How to Choose the Best Hawaiian Island for You

Updated July 2, 2021.

You’re going to Hawaii! Excellent choice. It’s my favorite destination in all the world, without a doubt. One of the most overwhelming parts of planning a trip to Hawaii, however, is deciding which island (or islands) to visit. Maybe you have an island in mind, but you’re not sure what all there is to do there. Maybe you want to explore every island and need to narrow it down. Maybe you’ve been to a couple of islands and need to know which one to check off next! Whatever your dilemma, I created this handy guide to help you figure it all out! Which islands will you choose?

Tips for Picking Your Perfect Island

How Long is Your Vacation?

Hawaii is a perfect destination for trips of three days to three weeks or even three months! I suggest choosing one island if you have a week or less to spend in Hawaii. If you have more than a week, I recommend spending at least four days each on the islands you choose.

Be ready to live life on island time!
Must read: What to Know About Your Travel Buddy Before You Go

How Many People Are Coming With You?

Is this a family trip or a couples retreat? Are you going solo or bringing along a group of friends? Logistically, it will be easier to stick to one or two islands the more people you have with you.

You might find this post very helpful! How to Plan Travel with a Group (and still like each other after your trip)

What Ages Are Coming Along?

Is this an adults-only trip, or a family trip that involves little ones? Got teenagers who are too cool for everything? Is this a retirement trip for grandparents only? Your needs will be different for different ages, but the nice thing about Hawaii is that there is truly something for everyone in every age range!

Waterfall hikes are amazing for adults, but small kids may not enjoy the journey so much!

What’s Your Budget?

It is possible to have an amazing time in Hawaii without spending a fortune, but no one will ever say that Hawaii is a budget-friendly destination. However, if you do want to get the most bang for your buck, stay on one island, get a centrally located accommodation, go to the grocery store instead of eating out for every meal, and consider only renting a car on the days you need it!

Need to save up to make your Hawaii trip happen?
Check out my newly refreshed Saving and Money Page!

Island of Hawai’i

Nickname: The Big Island

It’s called the “The Big Island” because: 1. It is by far the biggest of the Hawaiian Islands, and 2. To distinguish it from the name of the state, which consists of all the islands that belong to the archipelago of Hawai’i. However, in respect for Hawaiian culture, please refer to it as Hawai’i Island or the Island of Hawai’i!

Waipi’o Valley Overlook, Island of Hawai’i


This is not an exhaustive list, just a sampling of the variety available for all interests, ages, and types of travelers! Click the links for more. Some of them are from my blog, and others are from specific sites with more information.

Luaus are more than just food and hula! I also got a “tattoo”!
Hungry for more? Check out What to Eat on the Island of Hawai’i!


Crowds are minimal on the Island of Hawai’i compared to some of the other islands, even in the busiest season. Kailua-Kona is on the drier side of the island (referred to as “Kona Side”) with more sun, so it is usually more popular. Hilo is the rainier, wetter side of the island (referred to as “Hilo Side”), so crowds are usually even lighter here. Just bring a rain jacket!

We had the famous Green Sand Beach all to ourselves!
Get the whole story: Ultimate Island of Hawai’i Bucket List!

Who Loves the Island of Hawai’i?

Everyone can find something to love about the Island of Hawai’i! But some will certainly love it more than others. Here’s your short list of who loves the Island of Hawai’i most and what makes them love it so much:

  • Adventure Seekers
    • Hiking, lava peeping, zip lining, kayaking, surfing, open-water swimming, ATV tours, helicopter tours, night diving, and the like.
  • Athletes
    • The big Iron Man competition takes place in Kona every October!
  • History Lovers
    • National Historic Sites, a royal palace, ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, museums, and the like.
  • Kids
    • Seeing wildlife, beaches, Volcanoes National Park, ATV and ziplining tours, and the like.
  • Locally-minded Travelers
    • Farmers’ markets, farm tours, locally sourced food at local restaurants, boutique shops, small business tour companies, family-owned and operated businesses, and more.
  • Nature Lovers
    • Snorkeling, swimming with sea creatures, hiking, whale watching in the winter months, horseback riding, farm tours, and the like.
  • Romantics
    • Luaus, waterfall hikes, romantic walks on the beach, secluded spots, scenic drives.
  • Scientists and Intellectuals
    • Active volcanoes and lava flows, tsunami museum, stargazing at Mauna Kea, geological phenomena such as the green sand beach, and the like.
  • Tropical Vacationers
    • Scenic overlooks, botanical gardens, waterfalls, beaches, and more.
Tiki at the “Place of Refuge” National Historic Site south of Kona.
Think the Island of Hawai’i might be for you?
Start planning with What to Know Before You Visit the Island of Hawai’i!


Nickname: The Garden Isle

This island got its nickname because so much of the land (97%) is undeveloped, and because it receives so much rain every year (460 inches in one location), making it very lush and green!

The beautiful, breathtaking, majestic Na’Pali Coastline can only be found on Kauai!


This is not an exhaustive list, just a sampling of the variety available for all interests, ages, and types of travelers! Click the links for more. Some of them are from my blog, and others are from specific sites with more information.

  • Beaches
    • Kauai is known for its stunning white sand beaches, but don’t forget the glass sand beach, too! The island is also home to the famous Cathedral Beach on the Na’Pali Coast, which is only accessible by swimming up to it. Click here for all the info on Kaua’i’s beaches.
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Coffee Plantation Tour
  • Hiking
    • Kaua’i’s Waimea Canyon Trail, Kalalau Trail, and Awa’awapui Trail are all epic, scenic hikes on the island, but not for the faint of heart! Click here for more on hiking Kauai.
  • Luaus
    • The most popular luaus are the Smith Family Garden Luau, Luau Kalamaku, and Auli’i Luau!
  • River Tubing
    • Kauai is the only Hawaiian island I know of where you can go river tubing! Not sure what that is? All the info is here.
  • Scenic Flights
    • Take a helicopter or a tiny airplane like we did! There are parts of Kauai and the surrounding islands that can only be seen from the air!
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
    • Snorkeling, swimming with wildlife, and reef peeping are all available in Kauai’s waters.
  • Waterfalls
  • Ziplining
    • One of the more adventurous activities on the islands, several companies offer zipline tours through Kauai’s gorgeous scenery!
Fantasy Island Falls
Want to do everything? Start with this list: Ultimate Kauai Bucket List


Kauai is one of the smallest, least populated, and least visited Hawaiian islands, making it ideal for finding little pockets of beauty to enjoy alone or with just your travel companion. Popular hiking trails can get crowded, as can some of the easy-to-get-to beaches, but if you can go early, you can easily have things places all to yourself.

How often do you get views like this practically to yourself on popular hikes?
Still not convinced? Here are 10 Reasons to Visit Kauai!

Who Loves Kaua’i?

Kauai is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and my favorite island in the world, but it’s not for everyone! Here’s the short list of travelers who will find the most love for the Garden Isle, and why they’ll love it:

  • Adventure Seekers
    • Ziplining, hiking, river tubing, helicopter tours, stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking, and more.
  • Athletes
    • Surfing, Kauai Marathon in September each year, open-water swimming, etc.
  • Locally-minded Travelers
    • Local farm tours, farmers’ markets, boutiques, local restaurants, and more.
  • Nature Lovers
    • Hiking, waterfalls, gardens, natural beauty, beaches, oceans, canyons, sea cliffs, and so much more.
  • Romantics
    • Long walks on beautiful beaches, dining with ocean views, scenic flights, luaus, and every other romantic activity.
  • Tropical Vacationers
    • Botanical gardens, flowers growing wild, beaches, ocean, seabirds calling, rainbows every day, and then some.
Get your coffee from the source!
Think Kaua’i might be the place for you?
Start planning with What to Know Before You Visit Kaua’i!


We are scheduled to visit Lana’i for our anniversary in May, 2020, but we may have to delay our trip amid the COVID-19 extravaganza. I did not want to wait to publish this post indefinitely, because you should be able to plan your Hawaii vacation! I will update this post with Lana’i information soon after we take our trip there!

Nickname: The Pineapple Isle

Lana’i got this nickname because the whole island was once full of pineapple plantations! At one time, they produced 75% of the world’s pineapples.


Coming Soon!


Coming Soon!

Who Loves Lana’i?

Coming Soon!


Nickname: The Valley Isle

This nickname came about because of the narrow isthmus created in the valley between Mau’i’s two mountainous and volcanic peaks to the east and west.

One of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever taken: The Pipiwai Trail and Bamboo Forest.


This is not an exhaustive list, just a sampling of the variety available for all interests, ages, and types of travelers! Click the links for more. Some of them are from my blog, and others are from specific sites with more information.

  • Banyan Tree
  • Beaches
  • Biking
  • Eating
    • Mama’s Fish House is very famous and perfect for a seaside meal for a special occasion! Mau’i is also home to fantastic local food shacks, the legendary Leoda’s Pie Shop, and so much more! In fact, I have a whole post dedicated to What to Eat on Mau’i.
  • Ferry to Lana’i
  • Haleakala National Park
    • This national park hosts the daily Haleakala sunrise viewing, hiking trails like the Pipiwai Trail and Bamboo Forest, and sacred landscapes. They even get snow at the top, so bring your jacket!
  • Hiking
    • Hiking in Hawaii is one of my favorite activities, and the hikes on Mau’i are truly epic. Our favorites are the Pipiwai Trail and Bamboo Forest and the Waianapanapa State Park Coastal Trail! Check out Hiking Hawaii: Mau’i for all the details.
  • ‘Iao Valley
    • ‘Iao Valley State Park is a small, yet beautiful valley with gorgeous flowers, a couple of short hiking trails and a sacred, iconic rock formation.
  • Luaus
  • Museums
    • There are several museums on Mau’i for everyone from marine life lovers to history buffs. My personal favorites are the Sugar Mill Museum and the Baldwin Home Museum. There’s a discount ticket for some of the museums, so check out this post for all those details.
  • Road to Hana
  • Scenic Flights
  • Surfing
    • Mau’i is home to the famous Jaws Wave off the coast of Paia Town, and there are loads of other incredible surf spots as well! Maybe not for the surfing amateur, but definitely fun to watch if you’re the least interested in surfing.
  • Swimming with Sea Creatures
  • Whale Watching
    • While it’s true you can see whales from all the Hawaiian islands during the winter months, Mau’i has the advantage of shallower waters between Mau’i, Molokai, and Lana’i. Humpback whales are drawn to the area between those islands to breed, give birth, and nurse their young before heading to deeper waters again. If you’re on Mau’i from November to April, you may want to add a whale watching tour to your itinerary!
Red Sand Beach, Hana
Sounds good? Check out my Ultimate Mau’i Bucket List!


Maui is certainly one of the most popular islands to visit. Families, honeymooners, and retirees all love Maui! There are definitely ways to have the place to yourself, like starting early and staying in Hana instead of making the drive a day trip. However, popular sites like the Road to Hana, I’ao Valley, Lahaina, and Haleakala Sunrise will all be pretty busy any time of year. If you’re looking for an uncrowded island, this may not be the one for you. But if you want epic scenery, first-class whale watching in winter, and incredible local dining experiences, Maui is your island!

We had the beach to ourselves in Kihei!
Want some alone time? Here’s your Guide to Romantic Mau’i!

Who Loves Mau’i?

For many, Mau’i is the only Hawaiian island they need! Others don’t like how “touristy” it can seem. But if you know what to look for and where to look, Mau’i might just steal your heart and take your breath away.

  • Adventure-Seekers
    • Surfing, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, waterfall swimming, helicopter tours, down-hill mountain biking, and the like.
  • Hikers
    • The Pipiwai Trail, Bamboo Forest, and more.
  • Locally-minded Travelers
    • Farmers’ markets, road-side stands [don’t skip Halfway to Hana], tiny towns, boutiques, local restaurants, etc.
  • Nature Lovers
    • Banyan tree, whale watching, natural beauty, gardens, valleys, hiking, and more!
  • Road Trippers
    • The Road to Hana is a must, but there are a few other coastline drives to enjoy on the island as well!
  • Romantics
    • Honeymoons, anniversaries, couples’ retreats, long walks on the beach, romantic hikes, natural beauty; make reservations for Mama’s Fish House well in advance!
  • Tropical Vacationers
    • Lush greenery, vibrant flowers, beaches, palm trees, luaus.
We love Maui!
Think Maui might be the one?
Start planning with What to Know Before You Visit Mau’i!


Nickname: The Most Hawaiian Island

Their official nickname is “The Friendly Isle,” but locals and visitors alike I think find its other nickname, “The Most Hawaiian Island” far more accurate. It is the fifth largest island in the chain but sees far less tourism than the other islands. Much of it still holds on to that “untouched” feel, and you will experience more authentic Hawaiian culture here than on any other island!

Molokai is home to the tallest sea cliffs in the world!


This is not an exhaustive list, just a sampling of the variety available for all interests, ages, and types of travelers! Click the links for more. Some of them are from my blog, and others are from specific sites with more information.

  • Beaches
    • Molokai is home to one of the largest beaches in Hawaii, Papohaku Beach! You’ll also find secluded pockets of beach all along its coastline, so be on the lookout!
  • Farm Tours
    • Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm, Kumu Farms, and Molokai Plumeria Farm are all just waiting for you to tour them!
  • Farmers’ Markets
    • There is a farmers’ market every Saturday, and Kumu Farms is open for business most days of the week as well.
  • Hiking
  • Kalaupapa National Park
    • This former leper colony and current National Historical Park is the whole reason I wanted to visit Molokai. Its history is fascinating, and there are still former patients who live here full time, though they have been cured.
  • Lei Making
    • Make your own lei! If you receive an orchid lei in Hawaii, the orchids likely came from Thailand. Plumeria are more traditional Hawaiian lei flowers, and you can not only harvest your own, but also make your own at the Molokai Plumeria Farm!
  • Mail a Coconut
  • Museums
    • You’ll find both a Kite Museum and the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center here!
  • Scenic Flights
    • Typically, you can either hike the Kalaupapa Trail to Kalaupapa National Park or fly there in a small aircraft. Currently, the trail is closed for maintenance, so flying is the only way to get there. It’s an absolutely stunning scenic flight!
  • Snorkeling
    • Molokai is home to the longest fringing coral reef in Hawaii! You can explore the reef and see the creatures that make it their home.
Make a lei and mail a coconut all on the same day!
Love it already? Here’s your Ultimate Molokai Bucket List!


Want to feel like you have the whole island to yourself? Molokai is the place for you! You can have any beach, almost any trail, and any lookout point to yourself just about any time of day. Everything is easy going on Molokai. It’s rarely anyone’s first choice for a Hawaiian vacation, but if you’re looking for seclusion, you’ll find it in abundance on Molokai.

One of the world’s largest white sand beaches!
Molokai is truly intriguing! Fascinating Facts about Molokai

Who Loves Molokai?

Molokai is definitely not for everyone, but for hard-core Hawaii lovers like myself, the island is the epitome of Hawaii and the aloha spirit. They’re definitely on island time, so this is not the island for the inflexible. It is, however, just the right island for these folks:

  • Authentic Hawaiian Culture Seekers
    • Halawa Valley Cultural Hike, Molokai Museum and Cultural Center, farm tours, roadside stands, and the Phallic Rock and other sacred sites will fascinate those who want the “real” Hawaii.
  • Hikers
    • Halawa Valley Cultural Hike and others will have you wishing you’d brought more blister band-aids!
  • History Lovers
    • Halawa Valley Cultural Hike, Molokai Museum and Cultural Center, the formation of the world’s tallest sea cliffs, and Kalaupapa National Park will pique every part of your history-loving curiosity.
  • Introverts
    • Secluded beaches, peace and quiet, people who keep to themselves, and solitude will have you loving Molokai.
  • Locally-minded Travelers
    • Those who love to support locals and local businesses will be delighted by the fact that there are no chain stores on Molokai! Every shop, every restaurant, and every tour is a small business!
  • Medical Professionals
    • Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical students, and anyone interested in medicine will be fascinated by the story of the former leper colony at Kalaupapa National Park.
  • Nature Lovers
    • Hiking, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, farm tours, animals roaming free, snorkeling, etc.
  • Off-the-grid Travelers
    • It does not get more off-the-grid than Molokai!
  • Tropical Vacationers
    • Beautiful beaches, lush rainforest, island time, no stoplights, fresh island food, and more!
The journey is worth the effort!
Want to give Molokai a try?
Check out What to Know Before You Visit Molokai!


Nickname: The Gathering Place

O’ahu got this nickname because it is the most populated island (80% of Hawaii’s population lives on O’ahu!). It’s also the most easily accessible from anywhere in the world, which makes it an ideal place to “gather.”

It doesn’t get more iconic than Waikiki Beach and views of Diamond Head.


This is not an exhaustive list, just a sampling of the variety available for all interests, ages, and types of travelers! Click the links for more. Some of them are from my blog, and others are from specific sites with more information.

  • ATV Tours
    • You can tour film sites, jungle, and more on an ATV! Kualoa Ranch offers tour packages that include ATV Tours of their property, where Jurrassic Park was filmed.
  • Beaches
  • Boat Tours
  • Gardens
  • Hiking
    • Think you can’t find an uncrowded trail on O’ahu? Think again! There are dozens of beautiful trails for all difficulty levels, some of which have restricted access, meaning if you get there early, you could have it practically to yourself. Check out my Hiking Hawaii: O’ahu guide for the details and more tips!
  • History
    • You’ll find American, Hawaiian, and Military history here, including Pearl Harbor, I’olani Palace, Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, and more!
  • Horseback Riding
  • Movie and TV filming Sites
  • Museums
    • There is no shortage of museums on O’ahu. One of my favorites is the I’olani Palace, where Hawaii’s last queen was put under house arrest and lived out her last years. There’s also the Bishop Museum for Hawaii’s history, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, Queen Emma Summer Palace, Honolulu Museum of Art, among others!
  • Scenic Flights
  • Shopping
    • O’ahu, especially Waikiki, is home to many high-end shops from Hermes to Tiffany’s and beyond! If you or someone you’re traveling with loves shopping in a beautiful place, O’ahu is that place.
  • Snorkeling
  • Surfing
    • If you want to learn to surf, start at Waikiki Beach. If you’re a seasoned surfer, you may be more interested in taking on waves on the north shore!
  • Ziplining
    • This is for the adventurers! If you want to soar above the island and yet be up-close and personal with nature, ziplining might just be for you!
That view, though!
Can’t wait to see it all? Check out my Ultimate O’ahu Bucket List!


O’ahu is definitely the most crowded of the Hawaiian Islands! But you can find some seclusion, especially if you like to get started early. This island is home to the state capital of Honolulu, American military bases, and the most flights from the mainland and international locations, so it makes sense that it also has the most visitors! If you’re not a people person, O’ahu may not be the place for you, but you might consider spending a day or two here enroute to another island to see a few things that pique your interest!

Bring a friend. Join the Party!
Got some shopping to do? Check out the Best Hawaiian Souvenirs!

Who Loves O’ahu?

I put O’ahu on my Most Underrated Destinations list a couple of years ago. Why would I put such a popular island on a list like that? Because I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard poo-poo about O’ahu! It’s not for everyone, but there truly is something for everyone here. However, just so you’re not disappointed with the crowded beaches, “touristy” things to do, and a bit of a manufactured feel, here are the people who will truly love O’ahu:

  • Adventure Seekers
    • With so many activities from ATVs to ziplining, the go-go-go adventurer will never get bored on O’ahu!
  • Extroverts
    • People-people, rejoice! This is your island. You will never be alone if you don’t want to be, and you’ll probably make a lot of friends just like you.
  • Hikers
    • O’ahu’s hiking trails are limitless! There’s a trail for every fitness level from walking beginner to rope-climbing advanced hiker. The best things about O’ahu’s hikes is that they are well beaten, so there’s very little chance of getting lost, and if you get injured, someone will be along soon to help you. Safety first! Check out all the tips and details on my Hiking Hawaii: O’ahu Post!
  • History Lovers
    • I mean, you have to put Pearl Harbor on your list, right? But this is also an excellent place to get acquainted with Hawaiian history. You’ll love O’ahu!
  • Movie Lovers
    • O’ahu is not the only Hawaiian island featured in movies, but you will definitely recognize parts of the island from your favorite movies and TV shows!
  • Shoppers
    • I’m admittedly not much of a shopper myself, but if you are, O’ahu is the place for you. There are a few local boutiques, but overall you’ll find plenty of shops and stores you’re familiar with!
Epic hikes call for epic smooches!
Is O’ahu the one for you?
Find out What to Know Before You Visit O’ahu!

Start Planning!

Now that you know what island or islands you’re going to and what to expect when you get there, check out my resources to help you plan the Hawaiian vacation of your dreams! Here are my best Hawaii and Travel Planning Resources:

You’ll never forget or regret a trip to paradise!

Need more Hawaii tips, recommendations, and packing lists? You’ll find absolutely everything you need to know on my Hawaiian Islands Page!

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14 responses to “How to Choose the Best Hawaiian Island for You”

  1. Holy cow! how are y’all so well traveled. I rarely hear of visitors to our Islands visiting so many of them so thoroughly.
    Picking an island can be tricky but you have some great insights here. I love them all. They are all so different!

    1. quickwhittravel Avatar

      Thank you so much! We LOVE Hawaii with a fiery passion, and we decided after our first anniversary there to pick an island every year! We were supposed to go to Lana’i this year, but… COVID! Hopefully things will open up soon and we can still make it there this year. Fingers crossed!

      1. Lanai is awesome. So few people there. When we went, we never had to share a beach with anyone. There are also some pretty neat shipwrecks along certain parts of the coast that you can see from the beach. It was crazy to see all the random wild animals they have released up there for hunters too.

      2. quickwhittravel Avatar

        I’m so excited to go—hopefully sooner rather than later! I LOVE off the beaten path islands. 😍

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