Protect Your Trip »

Which hawaiian island is the best to visit our 2024 ranking.

Though it can be easy to assume the six most visited Hawaiian Islands offer similar experiences, they are more diverse than you can imagine. From Waimea Canyon to Waikiki Beach, Hawaii’s wealth of natural beauty (think: cerulean waters, verdant vegetation and stunning white sand beaches ) is just waiting to be explored. To help you decide which Hawaiian Island is ideal for your next vacation, U.S. News took into account sights, expert opinion and reader input to determine the best Hawaiian Islands to visit. Vote for your favorite island below to have a say in next year's list. 


Hawaii - the big island, honolulu - oahu.

different islands to visit in hawaii

Though it's perhaps most famous for the fabulous coastlines of Ka'anapali Beach and Wailea Beach, Maui is a great option for both couples and families looking for variety in their vacation. Away from the sand, you can drive the Road to Hana, enjoy a bird's-eye view during a helicopter tour , see one of the world's largest dormant volcanoes at Haleakala National Park and get up close to marine wildlife while snorkeling in Honolua Bay or around Molokini. Then, for an experience you won’t forget, relax on the volcanic coastline of Wai'anapanapa State Park, where jet-black sands meet vibrant sapphire waters.

different islands to visit in hawaii

With a more easygoing environment than other islands like Oahu and the Big Island, the Garden Isle lets its wild, natural beauty speak for itself and is perfect for an adventurous getaway. The main attractions here are Koke'e State Park and Waimea Canyon, otherwise known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." But you also won’t want to miss Kaua'i’s breathtaking Wailua Falls or dreamy Po'ipu Beach. And if a challenging hike is what you’re after, it doesn’t get more scenic than the Kalalau Trail along the rugged Napali Coast. Just remember to pack galoshes and a rain jacket – Kaua'i is one of Hawaii's rainiest islands.

different islands to visit in hawaii

The island of Hawaii's bevy of one-of-a-kind attractions and family-friendly activities makes it ideal for travelers who prefer a jam-packed itinerary. Not only does the Big Island offer white and black sand beaches , including the famous Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, it is also home to lush rainforests and two active volcanoes at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. History buffs will love visiting Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site (home to one of Hawaii's largest restored temples) and Kealakekua Bay (where British explorer James Cook first arrived in 1779). Or, head to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park to see petroglyphs, ancient Hawaiian fishponds and green sea turtles.

different islands to visit in hawaii

The least-developed island on this list, Moloka'i was made for those who don’t mind going off the beaten path. With lush rainforests, miles of beautiful beaches and some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world, Moloka'i is a great place to reconnect with nature, whether you’re staying overnight at one of Moloka'i’s quiet oceanfront cottages – there is only one hotel on the island – or visiting on a day trip from one of the other Hawaiian Islands. Top activities here include soaking up some sun on secluded Papohaku Beach, snorkeling Moloka'i's 28-mile reef or joining a guided cultural hike through Halawa Valley.

different islands to visit in hawaii

Dubbed The Gathering Place, Oahu is home to plenty of famous sites and a great jumping-off point for first-time visitors to the Hawaiian Islands. On the South Shore, you'll find Waikiki Beach, Hanauma Bay, Pearl Harbor National Memorial and Le'ahi (Diamond Head) State Monument, all in or near the capital city of Honolulu. Meanwhile, the North Shore is home to a more laid-back vibe, as well as the renowned waves at Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach, which host major surfing competitions every year. After exploring along the coast, head inland to the tranquil Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan.

different islands to visit in hawaii

For a secluded, nature-centric escape, set your sights on Lana'i. Centrally located between Maui and Moloka'i, this remote hideaway makes a great home base for inter-island travel. Travelers can take a four-wheel-drive vehicle to spots like Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach) and Kaunolu Village, a prehistoric fishing village that was once frequented by King Kamehameha I, or spend their days sunbathing on Polihua Beach. In winter, head to Hulopo'e Bay for terrific whale-watching opportunities. Then, make your way to Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods), an enchanting rock garden that was once part of a native dryland forest, for a breathtaking Lana'i sunset. 

You May Be Interested In

different islands to visit in hawaii

Best Islands in the World for 2024

different islands to visit in hawaii

Best Beaches in the U.S. for 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

Best Places to Visit in the USA for 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

Best Beaches in the World for 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

Best Beaches in California for 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

Best Honeymoon Destinations for 2024

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.


9 Top All-Inclusive Resorts in Florida for 2024

Gwen Pratesi|Amanda Norcross January 5, 2024

different islands to visit in hawaii

24 Top All-Inclusive Resorts in the U.S. for 2024

Erin Evans January 4, 2024

different islands to visit in hawaii

26 Top Adults-Only All-Inclusive Resorts for 2024

Zach Watson December 28, 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

Solo Vacations: The 36 Best Places to Travel Alone in 2024

Lyn Mettler|Erin Vasta December 22, 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

26 Cheap Beach Vacations for Travelers on a Budget

Kyle McCarthy|Sharael Kolberg December 4, 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

The 50 Most Beautiful White Sand Beaches in the World

Holly Johnson December 1, 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

The 26 Best Zoos in the U.S.

Rachael Hood November 16, 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

44 Cheap Tropical Vacations That Feel Expensive

Holly Johnson|Alissa Grisler November 10, 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

18 Fall Family Vacation Ideas

Amanda Norcross September 11, 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

30 Fun Fall Weekend Getaways for 2023

Holly Johnson July 18, 2023

different islands to visit in hawaii

  • Search Please fill out this field.
  • Manage Your Subscription
  • Give a Gift Subscription
  • Sweepstakes
  • Island Vacations

How to Plan the Perfect Multi-island Trip to Hawaii

These eight tips will help you travel between Hawaii's islands with ease.

Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images

The Hawaiian archipelago includes more than 100 islands, atolls, and islets. But if you’re planning a visit, don’t worry, as you need not plot a 100-island itinerary. With the majority of the islands uninhabited and inaccessible, you can focus on four of the eight largest islands: Kauai , Oahu , Maui , and the Island of Hawaii (often referred to as the Big Island), with the option to add on a few others.

Here are some tips for planning an epic multi-island trip to Hawaii .

Determine travel dates and destinations.

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

Ideally, you should spend at least one week on each of the four islands. But if you don’t have a full month, plan for four to five days per island, then choose one or two regions within each. 

Make a list of things you want to do in order of importance. This will help you determine where to base yourself on each island and what to eliminate if needed. For example, if sleeping near an active volcano and night snorkeling with manta rays are two activities topping your list, book a couple of nights at the historic Volcano House — the only lodging within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — on the Hilo side of the Island of Hawaii and a few nights at Mauna Kea Resort or The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on the Kona side, where you can join a guided small group night snorkel with Manta Ray Advocates .

Don’t forget to factor in flight and drive times. Although some islands appear small on the map, weather, road conditions, and traffic can impact overall travel time. 

Also, consider when to go . Hawaii has microclimates, so weather can vary, but in general, summer is warm with minimal rainfall. This is ideal for beach lovers, but it’s also one of the peak travel times, with families visiting during summer break. Expect higher rates and larger crowds during this time, as well as the weeks surrounding major U.S. holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. 

You may find lower rates and thinner crowds during the winter (with the exception of the holiday season), but the colder months are generally wetter, so if you’re traveling to Hawaii from November through March, be prepared for cooler temperatures, rain, and possible road closures and activity cancellations. The shoulder seasons from March to May (excluding spring break and Easter) and September to October tend to have comfortable weather conditions and slightly fewer crowds than peak seasons.

Identify your travel style.

Some travelers crave leisurely days at the beach, while others prefer an action-packed itinerary. Some gravitate toward lively, larger cities, while others enjoy slower-paced small towns . Discuss your expectations and interests with your travel companions so you can hone in on the regions, tours, and hotels best suited to you.

Do your research. I often hear visitors comment that Oahu is "too busy," yet they haven't ventured beyond Honolulu. Honolulu is the capital city and home to about one million people, so yes, it’s busy. Find an oasis amidst the chaos: With convenient locations, Espacio and The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach are tranquil retreats in the city. Or, if you’re not interested in the urban experience at all, skip the capital and head elsewhere on Oahu . 

You might be tempted to schedule every hour of your itinerary in order to make the most of your trip, but don’t overbook. Allow time for rest, and aim for balance, so you don't wind up exhausted. Follow an active day of touring with some leisure time or a spa treatment.

Plan your route.

Art Wager/Getty Images

Although you can start and end wherever you choose, it’s wise to look at flight schedules to plot an efficient route. Kauai is in the northwest, and the Island of Hawaii is in the southeast, so starting in Kauai and traveling southeast — to Oahu, Maui, and then the Island of Hawaii — makes sense logistically. It also provides variety, from the slower pace of Kauai to a mix of urban adventures and cruising the countryside on Oahu and Maui. You'll end with a bang on the Island of Hawaii, where you can feel the energy of volcanic activity. In this case, you’ll also be following the order in which the islands were formed, so it’s a great way to experience them from oldest to youngest and observe the geological evolution along the way. 

When booking flights, consider multicity rather than a round-trip option. If you’ll be traveling the Kauai to the Island of Hawaii route suggested above, you can arrive in Kauai, book onward interisland flights to Oahu, Maui, and the Island of Hawaii, then depart from Kona. Keep in mind that some interisland flights are not direct and may require a stopover in Honolulu or Kahului, for example, so be sure to check before booking. You can often secure direct interisland flights by choosing one that departs earlier in the day.

Enlist the help of experts.

Alec Fuller /Getty Images

While you can travel around the islands on your own, we recommend booking some guided experiences. Native Hawaiian guides and cultural practitioners, in particular, offer personal stories and context that will give you an entirely different — and much richer — experience. Plus, by booking with Native Hawaiian experts, you’re supporting the perpetuation of Hawaiian culture. 

Many hotels, like ‘Alohilani Resort and Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on Oahu and Ka’anapali Beach Hotel on Maui, are increasingly providing complimentary, Native Hawaiian-led activities that include hula, Hawaiian language lessons, lei-making sessions, and sunrise ceremonies. Other properties, like Timbers and Kukui’ula on Kauai, offer farm tours to acquaint guests (and their taste buds) with the abundance of plants and produce grown there. Some hotels, including Halekulani , provide private tours or discounted or free entrance to local sites of significance such as Bishop Museum , Iolani Palace , and Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design . Be sure to ask about these offerings prior to booking your hotels. 

When it comes to physical activities such as hiking, guided tours with reputable operators like Kauai Hiking Tours help ensure your safety. And in some cases, a guided tour can afford access to extraordinary places, like Hualalai crater, a sacred site located on private land that only two tour operators — Uluha'o O Hualalai and Hawaii Forest & Trail — have permission to reach. (For a beachside stay nearby, check out Four Seasons Resort Hualalai ).

Some expert-led trips from operators such as Kailani Tours can also help you maximize your time by bringing you to a variety of sites in one day, allowing you to enjoy the ride rather than worry about logistics and navigation. 

Make reservations.

Westend61/Getty Images

Many popular places such as Hanauma Bay on Oahu now require reservations, and popular tours, including sunrise at Haleakalā on Maui and sunset at Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii, often sell out, so it’s best to book as far in advance as possible. Arnott’s Adventures offers sunset and stargazing tours from Hilo, and if you’re on the Kona side, check out Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Summit & Stars Give Back Experience .

You should also secure dinner reservations so you don’t miss out on your top choices or waste time waiting for a table. And don’t forget car rentals for each island, too; these do sell out and — with the exception of Honolulu, where shuttles, public buses, and ride-share options are available — it can be difficult and expensive to get around without your own wheels. 

Pack your bags.

milan2099/Getty Images

One of the biggest mistakes people make when traveling to Hawaii is assuming it’s always sunny and warm. If you’re planning to visit multiple islands, you’ll likely encounter a variety of microclimates and changing weather conditions. Come prepared with layers and appropriate footwear for your activities, and always pack a rain jacket. And, of course, pack a Hawaiian shirt or two.

Bring binoculars, too, to get a better view of wildlife such as endemic birds and migrating whales, as well as dynamic landscapes. If you’re fortunate enough to witness volcanic activity, you’ll be happy to have these on hand for a close-up view of bubbling lava. Some tours do include outdoor gear and equipment; inquire when booking. 

Consider additional islands.

John Elk/Getty Images

If you have time and want to add another island to your trip, there are a few options available to visitors. You can take the ferry from Maui to Lanai for a day trip or spend a night or two and sink into that relaxed island life. 

If you’re interested in visiting Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Molokai, allow a few extra days. Keep in mind that flights to Molokai are limited, and as the island is home to vulnerable kupuna (elderly people), it's slowly reopening to visitors since the pandemic started.

If you prefer a private tour to a neighboring island, Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea can charter a yacht or helicopter from Maui to Lanai or Molokai. 

Although you’re not permitted to step ashore on Ni'ihau, the “Forbidden Island,” without an invitation, you can snorkel the waters nearby on a Holo Holo Charters Super Tour . 

Travel with aloha. 

rebelml/Getty Images

For you, Hawaii may be a dream destination. For those who live here, it's home and, for many, sacred. Travel with respect : Stay on marked trails, don’t enter private property, obey warnings (from posted signs, lifeguards, and law enforcement), and be mindful that the environment is fragile and the land has cultural, spiritual, and ecological significance.

Be flexible, too. Don’t be attached to a particular expectation or activity. Sometimes, plans change due to weather (like that time I flew to Kauai to see the famed cliffs of the Nā Pali Coast and colors of Waimea Canyon, only to find it all covered in clouds and fog). If you’re lucky enough to visit Hawaii, embrace the unexpected, stay present, and aim to enjoy the experience — rain or shine. 

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.

A beginner's guide to the Hawaiian islands

Book your individual trip , stress-free with local travel experts

  • guide-to-the-hawaiian-islands

written by Joanne Owen

updated 31.08.2021


With six major freely visitable Hawaiian islands - Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Hawaii (aka Big Island), Lanai and Molokai - the million dollar question for anyone looking to visit Hawaii is which one? The signature offerings ­of the USA's 50th state - beautiful beaches, top surf spots, breath-taking natural beauty, and lively  luaus  (parties) - all live up to the hype. To discover which of these dream destinations will best suit your needs, here’s our Hawaiian islands overview, written with first-timers in mind.

Which Hawaiian island should you visit?

The big island, best beaches on the hawaiian islands, adventure activities on the hawaiian islands, cultural experiences on the hawaiian islands, what to eat on the hawaiian islands, where to stay on the hawaiian islands.

Diverse in size, personality and population,  Hawaii  offer visitors a huge variety of things to see and do, so you’ll want to choose your island wisely - and this guide to the Hawaiian islands will help you do just that. Whether you want to scale epic volcanic pinnacles, uncover local culture and cuisine, surf some of the world’s wildest waves, or soak up sunrays, there’s an island that will deliver everything you’re looking for (and more).

Rising from the Pacific Ocean like fertile sea sanctuaries, the islands are actually enormous volcanoes. In fact, the volcanic vent that continues to cause Kilauea to erupt on Hawaii Island was responsible for the genesis of all Hawaii’s islands, in effect giving birth to all those fiery sunsets, misty mountains and colossal cascading waterfalls. But the Hawaiian islands have their bustling towns and cities too - Honolulu is home to almost 350 thousand people, for example.

Honolulu sunset

Stunning Honolulu sunset © Shutterstock

Despite their differences - physical and cultural - the Hawaiian islands are united by the unmistakable spirit of aloha. Translated, aloha comprises alo (face) and ha (the breath of life), and it binds the islands’ populations, whatever their background. Though commonly used as a greeting, aloha means much more than “hello”. It’s an expression of sincerity from the heart. Something to strive for in life - an ethos of treating those around you with love and compassion. One thing’s certain, you’re sure to encounter the spirit during your trip whichever island you choose to visit, as this guide to the Hawaiian islands reveals.

Home to Hawaii’s capital and largest city,  Oahu  is a pretty unique place, to put it mildly. Where else on earth can you explore dense rainforest and volcanic craters, surf monstrous waves, take-in a multimillion-dollar cityscape, and goof around on a Disney resort?

Honolulu  itself has plenty to satisfy history and culture buffs, including the  Iolani Palace  and  Honolulu Museum of Art . A great way to see the city and historic Pearl Harbour is to take this  fascinating four-hour tour  in the company of an expert Hawaiian Islands tourist guide. Alternatively, if you fancy mixing culture with nature, this full-day trip around the entire island is the perfect way to do exactly that. Covering Waimea Valley’s waterfalls, the beautiful Byodo-In temple, Halona Blowhole, and much more besides, it gives a great overview of Oahu.

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA © Ppictures/Shutterstock

Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA © Ppictures/Shutterstock

Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hawaii is  Waikiki. This iconic beach, immortalised in many a movie, is located three miles east of the city. Actually a series of connecting beaches - Sans Souci, Queen’s Surf, Kuhio, Waikiki, DeRussy, and Duke Kahanamoku - the sand extends for more than a mile in a near-perfect crescent. You certainly won’t be short of things to do here. Waikiki is a buzzing tourist-oriented beach, with the likes of  snorkelling and sailing trips ,  sunset cocktail cruises  and  surf schools to keep you active and entertained.

Waikiki Beach, Oahu Hawaiian islands © aines/Shutterstock

Wakiki beach and Diamond Head, Honolulu, Oahu © aines / Shutterstock

Though Oahu certainly has its share of natural beauty and quieter spots, if you’re seeking solitude and a “back to nature” experience you might - on balance - want to keep reading this Hawaiian islands travel guide to find your perfect place in paradise.

Glamourous, scenic and with world-class water-sports and whale-watching experiences,  Maui  ticks a whole lot of boxes. It’s home to some of the Hawaiian islands’ swankiest resorts and best beaches, and big on natural diversity too.

The island’s main tourist area is lively (yet laidback) Lahaina, a waterfront town that was once a magnet for whalers and seamen, with the narrow streets once walked by Mark Twain and Herman Melville now lined with cafés and restaurants. A  street segway tour  is a fun and family-friendly way to see the town, which is also one of several bases from which to join a humpback whale-watching excursion . 

Humpback whale tail in Hawaii

Humongous humpback whale tail in Hawaii © Shutterstock

When it comes to beaches, you’ll be spoiled for choice on Maui. Among its best are Kapalua Beach, Big Beach (officially named Oneloa Beach, or Makena Beach State Park), and La Pérouse Bay, a popular (and pretty) spot for snorkelling and kayaking.

Road to Hana Maui, Hawaiian islands © Vacclav/Shutterstock

One of the many beaches viewable from the Road to Hana, Maui © Vacclav / Shutterstock

If staggering scenery is more your bag, you’ll want to make a beeline for  Haleakala National Park . Here on the slopes of Maui’s volcano, life is a mix of geologic wonders and cowboy culture, with a thirty-mile system of trails to follow on foot or horseback. Watching the sunrise atop Haleakala volcano is an  unforgettable experience , as is driving the winding 64-mile Hana Highway. Not for the faint-hearted, this zig-zagging route along Maui’s north-eastern shore affords incredible views of waterfalls, beaches and tropical rainforests. You could combine seeing a staggering number of Maui’s natural hotspots into one trip by taking this epic private tour .

All things considered, Maui is best-suited for active adventurers and devoted beach-worshippers - with plenty of luxury resorts to lay down your head in style, among them  Montage Kapalua Bay , an elegantly landscaped 24-acre oceanfront resort with luxurious suites. What’s more, it’s primely positioned for sunsets that will take your breath away.

It’s not for nothing that  Kauai  is known as the “Garden Isle” of the Hawaiian islands. This fertile stunner is mostly covered in tropical rainforest and, as a result, it typically attracts hikers, nature-lovers and bird-watchers (the island is home to rare species of Hawaiian honeycreepers, such as the black-masked, yellow-and-olive ‘akeke‘e, which is only found in the mountains of Kauai).

Putting its dramatic landscape aside (for the moment, at least), Kauai has a lovely laidback vibe and feels a million miles from the hubbub of Honolulu. But drama is what the island does best, as epitomised by the jaw-dropping pinnacles of the Na Pali Coast, oft-featured in Hollywood adventure films. This coastline is a genuine geological wonder - its natural rock spires were created by two types of erosion after the island was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaiian Islands © Maridav / Shutterstock

The Na Pali Coast on Kauai © Maridav / Shutterstock

Inaccessible to vehicles, the Na Pali Coast can be enjoyed in a number of ways - helicopter, kayak, paddleboard, or boat. For a full-on Jurassic Park perspective, they don’t come better than this  out-of-this-world helicopter trip , which also offers incredible views of Kauai’s other major geological draw -  Waimea Canyon . Hands down, this helicopter experience is one of the best ways to explore Hawaiian islands in epic style. Alternatively, this  sunset sailing trip  affords stunning views of the same coastline from the sea. Or, if you’re fit (and fearless), you could hike the coastline’s  Kalalau Trail . While this trek is difficult (guaranteed to get your heart thumping), it’s more than worth the effort, as you’ll discover when you reach the Kalalau Beach endpoint.

Head to the southeast coast for more traditional tourist offerings - Kauai Museum  and  Grove Farm Homestead and Sugar Plantation Museum , for example, both of which provide Hawaiian islands’ tourist information with a cultural focus). This area is also blessed with some of the island’s best beaches. But, with over half its 550-square miles reserved for conservation and preservation, and tonnes of hiking trails, zip-lines and tropical forest, Kauai is, above all, a paradise for adventurous nature-lovers.

Related articles from the blog


Geologically the youngest of the Hawaiian islands and twice the size of all the others combined, Hawaii Island (aka the Big Island ) is roughly the size of the US state of Connecticut. But, being home to just 185,000 people, with many towns largely unchanged for a century, Big Island has more of a rural small-town atmosphere.

Big Island’s biggest draw is, unquestionably, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park  made up of its southernmost volcanoes - Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Besides its active volcanoes, the park’s landscape includes the windswept deserts of Ka‘u, arctic tundra, and canopied rainforest. The main attraction of the park is Kilauea, which has erupted consistently since 1983. Getting to the part of the park where you can see molton lava takes time - most visitors spend a full day doing this.

Lava flowing into the ocean on The Big Island © Yvonne Baur / Shutterstock

Lava flowing into the ocean on The Big Island © Yvonne Baur / Shutterstock

For an alternate way to experience the Big Island’s natural wonders, this  Twilight Volcano and Stargazing Tour  is out of this world. Offering opportunities to learn about (and sample) local coffee and see green turtles alongside a guided tour of the volcanoes, this varied trip ends with a spot of extraordinary stargazing near Mauna Kea, a massive dormant volcano renowned for its snow-capped peak.

In the south, Kona District is the island’s centre of tourism. Once the playground of Hawaiian royalty, this sun-washed town is crammed with boutiques, bars and hotels. Down by the waterfront, visitors can discover Hawaiian history at  Hulihe‘e Palace , built as a holiday home for Hawaiian royalty, and now a museum.

All things considered, the Big Island is ideal for laidback lovers of the great outdoors - people who like their natural wonders explosive, and their towns more understated than, say, Honolulu’s hullaballoo.

Lanai may be little (a mere 18 miles long and 13 miles wide, to be exact), but it packs a whole lot of diversity into its small size. Privately owned but open to visitors, Lanai was once known for its pineapple production - in the early twentieth century it was the world’s largest pineapple exporter, hence its Pineapple Island nickname. Though Lanai's focus has shifted from prickly fruit to luxury resorts, most of the population are descended from plantation workers.

Beach Lava Boulders and Shipwreck view © JMT2064/Shutterstock

Beach Lava Boulders and Shipwreck view © JMT2064/Shutterstock

Alongside having its fair share of quintessentially Hawaiian palm trees and picture-perfect beaches, Lanai is also home to an eerie red-rock landscape that looks more like something you’d expect to find in the Wild West (or on Mars) than Hawaii. Known as the  Garden of the Gods , this unearthly scene of boulders and lava formations look especially spectacular at sunset - the rocks exude blazing orange in the last light of day.

Another Lanai must-see is Sweetheart Rock, a triangular-shaped rock just offshore in Hulopo‘e Bay. At the heart of a tragic Romeo and Juliet-esque Hawaiian legend, the rock is only accessible by kayak or stand-up paddleboard on days when the water is flat and calm. The bay itself is a nature conservation site, home to spinner dolphins, turtles and a whole lot more besides, and off-limits to nearly all boats. It also happens to be one the best places on the island to swim and snorkel.

Lanai’s unusual sights don’t stop there - Shipwreck Beach is home to the offshore wreck of a WWII tanker, then there’s the Munro Trail, a 4x4 dirt track that climbs along the island’s eastern ridge. On a clear day, all the major Hawaiian islands except Kauai and Ni‘ihau can be seen on the horizon.

If you love small-island sweetness, otherworldly landscapes and eclectic sights (with ample opportunity to indulge yourself at a luxury resort), Lanai’s the one for you. 

The least populated of the Hawaiian islands, Molokai is a haven for travellers who want to immerse themselves in authentic Hawaii, not least because it has the state’s highest percentage of Native Hawaiians. Here tourist resorts are few; big bus tours are non-existent. Molokai is quiet, and moves at its own (slow) pace - and therein lies its appeal. Having said that, the island has plenty to attract adventure-seekers.

With three geological anchors - Mauna Loa, Mauna Kamakou and Kauhako - Molokai’s landscape is dramatic, and the island boasts both the world’s highest sea cliffs and Hawaii’s longest continuous fringing reef.

Molokai sea cliffs, Hawaii © kridsada kamsombat/Shutterstock

Molokai's sea cliffs - the highest in the world © kridsada kamsombat / Shutterstock

The Rough Guides to USA and related travel guides

In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

Pocket Rough Guide Las Vegas

The island is also home to one of Hawaii’s greatest hikes - the Pepe‘opae Trail. After an hour-long stretch of springy boardwalk, you’ll encounter high-altitude mountain boglands and stunted forest before reaching verdant views into two deep valleys along the shore - Wailau and Pelekunu. Molokai’s Halawa Valley also offers great hiking opportunities.

The  Kalaupapa National Historical Park  is a Molokai must-visit, too. Once an isolated colony for Native Hawaiians suffering from Hansen's disease (also known as leprosy), the most thrilling way to take the trail is on the back of a mule. Pala'Au State Park  - home to Ka Ule o Nanaho (“Penis of Nanahoa”), a 6-foot-high phallic rock that was formally visited to cure infertility - offers spectacular views of the former colony from atop the massive cliffs.

If you’re looking for an authentic, back-to-basics Hawaiian islands holiday experience - in stunning surroundings, far from the madding crowd, with plenty of opportunities for adventure - Molokai has your name all over it.

In all honesty, it’s pretty much impossible to pick the Hawaiian islands’ best beaches. But, if forced to highlight a few, some excellent options include Maui’s Makena Beach and Big Beach (the latter of which also made it onto our  best beaches in the USA list ), Poipu Beach (Kauai), Punaluu Black Sand Beach (Hawaii Island), and Barack Obama’s personal favourite, Lanikai Beach (Oahu). Oh, and a special (second) mention must go to Kauai’s Kalalau Beach.


Magnificent Makena Beach © 123rf

It’s worth knowing that beaches on the Hawaiian islands are open to the public, which makes for a pleasing mix of locals and tourists enjoying the sun, surf and aloha spirit together.

Outdoor activities on both land and sea are available at all skill levels on the Hawaiian islands.

All the islands offer amazing opportunities to hop on a boat for a snorkelling session or scenic sunset cruise. Dolphin, turtle and whale-watching are a feature of many of them, too. Intrepid surfers will want to practice their craft along Oahu’s North Shore, globally famous for its big wave competitions.

Big wave surfing in Hawaii © Jackson Kowalski/Shutterstock

Big-wave surfing, Hawaii © Shutterstock

For a break from the water, you can enjoy horseback riding, off-road vehicle tours, or one of the state’s many famous hiking opportunities. Waikiki’s Diamond Head volcano is one of the most popular, and of course there’s the  Volcanoes National Park - there’s no better way to appreciate Hawaii’s position on the Ring of Fire than touring its volcanic remains and marvelling at the glow of active volcanoes bubbling beneath the surface.

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Not all about the ocean - Hawaii's volcanic scenery is stunning, too © Hawaiian Tourism Authority / Tor Johnson

Alongside experiencing its seemingly infinite natural beauty, Hawaii’s cultural activities are an essential part of any visit. Oahu’s  Polynesian Cultural Center  is a great place to learn about the various Polynesian cultures that contribute to Hawaii. In addition, lots of resorts and hotels offer daily cultural activities – from learning how to make leis from fragrant plumeria and how to play the ukulele, to discovering how to dance the hula.

Organized  luaus  give guests the opportunity to enjoy Hawaiian dance performances while feasting on  kaluapig and other traditionally-prepared delicacies. The potato-like taro root is a Hawaiian staple, and many cultural organizations throughout the Hawaiian islands offer you the opportunity to help maintain sacred taro patches by getting down and dirty to pull weeds while learning about traditional culture.

Hawaii has a tantalising mix of culinary influences and popular dishes typically combine native, Chinese, Portuguese, and American elements, with the state’s bountiful tropical fruit and seafood a feature of most menus.

20 American foods you have to try: Ahi poke, raw tuna salad, Hawaii, USA.

Hawaiian seafood at its freshest - ahi poke (raw tuna salad) © Shutterstock

Must-eat foods include  loco moco  (white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and brown gravy),  malasadas  (Portuguese donuts), Spam  musubi  (a slice of grilled Spam atop a block of rice, wrapped in dried seaweed),  poke  (chopped raw fish), slow-cooked  kalua pig, and  poi  (pounded taro root). Gastronomes would do well to book a tour that combines the best of the island’s sights with culinary experiences, such as this  full-day foodie and sightseeing tour on Oahu.


Hawaii has a host of seafood specialities you'll want to sample © Hawaiian Tourism Authority / Dana Edmunds

Choosing what kind of place to say will, of course, depend on your budget and which island you’re on. If you’re looking for get-away-from-it-all luxury, most Hawaiian islands aren’t short of high-end resorts (though you won’t find fancy concierge service resorts on less developed Molokai). In Waikiki, for example,  The Royal Hawaiian  is a palatial option for those with a bigger budget.

But to really dive in and experience Hawaii like a local, you might want to consider a cosy guesthouse or, for a true back-to-nature experience, there are plenty of opportunities to camp and sleep under the Hawaiian islands’ awe-inspiring stars.

At Rough Guides we’ve always taken pride in telling it like it is - whether we’re updating details in our guide books, or researching emerging destinations. With that in mind, we want you to know that when you click on links that lead to our affiliate partners’ sites, we can earn a small commission (at no cost to you). This is one of the ways we’re able to keep doing what we do best - provide you with travel advice and inspiration you can trust. Speaking of which, you can trust what we link to - our travel writer experts are exactly that (experts) and have highlighted them to share ideas that might make your trips all the more satisfying.

Header image Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaiian Islands © Maridav / Shutterstock

Joanne Owen

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

  • Food & Drink
  • Inspiration
  • See & Do
  • Travel Tips
  • Where to stay

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Travel advice for USA

From travel safety to visa requirements, discover the best tips for traveling to USA

  • Eating and drinking in USA
  • How to get to USA
  • Getting around USA: Transportation Tips
  • Travel Tips USA for planning and on the go
  • Best time to visit USA

Find even more inspiration for 76 here

Ready to travel and discover usa, get support from our local experts for stress-free planning & worry-free travels.

  • Itineraries
  • Travel advice

The 19 best places to visit in Hawaii

Catherine Toth Fox

May 31, 2023 • 13 min read

Friends laying on paddle boards in ocean

Hawaii is a dream destination for many people - here are the top spots to visit © Colin Anderson / Getty Images

No matter what you’re looking for in a vacation – adventure, relaxation, romance, cultural experiences, food – Hawaii has it all. Every island has its own kind of vibe, from the laid-back serenity of Kauaʻi to the bustling beach towns of Maui. 

There are so many unique experiences, too, like hiking to an active volcano on Hawaiʻi Island and watching monster surf crash on Oʻahu’s North Shore. With so many options, here’s a shortcut to the best experiences you can have in the Aloha State.

1. Waikiki, Oʻahu

Waikiki on Oʻahu’s sunny south shore is the state’s most famous resort town. Over the years the neighborhood has evolved to be less kitschy and more authentic. Hotels offer lei -making classes in their open-air lobbies and traditional hula is showcased on the tiki torch-lit hula mound on Kuhio Beach . Take surfing lessons from modern-day beach boys or indulge in afternoon tea at the historic Moana Surfrider . Some of the island’s best restaurants are located in Waikiki, too.

Planning tip : The Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort has been putting on a fireworks show every Friday night since 1988 (with a two-year break during the pandemic). Bring a picnic dinner and find a spot on the beach to watch the skies light up. The show starts at 7:45pm during the winter and 8pm in the summer. 

Three people sit taking photos of the sunset on a mountain above the clouds

2. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hawaiʻi Island

The 323,431-acre Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on Hawaiʻi Island is a place unlike anywhere else in Hawaii (or the US). This is one of the few places in the world where you can drive up to safely view an active volcano. Kilauea , an active shield volcano had been, up until 2018, continuously erupting and altering the landscape since 1983. It’s currently not active but that can change any day. The national park – one of five on the Big Island – stretches from sea level to the summit of the 13,679-foot Mauna Loa , one of the largest volcanoes in the world. Trek along one of dozens of hikes in the park and see old lava flows and tubes, steam vents, and native trees and birds.

Detour : Stop at Volcano Village, a rustic town in the middle of a lush rainforest filled with native hapuʻu fern and ‘ōhiʻa trees just outside the park. You can find quaint vacation rentals here, a handful of restaurants, a farmers market on Sundays, a small winery that sells locally produced wine, an orchid farm and the Volcano Art Center, a working arts studio and gallery.

3. The Island of Molokaʻi

Undeveloped and often overlooked, Molokaʻi offers some of the most unique experiences of any of the Hawaiian Islands. Spanning 38 miles long and 10 miles across at its widest point, this island – the fifth largest in Hawaii – is home to the world’s tallest sea cliffs, the longest waterfall in the Islands and one of the state’s largest white-sand beaches, Papohaku Beach . 

There are no big resorts or traffic lights here; instead, you’ll find the windswept Moʻomomi Dunes, the 2,744-acre Kamakou Preserve with its unique montane bog, and the secluded Kalaupapa Peninsula, once an isolated community of patients with Hansen’s disease. Stop at Kanemitsu Bakery in Kaunakakai for freshly made Molokaʻi sweet bread right out of the oven.

Planning tip : Many believe the hula was born on Molokaʻi, and every summer the island hosts its biggest festival, Na Hula Piko (expected to return in 2023.) Hula groups from around the state perform at this event.

A red car on a coastal highway

4. Hana, Maui

The 53-mile Hana Highway – also known as the Road to Hana – is as scenic as it is winding. The road twists across 59 mostly one-lane bridges, along plunging cliffs, past waterfalls and around 620 turns to the unspoiled town of Hana on Maui’s northeast coast. The drive itself – which can take several hours – is part of the journey. Once in Hana, enjoy hala tree-lined Hamoa Beach , sunbathe at Waiʻānapanapa State Park’s black-sand beach, or hike to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls in the Kīpahulu end of Haleakalā National Park . 

Planning tip : If you’re planning to visit Waiʻānapanapa State Park,  you’ll have to book reservations  which can be made up to 30 days in advance. It costs US$5 per person and US$10 for parking per non-commercial vehicle.

5. Nāpali Coast, Kauaʻi

The towering green cliffs of the fabled Nāpali Coast rise 2000ft from the ocean and stretch 15 miles along Kauaʻi ’s rugged northern coastline. You can experience these verdant valleys and razor-edged cliffs aboard a catamaran, on a kayak, from a helicopter or along the 11-mile Kalalau Trail. 

Planning tip : To get to Keʻe Beach , the start of the Kalalau Trail, you’ll need to make advance reservations to enter Hāʻena State Park . It costs US$5 for out-of-state visitors to enter the park, US$10 for each car.

Seascape of sunset and beach at Sunset Beach, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii with silhouettes of surfers and people swimming.

6. North Shore, Oʻahu

In winter – from November to February – some of the world’s best surfers (and thousands of spectators) flock to Oʻahu’s North Shore and its seven miles of famous breaks, from Banzai Pipeline to Sunset Beach . Once in a while the waves are big enough (consistently larger than 40ft, measured from the front of the wave) at Waimea Bay to hold the prestigious, invite-only Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitation. Summer brings calmer ocean conditions, great for swimming and snorkeling. The colorful beach town of Haleʻiwa features cute boutiques, eateries and the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice shop.

Detour : To get a bird’s-eye view of this famous coastline, take the 2-mile ʻEhukai Pillbox hike. The trail climbs the side of the northern Koʻolau Mountains to World War II bunkers that offer panoramic views of the entire North Shore coastline. 

7. Haleakalā National Park, Maui

Catching the sunrise at the top of Haleakalā, a dormant volcano that rises to 10,023ft above sea level, is one of the most popular activities on Maui. Reservations are required for sunrise – and the fee doesn’t include entrance into the national park – and can be hard to get. Consider viewing the sunset instead and staying for the stargazing. The park also has numerous hiking trails through otherworldly landscapes and the chance to see the endangered ʻāhinahina (silversword) and nēnē (Hawaiian goose), the state bird.

Planning tip : The park offers pristine dark skies – with minimal light pollution – perfect for stargazing. Temperatures can drop quickly at the summit, so dress warmly and bring layers. You’ll also want to bring your own snacks, as there are no food or drinks available in the park.

500px Photo ID: 128715621 - Early morning at the famous Hanalei Bay, on the island of Kauai.

8. Hanalei, Kauaʻi

On Kauaʻi’s quiet north shore is the sleepy town of Hanalei , marked by emerald green mountains, kalo loʻi (flooded taro fields) and some of the island’s best beaches, including the breathtaking Hanalei Bay with its historic pier. Browse art galleries and boutiques, eat fresh poke from Hanalei Poke and plant-based taro doughnuts from Holey Grail, and walk around a farmers market.

Detour : About 2 miles west of Hanalei Bay is Lumahaʻi Beach , made famous by the 1958 classic film South Pacific . This is where Mitzi Gaynor spent her time "washing that man right out of her hair."

9. Maunakea, Hawaiʻi Island

Maunakea  or “white mountain” is, at 13,802ft above sea level, the world’s tallest mountain when measured from its base. (More than half, or 19,698ft, of Maunakea lies underwater, making it 33,500ft from base to summit.) It’s considered one of the most sacred of all Hawaiʻi volcanoes and is known by Native Hawaiians as a region of the gods. It‘s also a hub of astronomical observation with more than a dozen massive telescopes from around the world. You can book guided stargazing tours with outfitters like Hawaiʻi Forest & Trail .

Detour : In April,  Hilo , which is about 30 minutes west of Maunakea, hosts the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, a competitive hula festival featuring some of the state’s best dancers and performers. You have to book tickets in advance to attend the event, but the craft show, which is a huge draw, is open to the public.

10. Upcountry Maui, Maui

On the slopes of Haleakalā are the quaint towns of Kula and Makawao, collectively known as Upcountry Maui. Up here, the air is crispier, the vibe is slower. Pick fresh strawberries in season at Kula Country Farms , wander around the fragrant Aliʻi Kula Lavender Farm , or feed goats at Surfing Goat Dairy. This area is famous for its paniolo , or Hawaiian cowboys.

Detour : Not many visitors know that grapes are grown here. Open since 1974, MauiWine produces wines made from estate-grown grapes, pineapples and raspberries. Visit its tasting room at the picturesque ʻUlupalakua Ranch.

An exterior of the USS Airzona Memorial

11. Pearl Harbor, Oʻahu

Known for the 1941 attack on the USS Arizona, which launched the US into World War II, Pearl Harbor draws millions of visitors each year to the memorial erected in honor of the 1102 men who are still entombed in the metal hull of the battleship. You can catch a boat to the USS Arizona Memorial , tour the aircraft hangars of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum , and stand on the decks of the “Mighty Mo” battleship where Imperial Japan formally surrendered in 1945. Pearl Harbor was once known as Wai Momi, or pearl waters, because of its abundant oyster beds.


12. Waimea Canyon, Kauaʻi

Called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”,  Waimea Canyon  with its buttes, crags and earthen colors, stretches 10 miles long, is 1 mile wide and is more than 3600ft deep. Stop at the Waimea Canyon Lookout for sweeping views of the canyon and the 800ft Waipoʻo Falls . But you can also experience the canyon via numerous hiking trails, on horseback and from a helicopter. Any way you see it, it’s breathtaking.

Detour : The best trails are located within the 4,345-acre Kōkeʻe State Park . The cost is US$5 per person (nonresident) and US$10 per car. From the park, you can stop at the Kalalau Lookout at 4120ft above the Nāpali Coast, with commanding views of the lush, amphitheater-headed Kalalau Valley . Camping is available and the restaurant is worth a stop (but note: it only serves breakfast and lunch.)

13. South Kona, Hawaiʻi Island

Head south from Kailua-Kona and you’ll be in coffee country. This area – Kaʻawaloa (Captain Cook), Hōnaunau, Kāʻu – is known for its high-quality coffee grown exclusively in this high elevation and volcanic soils on the slopes of Hualālai Volcano. There are hundreds of farms here, and many offer guided tours and free tastings. Hōlualoa is a small artsy town with cute shops. Kealakekua Bay in the region of Captain Cook provides some of the island’s best snorkeling. And Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is a sacred place of refuge that you tour.

Detour : In Keauhou, you can dive at night with the gentle manta rays that swim along this coastline. Seeing these graceful giants glide and twirl in the water with you is an experience you won’t likely forget.

Exterior shot of Iolani Palace was built under King David Kalakaua in 1882

14. ʻIolani Palace, Oʻahu

Built in 1882 under King David Kalākaua, ʻIolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu is the only royal residence in the US. It took three years to complete at a cost of US$343,595, with Hawaiʻi’s first electric light system, flush toilets and intra-house telephones. The last two monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom – King Kalākaua and his sister and successor, Queen Liliʻuokalani – resided here until the overthrow of the kingdom in 1893. You can tour this American Florentine-style palace and see its throne rooms, dining rooms and the private living quarters of the royal family.

Detour : Walk to nearby Chinatown and browse the markets or eat at one of the many restaurants – ranging from Korean takeout to poke bowls to restaurants run by James Beard Award winners and nominees – in this neighborhood.

15. Molokini, Maui

Three miles off shore from Wailea on Maui is Molokini Crater, known for its deep, crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life. This crescent-shaped islet is a marine preserve, home to more than 250 species of tropical fish. The only way to get to this popular snorkeling and diving site is by boat.

Planning tip : While the boat ride out to Molokini is typically smooth, the journey back can be tumultuous. If you’re prone to seasickness, either sit in the center of the boat where it’s more stable or take some motion-sickness remedies.

16. Kailua, Oʻahu

A quick 15-minute drive from Honolulu, Kailua seems like a world away. The beach town is built around Kailua Beach , a powdery-white stretch of sand that runs 2.5 miles long. People fish, surf, kayak, swim and paddle canoes in these waters. Nearby Lanikai Beach , with its unobstructed views of the Mokulua Islands, is another popular stop for beach lovers. It’s smaller and more secluded than Kailua Beach, but often more crowded because of its reputation for calm waters and gorgeous vistas. The town itself boasts popular restaurants, boutiques, local breweries and a great locally owned independent bookshop called Bookends.

Planning tip : Consider exploring Kailua town by bike. You can rent one from The Bike Shop . (There’s no city-run bike-sharing on this side of the island.) The shop has a range of cruisers, mountain bikes and road bikes for rent, complete with helmets and bike locks. Electra cruises – the most popular bikes – start at US$18 for up to four hours. You can book online and pick it up at the shop.

17. Old Lahaina Lūʻau, Maui

Open in 1986, the locally owned Old Lahaina Lūʻau on Maui has been a favorite lūʻau for decades, showcasing traditional hula , music and food. It’s located right on the ocean off Front Street in Lahaina with great sunset views. Tickets include live entertainment, an open bar, historical storytelling and chanting, and an all-you-can-eat buffet with Hawaiian staples like lau lau, kālua pig, poi and poke .

A green sea turtle swimming at a reef in Lanai, Hawaii

18. Hanauma Bay, Oʻahu

This protected nature preserve in East Honolulu is one of the best spots to snorkel on Oʻahu . About 400 species of fish inhabit this bay, along with honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles), and the occasional endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The pandemic brought new restrictions for the popular bay: online reservations are required and it costs US$25 per person for non-Hawaii residents 13 years and older. Parking is another US$3 per car. The bay is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Planning tip : You can rent snorkel gear at the bay, so you don’t have to lug your own. While you can walk down the steep road to the beach, you can also opt to take the free tram (we recommend that on the way back to your car).

Least known of all the Hawaiian Islands – and the smallest inhabited island – Lanaʻi is an ideal escape. Stay in luxurious resorts with world-class amenities fronting the beautiful and secluded Hulopoʻe Beach , a designated marine preserve filled with colorful fish and sometimes spinner dolphins. Or explore the rest of the island – the wild and windswept 8-mile Shipwreck Beach (complete with an actual shipwreck), the ancient fishing village of Kaunolū , or visit the strange landscape of Keahikawelo (Garden of the Gods).

Planning tip : If you want to venture outside the resorts of Lanaʻi City, you’ll need to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle. There’s no public transportation or ride-sharing on the island.

This article was first published June 2021 and updated May 2023

Explore related stories

different islands to visit in hawaii

Tips & Advice

Jan 19, 2024 • 15 min read

Capital One is an excellent gateway to unlocking exceptional savings on travel and value for your miles. Here's how.

different islands to visit in hawaii

Jan 17, 2024 • 9 min read

different islands to visit in hawaii

Dec 27, 2023 • 8 min read

different islands to visit in hawaii

Dec 12, 2023 • 18 min read

different islands to visit in hawaii

Nov 28, 2023 • 5 min read


Nov 17, 2023 • 10 min read

different islands to visit in hawaii

Nov 16, 2023 • 6 min read


Nov 15, 2023 • 10 min read

People hiking - happy hiker couple trekking as part of healthy lifestyle outdoors activity. Young multiracial couple walking in nature in Iao Valley State Park, Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii, USA.

Nov 11, 2023 • 9 min read

different islands to visit in hawaii

Nov 2, 2023 • 5 min read

AFAR Logo - Main

The Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit for Different Kinds of Travelers

Will it be lava flows or luxury resorts waikīkī beach, pearl harbor, or humpback whales settle that difficult “which island to visit” question once and for all..

  • Copy Link copied

Aerial view of row of pink umbrellas and people on Waikiki Beach

Whether your ideal Hawaiian vacation means time sunning, shopping, or snorkeling, there’s an island for you.

Photo by Erin Kunkel

From laid-back yet cosmopolitan Oah‘u to wild Moloka‘i, Hawai‘i is as diverse as the travelers who visit. Within the archipelago there are eight main islands, each with its own distinctive characteristics—in all, a total of 137 islets and minor ones. How would you even begin to choose where to visit?

To help, we’ve highlighted six of the biggest Hawaiian islands to help you select which are the best for you to visit on your next trip.

Context to know before you go

Even prior to COVID, Hawai‘i was struggling with the impact of overtourism on its people and the land. For many locals the year-plus of shutdowns, while economically devastating, allowed them to have the islands all to themselves for the first time in decades, which has led to deeper conversations about what tourism should look like going forward.

“We had our space back for a year,” says Edwin “Ekolu” Lindsey III, president of Maui Cultural Lands. “And we realized what we’ve given up over the last 50 years of tourism.”

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go—to the contrary, Lindsey says, “We’re happy to share—if the visitor’s intentions are right.” As a good guest, travelers should abide by the no-trespassing signs, use reef-safe sunscreen, and follow best practices when it comes to the ocean and wildlife (like giving animals space and never touching coral reefs with hands, feet, or watercraft). Essentially, we should treat the islands as if we were entering the home of a dear friend.

“We don’t call them islands. We call them family because they are—they’re like human beings to us,” says Healani Kimitete-Ah Mow, Mauna Kea Resort aloha ambassador, “and when it comes to family . . . we need to take care of them.”

A map of Hawai'i's main islands

Each island in Hawai‘i offers something different for travelers.

Photo by Bardocz Peter / Shutterstock

To encourage travelers to think of a trip to Hawai‘i as more than a vacation spot, the state introduced the Mālama Hawai‘i initiative. Mālama means “to care for,” and that’s what the program invites us to do: To find a way to show care to the islands we visit. (It’s one of many destinations that have introduced a travel pledge or code of conduct for visitors in recent years, including Iceland, Palau, and Haida Gwaii in British Columbia.)

As you consider which Hawaiian island is right for you, consider joining one of the mālama experiences: replanting native species, participating in a beach cleanup , or any of the many other volunteer experiences .

Note: Maui and the island of Hawai‘i were affected by widespread wildfires in August 2023. The destination is welcoming respectful visitors back as recovery and rebuilding efforts continue.

Distant view of Mauna Kea rising above clouds

If you measure its height from the ocean floor, Mauna Kea is taller than Mount Everest.

Photo by Shutterstock

  • Nickname: The Big Island
  • Best for: Outdoor adventurers who want to go stargazing on the highest peak in Hawai‘i, whale-watching, and hiking on volcanoes

One of the world’s most ecologically diverse places, the state’s youngest and largest island (commonly referred to as the “Big Island”) sweeps from a black-sand beach to waterfall-laced rainforest valleys, lava deserts, and snow-capped mountains. The active Kīlauea volcano sits on the flank of massive Mauna Loa. But Mauna Kea wins the world heavyweight title for height, outstripping Mount Everest by 4,500 feet when measured from the ocean floor. It’s also among the most sacred of the five mountains on the island.

“We don’t look at this mountain as a mountain,” says Kimitete-Ah Mow. “She’s really alive.” For that reason, adventurous travelers who want to head up the steep winding road to the summit, famed for its stargazing, should book a guided tour with a company that will help visitors understand the history and culture of the mauna , or mountain.

Not in the mood for the high road? When it reopens to the public, visit the NASA-funded Imiloa Astronomy Center instead. Or go low with a nighttime snorkeling trip to visit giant manta rays as they soar and loop, feeding on tiny zooplankton. Make sure to check out the incredible aerial breaching displays of the 11,000-odd humpback whales that winter offshore, too.

Then finish with a peek into ancient traditions at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau or Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park , where Hawaiians once fished, carved petroglyphs, and used toboggan-like sleds to ride downhill over stones covered in dirt and leaves. Travelers can also tour the seven-acre Kona Sea Salt farm, buy sea salt harvested from 2,200 feet below the ocean surface, and join in clam bakes featuring sustainable seafood raised at the neighboring Hawai‘i Ocean Science and Technology Park.

At Volcano Rainforest Retreat, the Bamboo Guest House cottage has a Japanese soaking tub

At Volcano Rainforest Retreat, the Bamboo Guest House cottage has a Japanese soaking tub beneath a canopy of ferns.

Courtesy of Volcano Rainforest Retreat

Where to stay

The island of Hawai‘i offers plenty of options for lodging. For high-end resorts, look to the Kona area on the west side of the island; travelers who prefer more low-key lodging should look to the eastern Hilo side.

Fairmont Orchid

The Kona-side Fairmont Orchid occupies 32 acres, complete with tropical gardens and a white-sand beach. Of the 540 guest rooms and suites, all have lanais and half have ocean views.

Four Seasons Hualālai

You might spot a celebrity or two at this Hollywood favorite, beloved for its 865 acres of palm-fringed coastline. Just a 15-minute drive from the Kona International airport, this Four Seasons has seven pools, a rock amphitheater where kids can overnight, and even an on-site museum and cultural center.

Volcano Rainforest Retreat

For travelers who want to stay on the Hilo side of the island—and close to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park—consider this quiet, four-cottage inn on the edge of the rainforest. All cottages are unique, but each has cedar walls, shoji screens, and plenty of windows that look out on giant ferns.

How to give back

As part of the Mālama Hawai‘i initiative, many hotels and resorts are offering volunteer projects—some, like Marriott properties statewide, will offer the fifth night free with a volunteer project.

  • Sign the island’s Pono Pledge . Pono means “righteous” and the pledge invites travelers to traverse the island with gentleness, humility, and respect.
  • Join a community or educational event put on by Pōhāhā I Ka Lani , a nonprofit devoted to stewardship of Hawai‘i’s sacred land.
  • Guests of the Fairmont Orchid can participate in three different projects: forest reforestation with Waikōloa Dry Forest Reserve , beach cleanup with Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund , and a tree planting with Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative .
  • Guests and local residents can join Kimitete-Ah Mow’s E Ala E ceremony at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Westin Hapuna Beach Resort . It’s a morning ritual to greet the sun—one that many Hawaiians participate in—that begins on the beach at 6 a.m. Kimitete-Ah Mow, also a Pono pledge ambassador, begins with a short blessing, invites travelers to gaze into the Pacific, and then they face the east and ask the sun to rise with another chant. After, people are invited to participate in a self-directed beach cleanup.

Offshore view of Kaua‘i’s rugged and steep Nāpali Coast

The cliffs and ltrails of Kaua‘i’s Nāpali Coast are steep and spectacular.

Courtesy of Tor Johnson for the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA)

  • Nickname: The Garden Isle
  • Best for: Travelers looking for a quiet, laid-back island full of natural beauty, waterfalls, and long stretches of beach, plus a chance to learn about ancient traditions and visit small towns

Lushness and serenity reign on the “Garden Isle,” home to the planet’s wettest spot, Mount Waialeale, averaging 451 inches of rain each year. The town of Poipu and the South Shore tend to be sunnier with more restaurants, shops, and water sports.

But Waimea—“the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”—and Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park hog the spotlight. Here waterfalls and swift streams sculpt one of the world’s most staggeringly beautiful wilderness areas, threaded with ancient Hawaiian archaeological sites. Keep in mind that those wishing to visit Hā‘ena State Park , which includes Kee and Tunnels beaches, as well as the trailhead, need to make reservations in advance .

Fancy a more accessible cascade? Check out Wailua Falls, a 173-foot veil featured in the opening credits of the 1970s TV hit Fantasy Island . Then contrast that riot of water and vegetation with Polihale State Park, where Hawai‘i’s longest stretch of beach covers 15 miles and dunes can pile up to 100 feet high.

Most travelers stay along the North Shore (home to Princeville and Hanalei); on the drier, sunnier South Shore, near the town of Poipu; or along the eastern coast, near the Lihue Airport.

Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas

On the North Shore, the family-friendly resort is within a short drive of Hanalei Bay and offers plenty of pools, local cuisine at the Nanea restaurant, and fully equipped villas (including washers-dryers and kitchens).

Waimea Plantation Cottages

Find laid-back luxury at this 59-cottage property (once a sugar plantation) on the sunnier, slightly less-traveled West Side, home to the storied Waimea Canyon. All cottages were built in the late 19th century or early 20th and reflect that charm: painted wood-paneled walls and shaded lanais, each with a fully equipped kitchen.

Outrigger Kaua‘i Beach Resort

Not far from the Lihue Airport, the resort is on Kaua‘i’s east coast. Choose from rooms that overlook the gardens, ocean, and pools—and make time to check out each of the three restaurants overseen by chef Mark Arriola, a pioneer in Kaua‘i’s farm-to-table movement.

  • Hawai‘i Land Trust hosts volunteer days, including a marine cleanup on Kāhili Beach on the first Sunday of every month.
  • Support Mālama Kaua‘i , an organization devoted to increasing local food production. Travelers can donate and shop the Mālama Kaua‘i Store (perfect for souvenirs and gifts).
  • Hotels across Kaua‘i, including Kauai‘i’s Marriott Resort and the Grand Hyatt, are also participating in the Mālama Hawai‘i project .

Red boulder inscribed "Garden of the Gods", beside red dirt road

Keahiakawelo, or Garden of the Gods, is the site of a famous Lāna‘i myth. On a clear day, you can see O‘ahu and Moloka‘i.

Photo by Lynn Yeh/Shutterstock

  • Nickname: The Pineapple Island
  • Best for: A more rugged, remote-feeling trip on a small, uncrowded island with a cat sanctuary, hiking trails, and snorkeling

Before Lāna‘i was colonized by Westerners, the land—where Hawaiian settlers lived off taro and seafood—was rich with native vegetation and purple flowers. But when goats, sheep, and other grazing animals were introduced to the island in the 1800s, the land was stripped, leaving it bare. Then came the pineapple years: Before statehood, the United States recognized the Republic of Hawai‘i in 1894 with pineapple entrepreneur, and longtime Hawai‘i resident, Sanford Dole as its president. When Hawai‘i was annexed in 1900, it became a territory, and in 1922, Sanford Dole’s cousin James Drummond Dole bought the island of Lāna‘i to expand his pineapple farming empire. Then came Larry Ellison: In 2012, the tech billionaire bought 97 percent of this island, including two Four Seasons resorts (and their championship golf courses). Ellison, while controversial, has placed an emphasis on sustainability, founding Pulama Lāna‘i to protect native and endangered species, improve water and recycling systems, and attempt to transition the island’s diesel grid to 100 percent renewable energy . Today Lāna‘i remains an off-the-beaten-path destination, with an emphasis on “path”: Only 30 miles of the island’s roads are paved, but there are more than 400 miles of rugged trails you can explore by four-wheel-drive or horse or by hiking. Many lead to the 18 miles of nearly empty beaches that ring Lāna‘i and to lovely views of other islands. Be sure to stop by the Lāna‘i Culture and Heritage Center , run by Kepa Maly, who was born on the island.

Four Seasons Resort Lāna‘i

Shortly after Ellison bought the island, he overhauled the resort, reducing rooms from 286 to 213, updating the design with slate and teak walls, and adding outposts of Nobu and L.A.’s Malibu Farm.

Sensei Lāna‘i, a Four Seasons Resort

Wellness is the big focus at this 24-acre resort, which offers everything from day-long spa immersions to a five-day program that includes a fitness assessment, a Whoop wearable device to track your progress, and lots of fitness and bodywork.

Hotel Lāna‘i

This 10-room historic property was built in 1923 by James Dole—and until 1990, was the only hotel on the island. Now owned by Ellison, it’s also home to the popular Lāna‘i Bar & Grille.

Visit—and donate to—the Lanai Cat Sanctuary . The organization began back in 2004 when founder Kathy Carroll started sterilizing Lāna‘i’s street cats and relocating them to a facility to protect Lāna‘i’s ground-dwelling birds. Today it’s a popular spot for cat (and bird)-loving travelers.

different islands to visit in hawaii

You will want a convertible to drive the famed Road to Hana.

Photo by Brandon Bourdage/Shutterstock

  • Nickname: The Valley Isle
  • Best for: A little of everything—adventure, black- and red-sand beaches, food, culture, and relaxation

Note: Go Hawai‘i’ has the latest on visiting Maui post-wildfires, reminding visitors to “visit with aloha, compassion, and empathy”, support local businesses, and “learn about the historical and cultural significance of Lahaina but stay away from the area as a means of respect for the people and places that have been lost.”

Maui remains the best one-stop sampler of Hawai‘i’s highlights. The island is anchored by the dormant Haleakalā volcano, which forms three-quarters of its mass. Catch a lift to the top with your bike, then cruise down 21 switchbacks, passing through as many ecological zones as you would on a Canada-to-Mexico road trip. Or make a reservation to visit Waīa‘ānapanapa State Park, home to a famous black-sand beach. (The new reservation system is a part of the state’s commitment to the Mālama Hawai‘i initiative.)

Hungry for culture? Hire a hula instructor for a lesson nearly anywhere on Maui. Shop the galleries of Paia, then strap in for the world-famous Road to Hana, a drive tracing the rugged black-lava coastline. (Be sure to check out the guidelines for driving the famous road.) Hungry in general? Wake early to queue up at Donut Dynamite, arguably the island’s best doughnuts . Or book a 90-minute chocolate-and-cacao tour at Maui Ku‘ia Estate. Or stop by the new Sunset Market in Wailea Village to shop for local goodies, including Pau Maui vodka, tacos and shave ice, and cookies from Maui Cookie Lab.

Maui is also the access point for the Molokini atoll just off the coast, where visitors can snorkel an extinct volcanic caldera. But the caldera’s not your only option for gorgeous waters to explore: Get a mask and fins and then zip over to the beach town of Olowalu on the west coast where you’ll find a “cleaning station” for green sea turtles. For any ocean activities, watch for outfitters certified by the Surfrider Foundation.

There’s no shortage of places to stay in Maui —here are several to get you started.

Maui Eco Retreat

Built in 1988 on land blessed by a Hawaiian priest, the retreat has only a handful of rooms, yoga classes, and an oceanfront location.

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa

This Lahaina hotel has won numerous awards for its sustainability initiatives (it’s one of two Gold LEED-certified resorts in Hawai‘i ), which include minimizing plastic use and food waste and adding one of the largest solar panel systems in the state. Amenities are equally appealing: The oceanfront property has six pools, 10 restaurants, and even resident penguins.

Hotel Wailea

Hotel Wailea occupies 15 acres—and only has 72 suites. This adults-only property offers everything from tree-house dining and sustainable travel experiences, such as outrigger canoeing, to a surf safari (a tour of Maui’s best breaks) and a new line of reef-safe sunscreens.

Camp Olowalu

For those who want to live a little closer to nature, book a campsite, tentalow, or cabin at Camp Olowalu. The beachfront spot, a former sugar plantation, was created in 1955 as a camp operated by the Protestant Episcopal Church. Over the years, it added 700 acres and set about restoring them; in 2015, it added tent lodging and renovated the cabins and eating areas.

Maui Cultural Lands : Launched as a nonprofit in 2002 by Puanani and Edwin “Ed” Robert Naleilehua Lindsey Jr., Maui Cultural Lands focuses on restoring and preserving Hawaiian cultural sites. Now headed up by their son, Edwin “Ekolu” Lindsey III, the nonprofit offers travelers the opportunity to help reforest Honokowai Valley and the Ka‘anapali areas, all while learning about the cultural significance of these archaeological sites. (For example, the work begins with a chant asking for permission to enter.)

Pacific Whale Foundation : Founded in 1980, the nonprofit is dedicated to protecting the ocean and inspiring environmental stewardship. Travelers can book ecotours including snorkeling trips, stargazing, and of course, whale-watching. All profits support the foundation’s research, education, and conservation programs.

A long, empty stretch of stretch of Papohaku Beach

The uninterrupted three-mile stretch of Papohaku makes it one of the longest beaches in the state.

5. Molokaʻi

  • Nickname: The Friendly Isle
  • Best for: Outdoor adventures without the resorts, such as bird-watching, snorkeling, and swimming, plus an excellent choice for camping

Molokaʻi packs in plenty of beauty, adventure, and also authenticity, thanks to the high percentage of Native Hawaiian descendants living there. Papohaku Beach , with three miles of silky white sand, fringes the island’s west end. The sunbathing and camping are superlative here, but avoid swimming in the dangerous breaks between October and March.

There are no resorts on Molokaʻi, and most lodgings are low to the ground and laid-back.

Hotel Molokaʻi

At this 52-year-old hotel, the bungalows are outfitted with kitchenettes and carefully arranged to allow the trade winds to move through. Step out the front door and walk the Kamiloloa beach, snorkel the 28-mile barrier reef (the longest in Hawai‘i), or drive five minutes to wander Kaunakakai, the island’s main center.

Pu‘u O Hoku Ranch

For a truly remote stay, book a few nights at this lodge on the eastern side of the island. It is a family-owned, working organic and biodynamic ranch, so expect to see cattle and a wide range of produce, including bananas. The three cottages don’t have Wi-Fi, making this an off-the-grid experience.

Molokaʻi is pure nature—and one of the best ways to help it remain that way is to join a project with the nonprofit Moloka‘i Land Trust , which is working on restoring three land preserves.

A section of O‘ahu’s North Shore coast, with people on beach and in water

O‘ahu’s North Shore is home to the “Seven Mile Miracle,” a stretch of coast where surfers take on world-class breaks.

Photo by Caroline/Shutterstock

  • Nickname: The Gathering Place
  • Best for: A laid-back urban trip that still features beaches, hiking trails, historical sites—and some legendary surfing

On Oʻahu, Honolulu is undergoing a renaissance of art, culture, and cuisine, with a foodie scene that champions Hawaiʻi-inspired cuisine. Enjoy the resort hot spots of Waikiki, Ko Olina, and Turtle Bay (AFAR’s hotels editor Jenn Flowers visited in 2023 and deemed it “your go-to spot for nature and surfing”) but make sure to venture beyond them.

Pay your respects to local culture and history—more important than ever, now that so few WWII veterans remain —at the extensive Bishop Museum and at Pearl Harbor, now the Pearl Harbor National Memorial . The Pearl Harbor campus includes the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, which reopened in 2021 after a $20 million renovation that added virtual tours of submarine interiors and interactive displays about submarine warfare, among many other things.

Explore the history of Hawaiian royalty at Iolani Palace, where travelers can pick between guided and self-led tours that wind from palace grounds to the opulent interiors. Commission an instrument from Ukulele Hall-of-Famers or dip a smoked-beef brisket bánh mì in aromatic phở at Piggy Smalls , an outpost run by Andrew Le, a chef at the forefront of the efforts to include regional cuisine on Hawaiian menus. For those who want to tour local delicacies, try the Saturday markets. The KCC Farmers’ Market at the foot of Diamond Head specializes in prepared food and travel-friendly foods like local honey. Closer to downtown Honolulu is the Kakaʻako Farmers’ Market, which has more produce but also foods made locally, such as Koko Kai, a coconut yogurt.

O‘ahu has a strong connection to surfing and the ocean, of course—respecting the ocean and marine life is critically important, and almost spiritual, for many locals. Consider the Bishop Museum, which frequently offers surf exhibits and has permanent exhibits devoted to celestial navigation and outrigger canoeing.

Experienced surfers can head to the North Shore, where 36 breaks grace the “Seven-Mile Miracle,” a storied stretch of surfing heaven. Not quite ready to catch a world-class wave? Rest easy: In addition to Waikiki, O‘ahu has more mellow aquatic options such as the Hanauma Bay underwater park. Honolulu often has the best airfare deals, too, as the state’s main hub.

Exterior of the pink Royal Hawaiian hotel at night

Built in 1927, the Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, is a pink-hued classic in the heart of Waikiki.

Courtesy of the Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort

Most travelers stay in or near Honolulu, where you’ll find plenty of options , no matter what you’re looking for.

The Modern Honolulu

A newish addition to the Waikīkī waterfront, this hotel designed by George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg is great for those who prefer a more modern stay. Rooms are whitewashed with many overlooking the Ala Wai Boat Harbor.

The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort

Many say that this hotel, built in the Roaring ’20s, put Waikīkī on the map. For years, celebrities flocked to the luxurious beachfront resort; in 2008, a renovation renewed preserved the art deco details but added more modern flair.

Turtle Bay Resort

Set on a peaceful 1,300-acre property on a palm-tree-lined stretch of O‘ahu’s North Shore, Turtle Bay gives guests the chance to experience a quieter side of O‘ahu. It was also voted one of AFAR’s top sustainable hotels in 2021 and has long been committed to reducing its impact on the environment.

  • Learn about bamboo-pole fishing and help restore fishponds with the Mālama Loko Ea Foundation .
  • Participate in one of Ulu A‘e Learning Center’s days of caring held several times a year.
  • Learn to make papa and pohaku (a poi board and stone) with Hui Aloha Aina Momona, a three-acre farm raising pork and olena (aka turmeric) plants.
  • Join one of the nonprofit Hui o Ko‘olaupoko’s many volunteer projects, including the He‘eia Estuary Restoration Project , located in He‘eia State Park, where volunteers remove invasive species and replant native ones.
  • Get involved in Kōke‘e Resource Conservation Program, which also invites people to help remove nonnative species, as well as do trail and fence maintenance and care for tea plants in the Kōke‘e wilderness preserve.
  • Plant a tree in the Hawaiian Legacy Forest at Gunstock Ranch , which offers a series of sustainable experiences, including horseback rides and off-road tours.

It’s difficult to go wrong with whatever island you choose to visit. The hard part comes when you have to leave Hawai‘i—hopefully a little better than you found it—to return home. This story was originally published in 2019 and most recently updated on November 8, 2023, to reflect current information.

Family Beach Fire.jpg

  • Credit cards
  • View all credit cards
  • Banking guide
  • Loans guide
  • Insurance guide
  • Personal finance
  • View all personal finance
  • Small business
  • View all small business
  • View all taxes

You’re our first priority. Every time.

We believe everyone should be able to make financial decisions with confidence. And while our site doesn’t feature every company or financial product available on the market, we’re proud that the guidance we offer, the information we provide and the tools we create are objective, independent, straightforward — and free.

So how do we make money? Our partners compensate us. This may influence which products we review and write about (and where those products appear on the site), but it in no way affects our recommendations or advice, which are grounded in thousands of hours of research. Our partners cannot pay us to guarantee favorable reviews of their products or services. Here is a list of our partners .

The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the First Time

June Casagrande

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .

Table of Contents

Check your Hawaii must-haves

Big island at a glance, maui, at a glance, kauai, at a glance, oahu, at a glance, if it's your first trip to hawaii.

First-timers to Hawaii struggle to pick the perfect island. So how, in this Pacific archipelago of more than 130 islands and islets, do you find one with beautiful beaches, stunning emerald mountains, surreal volcanic landscapes, authentic Polynesian culture, great golf courses, fantastic snorkeling, breathtaking waterfalls and foodie experiences galore?

Easy. Just head for any of the four islands accessible nonstop from the U.S. mainland — Oahu, Maui, Kauai or the Big Island of Hawaii — and you'll have it all. But how do you pick from these four finalists? If it's your first time in Hawaii, your ideal island will depend on your travel style and to-do list.

For most travelers visiting Hawaii for the first time, the Big Island of Hawaii should be the winner because it offers the most diverse experiences. But before you book a flight here, make sure this is really the best island for you.

Here's our guide to Hawaii travel for beginners.

Most of the things you'll want to do and see in Hawaii — from luaus to waterfall hikes to horseback riding and ziplining — are available on all four major islands.

But if one of the following activities in this Hawaii travel guide is on your must-do list, the choice is clear for your best island to visit in Hawaii for the first time.

Traversing an active volcano: Every island has dormant volcanoes to explore, but the Big Island is the only place you'll have a chance to see lava flowing. Check this National Park Service web page for Kilauea eruption updates.

Driving the Road to Hana: This world-famous trek, with stops at waterfalls, a eucalyptus grove, roadside eats and more, is on Maui.

Touring the Napali Coast: Kauai is home to this breathtaking stretch of seaside cliffs dropping down to turquoise blue waters, which you can tour by catamaran, helicopter or kayak or hiking trail.

Paying respects at Pearl Harbor: For WWII history buffs, Oahu is the place to go.

» Learn more: Should I island hop in Hawaii?

With over 4,000 square miles (and counting!), Hawaii Island has tons to offer travelers who don't mind a lot of driving. Snow-capped mountains (yes, snow in Hawaii), stunning beaches, lava fields that make you feel like you're on the moon's surface — they're all here.

Big Island highlights

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has more than 520 square miles of volcanic landscapes to explore, including lava tubes, steam vents, petroglyphs, rainforest trails and, if Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire, cooperates, flowing lava.

Has the only green- and black-sand beaches in Hawaii.

Offers night snorkeling with manta rays.

Mauna Kea's observatory is a must-visit for stargazers.

Light pollution is kept to a minimum on the Big Island, which helps the astronomers on Mauna Kea and makes for a surreal nighttime experience when driving around.

Big Island drawbacks

It requires a lot of driving to see it all.

Resorts on the beach can be pricey.

During dry seasons, the Kona Coast area can seem parched and arid.

Big Island tips

Fly into Kona International Airport to land on the sunny, beachy side of the island. Fly into rainy Hilo International Airport if you want to make a beeline for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You will certainly want to rent a car here since the island's best offerings are spread out.

The Kona Inn Shopping Village is fun for dining and strolling, but it's not the best area to stay because it's touristy and lacks a good beach.

Where to earn or redeem points on the Big Island

For Marriott Bonvoy members, the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort , located on Dr. Beach's best beach in the world for 2021 , had rooms starting at 59,000 points per night on a recent search.

IHG Rewards members can stay at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kailua-Kona for around 40,000 points per night.

» Learn more: The best times to visit Hawaii, broken down by travel style

The Valley Isle is great for golfers, beach bums and families looking for an oceanfront condo where they can cook out and relax by the pool with a big brood.

Maui highlights

Haleakala, a dormant volcano, offers a once-in-a-lifetime sunrise experience, plus great hikes and cycling.

The Road to Hana can be a slow drive through a tropical paradise.

Excellent whale-watching November through February — often without leaving dry land.

Black Rock in the Kaanapali area, between the Sheraton Maui and the Royal Lahaina Resort, has excellent snorkeling right off the beach.

Maui drawbacks

Resort areas can feel like one big, manicured golf course.

Activities are fewer and farther between.

Beach resorts can be pricey, especially in Wailea.

Maui's two main resort areas, Kaanapali and Wailea, offer some of the best accommodations for visitors looking for a relaxing resort vacation on the beach with all the conveniences and amenities.

Road conditions on the Hana Highway can be tricky — or even treacherous. Consider taking a tour or renting a vehicle that can handle challenging terrain.

Rental car insurance may not cover you on some roads around Hana. Learn your rental car company's terms and credit card insurance coverage before you head out.

Mama's Fish House , a favorite destination for Maui-bound foodies, can book up three to six months in advance.

Old Lahaina has a wealth of museums and historical sites for history buffs, offering a glimpse into Maui's fascinating past.

Where to earn or redeem points on Maui

Best Western Rewards members can find rooms in the historic, walkable Old Lahaina area at the Best Western Pioneer Inn , starting at around 56,000 points per night. Travelers rich in Hilton Honors points can sometimes find rooms at the luxurious Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort starting around 500,000 points per night.

» Learn more: Maui trip planning — Kaanapali or Wailea?

Home to just about 66,000 residents — a tiny number compared to Oahu's population of nearly 1 million — Kauai is the place for travelers looking to spend less time around humans and more around spinner dolphins, sunbathing monk seals, sea turtles, free-roaming chickens and abundant natural beauty.

Kauai highlights

Home to the breathtaking Napali Coast, which can be explored by catamaran, kayak, helicopter or hiking the 11-mile trail Kalalau Trail.

Queen's Bath, near Princeville on the island's northern side, is a stunning natural tide pool you can explore or swim in when the ocean waters are calm.

Explore Waimea Canyon, the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," on a hike or with easy stops along a driving tour.

Kauai drawbacks

Sandy beaches convenient for visitors are fewer and smaller than on other islands.

Bugs and big spiders may make for unwelcome guests in hotel rooms and condos.

A limited number of restaurants in resort areas.

In the winter, ocean waters turn treacherous on the island's north side. Stick with safer southern swimming spots like Poipu Beach in these colder months.

Read up on the safety of Kauai helicopter tours, as there have been several fatal crashes.

Apply early for a permit to hike the Kalalau Trail, as they sometimes sell out.

Where to earn or redeem points on Kauai

Formerly a Marriott property, the beachfront Royal Sonesta Kauai Resort Lihue , boasting one of the biggest swimming pools in Hawaii, goes for 40,000 Sonesta Travel Pass points per night. Hilton loyalists will find rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay starting at around 60,000 Honors points per night.

» Learn more: What to know about Sonesta hotels

Oahu, home to the state capital Honolulu and its bustling Waikiki district, is two vacation destinations in one. First, it's a place where you can lounge on the sand steps from literally hundreds of restaurants. Or secondly, jump in a car for a short drive to some of the most beautiful unspoiled beaches, botanical gardens and snorkeling spots in the world.

Oahu highlights

It's considered to have the best beaches in Hawaii.

A shopaholic's heaven, especially for luxury brands including Hermes, Saint Laurent, Harry Winston, Chanel, Dior, Jimmy Choo and many more.

Lots of budget-friendly accommodations, with hotels steps from the beach starting around $100 per night and some condo properties even lower.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial has four attractions, but the must-see is the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.

An easy stop off Kamehameha Highway on the North Shore, Laniakea Beach, better known as Turtle Beach, attracts grazing sea turtles you can see right from the sand.

Byodo-In Temple offers a serene escape in a mountainous rainforest setting.

Reservations for world-famous snorkeling spot Hanauma Bay open up two days in advance and can get snapped up in minutes. Visit the Hanauma Bay booking site at 7 a.m. on the nose two days before you plan to visit to grab your spot.

Waikiki is the only place in Hawaii where you don't really need a rental car, but get one for at least a day so you can explore some of the beautiful, unspoiled parts of Oahu.

An umbrella and beach lounger set can cost up to $85 but may be worthwhile since it gives you a shady Waikiki home base for a whole day.

Aspiring surfers can get lessons on the gentle waves just steps from any Waikiki hotel.

Oahu drawbacks

Waikiki is very crowded and dense.

There's lots of traffic around the island, especially during rush hour. Hotel rooms on lower floors can get a lot of street noise.

Parking and resort fees combined can eat up $100 per day of your travel budget.

Where to earn and redeem points on Oahu

Wyndham Rewards members can stay just steps from the beach at the Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Waikiki , starting at about 15,000 points per night. The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa , right across the street from the beach, has rooms starting at around 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

» Learn more: How to travel to Honolulu on points and miles

Chances are, the Big Island of Hawaii has everything you're looking for. But depending on what you want to do, one of the other islands accessible from the mainland — Maui, Oahu or Kauai — could be a better fit.

Now that you know where to go in Hawaii for your first trip, take this final tip to heart:

Pick just one island for visits of eight days or less. Otherwise, you'll spend too much of your precious vacation time in long lines at airports, hotel check-in desks and car rental agencies.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024 , including those best for:

Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express

Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

1x-5x Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.

60,000 Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

1.5%-6.5% Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

$300 Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

2x-5x Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

75,000 Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

different islands to visit in hawaii

  • Travel Deals

Hawaii Islands Differences (Which Ones Should YOU Visit?)

different islands to visit in hawaii

Hawaii has been a top tropical getaway for travelers around the world for decades. Hawaii, which became an American state in 1959, is composed of 137 islets and minor islands and 8 major islands, 6 of which are tourist destinations. Each island has their own distinctive attractions and adventures. In this video, we’ll explain the differences between the islands and what each one has to offer for every type of traveler.

Keep in mind that like many places in the world, Hawaii has experienced change due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, Hawaii was experiencing overtourism for many years, which had an effect on their people and their land. While the shutdowns were hard on the Hawaiian economy, the locals got to have their home to themselves for the first time in their lives and it has led to reconsiderations of what tourism should look like. They’re ready to welcome back visitors but encourage travelers to be mindful of the land and to treat the islands with respect. This means following covid guidelines, abiding no-trespassing signs, using reef-safe sunscreen, and being respectful to wildlife. If you decide to plan a post-pandemic vacation to Hawaii, consider taking part in the state’s new Malama Hawaii Initiative which includes activities like replanting native species, cleaning up beaches, and other volunteer work. Hawaii is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world and we should all do our part in preserving the land and showing respect for indigenous Hawaiian culture.

Hawaii, the “Big Island”

This island is best for : Nature Lovers

The youngest but largest of all of the Hawaiian Islands, the state takes its name from this isle. Here, you’ll find the state’s only active volcano, Kilauea.  This is definitely the best place for coffee lovers considering the Big Island is the only place in the US where coffee is grown. The island has seven different coffee-growing regions, each with distinctive characteristics. On this one island, visitors can travel through 10 different climate zones, including tropical rainforests, deserts, an arctic polar tundra and everything in between. You’ll see snowy mountaintops and black sand beaches. This is definitely the island for those who seek the wonders of nature. Here you’ll find one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world.

You can also go whale watching for humpbacks, snorkel with giant manta rays, or spend the day at a salt farm. Other attractions include Maunakea, the highest point in Hawaii, nearly a mile higher than Mt. Everest when measured from the ocean floor, and the NASA-funded Imiloa Astronomy Center.

And if you want to get an idea for what Hawaii was like before European contact, the National Historic Park of Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau is a great place to get a peek into ancient traditions. Just be mindful of its status as a sacred site.

Kauai, the “Garden Isle”

This island is best for : Plant enthusiasts

In Kauai, you’ll find lush rainforests, mountains, cliffs, rivers, waterfalls, quaint small towns, and beautiful beaches. This is the perfect island for travelers who want to balance serene adventure with luxurious relaxation. While the flights are a little bit more expensive, you’ll have an array of resort options.

Also known as the “Garden Isle,”  Kauai is home to the wettest spot on the planet at Mount Waialeale, which averages 451 inches of rainfall a year. But all this rain makes an abundance of unique plants and flowers possible. For this reason, the botanical gardens here are phenomenal.

Waimea Canyon, also known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is 10 miles long and 3,600 feet deep. There are plenty of waterfalls to see at Waimea Canyon, but another popular cascade is Wailua Falls, famous for being featured in the opening credits of the 1970s hit show Fantasy Island . At Polihale State Park, you’ll find Hawaii’s longest stretch of beach. Other attractions include Hanalei Bay, Poipu Beach, and Kokee State Park. In the town of Poipu and the south shore, you’ll find sunshine, water sports, restaurants and shops.

Oahu, the “Gathering Place”

Hawaii Islands

This island is best for : Families

The state’s capital and largest city, Honolulu, is located on Oahu. This island is the most bustling and populous of all the islands. It’s also home to some of Hawaii’s most famous surfing towns including Waikiki Beach and the most visited historical site in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor. Nicknamed “the gathering place,” the island displays the diversity of Hawaii, with many cultures melding into the city.

There’s a big foodie scene on Oahu, so if you’re interested in Hawaiian-inspired fine dining, you’ll find it here. There are plenty of resort spots to choose from including Waikiki, Ko Olina, and Turtle Bay. This is the most family-friendly of all the islands and is home to a Disney resort that is great for kids.

You can also learn the history of Hawaiian royalty at Iolani palace or enjoy local farmers’ goods at the Kaka’ako Farmers’ Market.

If you like diverse cuisine and long for a taste of urban life in paradise, then this is the island for you. You’ll find modern life with a hint of ancient traditions here. This island is for people seeking vacations that have world-class shopping and dining but without losing the laid-back beach culture. If you like big city vibes, surfing, or ukuleles, book your trip to Oahu.

Liking this video so far?  Make sure you give it a like and subscribe to our channel if you haven’t already.

Maui, “The Valley Isle”

This island is best for : Honeymooners, couples without children, and those seeking luxury resorts.

Maui is famous for its beaches with black, red, and white sand. This island is another good blend of relaxing beach culture and adventurous outdoor activities. You’ll have an array of options here: you can spend the day sunbathing by the blue waters, getting luxurious treatments at the spa, or you can watch the sunrise on top of a dormant volcano and spend the day mountain biking. Other attractions include the road to Hana, a twisting cliff-side road with spectacular views. For this reason, renting a car on this island might be a good idea. Flights to Maui from the mainland are also relatively more affordable than some of the other islands.

Other attractions include hiring a hula instructor, strolling through fields of lavender at the Ali’i Kula Lavender farm, shopping the galleries of Paia, taking a chocolate and cacao tour at Maui Ku’ia Estate, or visiting the Sunset Market in Wailea Village to shop for local goods.

In Maui, you can also snorkel an extinct volcanic caldera at the Molokini atoll or snorkel with sea turtles at Olowalu.

This island is also home to Hawaii’s only Relais & Chateaux resort, Hotel Wailea, a five-star adults-only oasis. Or another great option is the Maui Eco Retreat, a refuge for responsible travelers on land blessed by a Hawaiian priest.

Molokai, “The Friendly Isle”

This island is best for : Those Who Seek Authenticity

Molokai is the least populated of the major islands and the least modern. But it does have some of the highest sea cliffs in the state and the longest continuous fringe reef. If you’re a traveler who loves to truly feel like you’re off the map when you travel, this is the island for you.

There’s an authenticity to this island due to the high percentage of Native Hawaiian descendants living there. This is great for travelers who like off-the-map adventure, pure nature, bird-watching, macadamia nuts, and swimming and snorkeling.

Other attractions include Kalaupapa National Historical Park, hiking the Halawa Valley to Moaula Waterfalls, and kayaking near Molokai’s barrier reef.

Lanai, “The Pineapple Isle”

This island is best for : Those seeking relaxation

Lanai is the smallest of all of the major islands. It’s home to two renowned resorts and golf courses. This is a great place to stay if you want to experience small island-living, but you might want to also plan some day trips to the bigger islands to experience the full range of Hawaii.

Prior to the colonization of the island, Lanai was full of native vegetation. Unfortunately, when Europeans began to settle and brought grazing animals like goats and sheep with them, much of the land was stripped. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, Sanford Dole became president of the Republic of Hawaii until it was annexed by the United States and claimed as a U.S. territory. In 1922, Dole’s cousin, James Drummond Dole, bought the island of Lanai to expand his pineapple farming empire, which is why Lanai is nicknamed “The Pineapple Island,” though little of the fruit grows there today.

Today, 97% of the island is owned by tech billionaire Larry Ellison, including the two Four Seasons Resorts and their accompanying golf courses. Though Ellison’s purchase was a controversial one, he has made sustainability a priority by founding Pulama Lanai which aims to protect native and endangered species, improve water and recycling systems, and shift the island to 100 percent renewable energy.

Only 30 miles of the island’s roads are paved, but there are 400 miles of trails for hiking or horseback riding. The beaches are pretty empty, so if you want to feel like you have an island to yourself, this might be the destination for you.

If you want to give back on this island, the Lanai Cat Sanctuary is a great option. They specialize in sterilizing and relocating the island’s street cat population in an attempt to protect Lanai’s ground-dwelling birds.

While it may be hard to choose between the islands, the hardest part will be leaving once you get there. You can’t go wrong with any of the Hawaiian islands. Each offers a unique experience in tropical paradise. And don’t forget, island hopping is definitely an option if you want to see it all.

Which Hawaiian Island do you think sounds the most appealing? Let us know in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this video, make sure you give it a like and subscribe to our channel if you haven’t already.

Everything you need to know about inter-island travel in Hawaii

Summer Hull

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here .

With just eight miles separating some of the closest major Hawaiian Islands (such as Lanai and Maui), this Pacific archipelago is a tempting destination for island hopping. And it can be quick and easy to explore multiple Hawaiian islands — but you have to be strategic. Furthermore, to really enjoy Hawaii you don't want to constantly be on the move, so you need to stay on each island long enough to soak it all in before continuing onto the next.

To get around the islands of Hawaii, you can fly by helicopter, travel by ferry or hop on a boat. But while there are options, in most cases, you are probably boarding a flight before saying aloha to your next Hawaiian island destination.

To help you plan a seamless Hawaiian vacation , we're breaking down all the ways you can get around the islands that make up the Aloha State.

different islands to visit in hawaii

Oahu is the hub

Oahu is the hub of Hawaii and its inter-island travel. This is where international flights into Hawaii will likely land, as well as where the majority of the U.S. mainland flights operate. You can catch a flight from Honolulu International (HNL) to almost all of the major neighboring islands. If you're not sure which islands you might want to hop to on your Hawaiian vacation, it's still a pretty safe bet to book your main flights in and out of HNL. That said, don't get too comfortable and only stay on Waikiki the whole time as Hawaii gets much, much better the more you explore.

different islands to visit in hawaii

From HNL, it should only take about 30 to 45 minutes of flight time to get to the other major Hawaiian island on a nonstop flight. If you can lock your main flights into or out of Honolulu, you can trust that the rest of the logistics can be worked out later.

Related: Best ways to get to Hawaii using miles and points

Flying between the islands

Traditionally, Hawaiian Airlines has been the dominant airline operating inter-island travel, and it still is a very common choice with multiple daily flights between the islands. However, Southwest Airlines is now a very formidable competitor in Hawaii, which is great for travelers looking for the best deal to fly to the Big Island , Maui or Kauai .

different islands to visit in hawaii

Southwest operates flights from HNL to Kauai (LIH), Maui (OGG), Hilo (ITO) and Kona (KOA). However, know that you will be going through Honolulu on those flights, so if you wanted to fly nonstop from Kona to Kauai, your best bet is probably Hawaiian Airlines for that type of route.

There's also Mokulele Airlines which has 120 daily flights with some unique Hawaiian destinations including Lanai and Hana.

Another option is Makani Kai Air, which is a charter company with a small fleet of small planes that will fly travelers between the islands to places like Princeville on Kauai, Molokai or the Kalaupapa Peninsula , a national historic park that requires a permit for entry.

Lanai Air is a turbo-prop option for those heading from Honolulu right to the small island of Lanai to stay at the Four Seasons or similar.

Take the Ferry to Lanai

Prefer to spend some time at sea to heading back to the airport? It is possible to take a ferry between Maui and Lanai with the Expeditions Lanai Passenger Ferry . The hour-long journey will cost you about $30 one-way (kids $20), but there are only five departures and returns each day, so you have to plan day trips carefully.

different islands to visit in hawaii

Fly to Molokai 

The island of Molokai is not accessible directly from the U.S. mainland. In order to get to this island, you'll need to take a connecting flight from HNL, OGG or JHM. You can book flights via Hawaiian Airlines, Makani Kai Air or Mokulele Airlines to Molokai from these three airports, and the flights only take about 25 minutes.

Book a cruise between the islands

If you really want to get the most out of your Hawaiian vacation and have the time and budget to do so, consider taking a cruise. Cruise lines such as Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line offers a variety of itineraries that take you to the four major islands — some even include overnight stays. You'll see Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island without worrying about how to get around other than getting on and off the ship. With Norwegian, you can also combine a cruise around Hawaii with a trip to French Polynesia , which sounds most excellent to us.

In the case of Disney, the cruises around Hawaii are actually 10-night cruises that start or ends in Vancouver with stops on multiple Hawaiian Islands.

Related: How we used points and miles for a family Hawaiian vacation

Photo by Isabel Thottam.

(Photo by Isabel Thottam)

Helicopter to remote areas

If you want to get dropped into a really remote Hawaiian area, the only way to do so is by helicopter. Blue Hawaiian is a charter company and will take hikers and travelers to less-touristed areas and far-flung trailheads.

Unless you are invited by the owners, a helicopter tour is the only way you'll land on the pristine so-called Forbidden Island of Niihau. This lightly inhabited island is 70-square miles in size and can (sometimes) be seen from Kauai's Waimea Canyon. Half-day excursions to Niihau start at $465 per person.

Unfortunately, helicopter tours don't allow you to bring your suitcase and simply get dropped off to start a new island life — you'll have to return with the pilot to the island you departed from.

Use airline miles for intra-Hawaii travel

You can use a variety of airline miles to island-hop around Hawaii, but most of them bring you right back to the same Hawaiian Airlines operated flights. However, not every airline charges the same number of miles for inter-islands flights on Hawaiian, so it pays to shop around with the miles you have available. And, of course, if you are flying on an inter-island route operated by Southwest, then you have yet another set of choices. Here's a rundown of some popular options, prices listed as one-way except where noted.

different islands to visit in hawaii

(Here's what it is like to island-hop on Hawaiian Airlines and what it is like on Southwest Airlines .)

American miles to fly Hawaiian: 7,500 miles in economy, 15,000 in first

Delta miles to fly Hawaiian: 7,500 miles in economy

Hawaiian Airlines: 7,500 miles in economy, 15,000 in first

JetBlue points to fly Hawaiian: 6,000 miles in economy, 12,000 in first

You can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to JetBlue at a 1:1 ratio if you have cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Citi ThankYou has a 1:1 transfer ratio to JetBlue . Those with the JetBlue Plus Card get 10% of their redeemed points back .

Note that JetBlue awards on Hawaiian Airlines must be booked over the phone with JetBlue, but in our test call, availability lined up roughly with what United displayed as available.

United miles to fly Hawaiian: 7,000 miles in economy (10.5k miles if travel is within next 30 days)

Virgin Atlantic miles to fly Hawaiian: 7,500 miles in economy, 15,000 in first (infants 2,000 miles in economy/10,000 in first)

A benefit of using Virgin Atlantic miles is that they are easy to earn , as you can transfer from Amex Membership Rewards , Chase Ultimate Rewards , Citi ThankYou Rewards and even Marriott Rewards. We've also seen periodic transfer bonuses from both Amex and Citi in the past, so your award rates could be discounted even further by transferring during these promotions.

Southwest Airlines: Many inter-island fights on Southwest are currently available for 2,000 to 4,000 Rapid Rewards points each direction. You can earn Rapid Rewards points from Southwest credit cards , such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card . You can also transfer your points in on a 1:1 ratio from Chase Ultimate Rewards and cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. On Southwest, you'll get two free checked bags and access to in-flight streaming entertainment at no charge (on your own device). You can also put that Southwest Companion Pass to good use to score a 2-for-1 deal!

different islands to visit in hawaii

Free island-hop via the United Excursionist Perk

If you want to get a Hawaii island-hop in your larger booking "for free," book your trip to Hawaii using United miles. For example, you could fly Houston – Honolulu (stop) – Lihue (stop) – Houston for the same number of miles as just Houston to Honolulu and back (45,000 in saver economy). Since Hawaii is in a different award chart region than the Lower 48, it works for a free stopover using the United Excursionist Perk on a round-trip booked with United miles.

different islands to visit in hawaii

Here are the best credit cards for flying with United miles . If you do book your island hop with United, you'll need to get your Hawaiian Airlines confirmation code to select your seat directly with Hawaiian.

Bottom line

Most of your Hawaiian island-hopping is likely to be done via commercial aircraft, though there are some exceptions to that general rule. You may not need to use airline miles for an inter-island trip in Hawaii if cash prices are low enough. We always recommend doing the math to make sure you are getting a decent value for your points. But if you are flying Southwest (fixed-value points), or when prices cross that $100 threshold, using miles become a deal worth considering.

different islands to visit in hawaii

To help you on your Hawaii-planning journey:

  • Best Ways to Redeem Miles on Hawaiian Airlines
  • Best Ways to Get to Hawaii Using Points and Miles
  • Best Time to Take Your Dream Hawaii Vacation
  • How to Fly to Hawaii With Kids
  • Thing to Do on the Big Island With Kids
  • Review of Disney's Aulani Resort
  • Reasons to Fly Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaii
  • How to Fly Lie-Flat Seats to Hawaii for 40,000 Miles

Additional reporting by Isabel Thottam

Hawaii Top Things to Know Explore Now →

Kauai Guide

Big island guide, essential travel tips.

  • Which Island to Visit? →
  • Best Time to Visit →
  • Hawaii Must See & Do →
  • Hawaii Itineraries →

Travel Information

  • Hawaii Weather →
  • What to Pack? →
  • Best Hawaii Island to Visit →
  • Hawaii Safety Tips →

Hawaii Resources

  • Hawaii Airports & Terminals →
  • Hawaii Maps →
  • Hawaii Travel News & Blog →
  • Hawaii Visitor FAQ →

View our Hawaii Visitor Guides →

Hawaii Accommodations →

Lodging by island.

  • Oahu Lodging
  • Maui Lodging
  • Big Island Lodging
  • Kauai Lodging

Where to Stay

  • Where to stay on Oahu →
  • Where to stay on Maui →
  • Where to stay on Big Island →
  • Where to stay on Kauai →

When to Visit

  • Best Time to Visit Oahu →
  • Best Time to Visit Maui →
  • Best Time to Visit the Big Island →
  • Best Time to Visit Kauai →

Explore Hawaii Hotel Deals & Specials Search Now

  • Hawaii Things to See & Do →

Tours by Island

  • Big Island Tours
  • Kauai Tours

Hawaii Attractions

  • Oahu Attractions →
  • Maui Attractions →
  • Big Island Attractions →
  • Kauai Attractions →

Hawaii Must See & Do

  • Oahu Must See & Do →
  • Maui Must See & Do →
  • Big Island Must See & Do →
  • Kauai Must See & Do →

Explore all Hawaii Tours Search Now

Hawaii Islands Compared

Hawaii visitor info.

Hawaii Islands Compared

2024 Hawaii Visitor Guides

Discount Hawaii Car Rentals

Oahu Comparison VS. Other Islands

What makes oahu unique compared to the other islands.

— article continued below —

Visiting Hawaii soon? Be sure to grab a copy of one of our updated Hawaii Visitor Guides .

~ Trusted by Millions of Hawaii Visitors Annually ~

Maui Comparison VS. Other Islands

What makes maui unique compared to the other islands, big island comparison vs. other islands, what makes hawaii's big island unique compared to the other islands, kauai comparison vs. other islands, what makes kauai unique compared to the other islands, recommended hawaii tours, terms of use & disclosures.

This website's use is your expressly conditioned acceptance of the terms, conditions, and disclaimers found within our Disclaimer of Warranty and Limitation of Liability page without any modifications. Your use of this website constitutes your acceptance of all the terms , conditions, and disclaimers posted herein. If you do not agree with any part of these terms and conditions, you should not use this website. We also receive a small commission from travel partners for some of the links found on this website. All partners and related links comply with our Advertising Disclosures . For example, as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. These links do not cost you anything and help provide the necessary funding to maintain this website. Mahalo!

Download our Hawaii Map Packet

Includes most major attractions, all major routes, airports, and a chart with estimated driving times for each respective island..

Our popular Summary Guidesheets are now included.

Hawaii Map Packet + Summary Guidesheets

Download your copy of our... 2024 Hawaii Travel Guide has been featured in...


Hawaii Visitor Information...

Hawaii-Guide white logo

Try out our new AI Powered Search & Chatbot →

Premium Hawaii Content

Plus & Premium Benefits

Donate and remove ALL the ads

Mahalo for your support!

By donating to our small business, you accept and acknowledge the donation terms . Mahalo!

Web Analytics

Hawaii Vacation Guide Logo 6

Island Hopping in Hawaii: How to Do It Right

Hawaiian Island Hopping

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase through my links we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Read about our affiliate policies here .

Share with your friends!

When you’re making the big trip to Hawaii, you might plan on island hopping. But what’s the easiest way to get around? And is it worth the trip?

Hawaii island hopping is absolutely worth it. The islands are all incredibly different and it’s easy to get from island to island. But it’s important to know that island hopping can be time-consuming so you want to make sure your trip is long enough for these extra travel days. 

To help you plan your trip, let’s get into the details. 

Now that you’re about to know how to go inter-island like a pro, make sure you have the other parts of your trip figured out: 1. We use Discount Hawaii Car Rental 95% of the time and it has saved us thousands 2. If you haven’t booked your stay, check out our Where to Stay database 3. We’ve searched high and low for the absolute best tours & activities on each island 4. Don’t leave home without our itineraries . Really.

Options for Hawaii Island Hopping:

If you’re looking to island-hop in Hawaii, you have a few options. Depending on what islands you’re traveling between, you can get there by airplane or ferry. You can also book an inter-island cruise or a guided tour to island hop for a day. 

Let’s look at these options more in-depth:

1. Flying between Hawaiian islands

Flying between the Hawaiian islands is the most popular and least expensive way to island hop. 

Hawaii island hopping inter-island flights

Commercial Airlines offering inter-island flights: 

There are three commercial airlines that offer inter-island flights in Hawaii:

1. Hawaiian Airlines : The largest operator of flights to and from Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines has the inter-island routes covered. On Hawaiian Airlines, you can find direct flights between Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. Hawaiian Airlines flies into the major airports on each island: Honolulu, Oahu (HNL), Kahului, Maui (OGG), Lihue, Kauai (LIH), Kona, Hawaii (KOA), and Hilo, Hawaii (ITO). 

2. Southwest Airlines : The newest entrant to inter-island travel, Southwest Airlines operates on similar routes to Hawaiian Airlines. You’ll get direct flights between the four major islands. Known for their low-cost fares, they’re generally your cheapest option for inter-island flying (though Hawaiian Airlines has extremely competitive fares). 

3. Mokulele Airlines : Mokulele Airlines operates small, turbo-prop planes that fly from the main airports as well as smaller airports on the islands. It is the only airline to fly to both Molokai and Lanai. On the Big Island, it flies out of Hilo (ITO) and Kona (KOA) as well as Waimea-Kohala Airport (MUE). And on Maui, it flies out of both Kahului (OGG) as well as Kapalua (JHM). Just like the other airlines, it also flies out of Honolulu (HNL) and Lihue (LIH). 

Airports on Each Island (+ map):

Each Hawaiian island that you can visit has at least one airport, which makes island hopping a breeze. The airport codes for each airport are:

Oahu: Daniel K. Inouye Airport in Honolulu (HNL)

Maui: Kahului Airport (OGG) Kapalua Airport (JHM)

Hawai’i (Big Island): Hilo International Airport (ITO) Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA) Waimea-Kohala Airport (MUE)

Kauai: Lihue Airport (LIH)

Lana’i: Lana’i Aiport (LNY)

Molokai: Molokai Airport (MKK)

Flight times between Hawaiian islands:

To give you an idea of just how quick these flights are, these are some sample times from Southwest Airlines:

different islands to visit in hawaii

Maui Wayfinder Itinerary

different islands to visit in hawaii

Kauai Wayfinder Itinerary

different islands to visit in hawaii

Big Island Wayfinder Itinerary

different islands to visit in hawaii

Oahu Wayfinder Itinerary

2. taking a ferry between the hawaiian islands.

If you’re traveling between Maui and Lanai, you have the option of taking a ferry. Expeditions Lanai operates a ferry service for the 45-minute trip between the two islands. 

Here’s a video of our day trip to Lanai using Expeditions Lanai to island hop:

If you’re looking to take a ferry to Molokai, you’re out of luck. Unfortunately, while a ferry used to operate between Maui and Molokai , that service stopped in 2016. 

Related read: Is Lanai Worth a Day Trip? Yes…and here’s why. 

3. Cruising between the Hawaiian Islands

If you’re set on seeing multiple islands in a short period of time and you don’t want to fly, taking an inter-island cruise is an option. Norwegian Cruise Line offers options that depart from and return to Oahu, making stops on the neighbor islands. 

If a Hawaiian cruise is up your alley, we have more resources for you! We cover all the cruise ports and what to know , the best time to cruise Hawaii , shore excursions on each island: Maui , the Big Island , Kauai , and Oahu . Plus you can grab a comprehensive Cruising Hawaii Guide with everything you need to know, all in one place.

4. Guided day trips

If you’re looking to island-hop just to make a day trip to Pearl Harbor, your best bet might be to go with a guide. Why? Guided tours offer an efficient and stress-free way to see as much as possible in a short day trip. Rather than needing to make reservations, book and pick up a rental car, and navigate a new spot, a guided trip can take care of the headache for you. 

Read more about our favorite experience island-hopping for our Pearl Harbor day trip . 

Is it easy to travel between the Hawaiian Islands?

Traveling between the Hawaiian islands is easy. The flights are short — 30 to 45 minutes in the air. Just enough time to get a glass of water or POG (Passion Orange Guava juice) if flying Hawaiian Airlines. 

Related read: What to Pack for Your Hawaii Vacation (plus a list for each island)

Hawaii island hopping - Edith and Henry

How much does it cost to travel between the Hawaiian Islands?

Depending on when you want to travel and how far in advance you book your tickets, travel between the Hawaiian islands can be very reasonable. Flights can be found as cheap as $39 each way on Hawaiian and Southwest Airlines. $39 is the best we’ve seen. Expect to pay between $50 to $100 for a one-way ticket.

How long does it take to travel between the Hawaiian islands?

Flights between each Hawaiian island are short: expect them to last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes for a direct flight. But even though the flight itself is short, when you’re island hopping in Hawaii, the entire process can easily take 4 to 5 hours (door to door). You’ll need to drive to the airport, return your rental car, go through security, fly to the next island, pick up a new rental car, and check into your hotel.

Expect your travel day to take even longer if you aren’t able to get a direct flight. Many of the inter-island flight options require a stop in Honolulu before heading onto your final destination. 

Hawaii Island Hopping -Kauai airport

Island-hopping in Hawaii: Fast Faqs

Are there ferries between the hawaiian islands.

There is only one ferry between Hawaiian islands and that is the ferry from Maui to Lanai. There used to be a ferry between Maui and Molokai, but that ferry service was discontinued in 2016 . 

Cheapest way to travel between Hawaiian islands

The cheapest way to travel between Hawaiian islands is to fly. You can find inter-island flights for as little as $39 each way, depending on when you want to travel and how far in advance you book. 

Easiest way to travel between Hawaiian islands

For most people, flying is the easiest way to travel between the Hawaiian islands. Southwest, Hawaiian Airlines, and Mokulele Airlines all operate plenty of flights each day that will take you between all of the islands. 

If you’d prefer to have all of the island-hopping details taken care of for you, then the easiest way to travel between the islands is on a cruise ship. 

If you’re finding this article helpful, Pin it for fellow readers and follow for more !

different islands to visit in hawaii

Should you visit multiple islands on your trip to Hawaii?

If you have the time, you should consider visiting multiple islands on your trip to Hawaii. Each island offers something very unique and different. But make sure you’re giving yourself enough time on each island before moving to the next.

We generally recommend that you spend at least 5 days on each island that you visit. Ideally, you’ll be able to spend a little more time on each island to fully experience it as well as relax.  One ambitious newsletter reading couple visited all 4 of the major Hawaiian island in just 13 days, and while we don’t recommend it, we let them write all about it and share their itinerary .

Related read: What Hawaiian Island Should You Visit? We can help you decide. 

Yes, you can spend less time on an island but your trip will likely feel rushed and you’ll miss out on some of the features that make each island so unique and spectacular. 

Related read: Get the perfect first time to Hawaii itinerary (island hopping included!)

Get a good deal on a rental car while island hopping

When you get to a new island, you’ll probably need another rental car. Don’t spend more than you need to. We love using Discount Hawaii Car Rental when we island hop. By using them, we’ve saved thousands of dollars over the last two years (seriously). They work with national carriers and you don’t need to pay anything in advance to secure your reservation. 

Trust us, Discount Hawaii Car Rental is really that good.

Hawaiian Islands’ Cheat Sheets

As you continue your Hawaii vacation trip planning, take the easy way out with our cheat sheets. Download free cheat sheets for each of the four major Hawaiian Islands to help you get familiar with the islands.

different islands to visit in hawaii

Free Download!

Hawaiian island cheat sheets.

Sign up & we’ll send you our island cheat sheets so you can get to know the islands like the back of your hand!

We’ll share 4 can’t-miss activities on each island, a map with the main sights in town, & famous local grindz (eats)!

where should we send your free Island Cheat Sheets?

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy . We hate spam and promise to keep your email safe. Unsubscribe at any time.

' src=

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We have lived on Maui and Oahu and continue to travel, experience, and learn about the Hawaiian Islands. We travel with our kids, Henry and Edith. I am a planner! I love to plan trips from the mainland and island-hopping adventures, excursion days, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time in Hawai'i on a SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

Similar Posts

9 Things Maui Is Best Known For (You Won’t Want to Miss Them)

9 Things Maui Is Best Known For (You Won’t Want to Miss Them)

The 7 Best Maui Honeymoon Hotels, Suites, and Villas

The 7 Best Maui Honeymoon Hotels, Suites, and Villas

The Best Time to Visit Hawaii in 2024: skip the clouds and crowds

The Best Time to Visit Hawaii in 2024: skip the clouds and crowds

Nakalele Blowhole: A Maui Thing Worth Doing Near Lahaina

Nakalele Blowhole: A Maui Thing Worth Doing Near Lahaina

Maui in August? From the Weather (hot) to the Cost (below average)

Maui in August? From the Weather (hot) to the Cost (below average)

The Worst Time to Visit Hawaii (the month I wouldn’t send my mother)

The Worst Time to Visit Hawaii (the month I wouldn’t send my mother)

This is the most comprehensive Hawaii vacation planning resource on the internet!


  • Join Our Newsletter
  • Hawaii Itineraries
  • Tours & Activities
  • Top Travel Gear
  • Discount Car Rentals


  • Planning A Trip To Hawaii
  • Oahu Island Guide
  • Maui Island Guide
  • Hawai’i (Big Island) Guide
  • Kauai Island Guide

Your use of the information provided in our Content, Itineraries, Site, and Services is for your informational purposes only and is subject to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. Your use of the information described in, your participation in activities presented in, and/or your engagement of any Travel Service Providers presented in our Content, Itineraries, Site, and/or Services may carry the risk of illness, bodily injury, disability, death, or property damage. You voluntarily and freely assume all risks and dangers that may occur pursuant to your access, use, purchase, or participation in any information, activity, good, or service described in our Content, Itineraries, Site, and Services or provided by any Travel Service Providers.

Don’t start planning without our cheat sheets

You’ll get:

  • 4 can’t-miss activities on each island,
  • a map with the main sights in town,
  • and famous local grindz (eats)!

Review Cart

No products in the cart.

Island Hopping: How To Travel Between Islands in Hawaii?

How to get from one island to another.

Hawaii Sun Set View

The urge to travel between Hawaiian islands is very common and hits virtually all of Hawaii’s 10 million annual visitors. There are once-in-a-lifetime experiences to be had on each of Hawaii’s islands and you want to see it all. But you should fight that urge.

As you’ll find out, there’s only one way to get from island to island, and the price can add up quickly. But, more importantly, you’ll need a lot of time just to see the attractions on one island. Hawaii Island hopping will spread your itinerary very thin.

Spend At Least A Week Per Island


We recommend a repeatable three-day schedule for your Hawaiian vacation. Here it is below:

Day 1 “Active” - Hike to get the blood flowing.

Day 2 “Semi-active” - Take a guided tour to see part of the island that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Day 3 “Rest” - Spend the day at the beach, in the spa or by the pool to recuperate.

Let’s say that you land at 10:00 a.m. You’ll have to collect your bags and rent a car before driving yourself to the hotel. You’ll then have to check-in before you get settled into your room. Well, it’s 2:00 p.m. by the time you’re ready to go, but don’t you want to just relax? After all, you flew for hours to get to this tropical paradise, and you’re tired.


That leaves you just six days to go through the cycle twice. You’ll have to pick your two favorite hikes, and each island has way more than two alluring hikes. Your crew will be forced to choose just two guided tours, and that leaves just two days for your two favorite beaches. As you can see, there’s no way to see everything a single island has to offer in just a week. Of course, you can pack more into the afternoons and evenings, especially a luau or something similar, but you are still limited in how much you can do.

When To Hawaii Island Hop?

You can see the highlights of your favorite island in a week, so, if you have more than a week to spend in Hawaii, then it’s a good time to island-hop. If you have 10 days then spend a week on one island then three days on your second-favorite island. Best case scenario: You book two weeks solid in Hawaii to split your time between your two favorite islands. If you really want to see three islands then you should try to extend your stay to three weeks, and so on.

How To Travel Between Islands in Hawaii?

Book a fligh

For years, Hawaiian Air and Mokulele Air have been your choices for inter-island flights with Hawaiian holding up to 90% of the market share. That’s not a whole lot of competition which means Hawaiian Air can raise prices artificially. But Southwest Airlines has announced they’ll be jumping into the inter-island market in 2019 which should force a fare war to the consumer’s benefit. Be prepped and ready to finally travel between the island in Hawaii on a budget . 

What To Expect On Hawaii Island Hopping Flights 

Island Hopping Flights

But you may find yourself connecting for your inter-island flight. Flight schedules between two airports in Hawaii can be rather sparse, so many flights take you to Honolulu to connect to your destination. So a flight that should take 45 minutes might take you a few hours if you factor in your layover time.

Itinerary Disruption

As you can see, it may take you a while to get from one island to another. Plus, you have to factor in the time it takes to pack your stuff, drive to the airport, return your rental car, board the plane, layover (if necessary), pick up your new rental car, drive to your new hotel, and unpack again. That could be a day in and of itself, so only island hop if you have the time and the flights work out in your favor.

The Supreme Way To Travel Between the Hawaiian Islands

Norwegian Cruise

Are you ready to explore all of the islands yourself? You clearly need help but do not know where to turn? Discover how the Hawaiian Planner can do all of the dirty work to get you on your dream vacation. Contact us today to learn more about our affordable services and reliable information.

Related Pages

Need help planning your vacation? We have great tips for planning a vacation to Hawaii. There are many things to consider and we're here to help!

Tips to Help you Plan a Vacation to Hawaii

You wait patiently by baggage claim. You watch as others energetically whisk away their bags to start their tropical vacations. The crowd ...

What To Do When Your Luggage Is Lost

The average two-person room on the Hawaiian Islands costs $176 per night, but, you have to remember, that's the average price.

Recommended budget for your Hawaii Vacation

Kauai is The Garden Isle, and it's a fitting nickname. You'll be able to pick wild avocado, mango, star fruit, strawberry guava, longan, ...

The Ultimate Kauai Travel Guide

Encircling the massive Haleakala volcano is the Road to Hana. This world-famous attraction takes you along the east coast of the island to a myriad .....

The Ultimate Maui Travel Guide

In the same manner, even if you're already well-traveled, there are things that you must know and must NOT DO to avoid similar embarrassments while in...

40 Must NOT Be Done Things While in Hawaii

The Road to Hana is FILLED with one incredible distraction after another! Waterfalls and banyan trees, bamboo forests and black sand beaches.

Road to Hana

Subscribe to get our itinerary travel booklet., hawaiian planner provide cool tips, freebies and other useful resources., we use cookies in the delivery of our online services..

To learn about the cookies we use and information about your preferences and opt-out choices, please review our Privacy Policy here . Our Terms and Conditions, which contain an arbitration provision, may be viewed here . By using our application you agree to our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy , including the transfer of your personal data to the United States from your country of residence (if different).

Already have an account?

Sign up for free account.

Login with Facebook or Google

Don't have an account?

Welcome back sign in to hawaiian planner.

Login with Facebook


How To Travel Between The Hawaiian Islands

' src=

With over 130 islands that make up the Hawaiian archipelago, you may be wondering what the best way is to island hop and see as much of Hawaii as possible during your vacation.

Luckily, Hawaii offers a variety of transportation options to help you get from one island to the next with ease.

If you’re short on time, the two fastest ways to travel between the major Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island are by plane or ferry .

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about inter-island transportation in Hawaii, including detailed information on flights, ferries, cruises, and boating options along with pro tips from Hawaii experts to help make hopping between islands a breeze.

Flying Between the Islands of Hawaii

Overview of hawaiian airlines and mokulele airlines.

When it comes to flying between the Hawaiian Islands, travelers primarily have two main airline options – Hawaiian Airlines and Mokulele Airlines . Both airlines provide inter-island flights to the most popular destinations across the archipelago.

Hawaiian Airlines is the major carrier in Hawaii with multiple daily flights between the islands. As the state’s largest airline, they service the major airports on the most populated islands. Hawaiian offers comfort, reliability and quality service on their inter-island flights.

In contrast, Mokulele Airlines is a smaller carrier focusing more on the state’s less traveled routes. While less well-known, Mokulele can provide economy prices to islands that may have limited flight options. Their Cessna Grand Caravan planes allow them to access Hawaii’s smaller airports.

Also read: Where Does Hawaiian Airlines Fly? A Complete Guide

Comparing Flight Options and Prices

When booking a flight between islands in Hawaii, there are a few key factors travelers should consider:

  • Airports – The airports serviced can impact convenience and price. Hawaiian Airlines flies to Honolulu, Kahului, Kona and Lihue airports while Mokulele accesses smaller airports like Kapalua, Molokai and Lanai City.
  • Routes – There are multiple daily flights connecting Honolulu with Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. But for inter-island routes bypassing Oahu, flight options may be fewer.
  • Plane size – Hawaiian Airlines uses larger Boeing and Airbus jets while Mokulele flies smaller 9-seat planes resulting in lower prices.
  • Cost – Ticket prices can vary greatly depending on route, airline, demand and dates. Fares range from $70 to $250+ roundtrip but can be higher during peak seasons.

As of 2022, Hawaiian Airlines controlled 85% of the inter-island market share while Mokulele accounted for 10% . This breakdown shows Hawaiian’s dominance for flights between the major islands. However, Mokulele opens up options for more isolated destinations.

Booking Tips for Hawaii Inter-Island Flights

To find the best fares between Hawaiian Islands, keep these money-saving pointers in mind:

  • Book early – Prices typically start low and then increase as flights fill up.
  • Be flexible – Consider flying on less popular days of the week when demand drops.
  • Check alternate airports – Nearby airports can sometimes have big differences in pricing.
  • Fly early flights – Morning flights often cost noticeably less than later in the day.
  • Consider budget airlines – Carriers like Mokulele offer stripped down service but cheaper seats.

Visiting multiple Hawaiian Islands has never been easier thanks to frequent and affordable flights shuttling passengers between the islands.

Whether opting for the comforts of Hawaiian Airlines or the economy pricing of Mokulele Airlines , inter-island travelers have more options than ever to island hop.

Taking a Ferry Between Islands in Hawaii

Inter-island ferry routes and options.

There are a few ferry companies offering routes between some of the major Hawaiian Islands. The main inter-island ferry routes include:

  • Maui to Lanai – Expeditions ferry offers multiple daily crossings
  • Maui to Molokai – Molokai Princess ferry has daily crossings
  • Oahu to Maui – There is no direct ferry, but you can connect via Molokai or Lanai
  • Kauai and Hawaii (Big Island) currently have no inter-island ferry services

The fast ferries used for inter-island transport can make the journey in 1-3 hours depending on the route. Most ferries allow you to take your car and will have space for luggage and bikes.

Ferries offer an affordable alternative to flying between islands – plus you get to enjoy beautiful ocean views along the way!

Also read: How To Get Around In Hawaii: The Complete Guide

Ferry Ticket Information and Pricing

Ferry ticket prices in Hawaii vary by route and company, but are typically $60-100 per adult for a one-way trip. Discounts are usually available for seniors, children, residents and military.

Here’s a comparison of sample weekday ferry fares:

Travel agents can also help arrange ferry transportation as part of an island-hopping package.

Tips for Taking a Hawaii Ferry

Taking the ferry between Hawaiian Islands can be an unforgettable experience! Here are some tips:

  • Arrive at least 30-60 minutes before departure time to park and load luggage
  • Pack medications and anything you may need during the 1-3 hour journey
  • Bring layers – it can get breezy and chilly out on the deck
  • If prone to motion sickness, take medication beforehand or try to sit in a stable spot
  • Walk around the ferry to soak in different vantage points – don’t just sit the whole time
  • Capture photos and video to remember your island-hopping adventure

Taking the inter-island ferry enables you to immerse in the beauty of Hawaii while traveling between destinations. Enjoy ocean views, marine life sightings, and cultural exchanges as you cruise between islands!

Also read: What To Pack For Your Hawaii Vacation: The Ultimate Packing List

Hawaii Island Hopping Cruises

Types of island hopping cruises.

There are a few main types of island hopping cruises to choose from in Hawaii:

  • Multi-Island Cruises: These cruises visit 3-4 islands like Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island over the course of 7-14 days. You get to wake up to a new island each morning!
  • Inter-island Cruises: These trips go back and forth between two islands, usually over 3-5 days. Common routes are between Maui and Lanai or Maui and Molokai.
  • Day Cruise Options: If you’re short on time, there are catamarans and yachts that offer day trips to visit neighboring islands. For example, snorkeling at Lanai when staying on Maui.

Most Popular Cruise Itineraries in Hawaii

According to the 2022 Hawaii Tourism Report, the top island hopping cruise routes booked are:

  • 7-night cruise : Oahu, Maui, Big Island, Kauai
  • 10-night cruise: Oahu, Maui, Hilo, Kona, Kauai, Nawiliwili
  • 5-day cruise: Maui to Lanai and back

These multi-stop cruises allow you to wake up at a new location each morning to maximize your island explorations.

With so many incredible sights across Hawaii, cruising gives you a delightful taste of each unique island.

Also read: When Is The Best Time To Cruise To Hawaii?

What to Expect on an Island Hopping Cruise

Island hopping cruises through Hawaii offer vacationers an easy way to island hop in style.

You can expect an amazing itinerary visiting the most popular ports of call, with a variety of onshore excursions and adventures to choose from at each stop.

Most Hawaii cruises will have some fun onboard activities like Hawaiian dance and language lessons, cliff diving competitions at the onboard pool, nightly luaus with fire dancers, as well Spa treatments featuring local ingredients like Kona coffee scrubs or orchid massages.

The islands themselves offer endless natural wonders to explore like coral reef snorkeling, jungle ziplining adventures, or horseback rides through valleys of waterfalls.

With some pre-planning, you can make the most out of each port by booking ahead for the top tours and activities offered on each island.

That way you come back with memories to last a lifetime!

Whether you select a 7-day cruise to hit the highlights or really go big with a 2 week sailing – island hopping Hawaii by cruise ship lets you see the beauty of the Aloha State all while unpacking just once.

Who wouldn’t love waking up to sweeping island vistas out their stateroom balcony each morning? With so much paradise to take in across the islands, cruising Hawaii is an incredible way to go.

Boating Between the Hawaiian Islands

Private boats and yacht charters.

One of the most adventurous and memorable ways to island hop in Hawaii is by private boat or chartered yacht. This allows you the flexibility to create your own itinerary, visit secluded beaches and coves, and take the ocean route less traveled.

There are a few options for booking a private vessel, depending on your budget and plans:

– Bareboat charters – You rent the boat without a crew and captain it yourself. This is a budget-friendly option for experienced sailors. – Crewed yacht charters – A crew operates the vessel while you relax and enjoy the ride. Luxury crewed yachts offer a high-end island hopping experience. – Fishing charters – Many boats can be privately chartered for fishing, diving, and snorkeling adventures around the islands.

Requirements and Logistics for Inter-Island Boating

Before embarking on an inter-island boating adventure, be sure you understand the legal requirements and logistical considerations:

  • You’ll need a state Boaters Card for operating power driven vessels.
  • Vessels must be properly registered and insured.
  • Pack nautical maps, GPS, VHF radio, flares, lifejackets and other safety equipment.
  • Be aware of changeable weather and sea conditions in Hawaii that can impact routes.
  • Plan marina stops on various islands for fueling, provisioning, waste pump outs, etc.
  • Obtain proper permits for visiting certain protected coastal areas and nature preserves.
  • Follow all regulated zones and restricted areas around the islands.

Tips from Locals for Boating Between Islands

Experienced Hawaii boaters offer these useful tips for smooth inter-island journeys:

  • Start off each day early to take advantage of calmer morning waters.
  • Pack plenty of sunscreen, hats, shade shelters, food, and water.
  • Always watch the weather and adjust your schedule accordingly.
  • Bring Dramamine as a precaution for guests prone to seasickness.
  • Consider installing stabilizers on vessels under 40 feet for a smoother ride.
  • Make sure your boat can cruise at 15+ knots to efficiently cover long distances between islands.

So set your sails between the Hawaiian Islands for an epic adventure discovering hidden coves and beaches few visitors ever experience!

Also read: Everything You Need To Know About Taking The Ferry From Oahu To Kauai

With flight, ferry, cruise and private boating options readily available, getting between the Hawaiian Islands is easier than ever. Now that you know how to go island hopping in Hawaii, the hardest part is deciding which islands to visit.

Choose the transportation option that best fits your budget, schedule and interests. And get ready for an unforgettable island-hopping adventure discovering paradise!

Sharing is caring!

' src=

Jane Smith is a Hawaii resident and author born and raised on the island of Oahu. Her Hawaiian heritage shines through in her writing, infusing it with the Aloha spirit and local flavor.

Jane draws inspiration from the tropical island lifestyle - outrigger canoeing at sunrise, beach picnics, hiking to hidden waterfalls. Her works immerse readers in the beauty and culture of Hawaii.

An avid surfer since childhood, Jane often wakes early to catch waves along the North Shore. She also enjoys practicing Hawaiian crafts like lei-making, lauhala weaving, and kapa cloth printing.

When not writing or adventuring outdoors, you can find Jane sipping mai tais at the local tiki bar, listening to ukulele music at the night market, or cooking up a big pot of stew at home.

Similar Posts

Who Would Be King Of Hawaii Today?

Who Would Be King Of Hawaii Today?

The Hawaiian islands have a long and storied history of monarchical rule before the overthrow of the Hawaiian…

What Would Prevent You From Driving Across Hawaii?

What Would Prevent You From Driving Across Hawaii?

Driving across the breathtaking Hawaiian islands sounds like an amazing road trip, but there are a few obstacles…

How To Get Rid Of Ants In Hawaii

How To Get Rid Of Ants In Hawaii

Ants are a common nuisance that can invade homes in tropical climates like Hawaii. If tiny ants are…

How Much Does It Cost To Live In Hawaii?

How Much Does It Cost To Live In Hawaii?

With its palm-fringed beaches, laidback lifestyle and year-round sunshine, moving to Hawaii is a dream for many. But…

Is Buying A Condo In Maui A Good Investment?

Is Buying A Condo In Maui A Good Investment?

With its world-famous beaches, near-perfect weather, and laidback island vibe, Maui is one of the most desirable places…

How Far Is Hawaii From Ohio?

How Far Is Hawaii From Ohio?

For those wondering how far Hawaii is from Ohio, the answer is 4,584 miles as the crow flies….


The Hawaiian Islands Compared: Which Island Should I Visit?

H ave you been wanting to visit the Hawaiian Islands and you’re just not sure which Hawaiian Island to visit ?  It’s the dilemma of many, as each island has such different things to offer. We have traveled a lot in the last several years, but the Hawaiian Islands remain one of my favorite travel destinations!

What’s the BEST Hawaiian Island to Visit?

Picking which is the best Hawaiian Island to visit will generate different answers depending on who you are talking to, which is why it’s better to compare the different options and let you choose for yourself!

We have been to them all and I still switch back and forth on which one is my favorite. And it certainly depends on what your main goal is for your vacation: Are you wanting relaxation? Adventure? City life? Whatever your goal may be, make sure you read our “ Hawaii Tips ” article that covers everything we wish we knew before our first trip to Hawaii (it applies to all the islands).

To help you plan the best Hawaii vacation, we have put together a comparison of the islands so you can pick which one is best for you.  But first things first, one of the questions that gets asked a lot:

How Many Hawaiian Islands Are There?

You can see on this map, there are 8 main islands that make up Hawaii, listed below from largest to smallest.  Typically the first 6 islands are your tourist destinations that we will focus on, with the first four being the most popular (Hawaii, Maui, Kauai and Oahu).

It’s good to get familiar with the island names so that you can keep them straight when you ask people for travel tips. 

Hawaii – The Big Island

With about 4,000 square miles and a population of somewhere around 185,000 people, Hawaii is by far the biggest island — about 60% of the total area of all the islands. It is still smaller than the state of Connecticut, one of the smallest states in the continental U.S. 

This is the only Hawaiian island with an active volcano and certainly has some of the most diverse climates because of that. The volcanoes act as shields and you can catch everything from snowy mountaintops to tropical rainforests.  You can choose your climate here, the wetter tropical side (hilo), or the sunnier dry side (kona). 

Temperatures average in the low to mid 80s with very low rainfall on the kona side and quite a bit of rain on the hilo side. 

Maui – The Valley Isle

Oh how we love Maui! Wondering if you can afford the luxurious Maui? Check out our article on how to do a Hawaii vacation on a budget .

A little over 700 square miles (just smaller than Rhode Island) and a population of 140,000, Maui is one-fifth the size of the Big Island but similar in population size. This is the best fit for someone looking for a mix of rural life and adventure, while not breaking the bank. The road to Hana can’t be passed up which makes it important to have a car on this island. 

You will get to experience beautiful gardens, amazing waterfalls and more. Haleakala National Park houses its dormant volcano and for an awesome treat, catch this at sunrise. You can see some amazing beaches , and black, red and white sand, all on this one island. A black sand beach is not an experience to be missed! 

Flights are typically the second cheapest to Maui (the cheapest being to Oahu). Maui gets a little warmer (especially on the south side) averaging in the high 80s and fairly low rainfall except for Hana. 

Check out more about Maui in our Maui Vacation Planning Guide .

Oahu – The Gathering Place

We have been to this island multiple times (see our article on North Shore Oahu: Top Things to Do and See ). And if you are traveling on a budget, don’t miss our list of 103 Free Things to Do in Oahu

Almost 600 square miles and a population of 950,000 people — about 70% of the population of all the Hawaiian Islands — Oahu is much smaller than the Big Island and slightly smaller than Maui with five times the number of people. The state capital of Honolulu is on the island of Oahu. 

Known for value (typically flights to Oahu are the cheapest of the islands), city, nightlife, history and activities, some of the most well-known surf towns are on this island. Must-sees here are Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and the North Shore. This is the most “touristy” for good reason, with some of the best eats, and cultural activities you will never have a dull moment here. 

You can find a little of everything from sunbathing and snorkeling, to surfing, to great luaus. This island certainly gives you a taste of everything that makes Hawaii Hawaii . Temperatures on most of Oahu hover in the mid 80s with moderate rainfall. 

Check out more about Oahu in our Oahu Vacation Planning Guide .

Kauai – The Garden Isle

At 550 square miles and with only 66,000 people, Kauai is the oldest of the islands and because of that has a much more diverse topography.  It is most well-known for its outdoor activities because of the mountains, cliffs, rainforests, rivers and waterfalls. 

It’s great for kayaking, snorkeling, zip lines, helicopter rides or hiking (basically the outdoor adventurer).  It will typically cost you a little more to fly here, but some of the must-sees are Hanalei Bay, Poipu Beach, Kokee State Park , and Waimea Canyon State Park . 

You’ll find great resort options here (just like Oahu and Maui), with added adventure and a little more peace and quiet. Average temperatures are in the mid 80s with moderate to high rainfall compared to Maui or Oahu. 

Molokai – The Friendly Isle

Molokai is 260 square miles and has only about 7,000 people. This is one of the most remote islands, lacking in modern amenities and is the most off the beaten path. If you are looking to get a Hawaii experience “off grid” and away from the hustle and bustle of most of the islands, this could be a great fit. 

There are no longer any resorts on Molokai but smaller accommodations can be found, and no direct flights from the mainland to Molokai. See Molokai lodging options here .

Lanai – The Pineapple Isle

At 140 square miles and with about 3,000 people, Lanai is a tiny, tiny island, and you get there by ferry from the island of Maui, so you might want to visit Lanai in addition to another island. Most of the population are plantation workers, but have no fear — there are two great resorts as well as a renowned golf course. 

Niihau – The Forbidden Isle

At 70 square miles, Niihau has only around 170 inhabitants. 

Kahoolawe – The Target Isle

Kahoolawe is 44 square miles and uninhabited. 

Still looking for vacation destinations? Check out our travel section here .

The post The Hawaiian Islands Compared: Which Hawaiian Island Should I Visit? appeared first on Moms Who Think .

The Hawaiian Islands Compared: Which Island Should I Visit?

When is kickoff time for the NFC championship game? How to watch Lions vs. 49ers

different islands to visit in hawaii

As two teams square off for the NFC championship game, their recent histories couldn't be more different.

The Detroit Lions haven't been this far this century. They'd never won an NFC North title before this season and had not won a playoff game since 1991. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers are back in the conference championship for the second time in two years and made a Super Bowl appearance just four years ago.

For the first time this postseason, the Lions will have to hit the road and pull off an upset to advance. The 49ers get to stay home as the NFC's No. 1 seed.

Here's what to know about this year's NFC championship game.

NFL playoffs divisional round: Lions vs. Bucs highlights: How Detroit topped Tampa Bay to reach NFC championship game

NFL STATS CENTRAL: The latest NFL scores, schedules, odds, stats and more.

How to watch Detroit Lions vs. San Francisco 49ers in NFC championship game

  • Date: Sunday, Jan. 28
  • Time:  6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT
  • Location: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
  • Stream: FOX Sports app; YouTube TV; Sling; FuboTV

How to watch: Catch the Lions-49ers NFC championship game with a Fubo subscription


  1. Which Hawaiian Island is the Best to Visit? Our 2024 Ranking

    Honolulu - Oahu Lanai Molokai View 76 Photos Belongs on List? Yes No Maui #1 in Which Hawaiian Island is the Best to Visit? Our 2023 Ranking Though it's perhaps most famous for the fabulous...

  2. Which Hawaiian Island Is Best To Visit? A Complete Guide

    Maui, Hawaii - The Magic Isle Road to Hana Scenic Drive The famous Road to Hana on Maui is an unforgettable 64 mile scenic drive along the northeast coast filled with jaw-dropping waterfalls, lush rainforests, scenic outlooks, and fun stops along the way like the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

  3. These are the best islands in Hawaii, according to frequent visitors

    Oahu Good for: First-time visitors to Hawaii. Single travelers. Large groups. Budget travelers. Oahu is Hawaii's most bustling and urban island. It's home to the state's largest city and commercial center, Honolulu, which is known for an epic rush hour that sometimes rivals the one in Los Angeles.

  4. Hawaiian Islands

    There are six major islands to visit in Hawaiʻi: Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Maui, and the island of Hawaiʻi! Each has its own distinct personality, adventures, activities and sights. We invite you to explore the Islands of Aloha to find your own heavenly Hawaiʻi experiences . Discover the Islands Kauaʻi

  5. Which Hawaii Island to Visit?

    The six main islands, four of which we cover in detail on this site, are, from west to east, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii. — article continued below — Waimoku Falls at end of Pipiwai Trail on Maui The Best Hawaii Island for First-time Visitors...

  6. Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit: World's Best 2021

    This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

  7. How to Plan the Perfect Multi-island Trip to Hawaii

    With the majority of the islands uninhabited and inaccessible, you can focus on four of the eight largest islands: Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the Island of Hawaii (often referred to as the Big...

  8. The Best Hawaiian Island to Visit

    Oahu has the best selection of both cultural and historical sites in the islands, including good museums. This island is an excellent place for water sports, and the beaches are sure to please. People just love Oahu, and it lives up to its nickname of the "Gathering Place." Want to learn more about Oahu?

  9. Top Things To See & Do on Each of the Hawaiian Islands

    No matter what you'd like to do, we have a great Oahu tour waiting for you. Pearl Harbor Battleship & Honolulu City Tour→. Waikiki & Honolulu Region D. Waikiki Beach→. Waikiki & Honolulu Region A. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve→. East Windward Oahu Region A. Nuuanu Pali Lookout→. Waikiki & Honolulu Region.

  10. A First Timer's Guide To The Hawaiian Islands

    With six major freely visitable Hawaiian islands - Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Hawaii (aka Big Island), Lanai and Molokai - the million dollar question for anyone looking to visit Hawaii is which one?

  11. The 19 best places to visit in Hawaii

    1. Waikiki, Oʻahu Waikiki on Oʻahu's sunny south shore is the state's most famous resort town. Over the years the neighborhood has evolved to be less kitschy and more authentic. Hotels offer lei -making classes in their open-air lobbies and traditional hula is showcased on the tiki torch-lit hula mound on Kuhio Beach.

  12. Which Hawaiian Island Should You Visit?

    1. Hawai'i. Nickname: The Big Island Best for: Outdoor adventurers who want to go stargazing on the highest peak in Hawai'i, whale-watching, and hiking on volcanoes One of the world's most ecologically diverse places, the state's youngest and largest island (commonly referred to as the "Big Island") sweeps from a black-sand beach to waterfall-laced rainforest valleys, lava deserts ...

  13. How to Visit Multiple Hawaiian Islands in 2 Weeks (itinerary included)

    When planning a trip to Hawaii, the first big decision is what Hawaiian Island should I visit? The challenging decision may result in choosing multiple Hawaiian Islands. This is how you can visit four Hawaiian islands in two weeks, or less.

  14. The Best Hawaiian Island to Visit: Don't Get It Wrong

    There are 137 islands in Hawaii, although only eight (seven of which are inhabited) are recognized as major islands. But when it comes to tourism, there are four islands that are at the top of everyone's mind. For this reason, this article will focus on the following islands: Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. Free Download!

  15. The Best Hawaiian Island for First-Timers

    Waikiki is the only place in Hawaii where you don't really need a rental car, but get one for at least a day so you can explore some of the beautiful, unspoiled parts of Oahu. An umbrella and ...

  16. Hawaii Travel Information

    28/01 Sun clear sky 78°F 26°C. Discover the beauty, culture and adventures waiting for you on the Hawaiian Islands. Find Hawaii travel information and plan your perfect vacation.

  17. Hawaii Islands Differences (Which Ones Should YOU Visit?)

    Kauai, the "Garden Isle" This island is best for : Plant enthusiasts In Kauai, you'll find lush rainforests, mountains, cliffs, rivers, waterfalls, quaint small towns, and beautiful beaches. This is the perfect island for travelers who want to balance serene adventure with luxurious relaxation.

  18. Perfect Hawaii Itineraries: All Islands & Trip Lengths (2024)

    10-Day Hawaii Itineraries for 1-2 Islands. 5 days in Oahu. 5 days in Maui. 5 days in Kauai. 5 days in Big Island. Divide your time between two islands, spending five days on each. For most travelers, we recommend using a 10-day Hawaiian itinerary to explore 2 islands, spending 5 days on each.

  19. Everything you need to know about inter-island travel in Hawaii

    Oahu is the hub of Hawaii and its inter-island travel. This is where international flights into Hawaii will likely land, as well as where the majority of the U.S. mainland flights operate. ... (45,000 in saver economy). Since Hawaii is in a different award chart region than the Lower 48, it works for a free stopover using the United ...

  20. Comparing the Hawaiian Islands to Each Other

    Includes most major attractions, all major routes, airports, and a chart with estimated driving times for each respective island. Our popular Summary Guidesheets are now included. Download Maps + Guidesheets. Kauai Travel Guide. Oahu Travel Guide. Maui Travel Guide. Big Island Travel Guide.

  21. Island Hopping in Hawaii: How to Do It Right

    40 min. 2. Taking a ferry between the Hawaiian islands. If you're traveling between Maui and Lanai, you have the option of taking a ferry. Expeditions Lanai operates a ferry service for the 45-minute trip between the two islands. Here's a video of our day trip to Lanai using Expeditions Lanai to island hop:

  22. 6 Best Places To Visit In Hawaii For An Unforgettable Trip

    Kapaʻa. Island: Kauaʻi. Known for: Kapaʻa is the most populated place on Kauaʻi. It has a beautiful coast to explore with coconut trees, hiking trails, and waterfalls. The Kauai Hindu ...

  23. Island Hopping: How To Travel Between Islands in Hawaii

    Eight islands make up Hawaii, and they all sit right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Crowned by the Ring of Fire, Hawaii's islands have risen from the seafloor with powerful volcanoes. Each of the eight islands has its own unique natural phenomenon and its own personality.

  24. How To Travel Between The Hawaiian Islands

    Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Big Island. Mokulele Airlines. $70-$150. Cessna Grand Caravans. Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Big Island. As of 2022, Hawaiian Airlines controlled 85% of the inter-island market share while Mokulele accounted for 10%. This breakdown shows Hawaiian's dominance for flights between the major islands.

  25. The Hawaiian Islands Compared: Which Island Should I Visit?

    With about 4,000 square miles and a population of somewhere around 185,000 people, Hawaii is by far the biggest island — about 60% of the total area of all the islands.

  26. When is Lions-49ers? Time, schedule for NFC championship game

    As two teams square off for the NFC championship game, their recent histories couldn't be more different. For the first time this postseason, the Lions will have to hit the road and pull off an ...


    getawaybaes on August 4, 2023: "Hawaii is a popular tourist destination for many, but to others this beautiful island is home. J..." BRITTANY & JAY | TRAVEL COUPLE on Instagram: "Hawaii is a popular tourist destination for many, but to others this beautiful island is home.