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Oahu Vs Maui: Which Is The Better Hawaii Vacation?

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Showing Oahu's city on the left and Maui's nature areas on the right

All good blog posts begin with a disclaimer ... at least that’s what I’m telling myself as I write this because I do believe a disclaimer is necessary.

So, here it goes: This was my first time in Hawaii. With that in mind, did I get to see everything on Maui and Oahu? No. Will people who have been to Hawaii many times or live there probably disagree with some of what I say here? I’m sure, and it’s welcome!

I’m no expert, and I’m not claiming to be, but these observations could be helpful as you decide which island you’d like to say “aloha” to for your vacation.

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Sunrise over the crater at Haleakala National Park in Maui

Choose Oahu if . . .

• You’re looking for variety.

I think it’s probably a general consensus that Oahu is more touristy than the other islands. But this also means it has many different experiences. Let me break them down for you.

First, Oahu houses the capital, Honolulu, which is the biggest city in the state. Many of the popular resorts are close by, making the area a popping place with restaurants, malls and nightlife. Second, Oahu is also where you’ll find museums. I visited Pearl Harbor, which was incredible and definitely something to add to your Hawaii bucket list. Next time, I’d also love to visit the Polynesian Center.

Third, despite the city, drive an hour (or less) and you can still find inland spaces for hiking, swimming and exploring. We hiked the oh-so-popular Diamond Head, which was nearby our resort. One of my goals, when I return, is to explore Waimea Valley, its trails, historical significance, gardens and waterfalls.

And lastly, there’s always a beach nearby, of course. Although we mainly hung out at our resort, we also drove to the North Shore to relax on the sand and then snorkeled with sharks (see this blog post).

Pearl Harbor museum on Oahu

• You have kids.

I may not have kids or have been a child in a while, but from what I could tell, Oahu has more for families to enjoy than Maui. If you look at the resorts alone, they have a lot of exciting activities for kids, depending on the age. (Oahu also has the Disney resort.) We were traveling with one older child, and she seemed to love our resort’s (Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort) lagoon, which was fairly shallow and had paddleboards, kayaks and waterbees, or pedal boats that looked like floating tractors.

There are also activities around the island such as Kualoa Ranch (on my list for the next trip), a discovery center and places like the Dole Whip plantation. At this destination, you’ll find a small train to take your family around the farmland and learn about pineapples as well as the delicious pineapple whip that people of all ages must try! We also visited Laniakea Beach, aka Turtle Beach, because turtles often come up and rest on the shore. There was one turtle while we were there, but supposedly there are quite a few on a regular basis.

A turtle resting on Turtle Beach in North Shore Oahu Hawaii

Choose Maui if . . .

• You’re looking to get away from crowds.

Oahu might have more variety, but it is also a crowded island. Our resort on Waikiki beach on Oahu, for example, was vastly different from our resort on Kaanapali Beach on Maui. There were people and noise everywhere you turned — families, couples, etc. — whereas on our Maui resort, things were more relaxed with extra room and opportunities for seclusion. (One person we were traveling with actually compared the Waikiki resort to Disney World with its ongoing, noisy activities).

While I’m sure there are areas on Oahu that are less crowded, I found that most places in Maui were peaceful like the resort and less touristy. Rather than a big city, there are small, yet modern, beach towns like Lahaina and a lot of natural places. I can see this being more of a honeymooner’s paradise.

• You love the outdoors.

Obviously, I’m completely aware that Hawaii is made up of islands, so the beach surrounds you no matter where you go. But for those who enjoy beach adventures plus natural areas for hiking and swimming, Maui might be your perfect destination.

A great word I would use for Maui when comparing it to Oahu is “untouched.” As mentioned, the crowds are less intense, but also keep in mind that much of Maui is covered in the Haleakala National Park. We actually woke up at 2 a.m. one morning just to go on a bus ride to the top of the Haleakala Crater and see the sunrise in the cold. (The view was breathtaking, but I’m still unsure about the 2 a.m. part being worth it ha.)

There are hiking trails all around the island for those who want easy or medium walks, prefer shaded or sunny paths or really want to see waterfalls and other natural sites. We only had time for the Waihee Ridge Trail, which included a steep incline, but WOW. It looked as though someone had dropped us into an adventure movie and we were scaling a mountain to rescue hobbits and destroy a ring. I’d love to go back to Maui simply to camp and hike for a week and now have a running list of trails I want to try there.

Although we swam with sharks on Oahu, we saved our snorkeling for Maui, boating to Turtle Town. The closeness to the other islands from Maui is another positive aspect of its outdoor opportunities.

Walking down the steps on the Waihee Ridge Trail in Maui

The Best Option?

Go for two weeks and visit Oahu AND Maui! We went for about seven days, 3.5 days on each island. While it was incredible, especially since it was my first time, I wish I could have tacked on a few more days to enjoy each place.

Both islands have different and exciting things to do. Both have fun beaches and resorts. Both have foods to try like poke bowls, shaved ice and authentic Hawaiian flavors. Both have luaus to watch. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either, but you might find that one island steals your heart more than the other.


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