Hawaii is a favorite destination for many people – either because they’ve been there and loved it, or because they know so many people who have recounted wonderful stories and descriptions of their travels to the islands. But if you’ve never been, how do you know where you want to go? And if you’ve been to just one of the islands, where should you go next time?
Of course they all have exotic, volcanic beauty; tropical, intimate beaches; lovely resorts; great golfing and activities galore. The Hawaiian islands don’t tend to be as humid as those in the caribbean. But some islands receive more rain than others, and some parts of each island are wetter than others. In general, the leeward (western) sides are drier, while the windward (eastern) siders are wetter. Each island has it’s own flavor, it’s own vibe. And there’s such a wide range of microclimates that you can experience a remarkable variety of geography including beaches, rain forests, volcanic deserts and high altitudes. Here’s a little about each of the islands so you can narrow down your choices!
Kaua’i: The Garden Isle
Lush. Tropical. Wild. When you close your eyes and envision Hawai’i, Kaua’i is what you see. Visit for it’s magnificent scenery and outdoor adventure. Hike, bike, or take a flight for the only way to see the island’s interior. This is the northern-most of the Hawai’ian islands, and the least visited (of the major 4).
- Wailua River – the only navigable river in the state. Take a boat ride or kayak it yourself
- Wailua Falls – the most popular in the state
- Na Pali Coast – take a boat ride to view the other-worldly sea cliffs or see it as you hike the
- Kalalau Trail – spectacular coastal hiking trail
- Waimea Canyon – hike our drive the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”
O’ahu: the Gathering Place
The most visited Hawai’ian island as well as them most populous; with the capital city (Honolulu). The main tourist area, Waikiki is a bustling resort city with fantastic shopping, beautiful beaches, and magnificent resorts. Get away from it and there’s history, culture, mountains, world class surfing, and some of the best snorkeling in the islands.
- Waikiki – Iconic gathering place for visitors from around the world.
- Pearl Harbor – Explore the historic sites recounting the World War II attack.
- Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – One of Hawaii’s premier snorkeling sites.
- Nuuanu Pali Lookout – Historic spot with fantastic mountain views.
- North Shore – Legendary birthplace of big wave surfing
(especially in the winter).
- Diamond Head – the focal point of Waikiki.
Maui: the Valley Isle
Limitless activity. Countless waterfalls. Numerous beaches. The waters off this magical island are the nursery grounds for humpback whales. The island itself is the playground of, well, everyone. From an abundance of things to do, accommodations for everyone’s budget and taste, and dining to satisfy every picky eater, Maui has it all.
- Lahaina – Whale watch, shop and dine in this historic hot spot.
- Haleakala National Park – Scenic home to Maui’s highest peak and dormant volcano. Ride a bike down it at sunrise.
- Hana Highway– Famous for the narrow, winding scenic drive by waterfalls and spectacular coastline to a small, charming town, and beyond.
- Maui Ocean Center — walk through the tunnel in a 750,000 gallon Open Ocean Exhibit tank
- Whale Watching – from December through April
Big Island: the Orchid Isle
Larger than all the other Hawai’ian islands combined, the Big Island contains 11 of the world’s 13 climactic zones. This is the land of contrasts: from snowcapped mountains to sandy beaches, rain forests to volcanic deserts, this island has it all. Come for the adventures, like hiking, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, scuba and snorkeling.
- Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) – Historic seaside hot spot.
- Coffee Plantations or Macadamia Nut farm – Get a rich taste of fresh Kona coffee or savor the buttery nuts.
- Downtown Hilo – Discover local treasures in the island’s capital city.
- Hamakua Coast – Lush terrain with waterfalls, jungle and zip lining.
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – home of one of the world’s most active volcanoes and other-worldly scenery.
Lanai: the Secluded Island
Once Hawai’is largest pineapple plantation, it’s now a small private island off Maui’s shore. Home to just two world class resorts, it’s known as Hawaii’s most exclusive island.
Molokai: the Friendly Isle
No traffic lights (no traffic!) when you arrive on Molokai you’ll feel like you stepped back in time 50 years. With just six condos, one hotel and a few beach houses to choose from you’ll truly get away from it all. The golf course, originally built for Del Monte executives is as relaxed as the island: no clubhouse, pros or tee times. Like every activity here, you’re free to enjoy it on your own time.
Finally, if you just can’t pick:
Norwegian Cruise Lines offers a 7 night cruise, year round, that visits all 4 of the major islands, starting and ending in Honolulu with stops in Maui (two full days, docked over one night), both Kona and Hilo on Big Island, and Kauai (two days, docked over one night). You’re in port every day, so it’s really like a floating hotel. It’s a perfect way to see all the islands in one week long trip. Then return to your favorite on your next Hawaiian vacation!
There’s no such thing as a bad Hawai’ian island, but everyone has their personal favorite. I hope this has helped you pick your next stay – or way – to find yours.