The quick guide to the Hawaiian islands

I've lived in the state of Hawaii for almost three years now, and while I've fallen in love with the beauty that surrounds me, it's honestly been the people who've made it amazing. The Hawaiian Islands has incredible culture and a deeply rooted history - so while you're deciding on which epic waterfall to explore or what beach will be perfect to surf at, make sure you spend some time appreciating and learning about the people who call Hawaii home.

I recently was able to visit the Hawaiian island of Lana'i (pronounced Lah-nah-ee) which means I've traveled to all of the major Hawaiian islands! Each one has it's own unique vibe and history. Because of this, I wanted to create a little guide for those of you wondering which Hawaiian island you should visit!

Keep in mind this blog post is pretty much all opinion and personal experience based, so you may hear something different from someone else. I've only ever lived on Oahu so I'm definitely biased! However I hope this little guide still gives you a good idea of what to expect and helps you decide which island you should travel to based on what your interests are!

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Oahu is the Hawaiian island that has a little bit of everything: a huge city, lots of shopping, the best surf (and beaches in my opinion!), beautiful waterfalls, mountains covered in rainforest, and tons to see and do. You can shop my Oahu Travel Guide here!

Oahu is perfect for those who want to see and do everything but don't have a ton of time. It takes an hour or less to get to most places, so you can really squeeze things in. However, Oahu is fairly crowded so you won’t have most places to yourself.

This island is for you if:

  • You want to make the most of your trip and see and do everything

  • You want to see famous places such as Pearl Harbor, the North Shore, or Waikiki

  • You want a good mix of jungle hikes, waterfalls, amazing beaches, shopping, culture, and snorkeling

  • You’re interested in events such as surf competitions, cultural festivals, etc

  • You want a place that’s easy to get around

My favorite picks for Oahu:

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Kauai is an adventurers paradise! If you are super into exploring, hiking, surfing, or pretty much anything outdoors, then Kauai is perfect for you. There's an endless amount of adventures to be had. I definitely consider Kauai the most beautiful island. It’s quiet and more isolated than Oahu with still plenty to do.

This island is for you if:

  • You are an adventurer and want to be outside all day

  • You love lush jungles and don’t mind the rain

  • You want to hike, snorkel, surf, and explore

  • You don’t mind being out of the city in a small town

My favorite picks for Kauai:

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In my opinion, Maui is the most family-friendly of all the Hawaiian islands! People of all ages can enjoy easy access to some of the best spots on the island. Maui is quiet and ideal for relaxing on vacation.

This island is for you if:

  • You have kids or older parents traveling with you

  • You want to focus on relaxing and enjoying the amazing weather

  • You want to see more waterfalls than your mind can handle

  • Easy hikes and sight seeing sounds amazing to you

My favorite picks for Maui:

  • The Road to Hana

  • Sunrise or sunset at Haleakala

  • Snorkel tour to Molokini

  • Black sand beach

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The island of Hawaii is very different than the Hawaiian islands above! Most people are shocked when they first fly in because the entire west side is more like a dry desert. It definitely doesn't have those tropical vibes if you fly into Kona (the jungle is on the other side!), but it still has so many beautiful and exciting activities to offer! There are definitely some insanely awesome hidden gems on the island of Hawaii.

This island is for you if:

  • You love to dive (they have some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen!)

  • You want to see huge diversity from black sand beaches, to snow, to volcanic rock, to lush jungle, to waterfalls

  • You don’t mind driving far distances

  • You want to experience Hawaiian culture

My favorite picks for Big Island:

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Take what you know about Hawaii and throw it out the window... cause Lana'i is SO different from anything you'd expect from Hawaii. Whether you're riding horses like the paniolos that once lived there, relaxing on an empty beach, or hiking through a strange Mars-like landscape, Lana'i is the perfect place for anyone who wants to get away from the world.

This island is for you if:

  • You want to get away from the world

  • You want to experience something completely different than most people

  • You don’t mind finding what to do on a whim

  • You want to learn more about Hawaii’s history

My favorite picks for Lana’i:

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This Hawaiian island is my personal favorite. My dad lived there as a pineapple picker when he was a teenager, so I actually grew up looking through old photos of Molokai long before I even knew where that was.

Molokai is something special for sure! You're not going to find too many travel guides on it - because it's a great big secret how awesome it is. That's actually what I loved about Molokai... when we first showed up we were like... well, what do we do?? But once you start driving around and talking to the friendly locals, pretty soon you find yourself on a boat cruising the coast by the sea cliffs or swimming at a completely empty beach.

Read my Molokai blog post here.

This island is for you if:

  • You want to experience the real Hawaii

  • You don’t mind going off the beaten path

  • You’re fine with taking life as it comes and don’t mind if things are slow

  • You want to see incredible sea cliffs, swim in the clearest ocean, have the beach all to yourself, meet friendly locals, and explore hidden waterfalls

My favorite picks for Moloka’i:

I hope you enjoyed this little blog post about this place I call home! Hawaii truly is a special place and I feel so lucky to live here and I'm sure you will feel just as lucky when you visit!

xoxo Heather