There are a total of 8 major Hawaiian Islands, although only 6 allow visitors. In addition to the 8 major islands there are numerous smaller islands, atolls, islets, and reefs. When you add these into the mix, the State of Hawaii counts 137 islands in the Hawaiian Island chain.
Hawaiian Island Names & Nicknames
- Hawaii, the Big Island
- Maui, the Valley Isle
- Oahu, the Gathering Place
- Kauai, the Garden Isle
- Molokai, the Friendly Isle
- Lanai, the Pineapple Isle
- Nihau, the Forbidden Isle
- Kahoolawe, the Target Isle
With so many choices, what’s the best Hawaiian Island? To be honest, all 6 of the Hawaiian Islands that allow visitors have their pros and cons. The best Hawaiian Island is the island that most closely matches your likes and dislikes.
Hawaii, the Big Island
Larger than all of the other islands combined Hawaii, the Big Island, is vast enough to hold 11 of the world’s 13 climate 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.
Maui, the Valley Isle
Maui 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.
If you feel that Maui is the best Hawaiian Island for you, you may want to take this fun quiz to see what’s your best beach on Maui.
Oahu, the Gathering Place
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.
Kauai, the Garden Isle
The oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian 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.
Molokai, the Friendly Isle
With almost half of its population being of Native Hawaiian ancestry, Molokai is an island that has preserved its connection to the past and its love for the outdoors. Step back in time to the sleepy town of Kaunakakai, view the verdant flora in Halawa Valley, or learn about the works of Saint Damien at Kalaupapa National Historical Park.
Lanai, the Pineapple Isle
Without a single traffic light, Lanai is a true island getaway for luxury, romance and privacy away from crowds. Get away from it all at Lanai’s opulent resorts in Hulopoe Bay and Lanai City, see the rock formations at Keahiakawelo, or 4-wheel drive amongst the pine trees along the Munro Trail.
To many joyful beach experiences!
— Lisa Dworkin