Hawaii Superlatives: Which Island is the Best Island?

Today, Steve and I celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary! We spent our first anniversary in Hawaii, and we loved it so much, we went back year after year–until the Pandemic tripped things up, of course. But since that first trip back in 2015, we’ve returned to Hawaii eight times and visited seven of the eight main islands.

Each is unique and has its own personality, so I don’t think there’s really a “best” Hawaiian island, perhaps just a “best” for your own preferences! Here is our list of what makes each island the “best,” and perhaps it will encourage you to plan your own trip to find out more for yourself!

I’ve long claimed Kaua’i as the most beautiful place in the entire world, and I’ll happily say it until I find some place to contradict that opinion. I haven’t yet, since we visited in 2016, our second anniversary. We’ve visited twice now, and from the epic Na’Pali Coast, to turquoise bays perfect for snorkeling, to the desert leading up to Waimea Canyon, there’s a type of beauty for everyone to enjoy. It’s home to one of the wettest spots on Earth, and as a result, the colors are more vibrant, the floral scents more robust, than anywhere else I’ve been in all the world.

The Na’Pali Coast is positively majestic.
Read on: The Ultimate Kaua’i Bucket List

The island dubbed “The Gathering Place” is just that: The place people go! And why? Because there is so much to do, all in one place. Whether you want to hike, visit movie filming locations, learn to surf, see iconic sites, stay in famous hotels, snorkel with sea turtles, or get a heavy dose of World War II history, O’ahu is the place for you! Most flights, both international and domestic, fly into Honolulu (HNL), so most people at least pass through O’ahu on their way to or from Hawaii. Make sure to stay a few days–you’ll never run out of things to do!

More here: The Best Hikes on O’ahu

You can find an authentic Hawaii on every island in the chain, if you know where to look and what to look for. Or, you could go to Molokai and simply live in it for a few days. Here, there are still native Hawaiians, living in traditonal ways. You can take the Halawa Valley Cultural Hike with the Hawaiian family who live on the land to learn about how they still live. Also, eat where the locals truly eat–we never had a bad meal here, despite being a “captive” audience to the handful of restaurants and only grocery store on the island!

I also recommend visiting the Kalaupapa National Historic site to learn about why Hawaiians were so much more susceptible to diseases like Hansen’s disease (historically called leprosy). It will give you a fuller understanding of Hawaii, her people, and their history in an unexpected way.

Molokai is different from anywhere else you’ve ever been–even within Hawaii.

The Island of Hawai’i has much more to offer than just lava: snow on Mauna Kea, jungle landscapes, snorkeling, hiking, luaus, and wild animal searching (hello, wild boar and mongoose), just to name a few! All the Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanic eruptions, but the Island of Hawai’i is the only one that is still growing because it still has lava flowing periodically–and often! We took a boat tour to see the lava flowing into the ocean when we visited in 2017, and we got to see lava at a viewing area in Volcanoes National Park as well! A ranger kindly positioned a high-powered telescope so I could get the amazing photo below:

Keep reading: 7 Essentials to Planning Your Island of Hawai’i Trip

Where can you find the lap of luxury in close proximity to the most rugged terrain in the island chain? Lana’i. This less-visited “Pineapple Isle” is famous for its two Four Seasons hotel properties and private flights, but what you should also know is that it only has 30 miles of paved roads. The rest is more rugged than you imagine, undeveloped, and accessible only by 4-wheel drive vehicle. We didn’t know exactly what to expect on our trip in November 2021, but I think it’s safe to say the experiences we had exceeded anything we could have anticipated.

Bring your water shoes and an adorable romper while you drive around in your 4WD Jeep!
Read on: What to Know Before You Visit Lana’i

Never heard of Ni’ihau? Heard of it, but you were told it’s not open to visitors? It’s the smallest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands, as well as the least populated, and it’s been “owned” by the same family since the 1860s. There are no hotels, no restaurants, no museums, no tourist attractions. You can visit on an exclusive tour, approved only by the owner, and only via helicopter. When you arrive, you’re only allowed to explore one large beach area.

The only other visitors will be the hundreds of endangered Hawaiian monk seals who call the island home. Why? Because there is so little tourism. They can thrive here in a way they simply can’t on the other islands.

So remote even the Monk Seals feel free to play on land!
More here: Your Sneak Peek at Ni’ihau, Hawaii’s Forbidden Isle

This one takes the cake! Mau’i is the most famous of the Hawaiian islands, with the possible exception on O’ahu. It’s the one people desire for destination weddings, honeymoons, anniversaries (like us for our 4th!), and other special occasions. People crowd onto the famed Road to Hana, reservations for Mama’s Fish House have to be made months in advance, and hotels here are more expensive than on any of the other islands, in our personal experience. Visiting is an experience every multi-trip visitor to Hawaii needs to have.

It’s rare to find a place to yourself on Mau’i!

Want more about Hawai’i and how to plan your perfect island getaway? Take a look at my dedicated Hawaiian Islands Page!

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