ›

Na Pali Coast: Kauai`s Na Pali Coast is a breathtaking sight, with towering sea cliffs that drop down into the Pacific Ocean. It`s known for its stunning hiking and views, as well as being a popular location for movies and TV shows like Jurassic Park and King Kong.

Which of the Hawaiian Islands is the most beautiful? ›

Kauaʻi. Kauaʻi is the best island in terms of scenic hiking trails, the best overnight backpacking trips, scenic drives, and the best açaí bowl that you will find across all the islands!

Which Hawaiian island is the most expensive to visit? ›

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Maui is the most expensive island. As a result, you might find more affordable accommodations staying on Oahu, Big Island, or Kauai, for example.

Which Hawaii island is best for non touristy? ›

Molokai is the least-visited Hawaiian island. It has more hotel options than Lanai, but it doesn't have a lot of tourism infrastructure like tour companies and adventure excursions.

Which is the safest of the Hawaiian Islands? ›

If you're just looking at the sheer number of incidents on each island, Kauai is the safest island to live on.

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