All sorts of travelers from all over the world visit Hawaii every year looking for a tropical vacation that fits their lifestyle and the beauty of Hawaii is its versatility! Whether you’re seeking budget-friendly or luxury, a relaxing vacay on the beach or adventurous wanders through lush landscapes, you’ll find it on one of Hawaii’s isolated islands.
Not sure which island is the right fit for your travel style? Here’s how to choose the best Hawaiian island for your vacation!
How to Choose the Best Hawaiian Island for Your Vacation
Technically, Hawaii has 8 large islands — 1 of which is uninhabited, and another of which is privately owned. You’re likely familiar with the names of the most popular 6, so read on to find out more about them and discover which of them would make the best destination for you!
The Big Island — officially known as “Hawaii” — is an all-in-one package; if you’re seeking out the idyllic Hawaiian experience for your first trip to the islands or for a breezy family vacation, the Big Island may be the spot for you. Because it is the largest island of the bunch, it will require a rental car and a few longer drives if you want to venture beyond airport cities — however, I highly recommend doing so!
The Kailua airport on the western coast of the Big Island offers consistently (and often significantly) cheaper fares than the Hilo airport on the eastern coast, so take that opportunity to road trip around the island if seeing Hilo is a must.
Most are aware the Kilauea volcano has been especially active lately, but don’t let that deter you from planning your trip! This volcano has been active for over 20 years and continues to be safe for tourists, given the 10 square miles it’s affected is an exclusively residential area and far from popular tourist spots. If you’re still looking to see one of Hawaii’s famous volcanoes, check out Mauna Loa!
Favorite activities on the island include a visit to a coffee plantation (Mountain Thunder on the west coast, Hawaiian Crown on the east), trekking through the national and state parks hiking (the coastal Waipio Valley is jaw-dropping), snorkeling, and chasing waterfalls — you can even try zip lining at Umauma Falls!
Oahu is known to be the most budget-friendly island, with plenty of affordable hotels (even hostels!) to choose from and no necessity for a rental car; dining and activities even tend to be easy on the wallet as well. In fact, you can even get great deals on vacation packages through Costco!
Due to its affordability, Oahu tends to attract the crowds — though for the same reasons, it also may be the best option for families. Kid-friendly activities include the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, and Sea Life Park Hawaii. Other favorites on the island include the Honolulu Botanical Gardens, Hanauma Bay, famous Pearl Harbor site and Manoa Falls.
No matter the age range or family size, there is quite literally an attraction for everyone — and all accommodating to little ones!
Maui’s beaches are known worldwide, and it’s no secret why; the stunning black sands of Pa’iloa Beach and red sand Kaihalulu Beach, make this island a no-brainer for those wanting to lounge by the sea for the entire duration of their vacation.
Maui embodies everything relaxation and luxury (there are 12+ renowned spa hotels to choose from!), with sunset cocktail cruises and helicopter tours abound; however, you can always enjoy the best of both worlds and take some time to explore on your own. Iao Valley State Park is a lush green wonderland perfect for a day hike, and you can even learn to swim in the ocean as a mermaid!
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Maui on a Budget
The small island of Lanai is perfect for intimate getaways, a destination worthy of the ultimate honeymoon or anniversary. You won’t find massive resorts brimming with tourists, or noisy kid-filled beaches here; one of the smallest Hawaiian islands, Lanai is secluded enough that you’ll only be able to reach it by ferry!
Get a photo at the Pu’u Pehe — “Sweetheart Rock” — sea stack, see the awesome Shipwreck Beach on the north shore, snorkel at Hulopoe Bay (the best spot on the island for novices), enjoy yoga or a unique body treatment at the Four Seasons, or simply relax and enjoy the tranquility of this isolated paradise.
Where to Stay on Lanai: Four Seasons Resort Lanai, Hotel Lanai (when available)
Read more: 10 Best Places To Visit In Hawaii
A raw Hawaiian gem, Molokai is another smaller island that hasn’t been completely taken over by tourism. The island is mostly inhabited by natives, so you’ll get an authentic Hawaiian experience with a ton of culture here on “The Friendly Isle.”
Molokai has a lot of history, which you’ll discover through hula, food, and storytelling. Coconut palms are plentiful (the perfect backdrop for gorgeous vacation pics), and you can see everything from towering waterfalls to the lush, deep Halawa Valley by hike or even helicopter!
Witness sea life underwater with a snorkel around the reef, or go on a whale watching tour to see humpback whales up close and personal. There’s something for everyone here — you’ll just experience it with less tourists and more true Hawaiians around you.
A paradise for hikers and those seeking outdoor adventure, Kauai will feed the nature lover’s soul! Trek the island’s most famous trail — Kalalau Trail — along the scenic Na Pali coast, or dive into the rainforests to search out the numerous waterfalls scattered throughout. Off-roading in ATVs is a popular activity for thrill-seekers, as is diving with sea turtles.
Overall, Kauai is a fantastic middle-ground between the intimate and peaceful Molokai and Lanai and attraction-filled Oahu and Maui.