If you’re one of the 9.3 million people who visited Hawaii in 2017, you probably know a thing or two about which island is the best fit for you, or maybe you’re planning a return trip just to make sure. Or perhaps you’re someone who has yet to say “Aloha” to the Aloha State but have always wanted to visit and aren’t sure where to begin. Never fear. We’re going to break down which Hawaiian island is right for you right here.
The Garden Island is the oldest and northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, and it’s known for its beaches, terrain and lifestyle. Kauai is beloved by nature-loving outdoorsy types for its abundance of natural beauty, including tropical rainforests, breathtaking mountains and cliffs, serpentine rivers and cascading waterfalls. Zip lining and kayaking are some of the most popular activities on Kauai, so don’t be surprised to see someone whizzing by overhead or at sea. It’s also the home of Wailua Falls, one of Hawaii’s best-known waterfalls, and Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. While it’s a great place for adventure seekers and nature lovers, it’s also the perfect place for people who like things a little more on the quiet side. Most of Kauai remains undeveloped and secluded, so there’s no shortage of relaxation.
Called the Gathering Place or the Heart of Hawaii, Oahu is the pulse of Hawaiian city life. Hawaii’s third largest island is known for its large, diverse population, thriving nightlife and world-class shopping destinations. Oahu is a true East-meets-West destination — a juxtaposition of both cultures with the values of Native Hawaiian traditions. Here you’ll find North Shore, the world’s most popular surfing destination, along with Waikiki, Honolulu and Diamondhead. History lovers must plab a visit to Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace. If you love city life, history and culture, Oahu is the place for you.
For those of you seeking pure relaxation on a white sand beach without another soul in sight, Molokai should be at the top of your list. This quaint island paradise is perfect for visitors who value privacy, nature and indigenous Hawaiian culture. While it’s only 38 miles long and 10 miles wide, Molokai is home to Papohaku Beach, one of Hawaii’s longest white sand beaches. You'll also find rainforests, lowland deserts, black sand beaches, the only barrier reef north of Australia, some of the world’s largest sea cliffs and the most Native Hawaiians in the state — 50% of Molokai’s people are indigenous or have indigenous heritage. There are no traffic lights on the island, no shopping malls, no skyscrapers and no bustling nightlife.
Lanai, Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island, can seem like two different islands at first glance. It’s where luxury meets off-roading adventure. Celebrities Will Smith, Jessica Alba and Bill Gates often vacation here; there’s an abundance of five-star luxury hotels; and Lanai is known for its championship golf tournaments. This side of the island is laid back and offers the privacy that most vacationers long for. On the other side, it’s common to find ATVs on dirt roads, snorkeling and swimming on Hulopoe Beach, and visitors taking in the view at Sweetheart Rock.
One of the world’s top vacation destinations, Conde Nast Traveler readers have voted Maui as the Best Island in the U.S. for over 20 years. The Valley Isle, named for the spectacular valley between two major volcanoes, is known for its world-famous beaches, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, luxury resorts and world-class wedding destination status. The undisputed most popular attraction is the Road to Hana, a 52-mile road with an average speed of 25mph. It will force you to slow down and enjoy the journey. Whether you’re indulging in a luxury resort or hiking in Iao Valley, Maui is the perfect middle ground for those who enjoy both city life and relaxation. Almost everyone will find a reason to love Maui.
Hawaii is the largest and youngest of the Hawaiian Islands. Aptly named “The Big Island,” at nearly twice the size of all the other islands combined, Hawaii has so much to offer. With four different climate zones, the Big Island has tropical wetlands as well as a polar tundra in the shadows of volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Indulge in five-star accommodations while sipping some of that delicious coffee in Kona or fall in love with the laid-back, mom-and-pop style of Waikoloa. According to legend, an agreement between the goddess Pele and the demi-god Kamapua’a made half of the island wet and the other side dry. The Big Island is world renowned for its macadamia nuts, coffee and wildlife. Sea turtles, dolphins, colorful fish and humpback whales all put on an amazing show for visitors.