When we were planning our first trip to Hawaii a couple of years ago, we thought what most people do — we wanted to know what is the best island to visit in Hawaii for first time visitors.
Before travelling to Hawaii, we didn’t know much about the islands, but we knew we wanted to do a little bit of island-hopping as each one offers something different and unique. I am so glad we did try it as we saw so much beauty and we both totally fell in love with everything about Hawaii.
So if you’re also wondering which island (or islands) you should visit on your first trip, I’m here to tell you more about each one and offer plenty of advice so you can make up your own mind on what is the best island to visit in Hawaii for your first visit.
Jump to your destination:
Jump to your destination:
What is the best island to visit in Hawaii for first time visitors?
To find out, we need to know more about each contender…
O’ahu (easy to fly to and offers plenty of hotel and food options)
Sometimes called ‘The Gathering Place’, O’ahu is one of the easiest islands to visit in Hawaii as it contains the majority of Hawaii’s population and is where the state capital of Honolulu can be found. O’ahu blends the commercial with traditional quite perfectly, ensuring each day can be spent differently if you venture away from the infamous Waikiki Beach.
- Waikiki Beach
- Pearl Harbor
- Diamond Head
- Byodo-In Temple
- Lanikai Beach
- Hanauma Bay
- Waimea Valley
- Lost filming locations tour (if you like the program)
Maui (good for watersports and nightlife)
Maui is the second-largest Hawaiian island and is nicknamed ‘The Valley Isle’, after the sacred Iao Valley. Most believe Hawaii’s best beaches can be found on Maui and it’s certainly one of the most popular islands to travel to.
- Whale watching (December – May)
- Iao Valley State Monument
- Makena “Big” Beach
- Haleakala National Park
- Road to Hana
- Wailea Beach
Kauai (good for nature and outdoors lovers)
Kauai is Hawaii’s northernmost island and is often referred to as the ‘Garden Isle’ or ‘Garden Island’, which is a very accurate description. Perfect for nature and outdoors lovers, Kauai offers so much natural beauty in the form of tropical rainforests, raging waterfalls and winding rivers.
- Wailua River
- Poipu beach
- Kokee State Park
- Wailua Falls
- Waimea Canyon
- Kalalau Trail
- Mahaʻulepu Heritage Trail
Molokai (where traditional Hawaii lives)
Molokai is Hawaii’s fifth largest island and is one of the most remote islands. Here, you will be able to see some of the highest sea cliffs in the world and a culture that has stayed very close to Hawaii’s original roots.
- Kalaupapa National Historical Park
- Papohaku Beach
- Scuba Diving
- Pali cliffs
Lanai (perfect for off the beaten path adventure lovers and solitude seekers)
Lanai is Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island. It may be close to Maui in distance, but it is so far removed from the rest of Hawaii that it provides a lot of exploration options for off the beaten path adventure lovers and solitude seekers.
- Hulopoe Beach
- Garden of the Gods
- Shipwreck Beach
- Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock)
The Island of Hawaii (relaxed locals and great for nature lovers)
Although The Island of Hawaii is the youngest island, it’s also the largest (hence its nickname of ‘The Big Island’). It’s possible to experience nearly all of the world’s different climates on The Big Island (10 out of the 14 to be exact). These include Tropical Wet, Tropical Monsoon, and Hot Desert to name just a few. But all of this is caused by one of The Big Island’s best features — its mountainous (and free-flowing) volcanoes.
Big Island highlights:
- Mauna Kea
- Volcano National Park
- Hamakua Coast
- Punaluu Black Sand Beach
- Hapuna Beach
- Kaunaoa Beach
- Kīlauea Iki Crater
- Kona (and Kona coffee)
Which Hawaiian island has the best beaches?
If you’re a sunseeker and total beachbum, then you’re probably wondering which Hawaiian islands have the best beaches. I personally loved the beaches along the north coast of O’ahu, as most of them were sandy, quiet and backed on to jungle-like areas or were simply ridden with palm trees.
But in aid of being a little more objective, check out the following beaches that made it to the top of the ‘Best Hawaii Beach’ list by USA Today Readers’ Choice awards:
- Hulopoe Beach – Lanai
- Hapuna Beach – Big Island
- Kaanapali Beach – Maui
- Wailea Beach – Maui
- Kaunaoa Beach – Big Island
- Makena “Big” Beach – Maui
- Punaluu Black Sand Beach – Big Island
- Lanikai Beach – O’ahu
- Waikiki Beach – O’ahu
- Hanauma Bay – O’ahu
What is the cheapest island in Hawaii to visit?
For some, a trip to Hawaii is simply a bucket list item, a dream that they don’t think they will ever make a reality as they are so far away from most countries and can be a little expensive to get to. Plus, once you’re there, imported food prices are quite high.
But it is possible to find cheap flights to Hawaii providing you’re able to be a bit more flexible on when you can go.
Due to its high levels of tourism, vast choice in hotels and accommodation, and ease of international flying, O’ahu is generally the cheapest island to visit.
But it also depends on when you visit.
What is the best time of year to go to Hawaii?
Hawaii has a typical tropical climate, so you can expect mild temperatures and moderate humidity no matter what month you visit in.
Hawaii also operates with wet and dry seasons. December to April is classified as wet, while May to November is classified as part of the dry season.
Although warmer weather can increase the chances of storms and hurricanes, it’s quite rare for them to make it all the way out to Hawaii; not impossible, but rare.
Travelling to Hawaii in April, May, September, October, November and the first couple of weeks of December is much cheaper than at other times of the year.
April and May mark the beginning of Hawaii’s dry season, so you should expect warm temperatures and sunny weather.
September and October are also within Hawaii’s dry season, whereas the end of November marks the beginning of the wet season.
Temperatures are still moderate (due to Hawaii’s year-round tropical climate), but you should expect more chances of rain during the wet season.
Conclusion – the best islands to visit in Hawaii for first time visitors
So, with all this said, my personal answer to the question of “What is the best island to visit in Hawaii for first time visitors?” would be a tie between Oahu, The Big Island and Maui.
These islands are some of the easiest to get to (either when flying internationally or when island-hopping), offer plenty to see and do, are crazily beautiful (although all of Hawaii is) and are generally considered cheaper to get to due to their popularity.
If you’re able to, I would recommend spending a few days (at least) exploring each of these three islands. Take a look at this guide from Huffington Post, which provides example island-hopping itineraries for beginners.
I hope this post was useful! I’d love to know which Hawaiian island you plan on visiting first — just let me know in the comments…
Dreaming of Hawaiian adventures? Share the wanderlust now!