🏝 Big Island vs Oahu: How to Decide for Your 2023 Vacation

Big Island vs. Oahu blog cover graphic. Text overlaying two images, one showing sunset over the ocean on a beach on the Big Island scattered with lava rock and the other showing Honolulu on Oahu at night with city lights.

The Big Island of Hawaii and Oahu are both idyllic destinations in the Rainbow State, but offer completely unique experiences.

When comparing Big Island vs Oahu understand that there is no “best”, only “best fit”.

The Big Island is spacious and its landscapes are savage; it calls equally to those seeking calm as well as adventure. Oahu, meanwhile, is like something out of a daydream with unspeakable tropical beauty and a vibrant pulse.

In this guide, we will be comparing Big Island vs Oahu for each of the most important categories worth considering in deciding which to visit on your next trip to Hawaii.

In addition to factors like costs, beaches, weather, attractions, and vibes, we will also provide our personal experiences and preferences having visited both islands multiple times.

By the end of this guide, you will have learned everything you need to know to make the right choice for your perfect Hawaiian vacation.

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links πŸ™‚

🌺 Big Island vs Oahu Snapshot

Oahu is the best and most popular island for first time visits to Hawaii, but the Big Island is worth considering for peace-seeking and adventure-minded travelers.

Due to Oahu’s popularity and history as the premier tropical destination in the US, it provides more amenities and services than Big Island. There is also far more accommodation, upscale dining, shopping, and direct flight options available.

The Big Island is not without its perks, however, and may indeed be the better choice for some. The Kohala region on the Kona side of the island is the sunniest region in all of Hawaii and home to some spectacular beaches.

Additionally, those who travel to Hawaii for adventure or wish to avoid the loud, busy resorts will absolutely prefer the experience that Kona or Waikoloa on the Big Island have to offer.

Only on the Big Island of Hawaii can you gaze into a lava lake in the heart of an active volcano, go night swimming with manta rays, stroll a green sand beach, and so much more.

Consult the table below for a quick look at the most commonly compared features of Big Island vs Oahu.

A graphic showing a table comparing the features of Big Island vs. Oahu on a floral tropical background.

Who Should Choose Oahu Over Big Island

If you consider your ideal vacation variety to fall into one of the following categories, Oahu is a better option than Big Island for you:

  • Families with children
  • Honeymooners
  • Beach bums
  • Shoppers
  • Group celebrations
  • Upscale travelers
  • Budget travelers

Who Should Choose Big Island Over Oahu

Big Island is a better option than Oahu for the following first-time visitors to Hawaii:

  • Nature & landscape photographers
  • Adventure seekers and road trippers
  • Small-crowd seekers
  • Snorkelers and marine life enthusiasts

🏝 YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
PLANNING A TRIP TO BIG ISLAND: ULTIMATE GUIDE
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PLANNING A TRIP TO OAHU: ULTIMATE GUIDE

🌴 Big Island vs Oahu Breakdown

🐒 Oahu Overview

A young female swimmer does a handstand in front of an idyllic tropical scene on the secret shore of Kaaawa Beach in Oahu.
  • Nickname: The Gathering Place
  • Where to Stay: Waikiki or Honolulu
  • Airports
    • Honolulu (HNL) – Main Airport
    • Kalaeloa (JRF)

Best for: People who prefer resorts and tourist attractions; those that are more about a fun vacation than exploration, as well as beach enthusiasts.

Suggested: PLANNING A TRIP TO OAHU: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE


⛡️ Big Island Overview

Hapuna Beach in North Kona is captured from a drone revealing the crystal clear blue water and white sand beach of the Kohala Coast.

Big Island Overview

  • Nickname: The Big Island
  • Where to Stay: Kona or Waikoloa
  • Airports
    • Kona (KOA) – Main Airport
    • Hilo (ITO)

Best for: People who value space, seclusion, and budget over manufactured and lavish experiences with a sense of adventure.

Suggested: PLANNING A TRIP TO BIG ISLAND: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE

🏝 NEED MORE HELP? COMPARE OTHER ISLANDS:
Big Island vs. Kauai
Big Island vs. Maui
Oahu vs. Kauai

Oahu vs. Maui


🌀 Weather in Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
β˜€οΈ South Shore on Oahu and Kohala Coast on Big Island are two reliably sunny regions.
πŸŒ₯ Both islands are comparable in terms of weather in the regions one would consider staying.

πŸ† Tie

All Hawaiian islands have a wet side (windward) and a dry side (leeward). Fortunately, Oahu and Big Island’s dry sides also happen to be the side with the best beaches, meaning both are fairly reliable for a sunshine-filled holiday.

Most of Oahu is fairly dry, but Ewa Beach is the most reliably-sunny beach on the island. The more popular Waikiki Beach sees a few more days of rain than Ewa overall, but the average rainfall is very similar.

Waikoloa is located on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island and is actually the sunniest place to stay in all of Hawaii, recording more hours of sunshine and less cloud cover or rain than anywhere else. It is also where you will find the best beaches on Big Island.

The Kailua-Kona region is also a great place to consider with plenty of sunshine, though the beaches are more coarse than those in Kohala or on Oahu, and clouds are more prevalent.

Hilo on the “windward side” (aka wet side) of Big Island is the rainiest major city in the entire US! This can be a fun place to visit, but staying there is not recommended for a first visit to Hawaii.

Annual RainfallDays with (some) Rain
Oahu
Ewa Beach17 inches45 days
Waikiki Beach20 inches83 days
Kailua Region38 inches196 days
North Shore30 inches225 days
Big Island
Waikoloa<10 inches
Kailua-Kona25 inches50 days
Hilo140 inches275 days

πŸ– Beaches in Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🏝 Oahu has the best beaches in Hawaii and easier access with softer sand than Big Island.
🌊 Many of the Big Island’s best beaches are difficult to get to and feature coarse sand.

πŸ† Oahu

If beaches are the main priority in comparing Big Island vs Oahu for your Hawaii vacation, Oahu is easily the best choice.

Oahu has the best beaches in Hawaii when it comes to crystal clear water, tropical palm trees, and soft white sand. This is the island where you find those idyllic postcard-worthy beaches with towering palm trees, stunning water, and powdery-soft white sand.

In particular, Lanikai Beach (seen above) might just be the most photogenic of them all. Waikiki is also incredible if you want to be near plenty of services and don’t mind crowds.

The Big Island, meanwhile, has some beautiful, picturesque beaches. Unfortunately, the visual appeal is greater than the physical with many of these.

As the youngest Hawaiian island with plenty of ongoing volcanic activity, most of Big Island’s beaches have very coarse sand and are littered with lava rock. Beyond this, many of them are difficult to get to and require long drives down some rough roads.

That said, there are a few gems to be found for sure! The Kona region may not have the softest sand you will dig your toes into, but the beaches are beautiful and mostly easy to access. The best beaches on Big Island are found near Waikoloa along the Kohala coastline.

🧐 READ MORE
THE BEST BEACHES OF HAWAII ON EVERY ISLAND

-or-
TOP 25 BEACHES IN KONA


✈️ Flights to Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ›¬ More cities offer direct flights to Honolulu (HNL) on Oahu than Big Island (KOA).
πŸ’° Starting fares vary slightly by departure city, but are very comparable to either island.

πŸ† Tie on Price, Oahu for Direct Flight Options

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

There are more direct flights to Honolulu (HNL) on Oahu than to Kona (KOA) on Big Island (or any other Hawaiian island for that matter).

The baseline airfare for both Oahu and Big Island is nearly identical, though they may vary slightly from city to city. Some will be slightly cheaper to one than the other, but typically the difference is negligible.

In other words, only your specific travel dates will determine if there is a potential savings opportunity flying to one island over the other.

With all this in mind, the cost of flying to Hawaii is actually far more reasonable than you might imagine, especially if you are able to fly on weekdays.

We recommend comparing flight prices for your possible dates on Skyscanner to get a better idea as to whether one will be easier or cheaper for you to get to.

⭐️ Pro Tip: Accommodation will be by far the most expensive part of your visit to Hawaii. If budget is a concern, you should prioritize affordable accommodation over airfare as you are making your decision on which island to visit.

🧐 READ MORE
HOW TO PLAN A TRIP TO HAWAII FROM START TO FINISH


πŸ’° Cost of Visiting Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ’² On average, Oahu is the cheapest of all the Hawaiian islands, followed by Big Island.
πŸ’° Accommodation is by far the biggest cost of a Hawaiian vacation.

πŸ† Oahu

One of the best beaches in Kona is Mauna Kea Beach, seen here with Mauna Kea hotel, tropical greenery, and beautiful white sand.

When considering the total costs of your trip to Hawaii, Oahu is surprisingly the cheapest of all the Hawaiian islands on average.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Oahu has the lowest average hotel and vacation rental prices which will be the largest budget item on any Hawaii itinerary.

When comparing the cost of a trip to Oahu vs Big Island, tours, airfare, groceries, and activities are fairly equal. Your accommodation will be the factor that swings things!


Hotel & Resort Costs on Oahu & Big Island

The table below shows the average daily rates of hotels and vacation rentals on Oahu vs. Big Island in 2022.

HotelsVacation Rentals
Oahu$267.77$221.97
Big Island$400.10$241.90

While the daily average rates will be skewed by the high cost of luxury properties, it does help give an idea of the accommodation costs on each island.

Oahu also has over 4 times more hotel rooms island-wide than Big Island, but sees only around 3 times the number of visitors. Therefore, it is often easier to find a better hotel deal in Oahu than on the Big Island due to the supply and demand ratio.

However, if you’re looking for a vacation rental the two islands are much more comparable. Both islands have a similar number of vacation rentals at a similar price point. In fact, you may find a better deal on a vacation rental on the Big Island as there’s a higher ratio of rentals to visitors.

When researching prices, we scoured booking.comVRBO, and other platforms comparing Waikiki (Oahu) to Kailua-Kona (Big Island) and found it possible to find comparable prices on each island for a variety of dates.

The biggest difference in rates came down not to the island, but to the dates and availability.


Other Costs

Flights are the second-highest trip cost and the baseline airfare for Big Island and Oahu are nearly identical regardless of departure city.

The costs of food and activities on each island are likely to be fairly comparable, with a variety of options on each.

On both islands, you can keep to a tight budget by eating locally or buying groceries and enjoying free activities. Similarly, you can splurge at fancy restaurants and book lots of tours if money is not a concern.

If cost and budget are important to you, be sure to open our complete breakdown on how to budget for a trip to Hawaii in another tab.

πŸ’° READ MORE:
BREAKDOWN: COSTS & BUDGETING FOR A TRIP TO HAWAII


πŸš— Getting Around Big island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ– Oahu is the better destination for extended stays without a rental car.
🚘 Big Island is the “adventure island” and a car is (mostly) essential for exploring.

πŸ† Oahu

A young woman stands on the passenger side of a Jeep under palm trees in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Public transportation in Hawaii is very limited and should not be relied upon.

If you plan on doing any amount of sightseeing and exploring of the islands, you will need to rent a car regardless of whether you decide on visiting Big Island or Oahu.

The major roads on both Big Island and Oahu are wide and easy to drive, especially if you are accustomed to driving in the US.

That said, every Hawaiian island has major resort areas with everything you need within walking distance if you just plan on staying near the beach!

On Oahu, Waikiki Beach is by far the best place to stay for this type of vacation. It is where you will find the major resorts and is the hub of Oahu’s tourism. The North Shore of Oahu also has some options but they are far fewer and the weather is less reliable.

On Big Island, the Waikoloa area is best for beach-side holidays without a car. Kailua-Kona is a decent option as well, but the beaches and weather are better further north.

Understand that both islands, but the Big Island in particular, boast many attractions that require driving. If this isn’t something you are considering, Oahu will easily be the better choice.

Luckily, rental cars are surprisingly affordable beginning at just $35/day during off-peak seasons, and rarely landing over $65/day even when busy.


πŸ“Έ Top Sights, Activities & Things to Do: Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🏝 Oahu has better beaches, restaurants, and tourist services.
πŸŒ‹ Big Island offers some of the most impressive experiences in all of Hawaii, but most require time, commitment, and/or tours.

πŸ† Oahu for ease, Big Island for grandeur

The primary reason to choose Big Island over Oahu for a first visit to Hawaii is if you have a specific interest in one of the unique experiences it offers.

Witnessing volcanic activity and night swimming with manta rays are the best example of things you can only do on the Big Island.

Otherwise, Oahu will be the more accommodating island catering favorably to tourists and making planning easy. Whether you are seeking relaxing beach days, short hikes, tours, historical/cultural attractions, or anything cosmopolitan, Oahu has it all.

Understand that the only metropolitan city in all of Hawaii is Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Accordingly, this is going to be the place you’ll find the most (sometimes the only) big-city attractions.

Some of the top attractions on Oahu include Pearl Harbor Memorial, Kualoa Ranch (Jurassic Park), the North Shore, Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, and the Diamond Head hike.

Additionally, if you’re visiting in the winter months, Oahu is an amazing place for whale watching.

For the iconic Hawaiian experiences such as attending a luau, taking a sunset sail, or snorkeling a marine life conservation area, both islands are acceptable but Oahu has more options.

πŸŒ‹ RELATED GUIDE:
BEST THINGS TO DO ON BIG ISLAND


πŸ€™πŸ½ Vibes & Atmosphere in Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ§— Big Island is quieter and friendlier, and calls to the adventurous travelers.
β›± Oahu is the primary Hawaiian destination with the most buzz and services.

πŸ† Tie – Comes down to personal preference

Oahu is the most popular Hawaiian island with about 4.8 million visitors annually. The Big Island sees only ~1.6 million annual visitors and is roughly 6.5 times larger in land mass (4000 square feet vs just 600 square feet).

In other words, you can expect a lot more hustle and bustle on Oahu with a faster pace of life than on Big Island. Most of the buzz is centered around the city of Honolulu and the high-rise resort towers on Waikiki Beach.

What makes Oahu an easy option for any first-time visitor, however, is the ease in which you can find or avoid crowds. If desired, you can choose to stay in the heart of the action in Waikiki or in the quieter regions such as North Shore or Kailua.

The Big Island is known for being spacious and hospitable. The locals and residents are friendlier here than on any other island, most likely because they have the space they need from the tourists!

Be aware that the Big Island gets very quiet after dark. Even finding a quick place to eat can get surprisingly tricky more than a couple hours after sunset.


🏨 Accommodation & Resorts in Big Island vs. Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🏑 Oahu has the most hotels and resorts of any island with the best supply t o demand ratio.
🌧 Big Island has the most budget-friendly accommodation option overall, but it is in Hilo (on the wet side of the island).

πŸ† Oahu for hotels, Big Island for vacation rentals

A photo showing a young swimmer laying in the water at the Fairmont Hotel beach on Big Island.

Oahu has over 4 times the number of hotels and resorts compared to the Big Island, and only 3 times the visitors. In other words, the supply to demand ratio for hotel rooms is more favorable for travelers on Oahu than Big Island.

However, the numbers of total vacation rentals is comparable on both with Big Island having less visitors.

In summary, you’re likely to find a better hotel deal on Oahu, but a better vacation rental deal on the Big Island.

Mid-range hotels on Oahu start from around $150-$300 per night, with beachfront rooms and properties going up considerably from there.

Vacation rentals are more comparable in price on both islands with an average cost of around $200 per night.

Hotels and resorts on Oahu tend to be more crowded and are concentrated within a compact space near Waikiki and Honolulu. They are built up into high-rises with hundreds of rooms on each property.

With that said, it is possible to escape the crowds on Oahu by staying on the North Shore or Kailua Region, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

On the Big Island, the resorts are more sprawling and less crowded than in Oahu, extending OUT rather than UP. The vast majority of visitors to the Big Island choose to either stay in Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa.

Both of these regions are on the dry side of the island and are nearest to necessary services. The Waikoloa area is where you’ll find the most resorts.

The Hilo side is the rainy side of Big Island, but it has the most wallet-friendly options. It is also a great option for those looking for an adventure putting you in close proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

⭐️ Pro tip: Both Oahu and the Big Island typically have additional taxes and resort fees, so ensure you click all the way through your booking to get a final estimated price as these additional fees can add up quickly.

🏠 READ MORE
WHERE TO STAY ON BIG ISLAND


🍹 Bars & Nightlife in Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🍻 Big Island has some fun breweries & bars, but nothing in the way of clubs.
🍾 Honolulu on Oahu is the only major city in Hawaii and home to the best bars and nightlife.

πŸ† Oahu

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

If nightlife is important to your version of the perfect Hawaiian vacation, you will absolutely want to choose Oahu over Big Island.

Honolulu is the only major city in Hawaii and really the only place where you will find clubs and cosmopolitan vibes.

Hawaii as a whole is not known for its nightlife, however. It can be surprisingly difficult to even find a casual dining option more than a couple of hours after dark, especially on Big Island.

That is not to say you will not be able to find a place to enjoy a social drink at night on Big Island!

Most of the hotels have bars open until 1am and the more populous areas will certainly have at least a few options for keeping your night going at least a bit longer, the most popular being the breweries of Kona.


🍽 Food & Restaurants in Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🍴Oahu has more fine dining and a wider selection of restaurants than Big Island.
🍱 Big Island’s high-end restaurants are limited & exclusively in Waikoloa and Kailua-Kona.

πŸ† Oahu

Close up food photography of the Hawaiian dish of poke.

As Honolulu is the only metropolitan city in Hawaii, Oahu is a much better choice than Big Island for the foodies out there. There are far more options and higher-rated restaurants on Oahu than Big Island.

If you otherwise like the look of Big Island but also want at least a couple of meals at fancy restaurants, those that do exist are found exclusively within the luxury hotels in the Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa regions.

Of course, not everything has to be candlelight and 10 pieces of silverware! Local Hawaiian fare is fantastic and as much a part of the island experience as the beaches and cocktails.

If you are looking for local, casual *grindz*, both islands have plenty of local food trucks and small-kitchen restaurants to discover.

*Grinds, commonly spelled with a “z” as grindz, is a Hawaiian slang term for food or a meal out.


🌿 Natural Beauty & Scenery of Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸŒ„ Big Island is very sparse and volcanic, but has some incredible opportunities for nature lovers.
🌸 Oahu is mostly, but not only, about its idyllic tropical beaches.

πŸ† Oahu overall, but better individual sites on Big Island

At first glance, Oahu is far more beautiful than the Big Island and it isn’t close.

While Oahu is a paradise of greens and aquas and all the colors of the tropics, Big Island is mostly black, hardened lava flows with sparse vegetation and a few beaches amongst it.

The natural beauty that Big Island has to offer is abundant, but requires discovery. Rather than being a Garden of Eden in every direction as Oahu feels to be, Big Island demands long drives and a bit of walking to uncover incredible treasures.

Places like Hawaii Volcanoes NP, Papakolea Green Sand Beach, the Waipio Valley, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Mauna Kea / Mauna Loa, and the Hilo rainforest are incredibly unique destinations with landscapes you just don’t find anywhere but Big Island.

Adventure lovers could spend weeks exploring the Big Island and only scratch the surface.

When it comes to scenery, Oahu gets the nod on a whole, but Big Island’s individual sites are arguably the best of all.

πŸ“Έ FIND MORE INSPIRATION:
101 BEST THINGS TO DO ON BIG ISLAND


β›± Crowds in Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦ πŸ™ Oahu is the busiest island in Hawaii. Seclusion can be found but expect large crowds in popular areas like Honolulu & Waikiki.
🌴 The Big Island is a quiet and spacious island with lots of hidden beaches. Expect crowds only in Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa, and even those are reasonable.

πŸ† Big Island

Two young ladies share a hammock on a sunny day at Makalawena Beach & Monk Seal Mahai'ula Beach in North Kona.

Oahu sees about 4.8 million people annually on average, compared to only about 1.6 million visitors to Big Island.

Couple this with the fact that the Big Island of Hawaii is 6.5 times larger in mass and you can imagine the difference in buzz and crowds!

Many people who have visited both islands prefer Big Island to Oahu because of the difference in activity. The laid-back vibes and uncrowded beaches of the Big Island is perhaps its greatest appeal.

Oahu, meanwhile, has lots of visitors overall but does have some places where you get go to escape the crowds. Most of the eastern Kailua region and remote North Shore are quiet, aside from a few popular tourist beaches.

On a personal note, we expected Oahu to be our least favorite as we do not do well with hordes of people and imagined screaming children and traffic jams. What we discovered was quite the opposite and thoroughly enjoyed our time on Oahu away from Waikiki!


🐠 Snorkeling & Diving in Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🀿 The Big Island ties Maui as the best snorkeling island in Hawaii.
🌊 Oahu has some easy beach access snorkeling, but relatively few coral gardens or scenes worth exploring.

πŸ† Big Island

Big Island is probably the best snorkeling island in Hawaii, and is home to one of the most moving and incredible underwater experiences you will ever have in the Manta Ray night snorkel.

Note that even if you do not swim or snorkel, you can and should include the night swim with manta rays on your Big Island itinerary! It is the one true must do.

There are a dozen other world-famous snorkel spots on Big Island such as Captain Cook Monument and Two-Step where dolphin encounters are all-but guaranteed.

Oahu has beautiful clear water and plenty of beaches where you can mask up and walk right into the water, but relatively few of these beaches host coral gardens where you see the best marine life.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is by far the most famous place to snorkel on Oahu. Unfortunately for us (but good for the wildlife), visitations are extremely limited and getting reservations takes significant advanced planning.

The one underwater activity Oahu uniquely boasts is snorkeling or diving with sharks. This can be done through a caged, or cage-free experience, both of which are very safe and offer a unique wildlife experience.

⭐️ Pro tip: To save money and allow you to snorkel at any beach, pack your own snorkel gear.

🀿 RELATED GUIDE:
BEST SNORKELING ON THE BIG ISLAND


πŸ₯Ύ Hiking in Big Island vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸƒβ€β™€οΈ Oahu offers the most hiking trails of any Hawaiian island with some famous short hikes.
πŸ§— Big Island has a ton of hikes for locals, but relatively few popular tourist trails.

πŸ† Oahu

Oahu has the most hiking trails of any of the Hawaiian islands with over 250 different trails.

Many of these, such as Lanikai Pillbox, Koko Head, and most famously, Diamond Head are popular tourist hikes that can be done in a matter of hours and provide unique views of the island.

Big Island, meanwhile, requires lots of long walks to reach your destinations, but these are really more of a commute than a hike.

The most popular tourist hiking trails in Big Island are those in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and a few waterfall trails near Hilo.

The locals on Big Island would be quick to argue that there are dozens if not hundreds of incredible hikes for those that know where to look, but these are not things that short-term visitors and vacationers are likely to be looking for.

What about the Stairway to Heaven on Oahu?

The most famous hike in all of Hawaii was the “Stairway to Heaven” aka “Haiku Stairs” of Oahu. That hike was officially closed in the 1980s but continued to be popular even after the climb became illegal.

In 2022, state officials voted to demolish the stairs and end the hike forever. Removal of the steps and trail is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

🧳 Packing for Hawaii

An empty luggage container with a tropical appearance

There are a few essentials that you will want to consider taking with you to the Hawaiian islands.

For a complete guide on what to pack, including a printable list, check out our ULTIMATE HAWAII PACKING GUIDE.

Essentials

A young woman applying reef-safe sunscreen on a beach in Hawaii
Don’t forget to pack reef-safe sunscreen.
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: Traditional sunscreen is full of chemicals that are hugely damaging to coral reefs. Furthermore, Hawaii is the first state to require the use of reef-safe sunscreen. Accordingly, reef-safe sunscreen is perhaps the most important item to pack for Hawaii.
    We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s non-harmful and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic. Purchase on Amazon or direct.
  • Beach travel towel: Hotels will provide towels for use within their grounds but you will want to take a towel with you for the beach. We recommend bringing a travel towel specifically as they are small, dry quickly, and do not collect sand!
  • Snorkel gear: Unless you’re only planning on taking snorkel tours, it is cheaper and easier to bring your own snorkel and mask and fins than renting them each day. You can also buy these items as a snorkel set which works out cheaper still.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ Big Island vs Oahu FAQs

Palm trees line Puako Beach in North Kona during a Big Island sunset.

Use the drop-down boxes below to find the answers to the most frequently asked questions comparing Oahu to the Big Island of Hawaii.

Is Oahu nicer than Big Island?

Oahu is the best island for first-time visitors to Hawaii, boasting the nicest beaches, cheapest average stays. and more tourist amenities. The Big Island of Hawaii is specifically the better choice for travelers who would rather have a quiet beach than an idyllic one.

Should you go to Oahu or Big Island first?

Oahu is the more popular and (usually) the best island to go to for a first visit to Hawaii. The beaches on Oahu are the best in Hawaii and are easier to get to than on Big Island. Additionally, accommodation is better priced with more availability on Oahu than Big Island.

Many prefer the quieter, more peaceful Big Island, but Oahu tends to be the better choice for a first visit.

Are the beaches better in Big Island or Oahu?

The beaches on Oahu are much better than those on Big Island. On the whole, they are easier to access and feature significantly softer sand.

The Kohala region has the nicest beaches on the Big Island for those who prefer to vacation there.

Are the beaches better in Kona or Honolulu?

While Kona is the most famous part of Big Island, the best beaches are actually found to the north along the Kohala coastline near Waikoloa. Even these are not as nice as Waikiki Beach outside of Honolulu, but they are significantly less crowded.

Is it cheaper to fly to Oahu or Big Island?

Starting airfare is nearly identical to Honolulu (HNL) on Oahu and Kona (KOA) on Big Island. There are, however, far more direct flights available to Oahu than Big Island.

Which island is cheaper, Oahu or Big Island?

Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii are the most budget-friendly of all the Hawaiian islands. Accommodation tends to be more reasonably priced on Oahu, however, as the supply and demand of hotel rooms is a more favorable ratio.

πŸ“š More Big Island, Oahu & Hawaii Travel 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™‚

We hope you’ve found this guide comparing Big Island vs Oahu helpful as you plan your next Hawaiian vacation.

Before you go, we have a plethora of other guides to both islands and the entire Rainbow State to browse. Each of these will be useful as you continue planning the vacation you deserve!


General Hawaii Travel Guides


Oahu Travel Guides


Big Island Travel Guides

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Big Island vs Oahu

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 truly hope you have found this guide comparing Big Island vs Oahu useful for deciding which island to choose for your next Hawaiian adventure!

If you still can’t decide, might we recommend visiting both?! Island hopping in Hawaii is incredibly affordable and a great way to experience two very different places for yourself!

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.

Now grab some reef-safe sunscreen and go prepare for the trip of a lifetime!

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