🏝 Which Hawaiian Island: How to Choose the BEST for YOU

Best Hawaiian Island blog cover image.  Text overlaying an image of a tropical white sand beach with turquoise water and an overhanging palm tree, looking out towards two small islands in Oahu.

Making the choice to vacation in Hawaii is easy, but deciding which Hawaiian island is the best choice for YOU is more difficult.

We all have different dreams of what the perfect getaway looks like. We also all have different budgets, interests, and needs.

We have visited Hawaii at least a dozen times, including visits to every island. Big Island is our personal favorite, but Oahu is the one we usually recommend to first-time visitors.

In this guide, we will explain the pros and cons of each island and help you choose which Hawaiian island is best for your first visit. To avoid any personal biases, we objectively compare the most important factors, including climate, beaches, average costs, things to do, and more.


🌴 Which is the Best Hawaiian Island for a First Visit?

A postcard perfect photo of a palm tree over white sand and aqua water at Lanikai Beach demonstrating why Oahu is the best Hawaiian island for first time visitors.

While the Big Island is our favorite, Oahu is the best Hawaiian island for most first-time visitors. Maui is the second-best option, followed by Big Island, and finally, Kauai.

The reason Oahu is best is that it has the prettiest beaches, the lowest average accommodation cost, the most available ocean-view accommodations, great weather, and is the most well-developed island in terms of infrastructure and tourist services.

Using these same metrics, Maui is the second-best Hawaiian island to visit, though it is substantially more expensive on average than both Oahu and Big Island.

Kauai, conversely, is the worst choice for a first trip to Hawaii for most people. While it is largely considered the prettiest island in Hawaii, it is also the rainiest and one of the most expensive while having the least infrastructure and support for tourism.

Of course, this is a very simplified answer to a more complicated question!

The “best” island is the one that you enjoy the most, and that can only be decided with experience.

The remainder of this guide will provide more insight and explain who tends to feel most at home on each island.

πŸ₯° Our Favorite Hawaiian Island: A Personal Note

They say each Hawaiian island has a unique spiritual energy that is felt immediately upon arrival by us all individually.

While we are not big believers in auras and crystals and energy fields, we must admit each island did elicit a strong emotive reaction the moment we stepped off the planes and that this feeling was consistent on each return visit to each island.

Taking sights and weather and anything tangible away, the Big Island has always been our favorite. There is a sense of relief, of weightlessness, the second we arrive at Kona airport.

Oahu was surprisingly our second favorite island. Rather than relief, we immediately felt energized and excited to explore. This was a shock as we typically prefer the least-touristy destinations, but Oahu is amazing because you have the choice to be part of the buzz or get far away from it.

Kauai was visually stunning, and we enjoyed our time but never truly felt welcome or at ease despite no one directly making us feel any other way.

Maui has consistently brought a level of anxiety with no explainable reason and is the island we acknowledge as being spectacular but are called to the least.

🌺 Who Should Choose Each Hawaiian Island

An original graphic by We Dream of Travel comparing the best Hawaiian islands to visit for different categories on a floral tropical background.

If you just want a quick visual, the graphic above breaks down which Hawaiian island is best for each type of traveler.

Explanations and more nuanced insight into what each island offers will be presented further in this guide.

β˜€οΈ Overview of Each Hawaiian Island

Discover what makes each of the 4 major Hawaiian islands special and who should consider each island for their first visit in this section.

Note that there are actually 7 total Hawaiian islands that are inhabited. The three not featured are the sister islands of Lanai, Molokai, and Ni’ihau.

Staying on Ni’ihau is impossible as it is a private island. Thus, it is known as the “Forbidden Island.”

Lanai and Molokai are absolutely islands worth visiting and potentially staying a night or two on another visit to Hawaii. However, they are not good options for a first visit or an extended holiday as they simply lack the services and transport required for a relaxing vacation.


View from the scenic Makapu'u Point on Oahu during two weeks in Hawaii
Oahu is best for first-time visitors to Hawaii.

Oahu Overview

The Miami of Hawaii

Home to Incredible white sand beaches with the best nightlife and the largest city in Hawaii. Oahu is mostly about resorts and tourist attractions, drawing people who are more about a fun, curated vacation than exploration, though it also has space for the adventurous. It is by far the most visited island in Hawaii.

  • Nickname: The Gathering Place
  • Where to Stay: Waikiki or Honolulu
  • Airports: Honolulu (HNL)
  • Best Things to Do
    • Go Beach Hopping
    • Visit Pearl Harbor Memorial
    • Kualoa Ranch (Jurassic Park)
    • Explore Oahu North Shore
    • Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
    • Hike Diamond Head

Most first-time visitors seeking that iconic tropical vacation. It has the best of all worlds regarding resorts, weather, beaches, nature, and things to do, while being the cheapest island to visit (on average).



A kitesurfer enjoys a day in paradise at VOR Beach on the Maui North Shore.
Maui is best for diverse interests.

Maui Overview

The Los Angeles of Hawaii

Home to beautiful beaches, Maui is filled with luxury travelers, but also appeals to people who like to explore by car. The Valley Isle is a mix of upscale vacation, self-drive tourism, and chill-on-the-beach enthusiasts. This is the second-most popular island for tourists.

  • Nickname: The Valley Isle
  • Where to Stay: Kihei or Wailea
  • Airport: Kahului (OGG)
  • Best Things to Do
    • Molokini Crater
    • Beach Hopping
    • Road to Hana
    • Whale Watching
    • Haleakala
    • Sunset Luau

People who want a little bit of everything; some lavish, upscale options, nature to explore but mostly by car, famous and secret beaches, and more.


Big Island

A young female in a swimsuit walks the stunning shoreline of Waipio Black Sand Beach on Big Island north shore, also known as Poiolu Valley Beach.
Big Island is best for slow travel.

Big Island Overview

The Seattle of Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii has a relaxed, slow pace with the friendliest people in Hawaii and a lot of natural beauty to explore, though more effort is required here than on other islands. It calls to those who value space, seclusion, volcanic beauty, and budget over quintessential, manufactured, and/or lavish experiences.

  • Nickname: The Big Island
  • Where to Stay: Kona or Waikoloa
  • Airport: Kona (KOA)
  • Best Things to Do
    • Manta Ray Night Snorkel
    • Volcanoes National Park
    • Green & Black Sand Beach
    • Snorkel at Captain Cook
    • Beach Hopping in Kona
    • Coffee Tour
    • Waipio Valley

People who value space, seclusion, and budget over manufactured and lavish experiences, and those who travel with a sense of adventure. It is big and beautiful, but still an extremely wild island that literally continues to form every day.



The Na Pali Coast in Kauai as seen from a boat tour during 14 days in Hawaii
Kauai is best for outdoor adventure.

Kauai Overview

The Denver of Hawaii

Kauai is home to incredible upscale accommodation and more intimate vacations, but the island is most known for its incredible natural beauty. Kauai calls to the hikers, adventure seekers, and nature lovers who see Hawaii as a place to be explored rather than as somewhere to simply relax.

  • Nickname: The Garden Isle
  • Where to Stay: Poipu or Princeville
  • Airport: Lihue (LIH)
  • Best Things to Do
    • Na Pali Coast Tour
    • Waimea Canyon & Koke’e
    • Explore Wailua Valley
    • Hanalei Bay & North Shore
    • Hike Na Pali Coast

People who see Hawaii as a place to be explored, not just to relax. It is about a fun mix of adventure, activity, and relaxation.


🌊 Best Hawaiian Island FAQs

✈️ Which Hawaiian island is best for first time visitors?

Travel blogger Sophie Marland does a handstand in front of an idyllic tropical scene on the secret shore of Kaaawa Beach in Oahu.

Oahu is the best island for first time visitors to Hawaii, followed by Maui, then Big Island, and finally, Kauai.

Oahu has the best beaches, lowest average vacation cost, most ocean-side accommodations, fantastic weather, and is best developed for catering to the needs of tourists of all the Hawaiian islands.

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦ Which is the best Hawaiian island for families with kids?

A lifeguard tower at Kamaole Beach shows why Maui is the best Hawaiian island to answer the question on which is the best for families.

Oahu is the best island for a Hawaiian vacation with kids. It is the island with the most family-friendly resorts right on the beach so you won’t have to worry about car seats or lifeguards, and Waikiki Beach is a calm, sheltered bay safe for even inexperienced swimmers.

Maui and Big Island both have kid-friendly beaches and regions and make for fine options, but are generally not as accommodating as Oahu.

Kauai is the worst choice for families due to the high cost and lack of amenities.

πŸ‘©β€β€οΈβ€πŸ‘¨ Which is the best Hawaiian island for honeymooners/couples?

The Hyatt Residence honeymoon hotel in Hana during golden hour.

Maui is considered the best choice of Hawaiian islands for honeymoons. Oahu is filled with families and is crowded, Big Island is sparse and remote, and Kauai is perpetually raining.

Maui, meanwhile, has an endless supply of pristine beaches and intimate resorts designed with couples’ vacations in mind.


πŸŽ† Which is the best Hawaiian island for a special occasion?

A long exposure showing the city lights of Waikiki under a starry night sky.

The best Hawaiian island for most special occasions is Oahu as it’s the only one with a major city to celebrate in.

However, if your special occasion is a romantic one such as a honeymoon, a quieter island might suit you better. Maui is the most popular choice for honeymooners, weddings, and romantic getaways.

β˜€οΈ Which Hawaiian island has the best weather?

Sophjie wades into the water underneath a rainbow at Wailua Falls in Kauai.
Sophie is engulfed by a morning rainbow at the falls.

If you are wondering which Hawaiian island will have the best chance for sunshine, just avoid Kauai. Oahu, Maui, and Big Island all have comparable weather on the dry side (aka leeward side) of the islands.

Technically, Wailea on Maui gets the least rainfall, but it is an insignificant difference. Hilo on Big Island is the wettest city in the US, but this is also not an area most people would consider vacationing.

πŸ–οΈ Which Hawaiian island has the best beaches?

Sophie Marland sits alone under the shade of a palm tree on a pristine white sand beach on the best Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Oahu has the best beaches in all of Hawaii. It is where you will find those postcard-worthy views with crystal clear water, soft white sand, and towering palm trees.

Of note, Maui has the longest accessible shoreline making it easier to find seclusion if desired, though the sand is far coarser here than on Kauai or Oahu.

Big Island is at the other end of the spectrum. As the newest Hawaiian island, its beaches have the coarsest sand and are littered with sharp lava rock.

🌴 Which is the prettiest Hawaiian island?

Kauai is considered the best Hawaiian island for natural beauty, as demonstrated by this view of the green valley and blue water of Hanalei Bay near Princeville.

Kauai is widely considered the most beautiful Hawaiian island from a purely aesthetic perspective. The frequent rain it receives has created a lush, green jungle teeming with waterfalls and greenery in the heart of paradise.

Kauai is also home to some incredible natural marvels including the Na Pali Cliffs, Waimea Canyon (aka The Grand Canyon of the Pacific), Queen’s Bath Coastline, Wailua Falls, and a thriving rainforest.

🧭 Which Hawaiian Island is best for exploring?

Every island in Hawaii has some incredible nature to explore, but Big Island and Kauai are best for intrepid explorers. They offer more jungle trekking and opportunities for deep exploration than the other islands.

If sightseeing is a priority but hiking ability (or desire) is limited, Maui is the best island to explore from the roadside. Most of its best natural destinations can be reached by car with minimal walking required.

πŸ“Έ Which Hawaiian Island has the best things to do?

Each Hawaiian island offers very different things to do from the next.

  • Oahu is best for tropical beaches, cultural exhibits, and tourist attractions.
  • Maui is best for snorkeling, secret beaches, and roadside attractions.
  • Kauai is best for its nature and natural attractions.
  • Big Island is best for its volcanic activity, coral gardens, and the manta ray night swim.

🀿 Which is the best Hawaiian island for snorkeling?

Maui and Big Island share the title of the best Hawaiian island for snorkeling. Both have a plethora of coral gardens with walk-in beach access and impressive marine life sanctuaries.

Big Island is where you can snorkel with manta rays at night, which is perhaps the most amazing thing to do in Hawaii. It is also common to encounter dolphins and turtles while snorkeling in many regions.

Maui does not have the night swim with manta rays, but it does offer tours to the incredible underwater sanctuary at Molokini Crater. Like Big Island, turtle encounters are almost guaranteed in some places.



πŸ›« Which Hawaiian Island has the cheapest flights?

A photo from our airplane window looking out over a beach on Kona flying over the Big Island of Hawaii.

Airfare to the Hawaiian islands tends to be the same regardless of which island you fly to. Your departure city and travel dates are the factors most likely to impact ticket prices.

Oahu has the most direct flights available, followed by Maui, then Big Island. Kauai has the least direct flight options.

🏨 Can you stay on Molokai? Lanai? Ni’ihau?

There are technically 7 inhabited Hawaiian islands. This includes the four major islands (Oahu, Maui, Big Island, & Kauai) and three sister islands (Molokai, Lanai, and Nii’hue).

  • Ni’ihau is known as “The Forbidden Island” and it is not possible to stay overnight there.
  • Lanai is a small island off the coast of Maui. There are lovely hotels to stay at and 1-2 night visits are common, but it is too remote and lacking the infrastructure to be recommended for first visits to Hawaii.
  • Molokai is the largest of the sister islands. It features wonderful people and stunning landscapes but lacks the amenities required for most vacationers.

πŸ›« Visiting Multiple Islands

A plane descends between palm trees while island hopping in Hawaii.

There is no reason you have to choose just one Hawaiian island to visit on your vacation!

Island hopping is actually extremely affordable in Hawaii and the best way to experience the unique character of each island.

Interisland flights with Hawaiian Airlines start as low as $40, rarely get higher than $200, and flight times are less than an hour. There are no ferries between the major islands.

If you have at least 7 days in Hawaii and prefer an active vacation to a relaxing one, consider splitting your time between two islands.

You can learn literally everything you need to know in our Ultimate Guide to Hawaii Island Hopping.

πŸ“š More Hawaii Travel Tips & Planning Guides

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

If you have read this far, you have hopefully been able to make a decision on which is the best Hawaiian island for your first visit to the Rainbow State.

Now it is time to begin planning for your trip!

Use the links below to find travel tips and popular guides for each of the islands.

Do you have it narrowed down but are still undecided? Browse these comparison guides to get further insight into your favorite islands:

Made up your mind? We also have guides to each of the major Hawaiian islands:

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on the Best Hawaiian Island

Amazing sunset between palm trees at Kikaua Point Park in Kona on Big Island.  Big Island is the best Hawaiian island for sunsets.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

We genuinely hope you have found this guide on choosing the best Hawaiian island for your first visit helpful in making your big decision.

Now we’d love to hear from YOU!

If there are any questions we have not answered, revisions we need to make, or other suggestions for improvement, please let us know in the comments below.

Likewise, if you have found it useful and want to leave some kind words, those are always appreciated.

Enjoyed this guide to the Best Hawaiian Island to Visit for you? Pin it! πŸ™‚

Because sharing is caring…

Photo of author
Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

Leave a Comment