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Which of the Hawaiian Islands Is the Best to Visit?

To help you narrow down the list based on your interests and preferences, here's a breakdown of the most popular Hawaiian islands and what each has to offer.
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One of the biggest decisions when planning a trip to Hawaii is which island or islands to visit. Given that Hawaii is an archipelago with eight main islands, each boasting unique attractions and activities, you'll be spoiled for choice.

Whatever you decide, Hawaii's breathtaking scenery, warm hospitality, and diverse cultural offerings will make it a trip of a lifetime. To help you narrow down the list based on your interests and preferences, here's a breakdown of the most popular Hawaiian islands and what each has to offer:

1) Oahu 

honolulu skyline with green mountains background

Oahu is the most populated island in Hawaii, home to nearly one million residents. As a result, it's much busier than other major islands like Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. It's an excellent choice for those who love the hustle and bustle of a big city, as well as those interested in history and culture. Some of the top attractions on Oahu include Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head State Monument, and the world-famous Waikiki Beach. Oahu's North Shore is a big surfing mecca, while the South Shore in Honolulu is the perfect place for nightlife.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that Oahu is the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit due to an abundance of hotels and vacation rentals available at various price points. For budget-conscious travelers, hiking, beaches, and cultural experiences are popular low-cost activities on the island.

2) Maui

Maui cliffside highway blue ocean green mountains

Maui is often considered the most romantic of the Hawaiian islands and is a popular destination for honeymooners. It's known for its stunning beaches, world-class dining, and luxurious resorts. Some of the top attractions on Maui include the Road to Hana, Haleakala Crater, and Ka'anapali Beach.

Sadly, in 2023, massive wildfires destroyed large portions of the island's natural beauty and wildlife habitats, causing significant harm to the environment and local communities. One of the worst affected areas was the historic city of Lahaina, where many landmarks were lost. Despite this tragic event, efforts are underway to restore and rebuild the damaged areas. Maui depends on tourism as a primary source of income, and it has reopened for visitors since the fires. However, the tourism department advises tourists to stick to the south side, North Shore, and certain areas north of the burn area to ensure their safety.

3) Kauai

Kauai green multi-ridged mountain and valley

Kauai is often called the "Garden Isle" due to its lush greenery and stunning natural beauty. It's a great option for those who love outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and zip-lining while avoiding big crowds. Some of the top attractions on Kauai include Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali Coast, and Wailua Falls.

In contrast to Oahu, whose population nears the one million mark, Kauai is home to just 75,000 full-time residents. This makes it a perfect destination for those seeking a more laid-back and tranquil vacation experience. The island's small size and slower pace of life allow visitors to truly disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city living and immerse themselves in the natural beauty and peacefulness of Kauai.

4) Hawaii Island (Big Island)

lava flow into ocean Big Island

The Big Island is the largest in the Hawaiian archipelago, big enough to fit all other main islands combined. It’s home to some of the state's most unique attractions, including Volcanoes National Park, Green Sand Beach, and Mauna Kea Observatory. Mauna Kea’s summit is particularly striking. Here, visitors usually stand high above the clouds and witness a dazzling night sky full of stars. Hilo, the largest city on the island, is known for its lush rainforests, stunning waterfalls, and the famous Hilo Farmers Market, where visitors can enjoy a variety of locally grown produce and signature dishes like Loco Moco. Kona, situated on the western coast of Hawaii's Big Island, is renowned for its stunning beaches, breathtaking scenery, and world-famous Kona coffee.

Overall, the island is perfect for road-trippers. We recommend flying into Kona, renting a 4x4, and driving clockwise or counter-clockwise along the coast, then returning to Kona before heading home.

5) Molokai

Molokai North Shore green sea cliffs

Photo by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

Molokai is sometimes referred to as the "Most Hawaiian" of the islands. It's so off-the-beaten-track compared to the other main islands that it has managed to preserve much of its traditional Hawaiian culture and rural lifestyle. Visitors to Molokai can experience authentic Hawaiian culture and a slower pace of life that truly sets it apart from the rest of Hawaii.

As the fifth largest island in the archipelago, Molokai is only 38 miles long and 10 miles wide at its widest point. It boasts the longest continuous fringing reef and the highest sea cliffs in the world, catering to snorkelers and sight-seers alike. Some of the top attractions on the island include Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Popohaku Beach, and Halawa Valley. Riding a mule is one way to explore the island, but hiking trails, bike and car rentals, and guided tours are available for visitors who prefer different modes of transportation.

6) Lanai

lava flows Sweetheart Rock Lanai Hawaii

Last on our list of the best Hawaiian islands to visit is Lanai. With a population of only a few thousand people, it's a wonderful choice for those looking to escape the crowds and enjoy a peaceful, relaxing vacation. Lanai boasts two world-class resorts: the Four Seasons Resort Lanai and The Lodge at Koele. The historic Hotel Lanai is located in Lanai City.

The weather on Lanai is generally pleasant and drier than on other islands in Hawaii. Lanai City is located at an elevation of nearly 1,700 feet, where the warmest months see temperatures of about 72º F, so bring a light jacket when visiting the island. By contrast, temperatures at Mānele Bay and Hulopoʻe Bay are usually about 10º to 12º higher. Visitors can engage in various activities such as ziplining, golfing, snorkeling, and whale-watching. Among the top attractions on the island are Hulopoe Bay and the mesmerizing Keahiakawelo, also known as the Garden of the Gods.

FAQ: Which of the Hawaiian Islands is the Best to Visit?

Q: How many islands are there in the Hawaiian archipelago?

A: There are 137 islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, eight of which are considered “main” islands: Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island), Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe.

Q: Which Hawaiian island is the best to visit?

A: It depends on your interests and preferences. Each main island has unique attractions and activities, so it's essential to consider what you want to experience during your trip. Oahu is a great option for those interested in surf culture, history, and nightlife, while Maui is known for its stunning beaches and luxurious resorts. Kauai is the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts who prefer to avoid crowds, and the Big Island promises a road trip experience unlike any other. Molokai and Lanai, for their part, offer a much slower pace of life and a chance to experience authentic Hawaiian culture in predominantly rural settings.

Q: Which Hawaiian island is the cheapest to visit?

A: Oahu is considered the cheapest Hawaiian island due to an abundance of hotels and cultural experiences at a range of price points.

Q: Is it possible to visit multiple Hawaiian islands during one trip?

A: Yes! Visiting multiple Hawaiian islands during one trip is possible, but we recommend visiting no more than two at a time. When planning your multi-island experience, it’s essential to plan accordingly and consider transportation options between islands, such as inter-island flights or ferry services.

Q: What is the best time of year to visit Hawaii?

A: The best time to visit Hawaii depends on your interests and preferences. The high season for tourism is typically during the winter months (December to February) and summer months (June to August). However, the spring and fall (April to May and September to November) typically offer milder weather and fewer crowds.

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Travel Gear for the Ultimate Hawaii Adventure

At Gravel, we offer a range of travel gear to help you have the ultimate Hawaii adventure. From toiletry bags to travel blankets, our gear is designed to be durable, lightweight, and easy to use so you can focus on enjoying your adventure without any worries. Visit our store to view our selection of travel gear and start planning your Hawaii getaway today!

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Aloha! 🌺 🌈 🌊 🏄 🌋 ✨

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