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Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First-Timers

Hawaii is a destination you’ll no doubt want to visit more than once. From world-class snorkeling and surfing spots to tropical beaches and fiery volcanoes, this collection of islands is amongst the finest in the world.

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover or simply looking for blissful relaxation — you’ll find a treat for all your senses.

Be beach bums on the many miles of beaches, indulge in the most luxurious resorts, and have a dream vacation. 

With limited time during your stay, you might just want to know which is the best island to visit in Hawaii.

There’s such an incredible range of great options to choose from — it’s tough to choose just one island!

But don’t stress, this article does the heavy lifting for you.

Here are some things to consider when choosing which Hawaii island to visit.

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How to Choose Which Island to Visit in Hawaii

– Fire Dancer, Hawaii

First off, it helps to know that you can never go wrong no matter which island you choose.

Yeah, Hawaii is that awesome.

But of course, there’s nothing wrong with squeezing all that you can out of your trip. Right?

The best island to visit in Hawaii is highly subjective and really depends on what type of activities you like.

Surfing, snorkeling, diving, sea salt in your hair and beach sand in all your nooks and crannies…that’s what most of us imagine when thinking of Hawaii.

What you might not know is that’s pretty far from the limit of what the Hawaiian islands have to offer.

So let’s see…

Upper Waikani Falls

– Upper Waikani Falls, Maui

Are you planning to relax on a hammock on a balmy, sandy beach during your entire stay? There is an island best suited for that.

Are you an adventure junkie super thirsty for exploration on lush mountains with waterfalls deep in the wild jungles? There’s another island for that.

You get the picture, so let’s dig deeper.

Hawaii is dotted with eight striking islands but only six are major tourist destinations.

They’re Hawaii (the Big Island), Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Lanai and Molokai.

map of hawaiian islands

– Map of the Hawaiian Islands

So it pays off to have a clear picture of what you want to experience since each island is unique in its own right.

Here’s a few things to consider when choosing an island to visit in Hawaii:

Flight Schedules

If you have young kids or you dread the thought of connecting flights, you might want to fly direct instead.

If you’re coming from the United States, Oahu and Maui are the most popular islands in Hawaii and more likely to have direct flights.

Check out Hawaiian Airlines for flights to every major Hawaiian Island.

Desired Activities

There are so many things to do and see in all the Hawaiian islands so make sure you know your options when it comes to available excursions.

If unwinding and having the beach a stone’s throw away sound like the perfect dream vacay to you, then you may want to consider either Lanai or Maui.

On the other hand, if you’d rather be out exploring and overturning every stone and pebble you come across, the Big Island and Kauai would be your best bet.

You’ll easily fill your daily itinerary with kayaking, waterfall hikes, and volcano climbing.

Attractions, Restaurants & Shops

If your idea of the best island to go to in Hawaii is being close to all amenities and tourist attractions, you may want to stay in Wailea or Ka’napali in Maui, and near Waikiki in Oahu.

If you prefer a more laid back atmosphere in a secluded location, Lanai is a little bit sleepier so you’re likely to enjoy a more peaceful retreat here.

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Let’s take a look at the most popular Hawaiian Islands:


– Honolulu, Oahu

Oahu is the third-largest island in Hawaii and home to Honolulu, the capital city.

Being the economic and cultural heart of all the islands, Oahu is the most popular for tourists, drawing in over 6.2 million visitors per year.

This Hawaiian island is known for its amazing selection of things to do — with endless mountain trails and monster waves breaking on sandy beaches, to luxury shops, tasteful clubs, and drool-worthy restaurants.

It’s the best Hawaiian island for first-timers and family vacations.

You’ll find tons of activities to satisfy any traveler’s wanderlust, giving a great balance between stunning natural landscapes and unique historical sites such as the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

If you love outdoor adventures, try hiking up to the edge of the iconic Diamond Head Crater, spend the day at the infamous Waikiki Beach, or head to the laid-back North Shore to surf some big waves.

If you’re looking for a new adventure that’s fun, educational, and excitingly beautiful, then Hanauma Bay is the perfect place for you!

Hanauma Bay is located on the east side of Oahu, Hawaii. It’s one of the best snorkeling spots in the entire state, with coral reefs and a popular underwater volcanic crater that boasts sunfish, parrotfish, and occasionally sea turtles.

Hanauma Bay is not only for tourists though; you’ll find a lot of local residents hanging around here too! There are picnic areas and a large concession stand where you can enjoy a variety of delicious food as well.

Not only is Oahu known for its outdoor activities, but it’s also known for its diverse city experience and thriving nightlife.

Living up to its nickname “the Gathering Place”, you’ll have no problem finding a tasty eatery to fill your bellies before heading off to dance the night away.

If you’re on a budget, Oahu is the cheapest island in Hawaii to visit since you don’t have to take extra inter-island flights to get to the other Hawaiian islands.

No matter what your travel style is, you’ll certainly find a piece of Oahu that’s perfect for you.

Fun Fact: Hollywood blockbuster movies were filmed in Oahu including Jurassic Park, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and 50 First Dates!

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Island of Hawaii

The Big Island

– waipio valley, big island

The Big Island is the youngest and largest of all the Hawaiian islands and is known for its striking contrast in terrain.

The Island of Hawaii is formed by the eruption of five volcanoes, nearly entirely made up of the world’s largest shield volcano, Mauna Loa.

It’s also home to the most active volcano in the United States, Kilauea (last erupting in 2018).

Thanks to its sheer size and having 10 of the 13 climate zones in the world, there’s no other place on Earth where you can witness flowing lava fields and snow-capped mountains against a spectacular backdrop of pristine coastlines and lush green jungles.

The diverse landscape of the Big Island is definitely a haven for nature lovers.

Famous for some of the most beautiful hiking trails and endless lush valleys, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Hamakua Coast is a must-visit on this island.

Have you ever seen a gorgeous beach with green sand? Most likely not since there are only four in the entire world.

Take a hike to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach, it’s well worth the effort.

This beach is a secluded and beautiful place to spend an afternoon listening to the ocean and watching the plan trees gently swaying. For first-time visitors, this is definitely a must-visit location. 

Need more beach time? Check out Hapuna Beach.

It’s popularly known as one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii. The white sand and turquoise blue waters create a paradise setting for people of all ages.

Hapuna Beach is also home to beautiful oceanfront properties such as Westin Hapuna Beach Resort and many other beautiful resorts.

After a day of sightseeing, head over to Kona to lounge and snorkel alongside Hawaiian green sea turtles.

If you’re looking for even more things to do, the Big Island is also home to world-class golf courses, deep-sea fishing adventures, and rare black sand beaches.

I think we can all agree that this is the best island in Hawaii for outdoor adventures!

The Valley Isle


– Maui Island, Hawaii

Located between the Big Island and Oahu, Maui is the second-largest island in Hawaii and is increasingly gaining in popularity — with good reason!

Maui was formed by lava flowing from two volcanoes that are now dormant, resulting in jaw-dropping peaks and valleys.

Because of the diverse landscape, this island is an excellent choice for outdoor enthusiasts.

Maui is known for some of the finest beaches in the world with amazing snorkeling spots and sailing adventures, drawing in over 3 million visitors per year.

Although many would consider the beaches to be the highlight of the island, this isn’t all that Maui has to offer. You’ll find an endless selection of things to do in Maui that’s suitable for all ages.

The Haleakala National Park is home to the largest dormant volcano in the world — simply a sight you can’t miss!

You can choose to come here solo or hire a tour guide to learn about the history and significance of the famous Haleakala Crater. Either way, you’ll have the option to explore this park by foot, bike, or car.

How about going for a cruise down a 52-mile long road that winds through all the breathtaking scenery Maui has to offer?

The Road to Hana is a day-long driving adventure through the rainforest where you can marvel and soak up some spectacular eye-candy.

Looking to have some relaxing beach days? Voted as one of the top five beaches in the world, Wailea Beach is definitely worth a visit.

It’s home to some of the most luxurious family-friendly resorts, including the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea.

Wailea Beach’s pristine coast stretches for nearly a mile, featuring calm lagoon swimming areas, shaded areas to cool off from the sun, and a marine conservation area that consists of more than 1,200 acres offshore.

The lagoon features a designated kite surfing area and offers incredible snorkeling opportunities.

There’s so much to do on this little piece of paradise that boredom will be the last thing on your mind!

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The Garden Isle


– Nā Pali Coast, Kauai

Kauai is the oldest and fourth-largest out of the main Hawaiian Islands.

With acres of tropical rainforests, mountain ranges and breathtaking waterfalls, it’s easy to see why this island is nicknamed “The Garden Isle”.

Kauai is the most northern of the Hawaiian Island chain and gets a lot more rain compared to the other islands, attributing to the vibrant green vegetation.

Much of this Hawaiian island can only be explored by foot which means you’ll have an unlimited number of hiking trails and land activities to enjoy.

The western side of Kauai is where you’ll find many of Hawaii’s most stunning scenery and the best lookout points.

Go for a hike through the colorful gorge at Waimea Canyon, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, or witness the beauty of the iconic Na Pali Coast, famous for its towering cliffs overlooking the sea.

Being an island, Kauai is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and boasts more beaches along its coastline than any other Hawaiian island.

This island also has one of the best scuba diving spots in Hawaii. It’s the perfect spot to see sea turtles!

Kauai is full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered — go for an adventurous hike through the rainforest and chances are, you’ll discover your own little slice of heaven where you can kick your heels up for the day!

Fun Fact: Kauai was the filming location of many Hollywood movies, such as Jurassic World and Pirates of the Caribbean.

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– Rocky Lookout, Lanai Island

If you’re itching for a peaceful getaway with your family or a romantic rendezvous, the secluded shores of Lanai is your best option.

This tiny Hawaiian island only spans 141 square miles and is located 9 miles from Maui, with a small population of 2,800 residents.

In recent years, Lanai has grown in popularity with high-end vacation rentals lining the coast.

The island of Lanai was once used solely for pineapple farming by the Dole Food Company. Make sure you set aside time to drop by the vintage pineapple plantation and learn about the history of pineapples that were once grown here and supplied to the rest of the world!

There isn’t much of a selection when it comes to excursions and activities, which adds to the appeal if you want to relax in complete privacy.

Hulopoe Beach is often an overlooked spot when planning your Lanai vacation. It’s one of the few beaches that is quiet, secluded, and undeveloped.

This beach is sometimes referred to as “hidden treasure” because of its great location.

The most notable things to do in Lanai are: working on that golden tan at the beach, getting the royal treatment at a luxury resort, going for a round of golf, or touring around the island on a 4×4 vehicle.

Only a tiny fraction of tourists vacationing in Hawaii will visit Lanai, making it the perfect spot for travelers seeking a private retreat.

The Friendly Isle


– Kepuhi Bay, Molokai

Molokai is one of Hawaii’s smallest, habitable islands and shares a lot of similarities with Lanai. Combined, these two islands only account for 1% of people that travel to Hawaii!

You won’t find any luxury hotels or resorts here — the locals like to embrace a laid-back lifestyle and this island is ideal for those seeking a relaxing vacation.

You’ll discover uncrowded white sand beaches that seemingly stretch on for miles, most notably the infamous Papohaku Beach.

The most unique attraction on this island is Kalaupapa National Historical Park.

From 1866 to 1969, 8,000 people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were exiled to the remote Kalaupapa peninsula to isolate themselves from the rest of the Hawaiian population.

Today, the secluded peninsula is a culturally significant destination, serving as a place where the people of Hawaii can honor the memories of past ancestors.

Home to some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, Kalaupapa can only be reached by air, riding mules, or joining a hiking tour.

Have some spare time? Go for a scenic drive to Halawa Valley. You know the saying, “It’s about the journey, not the destination”.

Here, you can have both!

Take a moderate hike to the breathtaking Halawa Falls, it’s an incredible experience. 

Molokai is the perfect destination for people that just want to get away from the fast-paced journey called life.

8 Spots to Find the Best Snorkeling in Hawaii


Hawaii is home to a cluster of eight islands famous for its dramatic landscapes and breathtaking beaches, so choosing which island to visit can be a nail-biting decision!

Each of the Hawaiian Islands has something unique to offer so it’s important to take the time to do your research.

Whether you’re looking for a vacay filled with excitement or maybe you just want a bit of peace and quiet, there’s a Hawaiian Island that’s right for you.

Which island are you most excited to visit?

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