Maui vs Kauai: Which Dreamy Island Will Steal Your Heart?

Aloha, fellow Hawaii dreamers!

Have you ever found yourself pondering whether to spend your much-deserved vacation in Maui or Kauai? Trust me, I’ve been there too. The struggle of choosing between these two gorgeous islands is all too real.

Recently, my boyfriend and I had the amazing opportunity to explore both Maui and Kauai on a month-long escapade. We immersed ourselves in their beautiful landscapes, local vibes, and delicious cuisine so that we could bring you the most comprehensive guide for planning your ultimate Hawaiian getaway.

Now listen up: I’m about to share my best insights on accommodations, beaches, restaurants – you name it! This way, you won’t need any extra research – just sit back and soak it all in.

Warning: Reading this article may cause an insatiable craving for luaus and poke bowls (sorry not sorry).

Alright then tropical travelers, let’s embark on this island adventure together and get ready for some serious sunshine and salty waves!

Overview of Maui

Maui, known as The Valley Isle is a gorgeous island with the best beaches in Hawaii. It’s also a famous destination for romance, honeymooners, and families. The island provides a perfect blend of modern comforts, white sand beaches, rainforest trails, waterfalls, and two majestic volcanoes. With its rich farming history, the island is also home to some fantastic tours throughout the central part of the island. It offers coffee tours, pineapple tours, distillery tours, lavender farm tours, and farm-to-table tours with great meals and tastings. 

During the winter months, Maui is the best destination in Hawaii for whale and dolphin watching. The island offers great tours, so you can be within a few hundred feet of these majestic giants, or just observe them from the beaches. 

Those looking for adventure and couples activities have a great offer of sunset sailing tours, the historic road to Hanna tours, and endless hiking trails with panoramic views. Also, let’s remember Haleakala the 10,023 feet towering volcano. This is one of the world’s best sunrise or sunset spots. 

Compared to Oahu and the Big Island, Maui is comprised of small farming towns, giving it a laid-back and relaxing tone. There are plenty of luxurious resorts as well, and they are well-spaced out and offer comfort and seclusion. 

Overview of Kauai

Kauai is a nature lover’s true paradise. With only over 10% of the land accessible and developed, it’s a preserved vacation spot for those looking for a deserted island experience. It offers an authentic tropical rainforest, crashing waterfalls, and secluded white sand beaches hidden from the world. No wonder it’s called Garden Island. 

The time seems to go slower on this island. It’s made for true hikers, and nature lovers and is filled with activities such as ziplining, swimming in waterfalls, and exploring the rainforest. Still, it provides pockets of modern comfort with great resorts and restaurants available. 

Beaches of Maui

#1 Napili Bay Beach – Best Swimming Beach

This beach is gorgeous and surrounded by luxury. The view from this sandy shore is stunning. Also, it’s surrounded by great restaurants and resorts. It is crescent-shaped and has soft golden sand. The edges of the beach are beautifully framed by trees giving it some shade. Though this is not a huge beach it is perfectly maintained. Best of all it isn’t overcrowded, especially in the mornings. 

This is my favorite beach for swimming because it has a nice shallow end and a gradual descent. The edges of the beach also offer some easy snorkeling. Turtles can be seen lounging here in the afternoons. We visited this beach many times, and always find a great spot to have lunch and some cocktails. Everything is close by or right on the beach. There is even a golf course available. 

#2 Kapalua Bay Beach – Best Snorkeling Beach

Maui’s northwest coastline is home to this gorgeous white sand beach with turquoise water and a fantastic view. In fact, it’s absolutely perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. The water here is always calm, with only small gentle waves perfect for playing in or boogie boarding. At treat times when there is a swell the locals gather to surf, which I also love watching.

I enjoy reading on this beach and soaking up the beautiful views of Moloka‘i and Lãna‘i out on the ocean. The beach huts are a great spot for a picnic so bring some good food and drinks. The views in all directions are gorgeous here and provide a luxurious and relaxing atmosphere. Beaches like these make the island a paradise.   

#3 Ulua Beach – Best Paddle Boarding Beach

For me, this small and pretty beach is a great spot for snorkeling and paddle boarding. The waves are the perfect size for beginner watersports and there is a great reef to the side for some snorkeling. There are all kinds of equipment rentals right off the beach, including scuba. They also have showers and bathrooms. This beach doesn’t have a lifeguard. 

This beach is often visited by families too, so it’s for all sizes. Regardless of the waves that can look intimidating, they are generally gentle compared to most beaches. 

Beaches of Kauai

#1 Kee Beach – The Best Snorkeling Beach

The beach is nestled inside the Haena State Park on the North Shore of the island. It’s covered with beautiful golden sand and in my experience, is never crowded. In fact, it’s a great calm place for some peaceful reflection with a great view. I love to read here and pretend I am on a deserted island. 

We have also snorkeled here because there is a great concentration of coral and many kinds of tropical fish gather. It’s perfect for beginners because you can see most of the fish in the shallow part and there is no need to go out far from the shore.

#2 Hanalei Beach Park & Bay – The Best beach for swimming and body surfing

This is a huge beach stretching over two miles long and it is almost 200 feet wide. Most would agree it’s the most beautiful beach on the island. It is crescent shaped and the water is incredibly calm, making it perfect for swimming and sports like body surfing. The edges of the beach are framed by a great grassy area. There are pavilions which makes it a great spot to catch some shade or have a picnic. 

The right side of the beach has a reef which brings in some waves for those looking to try out surfing. Families will also love this beach because it has all the needed amenities. The beach has lifeguards, showers, and bathrooms available that are all well-maintained.

#3 Makua ‘Tunnels’ Beach – Great Lava tubes, Snorkeling, and Scuba Diving

If you are a fan of snorkeling and scuba diving this is your ultimate destination. Thanks to the old lava flow, there are underwater lava tube formations. They are not too far off the shore of the beach. This makes it a perfect gathering place for unique marine life and hundreds of tropical fish. Even amateur snorkelers can enjoy this and see hundreds of underwater critters. 

The beach itself is covered in sand and crescent-shaped. Great big trees are lining the beach which provides shade. It’s a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the views. Locals that visit often do some windsurfing and kite surfing, which is fun to watch. Make sure to park at Haena Beach Park which is not too far away. 

Restaurants of Maui

#1 Humble Market Kitchin at The Wailea Beach Resort – Seasonal Asian food with a twist

Address: 3700 Wailea Alanui Dr, Kihei, HI 96753

If you are looking for the most beautiful sunset on the island with your dinner this is your spot. Just make sure to book ahead, because it is a coveted location. The restaurant has both inside and outside seating that overlooks the ocean sunset. Inside tables are perfectly spaced and elegant, placed near large glass walls that show off the outside view. Outside seating is even better, under a spacious covered patio where you get an unlimited view of the open ocean, surrounded by long palm trees.

They serve a rich breakfast buffet everyone will love, and also happy hour and dinner. We love having dinner here and have come several times. The food is mostly locally and regionally sourced and the menu is a great mix of modern and traditional foods. Service is also to be admired. Everything is on time, the servers are attentive, but not pushy. We never feel rushed. 

#2 The Plantation House – The Best views from the 19th hole and elegant food

Address: 2000 Plantation Club Dr, Lahaina, HI 96761

This is a close second pick for me just because I find the view better at the other restaurant. But the view here is also awsome, as it overlooks the 19th hole, mountains and the ocean in the distance. The menu here is top notch and it’s hard to find a fault. That’s why we are customers who repeatedly love coming here. 

Seating is open-air and perfect for enjoying the view while being shielded from the sun and the wind. We love having date night here and dressing up, but it’s also casual. So you won’t be out of place either way. There are varied food options at this restaurant including vegetarian, gluten-free, meat, seafood, and more. But the highlight is their endless wine choices that pair perfectly with the food. 

Restaurants of Kauai

#1 Hukilau Lanai – Best nightly entertainment with local seafood

Address: 520 Aleka Loop, Kapaʻa, HI 96746

I love the outside seating in this restaurant because it is beautifully lined with palm trees and exotic flowers. It’s especially beautiful when the flowers are in bloom. No wonder its a wanted wedding venue. My boyfriend and I had a wonderful romantic dinner here in the outside area. Everything was elegant and there were tiki torches lit, which made it romantic. They even had live local music, which really set the mood, but didnt overpower our conversation. It’s a great opportunity to dress up as well. 

If you time your reservation right, you can even enjoy the fiery red sunset with your meal. But do book way ahead. We booked three weeks in advance in order to get the table we wanted. The seafood was very fresh and locally sourced. The portions were large and filling. We especially appreciated the kind and accommodating service, even when they were at a full house. They did everything perfectly and are efficient. 

#2 The Plantation House by Gaylord’s – Best romantic dinner spot

Address: 3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766

It’s hard to find fault with this restaurant. Especially since we had a perfect anniversary dinner here. This was once a working 23,000-acre Sugar Plantation and they have adapted it perfectly with elegant decore and spacious seating. This is also the spot to choose if you are looking for authentic Hawaiian food. It’s prepared fresh and perfectly plated. Each serving is like a work of art, yet the portions are large and generous. 

When we celebrated our anniversary there was live music, and it set the mood perfectly. They were in a perfect tone that you could enjoy without being distracted. It completely added to the romantic ambiance of our dinner, they also serve happy hour and lunch. Each menu is carefully planned and the servers are always ready to help you pair the perfect drink with your meal. They have an amazing wine card, but also make some of the best cocktails I have ever tried. The best part is they are discounted at happy hour!


Choosing between two gorgeous islands to visit in Hawaii can be a time-consuming and stressful task. No matter what choice you make, trust me. you will have a wonderful time.

However depending on the type of atmosphere you prefer, restaurants, activities, and accommodations, my article can help you quickly decide between Maui and Kauai. 

Maui can offer some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, spacious resorts, and elegant restaurants.

Kauai on the other hand is full of natural and unexplored beauty, rainforest trails, waterfalls, and secluded beaches like on a deserted island. 

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Wishing you a safe and fun trip!

Last Updated on May 2, 2023 by Brigitte