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With lush green landscapes, breathtaking beaches, and rich Hawaiian culture, the Hawaiian Islands offer something for every type of traveler. But with 6 major islands to choose from, deciding which one to visit can be overwhelming.

If you’re looking for world-famous beaches and raging nightlife, Oahu is your top pick. Maui combines natural wonders with resort comforts. Kauai boasts uncrowded beaches and stunning Napali Coast views. The Big Island wows with active volcanoes and black sand beaches.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to decide which Hawaiian island is the best fit for your ideal vacation, including key highlights, geography, weather, top attractions, and accommodation options for Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island Hawaii.

Oahu, Hawaii – The Gathering Place

Famous Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is undoubtedly Oahu’s most famous stretch of coastline. Its golden sands and turquoise waters attract over 4 million visitors each year. Once the playground of Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s, Waikiki encompasses around 3 miles of beachfront filled with resorts, shops, restaurants and lively nightlife.

It’s an incredibly vibrant and energetic area. Numerous events happen throughout the year too, such as surf competitions, outrigger canoe races and Hawaiian music/hula performances.

Top Oahu Attractions

Beyond its world-famous beaches, Oahu offers an array of historical, cultural and natural attractions. The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor provides a poignant tribute to the lives lost in the 1941 attack. The Polynesian Cultural Center highlights various Pacific Islander customs and traditions.

For outdoor pursuits, you can snorkel at Hanauma Bay or admire views while hiking the popular Diamond Head crater trail. Those wanting to avoid crowds should visit the peaceful North Shore region – especially in winter to see huge waves!

Luxury Accommodations

Oahu has no shortage of luxury hotel options. The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki is a historic beachfront property known as the ‘Pink Palace of the Pacific’. Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina and Kahala Hotel & Resort also offer lavish amenities alongside stunning settings.

For ultimate exclusivity, private vacation rentals at Turtle Bay or Sunset Beach on the North Shore provide seclusion amid a remote natural landscape. You can also charter private yachts to explore Oahu’s coastline in true VIP style.

From butler services to infinity pools, Oahu’s premier lodgings provide elite pampering.

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.

This all-day adventure drive is a must for any nature lover visiting Maui with its 600 hairpin turns and 59 bridges. Just take it slow and watch for oncoming traffic on the narrow, winding road. We highly recommend stopping at the peaceful Waianapanapa State Park black sand beach framed by volcanic cliffs and taking a short hike to 400-foot Waimoku Falls in the magical Pipiwai Trail for one of the most rewarding waterfall payoffs on the island.

Haleakala Volcano Views

For a change of pace from Maui’s famous beaches, head up to the summit of the dormant Haleakala volcano which tops out at 10,023 feet. Brave souls can get up at 3am to catch a sunrise view over the clouds and witness a paint palette of colors glow over the volcanic landscape.

Or visit during the day to gaze down into the crater and take a short hike around the alien-like terrain. Just remember to pack layers as the temperature can easily be 30 degrees cooler than at sea level.

For the less adventurous, stop by the visitor center to learn about the volcano’s history and geological significance. An interesting fact is that astronauts even used to train here before space missions!

Family-Friendly Resorts

Maui has no shortage of amazing family-friendly resorts, many situated right on the beach allowing for maximum relaxation. For example, the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas located on pristine Ka’anapali Beach has spacious villas with full kitchens and washer/dryers plus three pools, six restaurants, and fun activities like lei making and hula dancing.

Or check out the Honua Kai Resort & Spa known for its large suites and on-site restaurant serving locally sourced ingredients. Adults can indulge in a spa treatment while the keiki (children) participate in interactive Hawaiian cultural programs and splash around in the fun water features.

With the average year-round temperature hovering at a comfortable 80 degrees, there is always time for families to relax at one of Maui’s world-class resorts after a day filled with island adventures!

Kauai, Hawaii – The Garden Isle

Napali Coast State Park

The stunning Napali Coast State Park on Kauai’s north shore features towering sea cliffs lined with narrow beaches tucked between tropical valleys. The 11-mile hike along the Kalalau Trail offers amazing views of this incredibly picturesque landscape.

Just getting to Napali Coast is an adventure, whether by hiking, kayaking, or taking a boat cruise along the coast. No wonder Napali Coast is often called the most beautiful stretch of coastline in Hawaii!

Waimea Canyon Views

Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a must-see on any trip to Kauai. This massive gorge features rivers and waterfalls set against colorful volcanic rock cliffs streaked with red, orange, brown and green.

There are several lookout points along Waimea Canyon Drive where you can stop and take in the magnificent views. For one of the best vantage points, head to Kalalau Lookout, perched 3,600 feet above the canyon floor.

North Shore Beaches

Kauai’s north shore boasts over 30 miles of sparkling beaches with golden sand, swaying palm trees, and turquoise water perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Some of the most popular beaches include Hanalei Bay, a gorgeous half-moon beach with epic views of waterfalls and Bali Hai Mountain that was featured in films like South Pacific.

Just down the coast lies Tunnels Beach, named for the underwater lava tubes favored by snorkelers. No matter which beach you choose, prepare to be awed by Kauai’s incredible natural beauty!

The Big Island, Hawaii – Island of Adventure

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa. This park offers once-in-a-lifetime adventures from hiking across volcanic craters to witnessing molten lava entering the ocean.

In 2018, Kilauea erupted in a spectacular display of nature’s power, drawing visitors from all over the world. The park encompasses 333,000 acres of otherworldly volcanic landscapes like craters, lava tubes, steam vents, and rainforests. This is a must-visit for adventure seekers and nature lovers!

Black Sand Beaches

The Big Island has some of Hawaii’s most famous black sand beaches, like Punaluʻu Beach. The black sand comes from lava flowing into the ocean, then cooling and turning into basalt crystals. These beaches often have sea turtles basking on them!

Some of the best are Richardson’s Beach near Hilo, Punalu’u Beach near Volcanoes National Park, and Kaimū Beach near Kalapana. Going to a black sand beach in Hawaii is an iconic experience not to miss!

Historic Kona Village

The Historic Kona Village Resort redesigned and reopened in 2022 after being closed for over a decade. This oceanside resort has an authentic Hawaiian vibe with thatched roof hale cottages, nightly talk story sessions around the fire pit, and fun cultural activities like net fishing, lei making, coconut husking, and hula lessons.

Guests can also book personalized adventures like volcano excursions, outrigger canoeing, stand up paddleboarding, sport fishing, surf lessons, cliff diving, and more! This is a one-of-a-kind way to experience old Hawaii.

Conclusion

With so many amazing islands to pick from, deciding where to go in Hawaii can be tough. Ultimately the right Hawaiian island for your vacation depends on your interests and the experience you’re looking for.

Oahu blends world-famous Waikiki with natural wonders for a quintessential Hawaiian getaway. Maui provides a perfect mix of activities and luxury. Kauai lets you unplug surrounded by lush tropical beauty. And the Big Island impresses adventure seekers with its variety of landscapes.

Use this guide to hone in on which Hawaiian island best matches the vacation of your dreams. The aloha spirit, stunning scenery and welcoming culture await you across all the enchanting Hawaiian Islands.

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