From cerulean waters to verdant vegetation to sandy beaches, Hawaii is home to a wealth of natural beauty. Though it can be easy to assume the six main Hawaiian Islands travelers visit offer similar experiences, they are more diverse than you can imagine.
To help you decide which island is ideal for your next vacation, U.S. News took into account sights, expert opinion and reader input to determine the best Hawaiian Islands. Vote for your favorite destination below to have a say in next year’s list and don’t forget to always be on the lookout for cruise deals.
Oahu is Hawaii’s most bustling and urban island. It’s home to the state’s largest city and commercial center, Honolulu, which is known for an epic rush hour that sometimes rivals Los Angeles. Within the city limits, Waikiki Beach is the place to see and be seen — shop, dine and enjoy the amenities of huge high-rise resorts.
But Oahu’s offerings are more diverse than just Honolulu. The growing resort area of Ko Olina is not as built up and has a variety of accommodations, including Disney’s Aulani Resort and the Four Seasons Ko Olina (currently accepting reservations for stays from March 11, 2021, onward). On the way to Ko Olina from Honolulu is Pearl Harbor, one of the most visited historic sites anywhere on the islands.
Oahu’s North Shore provides another vibe, downright chill with its beach hopping, food-truck loving, small-town surfer scene. Hikers can find plenty of trails all over Oahu, from the peaks of Diamond Head to less-traveled spots like Makiki Valley or Waimea Valley. Unfortunately though, many parks, museums and centers are closed due to COVID-19, so make sure to check opening hours in advance.
The second-most-visited island in the state and also its second-largest is Maui, home to the famed Road to Hana, Haleakala National Park and the best whale watching anywhere in the islands in winter months.
For many travelers, a vacation on Maui is the best of both worlds. The island offers some of the same infrastructure, conveniences and activities of Oahu without the traffic and urban sprawl. It’s possible to have an active vacation here and visit a lot of attractions or also just enjoy some island R & R at a resort.
Maui is my top pick for families with kids of school age because of its many activities. It works well for multigenerational groups because it has experiences that grandparents and grandkids can enjoy, like the Maui Ocean Center or a sunrise at Haleakala National Park.
The island of Maui also has many amazing hotels and resorts at a wide variety of price points. Most are clustered in two major areas — on the Lahaina/Ka’anapali/Kapalua corridor on the northwest side of the island or in Kihei/Wailea farther south.
For its size, Maui offers an impressive variety of hotels for travelers to book a hotel stay with points. Most major chains are represented and many properties offer condo accommodations that work for families or larger groups. The Hyatt Regency Maui, Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, Westin Nanea, Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort and Andaz Maui have all scored well with TPG contributors and readers.
Brilliant sunsets, pristine beaches, aquamarine skies – Kauai has mastered seduction. But the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain doesn’t have to resort to over-the-top luxury or tourist traps to entice; instead, it appeals to a no-muss, no-fuss type of traveler.
Resorts are no taller than a coconut tree (literally).You prefer rural to resplendent? Kauai’s your island – there are only two major highways, and some regions can only be explored on foot or via one of the best Kauai boat tours.
Some would say that you need little more than a good pair of hiking boots, an umbrella and an adventurous spirit to visit. But we should warn you: You might also need a little cash. Kauai has put a premium on its natural beauty and prized hiking trails, and room rates during the winter can reach $500 a night. To get the most and save the most, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons.
When billionaires are fighting over something, you know it’s special. That’s the case with Hawaii’s most exclusive island, Lanai. Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, has been trying to lay his hands on some Lanai real estate for some time. Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, took control of 97 percent of Lanai in 2012. But don’t let this clash of titans stop you from visiting.
Here is where Mother Nature puts on quite a show, providing remote beaches, otherworldly rock formations and colorful underwater reefs. You’ll probably need an off-roading vehicle and a taste for adventure to reach them – top sights like Shipwreck Beach and the Munro Trail are literally off the beaten (or paved) paths.
Cool down from exploring the terrain at one of the area’s posh hotels where you can expect to luxuriate in exceptional cuisine, first-class service and upscale accommodations. Should you crave more activity, you can try your hand at deep sea fishing, horseback riding, lawn bowling and more. With all this, how can you resist the coveted charms of tiny Lanai?
Hawaii (the Big Island)
The island of Hawaii, called the Big Island, is the largest and newest island in the chain. Because it’s so big, seeing everything requires close to a week but it offers many different travel experiences from day to day.
The vast majority of Big Island visitors stick to the western side of the island near the city of Kailua-Kona and the Kohala Coast, where the large resorts are located. Luxury seekers can enjoy high-end properties like the Four Seasons Hualalai, the Mauna Lani Bay Resort or the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
Families on a moderate budget can find ample hotel offerings too. In particular, the Waikoloa Beach Marriott and Hilton Waikoloa Village cater to travelers with kids. Pool complexes are a big draw.
Although it’s entirely possible to spend a weekon the Big Island relaxing on the beach of a resort, the island can also be an adventure traveler’s paradise. On the northern part of the island, travelers can zipline, take ATV tours, jump into waterfalls, scuba dive or snorkel with giant manta rays, or flume down historic sugar cane irrigation channels.
What is the cheapest time of year to visit Hawaii?
The cheapest Islands [to visit] are Kauai [and] Oahu. These two islands don’t have a high peak season, so throughout the whole year can be considered “low” in terms of prices. The other two major islands have much higher peak seasons and thus higher average hotel
Spring and fall are Hawaii’s shoulder seasons, when fewer crowds mean less demand. You’ll generally find cheaper flights and lower hotel rates during these 2 windows.
Is there a bad time to go to Hawaii?
There are several islands in Hawaii which offer tourists a wide array of activities, sights and very warm weather. Each island has its own distinct character ranging from rainforest covered mountain tops with waterfalls to ancient fish ponds used by kings for fishing.
Tourists may want to visit any one of these beautiful Hawaiian Islands when taking their vacation. However, no matter what time the tourist chooses to take his/her vacation they will never be disappointed if he/she visits Oahu Island.
The island of Oahu offers visitors many activities ranging form hiking up Diamond Head Crater watching spectacular views at the top to shopping at world class shopping malls like Ala Moana Center Shopping Mall.
If you’re looking for the perfect place to visit in Hawaii, we have just the answer. Whether it be a tropical beach getaway or an active adventure trip, there is something for everyone on this island state! Did you know that not all of these islands are accessible by car?
This makes choosing your destination even more difficult when narrowing down which one will suit your needs best. To help narrow things down and find the right spot for you, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself before booking any flights: Where do I want to go? What do I want from my trip? How long should my stay be? Do I prefer beaches or mountains/volcanoes/waterfalls? Are animals important to me?