A vacation to Hawai‘i can look pretty different depending on which island you travel to. And with eight major islands to choose from, it’s hard to know which is the best island to visit in Hawai‘i for the first time.
We've got you. This quick guide will give you an idea, but the best way to choose is by working with a Fora Advisor.
Not only can they help you decide which island is most in line with your interests, whether it’s a relaxing vacation to Maui or a six-day adventure to the Big Island, but they can also unlock VIP hotel upgrades and vacation perks you won’t find elsewhere.
Where should you go in Hawai‘i for your first time? Let’s find out.
How to choose the best island to visit in Hawai‘i for first-time visitors
The best places to visit Hawai‘i are spread throughout the islands. Unless you’re planning on a month-long trip (or longer), you’re probably going to miss a few things. So, you’re going to have to decide which island to visit in Hawai‘i for your first time (because we know there’ll be a second time once you go).
The following factors can help you make a decision, but again, we should note that your Fora Advisor (and Hawai‘i travel planner) will provide the best recommendations.
Consider the duration of your trip
How many days you spend in Hawai‘i is an important factor. Here’s why:
In terms of logistics, spending time on Oahu is going to look very different than spending time on the Big Island. Oahu is condensed and well developed, while the Big Island’s attractions are fairly spread out. If you’re only in Hawai‘i for a couple days, you’ll be able to do a lot more on Oahu than the Big Island.
Think about flight schedules and ease of travel
Oahu is the only Hawaiian island with a major international airport, so it’s by far the easiest to get to and from (one of the reasons it’s the best Hawaiian island for families to visit).
In fact, flights to all the other islands typically have to go through Oahu first. This can eat into your total travel time and make it harder on your kiddos. Our guide on how to travel between the Hawaiian Islands can help, but this is something to consider if you’re looking for convenience. And if you’re wondering which is the best island to visit in Hawai’i for the first time, convenience is probably going to be a factor.
Consider your desired activities & attractions: nightlife, beaches, restaurants and shops
The best island to visit in Hawai‘i for the first time depends heavily on what you want to do.
Oahu has something for everyone, including a bumping nightlife, amazing beaches and great cultural immersion opportunities. Our Honolulu travel guide and local's guide to the best of the island can speak to this. But if you prefer nothing but relaxation, you might consider a trip to Maui or Lanai (the most exclusive island in Hawai‘i) instead.
Molokai is the best Hawaiian island to visit for first-timers who want to immerse themselves in the local culture.
The Big Island and Kauai are both ideal choices if you want adventure. Specifically, the Big Island is home to Volcanoes National Park and a great gastronomic scene (check out our foodie’s guide to the Kohala Coast). While Kauai’s unspoiled nature and overall natural beauty does not include trudging around an active volcano, it’s arguably better for camping – possibly because of the lack of lava – which also makes Kauai a great option if you’re trying to figure out where to go in Hawai’i for the first time.
If you’re feeling overloaded, don’t worry, this is where a Fora Advisor can come in and help you narrow down your options.
And don’t forget to mull over your preferred accommodations (resorts vs. hotels and beyond)
The best places to stay in Hawai'i range from beautiful beachside resorts to gorgeous hotels and boutiques (we’re talking about a beach vacation destination, after all).
While all the islands have resorts and smaller hotels, your choice of island will determine your options.
Oahu has the widest selection of hotels, but the Big Island and Maui are better known for their massive (and often award-winning) resorts. If you prefer one style over the other, it may determine which island makes sense to visit.
Oahu is the best Hawaiian island to visit for first-timers who want to experience a bit of everything
Oahu is bucket-list worthy because there’s just so much to do. Think of it as the sampler island.
You can get a bit of culture, relax on the beaches, party it up in Waikiki or do it all. Our beginner’s guide to exploring Oahu covers more, but the gist is this: Oahu offers a taste of everything that makes a trip to Hawai‘i so amazing.
Maui is the best Hawaiian island to visit for first-timers who want a relaxing beach vacation
If you want something chill, a relaxing vacation to Maui might be best for your first visit to Hawai‘i. Maui’s resorts are world-famous for their scenic vistas and luxurious accommodations. And don’t forget, a Fora Advisor can help you decide where to stay in Maui for the best experience.
Kauai is the best island in Hawai‘i for the first time if you want adventure
Between Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Wailua River State Park and half a dozen other nature reserves, there’s plenty of room for adventure and excitement on Kauai. Camping, hiking, snorkeling and so much more can be done here within the backdrop of a true island paradise.
Still wondering where to go in Hawai‘i for the first time? Let a Fora Advisor help you plan
We’ve hinted at this before: the best island to visit in Hawai‘i for first-time travelers is a subjective thing. Chat with a Fora Advisor to start planning your Hawai‘i vacation with expert recommendations today. And remember, Fora travel advisors save you from the hassle of planning, provide awesome hotel perks and save you money in the process.