Hawaii is like no other place on earth. Home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes and the world’s tallest sea mountain, Hawaii is one of the youngest geological formations in the world. Perhaps Hawaii’s most unique feature is its aloha spirit: the warmth of Hawaii’s people that complements the Islands’ perfect temperatures.
But, what are the best Hawaiian islands? There are six major islands to visit in Hawaii: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii Island. You will find each island has its own distinct personality and offers its own adventures, activities and sights.
Kauai is Hawaii’s fourth largest island and is sometimes called the “Garden Isle,” which is an entirely accurate description. The oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain is draped in emerald valleys, sharp mountain spires and jagged cliffs, aged by time and the elements. Centuries of growth have formed tropical rainforests, forking rivers and cascading waterfalls. Some parts of Kauai are only accessible by sea or air, revealing views beyond your imagination.
The island is home to a variety of outdoor activities:
- Kayak the Wailua River
- Snorkel on Poipu Beach
- Hike the trails of Kokee State Park
- Ziplining above Kauai’s lush valleys
Tip: But it is the island’s laid-back atmosphere and rich culture found in its small towns and along its one-lane bridges that make it truly timeless. Make sure to discover the undeniable allure of Kauai.
Sometimes called “The Gathering Place,” Oahu certainly lives up to its name. The third largest Hawaiian island is home to the majority of Hawaii’s diverse population, a fusion of east and west cultures rooted in the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiian people. It’s this fundamental contrast between the ancient and the modern that makes discovering Oahu so enjoyable.
The most cosmopolitan of Hawaiian Islands, home to its capital and largest cities, Oahu offers a something-for-every-interest variety of attractions, and a full-price spectrum of accommodations.
- Experience the clear blue waters of Kailua Beach that meet the metropolitan cityscapes of Honolulu.
- Discover the historic architecture of Iolani Palace as it meets the timeless memorials of Pearl Harbor.
- Check out the big city of Waikiki that meets the small town of Haleiwa on the North Shore.
- Hike to the top of the iconic Diamond Head State Monument for panoramic views of Waikiki and Honolulu.
Imagine the Hawaii of the past. Unspoiled country and untouched beaches. No skyscrapers or stoplights. The chance to truly live as the locals do. With a high percentage of its population being of Native Hawaiian ancestry, Molokai is place where Hawaiian culture thrives. The people of Molokai continue to preserve their rural lifestyle thanks to their love of the land. Hawaii’s past comes alive on Molokai. Molokai is home to the highest sea cliffs in the world along its northeast coast (3,600-3,900 feet) and Hawaii’s longest continuous fringing reef (28 miles) off Molokai’s southern coast.
On foot, by bike or by 4-wheel drive, this is an island of outdoor adventure.
- Hike along the 1,700 foot cliffs leading to Kalaupapa National Historical Park
- Discover Papohaku Beach, one of Hawaii’s biggest white sand beaches.
- Wander through the small town Kaunakakai
- Explore the sacred Halawa Valley
Lanai is the smallest inhabited island in Hawaii. You won’t find a single traffic light here and that’s exactly how the people of Lanai like it. Once the world’s largest pineapple plantation, the island of Lanai now features some luxurious resorts, where top-end travelers are treated to a little pampering surrounded by intense natural beauty. Lanai is a special place where you’re sure to find serenity, adventure and intimacy.
If you want to get away from it all, get away to Lanai.
- Hike the Munro Trail to take in stunning views
- Watch the acrobatic spinner dolphins from romantic Hulopoe Bay
- Play championship-level golf at the Manele Golf Course and Koele Golf Course. The other is found bouncing along the island’s rugged back-roads in a
- 4-wheel drive the island’s rugged back roads (only 30 miles of Lanai’s roads are paved)
- Explore off the beaten path treasures like Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods) and Polihua Beach.
One visit and it’s easy to see why Maui is called “The Valley Isle.” The second largest Hawaiian island has a smaller population than you’d expect, making Maui popular with visitors who are looking for sophisticated diversions and amenities in the small towns and airy resorts spread throughout the island.
From the scenic slopes of fertile Upcountry Maui to beaches that have repeatedly been voted among the best in the world
- Stand above a sea of clouds high atop Haleakala.
- Explore the unique landscape of Haleakala National Park
- Watch a 45-foot whale breach off the coast of Lahaina.
- Lose count of the waterfalls along the road as you maneuver the hairpin turns of The Road to Hana.
- Discover some of the best beaches in the world
To avoid confusion with the name of the entire state, the Island of Hawaii is often called the “Big Island,” and what an appropriate name it is. Nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, its sheer size can be inspiring. You’ll find all but two of the world’s climatic zones within this island’s shores.
The dramatic size and scope of the largest Hawaiian Island create a microcosm of environments and activities. On this island’s vast tableau, you’ll find everything from
- Extravagant resorts and golf courses
- An active volcano and live lava flows
- Modest local towns
- Sacred Hawaiian historical sites (the birthplace of King Kamehameha I to Hawaii’s first missionary church in Historic Kailua Village).
Tip: With so much to see, it’s best to experience the island in small pieces. There’s plenty of room on Hawaii Island for your return.