Since I grew up in Hawaii and now live on the mainland, people often ask me this question when planning a trip there. Which island should they visit? What should they do? Hopefully, the individual reviews will answer many questions and help people decide for themselves. There’s also a slideshow on the bottom of each review that should give you an idea of what each island looks like . Since population can give you an idea of the density of an area, I’ve included population numbers from the 2010 census.
Most people are limited by their work schedules to a one or two-week vacation. It is human nature to want to see everything, but is it wise to try to cram all four islands into one vacation trip? My answer is a resounding NO. It is much wiser to pick one or at most two islands, and explore them thoroughly, than to try to see bits of all four. Unless you’re on a cruise, the only transportation between islands is a short inter-island flight, which means you must return to the airport and go through security each time. You would also need to return and rent another rental car on each island, find new lodging, and repack and unpack too. You would lose most of a day to travel each time you did that. That sounds more like work to me than a vacation!
In any case, here are my summaries of what makes each Hawaiian island unique. I hope they will be of help to you in planning your trip.
The Big Island (population 185,079)
Vast open spaces, lots of driving distance between sights and beaches, uncrowded, known for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has an active volcano, and black and green sand beaches. There are some beautiful resorts in the Waikoloa area on the northwest side of the island. Parts of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were filmed in the jungle areas near Hilo.
Maui (population 154,834)
Multiple good snorkeling sites on the western side; beaches aren’t that far apart. Known for Haleakala National Park, and the very tropical and winding road to Hana. There are some beautiful resorts in the northwest part of the island around Kapalua, and in the southwest part of the island around Wailea.
Oahu (population 953,207)
This is a big city on an island, with all the pros and cons of a big city: heavy traffic, but lots of great restaurants and shopping, with the best prices of all the islands. Known for the big surf on the North shore in the winter, and Waikiki with its view of the recognizable Diamond Head landmark. Hawaii Five-O is filmed here, as was Lost and Magnum P.I.
Kauai (population 67,091)
The most uncrowded of the major islands, there is only one major road circling the island. If you’re looking for peace and quiet and to get away from it all, Kauai is a good choice. To me, the Na Pali is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I don’t believe most people have even heard of it! There are some beautiful resorts in the Princeville area on the northern part of the island. Parts of the movie Jurassic Park were filmed here.