For epic hikes, out-of-this-world views, and holy shit these real-life moments you gotta make your way to one of the best islands in Hawaii.
The Pacific Island is made up of 8 smaller islands, and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. I mean, everywhere you look is like a page out of National Geographic.
Whether you want to swim in crystal clear waters, watch a breathtaking sunset, or hike to the top of a volcano, Hawaii has it all.
But with so many islands to choose from, which one should you visit? And I’m sure if you talked to your aunt Helen who went to Maui once 20 years ago, she’d tell you all the reasons Maui should be number one. But Aunt Helen doesn’t know what we know, okay!
We’ve seen and been to all of the 6 best islands in Hawaii, and we are bringing you the best of each island, not just the most famous ones. So after this article, you’ll have a well-informed (only slightly biased) take and can decide which is the BEST Hawaiian island for you.
Best Islands in Hawaii
You really can’t go wrong with any of the islands in Hawaii, and ideally, you’ll be able to at least see a few on your trip (fingers crossed).
Each island is so magical that it makes it hard to choose. But depending on what you’re looking for on your Hawaii trip, some might seem a little more magical to you, and after reading this, I think you’ll know which island is the best for you.
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1. Oahu Island
Oahu is the best Hawaiian island for a little bit of everything. Famous for its gorgeous Waikiki Beach and wild nights out in Honolulu, you won’t struggle to have a good time on the island.
If you choose to visit Oahu, seek out a charming beach house to fully immerse yourself in the vibrant island life.
- Why visit: The surfing culture at Waikiki is second to none, and you can end your nights partying and enjoying to the max!
- When to visit: The weather is good all year round, but the best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons of April/May or September/October.
- How to get there: Fly directly to Honolulu International Airport.
Oahu has two volcanoes, Diamond Head and Koko Head, making it one of the best hikes in the USA. I don’t think it gets better than hiking Diamond Head at sunrise. Still, to this day, it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.
You can also visit Pearl Harbor to learn about the history of World War II or spend a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center to learn about Hawaiian culture.
And then, after a day of adventuring, you can head to one of the 38 Michelin-star restaurants in Honolulu for some of the best food on all the islands.
2. Maui Island
Known as the “Valley Isle,” Maui has two volcanoes, lush valleys, and the famous Road to Hana. It’s the second largest island in Hawaii and offers a more relaxed and slow-paced vacation compared to Oahu. (I will say it’s much more touristy, though).
Maui is like Oahu without the city aspect, so if you enjoy the serenity of small towns and luxurious resorts, you’ll love staying in Maui! My favorite hotel on the island is the Four Seasons Maui, the landscaping on the property is just unreal.
- Why visit: The island’s laid-back towns and stunning beaches are perfect for a romantic getaway. And if you dig road trips, the road to Hana is an epic drive.
- When to visit: April-June or September-November to avoid the crowds. Or December – May to see the whales.
- How to get there: Fly directly to Kahului Airport or take a 30-minute flight from Oahu.
Honeymooners have been flocking to Maui for years, and it makes sense. The island has some of the best beaches in Hawaii, with golden sands and insanely clear waters. It’s perfect for a sunrise or sunset dip with your boo thang.
But outside of that, one of the absolute best reasons to visit Maui is because it’s one of the few islands in Hawaii where you can catch a massive whale migration.
From December to May, thousands of humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of Maui to give birth and nurse their young. I’ve never seen anything more magical than a huge whale breaching right in front of me.
3. Kauai Island or “the Grand Island”
We all have an idea of what Hawaii will be like before we get there, and I guarantee what you’re imagining is exactly what you’ll find on Kauai Island. It’s the best Hawaiian island to experience an authentic vibe.
“The Garden Island” is covered with endless greenery, and it’s home to some of the most stunning natural wonders, making it an ideal spot for camping in Hawaii.
- Why visit: To get an authentic feel of Hawaii while also exploring the untouched nature of the island.
- When to visit: May-October is the best, as the winters bring a lot of rainfall and the waters can be rough.
- How to get there: Lihue Airport is the main airport on Kauai, handling overseas and interisland flights.
Kauai Island brings the Aloha spirit to life and is my favorite island to recommend to backpackers. I love the beaches and the hiking, but there is nothing that quite feeds my backpacker soul like discovering the cultures and traditions of places. And that’s exactly what Kauai brings to the table.
Along with insane hiking at places like Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast, Kauai is also home to cultural sites such as Hawaiian heiau (sacred temples) and Polynesian luaus.
The island is full of Hawaiian culture and has some of the best Hawaiian food. I’m talking spam musubi, copious amounts of shaved ice, and my favorite, Loco Moco!
4. Hawaiian Island or “The Big Island”
The Big Island is often skipped by tourists, but hopefully, this will change your mind if you’ve counted it out. If you can’t tell by the name, it’s obviously the biggest island in Hawaii, and it’s the only one with an active volcano, so if you’re up for a wild adventure—The Big Island needs to be on your radar.
- Why visit: Two words, my guy… ACTIVE VOLCANO!
- When to visit: January and February for optimal hiking weather, and September and October to avoid crowds.
- How to get there: You can fly into one of the two airports, Hilo International Airport or Kona International Airport.
The island boasts remarkable ecological diversity. It’s home to eight of the 13 ecosystems in the world; like, wtf?! It’s definitely the best island in Hawaii to have unique experiences that none of the other islands can offer.
If adventure is your middle name, then the Big Island is the perfect destination for you. From snorkeling with manta rays to hiking through lava fields, every day is an explosion (pun intended) of fun!
5. Lanai Island
For one of the most beautiful islands in Hawaii, you have to get over to Lanai. Before coming here, I didn’t know remoteness and luxury could coexist so beautifully.
The island is only home to 3,000 Hawaiians, and once you arrive, you’ll immediately feel the warmth and loveliness that come with being in a small community.
- Why visit: It’s the perfect Island in Hawaii to get away from the hustle and bustle but still have access to the luxuries of life.
- When to visit: May-October
- How to get there: A local flight from Oahu or Maui, or you can take the daily inter-island ferry from Maui.
If you’re not sure where to stay in Hawaii, I’d recommend the Four Seasons Lanai. The staff would do anything for me. Not only this, but you’ll immediately feel like the whole island is yours. The lush hotel is only a few steps from the gorgeous, untouched beaches, giving you everything you need for a week away from the hustle and bustle… and all the other tourists.
And for those that enjoy history, you can visit Shipwreck Beach, where you can see deserted ships from WWII and one of the last ships that was at Pearl Harbor. It’s 8 miles of white sand, but it’s not recommended to swim here. Save that for Hulopoe Bay during the four seasons.
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6. Molokai Island
Hawaii is one of the best places in the USA, and finding untouched nature isn’t always the easiest, but Molokai Island is often overlooked by tourists. And tbh I’ve been debating even telling you about this island—but I’m no gatekeeper.
The island has very little buildup, not even a stoplight, so if you’re looking for a luxury vacation, look to Maui or Oahu.
- Why visit: An authentic Hawaiian experience without all the glitz and glam.
- When to visit: Year-round, rarely do tourists head here, so there are no shoulder seasons.
- How to get there: A local flight from Oahu or Maui, or you can take the daily inter-island ferry from Maui.
It’s the perfect island to experience local life on Molokai and eco-tourism. Locals are super kind towards tourists, but don’t expect them to cater to you. It’s a small community that really brings the essence of Aloha to life. You’ll be living the true island life in no time.
FAQs About The Best Islands in Hawaii
I can talk all day about these glorious islands in Hawaii. Here are some common questions:
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Final Thoughts on The Best Islands in Hawaii
It’s Hawaii, so of course you’re expecting the best of the best. And, tbh, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
It’s the best views, the best waterfalls, the best surf spots, the best hikes, the best food… I mean, I could go on and on. But how do you make sure YOU have the best time?
You have to know what you want because, trust me, Hawaii will deliver. It’s an island full of magic and love, and the spirit of Aloha is running freely.
And I don’t want you going to Oahu if you hate big crowds, or maybe you need a solo trip after a big break up, and you end up in Maui, where it’s honeymooners central. I mean, talk about a buzz kill—yuck!
But if you’re still not sure, then I’ll give you my biased opinion because I fell in love with Kauai the second I stepped foot on the island. The small island vibes with beautiful nature, all the snorkeling you could ask for, and, of course, surfing at Hanalei Bay. It’s like a postcard that came to life.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!