Which Hawaiian Island should you visit?
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!
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 pretty crowded (almost a million people live here!) so don't expect to get things to yourself.
Many people want to come to Oahu and do all the illegal hikes and see the secret spots, but I'm a firm believer you can still have an epic trip doing totally legal + safe activities that still respect the locals and island! Most people don't realize that when they hashtag these illegal or trespassing secret spots, they are damaging it and ruining it for those who actually live here. You are also putting yourself at risk since most of the illegal spots are outlawed because of people who have died there! So just be super mindful and respectful of private property and such!
Oahu residents will mostly be super helpful and friendly to you as long as you respect them! Most locals simply want visitors to appreciate and respect their culture, space, and island. Take time to learn about the history of Hawaii or even support small businesses here instead of giving your money to big companies that are stationed on the mainland. A little research can go a long way.
I would definitely recommend coming to Oahu if you want to get the most out of your trip, you're a huge beach lover, or you want to see all the main attractions Hawaii has to offer (such as Waikiki, North Shore, Pearl Harbor, etc).
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.
Obviously the Na Pali coast is a must see (you have to get a permit ahead of time if you plan on trekking the whole thing) - the waterfall there is incredible! There's also a beautiful beach at every turn, lots of camping spots, and this Hawaiian island is absolutely stunning from every angle.
I also personally think Kauai has some of the best food! Surprisingly I've had some dang good Mexican food, amazing vegan grinds, and delicious local plates. Kauai is a great place if you're wanting a little taste of everything.
I highly recommend going to Kauai if you are a photographer or outdoorsman. One of the main things to do is go in a helicopter tour or boat tour to see the coast - you might even encounter dolphins or whales!
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.
The Road to Hana is the main thing people do on Maui, and it's an incredible drive with epic waterfalls at every turn! No but really... there is literally a waterfall around each corner. It's insanely beautiful! So if you love waterfalls, Maui is the place for you.
Whether you're driving the lush coast on the east side, visiting one of the many crystal clear beaches on the west, or watching the sunrise from the top of Haleakala, Maui is an easy place to have fun without a ton of effort. Everything you'd want to do is pretty much a drive away! If you're planning a trip with kids or even older people (who aren't able to hike around/adventure as easily) then Maui would definitely be a good choice for you!
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 looks like it got nuked or something haha. It definitely doesn't have those tropical vibes if you fly into Kona, 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.
The west side has some of the clearest water I've ever seen! The beaches are a little slim (the really good ones you have to boat or hike to!) but once you're in the water the reef is alive and thriving - definitely something you won't see on Oahu. You also have a pretty good chance of seeing dolphins!
The Big Island also has great food choices - I swear there was a rad little cafe every town we went to.
The Big Island is HUGE (duh) - so prepare to drive for a while if you plan on doing any adventures. The north side is lush and green (more what you expect to see in Hawaii!) and has some really incredible hikes in areas that are significant in Hawaii history. The east side is beautiful too, it's pretty rainy but SO green and lovely! On the south you have the lava fields, rainforest, and volcanos. The Big Island is easily the most diverse island as far as landscapes go! You can technically surf and ski in the same day (there's sometimes snow on Mauna Kea).
Sadly most of the waterfalls on the Big Island are illegal / locals only, so you might want to see the waterfalls either by helicopter or visit one of the touristy spots in Hilo. I wouldn't recommend going to the Big Island if you're more of a jungle/tropical person. However, if you're looking to just get out in the water and dive, snorkel, and see wildlife - then I definitely recommend going there!
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.
If you're the type of person who wants to do something off the beaten path or just wants to enjoy things without a soul around, this truly is the ultimate Hawaiian island for that.
The landscape varies from red rock desert, to endless plains of grass and wildflowers, to rolling mountains (much smaller than the other islands) covered in pine trees, and hidden beaches. There's a Four Seasons resort for those who want to escape in luxury and Hotel Lanai (as well as several Airbnb's) for those who are on a budget. The food options are somewhat limited but still super high quality and delicious! There are deer (venison) on Lana'i so if you're into that - you can order deer meat for dinner!
Lana'i has gone through a lot in its history. The deer were brought over by King Kamehameha V and there was once thriving pineapple plantations throughout the island. Now that the plantations have left, Lana'i is a quiet place with only a population of 3000. I highly recommend going on a holo holo to learn more about the history of this island!
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 know 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.
I would suggest visiting Molokai if you are an explorer at heart who doesn't mind the unknown. If you're looking to just totally wing it and try something new, then Molokai is the island for you!
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!