Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Time: Travel Guide

ocean, palm trees and mountains from hawaii

Key Highlights

orange sunset above the ocean in hawaii
  1. Hawaii has six main islands all in a nearby vicinity while each providing their own atmosphere and attractions.
  2. Oahu is the most popular island amongst travelers, offering a mix of big city vibes, beautiful beaches and historic landmarks.
  3. Maui is known for its romantic atmosphere, scenic drives, and luxurious resorts.
  4. The Big Island is perfect for adventure seekers with its active volcanoes, diverse landscapes, and natural wonders.
  5. Kauai is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts with its lush landscapes, hiking trails, and stunning coastline.
  6. Lana’i is the smallest of the main islands and offers a secluded and luxurious retreat.
  7. Moloka’i provides an undisturbed taste of old Hawaii with its rich native culture and untouched landscapes.


island in hawaii with hotels lining the ocean

Hawaii, with its group of islands and stunning natural beauty, is considered one of the most amazing vacation destinations for many travelers. However, for first-time visitors, deciding which island to visit can be difficult and overwhelming. Each island in Hawaii offers a unique experience, with its own set of attractions and activities. From the active city life of Oahu to the romantic and peaceful beaches of Maui, there is something for everyone in this tropical paradise. Our new travel blog will serve as a guide to help all first-time visitors navigate the islands of Hawaii while also being able to find the ultimate island that suits their preferences and interests. No matter if you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation, an adventurous outdoor experience, or a cultural immersion, we have you covered!

Deciding on the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Time Travelers

hawaiian fire dancers at night time

The choice of which island to visit for the first time in Hawaii can be overwhelming. With six major islands each with their own unique offerings, it is important to think about your preferences and interests. Maybe you want to see active volcanoes? Or maybe you are thinking of visiting national parks? Relaxing on beautiful beaches, maybe? It’s also important to consider some practical matters such as means of transport and accessibility. It’s highly suggested that visitors should hire cars for the purposeful exploration of islands. This blog will provide an overview of the unique attractions on every island in order to help you make your first trip to Hawaii.

Key Factors to Consider

volcano erupting in hawaii

When deciding on the best island to visit in Hawaii for the first time, there are several key factors to consider. If you want a taste of what it feels like standing next to an active volcano, then Big Island might just be the place for you. The chance that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers is exceptional if you want a demonstration from mother nature. Another factor is how best one can get involved in Hawaiian culture. Each island has its cultural centers and historical sites where one can learn about their rich traditions. Besides, many first-time travelers prefer hopping between different islands so as not miss out on any diverse landscape or attraction. For water sports enthusiasts, snorkeling, surfing and many other activities are possible throughout all regions. Of course, these elements have to be considered while choosing the most suitable place for your initial arrival at Hawaii.

Overview of Hawaii Islands

hawaii rainbow falls wailuku river state

Hawaii’s diverse islands offer unique experiences:

  1. Oahu: Stunning beaches and historic sites in Honolulu.
  2. Maui: Lush rainforests, waterfalls on the Road to Hana, and Haleakalā crater.
  3. Kauai: Napali Coast cliffs, Waimea Canyon, and serene beaches.
  4. Big Island: Active volcanoes, black sand beaches, and Mauna Kea’s snow-capped mountains.
  5. Lanai: Exclusive resorts, off-road adventures at Garden of the Gods, and snorkeling at Hulopoe Bay.
  6. Molokai: Untouched landscapes, fish ponds at Kaunakakai, and sea cliffs at Kalaupapa Peninsula.

Oahu: Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the First Time

view of ocean on oahu island

Oahu also known as “the gathering place” by native Hawaiians is usually described as the most attractive destination among all Hawaiian Islands for those traveling here for the very first time. Oahu is It combines metropolitan atmosphere with scenic beaches and historic sites. Oahu has stunning sights as Diamond Head which is actually known as a famous volcanic crater around the world. This Volcanic crater offers travelers breathtaking panoramic views of the island making it a perfect attraction for first time visitors. Another must-see location is Iolani Palace, historically significant because it was a seat of power for Hawaiian monarchs and Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Also, while on Oahu you can’t leave the island without a visit to the world known Waikiki beach. Overall, if you’re looking for a Hawaiian adventure that blends cityscapes with stunning natural beauty and rich history, Oahu is the perfect “gathering place” to start your island exploration.

Why Oahu Stands Out for First-Time Visitors

hanauma bay at sunset on oahu

Oahu contains the most diverse range of attractions and activities suitable for first-time visitors. At the top of this list is Hanauma Bay, renowned as a marine life conservation area with excellent snorkeling opportunities. Another essential place to see in relation to World War II history is Pearl Harbor National Memorial where people can learn more about it as well as honor those who died in that terrible event. In addition, Oahu has many beaches where one can observe sea turtles in their natural environment. The Southern Coastline of Oahu is memorable for its beautiful sandy beaches with calm seas ideal for swimming and sunbathing.

Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for the First Time With Family

mom, dad and son facing the sunset on the beach in hawaii

When you visit Hawaii for the first time with your family, Oahu is the best island to go. It provides a variety of activities and attractions suitable for families, especially those with young kids. Polynesian Cultural Center lets visitors learn about cultures of Hawaii and other Pacific Islands through interactive exhibits, traditional performances, and hands-on activities that immerse them in their indigenous ways of life. Waikiki Beach is the most popular beach among families because it has calm water that is shallow enough to swim and play. Also the Aulani Disney Resort is situated on the coast of Oahu making a perfect escape from the tourist Waikiki beach but also being close enough to venture off the resort. There are multiple attractions and activities on Oahu for families traveling with children, making it the ideal island to travel to.

Big Island Adventures

view of mountain and ocean on the big island in hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii stands out among all! Guest are greeted by the natural wonders with two active volcanoes Mauna Loa and Kilauea make this place a unique spot for volcano enthusiasts. You’ll get an opportunity to experience how these active mountains erupt at the park known as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. What distinguishes The Big Island from others are the diverse landscapes ranging from black sand beaches through lush rainforests up until snow-capped mountains. Measuring Mauna Kea from its base on the seafloor makes it world’s highest mountain where people can stargaze or even ski during winter.

Big Island: Best Hawaiian Island to Visit

rainforest and mountains on the big island in hawaii

When you’re visiting the Big Island in Hawaii for the first time, there are few hints that could help you navigate through the largest island for first timers. First off, it should be known that the Big Island is larger than any of the other Hawaiian Islands. This being said, having a rental car will be extremely worthwhile in terms of exploring all the the various volcanos, vistas and valleys. Between Volcanos National Park and the black sand beaches there are countless activities that are worth driving to. Consider these recommendations when visiting and get ready for an unforgettable experience on Big Island.

Maui: Best Island to Visit in Hawaii

haleakala national park during sunset in maui

Maui, commonly known as the “Valley Isle”, is often rated as the top island to be visited in Hawaii for those travelers looking for a more relaxing atmosphere. It’s a perfect place for a romantic retreat or just to relax at the beach. Inside Haleakala National Park in Maui, visitors can witness an awe-inspiring sunrise from the summit of Haleakala volcano. On Maui waterfall hikes like Road to Hana are among other things that take you through lush landscapes and natural wonders there. Additionally, the island is famous for its abundant marine life. Snorkeling and scuba diving are some of the most popular water activities found on Maui. Overall, the island is known as a relaxing retreat but there are a few activities for those adventurous travelers.

The Best of Both Worlds: Beaches and Mountains

beach at sunset in maui

Maui has the best of both worlds, with its stunning mountains and beautiful beaches. On the east coast, tourists can explore Hana Highway; a scenic road that passes through lush rainforests, hidden waterfalls and stunning coastal views. On the western side of the island, Maui houses Wailea and Kaanapali beaches which are popular for sunbathing on pristine sandy shores with clear turquoise waters for swimming. Maui has been designed to cater for everybody from beach bums to nature lovers.

overview of hana highway in maui

Activities and Accommodations for Every Traveler

aerial view of golf course in maui

Maui offers a variety of activities and accommodations to suit every traveler’s preferences. Golf enthusiasts can play at top-notch courses such as Kapalua’s Plantation Course. Along the coastline, visitors can choose from luxury resorts or boutique hotels offering exceptional amenities and stunning views, such as Poipu Beach. Along with the fine dining offered around the island, shopping is another popular activity for travelers. The central location of the island allows for easy exploration of other areas, including the Road to Hana and the picturesque summit drive at Haleakala National Park. Whether seeking relaxation or adventure, Maui caters to all types of visitors.

Kauai: Paradise for Outdoor Enthusiasts

limahuli garden in kauai

Kauai, also referred to as the “Garden Isle,” is a fantastic place for people who love outdoor activities. With its stunning and beautiful coastline, luscious landscapes and various ecosystems present, it’s a place that one cannot miss to visit. The Allerton and Limahuli Garden are among the many breathtakingly botanical gardens surrounding the island. These gardens are where tourists are able to immerse themselves in the beautiful plant life Hawaii has to offer. You will see gorgeous towering cliffs and crystal clear water of the ocean while hiking along the famous Napali coast through Kalalau Trail which is challenging but worth it. The North Shore of Kauai has some of the most picturesque beaches including Hanalei Bay where you can engage in swimming, snorkeling or surfing too. It is an ultimate vacation spot for nature lovers or those who seek for thrilling experiences.

Kauai’s Lush Landscapes and Hidden Gems

two people hiking at waimea canyon

The hidden gems and lush landscapes in Kauai offer a unique and unforgettable experience to any visitor. Hanalei Bay, an iconic destination loved by many beach goers is embraced by a crescent shaped shoreline located against a backdrop of awe-inspiring mountains. Horse riding enables visitors to explore scenic beauty of Kauai’s landscape and shoreline as well because it is quite popular on this island. Do not leave without seeing Na Pali coast with its tall cliffs, remote beaches and astonishing trails for trekking along it. Waimea Canyon, also known as “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” offers a glimpse into some of nature’s splendor on the island itself. This unspoiled wonderland with its secret hideaways makes Kauai one true heaven for fans of open-air activities as well as animal enthusiasts.

Recommendations for First-Time Visitors

two people snorkeling with fish is crystal clear waters

If you are visiting Kauai for the first time, here are a few suggestions on how to make your trip more memorable. The North Shore of the Island has small waves that are good for swimming and snorkeling. You’ll also want to spend some time in the quaint towns of Hanalei and Kapa’a which have exclusive shops, restaurants that serve local dishes, and reflect the laid back nature of Hawaii. Don’t forget about Kauai’s natural wonders such as its tropical rainforests filled with greenery, cascades and secret beaches. However, if you want to watch beautiful sunsets and avoid crowds go westwards along the coast. Kauai is extremely beautiful and calm making it a for newbies.

Family-Friendly Hawaii: Choosing the Right Island

mom and daughter jumping off paddle board in hawaii

If you plan on traveling to Hawaii with family, you must choose what island has the most to offer for your children. In our opinion Oahu is one of the best islands for those traveling with kids. There are numerous kid-friendly activities available like the Waikiki Aquarium and Honolulu Zoo. Maui has many attraction that are catered towards families. To name a few, Maui Ocean Center and Maui Tropical Plantation are two of the most popular attractions. Kauai has calm and safe beaches like Poipu Beach which makes it a popular destination for families but, there isn’t much more to offer. Overall, there are various islands that cater more to families than others but no matter which you choose you’ll be able to find attractions centered around kids.

dolphin show at 
 waikiki aquarium

Activities for Families with Children

family surfing in hawaii

Hawaii offers an array of family activities. They have beach parks with calm waters on many islands that are perfect for families to go swimming and picnicking. Additionally, there are also water parks as well as interactive museums designed for kids. The whole family can engage in snorkeling together and have a close face-to-face interaction with multicolored fish and other aquatic creatures. Zoos and aquariums offer one the chance to meet exotic animals while learning about conservation efforts. Whether it is sand castle building on the beach, deep sea exploration or experiencing the marvels of nature, Hawaii provides plentiful opportunities for families to create everlasting memories.

Solo Travel in Hawaii

solo traveler hiking in hawaii

Solo travel in Hawaii is worthwhile in all aspects. Each island has a wide variety of independent activities and sights to choose from. From taking a day trip and exploring amazing landscapes to visiting historical sites or just simply relaxing at beautiful beaches there are plenty of spots for solo travelers. When planning your own vacation itinerary you truly get immersed into the beauty and culture of Hawaii through self-guided tour experiences. Hawaii is very popular for solo travelers and there’s no doubt you’ll run into others during your trip.

Tips for Safe Solo Adventures

backpacker next to lava from volcanos in hawaii

When going on solo trips in Hawaii safety must come first but also make sure you have fun throughout your journey. For backpackers ensure that you do some research beforehand planning routes and let someone know about your timeline too! Self-guided tours allow you free reign to explore anything and everything on your own but safety should always be in the back of your mind. Traveler’s precautions like being vigilant within your environment, avoiding unfamiliar areas at night and keeping your personal items safe should be a main focus while traveling solo. While Hawaii is generally safe, it’s always good to exercise caution and consider your personal safety while there.


honolulu hawaii

Selecting the ideal Hawaiian island to visit for the first time can be challenge, but our guide is here to help you make the right decision for your best vacation yet. Deciding on which of the six stunning islands in Hawaii to explore can make or break your vacation. Whether you want to go for the vibrant city life of Oahu, the natural wonders of Big Island, the blend of beaches and mountains in Maui, or the lush landscapes of Kauai, each island offers unique experiences for visitors. Factors such as activities, accommodations, and overall ambience should also be taken into consideration when deciding. Along with that, Hawaii caters to families, solo travelers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike, ensuring a special experience for everyone. Thoughtful trip planning that aligns with your travel preferences can result in creating an unforgettable Hawaiian vacation.

Frequently Asked Questions

beach and mountains in hawaii with faq in top left corner

Which Hawaiian island is best for first-time visitors?

view of ocean on oahu island

The best Hawaiian island for first-time visitors depends on their preferences. Oahu is a popular choice due to its buzzing nature and iconic tourist attractions (also the top tourist island). The other islands are catered to those who prefer a more relaxed trip while also being surrounded by beautiful nature. Kauai and Maui along with the Big Island are home to stunning volcanos and plants making them a perfect choice for a less touristy vacation. On the other hand, for first timers to Hawaii, island hopping is strongly recommended. This allows travelers to visit multiple of the islands and see how each of them offer something a little different from the rest.

What’s the best island in Hawaii to visit for first-timers?

overview of hana highway in maui

For first-time visitors to Hawaii, Maui is often recommended for its diverse attractions, including stunning beaches, the scenic Road to Hana, Haleakalā National Park, and whale watching opportunities in season. Maui strikes a balance between relaxation and adventure for a memorable island experience.

area view of nashville at nightime and the view of downtown

Besides Hawaii, the USA boasts a wealth of travel experiences! Dive into the rich history of Washington D.C., experience the musical magic of Nashville, or wander the charming streets of Charleston. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – from bustling metropolises like New York and Los Angeles to theme park havens like Orlando, there’s always a new adventure waiting for you across the country.

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