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What’s the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the First Time?

June 9, 2024

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Are you dreaming of a tropical getaway to the beautiful islands of Hawaii but unsure where to start? With six stunning islands to choose from—Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Hawaii Island (The Big Island), Lanai, and Molokai—it can be challenging to decide which island to visit in Hawaii for your first trip.  


To help you plan the perfect vacation, let’s explore the best Hawaiian island to visit based on trip duration, desired activities, and accommodations. Are you seeking a laid-back, relaxing vacation or an action-packed adventure? Do you prefer luxurious resorts or more affordable accommodations? Each island offers something different, so let’s dive in and explore the best places to stay in Hawaii.

Oahu: The Gathering Place

Best Island to Visit in Hawaii - Oahu

Where Urban Meets Paradise

 

If you’re looking to experience both the city and the iconic tourist attractions, Oahu is the best Hawaiian island to visit, especially if you’re short on time. Known as “The Gathering Place,” Oahu boasts of the vibrant city of Honolulu, where you can explore the world-famous Waikiki Beach, hike to the top of the Diamond Head crater, and visit the historic Pearl Harbor memorial. A 3 to 5-day trip duration should be enough for you to enjoy all the island’s top activities and soak up its lively atmosphere.


Oahu has a variety of accommodations available to suit every budget. For a luxurious stay, consider 5-star hotels in Hawaii like the Halekulani or The Royal Hawaiian. Mid-range options include the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort and the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.  For budget-friendly options, choose the Coconut Waikiki Hotel and Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites.

Maui: The Valley Isle

Best Island to Visit in Hawaii - Maui: The Valley Isle

Where Relaxation Meets Adventure

 

Maui, also known as “The Valley Isle,” is the perfect destination for those who want a balance of relaxation, scenic drives, and beach activities in Hawaii. With a recommended trip duration of 5 to 7 days, you’ll have ample time to explore the island’s highlights, such as driving the famous Road to Hana, watching the sunrise at Haleakala National Park, snorkeling at Molokini Crater, and unwinding on the stunning beaches of Wailea or Kaanapali.

 

Maui boasts some of the best places to stay in Hawaii, including premium resorts like the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. If you’re looking for mid-range options, you might consider staying at the Kaanapali Beach Resort or Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott. A budget-friendly option is the Lahaina Shores Beach Resort or Maui Seaside Hotel.

 

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Kauai: The Garden Isle

Best Island to Visit in Hawaii - Kauai: The Garden Isle

Where Nature Takes Center Stage

 

Nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers will adore Kauai, also known as “The Garden Isle”. It’s one of the best islands in Hawaii for anyone who wants to connect with nature, thanks to its stunning landscapes, rugged coastlines, and relaxed atmosphere. To fully immerse yourself in the island’s natural wonders, stay for at least 5 to 7 days. During this time, you can go hiking on the Napali Coast or Waimea Canyon, kayaking on the Wailua River, or take a helicopter tour for breathtaking aerial views.

 

Kauai is home to many great resorts in Hawaii, so you won’t have trouble finding one that fits your budget. The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa and Princeville at Hanalei are luxurious 5-star hotels in Hawaii that offer excellent amenities. The Kaua’i Marriott Resort and Sheraton Kauai Resort are great mid-range options that provide good value. Alternatively, you can consider staying at the Kauai Inn or Plantation Hale Suites if you’re on a budget.

Hawaii Island (The Big Island)

Best Island to Visit in Hawaii - Hawaii Island (The Big Island)

A World of Contrasts

 

For those seeking diverse landscapes, volcanic experiences, and stargazing opportunities, Hawaii Island, also known as “The Big Island,” is the best Hawaiian island to visit. With a trip duration of 7 to 10 days, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the attractions and activities in Hawaii, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, stargazing atop Mauna Kea, snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay, and discover the black sand beaches of Punaluu.

 

From luxury resorts such as Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel to more affordable hotels like Hilton Waikoloa Village and Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, the Big Island accommodations come in various sizes and styles. If you’re on a budget, Arnott’s Lodge & Hiking Adventures or the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kailua-Kona are also great options.

 

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Lanai: The Private Island

Best Island to Visit in Hawaii - Lanai: The Private Island

Where Luxury Meets Seclusion

 

Lanai is the best place to stay in Hawaii for an exclusive and luxurious experience. Known as “The Private Island,” it is ideal for those seeking world-class golfing, off-the-beaten-path adventures, and a peaceful atmosphere. Take a 3 to 5-day trip and play golf at the Manele Golf Course or Koele Golf Course, explore remote beaches and hidden gems on a 4×4 adventure, treat yourself to exquisite dining and spa services, and enjoy the island’s exclusivity.


Lanai is home to two luxurious Four Seasons Resorts: the Four Seasons Resort Lanai and Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort. These 5-star hotels in Hawaii offer exceptional experiences and top-notch amenities. For a more budget-friendly option, consider the Hotel Lanai, the only mid-range and budget accommodation on the island, or find a vacation rental there.

Molokai: The Friendly Isle

Best Island to Visit in Hawaii - Molokai: The Friendly Isle

Where Time Stands Still

 

If you’re still unsure of where to go in Hawaii, there’s still one more major island that you might want to consider. Molokai is the ideal destination for those seeking to experience genuine Hawaiian culture, unspoiled nature, and a relaxed way of life. Known as “The Friendly Isle,” Molokai provides an authentic window into the local way of life. 


A 3 to 5-day trip allows you to try several activities in Hawaii, such as visiting the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, hiking to Halawa Valley and its discreet waterfall, discovering Papohaku Beach (Hawaii’s longest white sand beach), and engaging with the warm and welcoming local community. However, accommodation choices are limited. Mid-range options include Hotel Molokai and Molokai Shores, while budget-friendly choices include Wavecrest Resort and Kepuhi Beach Resort.

Takeaway

The best island to visit in Hawaii for the first time depends on your preferences and travel style. Whether you choose the laid-back charm of Maui, the urban excitement of Oahu, the natural wonders of Kauai, or the diverse adventures of Hawaii Island, you’re sure to fall in love with the Aloha spirit and the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.

 

No matter which island you visit in Hawaii, you’ll have an unforgettable experience. So pack your bags, book your flights with OneAir, and get ready to experience the magic of the Hawaiian Islands.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hawaii is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit depends on your preferences. Summer (June to August) is the peak season with warm temperatures and low rainfall, while winter (December to February) is popular for whale watching and surfing. Spring (April to May) and fall (September to November) offer pleasant weather and lower prices.

If you are a U.S. citizen traveling from the mainland, you do not need a passport to visit Hawaii. However, you will need a valid government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or state ID card, to board your flight.

Pack lightweight, casual clothing suitable for warm weather, such as shorts, t-shirts, sundresses, and swimwear. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and comfortable walking shoes. A light jacket or sweater may be necessary for cooler evenings or higher elevations.

Renting a car is the most popular and convenient way to explore each island. However, some areas like Waikiki and Lahaina are pedestrian-friendly and offer public transportation options. Taxis, ride-sharing services, and guided tours are available on most islands.

Some popular activities include:

– Snorkeling or diving to explore colorful reefs and marine life

– Hiking through lush rainforests and volcanic landscapes

– Surfing or taking a surfing lesson on world-famous waves

– Attending a luau to experience traditional Hawaiian food, music, and dance

– Visiting Pearl Harbor and other historical sites on Oahu

Hawaii can be more expensive than other U.S. destinations due to its remote location and popularity. However, there are ways to save money, such asbooking flights and accommodations in advance, staying in budget-friendly hotels or vacation rentals, and seeking free or low-cost activities like hiking and beach visits.


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Hawaiian cuisine is a delicious blend of influences from Native Hawaiian, Asian, and European cultures. Some must-try dishes include Poke, which is a seasoned salad made with raw fish, Kalua pork, a slow-cooked and shredded pork dish, Lomi-lomi salmon, a side dish prepared with diced salmon, tomatoes, and onions, and Shave ice, a refreshing dessert flavored with tropical syrups.

When visiting Hawaii,  respect the local culture and environment. Some tips include:

 

– Learning some common Hawaiian words and phrases, like “aloha” (used as a greeting or farewell) and “mahalo” (used to express gratitude).

– Being respectful of sacred sites and following any posted signs or guidelines that you come across.

– Avoid touching or disturbing marine life while snorkeling or diving, as it can harm them.

– Disposing of your trash and recyclables properly to keep the islands clean and beautiful.

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