Choosing Which Hawaii Island to Visit

Choosing which island to visit can be arbitrary and difficult. A common misconception is that Hawaii is one place, encompassing all the hot spots such as Waikiki, Lahaina, and Kona. But did you know that the Hawaiian chain is actually comprised of six separate islands that are publicly accessible? This can make choosing your destination very confusing, so we’ve designed a detailed guide to help you decide.

Based on popular appeal, activities, and notoriousness, each of the six islands is uniquely distinct. With so much to see and do on one island, Hawaii Aloha offers custom tailored travel packages that fit your needs and particular lifestyle. All you need to do is choose the island that suits your desires and vacationing ideas! So read on to discover more about the Hawaiian Islands and we’ll ensure you have the vacation experience of a lifetime, custom created to be exactly what you seek.

The six islands we provide travel to are:
Oahu, Kaua’i, Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, and the Big Island. Come explore with us!


Oahu

Known as the “Heart of Hawaii” and harboring Hawaii’s state capitol of Honolulu, if you’re looking for beach action in a big city, this is the island for you. A hot spot for activities, shopping, dining, surfing, nightlife, and much more, Waikiki Beach is a worldly popular location. However, don’t be fooled by travel guides that tell you Oahu is only good for a party, because there is much, much more to Oahu than just its city parts.

With diverse sides to explore on this island, you will be kept busy for your entire vacation. The pristine beaches of the east side will tempt you to stay forever. With a stunning view of the Mokulua islands, crystal clear waters and unbelievably white sand, this side offers a wide variety of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Rent a kayak and explore the twin islands off the coast of LaniKai beach or go into Kailua town for some shopping and authentic restaurants. Surfing, snorkeling, the increasingly popular SUP, (stand-up-paddle boarding), swimming, and kayaking are all great ways to get to know the east side. You will also find lookout points, waterfalls, canyons and rainforests on this tropical side.

The north shore of Oahu is home to world-renown surf break, Bonsai Pipeline. Although the surfing spectacles are quite incredible to watch, during the winter months here, the ocean conditions are usually unsafe for visitors. Waimea Bay is another great spot to watch the surfers, along with Sunset Beach and Turtle Bay. There are a number of waterfall hikes on this side, and with its lush scenery, it is easy to see why so many people flock here. The quaint town of Haleiwa is known to have some of Hawaii’s best shave ice, not to mention awesomely authentic surf shops and mean Mexican food at Cholo’s. The north shore is a relaxing, quiet retreat compared to its exact opposite location of Waikiki.

The west side is cropping up with new shopping centers and resorts and is a great place to go for some solitude. The resort community of Ko Olina is equipped with a lush golf course, private beach coves perfect for leisure swimming, fine dining, and oceanfront cocktail bars. The town next door is Kapolei, where you’ll find shopping, movie theatres, restaurants and much more. Out further west are the deep local parts of Nanakuli, Waianae, and Makaha Beach. These areas offer beautiful beaches and dramatic mountain ridges, and if you’re seeking some intense sunrays, this is the best place to get it!

Waikiki and Honolulu are bursting with activities and entertainment. Located on the south side of the island, this location has the feel of a big city, only its Hawaii-style- with palm trees, blue water, and warm evenings. Here you’ll find the high-end outdoor and indoor shopping malls of Ala Moana, Pearl City, and the Waikiki strip. Much of the island’s historical and cultural centers are located here as well, so jump on a number of entertaining tours to traverse the island via bus. 5-star hotels, resorts, and spas adorn the long stretch of beautiful Waikiki beach, but you will also find surfing lessons, snorkeling, luaus, great dining, and a lively nightlife!


Kaua’i

Known as the Garden Isle, here you’ll find the iconic representation of Hawaii. With lush mountains that seem to go on for days and rainbow shower trees that line dirt roads, you’ll find a peaceful retreat here that is unlike any other. With unsurpassed tropical beauty, this quiet island is a perfect getaway for honeymooners or someone who just needs to get away and find some relaxation.

The recently developing south side of Kauai is known for its incredible snorkeling sites and sunny beach weather. Located along the coast are hotels and resorts, including the Grand Hyatt Kauai and contemporary Koa Kea hotel. You will also find secluded beaches framed by verdant mountains that tower to the clouds. Sparsely populated, the south side is a great place to enjoy Hawaii at its finest. In the old town of Koloa you’ll find museums giving information on the sugar cane mills, Kauai’s oldest agriculture industry. Many of the mills are still visible and offer up photo opportunities as the sun sets against their tin roofs.

The small, local towns on Kauai’s west side are quaint and authentic. Visit the dwellings of Hanapepe, Kauai’s biggest little town and weave in and out of art galleries, boutiques, original restaurants, and the popular Banana Patch Studio. Here you can watch local artists hand paint Hawaiian tiles and pottery and purchase unique gifts. The west side is also home to Kauai’s largest stretch of beach, Polihale. The direct translation of this ancient word is “house of the dead” but don’t be too spooked! This beach is one of Kauai’s most stunning and will surely run your camera out of batteries. Waimea is another town to visit, and don’t forget to stop in at JoJo’s for some tropically flavored Hawaiian shave ice.

Kauai’s only airport is located on the east side, in the town of Lihue. Harboring much of the islands activity, this is the area where you’ll find shopping malls, river kayaking, dining, Kauai-style nightlife, hikes, and more. Vacationers who want a little bit of everything come to the east side because here, you’ll find a centrally located area that is closest to all of Kauai’s shores. The beaches are long, golden strips of sand that usually sit in front of resorts, with mellow waves and sandy ocean bottoms. The mauka (mountain) side of Lihue and Kapaa is lush and beautiful, teeming with waterfall hikes and rivers that you can journey up. With kayaks, SUP board rentals, canoes, and small boats, you can paddle and put upstream to secret waterfalls and hiking trails. This side is also known to wash up some of Kauai’s most valued treasures; sunrise shells and glass fishing floats. Another area on the east side worth a visit is the old town of Kapaa where you’ll find old-fashioned ice cream parlors, small boutiques, local style eateries, and art galleries. Kapaa also holds outdoor markets where locals sell unique gifts such as pareos (sarongs), koa wood crafts, Hawaiian jewelry, and much more.

The north shore of Kauai is secluded and quiet, with rainforest bordered beaches, trickling streams running across the roads, and one-lane bridges that inspire a sense of friendly neighborliness. With amazing snorkeling sites and world class hiking along the Na Pali coast, this is the side to visit if you’re looking for a relaxed, tropical retreat. There are only a few hotels and resorts on this side, so many vacationers look into home rentals. With one of the world’s largest (but unfortunately nonliving) reefs, Anini beach is a great place to get some sun, camp, or look for Kahelelani shells sprinkled amongst the sand grains. These tiny shells, also known as Niihau shells are precious plunder that were used to make jewelry for the Hawaiian royalty. This side also offers a quaint shopping village with Kauai’s famous Buba’s Burgers, bikini shops and surf shops. North shore has some of the best surf spots too, so if you’re looking to catch some waves while on Kauai, head north to Hanalei!

a landscape on maui

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds

Many trails take hikers through dry and arid landscapes, so make sure you bring lots of water.

Maui

If you’re looking for a little bit of everything; relaxing beach days, adventurous hikes to waterfalls, a nightlife, lively coral reefs, and resorts, than Maui is truly the ideal tropical paradise. Most first-time Hawaii visitors travel to Maui due to its diversity and popularity. Known as the valley isle, this island has incredibly beautiful scenery with an abundance of guided tours to allow some major sightseeing. From volcanoes to lush rainforests to miles of warm golden beaches, Maui is a great place to come taste everything Hawaii has to offer.

Much of Maui’s popular destination spots are divided between the West and the South sides of the island. The west side of Maui has the most visited town of Kaanapali and Lahaina where luxury and tourism come together. Kaanapli Beach has a resort community feel to it, with various hotels, resorts, and condos that are all within walking distance of one another. The beach is spectacular, offering tons of activities such as snorkeling, surfing, and swimming, and Whalers Village shopping center is within close proximity as well. Lahaina, one of Maui’s most appealing towns, is rich in history and culture, but also brimming with restaurants, shopping, galleries, and a vivacious nightlife. Lahaina is set back from the beach in a city-like area and is a fun, active town to visit.

The south side of Maui includes the towns of Kihei and Wailea. With the resorts and hotels more spread out than Kaanapali, this side tends to be quieter and have more of a relaxed beach atmosphere. Oneloa Beach, referred to by the locals as “Big Beach” is a wide stretch of sand that is perfect for body boarding, body surfing, swimming, and snorkeling. With portable restrooms and picnic tables, this is a great family beach location, so pack a picnic and spend the day along this gorgeous coastline. On this side you can also indulge in divine cuisines, authentic luaus, and the Maui Ocean Center Aquarium. You can also enjoy free hula shows at the Lahaina Cannery Mall and visit the giant Banyan tree, a park-like setting fun for kids and mid-afternoon activities.

The famous Road to Hana is a major attraction along Maui’s east side and boasts some of the island’s most inspiring scenery. The windy road to Hana carves around mountains with dramatic cliffs that drop into the ocean and lush rainforests alive with vibrancy. Here you will also find black sand beaches, Haleakala National Park, and cascading waterfalls, all sights to be had while visiting Maui. You can also check out the popular east side attraction of Ohe’o Gulch, or Seven Sacred Pools, the series of waterfalls and natural pools within the National Park.

The towns of Haiku, Kula, and Upcountry are located in the northern territories with rustic sights of Maui’s produce farms and botanical gardens. Without many hotels or resorts, these areas act more as sightseeing and point of interest locations than actual vacation destinations. But with interesting and unique places like Holy Ghost Catholic Church, Enchanting Floral Gardens of Kula, pineapple canneries of Haiku, cemeteries, small restaurants, and rolling fertile hillsides with misty mountains, these high elevation areas still provide amazing scenery and unforgettable experiences.


Moloka’i

Are you seeking an island known for its seclusion? A place where uninterrupted solace can be found? Then Moloka’i might be just the perfect destination for you. Without any traffic lights, this small island transports you back in time to an unchanged place of Hawaiian culture and history.

With untamed wilderness and untouched coastlines and mountain views, this island remains true to its Hawaiian roots. No building is taller than the tallest coconut tree and you won’t find any traffic either. A true escape from modern society’s stressors, Moloka’i is an undiscovered island that is just waiting for you to come explore. Activities such as mule rides to Kalaupapa National Historical Park where you can visit one of Hawaii’s most remote settlements will keep you entertained and in awe of this island’s isolation. Or visit the main town of Kaunakakai that features historic landmarks, unique shopping and dining, and the state’s longest pier.

You can also relax at one of Hawaii’s longest beaches, the three mile stretch of white sand at Papohaku Beach. This is a great place for a family picnic or romantic sunset barbeque because the beach is equipped with campsites, picnic tables, indoor and outdoor showers, and restroom facilities. If you’re traveling here during May, every third week this beach hosts the island’s largest cultural festival, so come enjoy some of Hawaii’s most active Hawaiian culture communities on Moloka’i. You’ll also find guided hiking tours, boat cruises, boutiques and gift shops, snorkeling, and the world’s tallest sea cliffs right here where traditional Hawaiian culture comes alive.

Hulopoe Bay Lanai

Lana’i

Hawaii’s most enticing island, this alternate option for seclusion and privacy is the perfect place for a romantic, tropical getaway. If cost is not an issue, then Lana’i might be your ideal relaxation location. With only two lavish, 5-star resorts on the island, you’ll find this island carries you away from the hustle of everyday life and places you in a dreamy state of mind. Spend your days playing golf on superb courses, relaxing on beautiful beaches, or pampering yourself with luxurious spas.

Lana’i also offers outdoor activities that will keep you busy during your entire stay if you prefer a more vigorous vacation. The beaches here provide spectacular snorkeling spots, diving opportunities, hunting, hiking, archery, horseback riding, and four-wheeling through the lush rainforests. Visit legendary landmarks such as Puu Pehe (Sweetheart rock), the ghostly shipwreck beach of Kaiolohia, the natural rock gardens of Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods), and Lanai City, the central town of Lana’i.

You can also go on expeditions via the Lahaina-Lana’i Ferry or hike the Munro Trail that leads you on 12.8 miles of off-roading adventure to Lana’i’s highest scenic point. With plenty to see and do here, you may decide to choose Lana’i for its solitude and indulging qualities. As the smallest inhabited island of Hawaii, Lana’i offers a grand experience for all visitors enticed by its romance, intimacy, and adventure.

Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Big Island

This island originally named Hawai’i is the largest and youngest of all islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Referred to now as the Big Island to avoid confusion with the state’s name, this is home to Hawai’i’s only active volcano. With incredibly diverse landscapes from molten lava rivers to snow-capped mountains to beautiful rainforests and black sand beaches, this island is a place of wonder and excitement.

On the sunny west side of the Big Island you will find Kona, a bustling place of activity home to historic villages, shops, dining, nightlife, and beaches. The beaches here are sheltered and calm, creating perfect places for tranquil swimming and snorkeling. Dolphin and honu (turtle) sightings are common while snorkeling, but if you would like to experience more of Hawaii’s marine life, scuba diving is renown here as well. Along the Kona coast you will discover the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park that highlights Hawaiian fishponds, native wildlife, and sacred temples. You will also find the famous Kona Coffee Plantations here, so have fun on a guided tour or explore on your own.

Hilo and Puna is where you will find tropical rainforests, flowing falls, and blooming gardens. The east side of Big Island acted as the farming and fishing community during earlier times, which sheds light on its present day fertile landscaping. Now home to museums, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and the Hilo Farmer’s Market, this side remains energetic with activity. Come visit the Wailuku River State Park, home to the 80-foot Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots pools. The Liliuokalani Gardens boast 30 acres of beautifully landscaped Japanese gardens with koi fish ponds, pagodas, and rock structures. The town of Puna houses Hawaii’s oldest theatre, the Akebono, which is still open to the public with a full bar, dance floor, and performance stage. You’ll also find a variety of resorts and hotels with amenities and spas, so come relax in Hilo and surround yourself in tropical beauty and Hawaiian entertainment.

The southern tip of Big Island is know as Ka Lae, but the south side is named Kau, a vast, rural, and remote part of the island. With a small town feel and pace, Kau is home to Kilauea and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This area offers hikes, one of Hawaii’s most well-known black sand beaches (Punaluu), macadamia nut orchards, coffee farmlands, and cattle pastures. The south tip is also the place of beginnings, where the ancient Polynesians are known to have first set foot, thus naming the island Hawai’i. You can find a quaint bed and breakfast to stay in or choose a hotel, but wherever you stay, this side will offer solitude, respite, and tranquility.

North Kohala and Waimea are locations on the north side of Big Island, with green pastoral landscapes home to paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys), ranches, and scenic drives. Here you will also find the charming town of Hawi with unique boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. There is also rich historical value to this side, including King Kamehameha’s birthplace and the Puukohola Heiau National Historical Site, one of the largest and last remaining Hawaiian burial sites. Enjoy activities such as horseback riding through lush fields, ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) explorations, snorkeling, swimming and much more. A place of natural splendor and dramatic coastlines, the north shore will inspire and entrance you.

We hope this detailed guide provided you with local insight while choosing which Hawaiian island to vacation to. Call today if you have questions or seek more information and one of our friendly travel experts will be happy to help! 1-800-843-8771.