Which Hawaiian Island Is for Me?
Each Hawaiian island offers something unique to travelers. There is an island for all: lovers, adventurers, beach dwellers and city seekers.
Six distinct islands are open to tourists to visit, the main four being Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai and Maui. The other smaller — but equally noteworthy — are Lanai and Molokai. It might be challenging to pick the perfect island for you; however, each one offers something special for any type of vacation you wish to embark on.
Oahu: Big City, Small Island
From upscale shopping and restaurants to white sand beaches and sprawling resorts outside the hustle and bustle, Oahu has a lot to offer the everyday traveler. Conde Nast Traveler has hailed Honolulu as “the next foodie frontier” with upscale new wave restaurants opening up throughout the city. Oahu is a perfect island for those not wanting to fully get off the beaten path and enjoy the luxuries of having a metropolitan city at their fingertips. With the numerous flight options, the island is often the start of an island-hopping trip – or a long weekend getaway from the West Coast. Also, with so many hotels in Waikiki and elsewhere, there is something for everyone from the budget traveler to the high roller.
Getting there: Many major airlines fly to Honolulu International Airport (HNL).
Big Island: Large Island, Many Choices
The largest of all the Hawaiian Islands (hence the name), the Big Island features 11 ecosystems — from a dry volcanic landscape reminiscent of Mars to lush rain forests. Travelers can spend the day lounging at the beach on the Kohala Coast — boasting an average of 355 days of sunshine per year — or hiking around Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. There is a never-ending list of things to do on the Big Island, from exploring the rain forest, teeing off at one of the many golf courses or taking a tour of Kona Brewing Co.
Getting there: There are two airports on Big Island: Kona International Airport (KOA) in the west or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in the east. But due to limited flights direct from the mainland, most visitors fly into Honolulu then take a 40-minute flight to either Kona or Hilo.
Kauai: For the Adventurer Inside You
Nicknamed The Garden Island, Kauai‘s legendary beauty ranges from mountains and sea cliffs to sandy beaches and coral reefs. Zip-lining? ATVing? Hiking to waterfalls? Relaxing at the beach? If any of those spark your interest, then Kauai is the place you want to be. For the beach lover, there is sunny Poipu, a prime place to spot humpback whales in winter and spring or sea turtles. Or admire the breathtaking Waimea Canyon on the way to the dramatic Na Pali Coast, home of secluded beaches and waterfalls.
Getting there: Many visitors choose to fly into Honolulu and hop over to Kauai. Some airlines from the West Coast fly into Kauai’s Lihue Airport, but expect to pay more for direct flights.
Maui: Romantic Sunsets & Beaches
The second largest of the Hawaiian Islands and arguably one of the most romantic, Maui is home to some of the best beaches in the world. The island is considered an international favorite, and its draws include charming historic villages, beautiful beaches not far from bright green valleys and critically acclaimed restaurants and resorts. Travelers can drive the windy road to Hana, boasting coastal views along the way. For those who enjoy snorkeling, be sure to stay at Ka’anapali Beach, home to Black Rock, boasting calm waters where guests can swim with turtles.
Getting there: There are direct flights from many mainland cities to Kahului Airport (OGG), with more being added each year.
Lanai: Secluded Romance
Known as Hawaii’s most “enticing island” the secluded retreat of Lanai offers a remote getaway for those looking for a romantic escape. There are only two resorts on the island, both Four Seasons properties, with one set above Lanai City on 21 acres overlooking the countryside and the other sitting steps from the beach along a protected marine reserve. Guests receive access at both properties, giving the best of both worlds while pampering oneself.
Getting there: There is no direct service from the continental U.S., so most visitors fly to Honolulu or Maui, where you can connect to local airlines that fly to Lanai Airport (LNY).
Molokai: Traditional Hawaii
More than half the population living on Molokai have indigenous heritage, making the island one of the most traditionally Hawaiian places to visit. “Molokai remains a time capsule on the dawn of the 21st century,” states Frommer’s of the island with no sprawling big-name resorts. There are no traffic lights on Molokai, with everyday life being relaxed and laid-back. Molokai is the place to be to take a break from the hustle and bustle and experience old Hawaii, without all the glitz.
Getting there: There are two ways to get to Molokai: by plane or by ferry. Many visitors fly to Honolulu or Maui, where you can connect to local airlines that fly to Hoolehua Molokai Airport (MKK). To take the ferry, fly into Maui.