🏝 Maui vs Oahu: Which to Choose for Your First Visit in 2024

Maui vs. Oahu blog cover image.  Text overlaying a graphic showing two images; one of a Maui beach resort at the top and one of a view of Waikiki Beach in Oahu at the bottom.

Everyone dreams of their first Hawaiian vacation, but choosing between the two most popular islands of Oahu and Maui can be an extremely difficult and important decision.

Both islands have incredible beaches, snorkeling, restaurants, and activities. Both also cost about the same amount for flights and accommodations… so how do you choose?!

I have visited both Oahu and Maui three times each. While I certainly have my own personal preference, my goal with this guide is to help you make the right choice for you!

In this guide, you will find a comprehensive breakdown and comparison of the two major Hawaiian islands.

This includes a combination of data, research, and, when relevant, my personal experience regarding key factors such as climate, average trip cost, beach quality, accommodation options, scenery, and more.

By the end, you will have all the information necessary for choosing the perfect island for your tropical getaway.

🌺 Maui vs Oahu Overview

A graphic showing a table comparing the features of Oahu vs Maui on a floral tropical background.
Visual comparison of Maui vs. Oahu

Some Quick, Important Notes

πŸ”₯ As of October 8, 2023, all of Maui has been re-opened, with the exception of Lahaina.

πŸ† Oahu is the most popular, and typically the best choice of islands for first-time visitors to Hawaii. While both are comparable in many ways, Oahu has the edge in most of the influential decision-making factors, such as the best beaches, the lowest average trip cost, the best nightlife, and more direct flight options.

❀️ Maui is the second most popular Hawaiian island to visit overall but is the top choice for honeymoons and romantic getaways.

✈️ 27 US airports have direct flights to Oahu, while only 16 have direct flights to Maui.

πŸ“Έ The top attractions on Oahu include Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, Kualoa Ranch (Jurassic Park), Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, North Shore, and Diamond Head.

🌺 The top attractions on Maui include Haleakala National Park, Road to Hana, Red Sand Beach, Molokini Crater, Wailea & Kihei Beaches, and day trips to Lanai.


🌴 Maui vs Oahu Detailed Comparisons

🐒 Maui Overview

A turtle rests on the sand with palm trees in the background at VOR beach in Maui
  • Nickname: The Valley Isle
  • Where to Stay: Kihei or Wailea
  • Airports
    • Kahului (OGG) – Main Airport
    • Hana (HNM)
    • Kapalua (JHM)
  • Best Things to Do
    • Molokini Crater
    • Beach Hopping
    • Road to Hana
    • Whale Watching
    • Haleakala
    • Sunset Luau

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


Who Should Choose Maui Over Oahu

Maui is a better option than Oahu for the following vacationers:

  • Families with children
  • Honeymooners
  • Adventure travelers
  • Nature & landscape photographers
  • Road trippers

🏝 Oahu Overview

The incredible beauty of the Oahu east shore is on display here at Kaaawa Beach with palm trees and mountains and golden sand shoreline.
  • Nickname: The Gathering Place
  • Where to Stay: Waikiki or Honolulu
  • Airports
    • Honolulu (HNL) – Main Airport
    • Kalaeloa (JRF)
  • 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

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


Who Should Choose Oahu Over Maui

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

  • Beach bums / Resort seekers
  • Surfers
  • Shoppers
  • Singles
  • History & culture buffs
  • Group celebrations

🌀 Weather in Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
β˜€οΈ Kihei / Wailea on Maui are the driest places to stay, with the best weather on either island.
πŸŒ₯ Both Maui & Oahu have several microclimates. The weather is most dependent on the time of year and exact location.

A brilliant, colorful rainbow shines brightly over the harbor of Lahaina on Maui.

If you want the best chance at sunny days with no rain, the Kihei and Wailea-Makena regions of Maui are the safest bet. They see the least rainfall and most sunny days of any region across both Oahu and Maui.

If you decide to stay in Oahu but want nice beach weather, Ewa Beach is the driest place on the island. The more popular Waikiki Beach sees 123 days of rain on average, but this is a passing drizzle that will not affect your time.

Understand that all Hawaiian islands have large volcanoes that not only created the earth there but also created several microclimates. You will often see the terms “Leeward Side” (aka dry side) and “Windward Side (aka wet side) used to describe the Hawaiian islands, which are caused by these volcanoes.

For example, the presence of mighty Haleakala on Maui has created a lush rainforest on the windward side, which receives 400 inches of annual rainfall. This is in stark contrast to just 10 inches in Kihei despite the two being only 15 minutes apart (by air)!

Below are the most popular places to stay on Oahu and Maui with the average annual rainfall and days of rain notated:

Annual RainfallRainy Days on Avg.
Kihei / Wailea10 inches45 days
Ka’anapali24 inches83 days
Hana77 inches263 days
Ewa Beach17 inches45 days
Waikiki Beach20 inches83 days
Kailua Region38 inches196 days
North Shore30 inches225 days

πŸ– Beaches in Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ’¦ Oahu has the best beaches in all of Hawaii.
πŸ– Maui has the most beach options and some extremely unique ones, i.e. Red Sand Beach.

A postcard perfect palm tree over white sand and aqua water at Lanikai Beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
Lanikai Beach on Oahu is perhaps the most beautiful beach in all of Hawaii.

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 the beaches from “the postcard,” with a palm tree rustling gently and turquoise water lapping the shores.

Maui, however, is also a fantastic option for a beach-heavy vacation. This island has more options overall, not to mention some truly unique offerings. There are 15 beaches in Kihei alone and at least a few dozen easily accessible options throughout the western shoreline.

Maui is also home to two visually stunning beaches: Kaihalulu (aka Red Sand Beach) and Waianapanapa (aka Black Sand Beach). While neither is ideal for a casual beach day, they are incredibly beautiful to see and photograph.


✈️ Flights to Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ›¬ More cities offer direct flights to Oahu than to Maui.
πŸ’° The baseline prices for both Oahu and Maui are nearly identical.

An airplane landing on Maui is photographed between palm trees.

More cities fly directly to Honolulu (HNL) in Oahu than to Kahului (OGG) in Maui, but the baseline ticket price to each island is nearly identical. You may still find cheaper flights to one over the other for a specific date based on offers and availability, of course.

A surprise to most first-time visitors of Hawaii is that the cost of flights is actually fairly affordable, whereas the cost of accommodation is borderline extortionate.

The best way to find cheap tickets to Oahu and Maui is to use the SkyScanner website and search by month. This will show you a calendar with the cheapest prices for each day displayed, allowing you to book for whichever is the cheapest.

πŸ’° Cost of Visiting Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ’² Oahu is slightly more budget-friendly than Maui.
🏠 AirBnBs / apartment rentals on Maui offer groups and families a unique savings opportunity.

Crystal clear turquoise water and pristine white sand beach are captured on a sunny day in Kailua on the island of Oahu.

When considering the total costs of your visit to Hawaii, Oahu is typically a little cheaper than Maui.

The biggest difference in expenses between the two islands comes from the price of accommodation. Accommodation will be the largest expense, and a similar range of options exists for both islands.

However, of the main Hawaiian islands, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Oahu has the lowest average hotel price.

In 2022, the average daily rate for a hotel room in Oahu was $267.77 compared to $606.92 on Maui.

Oahu also has over double the number of hotel rooms than Maui but sees only around 1.6 times the number of visitors. Therefore, it is often easier to find a better hotel deal in Oahu.

That said, apartment rentals are more plentiful in Maui, so those traveling as part of a group or family have the unique opportunity for savings by sharing a rental as opposed to booking multiple rooms in a hotel or resort.

For perspective, I conducted a quick experiment comparing prices for various dates across booking.com, VRBO, and other booking platforms. I found it much easier to find a wide range of options ranging from budget to upscale on Oahu than on Maui.

Flights are the second-highest trip cost, and the baseline airfare for Maui and Oahu are identical regardless of departure city.


πŸš— Getting Around Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ– Waikiki in Oahu is the best option if you want to stay at the resort and not drive.
🚘You will need to rent a car or arrange tours for a visit to Maui.

A girl sitting on top of a flowery camper van on Olowalu Beach in Maui.
Sophie poses atop our colorful campervan on a beach in Maui.

The Waikiki Beach region of Oahu and the Kihei / Ka’anapali regions of Maui are the only places on either island that you would even want to consider staying without a rental car or tours with pick-up service.

Both of these regions have a variety of resorts right on the beach and all necessary amenities within easy walking distance.

Public transportation in Hawaii is very limited and should not be relied upon. If you want to do any exploring of your own, which I highly recommend, you will need to rent a car.

Luckily, rental cars are surprisingly affordable, beginning at just $30/ day during off-peak seasons and rarely landing over $65/ day even during peak season.

Both Oahu and Maui have a plethora of striking natural beauty that is worth exploring if your idea of the perfect vacation involves more than lying on the beach.

Maui, in particular, is an exceptional place for day trips, with destinations like the famous Road to Hana and Haleakala being essentials on any bucket list for the island.

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

Quick Takeaway
🏝 Oahu has the best beaches, nightlife, and historical/cultural attractions in Hawaii.
🐠 Maui has more diverse & unique natural beauty and better snorkeling/diving than Oahu.

Oahu and Maui are by far the most accommodating Hawaiian islands for tourists. Both offer visitors plenty of things to see and do no matter what kind of traveler you are. Choosing which to visit comes down to your personal tastes and preferred vacation style.

Oahu has the only major city in Hawaii in Honolulu. If activities involving nightlife, shopping, museums, fine dining, and so on are your priority, Oahu will be your best option. Likewise, you will find the best beaches in all of Hawaii on Oahu.

Conversely, Maui is actually very quiet at night, even in Kihei (the most popular place to stay). The real appeal of Maui as a destination over Oahu is the nature.

There are some incredible sights you will discover here, unlike anything else in Hawaii, or the rest of the world for that matter. These are things like Red Sand Beach, the Rainbow Eucalyptus, Molokini Crater, and a plethora of stunning waterfalls, to name a few.

Additionally, if you’re visiting in the winter months, Maui is the best place for whale watching. While you will likely see these majestic marine mammals from both islands, the shallow AuΚ»au Channel between Maui, MolokaΚ»i, and LānaΚ»iΒ is a favorite spot for the whales!

πŸ€™πŸ½ Vibes & Atmosphere in Oahu vs Maui

Quick Takeaway
πŸŒƒ Oahu has more nightlife and buzz, though there are quiet parts of the island as well.
😌 Maui is slightly more relaxed and shuts down at night.

View of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu and Diamond Head in the background as seen from a high rise hotel.

Maui and Oahu are the two most popular Hawaiian islands by far, so both have a bit of buzz and pulse. That said, Hawaii is not a state known for its nightlife. Both islands have regions where you can find or escape the crowds.

For perspective, Oahu sees 4.8 million visitors annually, compared to 3 million for Maui and only about 1.3 million annually for Kauai.

Most people imagine Oahu to be a swarm of screaming children and crowds of tourists. While Waikiki Beach and Honolulu are absolutely that, a very short drive to the Kailua region or up the North Shore will make you feel like you’re in another world entirely.

Similarly, Ka’anapali is a popular resort destination on Maui, and the beaches of Wailea-Makena and Kihei will never be empty, but you will rarely struggle to find parking or get stuck in traffic.

You may also have heard that there is a specific Hawaiian island for everyone that speaks to them.

On a personal note, I do not buy into the idea of energy fields and auras too much, but I must admit that I feel very different “vibes” the second I arrive on each island. Oahu gets me excited every time I visit, while Maui always greets me with feelings of inexplicable anxiety.

🏨 Accommodation & Resorts in Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🏑 Maui has better accommodation options for honeymoons and special occasions.
🏩 Oahu has more large-scale beachside hotels & resorts for “vacation in a box” style holidays.

A VW bus is used as a cafe by a pool at a luxury beachfront property in Ka'anapali, Maui.
Beachfront resort in Ka’anapali on Maui.

⭐️ Pro tip: Hotels and rentals in Hawaii have additional taxes and resort fees. Ensure you click all the way through your booking to get a final estimated price, as these additional fees can add up quickly!

Both Maui and Oahu are well-developed for tourists and offer a wide range of accommodations.

Regardless of which island you choose, keep in mind that you will pay a premium for beachfront property.

Accommodation on Oahu

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On Oahu, you will find the greatest concentration of accommodation options in Honolulu and on Waikiki Beach.

Oahu has over double the number of resorts and hotels than Maui, and they typically start at a lower price point. Mid-range hotels on Oahu start from around $150 – $300 per night, with beachfront rooms and properties going up considerably from there.

However, the resorts on Oahu aren’t necessarily directly comparable with those on Maui.

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.

Accommodation on Maui

On Maui, most of the accommodation can be found on the western coast of the island, especially aroundΒ Wailea, Kihei, and Ka’anapali.

The resorts on Maui are more sprawling and less crowded than Oahu, extending out rather than up.

However, these resorts come with a higher price tag. A mid-range hotel on Maui typically starts from around $250 – $400 per night.

Maui has fewer hotels but far more apartments and AirBnBs than Oahu, particularly in the Kihei region. Groups and families, in particular, may be able to score a better rate on Maui by sharing a large apartment or AirBnB rather than booking multiple rooms in a hotel.


🍹 Bars & Nightlife in Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🍾 Honolulu on Oahu is the only major city in Hawaii and home to the best bars and nightlife.
🍹 Maui has some upscale dining but is very quiet at night.

Night photo of the Andaz Resort on Maui.

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

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

Maui, by contrast, is surprisingly sleepy after dark. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a place to grab a drink in a social setting, only that the options are very limited and a bit lower-key.

If you have decided on Maui and expect to be spending your evenings behind a bar, Kihei will be by far your best option.

Outside of the bar and club scene, both Oahu and Maui have some excellent local craft breweries worth checking out. Maui Brewing Co. is a particularly fantastic place for the beer connoisseurs out there.

🍽 Food & Restaurants in Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🍴Oahu has more fine dining options and a wider selection of restaurants.
🍱 Both Maui and Oahu offer great casual fare and boast a number of incredible food trucks.

Close up food photography of the Hawaiian dish of poke.

As Honolulu is the only cosmopolitan city in Hawaii, Oahu will be the better choice of islands for the foodies who prioritize fine dining. There are more options and higher-rated restaurants in Oahu than in Maui.

Maui certainly has plenty of great options as well, however, particularly in the more affluent Wailea region.

If you are looking for local, casual “grindz”, you can’t go wrong with either Oahu or Maui. Hawaiian food is delicious, and both islands boast no shortage of amazing food trucks and small-kitchen destinations to grab something affordable and authentic.

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

🌿 Natural Beauty & Scenery of Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🌸 Maui has a more diverse nature and is better for outdoor adventure.
πŸŒ„ Oahu is surprisingly beautiful and mountainous but has less diverse scenery than Maui.

Not everyone dreams of sitting by the pool all week on their vacation. If you are anything like us, the best trips offer plenty of sightseeing as well!

Maui is better than Oahu for those looking for a mix of beach and outdoor adventuring. There is the famous Road to Hana drive through lush, waterfall-laden rainforest, as well as a red sand beach, Haleakala volcano, O’heo Gulch, Olivine Pools, and so much more.

Oahu is also surprisingly stunning, though the range of beauty is more limited. The beaches are obviously exceptional, and the KoΚ»olau Mountain Range adds a “Jurassic” kind of beauty to the landscapes.

There are plenty of magnificent things for landscape photographers and nature lovers to point a camera at on either island, but Maui has more variety overall.


β›± Crowds in Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸ™ Oahu is the busiest island in Hawaii. Expect large crowds in Honolulu & Waikiki.
πŸšΆβ€β™‚οΈ Maui is the second most popular Hawaiian island, but crowds are mostly well-dispersed.

View over Waikiki and Honolulu from Diamond Head hike on Oahu.

Oahu sees an average of 4.7 million visitors annually, while Maui sees between 2-3 million on average. Accordingly, you can expect some traffic near the airport and cities on both.

Both Maui and Oahu have regions where you can day trip or stay if you want to get away from the crowds and places you can go to find them.

On Oahu, Waikiki Beach will always be teeming with families, foreigners, and vacationers. Honolulu will also be perpetually humming as the only metropolis on the islands.

However, a short drive in any direction away from these two places will limit the crowds substantially. The North Shore and eastern Kailua Region present two fantastic options for quieter stays on Oahu

In Maui, the region known as “South Maui” is where the vast majority of people stay. Kihei, in particular, tends to be the busiest place on the island.

Ka’anapali, in the region known as “West Maui,” is the Waikiki Beach of Maui. It is where you will find large resorts right on the beach with families and beach bums who don’t plan on straying far from their hotel rooms.

Hana and the Maui North Shore Region are two great options for getting away from the families and crowds.

🐠 Snorkeling & Diving in Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
🀿 Maui is the best island in Hawaii for beach-access snorkeling, and Molokini Crater is the most famous snorkel site in the state.
🌊 Oahu has a few famous snorkel spots and better beaches but is not as good for underwater adventures as Maui.

Most consider Maui to be the best Hawaiian island for snorkeling and scuba diving. There are more beach-access snorkel spots on Maui than any other island, plus an assortment of excellent locations you can reach by boat tour.

There are several locations with guaranteed turtle sightings on Maui that are free to visit and easy to access, a few Marine Sanctuaries you can visit for free, plus the world-famous Molokini Crater.


Oahu has beautiful clear water but fewer beach-access coral gardens and easily accessible sites. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is by far the most famous place to snorkel on the island, but they limit visitors, and getting reservations is increasingly difficult.

Oahu is also the only island that offers 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.

If snorkeling and/or scuba diving are important factors in deciding which island to visit, Maui will be by far the better choice than Oahu.

πŸ₯Ύ Hiking in Maui vs Oahu

Quick Takeaway
πŸšΆπŸ½β€β™€οΈ Oahu offers the most hiking trails of any Hawaiian island.
πŸ” Maui has more limited hiking opportunities but still offers a few incredible hikes.

Beautiful view on Popoia (flat island) and Kailua Bay from Lanikai Pillbox hike in Oahu.

Oahu has the most hiking trails of any of the Hawaiian islands, with over 250 different trails. It is arguably the best island in Hawaii for hiking (though Kauai makes a very strong claim to this title).

But it’s not just quantity that makes Oahu great for hiking! There is also a variety of landscapes to explore, from jungle strolls to cascading waterfalls to thrilling ridge-line hikes and spectacular sweeping views.

Most of the popular trails in Oahu are between 2 – 5 miles in length and make for easy day trips. Some of these include Diamond Head, Lanikai Pillbox, Koko Crater, Mānoa Falls, and Kaena Point.

*Note: The incredibly famous Stairway to Heaven hike is officially closed to everyone, and the state has even voted to begin dismantling the staircase after decades of misuse in 2023.

While the hiking on Oahu is generally considered better than Maui, you will still find some incredible hikes on the Valley Isle. In particular, Waihee Ridge Trail, β€˜Iao Valley, Pipiwai Trail, and Sliding Sand Trails offer some amazing hiking opportunities.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ Maui vs Oahu FAQs

Hawaiian dancers perform at a sunset luau on Maui.

Use the drop-down boxes below to find the answers to the most frequently asked questions comparing Maui to Oahu.

Is Maui nicer than Honolulu/Oahu?

Oahu is the best island to visit for your first trip to Hawaii if you want to see the iconic sites and best beaches. Maui is considered the best island for honeymoons and self-arranged travel.

Both Maui and Oahu are beautiful and offer some of the best beaches in the world. Oahu tends to be busier with larger crowds, whereas Maui is a little quiet, especially at night.

Are the beaches better in Oahu or Maui?

Oahu has the best beaches in all of Hawaii! This is the island where you find those postcard-worthy beaches with swaying palm trees and turquoise water. Maui also has incredible golden sand beaches and benefits from a longer stretch of coastline to disperse crowds.

Is it cheaper to fly to Oahu or Maui?

The baseline price of flights is the same for both Maui and Oahu. More cities offer direct flights to Oahu than Maui, but which island will be cheaper to fly to depends only on availability.

Which island is cheaper, Oahu or Maui?

The costs for visiting Oahu and Maui are very comparable. Flight pricing begins at the same baseline from any city, and all other expenses, from accommodation to food and gas, are nearly identical.

πŸ“š More Oahu, Maui & 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™‚

I hope you’ve found this guide comparing Maui 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

Maui Travel Guides

Oahu Travel Guides

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts on Maui 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™‚

I truly hope you have found this guide comparing Maui vs Oahu useful for deciding which island to choose.

If you still can’t decide, might I 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 I have not answered, revisions I 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.

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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.

1 thought on “🏝 Maui vs Oahu: Which to Choose for Your First Visit in 2024”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your guide on Maui vs Oahu. You have given me a lot of useful information and insights on how to choose between these two beautiful islands. You have discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both islands in terms of weather, beaches, activities, costs, and vibes. I liked how you shared your personal preferences and opinions for each island, as well as some of your highlights and memories. Thank you for this wonderful guide!


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