How to Pick the Right Hawaiian Island to Visit

So, you know you want to visit Hawaii; now it’s time to decide which island will be best for your first trip to this tropical paradise.

When you go on a Hawaiian vacation, you’re sure to have a great time and see lots of outstanding sights, no matter which island you visit. But let’s face it—each traveler has a unique motivation for visiting Hawaii, and there are certain experiences that suit one’s sense of adventure and travel needs more than others.

Whether you want to experience a laid-back Hawaii and live like the locals or are interested in an exciting version of Hawaii that includes all kinds of trips and tours and even a high-rise hotel or two, this article will help you flesh out the details and choose which Hawaiian island to visit if you’ve never visited Hawaii before.

Let’s start off with a few questions:

1. What Do You Want to See When You Visit Hawaii?

You must have something or some place in Hawaii in mind that you would love to see, such as beaches with white, red, green or black sand; lush jungles with extraordinary waterfalls; crystal-blue waters that allow sailing or wildlife viewing; towering volcanoes; soaring cliffs; markets selling authentic wares … the list goes on and on.

Jot down everything that you want to do in Hawaii, and then refer to our summary of each island at the end of this article to match up your perfect Hawaiian vacation with the island that you think will best meet your needs.

Do you want to witness ancient ruins, a bustling Chinatown and a rainforest filled with indigenous animals and plants? Do you want days spent doing absolutely nothing by the pool or in the sun and evenings at a luau or dining on great Hawaiian cuisine? It’s up to you to first decide what activities and attractions appeal to you and then pair those desires with the island that offers you the most of what you want.

2. How Much Do You Want to Spend on Your Hawaiian Vacation?

You may have a mile-long list of all the places you want to see and things that you want to do. If you have a certain budget you’re adhering to, you’ll want to choose an island that will allow you to experience everything you want for a price that stays within your spending allowance.

Some of our previous articles addressed ways you can enjoy a complete Hawaiian experience for cheap, but you are the only one who knows exactly what you want to see and how you can make it all happen.

Decide on how much you want to spend for lodging, food, attractions, transportation and so on, and then use our guide below to match up your budget with an appropriate island.

3. What Kind of Atmosphere Are You Looking For?

Some travelers’ perfect Hawaiian vacation involves tons of downtime and lots of moments just enjoying beautiful scenery and fascinating wonders from Mother Nature. Other people love shopping in a new city, visiting museums and other cultural spots, taking in the nightlife and just living it up in the most exciting way.

You’ll need to decide what kind of energy you want to have around you each day of your Hawaiian vacation, and what attractions and activities will bring you the most joy and satisfaction.

Here’s a summary of what you can expect of the most popular Hawaiian Islands:

The Islands in Brief


Oahu is the island to visit if you want to explore a huge variety of cultures, races, social structures and attractions. You’ll find a unique mix of East meets West and an even more interesting blend of Old Hawaii and 21st-century Hawaii.

On Oahu, there are modern conveniences, such as public transportation and contemporary hotels, merged with beautiful beaches and other natural treasures, such as volcanoes. You’ll be able to eat all kinds of food and enjoy activities at many price points.


Maui is known for its gorgeous beaches and natural treasures, such as whale-watching opportunities and great snorkeling coves. You’ll also be able to hike to places from your wildest dreams and view cascading waterfalls with practically no effort at all.

Enjoy lazy afternoons in botanical gardens and then hit the city at night for gourmet restaurants or a luau on the beach. Maui marries tranquility with excitement in the most brilliant way.

The Big Island

When you want to get up close and personal with wildlife, spend lots of time hiking, go camping or witness breathtaking volcanoes, lava rivers and icy pools, visit The Big Island.

Here you’ll be encouraged to become part of island life in Hawaii, joining locals in their ancient customs and learning about all the sacred ways of the Hawaiian people.


Want to escape it all when you visit Hawaii? Kauai might be the island for you, especially if you travel to the island’s North Shore, where many people come to check out from the technologies that take over life most everywhere else in the world.

On Kauai you’ll find lush canyons, steep cliffs, rugged terrain and bountiful flora, and you’ll wonder how any place in the United States can be so pristine and so perfect.


Vacationing on Molokai will feel like you’re actually living in Hawaii, with a deep sense of appreciation for Hawaii as the locals see it. On Molokai, land preservation and conservation of cultural heritage are valued over tourism at any cost.

Molokai features plenty of naturally enticing rainforests, sprawling state parks and hidden beaches.

You’ll most likely find yourself spending quality time in authentic Hawaiian cottages and bungalows, quaint bed-and-breakfasts or luxurious resorts.

If you’re looking for somewhere nice to stay, no matter which island you choose, you will find the best hotels for the best prices at Get 5% cash back when you join their popular Loyalty Club!

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Which island is calling your name? Pick the most enticing island or two and start learning more about it. Once you’re sure which one you want to visit, be sure to come back here for help booking hotels!