Whether you are looking for adventure, nightlife, beautiful beaches, best views, or cultural attractions, booking a Hawaii vacation is an easy decision. But: unless you’re lucky enough to have plenty of time (and money), you have a second, harder decision – which is the best Hawaiian island? Each offers its own unique experience. Here are the 6 best Hawaiian islands and their main “character traits”, to find out which one suits you best!
1. Oahu – Beaches, Food and Culture
Big city, small island – Oahu is nicknamed “the meeting point” and for good reason: the island is home to three-quarters of the Hawaiian population, as well as Honolulu, the federal capital, where very large numbers of people are concentrated. If everyone needs to team up on the bus and on the sidewalks, miles of beach and forest trails await you within a short drive of the city’s museums and other popular historic sites.
A never-ending feast – If there’s one thing Oahu can’t miss, it’s its gastronomy, especially its food trucks, local farmer’s markets, and fusion cuisine from award-winning Hawaiian chefs.
Multicultural Modernism – Oahu is the perfect illustration of Hawaiian melting pot, which mixes the most diverse origins by bringing together descendants of indigenous people, European explorers, American missionaries and Asian immigrants who came to work on the plantations. Thus, the Hawaiian population represents one of the most multicultural communities on the planet.
2. Big Island – Hikes, History & Wildlife: Best Hawaiian island
The kingdom of die-hard hikers! – Kilauea, it is the most active volcanoes in the world, offers hikers a dream landscape, made up of rich green valleys, waterfalls forming natural pools, lava flows extending into the rainforest and high peaks inviting to their ascent.
A rich history – The Big Island is historically rich since it is on its coast and more precisely in Ka Lae (also called South Point), that the first Polynesians landed. King Kamehameha I er, who unified the best Hawaiian Islands, is also native to the island (born in Kohala, he died in Kailua-Kona). Finally, the Hula, a traditional dance accompanied by songs, is deeply rooted in the Big Island. And Milolii, on the Kona Coast, may well be the last Hawaiian fishing village.
Wildlife – Long-nosed dolphins, sea turtles, and coral gardens filled with vibrantly colored fish bring the waters of the best Hawaiian island to life. In winter, the spectacle offered by the humpback whales becomes the center of attention.
3. Maui – Beaches, Hikes, and Food
Sun and Surf – Rightly known for its sublime expanses of sand, Maui has beaches for all tastes, whether you are looking for the ideal spot exposed to the wind to practice the kite, peaceful coves to discover by snorkeling, remote gems or some of the biggest waves on the planet for a surf session. In winter, you can also simply sit on the sand and scan the horizon to try and spot humpback whales.
Hiking trails galore – The Island’s hiking trails will take you through bamboo forest, climb high ridges, and trek through Haleakala National Park.
A paradise for locavores – Grass-fed beef from backcountry pastures, catch of the day, and organic vegetables from the surrounding market gardens are the staple ingredients that Maui restaurant chefs use to simmer their renowned regional cuisine.
4. Lanai – the Feeling of Isolation, History, and Beaches
Seclusion – Ignoring its splendid view of the other islands, one could easily believe that Lanai is a tropical island isolated from the rest of the world. The island of Lanai is largely owned by billionaire Larry Ellision who wants to make it self-sufficient. When this happens, the feeling of isolation there will be all the more heightened.
Pineapple – Lanai was the largest pineapple plantation in the world during most of the 20th century. Owned by the Dole Company, the island was then populated by immigrant farmworkers working under the yoke of plantation managers taking themselves for real dictators. The transition to tourism that began after the decision of Castle & Cook, the Dole subsidiary, to withdraw from the pineapple industry in the 1980s, has not taken anything away from the colonial atmosphere emanating from the typical architecture. 1920s plantations ubiquitous in Lanai City.
Hulupoe Beach – Lanai’s sublime main beach is made up of a long crescent of sand bordered on one side by a bay ideal for snorkeling, and on the other by a lovely peaceful park.
5. Molokai – Adventure, Culture, and Natural Wonders
Indigenous Culture – Over 50% of Molokai’s population is of Indigenous descent. Here, locals work to preserve their land and culture rather than promoting tourism. East of Kaunakakai, along Route 450, dozens of fish ponds (lokoia) created by ancient Hawaiian civilization follow one another. It is still one of the most sophisticated forms of aquaculture available today. Some ponds have been restored and are still used by locals.
Saint-Damien – The young priest who moved to the remote peninsula of Kalaupapa on Molokai in 1873 to treat lepers there became the first saint in the United States. Today, the beautiful peninsula is a national park offering travelers a real journey through time.
Halawa Valley – This valley, which marks the end of the road, was once home to hundreds of taro plants, Hawaii’s famous sacred tuber. In the company of a guide, you will discover the path that runs alongside ancient temples to waterfalls flowing into natural pools.
6. Kauai – Beaches, Landscapes, Lifestyle
Sunny Poipu – Located in the sunniest part of the island, Poipu looks like a summer camp, tropical version. On the south coast, the many beaches reveal sunsets worthy of the most beautiful postcards.
Canyons and Cliffs – Kauai’s rugged terrain, aptly dubbed “Garden Island,” consists of deep sinkholes and dramatic coastal cliffs, all surrounded by lush vegetation. You can go there to admire the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” or kayak down the only navigable river in the archipelago.
The authentic charm of the north coast – Surfing, combined with a delightfully relaxed atmosphere, characterizes the art of living of this predominantly rural island. The North Coast has many inhabitants who originally came for vacations and never left!