Everyone dreams of their first Hawaiian vacation, but deciding between the two most popular islands of Oahu and Maui can be an extremely difficult and important choice.
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?!
In this guide, we compare all of the most important factors to help you decide whether to choose Maui vs Oahu. This includes breakdowns of cost, beaches, activities, weather, crowds, and so much more.
By the end, you will have learned everything you need to consider to make the right decision for YOU!
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 🙂
🌺 Maui vs Oahu Snapshot
Oahu is the most popular and best choice of islands for most first-time visitors of Hawaii.
While Maui and Oahu are comparable in many ways, Oahu has a slight edge in the most influential decision-making factors such as best beaches, widest range of accommodation options, best nightlife, and most direct flight options.
Consult the table below for a quick look at the most commonly compared features of Maui vs Oahu.
Who Should Choose Maui Over Oahu
Maui is a better option than Oahu for the following vacationers:
- Families with children
- Adventure travelers
- Nature & landscape photographers
- Road trippers
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
- History & culture buffs
- Group celebrations
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🌴 Maui vs Oahu Breakdown
🐢 Maui Overview
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.
Suggested: PLANNING A TRIP TO MAUI: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
🏝 Oahu Overview
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
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🌤 Weather in Maui vs Oahu
☀️ Kihei / Wailea on Maui are the driest places to stay with the best weather on either island.
🌥 Both Maui & Oahu have several microclimates. The weather is most dependent on the time of year and exact location.
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 on 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 mostly 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 create 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 Rainfall||Rainy Days on Avg.|
|Kihei / Wailea||10 inches||45 days|
|Ka’anapali||24 inches||83 days|
|Hana||77 inches||263 days|
|Ewa Beach||17 inches||45 days|
|Waikiki Beach||20 inches||83 days|
|Kailua Region||38 inches||196 days|
|North Shore||30 inches||225 days|
🏖 Beaches in Maui vs Oahu
💦 Oahu has the best beaches in all of Hawaii.
🏖 Maui has the most beach options and some extremely unique ones, i.e. Red Sand Beach.
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.
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✈️ Flights to Maui vs Oahu
🛬 More cities offer direct flights to Oahu than to Maui.
💰 The baseline price for both Oahu and Maui are nearly identical.
More cities fly direct 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.
💰 Cost of Visiting Maui vs Oahu
💲 Oahu is slightly more budget-friendly than Maui.
🏠 AirBnBs / apartment rentals on Maui offer groups and families a unique savings opportunity.
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 Kauai. 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.
With all that said, when researching prices, we searched booking.com, VRBO, and other accommodation platforms on multiple dates and found that it was possible to find comparable prices on each island. The biggest difference in the price came down to the specific dates and availability.
Flights are the second-highest trip cost and the baseline airfare for Maui and Oahu are 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.
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.
💰 READ MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE COST OF A TRIP TO HAWAII
🚗 Getting Around Maui vs Oahu
🏖 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.
The Waikiki Beach region of Oahu and the Ka’anapali region 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 we highly recommend, you will need to rent a car.
Luckily, rental cars are surprisingly affordable beginning at just $35/day during off-peak seasons, and rarely landing over $65/day even when busy.
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 laying 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.
📸 Top Sights, Activities & Things to Do: Maui vs Oahu
🏝 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 Auʻau Channel between Maui, Molokaʻi, and Lānaʻi is a favorite spot for the whales!
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🤙🏽 Vibes & Atmosphere in Oahu vs Maui
🌃 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.
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, we are not heavily influenced by the idea of energy fields and auras, but have to admit that we very much feel different “vibes” the second we arrive on each island, and it has remained consistent on each of our returns.
The Big Island and, shockingly, Oahu are the ones that make us feel at ease, while Maui always greets us with feelings of inexplicable anxiety.
🏨 Accommodation & Resorts in Maui vs Oahu
🏡 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.
Both Maui and Oahu are well-developed for tourists and offer a wide range of accommodations.
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.
On Maui, most of the accommodation can be found on the south and west side of the island, especially around 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.
Regardless of which island you choose, keep in mind that you will pay a premium for beachfront property.
⭐️ Pro tip: Both Maui and Oahu 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
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🍹 Bars & Nightlife in Maui vs Oahu
🍾 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.
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 and Lahaina will be the best options.
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
🍴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.
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 on Oahu than 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
🌸 Maui has more diverse nature and is better for outdoor adventure.
🌄 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 Koʻolau 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.
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⛱ Crowds in Maui vs Oahu
🏙 Oahu is the busiest island in Hawaii. Expect large crowds in Honolulu & Waikiki.
🚶♂️ Maui is the second most popular Hawaiian island, but crowds are mostly well-dispersed.
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; that is, it is the place 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.
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🐠 Snorkeling & Diving in Maui vs Oahu
🤿 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. Read more in our complete guide to the best snorkeling spots on Maui.
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.
⭐️ Pro tip: To save money and allow you to snorkel at any beach, pack your own snorkel gear.
🤿 RELATED GUIDE:
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🥾 Hiking in Maui vs Oahu
🚶🏽♀️ Oahu offers the most hiking trails of any Hawaiian island.
🏔 Maui has more limited hiking opportunities, but still offers a few incredible hikes.
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! It is also the 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, ‘Iao Valley, Pipiwai Trail, and Sliding Sand Trails offer some amazing hiking opportunities.
🧳 Packing for Hawaii
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.
- 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.
🙋♀️ Maui vs Oahu FAQs
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, and caters most to tourists. 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 to Maui, but which island will be cheaper to fly to is dependent only on availability.
Which island is cheaper, Oahu or Maui?
The costs for visiting Oahu are Maui are very comparable. Flight pricing begins at the same baseline from any city, and all other expenses from accommodation to food and gas is nearly identical.
📚 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 🙂
We 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
- TRIP TO HAWAII COST: How to budget for your trip
- PLANNING A TRIP TO HAWAII: Start to finish planning guide
- HAWAII BUCKET LIST: Best Things to Do on Each Island
- 7 DAY HAWAII ITINERARY:
- 10 DAY HAWAII ITINERARY
- 14 DAY HAWAII ITINERARY
- HOW TO ISLAND HOP IN HAWAII
- BEST BEACHES OF HAWAII GUIDE
- HOW MANY DAYS IN HAWAII?
Maui Travel Guides
- HAWAII PACKING LIST: A printable essential packing list + 25 useful items to consider
- 5-7 DAY MAUI ITINERARY: How to see the entire island in one week or less
- WHERE TO STAY ON MAUI: The best places and areas to stay on the island
- PLANNING A TRIP TO MAUI: Step by step guide for planning your first visit to Maui
- ROAD TO HANA STOPS: The Top 25 places to visit on the Road to Hana
- ROAD TO HANA ITINERARY: How to plan for a 1-2 day self drive.
- BEST MAUI PHOTO SPOTS: 15 best places for photographing Maui
- SECRET BEACHES OF MAUI: The 10 most incredible hidden beaches on the island
- MAUI SUNSETS: The Top 10 places & activities for watching sunset in Maui
- KIHEI BEACHES GUIDE: Photos, locations, and descriptions for all 15 beaches in Kihei
- BEST SNORKELING IN MAUI: Best snorkel spots, tips, tours and more.
Oahu Travel Guides
💬 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 🙂
We 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 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!