Looking for the best island to visit in Hawaii for first timers? Don’t stress. The good news is that you truly can’t go wrong! Each of Hawaii’s islands is incredible in its own right, so there’s no need to worry that you might not choose the best Hawaiian island for your first trip.
With that said, finding the best island to visit in Hawaii as a first-time visitor can have a big impact on your trip. I’m fortunate to have spent time on most of Hawaii’s main tourist islands, so I’ve put together this guide to help make your decision about where to stay in Hawaii just a little easier!
Before you Visit Hawaii…
Here’s something you should know before you pack for Hawaii. Definitely bring this type of sunscreen. It’s eco-friendly, and safe for Hawaii’s fragile underwater ecosystem and marine life.
How to Choose The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Timers
Deciding which Hawaiian island to stay on for your first visit can be a difficult choice. It’s hard to know what to expect on each island, and what the pros and cons are for each one. Here’s a few points to consider when you’re trying to decide the best island for your first visit to Hawaii:
1. Choose The Best Hawaiian Island Based on Flight Schedules
If you’re like me and you hate having a connecting flight, you could consider choosing a Hawaiian island for your first trip based on the availability of direct flights from your home airport. Maui and Oahu are popular islands and thus are more likely to have direct flight connections, but it’s worth checking out your options ahead of time.
Even if you’re coming from the West coast of the US, you’re in for a long flight to Hawaii. For my best tips about flying stress-free, check out this post.
2. Pick A Hawaiian Island for Your First Time Based on Your Desired Activity Level
Are you the type of traveler who wants to just relax by the pool? Or are you interested in exploration and adventure? Since there’s such a variety of things to do in Hawaii, the best Hawaiian island for first time visitors may depend on your desired level of activity during your trip.
The Best Hawaiian Island for Relaxation
If you’re looking to stay close to your hotel or condo and just hit the beach or pool, I’d recommend Maui or Lanai. There are several places to stay in Maui where accommodation is walking distance to shops and restaurants, and on Lanai, there’s just fewer things to do in general. On both of these islands, relaxation is king!
The Best Hawaiian Islands for Adventure
On the other hand, if your idea of a great visit to Hawaii is filled with waterfall hikes, kayaking, and volcanoes, you might really enjoy Kauai or the Big Island. Both of these islands offer incredible opportunities to explore in an adventurous way.
No matter which Hawaiian island you choose, you’ll definitely want to check out my tips for first time visitors to Hawaii. I’ve got everything you need to know in one handy post!
3. Choose the Best Island in Hawaii Based on The Duration of Your Trip
If you have at least a week in Hawaii, you’ll have time to really explore the island that you choose. For a longer trip to Hawaii, I’d recommend staying on Kauai or the Big Island. Both of these islands have so many different things to see, do, and explore, that you’ll have no shortage of things to do during your time in Hawaii, and you’ll still have time leftover to relax and enjoy the beach.
The Best Islands for Short Trips to Hawaii
On the other hand, if your first trip to Hawaii is a shorter trip of four or five days, I’d recommend staying somewhere that doesn’t require you to move around much in order to see the best that island has to offer. For trips to Hawaii lasting four or five days, I would recommend visiting O’ahu, Maui or Lanai.
4. Choose a Hawaiian Island Based on Access to Restaurants, Activities and Nightlife
During your first trip to Hawaii, do you want to be within easy access or walking distance to restaurants, activities and nightlife? If so, staying in Ka’napali or Wailea on Maui, or near Waikiki on Oahu would probably be good choices for you.
On the other hand, if you want to get away from it all, the island of Lanai is a bit sleepier. On the Big Island, places are a bit more spread out, so you’re likely to have a little more peace and quiet. These are good things to keep in mind when deciding which Hawaiian island will be best for your first trip.
5. Pick The Best Hawaiian Island Based on Your Preferred Accommodation Style
Are you looking for world-class resorts in Hawaii with a price tag to match? Or do you prefer a more modest hotel, or maybe even renting a condo or an apartment? While each Hawaiian island has a range of accommodation, some islands are better than others for certain categories, so the best island to visit in Hawaii for your first trip might depend on where you’d like to stay.
The Best Hawaiian Islands for High End Resorts
The best island to visit in Hawaii for first timers who want a top-end resort with amenities to match might be Maui or the Big Island. If this sounds like you, check out one of the Four Seasons properties on Maui, Lanai, or the Big Island. Hotels don’t come much more chic than these resorts. Each of these hotels have stunning rooms with facilities and amenities to match.
How to Choose the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Timers – An Island by Island Guide
I hope that thinking about the factors above help you choose which island to visit for your first trip to Hawaii. If you’re still wondering which island to pick, here’s a few thoughts on each one, along with my recommendations according to the kind of trip you’re considering.
Staying in Maui For First Time Visitors
Here’s the lowdown on the kinds of travelers that are likely to enjoy Maui the most out of any of the Hawaiian islands.
Maui is the best Hawaiian island to choose for honeymooners or families with small children
In Maui, there are plenty of places to stay where you don’t need a car to access restaurants and great beaches. If you want to just take a sunset stroll to dinner, or you don’t feel like packing up the kids in the car, staying in Ka’anapali or near Lahaina will give you plenty of options for activities and restaurants within walking distance.
Where to stay in Maui – My Top Picks
The island of Maui has plenty of choices for high end accommodations if you want to splurge. My top choices for hotels for honeymooners in Maui are the Montage and the Andaz. They’re both stunning and perfect choices for the trip of a lifetime. If those aren’t in your budget, the Sheraton has a near-perfect setting at the end of Ka’anapali beach and is a spectacular honeymoon choice.
If you want a place to stay in Maui that’s family-friendly, check out the Westin Ocean Villas. They’re located close to a gorgeous beach, and they even have a free shuttle into Lahaina.
Choosing Kauai For First Time Visitors
Who should stay in Kauai for their first visit to Hawaii?
Kauai is the best island choice for adventure lovers
Kauai is the best island to visit in Hawaii for first timers who love adventure. Kauai’s scenery is stunning, and its natural beauty is a draw for visitors to the island. But to really see everything that Kauai has to offer, you’ll need to get out of your beach chair and explore. In fact, the best of Kauai’s scenery, the Na Pali coast, can only be seen by boat or helicopter, or via a very long hike.
How to Visit Kauai as a First Timer
If you choose Kauai for your first visit to Hawaii, I promise you won’t be disappointed! Check out the Kauai itinerary I’ve put together especially for first-time visitors to Kauai. You’ll also love my list of the best places to eat in Kauai.
Where to Stay in Kauai – My Top Picks
If you decide to choose Kauai for your first trip to Hawaii, I’d recommend dividing your time between the North and South coasts of the island. Personally, my favorite places to stay in Kauai are the St. Regis Princeville or the Sheraton in Poipu. Both resorts are gorgeous and perfectly-located.
Staying on Hawaii’s Big Island for First Time Visitors
When is it best to choose the Big Island for your first time in Hawaii?
Hawaii’s Big Island is a Great Choice for Families with Older Children
The Big Island of Hawaii is a perfect choice for families, especially those with older children or teens. I usually recommend the Big Island to families who are visiting Hawaii because of the huge variety of things to do. There’s plenty to keep older kids busy and entertained – including volcanos and even diving with manta rays at night.
The reason I usually recommend the Big Island to families with older children is that driving to some of the activities can require a long-ish drive. This can put a dent in nap schedules for little ones! It’s easy to underestimate how long it might take to get from one place to another on the Big Island, so just keep that in mind as you plan your trip.
If you’re looking for more ideas on how to spend your time on Hawaii’s Big Island, check out the Big Island itinerary I put together.
Where to Stay on The Big Island – My Top Picks
If you choose Hawaii’s Big Island for your first trip, I recommend staying on the Kohala coast. It’s the sunniest part of the island, and it’s close to plenty of restaurants, beautiful beaches and things to do. For all-out luxury, you can’t go wrong with the Mauna Lani, and families with kids will love the pool at the Hilton Waikoloa.
Is Lanai the Best Island in Hawaii for First Time Visitors?
The island of Lanai might be the best island to visit in Hawaii for first timers that want to just relax and get away from it all. Lanai has less going on than any of the other islands, so it’s a great choice if you’re just ready to crash and enjoy the island’s natural beauty. Since it’s one of the less frequently visited islands (relatively, anyway), there’s also fewer crowds which can be a draw in and of itself.
Where to Stay on Lanai – My Top Picks
If you choose the island of Lanai for your first trip to Hawaii, you should know that there’s a more limited range of places to stay, but still plenty of variety. For a high end honeymoon, the Four Seasons on Lanai recently re-opened after a multi-million dollar renovation, so it’s practically brand spankin’ new.
If you’re looking for something less extravagant on Lanai, your best bet might be Airbnb or VRBO.
Is O’ahu The Best Hawaiian Island For First Time Visitors?
The island of Oahu is a fabulous choice for first time visitors to Hawaii, especially if you’re traveling with little ones. It’s also a great choice if you want a more urban feel to your trip, and if you want access to more nightlife during your time in Hawaii. If you’re looking for high-end shopping, Oahu is the place to be.
O’ahu is also the easiest Hawaiian to get to, as many international flights arrive in Honolulu before connecting to other islands. Even if you’re traveling from the US, you’re likely to be routed through Honolulu.
Where to Stay on O’ahu – My Top Picks
Should You Stay on More Than One Hawaiian Island During Your First Trip?
Can’t decide where to stay in Hawaii for your first visit? You could always explore two islands during your time in Hawaii, but I only recommend doing this if you have 10 days or more. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending at least a half a day traveling, and it’s time better spent with a mai tai!
And don’t forget – this might be your first visit to Hawaii, but hopefully it’s not your last. You’re likely to fall in love with these magical islands. I’m willing to bet that you’ll be back for another trip, so you can always plan to explore a different island the next time around!
There You Have it – How to Choose The Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Timers!
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