With glimmering coasts, towering palm trees and tropical goodness, there’s no doubt that Hawaii is a prime getaway destination.
The real question is: which Hawaiian island should you choose as your vacation spot? On a time crunch – it’s a Maui vs Oahu situation.
Major tourist attractions and development makes the two an ideal sampler holiday, complete with tourist hot spots, scrumptious eats, beautiful beaches and the Aloha way of life.
Let’s take a look at how the two islands compare!
When it comes to picking accommodations for your Hawaiian vacation in Maui or Oahu, both offer a spread of options that lean on the pricier side compared to the other islands.
The bulk of Maui’s accommodations are concentrated on the south and west side of the island.
The budget tier begins with shared hostel dorms that average $50 per night, while middle-range hotels with decent facilities cost approximately $250.
But what steals the show are the island’s luxurious beachfront resorts.
Sprawling estates with private white sand beaches, grassy lawns, spacious rooms and luxurious facilities.
Some come attached to golf courses and on-site restaurants. No wonder prices per night can go from $500 up!
Need some inspiration? Here are some of our top picks:
Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
Andaz Maui At Wailea Resort
Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott
Oahu isn’t far behind on the price point, although its metropolitan means a wider range of accommodation.
Because people jostle for space along Waikiki Beach (Oahu being the most populated island in Hawaii), you can expect these resorts to cost a pretty penny.
In fact, exclusive beachfront houses can go for $700 per night. The accessibility may be worth it though. There are cheaper options, of course.
Hostel beds offer slightly more competitive prices at $40 per night; regular hotels cost between $150 and $350 depending on their ratings.
Keep in mind that any accommodation near the coast is going to cost a lot more.
If you need more information on choosing a neighborhood, check out our guide on the best area to stay in Oahu.
And here are our top recommendations for the top Oahu hotels:
The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach
Turtle Bay Resort
Overall, Oahu provides a much higher number of options thanks to its majorly developed cities.
You’re spoilt for choice – there’s something for every budget.
That said, those willing to splurge will find Maui’s resorts a lot more spacious.
There’s simply more roaming land, outdoor adventure, less people and less competition.
Maui’s laidback charm extends to its sandy beaches, luckily free of the suffocating crowds you’ll find at Oahu’s most popular spots.
It’s a big plus for those who are looking to get away from people in general and have some beach time.
The calm waters along Maui’s coast makes it much easier for young swimmers to handle.
Another boost comes from the unique nature of several Maui beaches – how often do you get to play on red or black sand?
And we haven’t even mentioned the massive turtle invasion yet!
Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach, the red sand Kaihalulu Beach and One’uli Black Sand Beach are stunning backdrops for photoshoots.
Ka’anapali Beach with 3 miles of soft white sand is a really pretty sight against the bright blue waters.
Oahu has made a name for its picturesque beaches – especially where surfing is concerned!
Summer’s in full bloom when it comes to beach potential, as Oahu’s coastline can be sectioned off according to their beach characteristics.
North Shore, for instance, appeals to surfers via huge swells.
Waimea Bay, Waikiki Beach, Lanikai Beach are all fine examples of Oahu’s beauty, and of course, there are plenty of swimmable beaches as well.
From generous 2-mile stretches fronted by luxury hotels, to private strips where you can launch your kayaking day trip, Oahu is ready to meet your needs.
Unfortunately, the entire world knows just how stunning Oahu beaches are; you’ll have to share.
Both Maui and Oahu have stunning beaches that cater to a variety of water activities.
It’s a tie, depending on what type of beaches you're into.
While surfers and thrill-seekers may prefer Oahu’s wilder cast, others like to lounge at Maui’s serene beaches with calm waters.
Maui’s nightlife veers on the wholesome side, with most bars and restaurants spread out between Kihei, historical Paia and Lahaina’s Front Street.
Happy hour reigns from 3 PM to 6 PM, combining refreshing cocktails and sunset ocean views.
While there are a few nightclubs with dance floors, you’ll most likely pass time with classic pub fare, a drink in hand and live music.
You might be disappointed by the lack of mad parties, but Aloha Friday will keep your spirits up!
Combining performances, delicious food, art vendors and outdoor venues, this Friday town party is the epitome of laidback fun.
Sunset cruises and luaus also fall under ‘nightlife’ in Maui. Do expect to end the night and go home by 10 PM though.
Oahu, on the other hand, hosts Hawaii’s most populated city.
From live music bars to karaoke, to beachfront nightclubs, Oahu’s nightlife has it all.
Waikiki Beach in particular, is a popular spot, whether you’re on the sandy strip itself or in a classy lounge overlooking it.
With last call at 2 AM, you have plenty of time to down the drinks or twirl the dance floor before closing. It’s not all nightclubs and snazzy cocktails, however.
Oahu’s luaus entertain you deep into the evening, as do dinner shows like Rock-A-Hula, Waikiki Magic of Polynesia and live music at Blue Note Hawaii.
A sunset and dinner cruise in Honolulu is another tourist favorite.
Oahu definitely stakes a claim on having the best and most varied nightlife among the Hawaiian Islands.
With diners, bars and clubs closing past midnight, you’ll have prime choices when it comes to entertainment.
Enjoy one of many sunset dinner cruises that serve great food while you take in the fantastic views.
Maui is an extremely generous sponsor of outdoor adventure, leading you through underwater adventures and up towering volcanic peaks, while rewarding you with stunning views.
Sprawling Haleakala National Park, home of the Haleakala Crater, is an unmissable giant, but it’s the winding Road to Hana Highway that will keep you on the road for days.
Waterfalls and botanical gardens (like mystical Ohe’o Gulch) dot the famous drive; not to mention 30 miles of beaches – with black lava sand no less!
Beyond the coast are snorkeling islets like Molokini, close enough for a day paddle out.
Outdoor activities are diverse indeed! Not only can you do the essential hiking and beach lounging, horse riding and four-wheeler tours also bring you to the heart of Maui’s wild terrain.
Farm tours are a must if you’re upcountry; take your pick of pineapple, coffee, lavender and protea.
If you’re channeling your inner Tarzan, zip-line courses are much-loved on Maui too.
Oahu boasts its own impressive volcanic remains – like the mammoth Diamond Head crater on the edge of Honolulu.
Pretty plants? Why, yes, Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden and Lyon Arboretum offers hundreds of acres of landscaped gardens and tropical rainforest.
Many spirited hikers have checked off hikes like the Maunawili Falls Trail, Pillbox Hike, Koko Crater Railway Trailhead, Diamond Head and more.
Oahu is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching and experience some of the most impressive marine mammals up close.
Kualoa Ranch is a favorite for those who want preserve, park and film site all in one.
But what Oahu really spoils you with, is an endless swath of famous beaches.
There are beaches for every water activity you can think of making it perfect for water sports enthusiasts; snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, windsurfing – even taking a boat ride and swimming alongside sharks.
Speaking of things to do at the beach, you can experience the stunning coastline on horseback! If you haven’t been horseback riding in Oahu we definitely recommend it!
The best beaches in Oahu include Waikiki Beach, Lanikai Beach, Hanauma Bay, Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline, Ala Moana Regional Park, Shark’s Cove, Kailua Beach Park… you get the point.
If the sole criteria is variety for 'things to do outdoors', Maui wins by a comfortable margin.
The sheer choice of outdoor activity makes group travel argument-free.
After all, you can go off on your own climbing, diving, sun-lounging and driving adventures. (And we haven’t even mentioned the golf courses!)
With most of Maui developing along the coastline, many of its quieter attractions are scattered over the island.
Peeks into Maui’s culture and history revolve around the various industries that propelled it along.
Maui Tropical Plantation and Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum are two such examples; learn about Maui’s sugarcane and pineapple production past!
Whalers Village Museum explores its whaling history, while the Ulalena Show at Maui Theater and Te Au Moana are much livelier, artistically-inclined showcases.
You do have to dig for Maui’s history – where you have the towering religious structure of Pi’ilanihale Heiau in Kahanu Garden, you also have hidden villages frozen in time.
It’s easy to skimp on these abandoned spaces or bypass sacred sites due to modern cover-ups.
Sign up for Maui Nei walking tours or volunteer to clean up Malama Honokowai Valley.
Oahu, home to the capital of Hawaii, is a brimming trove of cultural and historical tidbits.
Former royal residences and plantations are now open for tours; Iolani Palace, Dole Plantation and Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art are estates turned museums.
Polynesian Cultural Center and Bishop Museum treat you to history through performances and natural history exhibits, while Honolulu Museum of Art is a more modern addition.
Most notably, Oahu displays significant war history. The historic site of Pearl Harbor now shelters reminders of why peace is necessary.
Step into the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Battleship Missouri Memorial and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum to learn more about WWII.
For more peaceful pursuits, the Byodo-In Temple is an elaborate Buddhist structure in the mountains.
Don’t forgo experiencing a traditional Hawaiian Luau! Whether you’re visiting Maui or Oahu, this feast and riveting show is a must.
Oahu wins this round of Maui vs Oahu, with most of its cultural to-dos cluttered around Honolulu and Pearl City.
The various attractions dive into both distant and recent past, whether in the form of humble museums, art displays or an original WWII warship parked in Pearl Harbor.
Maui likes its one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques and surf shacks. Surely you’ll agree, as you browse quality galleries, handicraft stores, specialty shops that sell lavender and locally made goods.
For unique stops, drive through the northern shore and upcountry slopes.
Saturday raises an opportunity for the cool weekly swap meet – think jewelry and other handmade goodies.
That’s not to say that it’s completely left out of the ‘famous brands’ loop.
Popular names like Lululemon, Louis Vuitton, Cos, Kate Spade and Sephora can be found alongside local designers.
The Shops at Wailea and Whalers Village feature more mainstream options.
Hawaii’s shopping haven is none other than Oahu. As you can expect from a metropolitan city like Honolulu, there are huge malls like Ala Moana Center and shopping-centric Kalakaua Avenue.
There’s even an International Marketplace and an outlet in Waikele.
If you like a good mix of high-end brands and mid-range shops, Honolulu is where it’s at.
For more budget-friendly shopping like swap meets and cute stores, drop by the Windward Coast and North Shore.
You never know what you’ll find at smaller boutiques; there tends to be specialty shops in coastal towns.
Oahu – the obvious choice! The incredible range of shopping can’t be disputed. It does host the eighth largest mall in the U.S after all.
Maui has blossomed in recent years, having graduated from standard American fare and mahi-mahi to innovative experiences.
Lahaina takes the lead, featuring celebrity-owned restaurants, popular breweries and plenty of restaurants with local dishes.
Drawing from fresh catches and farm-grown produce, international chefs have introduced remarkable restaurants like Mama’s Fish House, Ka’ana Kitchen at the Andaz Resort and more.
That’s not to say that Maui has cornered the market on high-end dining.
Some of its best eateries remain low-key and humble, including Paia Fish Market and budget-friendly Da Kitchen.
Don’t forget the world’s best banana bread – sold at a roadside stand.
Oahu’s high population gives it a natural advantage in the dining scene – the sheer number of restaurants and flavors offered are impressive.
It’s defined by the variety of international cuisines that carved out niches for themselves.
Dim sum restaurants serve alongside Portuguese bakeries; you can sniff out loco moco, Filipino lumpias and fresh grinds by Kahuku Food Trucks.
Upscale dining has also staked claims in the various hotels and oceanfront buildings.
Chev Mavro’s, for example, complements its Hawaiian-French menu with a smartly designed wine list.
Oahu wins this category – only because it simply overtakes Maui in the range of dining options available.
While both have their fair share of international and local cuisine, Oahu is a melting pot of upscale, budget, and everything eats.