Which of the Hawaiian Islands Suits You Best?

Map of the Hawaiian Islands
••• Map of the Hawaiian Islands. Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

One of the hardest parts of planning a trip to Hawaii is deciding which of the Hawaiian islands you should visit. We recommend that you plan on visiting at least two of the major islands so that you can get a feel for what Hawaii is all about.

In order to help you choose which islands are best suited for you, we have developed a 23-question scorecard. After you have completed each of the questions and determined your final score you will have a better idea of what best suits your tastes and vacation preferences.

Instructions

  1. Take a piece of paper and label six columns for each of the individual major Hawaiian Islands: Hawaii Island (the Big Island), Kauai, Lana'i, Maui, Moloka'i, and Oahu.)
  2. Read each category.
  3. Everyone should answer the Lodging and Money sections. Under the Interests section, answer only the categories that are important to you.
  4. For each category, each island is given a score. For each of the categories you answer, write down the scores shown for each island in its designated block on your scorecard.
  5. At the end of the survey, add up your scores for each island. Remember, if one of the topics has little or no interest for you, you should have left that category blank.

Let's get started!

Lodging

Pick only one of these three choices:

  • World Class Resorts
    Resorts are fine hotels with additional amenities on premises for your enjoyment. Each of the Hawaiian Islands has fantastic resorts where you can go and never leave the property if you so desire. Many have golf courses adjacent to the property. Some islands have more resorts than others. If staying at a World Class Resort is important to you, score:
    Big Island - 10 Kauai - 6 Lana'i - 6 Maui - 10 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 4
  • Hotels
    If you prefer a hotel to a full resort, score:
    Big Island - 4 Kauai - 6 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 8 Moloka'i - 2 Oahu - 10
  • Vacation Condominiums
    For many families and couples who are looking to save some money on lodging and food, a rental condominium is the perfect option. The daily rate is generally less than the best hotels and resorts, and you can prepare as many of your meals on premises as you wish. If you prefer a condominium score:
    Big Island - 4 Kauai - 8 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 10 Moloka'i - 2 Oahu - 4

    Money

    In all honesty; no trip to Hawaii is cheap. The airfare alone is often quite expensive. There are ways to save money on lodging and food as well as the type of activities you do on your vacation.

    Pick only one of these three choices:

    • Money is no object
      If money is no object and you want to experience the ultimate luxury on your vacation, score:
      Big Island - 12 Kauai - 10 Lana'i - 20 Maui - 16 Moloka'i -2 Oahu - 8
    • Saving some money
      If you want to still have lots of fun, but want to save some money on lodging and food, score:
      Big Island - 12 Kauai - 10 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 12 Moloka'i - 6 Oahu - 16
    • Budget Travel
      If you are willing to stay at two- or three-star hotel or condominium, perhaps do not want to rent a car, yet still be close to things to see and do, score:
      Big Island - 6 Kauai - 6 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 8 Moloka'i - 2 Oahu - 16

    Interests

    Pick as many of these choices as you want. Skip those of no interest to you.

    Enjoy the Beach and the Sun

    Hawaii has consistently dominated Dr. Beach's list of the best beaches in the United States. If you're a beach person, you'll find that Hawaii has white sand, black sand, red sand and even green sand beaches. If you love beaches and want to get that great tan, score:

    Big Island - 6 Kauai - 4 Lana'i - 1 Maui - 10 Moloka'i - 1 Oahu - 8

    Deep Sea Fishing

    The Big Island of Hawaii is the sportfishing capital of the world. If sportfishing is your interest, score:

    Big Island - 10 Kauai - 0 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 5 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 4

    Dining Out

    Each of the Hawaiian Islands offers excellent dining options; however, some islands have more great restaurants than others. Many of the fresh vegetables grown on Maui are featured at Maui restaurants. If fine dining is important for your score:

    Big Island - 4 Kauai - 6 Lana'i - 1 Maui - 10 Moloka'i - 1 Oahu - 10

    Diverse Ecology

    Would you enjoy exploring an island where you can see snow on the tops of the mountains alongside deep valleys with waterfalls and black sand beaches? Hawaii offers a more diverse ecology than almost anywhere on earth.

    If you're looking to see samples of Hawaii's diverse ecology, score:

    Big Island - 10 Kauai - 6 Lana'i - 1 Maui - 8 Moloka'i - 4 Oahu - 4

    Fun Activities for the Kids

    Hawaii has become a great destination for families with children. You'll find a zoo, aquariums, dolphin encounters, children's programs at hotels and resorts, water parks and much more. If you're bringing the kids and want to make sure that they have a great time, score:

    Big Island - 6 Kauai - 2 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 8 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 10

    Golfing

    Hawaii has many world-class golf courses designed by the top names in golf course design such as Trent Jones, Jr., Greg Norman, and Jack Nicklaus. If golf is why you're coming to Hawaii and you're looking for an island with several great courses, score:

    Big Island - 8 Kauai - 6 Lana'i - 8 Maui - 10 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 2

    Hiking/Kayaking

    Each of the Hawaiian Islands has numerous hiking trails of varying difficulty. You can hike along Kauai's Na Pali Coast, through a rainforest on Maui, in a dense jungle forest on Oahu or through a lava tube on the Big Island. Kayaking is available on all four of the major islands. If hiking and kayaking appeal to you, score:

    Big Island - 6 Kauai - 10 Lana'i - 2 Maui - 8 Moloka'i - 2 Oahu - 4

    Historical and Cultural Sites

    Prior to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in the late 1800's, Hawaii was an independent kingdom. The only royal palace in the United States is located in Honolulu. The ancient Hawaiians had a unique culture, and many of their ancient archeological sites are still scattered throughout the islands. If you're interested in exploring the culture and history of the Hawaiian Islands, score:

    Big Island - 8 Kauai - 6 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 8 Moloka'i - 2 Oahu - 10

    Lush Tropical Vegetation

    Are you looking to explore the beauty of Hawaii's rainforests, to see flowers, trees, and birds that you'll find nowhere else in the world? If so, score:

    Big Island - 2 Kauai - 10 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 6 Moloka'i - 4 Oahu - 2

    National and State Parks

    Hawaii is home to three National Parks including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, along with several National Historical Sites and numerous state parks. If you enjoy visiting National or State Parks, score:

    Big Island - 10 Kauai - 6 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 8 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 4

    Nightlife

    Some people just get started on their vacations after the sun goes down. On many of the islands, many places pretty much close up after sunset. If nightlife with entertainment or clubs is important to you, score:

    Big Island - 2 Kauai - 2 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 6 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 10

    Privacy and Seclusion

    Believe it or not, there are still places in Hawaii where you can go, not see another person for miles and enjoy some peace and quiet. If this is what you're looking for on your vacation, score:

    Big Island - 6 Kauai - 10 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 2 Moloka'i - 8 Oahu - 0

    Romance

    Hawaii is the number one honeymoon destination in the world, but some islands are generally considered more romantic than others. There are more opportunities for romantic walks on the beach, secluded swimming locations and activities designed for honeymooners. If romance is what you're looking for, score:

    Big Island - 8 Kauai - 10 Lana'i - 2 Maui - 6 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 4

    Shopping

    If you're looking for great shopping, and we're not talking about souvenirs but rather fine art, island arts and crafts and world-class stores, score:

    Big Island - 4 Kauai - 4 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 6 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 10

    Snorkeling/Scuba

    If you're looking to explore the world beneath the waves, Hawaii has some of the world's top snorkeling and scuba spots. If you plan on doing some serious snorkeling or scuba diving, score:

    Big Island - 8 Kauai - 4 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 10 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 6

    Surfing/Windsurfing

    Hawaii is the surfing capital of the world. It's where surfing started. Maui's Ho'okipa Beach is the windsurfing capital of the world. If you're an experienced surfer or windsurfer and are looking to take on some of the best waves in the world, score:

    Big Island - 0 Kauai - 0 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 6 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 10

    Whale Watching

    Hawaii is the winter home to the Pacific Humpback Whale. From November to May, the whales and their new offspring are found in the waters of Hawaii. If you're looking to see some whales, score:

    Big Island - 6 Kauai - 4 Lana'i - 0 Maui - 10 Moloka'i - 0 Oahu - 2

    Interpreting Your Score

    So, what have you learned? Let's take a look at each island and see how your island score may help you decide which islands are best for you.

    Oahu

    If your scorecard shows that Oahu is for you, you're likely a first-time visitor to the islands or someone who enjoys the hustle and bustle of a big city with fine hotels, excellent restaurants, lots of nightlife and great shopping.

    You've chosen the island with the most cultural and historical sites in Hawaii, fine museums and lots of great Hawaiian music.

    If you're a surfer, this is the place for you. The North Shore is calling out to you.

    The island offers beautiful white sand beaches, several challenging nature hikes and lots of things to see and do on every day of your vacation.

    Learn more about Oahu.

    Maui

    If you've chosen Maui, there's a good chance that you're either a honeymoon couple looking to stay at a world-class resort or hotel or a family looking to stay in a rental condominium and save a few pennies on your trip.

    You're probably looking to spend some time enjoying Maui's fine beaches but you're also interested in exploring a bit of Hawaii's lush beauty either on the Road to Hana or a trip to the summit of Haleakala in Haleakala National Park.

    You may also be a golfer who wants to play at several top-rated courses where the PGA Tour or PGA Senior Tour has hosted tournaments. You probably want to get away from the big city, but you still want to have access to many of the conveniences that you're used to every day.

    Learn more about Maui.

    Big Island of Hawaii

    If your score points you to the Big Island, you're probably eager to explore the most ecologically diverse of the Hawaiian Islands.

    You can journey to the top of Mauna Kea where you may actually see snow and are sure to see stars that you've never seen before.

    You can also ride horseback in the Waipio Valley with thousand foot cliffs on each side, huge waterfalls, and a black sand beach.

    You can visit the only place on earth where the planet grows each and every day - Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park, the home to Kilauea and Madame Pele.

    You can gaze across the land of the largest privately owned ranch in the United States.

    On the Big Island, you can stay at a world-class resort on the sunny west side of the island or a more reasonable hotel in Hilo, where it rains almost every night and the vegetation is lush.

    Learn more about the Big Island of Hawaii.

    Kauai

    If your total shows that Kauai is your island of choice, you've selected the Garden Isle, the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. You'll see flowers and tropical vegetation that you've never seen before.

    You'll often feel that you're alone on your own private island as you wander a lonely beach or explore some of Kauai's state parks.

    Chances are you really want to see the natural beauty of the islands whether it be Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, or the Na Pali Coast with some of the world's highest sea cliffs.

    When your day of exploring is over you can return to one of Kauai's world-class hotels on the sunny Poipu coast or perhaps even a nearby condominium. Chances are you're on your honeymoon or perhaps a couple wanting to rekindle the romance in their lives.

    Learn more about Kauai.

    Lana'i

    If your score shows that Lana'i is the place for you, money is probably not the most important factor in planning your trip.

    You're looking to stay at one of the top two hotels in the world where your every wish is pampered. While you may enjoy a round at one of the islands world famous golf courses, you're probably not too interested in sightseeing or doing much exploring. You're likely content to stay at the hotel, enjoy the pool or beach at the Manele Bay Hotel, and just lull the day away.

    Crowds are not for you, and you've always dreamed of staying on the island where Donald Trump was once married.

    Learn more about Lana'i.

    Moloka'i

    If your score points you to Moloka'i, you'll be one of the very few visitors that ever experience this "Most Hawaiian Island."

    Moloka'i has the highest percentage population of pure-blooded Hawaiians of any of the Hawaiian Islands. It's also the most rural and least developed of the islands.

    Your choice of lodging is very limited. You'll likely be staying at the Hotel Moloka'i near the island's biggest town Kauanakakai.

    Moloka'i is a place to get away from it all. There's not a lot to see or do for any lengthy stay.

    A visit to Kalaupapa, home to the leper colony where Father Damien lived and worked is a must-see, but getting down involves either a long walk down and a hard walk up a narrow trail, or a bouncy mule ride down the same path. If solitude and privacy is what you're looking for, Moloka'i is the place for you.

    Learn more about Moloka'i.