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Which Hawaiian Island Should You Visit

Aerial shot of the Na Pali Coast

Aerial shot of the Na Pali Coast.

Hawaii is a very popular vacation destination; however, many first time visitors, not being familiar with the Islands, end up traveling to the destination that would have been most suitable for what they would like to get out of their Hawaiian experience. Each of the Hawaiian Islands has its own character and has its own special variety of experiences to offer. So let’s figure out which Hawaiian Island you should be heading to on your next Hawaii vacation.


If you like having every convenience of a modern urbanized area, while at the same time, enjoying some of the best beaches and nature trails that are only minutes away, then Oahu might be the island for you. Oahu is home of Hawaii’s largest and capital city, Honolulu, and offers a wide range of historic sites, museums, restaurants, eateries and multi-cultural festivals.

There are some very significant destinations on Oahu that are on the itinerary of many visitors. These include historic locations such as the USS Arizona Memorial, which is a part of the multi-state World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States. If outdoor attractions are for you, you can: visit Oahu’s North Shore, which hosts the Van’s Triple Crown of Surfing events every winter, hike up to the summit of Diamond Head crater for a stunning view of the Waikiki area or check out the panoramic vistas at Pali Lookout, Punchbowl crater or at Makapu’u Lookout. Some of the country’s best beaches can also be found on Oahu, like Hanauma Bay and Kailua and Lanikai beaches.

USS Missouri and USS Arizona Memorials

The Arizona Memorial. By English: Petty Officer 2nd Class Kerry E. Baker, U.S. Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Big Island of Hawaii

The Big Island offers the opportunity for those who like to experience unique natural attractions as well as the world-class sporting and cultural events that are held on the island each year. The Big Island is home of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which might arguably be one of America’s most interesting national parks. It is home to Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. The otherworldly vistas of the volcanic landscape, such as craters, lava tubes and lava flows, make for a unique experience for those interested in the natural wonders of our planet.

The biggest attraction of Kilauea is that it has been continuously been erupting since 1983, and as such, you have the rare opportunity to see close up an active volcanic eruption. Its lava has been flowing to the sea where the meeting of molten rock and icy cold water create ongoing explosions of steam and hot gases as well as continuing to add shoreline acreage to the island. The Big Island town of Kalua-Kona features world class deep sea fishing as well as is the home to the qualifiers-only Ironman Championship during October of each year. In April of each year, the town of Hilo hosts the Merry Monarch Festival, the world’s most prestigious hula event.

Kilauea eruption

Kilauea Eruption. By J.D. Griggs USGS edit by User:Mbz1 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Maui is the perfect place for travelers who enjoy the outdoors while vacationing in less congested settings but still appreciate the conveniences of mid- to high-end accommodations. The resort areas can be found primarily along the south coast of the island including Kapalua, Ka’anapali, Wailea and Makena. From these places, you can then visit the 10,023 foot summit of Haleakala in Haleakala National Park, nearby white sand beaches and the awe-inspiring mountain vistas of ‘Iao Valley.

Maui also offers scenic getaways such as taking the iconic Hana Highway to the town of Hana and finally to the Oheo Gulch area where you can hike through bamboo forests as well as take in sights of towering waterfalls and the idyllic Seven Sacred Pools. In the historic town of Lahaina you can visit museums and artifacts of its whaling past. During the months of November to May, the southern coast of Maui is the ideal place to view close up migrating humpback whales.

Haleakala crater

Heleakala National Park. From Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).


If your goal is to stay away from the hustle and bustle of a large city or the crowds but still want a luxurious getaway, then the island of Lanai provides the perfect opportunity to experience a high-end vacation away from the crowds. Most of the property and resorts on the island are owned by Larry Ellison, the founder of software giant Oracle and one of the richest persons in the world. He has recently been made significant investments on the island to provide some of the finest luxury hotel accommodations that can be found anywhere in the world. Some of the celebrities that have frequented the island include: Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Molokai is for those who want to get away from it all and enjoy a vacation in a rural, small-town setting.  Here there are no big towns or 5 star hotels, just comfortable and informal places to stay and relax. The island offers nice beaches on the south side and the highest sea cliffs in the world on the north side. You can even take a mule ride, down those same steep cliffs, to the Kalaupapa National Historic Park and visit a settlement that once served as a place of banishment for those who afflicted with leprosy, which was once an incurable and dreaded disease. Here, you can hear the poignant stories of Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope who once administered and attended to those afflicted with leprosy, which is now referred to as Hansen’s disease, and have recently been canonized as saints by the Catholic Church.


The island of Kauai is for those who enjoy spectacular tropical scenery. Kauai is one of the world’s wettest places and high amounts of rainfall make Kauai the verdant paradise that it is. It’s no wonder why the island has served as the backdrop for numerous Hollywood blockbuster movies such as Jurassic Park, King Kong, South Pacific, The Descendants, Lilo and Stitch and Pirates of the Caribbean. The remote and beautiful Na Pali coast, scenic Hanalei Bay, Wailua River and Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, are areas of the Garden Isle that have been featured in major motion pictures. In addition to its scenic landscapes, Kauai is one of the less populated islands in Hawaii and much of its uniquely Hawaiian countryside charm, often portrayed on the big screen, has been maintained. By being on Kauai, you can directly experience what Hollywood has attempted to capture on film.

The island offers great vacation opportunities for those who are more adventurous and who are willing to tackle the outdoors. As an example, the world famous and picturesque Na Pali Cliffs are only accessible by hiking, by boat or by helicopter. The beautiful and remote Kalalau Valley is only accessible through a fairly challenging hike. There are also great venues for kayaking and paddle boarding especially along the Wailua River, Hawaii’s only navigable river.

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon. By Redshirt at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


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