The Best Islands to Visit in Hawaii: A Guide to Choosing Your Adventure

Hawaii, a treasure cove of adventure, offers something for everyone. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker looking for an adrenaline rush, a couple searching for a romantic getaway, or a history enthusiast, this guide will help you choose the best Hawaiian island for your adventure.

If you’ve ever wondered about the best island to visit in Hawaii, you’re not alone. Many people, just like you, seek the enchanting promise of the Hawaiian Islands. An archipelago of eight key islands, each offering an entirely unique experience. From the dramatic cliffs of the Na Pali coast to the unparalleled star-gazing sights from Mauna Kea, the natural beauty of Hawaii is a kaleidoscope for the senses.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler looking to explore more, this article will help you understand which island is best suited to your interests and needs.

From the sun-kissed beaches on the Big Island, the adventurous trails of Kauai, the iconic landmarks of Oahu, to the secluded beauty of Molokai & Lanai, we’ve got you covered!

How Many Islands Are In Hawaii?

The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago comprised of 137 islands in total. However, there are eight primary islands that are typically recognized as the key destinations for travelers, each with its own unique character and attractions.

These primary islands are Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe.

Island Overviews: Matching Islands with Interests

The Big Island (Hawaiʻi): Adventure & Volcanoes

At a glance: Volcanoes National Park, black sand beaches, coffee farms, and stargazing

When it comes to the quest of figuring out what is the best island to visit in Hawaii, the Big Island often tops the list. As the largest of all the Hawaiian islands, it is aptly named and never disappoints those seeking adventure and a unique scenery twist.

With beaches of various colors, it is indeed a haven for beach lovers. From white-sand and black-sand beaches to green-sand and even stunning lava rock formations, every beach visit here provides a distinct experience.

Famous for its Punaluu Black Sand Beach, it’s the ideal stopover for some downtime after a fun-filled day of exploring the magnificent Volcanoes National Park. Nestled conveniently between the popular towns of Kona and Hilo, close to Volcano Village, it offers visitors a perfect blend of relaxation and excitement.

Of course, the Big Island’s most famous attraction is arguably Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Stepping into this park is like venturing into another world, where fiery cataclysms create new lands and towering sea cliffs.

The park’s standout feature is its two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive shield volcano. It’s an incredible spectacle of Mother Nature’s power and a testament to Hawaii’s birth, offering an awe-inspiring journey through a land of fiery lava flows and ash-clouded skies.

After witnessing the grandeur of Hawaii’s volcanoes, make your way to Mauna Kea, the highest point in the state to embark on a celestial adventure. Standing more than 13,800 feet above sea level, it’s considered one of the world’s best sites for stargazing. At Mauna Kea’s summit, under the cloak of darkness, the heavens truly come alive.

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The thin air and limited light pollution create a clear canvas for millions of stars, planets, and galaxies to shine brilliantly against the night sky. Telescope facilities and observational tours are available to give you a closer look into the sparkling cosmos.

It’s an unforgettable experience that rightly earns its spot among the must-do activities on the Big Island, especially for celestial enthusiasts.

Lava Flowing over cliffs into the ocean at Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park - The Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Maui: Honeymoons & Varied Beauty

At a glance: White sand beaches, the Road to Hana, Haleakala Crater, farm-to-table dining

Often hailed as the best island to visit in Hawaii for honeymooners or those seeking opulence and romantic splendor, Maui is an island that boasts a blend of luxurious resorts, stunning landscapes, and rich culinary culture. Enhanced by both its natural beauty and its allure as a honeymoon destination, Maui offers a myriad of options to satiate your interests.

For the nature enthusiasts Maui, will bewitch you with its myriad of beautiful beaches and outdoor adventures. The coastline boasts miles of some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, including the iconic ‘Road to Hana‘ — a scenic drive filled with numerous waterfalls, black sand beaches, and lush tropical rainforest.

Whether you are lounging under a palm tree on the South Shore or exploring the waves of the North Shore, the inviting crystal-clear waters are perfect for snorkeling, surfing, swimming, or simply soaking in the sun.

No visit to Maui would be complete without experiencing the awe-inspiring views from the Haleakala Crater. As you ascend to the summit, the dramatic shifting landscapes offer sweeping views of the lush tropical rainforest, the stark moon-like crater, and on clear days, a breathtaking view of the neighboring Big Island. If you can, make sure to witness the sublime sunrise or sunset for a truly unforgettable spectacle.

Maui is also famed for its farm-to-table dining culture, which pays tribute to the island’s rich agricultural traditions. Indulge in fresh, locally sourced ingredients at charming roadside food stands, casual beachfront eateries, and upscale oceanfront restaurants.

Related Post: Maui Nui Luau – 5 Ways to Save Up to 5% Off

Some of the best luaus are in Maui too! Experience the delights of tropical fruits plucked straight from the tree, delicious seafood caught fresh from the Pacific, and sweet and decadent desserts made from indigenous ingredients.

Suffice it to say, Maui serves as an oasis that perfectly balances relaxation with adventure, making it an ideal choice for honeymooners, foodies, beach lovers, and outdoor explorers alike. With its captivating beauty and varied offerings, Maui certainly stakes a claim to being one of the best islands in Hawaii to visit.

hut in field with trees in background and mountains in distance on sunny day at Kahanu Garden and Piilanihale Heiau at Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: Michael DeMotta via Facebook

Oahu: History, City Life, & Iconic Beaches

At a glance: Historic Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Waikiki, North Shore surfing

The allure of Oahu resides in its perfect blend of historical significance, bustling city life, and world-class beachside attractions. Not only is Oahu home to the state capital, Honolulu, but it also hosts the infamous Pearl Harbor – a National historical park where you can step back in time and walk the decks of the iconic Arizona Memorial.

Pearl Harbor is the largest natural harbor in Hawaii and the only naval base in the U.S. to be recognized as a National Historical Landmark. The site offers a sobering tribute to the lives lost during the attack that triggered America’s entry into World War II.

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Beyond the in-depth historical experiences, the vibrant city life in Honolulu offers an array of shopping, dining, and nightlife. Shopping enthusiasts will revel in the bustling Ala Moana Shopping Center, the world’s largest open-air shopping center. And don’t forget to tantalize your taste buds with local Hawaiian cuisine in Chinatown’s unique eateries.

Rounding out Oahu’s appeal, the island plays host to some of the best islands to visit in Hawaii for stunning beaches. A pilgrimage to the legendary surf haven of the North Shore is a must for any visitor.

Here, you’ll find the revered Waimea Bay and Banzai Pipeline, where towering winter waves attract the world’s best surfers. Whether you’re an avid surfer or simply looking to bask in the sun, Oahu’s North Shore caters to the desires of all beach lovers.

In contrast, the tranquil turquoise waters and white sandy shores of Waikiki Beach are perfect for family outings and peaceful strolls along the iconic coastline. Plus, taking lessons from one of the oldest surf schools in Waikiki is a fantastic way for beginners to catch their first wave.

The beautiful beaches of Oahu, the intriguing historical landmarks, and the buzzing city life make it a worthy choice for your Hawaiian adventure.

View looking down on Pearl Harbor during the day and there appears to be some oil in the water in Oahu Hawaii

Kauai: Outdoor Paradise & Lush Landscapes

At a glance: Na Pali Coast hikes, Waimea Canyon, waterfalls, less developed feel

Often referred to as the ‘Garden Isle,’ Kauai exudes lushness that is second to none. This green gem of the Hawaiian islands offers a myriad of outdoor activities that would captivate any adventurer.

One could spend days exploring its majestic mountains, tropical rainforests, and spellbinding waterfalls. A visit to Kauai allows you to experience authentic Hawaii, as much of it remains untouched by heavy tourism.

One of the island’s top attractions is undoubtedly the breathtaking Na Pali Coast. Stepping onto the awe-inspiring hiking trails of the coast feels as though you are journeying to another planet. This verdant coastline features some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, which are guaranteed to impress even the most hard-to-please travel enthusiast.

As for lovers of grand landscapes, Waimea Canyon, often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” will not disappoint. It is undoubtedly one of Kauai’s treasures. This geographic marvel, with its dramatic cliffs and valleys, vibrant hues of red and brown, and panoramic vistas, inspires a potent combination of awe and respect.

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Beyond these landmark features, Kauai also attracts beachgoers with its gorgeous shorelines. From the golden sands of the North Shore to the pristine beaches on the west side, the island provides a distinct experience for beach lovers.

Whether it’s swimming, surfing, or simply lounging in the sun, the beaches of Kauai offer everything you could want for a beach holiday.

Napali Coast of Kauai Hawaii
Na Pali Coast of Kauai

Molokai & Lanai: Off-the-Beaten-Path

At a glance: Seclusion, Hawaiian culture (Molokai), luxury resorts (Lanai)

If you’re heading to the Hawaiian islands to visit and crave an experience bathed in solitude and serenity, Molokai and Lanai should top your bucket list. Drastically contrasting from bustling city-like attractions, these islands indeed take you off the beaten path.

Molokai also referred to as the ‘Most Hawaiian Island,’ teems with untouched natural beauty and deep-seated traditions. The island resonates with a strong sense of history, community, and ancient Hawaiian culture. Here, you can walk amidst the tallest sea cliffs in the world or soak in the tranquility of the longest white-sand beach in Hawaii.

Visit the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, once a leper colony, but now a monument to the human spirit’s resilience. It’s worth noting that Molokai’s charm is etched in its simplicity, so be prepared. You won’t find luxury resorts or shopping malls here, just the purest form of aloha spirit.

Lanai, on the flip side, exudes a blend of unspoiled wilderness and sophistication. There are two world-class luxury resorts and no traffic lights. For adventure enthusiasts, ‘The Garden of the Gods’ is a top-rated attraction.

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Its unique rock formations producing a lunar-like landscape are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Beautiful beaches, such as Hulopoe Bay, provide excellent opportunities for snorkeling and spotting spinner dolphins.

For history buffs, a venture into the town of Lanai City, with its plantation-style buildings, would almost feel like stepping back in time. A look at the ruins of ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs at Shipwreck Beach further amplifies Lanai’s historical lineage.

Suppose your idea of a vacation involves soaking in raw culture, sharing in local traditions, or basking in the luxury of a quiet beachfront resort. In that case, the islands of Molokai and Lanai may just be the best islands to visit in Hawaii for you.

aerial view of Marriott's Maui Ocean Club exterior and pools in Maui, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: Maxing Marriott via Facebook

What is the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii?

Choosing the best island to visit in Hawaii depends on your personal interests and preferences. If you’re an adventurer seeking volcanoes and diverse beaches, the Big Island should be your go-to. Alternatively, if you’re after superficial beauty, rich history, or thrilling city life, islands like Maui, Oahu, and Kauai won’t disappoint.

When is the Best Time to Visit Hawaii for Whale Watching?

If whale watching is high on your list, the best time to visit Hawaii is during the winter months, from December to April. This is when humpback whales migrate from Alaska to the warmer waters of Hawaii to mate and give birth.

Particularly, February is considered the peak of the whale-watching season, when you’re most likely to experience these majestic creatures up close.

Tourists on the yacht are enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Na Pali Coast.
photo credit: Kauai Sea Tours via Facebook

What’s the Cheapest Island to Visit in Hawaii?

Among the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is generally the most economical choice due to its abundance of budget-friendly accommodations and activities. Furthermore, the expense of your flight could be lessened as Oahu is the gateway to Hawaii, receiving the highest volume of flights.

However, your expenses largely depend on the time of year and activities you choose, as well as how much you’re willing to indulge in local gastronomy and souvenirs.

Plan a Budget-Friendly Hawaiian Adventure

If you’re yearning for an unforgettable Hawaiian adventure, it’s worth exploring the budget-friendly vacation packages on Tripster.

No matter which island has caught your fancy, be it the grandeur of the Big Island, the scenic beauty of Maui, the pulsating energy of Oahu, or the lush landscapes of Kauai, there’s an affordable option tailored to your interests.

Even if you’re inclined to experience all the islands, the Hawaii vacation packages on Tripster are your pocket-friendly ticket to just that. Bundling hotel accommodation and discounted tickets to top attractions, memorable tours, and exquisite experiences, these packages provide an excellent way to save while you savor the best of what the Hawaiian islands have to offer.

Start planning your ultimate Hawaiian adventure with Hawaii vacation packages — your gateway to affordable Hawaii!

What Did We Miss?

Do you have any additional tips or insights to share? Leave us a comment below!

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Written by Michaela Satterfield

Michaela is a journalist who views every story she writes as an adventure, leading her to explore new places and meet new people....

2 comments about “The Best Islands to Visit in Hawaii: A Guide to Choosing Your Adventure”

Lake Toba

May 9, 2022 at 11:42 pm

wow Hawaii really has so many good spots, I can’t believe I found more of it. very amazing


May 10, 2022 at 7:23 am

We couldn’t agree more! Hawaii truly is the “Paradise of the Pacific.”

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