Paradisaic Hawaii is as diverse as the travelers who visit it, from wild Molokai to laid-back yet cosmopolitan Oahu, Hawaii harbors islands that suit the taste of all kinds of travelers. In this article, we will be talking about the top 7 Hawaiian Islands to visit based on different kinds of travelers. Will it be luxury resorts or lava flows? Waikiki Beach, humpback whales, or Pearl Harbor? Let’s settle the difficult ‘which island to visit’ question in this article once and for all.
The Hawaiian archipelago is home to atolls, 137 small islets, and eight main islands, each harbouring their own distinct characteristics and personality. Choosing becomes a difficult task when one is presented with such a vast selection. Therefore, to help all of you Hawaii lovers out there, we made a list of the top 7 Hawaiian Islands to visit based on different types of travelers. So, read the article, see which island matches your personality, and then plan your trip to that island. The ‘Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to visit based on different kinds of travelers’ list was curated through research and surveys, so trust the list and plan your visit accordingly.
Visiting the Hawaiian Islands
A Little Context
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii was struggling immensely with the negative impacts that over-tourism had on its land and people. Therefore, when Covid struck and shutdowns were put into place, many locals were able to have the land to themselves for the first time in decades. This led to deeper conversations about what tourism should look like in Hawaii going further. The president of Maui Cultural Lands, Edwin “Ekolu” Lindsey stated that during Covid they got their space back for a year which made them realize what they had given up for the last 50 years for the sake of tourism.
This statement however is by no means an indication that tourists shouldn’t go to Hawaii. In fact, it’s the contrary as after making the previous statement Edwin states that they are happy to share their land if the intentions of the visitors are in the right. When in Hawaii, be sure to remember that you are a guest there and therefore should abide by the no-trespassing signs, use sunscreen that is reef-safe, and follow the best practices when it comes to wildlife and the ocean. In short, you must treat the islands like the home of a dear friend.
In order to encourage travelers and vacations to think about Hawaii as more than a vacation spot, the state introduced an initiative under the name Mãlama Hawaii. Mãlama means to care for and that is exactly what this program encourages us travelers to do, care for the islands that we visit, and make sure that we don’t bring any kind of harm to them or the life that they harbor. As you consider which Hawaiian Island to visit this vacation season, consider joining one of the Mãlama experiences as well like replanting native species, taking up volunteer work, or participating in beach cleanup.
In case the Hawaiian Islands i.e., Big Island or Maui are the ones you are interested in visiting, keep in mind to be respectful as they were recently hit by horrific wildfires in the August of 2023. The fire claimed many lives and left the islands in ruin and as of now the islands’ community is trying to find its strength to get back on its feet again.
Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to Visit Based on Different Kinds of Travelers – An Overview
1. The Land of Hawaii – Most Ecologically Diverse among the Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to Visit Based on Different Kind of Travelers
Nickname – The Big Island
Best For – Outdoor adventure junkies who wish to go star gazing on the highest peak housed by Hawaii, go hiking on volcanoes, and whale-watching. The island is also an ideal vacation spot for big families.
The Big Island also known as the island of Hawaii has the honor of being one of the world’s most ecologically diverse places. This Hawaiian island is also the state’s youngest and largest island, sweeping from a mesmerisingly beautiful black-sand beach to waterfall-laced rainforest valleys, snap-capped beautiful mountains, and alluring lava deserts. Hawaii’s black island is blessed with the most stunning beauty, one that will offer you immense comfort and rejuvenation. Moreover, the island is also home to a variety of attractions like volcanic parks, beaches, museums, and top-rated restaurants that will make your stay at the island a memorable one.
If you are traveling with kids make sure to take them to the Ellison S. Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Both of these attractions are open year-round, and the astronomy center even offers stargazing programs that will surely entertain you and your kids. If you are the kind who loves to interact with wildlife, then visit Kona’s coast as it harbours sheltered and calm waters that are ideal for snorkelling, dolphin and turtle spotting, and manta ray boat tours.
Adventure junkies can hike the Mauna Kea by opting for a guided tour and head up to the steep winding road of the summit for stargazing. Also, the Big Island peaks into ancient traditions at Pu’uhonua O Hõnaunau or Kaloko-Honokõhau National Historical Park, where Hawaiians once used to fish, carved petroglyphs, and also used to engage in a sport called He’e hōlua, in which they would use toboggan-like sleds to go download over stones covered in leaves and dirt.
Travellers visiting Big Island can take a tour of the seven-acre Kona Sea Salt farm. There they can buy salt harvested from 2,200 feet below the ocean surface and also join in clam bakes that feature sustainable seafood that is raised with care at the neighbouring Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park.
Where to Stay on the Big Island?
The island of Hawaii is one of the most frequented Hawaiian Islands and therefore harbors a plethora of lodging options. Those wishing to opt for high-end resorts should make their way to the Kona area on the west side of the island. Travelers who are looking for more low-key lodging should visit the eastern Hilo side.
The Fairmont Orchid that lies on the Kona side occupies a land of 32 acres and comes with tropical gardens and white sandy beaches. The property harbors 540 guest rooms and suits and all of them come with lanais and about half of them harbor ocean views.
Four Seasons Hualālai
Four Seasons Hualālai is a Hollywood favorite resort and you might be able to spot a celebrity or two if you opt for a stay here. The resort spans a vast area of 865 acres harboring a beautiful palm-fringed coastline. Lying just a 15-minute drive away from the Kona International Airport, the celebrity favorite resort comes packed with seven pools, an onsite museum and cultural center, and a rock amphitheater.
Volcano Rainforest Retreat
Volcano Rainforest Retreat is the ideal accommodation for travelers wishing to stay on the Hilo side of the island, close to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This accommodation is a quiet, four-cottage inn, lying on the edge of the rainforest. Every cottage that it harbors is unique in its own right but each of them comes with shoji screens, cedar walls, and plenty of windows that offer stunning views of giant ferns.
2. Kauai – Most Lush among the Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to Visit Based on Different Kind of Travelers
Nickname – The Garden Isle
Best For – Travellers who are in search of a quiet and laid-back island that harbors immense natural beauty, waterfalls, and stunning beaches. Kauai is also a great island for those who wish to learn about ancient traditions and visit small towns.
In the Garden Isle, serenity, and lushness reign supreme as chaos takes a back seat. The island is home to the planet’s wettest spot known as Mount Waialeale which receives an average rainfall of 451 inches each year. Whereas, on the hand, the town of Poipu and the South Shore tend to be sunnier and harbor more hops, resultants, and water sports. The places in Kauai that hog all the spotlight are Waimea also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. These areas are dotted with beautiful waterfalls and swift streams that come together to sculpt the world’s most staggeringly beautiful wilderness areas that also encompass ancient Hawaiian archeological sites.
When in the Garden Isles, make sure to pay a visit to the Hāena State Park which includes Kee and Tunnels beaches, and trailhead, however, keep in mind that in order to visit the place you will have to make reservations in advance. If you are fancying a more accessible cascade, consider checking out the Wailua Falls which is a 173-foot cascading veil that you might have glimpsed in the opening credits of hit 1970, Fantasy Island. Afterward, contrast the riot of water and vegetation with Polihale State Park which is home to Hawaii’s longest starch of beach, covering about 15 miles and harboring dunes that can pile up to 100 feet high.
Where to Stay in the Hawaiian island of Kauai?
Among the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is the lushest one and is frequented by travelers who want to surround themselves with natural beauty. Most people who visit the island prefer to stay either along the North Shore or on the drier, sunnier South Shore near the town of Poipu. Some even prefer to stay along the eastern coast, near the Lihue Airport.
Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas
Those wishing to stay at the North Shore should opt for Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, a family-friendly resort that lies a short drive from Hanalei Bay. The resort comes packed with various amenities and offers its guests plenty of pools, local cuisine at the Nanea restaurant, and fully equipped villas that come with kitchens and washer-dryers.
Waimea Plantation Cottages
Waimea Plantation Cottages, which is a 59-cottage property, is an ideal accommodation for those coveting laid-back luxury. This resort lies on the sunnier and slightly less traveled West Side of the island and is also home to the renowned Waimea Canyon. All the cottages here were built during the 19th century or early 29th century and reflect the old-school charm with their painted wood-paneled walls, and shaded lanais. The cottages also come with all the basic amenities and include kitchens as well.
Outrigger Kaua‘i Beach Resort
Not far away from the Lihue Airport, on Kauai’s east coast lies the Outrigger Kaua‘i Beach Resort which harbors stunning rooms overlooking the gardens, ocean, and pools. The resort is also home to three restaurants that are overseen by the talented chef Mark Arriola, who is a pioneer in Kauai’s farm-to-table movement.
3. Lānai – Top Island for Secluded Beauty among the Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to Visit Based on Different Kind of Travelers
Nickname – The Pineapple Island
Best For – Those coveting a rugged, remote feeling trip on an uncrowded small, island. Adventure junkies and animal lovers especially cat lovers will appreciate the island as it harbors a cat sanctuary, and hiking trails and also offers calm waters for snorkeling.
A Brief History
In the olden days, when Lanai wasn’t colonized by Westerners, and where the Hawaiian settlers lived off taro and seafood, the island was rich with purple flowers and lush vegetation. However, in the 1800s, when sheep, goats, and other grazing animals occupied the land, it was stripped bare of its beautiful vegetation. However, soon after came the pineapple years of the island. In the year 1894, before statehood, the United States recognized the Republic of Hawaii with Sanford Dole as its president. Sandford Dole was a longtime Hawaii resident and a pineapple entrepreneur.
Come 1900, when Hawaii was annexed and made into a territory, and in 1922, a cousin of Sanford Dole, James Drummond Dole bought the island of Lanai in order to expand his pineapple farming empire. Then came to the island Larry Ellison the year 2012. Larry Ellison, a tech billionaire bought 97% of Lanai inducing two Four Seasons Resorts. Ellison was a controversial person, to say the least, but he did place a strong emphasis on sustainability and founded the Pulama Lanai the aim of which was to protect endangered and native species, improve the recycling and water system, and transition from the island’s diesel grid to 100% renewable energy.
When in Lanai
As of today, the Hawaiian island of Lanai remains an off-beath path designation with only 30 miles of the island’s roads paved. However, the island does harbor 400 miles of rugged trails that travelers can explore via house, hiking, or four-wheel drive. Many of these trails led to 18 miles of empty beaches that encompass Lanai and showcase stunning views of the neighboring islands. When in Lanai, make sure to stop by the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center which is run by Kepa Maly who was born on the island. The center is a nonprofit heritage organization that was developed in order to inspire people to be thoughtful, informed, and active stewards of Lanai’s heritage.
Another non-profit organization that Lanai harbors and is a must-visit is the Lanai Cota Sanctuary. About 700 rescue cats call the sanctuary their home and invite vacationers to play with its furry residents. No reservations are needed to visit the place and it is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is also free, however tax-deductible donations are welcomed. For adventure junkies, Lanai harbors a wonderful park that calls on the outdoorsy kind with its zip-lining, Aerial Tower, and e-bike island tours.
Where to Stay in the Hawaiian island of Lanai?
Among the Hawaiian Islands, Lanai is mostly frequented by those who want a more rugged and remote experience.
Four Seasons Resort Lāna‘i
When the island was bought by Ellison he overhauled the Four Seasons Resort Lāna‘i and reduced its rooms from 286 to 213. He also updated the design with slate and teak walls and added outposts of Nobu and L.A’s Malibu farm.
Sensei Lāna‘i, a Four Seasons Resort
Sensei Lāna‘i, a Four Seasons Resort is a 24-acre resort that places immense focus on wellness and offers everything from day-long spa immersions to a five-day program that comes with a fitness assessment.
Hotel Lāna‘i was built in 1923 by James Dole and is a historic 10-room stunning property. Until 1990 the hotel was the only accommodation available on the island. Now it comes under the ownership of Ellison and is home to the popular Lāna‘i Bar and Grille.
4. Maui – The Most Popular Island among the Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to Visit Based on a Different Kind of Travelers
Nickname – The Valley Isle
Best For – The travelers who love diversity from adventure to beaches to culture to food and relaxation.
Among all the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is the one that is a one-stop sampler of Hawaii’s highlights. Anchored by the dormant Haleakalā volcano that forms three-quarters of its mass, Maui is a tiny piece of heaven on earth. When in Maui you can snorkel in its glistening waters or make a reservation to visit the Waīa‘ānapanapa State Park which is one of the famous black-sand beaches.
If immersing in culture is all you desire, hire a hula instructor for a lesson. Shopaholics can shop their way through the galleries of Paia. And adventure junkies can strap in for the world-famous Road to Hana, a mesmerizing drive that traces the rugged black-lava coastline. When in Maui, treat your stomach to scrumptious food and make sure to wake up early to queue at the Donut Dynamite which serves the island’s best doughnuts. Chocolate lovers can book a ninety-minute chocolate and cacao tour at the Maui Ku’ia Estate.
Travelers can also stop at the Sunset Market that the Wailea Village harbors and shop for local goodies such as Pau Maui vodka, shaved iced, tacos, and cookies from Maui Cookie Lab. The lovers of snorkeling should definitely visit the island, as Maui is the access point for the Molokini atoll, where vacationers can snorkel an extinct volcanic caldera. You can also grab a mask and fins, and zip over to the beach town of Olowalu on the west coast. There you will find a cleaning station for green sea turtles.
Where to Stay in the Hawaiian island of Maui?
As Maui is one of the most popular Hawaiian Islands, there is no shortage of accommodations here.
The Maui Eco Retreat was built in 1988 on a land that was blessed by a Hawaiian priest, the retreat harbors a handful of rooms and offers yoga classes and stunning views.
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa
Being one of the celebrity Hawaiian Islands, Maui is home to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, which is a world-class resort. This hotel has won numerous awards for its sustainability initiatives, which include minimizing food waste and plastic use and adding one of the largest solar panel systems in Hawaii. The hotel does not cut back in amenities though, offering 10 restaurants, six pools, and even resident penguins.
Hotel Wailea is an adult-only property stretching on a 15-acre land and harboring 72 suites. The accommodation offers everything from sustainable travel experiences to treehouse dining.
5. Molokai – The Least Developed among the Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to Visit Based on Different Kind of Travelers
Nickname – The Friendly Isle
Bets For – Those who love outdoor adventure without the resorts such as snorkeling, swimming, and bird watching. Campers will also appreciate this beautiful piece of paradise.
Molokai is one of the most picturesque of the Hawaiian Islands and packs beauty, authenticity, and adventure in a sleek package. The island houses a large percentage of Native Hawaiian descendants as compared to other Hawaiian Islands, and it is thanks to its welcoming residents that the island got its name The Friendly Isle.
When in Molokai a visit to the Pāpōhaku Beach Park is a must. Pāpōhaku Beach Park is one of the largest white sand beaches in all of Hawaii and is a perfect place for strolling and basing in the wonders of nature. You can also swim there but only when the surf is calm and flat. Conditions can be hazardous during the fall and winter seasons, therefore take extra care when visiting the place. Hiking enthusiast can make their way to the Hālawa Valley which is a lush area harboring stunning vistas and thundering waterfalls.
Where to Stay in the Hawaiian island of Molokai?
As mentioned before, Molokai is the least developed among the Hawaiian Islands, therefore it harbors no resorts and the lodgings it does house are low to the ground and laid back.
Hotel Moloka’i is a 52-year-old accommodation that houses bungalows that are outfitted with kitchenettes and are carefully arranged in order to allow the trade winds to move through. When staying in Hotel Moloka’i, step out the front door and take a short walk to the Kamiloloa beaches, to snorkel the 28-mile barrier reed, the longest one in Hawaii, or opt for a five-minute drive to wander the Kaunakakai that is the islands main center.
Pu’u O Hoku Ranch
For those coveting a truly remote stay, Pu’u O Hoku Ranch is the best option. The accommodation lies on the eastern side of the island and is a family-owned, working organic and biodynamic ranch. Therefore, when staying there except to feed cattle and a wide range of produce like bananas. Keep in mind that they don’t have Wi-Fi so you should book with them only if you want the complete off-grid experience.
6. O’ahu – Most Frequented among the Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to Visit Based on Different Kind of Travelers
Nickname – The Gathering Place
Best For – Those coveting a laid-back urban trip that features hiking trails, historical sites, beaches, and legendary surfing.
O’ahu is one of the most frequented among the Hawaiian Islands and offers Hawaii’s take on big city living. Its bustling Waikiki houses high-rise hotels, shopping centers, restaurants, and also one of the world’s most famous beaches. When in O’ahu make sure to visit the USS Arizona Memorial which is housed by the the Peral Harbor National Memorial. Lovers of history should definitely consider spending time at other Pearl Harbor historic sites including the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Peral Harbor Aviation Museum.
When in O’ahu visit the Polynesian Cultural Center to taste poi, weave a fish of coconut leaves, and take a canoe ride. Snorkelers should make their way to the North Shore where they will be able to snorkel in the clear waters of Shark’s Cove. Afterward, they can head on to the charming Hale’iwa to shop, eat, or cool off by getting a shaved ice cream from Matsumoto’s.
Where to Stay in the Hawaiian island of O’ahu?
Most vacationers traveling to O’ahu prefer to stay in or near Honolulu, which harbors plenty of accommodation options.
The Modern Honolulu
The Modern Honolulu is a new addition to the Waikiki waterfront and was designed by George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg. This accommodation is a perfect choice for those who prefer modern lodging, housing whitewashed rooms, many of which overlook the Ala Wai Boat Harbor.
The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort
Rumor has it that The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, that was built in the Roaring 20s was responsible for putting Waikiki on the map. For years, celebrities have been flocking to this luxurious beach resort.
Turtle Bay Resort
Those coveting a wellness getaway should opt for the Turtle Bay Resort that sits on a 1,300-acre peaceful property, lined with stunning palm trees. This resort gives guests a chance to see the quieter side of O’ahu.
7. Niihau – The Forbidden Land among the Top 7 Hawaiian Islands to Visit Based on Different Kind of Travelers
Nickname – The Forbidden Land
Best For – Adventurers looking for something adrenaline-boosting.
Niihau is one of the two Hawaii islands, the other one being Kaho’olawe, that remains closed to tourists in order to protect the island’s landscape and wildlife. Commercial development is also strictly forbidden on the island. No one but the residents of the island, members of the Robinson family, or invited guests are allowed to set foot on the island. The Robinson Family operates an official tour that comes at a steep price and allows you to visit the Forbidden Land.
This this a half-day tour that I worth every single penny and it will offer you the most unforgettable experience of your life. During the tour you hop on a twin-engine helicopter from Kauai, do an ariel tour of the forbidden island, and then land on a beach where you can swim, snorkel, or sun bath. The tour also comes with lunch and refreshments that are served before the return flight back to Kauai.
Where to Stay in the Hawaiian island of Niihau?
Niihau is a protected area and is void of resorts and accommodations.
The Perfect 2023, Wellness Getaway in Oahu, Hawaii