Aloha, fellow paradise seekers!
As someone who’s been lucky enough to embark on multiple island adventures with my boyfriend, I know how overwhelming it can be when deciding between Maui and Oahu. I’m here to help you navigate your way through Hawaii’s idyllic islands!
You see, we’ve submerged ourselves (quite literally) in the turquoise waters of both Maui and Oahu. We’ve wandered the pristine beaches, dined at local gems, and trekked through lush rainforests—all for the sake of uncovering which island reigns supreme.
My passion for exploring these tropical havens has led me on a quest to provide YOU with a comprehensive comparison based on first-hand experiences. So get ready for some juiciest insider tips on sleep-worthy accommodations and must-try activities that’ll have you booking your flights quicker than you can say “aloha”!
Now hold onto your sunhats—because I won’t just tell you where to go but also dish out details about each island’s vibe, top beaches, drool-worthy eats, captivating scenery, and so much more.
Warning: Side effects may include an irresistible urge to sip umbrella-topped cocktails by the beach while humming along to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Let’s dive into Maui vs. Oahu – which tropical oasis will win your heart?
A comprehensive examination of Maui
Those looking for a true tropical paradise will be drawn to Maui. It’s a great destination for weddings, honeymoons, and those looking to explore the lush rainforest and stunning beaches. In the wintertime, Maui is the best destination for whale watching and swimming with dolphins. In the summer the less crowded beaches and trails leading to panoramic sunset views are a definite plus.
What I love about Maui, especially if you are looking for a change from the beaches are all the farming and distillery tour opportunities. Mau has a long tradition of farming and offers farm-to-table fours and meals that are both educational, culturally relevant, and just fun! I suggest taking the coffee tour for a great experience on a far that raises exotic fruit and coffee. Other tours we enjoyed are the wine tour and distillery tour, because they are locally run, sourced, and traditionally Hawaiian.
For those choosing to visit Maui, Haleakala volcano tours (especially sunrise tours) are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We have done this several times with different tour companies, and they never disappoint. Whether you want to watch the sunrise and enjoy an authentic dinner breakfast or take an exhilarating bike ride down the volcano, you can do it here.
Life moves slower on Maui. So this can be a plus or minus, depending on the type of vacation you are looking for.
Now let’s see what Oahu has to offer.
A comprehensive examination of Oahu
Oahu is home to Hawaii’s main hun, Honolulu and Waikiki. For travelers looking for an urban and exciting vacation in a more urban setting, this is the right choice. This area is known for its nightlife, amazing world-class resorts, and the stunning sandy beaches of Waikiki.
The island is diverse though and can offer a little something for everyone. Calm and resort-like areas can be found in the Ko’Olina resorts and lagoons. It offers content for the entire family, or couples looking to enjoy some seclusion. It’s surrounded by many natural and man-made lagoons that are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. It’s a top pick for me because it’s close to Honolulu and offers a relaxing vacation just a short drive from real excitement and incredible offers of tours, restaurants, and shopping opportunities.
We also enjoy the North Shore which is a more natural and underdeveloped area of the island. It offers all the needed amenities, but also lush and rich jungle trails, unique beaches, and waves for surfers. (Not that we surf, but love to watch the pros, and show off, especially in the winter).
The downside to Oahu is the traffic (I’m not a fan!) But choosing a vacation in Oahu in the down seasons of Spring and Fall can alleviate crowds and too many tourists.
The debate is an old one. What island has the best beaches? If you ask me, it’s Maui, but Oahu is my close second pick. The beaches of Maui are more resort-type and spread out. So let’s check out my favorites (not to be missed on your vacation!)
#1 Kapalua Bay Beach – Best Snorkeling Beach
This beach is surrounded by beautiful resorts and well-manicured lawns framed by palm trees. The area is spacious and the beach is breathtakingly beautiful with fine sand and great snorkeling. We enjoy close-by rentals for snorkeling, kayaking, and body surfing. The water is clear and perfect for amateur watersport lovers to relax and try some fun activities out. It’s easy to snorkel and observe the fish and marine life, without going into deeper waters.
If you arrive in the late afternoon (like we did), you can enjoy a picnic and a breathtaking sunset view. It’s truly a place of fun and activity during the day, and romance in the evening. It’s relatively easy to find parking and there are restrooms available. So your time can be spent comfortably.
#2 Napili Bay Beach – Best Swimming Beach
This is a fun beach, surrounded by everything you might need for the day. Just off the beach, there are great resorts, shopping, and restaurants available. So this is the perfect beach to have a restaurant meal in the middle of your beach day without any hassle. We found the food extremely fresh, and the panoramic views of the beach and ocean amazing.
I love this beach because it’s great for lounging (not overcrowded and noisy), sunbathing and swimming. As a bonus, this is a good place to spot green turtles swimming close to the shore. The beach is virtually wave-free (so it’s suitable for all family members). I felt generally relaxed and safe. There is even a gulf course available if you are a fan.
#3 Wailea Beach – Best Luxurious Resort Beach
This beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is amazingly kept and maintained. The sand is powdery and perfect, as one would expect at a high-end resort beach. The water here is extremely clear and the hotels provide chairs and paddles at your request (which made it truly a luxurious experience for me).
There is a lot of additional content including surfing, paddling, snorkeling equipment, and instructors. For those of us who like to be pampered (like me!), there are also great spas and high-quality restaurants within a short walking distance.
Many will enjoy the walking trails and seclusion from all the beach activities, which also has some awesome spots to watch the sunset.
#4 Keawakapu Beach – Best Surfing Beach
We drove to Keawakapu from Wailea Beach and it took us less than ten minutes to drive, park, and be at the beach. The parking lot was very big, and we found a spot right away. This is a large and spacious beach without a lot of tourists. It allowed us to spend some time alone, reflecting, reading books, and enjoying the waves.
The beach is well known as a surfing spot, so the waves are bigger. Though I do not surf, my boyfriend had a great time surfing with the locals and getting to know them. Meanwhile, I soaked in the tidepool for the kids and even explored some fun crabs and critters in the water. This is also a diving spot.
Like the other beaches on the list, there are a few resorts available close by for great food. But I loved the convenience store right on the beach. I made several stops for drinks and snacks.
Oahu’s beaches are diverse. They offer exciting watersport activities and some great hidden gems away from crowds and tourists. Water quality is amazing and there are great off-the-beaten-path beaches where you can be secluded to read, sunbathe and enjoy some alone time with your partner.
#1 Lanikuhonua Beach (Secret Beach) – Favorite swimming spot
This is my favorite beach on Oahu because it gives you the ultimate deserted island feeling. This spot is a little off the beaten path, so what it lacks in amenities it well makes up in natural beauty, impeccable views, white sand, and calm crystal blue water. For this authentic (secret beach experience) bring all you need with you and make it a great half-day trip. We brought a great picnic and spent a lot of time just enjoying the views, and talking.
This is the perfect place for snorkeling and finding small sea life in the shallow water which is relatively calm. There are also a lot of tide pools for exploring (move over children, I love tidepools!) A good tip would be to go in the morning on a weekday. You will likely only encounter a couple of locals.
The only downside that can be difficult for some is that there is no clear path to this secluded and hidden beach. You have to hike to the beach over rocks in between the neighboring beaches, which is not unsafe but should be done carefully with good footing.
#2 Keawaula (Yokohama Beach) – The white sand beach
Yokohama Beach is a small and deep white sandy beach surrounded by giant lush green hills and natural beauty. The crystal clear water and powdery white sand are only made better due to the lack of tourists and crowds. (We loved this secluded hidden treasure).
This beach also has some excitement for more experienced swimmers and snorkelers. It has a nice deep drop-off and breaking waves to jump into or surf, while less experienced swimmers have the shallower end. If you are looking for a good hike nearby, we did the Ka’ena Point Trail, and it was well worth it. I suggest bringing everything you need for your trip, so fill up the car with snacks, drinks, and sun protection. The only downside to this beach is the lack of shade. So bring some protection. There are lifeguards on duty, so it’s a good option for families as well.
#3 Waimanalo Beach – the Best Hidden Family Beach
This beach is a little trickier to find but well worth the effort. Take a drive down Kalanianaole Highway and don’t stop until you get to the pine forest woods. Don’t stop, because the beach is tucked away behind the woods.
Once you arrive you will be amazed by the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, mountainsides, and Banyan trees providing beautiful pictures and shade. The most noticeable thing for me was the incredible blue and turquoise color of the water. This hidden family beach is great because the sand is soft and the entrance into the water is smooth and pleasant. There are also lifeguards on duty, and bathrooms and showers are available. So it’s easy to extend your stay.
If you are a fan of bird watching, check out the nearby bird sanctuary. It’s a great place to reflect and enjoy the lush greenery while taking a break from the beach.
#4 Makapu’u Beach – The Best panoramic view
A small, quarter-mile beach hidden under a famous hiking path was one of my favorites. Those who choose to hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail will already be close to the beach, but otherwise, just drive to this special spot and enjoy the views and almost secluded shoreline.
This beach is not a good choice for swimming, but rather for having a good meal and admiring the unique lava rock shore and deep blue waves. I felt at peace here listening to the waves crashing and looking out at the panoramic view. While we visited, there were only a few people out on the water body surfing and kayaking.
Maui Adventures and Activities
Maui has the largest offer of tours and opportunities for guided activities. Best of all they are as diverse as the island. Whether you are looking to scale down a waterfall, visit the top of Haleakala volcano, or take the historic drive on the road to Hana, here are the best-guided options on the island (at least the ones we loved!)
#1 TOUR: Road to Hana Adventure Tour w/ Breakfast and Lunch
Duration: 12 hours (approx.)
Address: Pick-up and drop-off at specific Maui hotels available
The road to Hana is one of the top activities to be experienced in Maui. This historic, off-the-beaten-path road is filled with exotic waterfalls, lava tubes, panoramic views of the ocean, and jungle trails. Taking a tour with a professional guide, as we did, only amplifies this great experience and lets you get the most out of it.
Our trip starts early, and they offer pick-up at a lot of different Maui hotels. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Lahaina and had an on-time pickup by a guide that was super friendly and made us laugh. The tour provides everything, so all you need is your camera and sunscreen.
My favorite stop was at the stunning and picture-perfect Pua’a Ka’a State Park where we got to swim under a waterfall. Ho’okipa Beach Park and Wai’anapanapa State Park were also amazing with a great lunch at Hana Farms which serves farm-to-table organic meals.
#2 TOUR: Haleakala Sunrise Downhill Bike Tour with Mountain Riders Rated #1
Duration: 8 hours (approx.)
Address: 886 Haliimaile Rd, Makawao, HI 96768
This is a tour to get your heart going. Not to mention an opportunity to see one of the world’s most beautiful sunrises. Even if you are not a big fan of early mornings, the organization on this tour is so great, you will love it (I know I did!)
This tour is a combination of visiting the majestic Haleakala top at sunrise and a heart-pumping bike ride down its slopes. All the safety equipment is provided, the guides take good care of all participants, and (don’t worry!) the bike ride is not as demanding as it sounds. In general, we had such a fun and friendly atmosphere the time flew by. The guide made sure everyone kept together.
We also had the opportunity to stop in Kula and Makawao which are great authentic and native sites on the island. Still, the sunrise is one of the most unsurpassed experiences of our trip.
#3 TOUR: Rappel Maui Waterfalls and Rainforest Cliffs
Duration: 3 hours (approx.)
Address: 10600 Hana Hwy, Haiku, HI 96708 (Enter the Garden of Eden Arboretum and identify yourself as a Rappel Maui guest)
For those looking to explore a lush jungle and rappel down a beautiful waterfall (like me!), this is a great pick. This tour only takes 8 travelers at a time, and there is a lot of personalized attention to guests and safety. They use an anchored rope system, and the activity can even be done by older kids.
My favorite part was the 30-foot (9-meter) waterfall rappelling and a swim in the water hole. The pictures from this tour have been long unsurpassed in my collection. Because the group is so small we didn’t feel rushed and had plenty of time to explore and enjoy our surroundings. There is a short hike involved that lets us explore exotic plants and get some cultural history from our guide.
Oahu Adventures and Activities
#1 TOUR: Turtle Canyon Snorkel (Semi-Private Boat Tours)
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes (approx.)
Address: Captain Max Boat Tours: Oahu Turtle Snorkeling and Whale Watching Tours, 1125 Ala Moana Blvd Pier B, Honolulu, HI 96814
This tour takes on only 6 people on a 36ft High-Speed inflatable boat, which can take on many more passengers. This means there is no crowding and lots of personalized attention. The best part is that they guarantee that you will see dolphins on your trip! If you don’t, you can come back free another day, or get your money back.
The snorkeling portion of the trip was done at Turtle Canyon and we got to see some amazing marine life. Our instructor was also in the water with us, guiding and helping keep us safe, so I loved the personalized attention to guests. We saw green turtles, many colorful types of exotic fish, coral, eel, some starfish, and other small creatures. And when we were done, they took us on a full adrenaline ride up the coast. (Great fun!)
#2 TOUR: Friday Night Waikiki Fireworks Catamaran Cruis
Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
Address: Pink Sails Waikiki, 1651 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI 96815 (across from Prince Waikiki Hotel)
Oh, this is a romantic one! The tour is operated by Pink Sails on a 55 ft power catamaran with about 50 passengers and plenty of space and privacy to enjoy the 365-degree views. In not sure if I loved the view of the shore more, or the open ocean!
The tour lasts from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm during which time we witnessed a fiery red sunset and stunning fireworks show right off the water. I also took some impeccable pictures of the Diamond Head State Monument. But really, what sets this tour apart is the service. The staff is super friendly and accommodating. There is plenty of room to walk around, and we even found a great private spot to enjoy the fireworks alone.
Must-eat restaurants in MAUI
Just thinking about the stunning food offered at some of Maui’s top restaurants makes my mouth water. If you are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, check out my top favorite restaurants:
#1 Humble Market Kitchin at The Wailea Beach Resort – Upscale with an Asian twist
Address: 3700 Wailea Alanui Dr, Kihei, HI 96753
There is no better sunset view on the island than from the gorgeous terrace of this restaurant. But make sure you book way ahead because the impeccable view and perfectly prepared food come with a waiting list. This was the spot we celebrated our anniversary don’t forget to check out the wine card!), so it is incredibly dear to my heart. The restaurant works with many local farms and fishermen and sources most of its food from Hawaii.
#2 Sea House Restaurant at Napili Kai Beach Resort – Top casual, open-air food on the beach
Address: 5900 Lower Honoapiilani Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761
This is an award-winning restaurant that serves happy hour, an awesome breakfast, and a stunning evening dinner service. I love it for the postcard sunset view and incredible fresh food selection. As a bonus, they have a great bar that serves amazing cocktails and drinks until 9:30 pm. If you are looking for a restaurant with impeccable service this is it. The prices are reasonable and the portions are more than filling.
Must-eat restaurants in OAHU
#1 Hy’s Steak House – The best fine dining and steak house in an elegant setting
Address: 2440 Kūhiō Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815
This great restaurant is located at the Park Heights Hotel and they serve the best USDA Prime Beef on the island. Which can be a nice change during your vacation. The hotel is decorated in an old-fashioned style with leather seating and a comfy atmosphere. Wine lovers will also love this spot because they have an extensive wine list, and knowledgeable staff to help you pair the perfect wine with your meal. The restaurant has a dress code, which I loved because it allowed us to dress up and have an amazing date night.
#2 La Mer – open-air French restaurant with an Ocean view
Address: 2199 Kālia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815
The incredible view of the ocean sets this restaurant apart from the rest. Its located at the Halekulani Hotel and is Hawaii’s only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes 5 Star restaurant. Make sure to book ahead, especially if you want outside seating with elegant decor and impeccable service. Feel free to ask your waiter for recommendations for food and drinks because they know their stuff. They have a dress code and the restaurant is restricted to adults and children over 8 years old, which makes it perfect for another amazing date night spot.
No matter what your final decision is, a vacation on Maui or Oahu provides an impeccable experience you will always remember.
Take some time to review my article to find the best beaches, best tours, adventures, hiking opportunities, and restaurants on each island.
There is so much useful information from my own experience, you are guaranteed to make the right choice!
Enjoy your trip, and send us feedback, because we love to hear from our friends and supporters.
Last Updated on May 1, 2023 by Brigitte