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What is the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii? (Full Planning Guide)

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Updated: February 1, 2024

Nestled in the heart of the Pacific Ocean is a chain of islands with idyllic weather, pristine beaches, and breathtaking natural beauty. You wish you had time to visit them all but your limited vacation time means you need to make some choices.

Which is the best island to visit in Hawaii?

This is going to sound cliche, but the best island to visit in Hawaii really depends on how you want to spend your time, how much time you have, and your vacation budget. The beauty of the islands is that they have something for everyone.

What We’ll Go Over

In this article, you will:

  • Imagine your perfect Hawaiian day so that you get a sense of how you want to spend your time when you visit Hawaii.
  • Find answers to frequently asked questions about visiting Hawaii which will help you prepare for your dream vacation.
  • Discover the unique features of each Hawaiian island to help you decide which is the best island to visit in Hawaii.
  • Note that we have a separate, dedicated article if it’s your first time to Hawaii.

Imagine Your Perfect Hawaiian Day

How Will You Spend Your Morning?

Close your eyes and imagine what a perfect day on a Hawaiian island would look like.

Will you start your morning jogging on a black sand beach or greet the sun with yoga by the ocean?

Do you enjoy the nutty sweetness of Kona coffee, a bowl of tropical fruit, and the relaxing sound of birdsong in an upcountry cafe? Or are you sipping freshly made pineapple juice from the balcony of your beachfront resort?

Maybe, you imagine your day starting with a hearty breakfast in Hilo, the birthplace of the loco moco, before spending the day exploring lava tubes or viewing an active volcano.

Or perhaps you are sipping your coffee from a thermos as you watch the orange glow of the sunrise from atop Haleakalā — a dormant volcano on Maui. You think about the adrenaline rush you will get when you speed down the side of the mountain on a bike.

Adventure or Relaxation in the Afternoon?

Do you see your afternoon spent poolside with the sunʻs warmth, a gentle breeze, and a good book as your only companions?

Are you on a stunning beach, a breeze cooling your sun-kissed skin as the rhythms of the ocean lull you into a state of bliss?

Or are you on the back 9 of the Manele Golf Course on Lanai, amazed that you are lucky enough to get a tee time at one of the best public courses in the world?

Do you feel the wind rush past your ears as you zipline through a tropical forest?

Maybe you imagine an afternoon snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island or swimming with dolphins on Oʻahu’s west side.

Is your afternoon spent browsing the shops in Waikiki or are you marveling at the Martian-like landscape of Lanai’s Garden of the Gods?

Are you high up on a trail in Volcanoes National Park or exploring sandy beaches on the Big Island?

In your imagination, are you cascading down the switchbacks of a steep sea cliff as you hike to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, stopping every few moments to take in the views?

Maybe you have taken a leisurely drive along the Road to Hana in Maui and are you on your way to the Seven Sacred Pools?

Are you spending hours at the Bishop Museum learning about ancient Polynesian wayfarers and then visiting sacred sites to see whispers of the past in petroglyphs and heiaus (temple sites)?

Are you exploring six Polynesian villages at the Polynesian Cultural Center and learning new things?

Or perhaps you visit Pearl Harbor, the national monument just outside of Honolulu. You imagine. the chaos and bravery displayed that day in 1941 during the devastating attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Are you diving deep into the unique culture of Hawaii? Is your afternoon spent learning a new skill: lei making, hula, or how to strum a ukulele?

Will you be touring a botanical garden and learning about tropical ecology or enthralled by the many bird species in Kōkeʻe State Park on Kauai?

Is your idea of fun to go on horseback as you savor the natural beauty of Kauai’s North Shore?

Or are you on a boat, gazing at the majestic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast? Or perhaps your view is from a helicopter as you gape at the breathtaking landscape of Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific?

Have you come to windsurf with the best of them at Ho’okipa on Mauiʻs north coast?

Are you celebrating your first ride after a morning of surfing lessons in the gentle waves at the famous Waikiki Beach? Or perhaps, you are a seasoned surfer and spent the afternoon getting acquainted with the power and majesty of Oahu’s North Shore?

A Sunset Cruise or Music on the Lanai?

Will your evening be spent feasting on kālua pig, poi, and laulau at the Aha’aina Luau? Are you enthralled with the graceful sway of hula dancers enacting stories of the feathered Gods?

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Did you travel to Hilo for the famous Merrie Monarch Festival to see the best hula dancers in the world compete?

Are you sitting with your sweetheart and watching the sunset from Azure, a world-class restaurant in Honolulu, or were you lucky enough to get a reservation at Mama’s Fish House on Maui and dine on fish caught that very day?

Maybe you are reveling at the expanse of the heavens as you stargaze near Mauna Kea and wonder at the ingenuity of the Polynesian wayfinders who followed the same stars thousands of years ago.

If it’s nightlife you love, do you see yourself bar hopping in one of the bigger cities, like Lahaina on Maui or Honolulu, Hawaii’s Capital City?

Perhaps you will take a romantic sunset cruise or be daring and swim with the Manta Rays at night?

Or what could be better than the lanai of the Moana Surfrider at dusk, a sweet cocktail in your hand, and the soothing sound of Hawaiian music as you gaze across the ocean thinking of nothing but the moment?

If You Can Imagine It, You Can Live It

Where did you see yourself?

Are you looking for the laid-back calm of Kauai, Molokai, or Lanai, or adventures on the Big Island? Is it the diversity, nightlife, and attractions of Maui and Oʻahu that sound attractive? Or a combination of experiences?

The best island to visit in Hawaii will be the one or two that make your dreams come true.

Imagine it, plan it, and then live it.

How Can You Discover the Best Hawaiian Island?

When trying to decide between Hawaiian islands, preparation is key.

Use this guide to determine which Hawaiian islands and specific destinations you want to visit. Amazing beaches, lush rainforests, and the caress of tropical sun are common to all Hawaiian islands, but anything is possible after that.

Whether you have a few days or weeks to explore our islands’ bounty and beauty, we want to help you make the most of your time.

Frequently Asked Questions When Planning a Trip to a Hawaiian Island

In this section, we will also answer four of the most frequent questions travelers to Hawaii ask.

How Many Hawaiian Islands Are There?

The answer to how many Hawaiian islands there are may surprise you.

There are 137 in the archipelago. Most, however, are uninhabitable atolls or islets made up of volcanic rocks peeking just above the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Frequent travelers to the islands who love to snorkel may be acquainted with one atoll: Molokini. The crescent-shaped formation off the coast of Maui is renowned for its spectacular snorkeling.

But if you are less familiar, you should know that there are 8 main islands, sometimes referred to by their nicknames.

  1. Niihau (The Forbidden Isle)
  2. Kauai (The Garden Isle)
  3. Oahu (The Gathering Place)
  4. Molokai (The Friendly Isle)
  5. Lānai (The Pineapple Isle)
  6. Kahoolawe (the Target Isle)
  7. Maui (The Valley Isle)
  8. Hawaii (The Big Island)

You will find the most attractions, accommodations, and tourist infrastructure on the four major islands of Oʻahu, Maui, Big Island, and Kauai.

If you looking for a little bit more of a small town and peaceful atmosphere, Lanai or Molokai might be a good Hawaiian island to visit.

The other Hawaiian islands, Niihau and Kahoolawe, are off-limits to the general public. 

Lower in the article, we will dig deeper into what unique experiences each island can offer you. So keep reading!

Which is the Best Airport to Land in Hawaii?

There are five international airports in Hawaii on each of the major islands with the most tourist infrastructure.

  • Honolulu, Oʻahu (HNL)
  • Kahului, Maui (OGG)
  • Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (the Big Island) (KOA)
  • Hilo, Hawaii (the Big Island) (ITO)
  • Lihue, Kauai (LIH)

You may want to choose the best fare and then “island hop” to your final destination if the difference is worth it. Flights between islands can be under $100 and take no more than 30 minutes to an hour.

How Many Days Do You Need to Visit Hawaii?

Which island or islands you spend your time on will also depend on how much time you have to spend.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Board, the average visit to the Hawaiian islands is roughly 10 days. That is about five days per island in Hawaii, giving you time to adequately explore two islands.

Remember to account for any jet lag you may experience when you arrive as you adjust to Hawaii’s time zone.

What is Hawaii’s Weather Like?

Tradewinds ensure comfortable weather year-round.

Summer temperatures (May to October) average around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In winter (November to April) the average is 78 degrees.

Micro-climates, however, are a hallmark of the islands. Near the ocean (makai), you may be comfortably clad in beach wear, but go up-country or to a volcanic summit (mauka) and you might want a light jacket and jeans.

Rain is more frequent the more you go northwest in the archipelago (towards Kauai).

Windward sides of the islands tend to also be wetter, which is why most hotels and resorts are often located on the leeward sides of the islands. However, rain rarely will disrupt your vacation and moves through quickly.

Island by Island Guide to Hawaii

O’ahu: The Gathering Place

If O’ahu is at the top of your list for the best Hawaiian island to visit, you are in the majority. According to statistics gathered by the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, the island is the most visited Hawaiian island—and for good reason.

O’ahu has a diversity of cultural attractions, natural beauty, activities, and quality accommodations to satisfy anyone looking for a Hawaiian island that has it all.

The Best Hawaii Island

In our opinion, O’ahu is without a doubt the best Hawaii Island to visit. Other islands come close, but with attractions like Pearl Harbor, the Bishop Museum, and the famous Waikiki Beach to name a few, O’ahu has something for everyone.

It is hard to beat as the top island to visit. With some of the best beaches and so much to do that you will probably only skim the surface on your first visit.

Ease of Getting Around: Ride the Skyline

Most of the major hotels and resorts have shuttle services to and from the airport and to many of the local cultural attractions.

Public transportation serves the entire island and is both easy and affordable. With a Holo card, it is easy to get around by bus or the newest feature: the metro system called the Skyline.

Highlights and Features of O’ahu at a Glance

  • Waikiki Beach: A world-famous beach known for its gentle waves, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant atmosphere.
  • Pearl Harbor: Home to historic sites like the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri—iconic pieces of World War II history.
  • Diamond Head: A volcanic crater that provides panoramic views of Honolulu and the coastline.
  • North Shore: Renowned for its massive winter waves, the North Shore is a surfing paradise where you can watch international surfing competitions.
  • Polynesian Cultural Center: A living museum that showcases the diverse cultures of Polynesia through interactive exhibits and live performances.

Waikiki: A Mecca, Past and Present

Honolulu, the island’s capital city, is the heart of O’ahu—the most populated island in the Hawaiian island chain. The bustling city has long been a mecca for travelers who love a vibrant nightlife, fine dining, and shopping all situated next to one of the most famous beaches in the world.

If you like nostalgia, there is no place like Waikiki Beach to bring back visions of a bygone past, full of glamour, elegance, and carefree indulgence.

When you close your eyes you can see Hollywood stars like Shirley Temple or Charlie Chaplin visiting the newly opened Royal Hawaiian in the 1930s. There is Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing, riding a wave as hundreds watch in awe.

Waikiki Beach is still veiled in that elegance of the past. You might not be able to see the legendary Ambassador of Aloha ride a longboard but you can stop by Duke’s bar on the beach — or better yet, take a few surf lessons and learn to ride a longboard yourself.

Just 10 miles east of Honolulu is one of the most famous snorkeling spots in all the islands: Hanauma Bay, with its beautiful coral reefs and diverse marine life. If you are planning on taking a dip in Hanauma Bay, make sure you are wearing reef-safe sunscreen.

Reef-safe sunscreen is not just required at Hanauma Bay but on all the Hawaiian islands.

Step into History at Pearl Harbor

About a 25-minute drive from Honolulu is one of America’s most sacred monuments: Pearl Harbor National Memorial—one of the most visited tourist destinations in Hawaii.

The USS Arizona Memorial is the resting place of 1,102 servicemen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941, sparking U.S. involvement in World War II.

You will need to make a reservation online with the National Park Service in order to visit the Pearl Harbor memorial to the fallen soldiers. There is an onsite exhibit and theater where visitors can learn more about the attack and America’s role in the war.

Also at Pearl Harbor, but not managed by the National Park Service, are the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Visit their websites to see ticket prices and special exhibits.

Hiking Diamond Head

Hiking up to the summit of Diamond Head’s saucer-shaped crater is on many visitors’ to-do lists. The hiking trail is less than a mile but requires traversing a set of steep switchbacks.

The view of Waikiki at the top will be well worth your effort. In the winter months, you may even be able to see humpback whales.

Entry tickets to the park are required and can be obtained at the park’s website.

The North Shore

About 45 minutes from Honolulu, is the famous North Shore, known as one of the best surfing spots in the world.

Waves can rise up to 20 feet high in the world-famous Banzai Pipeline off Waimea Bay during the winter months. If you visit in December, you may be able to catch the worldʻs best surfers riding the waves in the famous Pipeline Masters competition.

Journey Through the Polynesian Past

The Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore is a unique experience.

Spend the day visiting six villages from Polynesia’s past: Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga. Interactive experiences, boat rides, and performances give visitors a rich experience of Polynesia’s heritage.

Maui: The Valley Isle

When you are on the island of Maui, you will see and hear the phrase: Maui no ka oi (Maui is the best). Many visitors agree because statistics show that Maui is the second most visited Hawaiian island.

Cut through with a lush valley, Maui has a diversity of landscapes from tropical forests to miles of beautiful beaches. Maui’s north shore is a windsurfers paradise and the clear water off the west coast makes Maui the perfect snorkeling destination.

Many of the most popular hotels and resorts are located in south Maui in the Wailea and Kihei areas. To take advantage of all the island has to offer, you will likely want to rent a car.

A Whale-Watching Mecca

If whale watching is on your bucket list, then Maui is the best island to visit in Hawaii for you.

During peak season (Jan through March), you are likely to see the giant animals of the south coast. Whales travel from Alaska to the warm waters of the Auau Channel to mate, give birth, and nurse their young.

Whale-watching tours will give you the most up-close view of whales, but the Maui Nui Basin on the south shore provides the best whale watching from the land. Be sure and take a pair of binoculars.

Highlights and Features of Maui at a Glance

  • Haleakalā National Park: Features the Haleakalā volcano, where visitors can witness breathtaking sunrises and explore unique landscapes.
  • Road to Hana: A scenic drive with lush rainforests, waterfalls, and picturesque viewpoints along the rugged coastline.
  • Lahaina: A historic whaling town with charming streets lined with art galleries, shops, and restaurants, known for its lively atmosphere.
  • Kaanapali Beach: A popular beach destination in west Maui with pristine sands, clear waters, and stunning sunsets.
  • Molokini Crater: A marine and bird sanctuary, the clear waters and marine diversity make it a snorkeling and diving hotspot.

Visit the House of the Sun

The defining feature of Maui is a Haleakalā (House of the Sun), a massive shield volcano in south Maui.

According to legend, the dormant volcano was home to the demi-god Maui’s grandmother who helped him capture the sun.

There is probably no more sublime way to greet the day than to watch the sunrise from the summit of the crater.

Spend the day at Haleakalā National Park and hike through the crater exploring local flora and fauna. Or if you are a daredevil, brave the switchbacks of the 6,500 ft descent by bicycle.

The Ultimate Scenic Drive to Hana

If slowing down and lush tropical scenery are on your itinerary, the Road to Hana is a popular attraction.

Meander by car along the eastern side of Maui, stopping at waterfalls, and pristine beaches. Traveling the rustic road to the laid-back town of Hana helps travelers slow down and take in the beauty of the island.

A Whaling Past: Lahaina Town

A historic whaling town, Lahaina in west Maui is a hub of activity. With a vibrant nightlife and plenty of shops and art galleries, the koholā (whale) is still important. Most whale-watching tours leave from Lahaina.

Visitors can also walk through historic Lahaina and visit the Baldwin House to learn about Hawaii’s missionary history. But if you are in town, you won’t want to miss the largest banyan tree in the U.S.!

A Beach for Royalty

Just north of Lahaina town is one of the best beaches on Maui.

Ka’anapali Beach, once a retreat for Maui’s royalty, has over 3 miles of stunning beaches and some of the clearest ocean water in the Hawaiian islands.

With many beach resorts, the area is known for cliff diving off Black Rock.

Molokini Snorkeling

Take a boat out to the tiny crater of Molokini for a day of snorkeling and you will likely see the Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) and spinner dolphins in addition to a variety of colorful tropical fish.

If you are dreaming of an underwater paradise, then Molokini should be on your bucket list

Hawaii Island: The Big Island

Hawaii Island is the newest in the island chain and it is also the biggest. In fact, it is bigger than all the other major islands combined.

It is also the only island that has snow-capped mountains in the winter.

Two huge volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, make up most of the island and tower so high that they create a rain shadow, ensuring the west side of the island always has perfect weather to relax on the miles and miles of beautiful beaches along the Kona coastline.

Highlights and Features of The Big Island at a Glance

  • Volcanoes National Park: Home to active volcanoes, lava landscapes, exhilarating hiking, and the famous Kilauea volcano.
  • Hilo: A charming town known for its rainforests, botanical gardens, waterfalls, and the annual Merrie Monarch Festival celebrating hula.
  • Kona Coast: Famous for its sunny weather, coffee plantations, and opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing.
  • Waipio Valley: A scenic valley known for its steep cliffs, black sand beaches, waterfalls, and lush green landscape.

See a Volcano Up Close

If you love volcanos, then the Big Island is the best island to visit in Hawaii.

Spend a day or two exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and witness the island growing. You may be able to see an active volcano in action and view Kīlauea’s lava flow from one of the overlooks.

The park has some of the most extensive systems of hiking trails you will find in Hawaii.

Go camping backcountry or choose from one of the day hikes suitable for all abilities.

A Typical Hawaiian Town

Most of the Big Island residents live in Hilo on the east side of the island. Hilo is also closer to the entrance of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

In addition to being a thriving urban city with restaurants and theaters, Hilo is surrounded by lush gardens and waterfalls as it is on the wetter side of the island.

A visit to Rainbow Falls or a walk through the gorgeous Liliuokalani Gardens—the largest authentic ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan— are both highly recommended activities.

The Dry Side of the Island

The Kona (leeward) Coast of the Big Island is known for its onolicious coffee, idyllic weather, and the many beach resorts that dot the coastline.

This side of the island, best accessed by the Kona International Airport, has the most tourist infrastructure with many excursions, activities, and miles of beautiful beaches.

If you enjoy hiking, the Big Island will not disappoint.

Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park has five coastal hiking trails. If you have the proper gear, you could spend your entire vacation exploring the island through its vast network of hiking trails.

Black Sand Beach Paradise

The Big Island is famous for its black sand beaches.

The black sand beaches are formed when lava flows from the volcanoes reach the ocean, and as the hot lava cools rapidly upon contact with the water, it shatters and forms tiny fragments of black volcanic glass.

The Waipio Valley (Valley of the Kings) is on the northeast coast and its famous black sand beach is worth the effort of the visit.

Before going, check for any road closures. Your concierge can help you book a shuttle or horseback tour to reach the valley floor and the beach.

Kauai: The Garden Isle

People who love quiet, nature, and lush green landscapes go back to Kauai year after year for their holiday retreats.

If yoga on the beach and then a walk through a botanical garden sounds good to you, Kauai may be the best Hawaiian island for you.

Kaui is also historically the second inhabited island in the chain. For archeology lovers looking to learn more about the Polynesian past, Kaui is a great island to visit.

Head to the Kihahouna Heiau, just one of the many stops on the Kōloa Heritage Trail, a 10-mile self-guided tour on the south shore.

Highlights and Features of Kauai at a Glance

  • Na Pali Coast: Spectacular coastline with towering cliffs, lush valleys, sea caves, and beautiful hiking trails.
  • Waimea Canyon: A spectacular landscape also called, “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” that offers hiking trails, unbelievable views, and a scenic drive.
  • Poipu Beach: On the south shore offers clear waters for swimming, snorkeling, and spotting the famous green sea turtles.
  • Hanalei Bay: Surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, it is one of the most photographed spots on the north shore of Kaui.
  • Wailua River and Fern Grotto: A scenic river where visitors can take boat tours, kayak, or hike to the picturesque Fern Grotto.

Awe-Inspiring Cliffs

The Na Pali Coast is a special place. Located on the northwest side of the island, the pali (cliffs) are both steep and stunning.

A favorite way to view the coastline and take in the immensity of the pali is by helicopter or a boat tour. Or for the very adventurous and fit, visit the valley floor via the Kalalau Trail, just know that it is 22 miles round trip!

Breathtaking Canyon Views

With stunning views and scenic drives, Waimea Canyon, located on the southwestern side of Kaui, is a favorite for Hawaii visitors. The 14-mile geological wonder leads to outlooks where you can take in the fullness of Kaui’s interior.

Visiting the park by car gives you the most flexibility to explore the canyon but make sure and check the weather before you go. Clouds and rain can obstruct the amazing views.

Alternate options to visit are shuttles and tours, or a book a helicopter out of Lihue or Princeville.

A Family-Favorite Beach

Known for its clear and calm waters, Poipu Beach is a favorite stop for Kauai vacationers.

Located on the drier south shore of Kaui, Poipu is great for lounging on the beach, snorkeling, or learning to ride the waves from one of the surf schools in the area.

There are many coastal walks in the area. A short walk will lead you to Sprouting Horn blowhole—a lava tube that shoots water in the air when hit by the waves.

One of the Most Photographed Beaches in the World

Located on the north shore of Kauai is one of the most photographed bays on the islands.

The crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay is surrounded by lush landscapes. Take your camera with you as you take a stroll on the historic Hanalei Pier for that perfect shot of the bay.

After a day of kayaking or paddling boarding and taking in the enchanting landscape, visit the charming town of Hanalei for a taste of Hawaii at one of many restaurants.

Spend a Day on the River

If leisurely floating past waterfalls and a verdant jungle landscape is not enough, a boat tour along the Wailua River takes you to a place of enchantment you will hardly believe is real.

The Fern Grotto is a natural lava-rock cave dramatically draped by fern greenery and is a signature attraction on Kauai.

A natural amphitheater, you will often view the mesmerizing landscape while local musicians set the mood with the sweet, lyrical rhythms of Hawaiian music.

Lanai: The Pineapple Island

Once full of pineapple plantations, Lanai is now famous for its luxurious resorts.

If you are looking for a healthy retreat or pure indulgence, Lanai is the best Hawaiian island for your dream holiday.

It’s hard not to find awe-inspiring landscapes and beaches on whichever island you visit, and Lanai is no exception. There are some unique nooks and crannies on Pineapple Island that make exploring a special experience you won’t forget.

Highlights and Features of Lanai at a Glance

  • Hulopoe Bay: A picturesque bay known for its crystal-blue waters, white sand beach, and excellent snorkeling. It’s a popular spot for observing marine life, including spinner dolphins.
  • Garden of the Gods: Also known as Keahiakawelo, this otherworldly landscape features unique rock formations and vibrant red, brown, and purple hues, creating an ethereal atmosphere.
  • Munro Trail: A scenic driving and hiking trail that traverses the highlands of Lanai, offering panoramic views of the island, including Molokai and Maui.
  • Polihua Beach: A remote and secluded beach with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, often frequented by nesting sea turtles.

America’s Best Beach

Once named America’s best beach, Hulopoʻe Bay on the southern coast of Lanai is a beachcombers paradise with its large tidal pools. Explorers marvel at the mini-worlds of sea stars, hermit crabs, and ʻopihi (limpet) that fill the pools.

Turn your attention to the bay and you will likely see spinner dolphins frolicking in the strikingly clear waters. In the winter months, Hulopoʻe is an excellent vantage point to watch the passing humpback whales.

The Garden of the Gods

Notable as an exotic backdrop for scenes in films like Jurrasic Park, Keahiakawelo’s otherworldly landscape leaves visitors feeling like they have stepped into an alien world. Stepping into the orange-hued barren terrain evokes a sense of wonder.

It is not easy to reach the bolder strewn lunar-like landscape at the end of Polihua Road unless you rent a four-wheel drive or mountain bike— but it is worth the trek, especially if you are a fan of Hawaiian myths. The story goes that the landscape is a result of a fire-burning contest between a priest (kahuna) of Lanai and one on Molokai. After burning everything in sight, the Lanai kahuna won the reward of abundance.

Hiking Lanai

If you love hiking, there is a network of trails for all abilities on the island of Lanai. Download the hiking free hiking app created by the local culture and heritage center, which includes historical details as well as details on where the island’s trails.

From Shipwreck Beach, just northwest of the Garden of the Gods is a half-mile trail that leads to 20 ancient stone carvings. Pōāiwa petroglyphs include images of animals and people that date back to the island’s earliest inhabitants.

Bike or hike the Munro Trail, located near Lānaʻi City. The one-lane dirt road goes through a rainforest and includes spectacular views. You can see six of the main Hawaiian islands on a clear day.

A Secluded Beach

If a secluded beach is what you are looking for, then Polihua Beach is your destination. Located on the north coast, you will need a 4-wheel drive to get there but it will be worth it. You can often see honu (green sea turtles) along the stretch of the two-mile beach.

Molokai: The Friendly Isle

Although it is one of the main islands, visitors to Molokai are often looking for a relaxing getaway.

Molokai lacks some of the heavily developed tourist infrastructure you see on many of the other Hawaiian islands. In fact, you really feel like you are visiting someone’s home, as the entire island feels like a small town.

The island gets its nickname from the welcoming community spirit conveyed by locals—the aloha spirit in full force.

Kaunakakai is the main town on the east side of the island where you will find essential services, like grocery stores and restaurants.

Highlights and Features of Molokai at a Glance

  • Kalaupapa National Historical Park: Once a place of isolation for individuals with leprosy (Hansen’s disease) but now a refuge, the park has great historical significance in Hawaii.
  • Papohaku Beach: One of the largest beaches in Hawaii, Papohaku’s golden sands invite inner reflection and solitude.
  • Halawa Valley: One of the island’s most historic areas, ancient cultural sites, and towering waterfalls dot the landscape.

Molokai and the History of Leprosy

Molokai may be best known for its role as a natural prison in the history of Hanson’s disease (leprosy).

Beginning in 1855, the remote peninsula, hemmed in by steep cliffs, quarantined anyone experiencing symptoms of disfiguring disease. People were dumped there and left to die until Father Damien, a beloved priest who later died himself from the affliction, brought order and compassion to the colony.

Today, Kaluapapa is a refuge for the few remaining residents who were forced to live there.

The only way to visit is by a guided tour and those are limited, so book way ahead if you want to visit.

If you do book a mule or hiking tour, be aware that the route is a very steep and challenging trail down from the east side of the island.

The Three-Mile Beach

On the west side of the island is Papohaku Beach, a favorite of beachcombers.

With 3 miles of sand and being relatively uncrowded, this might be one of the best beaches for a long sunset stroll with your loved one.

In the winter months when the whales are migrating, Papohaku is an excellent vantage point to watch humpbacks.

Cultural Tours of Polynesia’s Past

Take a guided hike into Halawa Valley on Molokai’s east end and in addition to being awe-struck by the verdant beauty of the landscape, you will learn about Hawaii’s past.

Along the trail, your guide will help you see the many heiau (temple) sites as you make your way to the double-tiered 250-foot Moʻoula Falls.

An Unforgettable Experience

No matter which island you visit in Hawaii, you will have an unforgettable experience. Each one has something unique and beautiful to offer.

If you can imagine it, you can live it. So decide the best island to visit in Hawaii for you and start planning today!