Hawaii for first-timers: How to choose an island

Planning a trip to the Hawaiian Islands but not sure where to start? Torn between picking a single island or doing some island hopping?


OAHU

Home to the state capitol and the majority of Hawaii's population, Oahu is a vibrant mix of natural and cultural wonders with the modern arts, entertainment and amenities of the 21st century. See pro surfers charge the big winter waves of the legendary North Shore, relive American history at the memorials and museums of Pearl Harbor, or soak up the sun and take a surfing lesson on Waikiki Beach.

Oahu Highlights:

Waikiki – Iconic gathering place for visitors from around the world.
Pearl Harbor – Explore the historic sites recounting the Pearl Harbor attack.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – One of Hawaii’s premier snorkeling sites.
Nuuanu Pali Lookout – Historic spot with fantastic mountain views.
North Shore – Legendary birthplace of big wave surfing.

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KAUAI

The oldest and northernmost island in the Island chain is graced with dramatic, natural beauty. Outdoor adventures and romantic escapades flourish on Kauai. Explore the beaches of the Coconut Coast, see Waimea Canyon, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific," or take a boat ride to marvel at the towering cliffs of the Napali Coast.

Kauai Highlights:

Wailua River – Hawaii’s only navigable river.
Napali Coast
– Spectacular sea cliffs on Kauai’s north coast.
Poipu Beach Park
– Voted one of America’s best beaches.
Waimea Canyon
– Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

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MAUI

The second largest island is home to what some believe are the best beaches in the world. The waters off of Maui are also some of the best places in the world to whale watch every winter. Wake up early to catch the Haleakala sunrise, stroll through the historic hot spot of Lahaina town, or drive the long and winding road to Hana for spectacular scenery.

Maui Highlights:

Lahaina – Whale watch, shop and dine in this historic hot spot.
Makena Beach State Park (Big Beach)
– One of Maui’s largest beaches.
Iao Valley State Park
– Historic site home to the iconic Iao Needle.
Haleakala National Park
– Scenic home to Maui’s highest peak.
Hana
– Famous for the scenic drive to this small, charming town.

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HAWAII "BIG ISLAND"

Larger than all of the other islands combined, Hawaii Island, or Hawaii, the Big Island, is vast enough to hold 11 of the world’s 13 climactic zones—from sandy beaches to snowcapped mountains. See waterfalls, rainforests and botanical gardens in Hilo, explore the calm and clear water off of Kona, or view Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Big Island Highlights:

Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) – Historic seaside hot spot.
Coffee Plantations
– Get a rich taste of fresh Kona coffee.
Downtown Hilo
– Discover local treasures in the island’s capital city.
Hamakua Coast
– See waterfalls on this spellbinding scenic drive.
Akaka Falls
- 422 feet (129 m)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Halemaumau crater, Iki crater.
Mauna Kea
- More than 13,803 feet (4,207 m)

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