Episode 91: Best Island to Visit in Hawaii: How to Choose the Right One for Your Hawaiian Vacation

by | Jun 13, 2023


Have you ever wondered which Hawaiian island would be the best fit for your next dream vacation? Join us as we embark on a captivating journey exploring the unique offerings of Hawaii’s four major islands as visit in Hawaii – Hawaii (the Big Island), Maui (the Valley Isle), Oahu (the Gathering Place), and Kauai (the Garden Island).

We’ll also give you the scoop on the four smaller islands – Molokai (the Friendly Isle), Lanai (the Pineapple Isle), Ni’ihau (the Forbidden Isle), and Kaho’olawe (the Target Isle). No matter your travel goals or stage in life, we’ve got you covered in finding the perfect island escape.

Planning a trip to Hawaii? Have any questions? Join our Hawaii’s Best Travel Facebook group here now! It’s the perfect place to ask any questions and to be inspired!

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This post gives general info and isn’t legal or authoritative advice. It helps travelers with tips but can’t replace personal abilities, fitness, experience, or local knowledge. Marine activities have risks; assess conditions and follow local laws.

In this episode, we dive deeper into the pros and cons of Oahu and Maui, revealing why they are the top picks for young families, bachelor and bachelorette parties, budget travelers, solo adventurers, and first-time visitors. Be mesmerized by the best whale watching spots on Maui and the awe-inspiring sunrise at Haleakala, and get the lowdown on luxury resorts.

Whether you’re seeking the hustle and bustle of Honolulu or the serenity of Kauai, our expert insights will help you find the authentic Hawaiian experience you’ve been craving. So, grab your headphones, slap on some sunscreen, and let’s escape to paradise together!

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    Speaker 1: 0:00
    On this episode of Hawaii's Best. we're talking about the best island to visit on your next Hawaiian vacation, So stay tuned. You don't want to miss this one. Let's go.

    Speaker 2: 0:11
    Aloha. Welcome to Hawaii's Best. Here you'll learn what to know before traveling, as we discover Hawaiian culture, local businesses and the experiences that make Hawaii one of the most incredible places in the world. And now your host, brian Murphy.

    Speaker 1: 0:28
    Aloha and welcome to Hawaii's Best, where we explore Hawaii's best experiences, businesses and influencers. This podcast is a podcast that, yes, it highlights the amazing things about Hawaii, but it also goes in a little bit more in depth about how we can sustain and protect what's been given to us. But, like I mentioned, today, we are talking about what is the best island to visit in Hawaii, and this is a question that I get a lot on our Instagram page at hawaiisbest, and, although this question may be simple to answer, it's a very personal question And we're going to unpack today the four major islands of Hawaii and some questions you may want to consider in choosing the right next island for you and your next vacation to Hawaii. So, with that, let's go ahead and talk story about the best island to visit on your next Hawaiian vacation. Now, as someone who is still learning and exploring the islands of Hawaii, it got me thinking about what is the best island to visit in Hawaii And, researching this topic, i wanted to give you some of my own personal experience, but I also want to bring together some other collective minds who have a lot of knowledge on all the islands, more so than I do And when choosing the next best island. It really is, like I mentioned, a matter of personal preference and your vacation goals. If you're traveling as a family, the best island for you may be different than if you're a solo traveler. So that's something to consider. As you're listening to this list And we put together a blog post that corresponds with this episode So, really, the best way to decide which is the best island for you is to visit each one personally And, however, i realize that that may not be possible for most, and that is totally fine. I want to be able to provide you this guide in helping you to decide which island to consider in your next visit. The Hawaiian Islands are a chain of eight major islands. However, the total number of islands recognized is 137. All the Hawaiian Islands are special and beautiful in their own way. To say, look, which one is best. It's hard to put into words which one is really best, because, really, the one that is best for you and it's best for your family or whomever you're traveling with, i really think it depends on the stage of life that you're in as deep as that sounds Like, if you're single, or if you're married, or if you're married with kids, or if you're married with kids and you're traveling with your extended family, more chances than not, there's going to be certain islands that may fit you better, and that's the purpose of this conversation. Now you may have heard of the eight major islands. I know you probably have heard of at least the four major islands, which are Hawaii, the Big Island, maui, the Valley Island, oahu, the Gathering Place, kauai, the Garden Island, and the other ones that don't get talked about too much but are beautiful in their own right are Molokai, also called the Friendly Isle. Lanai is the Pineapple Isle, nihao, the Forbidden Isle, and that is one that you can't stay on. That's why it's called the Forbidden Isle. And then you have the Island of Kaha'oleve, which is the Target Isle. This is an island that encompasses within the Maui country. You have Kaha'oleve, you have Lanai and you have Molokai and Maui within this Maui country area, and this island was used as target practice by the military. It's pretty much a desolate place and there's some effort into rebuilding this place, and you can hear more about the efforts on this island with our interview with Inela Evans, who is on episode 24. So you can go to livehawaiysbestcom slash episode 024. You can hear a conversation with Inela, who lives on the island of Lanai, and hear all about life on Lanai. So in our conversation, we'll take a closer look at the islands as well as some of our own personal recommendations. I just want to say, before we dive into this list and we're just going to talk about the four major islands, talking about Kauai, oahu, maui and Hawaii, the big island I just want this to be a conversation and let this kind of be a guide, not necessarily like the final decision in your next visit, so it's going to be a personal preference. However, i want to give you some things to consider before your next visit. So let's go ahead and we're going to start off with the garden isle of Kauai. Now, kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands and Kauai remains surprisingly untouched and not as developed as Oahu and Maui. Now, over 90% of the land on Kauai is used for conservation and agriculture. 70% of the island is inaccessible by foot. On Kauai, it is very lush, it is very green. When you think about Hawaii, a lot of images of Kauai come to mind Beautiful beaches, lush, green. It has some of the most epic hikes and views out of all the islands. So what it lacks in its nightlife activity, which is pretty much none. Kauai delivers with its stunning nature. So from the Pali coast, waimea Canyon Waimea Canyon is pretty much like the Grand Canyon of the Pacific The views of Kauai won't disappoint. So if you're an outdoors person, kauai is a definite solid choice. And if you like golfing or someone in your group, you're traveling with us. Kauai has some of the best golf courses also to offer. The two resort areas on Kauai are typically Poi Pui on the south coast and Princeville in the north. A few pros about choosing Kauai Like I mentioned, it has some of the best views in Hawaii. It's great for outdoor enthusiasts, people who love just to be outside taking hikes and just being in nature. It's also small, it's quiet, it's slow. It has a really a country feel to it. There is a huge chicken population on it. So if you like wildlife, if you like just kind of being out in nature, kauai is a great choice. Now some of the cons. This is just kind of my own personal preference here. I don't feel it's as best for young families. The first time we went to Kauai, our middle child she was like one and our oldest was probably four at the time And we stayed down in Poi Pui and it just it was really great when Ali and I Ali's my wife when we went out and we did stuff on our own, like we went to Waimea Canyon and North Shore, which is beautiful, but finding things to do for, like young families was kind of hard to find. I don't think it's impossible, but I think it's a little bit harder to find. I would put it on the cons list. Also on the cons list, it can rain a lot, so just be prepared. Maybe that's a plus for you, maybe that's a pro, but just be aware that the weather on Kauai can change pretty quickly And it's important just to be prepared for that, or just aware. And, like I mentioned, it has limited nightlife and which means limited restaurants as compared to like Oahu and Maui. But for me I don't mind that, i'm not a huge nightlife guy or anything like that, but you might be And that's totally fine. So when it comes to Kauai, i feel like it's best for honeymoon, baby moons, retirement moons if that's the thing, couples and for solo travelers because of the hikes and because of the amazing scenery. Grabbing a pic on Hawaii whether you're an amateur photographer or professional photographer, your images will be unreal. So Kauai is a solid choice for those who love to get out into nature and just experience Hawaii to its full. Next up is Oahu, and whenever somebody asked my opinion on which island they should visit, they've never been to Hawaii. I typically recommend going to Oahu first. The capital of Hawaii is Honolulu, which is located on Oahu, and also it's famous for Waikiki Beach. However, oahu has so much more to offer than just the South Shore, which all were where Honolulu and Waikiki is located on the island, and that's why I recommend Oahu, especially for first timers, especially for young families, because I believe Oahu has something for everybody. Oahu is a great representation of all the islands And I want to walk you through just kind of the different sides of the island of Oahu. The windward side of the island, or the east side, is the wetter side, so naturally that side of the island is a lot greener than the other sides. That side of the island has one of the most beautiful beaches in all the world It's called Lanakai and it also has two islets off the shore that you can canoe to. If you follow us on Hawaii's best on Instagram at Hawaii's Dot Best, we post a lot of pictures of these two islets off this incredible beach, and when you think about Hawaii, you think about White Sandy beaches, calm blue, turquoise waters, and this is Lanakai. So you're going to want to get over to the east side. If you're staying on Oahu, you're going to want to get over to there because that beach is phenomenal The sand is great, the water is always pretty much calm throughout the entire year And it is one of those places that is picturesque when you think about Hawaii. Now, like I mentioned, the east side is very green and very lush. It has a has a country feel to it. As you drive up to the North Shore on Oahu and the more north you get on, oahu feels more like Hawaii. You forget that Honolulu is Like 45 minutes away, but the North Shore has this great pace in this feel That you're gonna want to slow down. You go on and enjoy the vibe and the people. And here you'll find some of the world famous surf spots. You know talking about pipeline, sunset Beach. These are the. These are the spots that are famous for some of the the most incredible surf competitions in the entire world. During the summertime, these same areas, the same beaches are Relatively calm, and during the wintertime. So, talking about you know, like December through Kind of March ish, the waves are Very intense and they're very big and only experienced surfers are encouraged to go out there. This was where they hold some of the the top competitions Throughout the year. So if you're, if you love the water, you want to get in the water. You're gonna want. I want to advise you to stay out of the water unless you are an experience Surfer or swimmer. Going on the North Shore during the winter times, but during the summertime It's relatively calm. If you're on Oahu during the summertime, pretty much any of the shores are relatively calm. But if you haven't be on Oahu during the wintertime, i would encourage you, if you want to get into the water, to Go into the water, and you know Waikiki Beach, anyone of the beaches down there. In a South Shore or West side You can get a little choppy too, but East side over there, like I mentioned, lani Kai is a great place to get in the water. Now, going over to the West side of Oahu, the Leeward side, the drier side of the island, you'll find some more resorts. You know, in the mid 80s, i believe, this area of Kona was developed by Japanese investors and Most recently the resorts of Disney's out Lani. You you may have heard of Disney get kind of get in their stake in Hawaii. They have an amazing resort over there on the West side of Koalina, Marriott's Koalina Beach Club, which is amazing spot. We love to get over there and Relax that's one of the places we love to a wine. And within the same area of Koalina, which are these, these man-made lagoons, beautiful place. It's also plans to expand. So this West side of Oahu, which has kind of been like this hidden gem for a little while, is Slowly becoming kind of the Waikiki of the West side Also. Over there you have a city called Kapolei. If you're familiar with like a suburban area. This area feels very normal to you like. There's a Costco, target and all the amenities that you can think of when you think of a suburban area. So on the West side it has kind of all your needs. If you're vacationing It's a great choice as an alternative to Waikiki, which has a great night life scene. But if you have a young family I would encourage you to look over, you know, kapolei area, koalina area or even on the North Shore, turtle Bay resort is also another great place up there. There's also a Marriott up there to consider if you're looking to get out of Waikiki. There's not a lot of options on the East side, but I would definitely look at those few options out in the West. It could be a little bit more pricey but in my opinion it's totally worth it. It's a little quieter. It's a little slower over there on the West side as compared to Waikiki. Now, when it comes to the pros and cons for Oahu, oahu, like I mentioned, has something to offer for everyone on their vacation list. Also, you can explore Hawaii's rich history and culture by going to the Iolani Palace, which is in Honolulu. That is a place I would definitely recommend, if you are staying on Oahu, to go and experience the Iolani Palace and here and learn more about what Hawaiian true culture is all about. Another pro about staying on Oahu is I feel like it features some of the best weather in Hawaii. On the west side it could be a little bit drier, but you still get the rain clouds that roll in once in a while. Obviously, the east side, where I mentioned about Lanukai Beach, is a little bit wetter. You can get pretty great weather on Oahu. It's hard to say which island has the best weather, but I think Oahu has some of the best stable weather, at least in my opinion. Oahu also has some incredible hikes and beaches, some hikes that are extreme. There's some hikes I will not mention because they are technically illegal, but they have some of the most incredible views. There's some hikes that are family friendly, that are really great to explore as a family, but there's also some of those hikes. If you're a little bit more adventurous, you can find some of the cons about Oahu. This may be some pros. like I mentioned, it depends on where you're at Some of the cons, i feel Honolulu is crowded and has the worst traffic in all of the islands in Hawaii. Coming from the LA area, honolulu traffic feels very similar to LA. However, it has less aggressive drivers. If you're driving in LA in traffic, it's definitely an intense experience. If you're driving in traffic in Honolulu, it's an experience that you just have to endure, basically, but at least you don't have a lot of people honking their horns and weaving in and out of traffic. You do have some, but not like LA. La is crazy. Anytime we get back to LAX and we get on the freeway that first on-ramp. It hits me every time. Oh my gosh, i have to speed up, even though it's 65, i got to go 75, 80 just so I don't get hit. But at least the traffic in Honolulu it stinks, but at least you don't have people. We've been in and out as much as you do, say in LA. Also, akan, i feel it's been harder. It kind of contradicts the pro. Really, it's harder to find true Hawaiian culture on Oahu and maybe even all the islands, to say, but it can be found, like I mentioned, at Eolani Palace. However, in my opinion, there are a lot of hotels in Waikiki and maybe this is more on the past. I think it's starting to shift that a lot of these hotels and a lot of these resorts have painted this Hawaiian dream, this Hawaiian culture, in an inauthentic way as to attract more tourists. And I think recently it feels like it seems like at least what I've seen many hotels and resorts are starting to do a better job of showcasing true Hawaiian culture and history And you can go back and listen to some of those episodes, like with Shoreline, with the Westin on Maui, some of these places that we featured in the podcast. You can hear how they are starting to incorporate true Hawaiian culture within their experience at their hotels. So it probably goes without saying Oahu is best for young families, bachelor, bachelor parties, budget travelers. You can find a lot more deals traveling to Hawaii, especially if you're considering staying in the Waikiki area. Oahu is also good for solo travelers and, like I mentioned, first-time visitors to the islands Skipping on over to Maui. Maui is the second most visited island in Hawaii, with Oahu obviously being the first. Maui is actually the most touristy island because not as many people live on Maui as they do on Oahu, so just be aware of that. There are no large cities on Maui, only a few small cities, such as Lahaina and Kihei. The bulk of the resorts can be found in Kanapali and Wailaea. Both of these areas feature some of the best beaches in Hawaii And, in my opinion, the best whale watching can be done on Maui. During the months from December through April. You can find charter boats who will take you out to see these incredible creatures. And it's true that you can find whale watching on all the islands, but there's something special about whale watching on the west side of Maui, off of Kanapali, some of the best whale watching in all of the Hawaiian islands. Maui Country also features the islands of Lanahi and Molokai, both of which, as I mentioned prior, are rich in history, and you can find a five-star resort and a slower pacification when staying on the Four Seasons Resort on Lanahi. So that would be a great choice for you if you're looking to kind of get away from the tourist crowds and just kind of chill. It does come at a hefty price tag And that is something also that Maui is done for. There's a lot of luxury resorts. Maui is probably a little bit more pricier than the other islands. However, personally Maui is my favorite And because it is a little slower than Oahu, i love Oahu. I love going to Oahu as a family. I don't really need the nightlife or anything like that, and that's why I like Maui. I love its beaches, i love its slower pace. It also has some great food options in comparison to Oahu. Now, some of the pros and cons when it comes to Maui. Some of the pros are it has world-class luxury resorts. So if you're looking to get that vacation, get that kind of dream vacation vibe, maui is going to be the place for you And, like I mentioned, it also has epic whale watching, has great resorts. It also has Haleakala, which is the world's largest dormant volcano. Here you can catch the best sunrise in the entire world. It does require a reservation, so just be aware that you can't just go up there whenever you feel like it. So get a reservation to go catch the sunrise at Haleakala. On Maui. Some of the cons on Maui it doesn't have a huge nightlife opportunity, so if that's your thing, it's going to be a little limited. Also, it's going to require rent in a car and I don't think I mentioned this when talking about Oahu. You can get around Oahu without having to rent a car. Through Uber, through the public transportation and all those options. Getting around Oahu is fairly easy, especially in Waikiki Honolulu area. However, on Maui and I would say on pretty much any of the other islands, rent in a car is a must because of the lack of public transportation on those islands. Another con is that it's becoming more and more crowded with tourists. Not saying that is a huge con, but it's just something to be aware of And if you're looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience, you're going to need to search for it And I think it's worth searching for. I feel Maui is best for family vacations, honeymoon destination, weddings, luxury travelers, things like that. Maui is going to deliver for you on that. Last but certainly not least, is the big island of Hawaii, and the big island of Hawaii is the youngest, most active island in all the island changes. It happens to be the biggest surprise. It's called the Big Island And it is home to one of the most active volcanoes you probably remember in 2018. You may notice with its eruption but don't be scared by that. That eruption only impacted a tiny section of the island, so obviously, since the island is so big, it's the least crowded and it is the largest, so it gives you a lot of space and a lot of freedom to really explore Hawaii. That is really what Hawaii is all about. To get out to explore The big island is a great choice for everyone You're traveling with, because it has so much to offer for everyone. Most people that visit tend to stay on the west side of the island, which is the Kona side, and The other main city on the island is Hilo, which is on the east side of the island. All the sides of the island are Really worth exploring. However, staying on the big island of Hawaii requires renting the car, and preferably a Four-wheel drive vehicle so you can get out and you can really explore all of the Amazingness of the big island. Some of the pros on the big island are definitely those who are seeking a quieter vacation, those who love to explore. It's great for exploring and getting out there. Also, another pro is that the people are very friendly and it is less Commercialized than the other islands. The cons, in my opinion, of the big island is that you can spend a lot of time Driving the island because it is so big, so you're gonna want to definitely plan your Vacation, your visit, accordingly, because you don't want to spend your entire week or two weeks driving around the island. Same as Maui and same as Hawaii, the big island doesn't have a huge nightlife scene and it's limited on. Restaurants and other suburban amenities are limited as well. Maybe that's a pro for you, maybe it's a con, i'm not sure. As a family traveling, it can be a con. If you're looking to like, just get to the store. But you know, if you're traveling to the big island, you're probably gonna be staying in Kona anyways And there's definitely things there as far as amenities to be able to support your needs. So the big island It's best for those who love the outdoors. I feel it's great for families, young and old, and people who are just looking to experience Hawaii in its raw natural state. So wrapping up this whole conversation about what is the best island I think it really comes down to knowing the season of life that you're in and your family is in is Probably a great indicator and how to choose the best island for you and your next Hawaiian vacation. When getting around the islands, i found that it's useful to have like a tour guide app on my smartphone. I'm not a guy who likes to get on a bus and to abide by a schedule and By everybody else's kind of whims, and in ones I like to kind of just go with my own pace. So if you're like me, i would definitely encourage you to look into Shaka guide. It's a great turn-by-turn app What takes you around some of the best and Can't miss spots on each island. It also Guides you to some of the most hidden gems on each of the islands. So you can download the app today By simply going to live Hawaii's best calm Slash shaka. So when choosing the island for your next visit, it is important to consider the best time also to visit Hawaii. We've put together a Compilation of the best time to visit Hawaii. I'll go ahead and I'll link down in the show notes as well. I'm gonna end this conversation in the same way I started it. When it comes to the best island, it really comes down to what the best island is for you in the stage of life that you're in. If you're a solo traveler, pretty much any of the islands are gonna be great. If you're a young family, i would definitely look into the options of Oahu and Big Island. If you're An older family, meaning that your kids are maybe in upper middle grade Definitely any of the islands are great, But Maui and Oahu are probably gonna be good to look into. If you're looking for a family vacation Everybody's coming I would definitely look into Big Island or Oahu. And if you're honeymooning you're you're coming to the islands you're gonna get married definitely check out Maui, oahu or Kauai. Those are gonna give you some of the best kind of backdrops for that destination Wedding. If you really can't go wrong in choosing an island in Hawaii for your next vacation, i hope that this helped you in considering what is the best next island for you to visit. If you found value in this. Please hit subscribe. Leave a rating below. That really helps me. That helps the show and helps other people be able to find this Conversation. But until next time, friends, i just want to say be well, aloha.

    Speaker 2: 28:06
    Mahalo for listening to this episode of Hawaii's best. To stay up to date on future episodes, please subscribe and visit us at Hawaii's best travel Dot com.

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