Oahu vs Maui: Oahu and Maui are 2 beautiful islands in Hawaii that offer stunning landscapes and beautiful beaches.

Oahu vs Maui: Which Hawaiian Island Is Best for You? (2023)

So you’ve decided on a Hawaiian vacation but now are lost on which island to choose…Oahu or Maui?! 🌺 🌴 🌊

Whether you’re new to Hawaii or have visited before, choosing the ideal island for your vacation can be quite overwhelming!!

But no worries because in this guide, we’ll talk about the key differences between each island, what makes each island special, the best things to do on each island, where to stay, and more! So, by the end of this guide, you will know exactly what island to choose for YOUR Hawaiian vacation!

So, what will it be? Oahu or Maui? Let’s go!!

Planning Your Hawaiian Vacation? Use Our Favorite Resources Below! 🌺 🌴

🏨 Hotels– Booking.com
🏠 Hawaii Condo or Home Rentals– Vrbo
✅ Tours– Viator
🚘 Rental Car– Discover Cars
🙋🏻‍♀️ Travel AgentKim Swanson, Magical Moments Vacations

Which Island is Better: Oahu vs Maui

Oahu vs Maui:  Both islands have the aloha spirit.

Determining which island is “better” between Oahu and Maui is definitely subjective and dependent on personal preferences.

Both islands have their own unique charm and experiences that cater to different types of travelers.

One of these islands is great for those seeking a vibrant city life, cultural immersion, and a historical vibe. The other island is great for those seeking tranquil beaches, lush landscapes, and a more laid-back atmosphere.

I could go ahead and tell your MY favorite, but I don’t want you to rule one out just yet. So, continue reading to find out which is the perfect Hawaiian island for YOU!

Key Differences: Oahu vs Maui

So to determine the best island for your Hawaiian vacation, it is important to know what the key differences are between Oahu and Maui. And there are quite a lot!

We’re going to talk about the differences in the atmosphere/vibe, the beaches, the natural attractions, the cultural experiences, the shopping opportunities, and more!

So, let’s do this!!

ATMOSPHERE AND VIBE: Oahu vs Maui

I think the biggest difference you’ll find between Oahu and Maui is in the atmosphere and vibe.

Oahu is home to the capital city of Honolulu. Honolulu is the heart of Oahu and like any big city, it has a bustling and energetic vibe. Honolulu blends modern urban life and Hawaiian culture, offering a dynamic atmosphere with lots of things to do, nightlife, and great shopping.

Oahu vs Maui:  Oahu is home to the big city of Honolulu.

But even though Honolulu is a big city, Honolulu is NOT the only part of Oahu.

Oahu is quite a large island, so there is much more to the island of Oahu than Honolulu and Waikiki!

If you’re looking for a peaceful escape you can definitely find that in areas of Oahu such as Ko Olina and the North Shore. So, by visiting Oahu you really have the best of both worlds!

Maui, in contrast, is more much rural. It has a laid-back and serene atmosphere with a slower pace. This island is great for those looking for relaxation, natural beauty, and a peaceful getaway.

Oahu vs Maui:  Maui is much laid-back and relaxed than Oahu.  Maui is a great place to relax and watch the sunset.

BEACHES: Oahu vs Maui

Both Oahu and Maui boast stunningly beautiful beaches that offer a mix of natural beauty, tranquility, and opportunities for activities like surfing and snorkeling.

However, in Oahu, you’ll also find a more lively beach than you’ll find in Maui. And this beach is the world-famous Waikiki Beach.

The choice between Maui and Oahu beaches depends on the type of beach experience you’re looking for on your Hawaiian vacation.

Oahu Beaches

Oahu vs Maui:  Oahu is home to the world-famous Waikiki Beach.

Oahu boasts a wide variety of beaches. From the bustling Waikiki Beach, with its urban amenities, to the more secluded Lanikai Beach there’s something for everyone.

Many of Oahu’s beaches are well-equipped for water sports and activities such as surfing, paddleboarding, and kayaking. The North Shore is famous for its world-class waves, attracting surfers from all around the globe. 🏄‍♂️

Oahu’s beaches also have a more social and lively vibe, especially Waikiki Beach. They are great for people-watching and enjoying beachside entertainment.

My favorite beach in Oahu is Waikiki Beach. I love it for its stunning sunrises and sunsets, the view of Diamond Head, and the backdrop of the city of Honolulu. 🌅 🌴🌇

Maui Beaches

Maui’s beaches generally have a more serene and laid-back atmosphere. They are often less crowded compared to some of Oahu’s most popular beaches, making them ideal for relaxation and quiet enjoyment.

Maui’s beaches are known for their natural beauty, with stunning backdrops of lush greenery, volcanic landscapes, and clear blue waters. Many beaches offer picturesque views and a sense of tranquility.

Maui’s waters are excellent for snorkeling, with vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life. Molokini Crater is a popular snorkeling spot known for its clear waters and abundant underwater life.

Maui is also home to one of the best black sand beaches in Hawaii, Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park.

Oahu vs Maui:  Maui is home to the beautiful black sand beach Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach.

NATURAL ATTRACTIONS: Oahu vs Maui

Both Oahu and Maui are home to some of the most beautiful natural attractions in the world.

Oahu boasts iconic natural attractions like Diamond Head, a volcanic crater with stunning panoramic views, and the lush Nu’uanu Pali Lookout.

Oahu is also home to several beautiful waterfalls including Manoa Falls and Waimea Falls. Waimea Falls is also where you’ll find Waimea Bay and Valley.

Meanwhile, Maui boasts the impressive Haleakalā volcano, located within the Haleakalā National Park, renowned for being one of the best spots to view the sunrise in Hawaii.

Additionally, Maui is where you’ll find the famous Road to Hana. This is a breathtaking and winding drive through lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and dramatic coastal cliffs.

Oahu vs Maui:  Maui is home to one of the most scenic drives in America, The Road to Hana.

CULTURAL EXPERIENCES: Oahu vs Maui

Both the islands of Maui and Oahu offer rich cultural experiences, but the cultural activities and attractions they offer are different.

However, on both islands, you can attend a luau which is the best way to experience the traditional Hawaiian culture. At a luau, you can experience hula dancing, enjoy traditional Hawaiian music, and savor the local cuisine. Many luaus also include storytelling that highlights Hawaiian legends.

PRO-TIP: If visiting Maui, the Old Lahaina Luau is a must-do!!

Cultural Experiences on Oahu

  • Historic Honolulu: Oahu’s capital city, Honolulu, is a cultural hub where you can explore a mix of historical and modern attractions. Visit the Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States, to learn about Hawaiian monarchy history.
The Iolani Palace is the only royal palace in the United States.
  • Pearl Harbor: Oahu is home to Pearl Harbor, a site of great historical significance. Visit the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri, and other monuments to understand the impact of World War II on the region.
  • Polynesian Cultural Center: Located on the North Shore, this center offers interactive exhibits, performances, and demonstrations that showcase the cultures of various Pacific Island nations.
  • Chinatown: Honolulu’s Chinatown is a vibrant area filled with markets, shops, and restaurants. It’s a fusion of cultures, offering glimpses into Hawaii’s multicultural heritage.

Cultural Experiences on Maui

  • Lahaina’s History: The town of Lahaina on Maui’s west coast was a historic whaling village and a significant point of contact between Hawaiian culture and the outside world. Stroll through its charming streets to learn about its past.
The banyan tree in the historic town of Lahaina.

NOTE: In August 2023, Lahaina was hit by wildfires that devasted the town. The extent of the damage is unknown at this point, but travel to Lahaina should be avoided at the moment.

  • Art and Craft Galleries: Maui is home to numerous art galleries and studios where you can appreciate the work of local artists. Makawao, an upcountry town, is known for its art scene and cowboy heritage.
  • Haleakalā National Park: While primarily known for its natural beauty, the park also offers cultural insights. Visit Haleakalā and learn about the park’s significance in Hawaiian mythology.

SHOPPING: Oahu vs Maui

Oahu and Maui offer very different shopping experiences. 🛍️

Oahu offers high-end shopping options, while Maui’s shopping scene tends to be more laid-back and focused on local craftsmanship.

Here’s a comparison of shopping on the two islands:

Shopping on Oahu:

From high-end shopping centers to charming local markets, Oahu’s shopping scene caters to a wide range of tastes and budgets, making it a paradise for those who love retail therapy.

Here are some shopping highlights on the island of Oahu:

  • Ala Moana Center: Located in Honolulu, Ala Moana Center is one of the largest outdoor shopping malls in the world. It features a wide variety of stores, from luxury brands to popular retailers. The mall’s open-air layout and beautiful surroundings make shopping here a pleasant experience.
The Ala Moana Center is one of the largest open air malls in the world.
  • Waikiki Shopping: The Waikiki area is not only known for its stunning beaches but also for its shopping scene. Kalakaua Avenue is lined with boutiques, surf shops, and international brands. It’s a great place to find resort wear, beach gear, and souvenirs.
  • Chinatown: Honolulu’s Chinatown is a vibrant and historic district known for its eclectic shops, art galleries, and local markets. It’s an excellent place to explore and discover one-of-a-kind items.
  • Aloha Stadium Swap Meet: If you’re looking for affordable souvenirs and Hawaiian crafts, the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet is a must-visit. Held on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, it’s a sprawling market where you can find everything from clothing to jewelry and home decor.
  • Waikele Premium Outlets: For those interested in snagging deals on designer brands, the Waikele Premium Outlets offer discounted prices on various luxury and high-end items.
  • Local Artisan Markets: Throughout the island, you’ll find various local markets and craft fairs that showcase handmade crafts, jewelry, clothing, and artwork created by local artisan

Shopping on Maui:

  • Lahaina: Maui’s historic town of Lahaina offers an array of art galleries, boutiques, and shops. It’s known for its unique shops selling handmade crafts, jewelry, and local artwork.
  • Whalers Village: Located in Ka’anapali, Whalers Village features a mix of shops, galleries, and boutiques. It’s a popular spot for shopping, dining, and enjoying ocean views.
  • Local Markets: Maui hosts various farmers’ markets and craft fairs where you can purchase fresh produce, handmade crafts, and unique items directly from local vendors.
  • Upcountry Shops: In upcountry Maui, towns like Makawao have a more rustic and artistic feel, with boutiques selling locally-made items, art, and unique finds.
You'll find alot of local shops in Maui including the incredible glass art store Makai Glass Maui.
Makai Glass Maui in Makawao

Oahu vs Maui: Which is Better for a Family Vacation?

So you might be wondering whether Oahu or Maui is better for a family vacation.

Deciding between Oahu and Maui for a family vacation depends on your family’s preferences and interests. But here’s a breakdown to further help you make your choice!

Oahu for Family Vacation

The Traveling Swansons at Kualoa Ranch in Oahu.
  • Diverse Activities: Oahu offers a wide variety of activities suitable for families, from exploring the vibrant city of Honolulu to hiking to enjoying water sports, like surfing and snorkeling.
  • Family-Friendly Attractions: Oahu is home to several family-friendly attractions including the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, Kuoloa Ranch, Dole Plantation, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. These Oahu attractions provide educational and entertaining experiences for all ages.
Visiting the Dole Plantation is one of the most popular things to do in Oahu.
  • Historical and Cultural Sites: Families can learn about the history and Hawaiian culture through visits to Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace, offering educational opportunities for kids.
Visiting Pearl Harbor is one of the best things to do on Oahu.
  • Kid-Friendly Resorts: Oahu has a wide range of family-friendly resorts with amenities catering to children, such as pools, kids’ clubs, and special activities. Oahu is also home to the incredible Disney Resort, Aulani!

Maui for Family Vacation

My family and I at the Old Lahaina Luau.
The Traveling Swansons at Old Lahaina Luau in Maui.
  • Natural Beauty: Maui’s tranquil environment and beautiful landscapes provide a serene backdrop for a family vacation. The Road to Hana and Haleakalā National Park offer memorable adventures for the whole family.
  • Whale Watching: If you’re visiting during whale season (December to April), Maui’s waters are a prime spot for whale watching, offering a unique and exciting experience for kids.
  • Beaches: Maui’s beaches are generally less crowded and offer calm waters, making them ideal for families with young children to enjoy swimming and sandcastle building.
  • Outdoor Exploration: Maui’s focus on outdoor activities like hiking and snorkeling allows families to bond while exploring nature together.

Thoughts on Oahu vs Maui for a Family Vacation

In general, Oahu might be a better choice if you’re looking for a family vacation with a mix of city life, cultural experiences, and a wider range of activities.

On the other hand, Maui’s more relaxed atmosphere, natural beauty, and outdoor adventures might be a great fit if you want a serene escape for quality family time.

5 Best Things to Do in Oahu

There is no shortage of exciting activities in Oahu. Whether you’re interested in history, outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or simply relaxing on beautiful beaches, Oahu has something for everyone.

Here are our top 5 things to do on Oahu:

1. Explore Waikiki Beach

Maui vs Oahu:  Exploring Waikiki Beach is one of the best things to do on Oahu.

Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous and vibrant beaches in the world. Enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and learning to surf. The area also offers fantastic dining, shopping, and entertainment options.

2. Hike Diamond Head

Hiking Diamond Head is one of the best things to do on Oahu.

Embark on a hike to the summit of Diamond Head, a volcanic crater that offers panoramic views of Honolulu and the surrounding coastline. The hike is moderate and suitable for families, rewarding you with breathtaking vistas.

3. Kualoa Ranch

Maui vs Oahu: Oahu is home to the breathaking Kualoa Ranch.  This is the site of many movies and television shows including Jurassic Park and Jumanji.

Visiting Kualoa Ranch ranks among the top Oahu activities due to its breathtaking landscapes, Hollywood film sites, diverse outdoor adventures like UTV tours and ziplining, and its deep cultural significance.

My family did the UTV tour at Kualoa Ranch and it was absolutely amazing! The scenery was stunning and it was so fun to see the filming sights of many movies including Jurassic Park/World and Jumanji.

4. Visit Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial

Oahu vs Maui:  Oahu is home to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona.

Explore the historical significance of Pearl Harbor and pay tribute to the lives lost during the attack on December 7, 1941. The USS Arizona Memorial stands as a poignant reminder of that day. The museum and exhibits provide insights into World War II history.

5. Visit the North Shore

Oahu vs Maui:  The North Shore is a must when visiting Oahu.  The North Shore is home to beautiful beaches and one of the most popular places to surf in the world.

Exploring the North Shore ranks among the top Oahu experiences due to its world-famous surfing, stunning beaches, relaxed vibe, and local charm. 🌊 🏄‍♀️ 🤙

From thrilling waves to the charming Haleiwa town, food trucks, and historical sites, the North Shore offers a diverse blend of natural beauty and cultural richness that captures the essence of Hawaii.

5 Best Things to Do in Maui

From natural wonders to cultural explorations, the island of Maui offers a diverse range of activities that cater to various interests and preferences.

Here are the 5 best things to do in Maui:

1. Drive the Road to Hana

Oahu vs Maui:  The Road to Hana is one of the best things to do in Maui.

Embark on the scenic journey along the famous Road to Hana, a winding coastal highway that takes you through lush rainforests, waterfalls, and stunning vistas. Along the way, stop at various points of interest for hikes and photo opportunities.

2. Watch the Sunrise at Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā National Park is one of the best things to do in Maui.  Drive high above the clouds as you drive to the summit.

Witness the breathtaking sunrise from the summit of Haleakalā volcano. The view from above the clouds is a truly magical experience and is often considered a must-do activity on Maui.

If you’re traveling to Hawaii with teens like myself, getting up before sunrise might not be the most ideal time. However, still plan to visit no matter what time of the day you can!

3. Maui Pineapple Tour

Oahu vs Maui:  Maui is home to the popular Maui Pineapple Tour.  It is one of the best things to do in Maui.

When visiting Hawaii, a pineapple tour is a must! 🍍 After all, when you think of Hawaii you think of pineapples.

The Maui Pineapple Tour is located at Maui’s only pineapple farm, Maui Gold. On this 1.5-hour pineapple farm tour, you’ll visit the Maui Gold pineapple fields and factory. You’ll learn about the history of the pineapple in Hawaii, the growing cycle and cultivation techniques, and taste the super sweet Maui Gold pineapple. Each guest also receives a free pineapple to take home in an airport-ready box!

4. Old Lahaina Luau

Old Lahaina Luau is the best luau on the island of Maui.

Old Lahaina Luau is a must when on the island of Maui. This luau is the most popular and highly recommended luau in Maui. In fact, it was my favorite activity that my family did while we were in Hawaii! 🌺

Set against the ocean, it offers a traditional feast with local dishes, hula dancing, live Hawaiian music, and cultural demonstrations. Guests can learn about Hawaiian traditions, and the luau captures the authentic spirit of the islands. With a spectacular sunset backdrop, warm hospitality, and a focus on preserving heritage, the Old Lahaina Luau is a must-visit for those seeking an immersive Hawaiian experience.

5. Whale Watching

If traveling to Maui during the winter months, make sure to go whale watching.

If you’re visiting between December and April, Maui’s waters become a haven for humpback whales during their annual migration. Join a whale-watching tour to witness these majestic creatures breaching and playing in the ocean.

Summary: Oahu vs Maui

The choice between Oahu and Maui depends entirely on your preferences and what you’re looking for in your Hawaiian vacation. Both islands offer unique experiences and attractions.

Here is a summary of what we have talked about in this guide!

Oahu:

  • Offers a mix of urban life and natural beauty.
  • The bustling city of Honolulu with historical sites and modern amenities.
  • Iconic Waikiki Beach with a vibrant atmosphere.
  • Diverse cultural attractions, including Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
  • More varied shopping, dining, and entertainment options.
  • Active nightlife and social scene.
  • Wide range of water sports and activities.

Maui:

  • Serene and laid-back atmosphere.
  • Stunning natural landscapes, including Haleakalā National Park and the Road to Hana.
  • Excellent snorkeling, diving, and whale-watching opportunities (in season).
  • More tranquil and less crowded beaches.
  • Focus on outdoor activities like hiking and exploring nature.
  • Charming upcountry towns with local art and crafts.
  • Relaxed and romantic ambiance.

Where to Stay in Oahu

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort (Waikiki Area)

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is one of the best places to stay in Oahu due to its prime location along Waikiki Beach plus its extensive array of amenities.

The famous Rainbow Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.

My family absolutely loved our time here! This resort has everything and I mean everything! You’ll find lots of shopping from groceries to Hawaiian clothing to Lous Vuitton. Also, plenty of restaurants to choose from including 2 Starbucks on-property. There is also a doctor’s office on the property which means visiting the doctor on vacation doesn’t have to ruin your vacation.

Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa (Ko Olina)

Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, is another of the best places to stay on Oahu, and if you’re a Disney lover then don’t even think twice about it, book Aulani Resort!!

Aulani Resort & Spa is an incredible Disney Resort located in Oahu.

Aulani Resort is an enchanting blend of Disney magic and Hawaiian culture.

It is set along the tranquil shores of Ko Olina which feels a world away from the business of Waikiki. It’s a family-friendly paradise with luxurious accommodations, immersive storytelling, and a host of activities for all ages.

My family really enjoyed our time here! The lazy river, water slides, Mickey Shave Ice, and character breakfast were a few of our favorite things at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa.

Turtle Bay Resort (North Shore)

Turtle Bay Resort is widely regarded as one of the best places to stay on the North Shore of Oahu due to its breathtaking oceanfront location and amenities.

Nestled on a pristine stretch of coastline, the resort provides direct access to iconic North Shore beaches and world-class surf breaks. Its secluded setting creates a serene and natural environment. With its focus on outdoor adventures including golfing and horseback riding to relaxation and authentic Hawaiian culture, Turtle Bay Resort provides an unparalleled North Shore getaway.

Where to Stay in Maui

Fairmont Kea Lani (Wailea)

Fairmont Kea Lani is a 5-star resort located on the island of Maui in Wailea. It is Hawaii’s only all-suite and village oceanfront resort.

Fairmont Kea Lani is a 5 star luxury resort located in Maui.  It's the only all-suite and village oceanfront resort in Hawaii.

This resort has a modern chic vibe, lush tropical gardens, and the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. But where this resort really stands out is with its impeccable service.

The pool area is also fabulous! My kids enjoyed the water slide and the basketball hoop. My husband and I enjoyed the swim-up bar. This resort is super quiet and great for those looking for relaxation.

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa (West Maui)

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa is consistently regarded as one of the best resorts in Maui. Its prime location on Ka’anapali Beach offers guests direct access to a beautiful stretch of shoreline and breathtaking ocean views. The resort’s expansive pools, complete with waterfalls, slides, and a splash pad, create a super fun and family-friendly environment.

Furthermore, the resort’s commitment to Hawaiian culture is evident through its authentic luau, cultural activities, and Polynesian-inspired architecture. They even have penguins and flamingos onsite!

FAQs- Oahu or Maui

Kim enjoying the beautiful view from her room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.
Which island is best for first time in Hawaii?

Oahu is the best island for first-timers to Hawaii. Oahu has the best of both worlds. You can experience the city life of Honolulu and also the more laid-back areas such as Ko Olina and the North Shore.

Why is Oahu the most popular island?

Oahu’s popularity is attributed to its iconic Waikiki Beach, rich cultural attractions like Pearl Harbor, urban amenities in Honolulu, diverse activities, various accommodation options, and picturesque landscapes used in film and TV. It’s also very accessible via the major airport, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL).

How many days do you need in Maui?

To see Maui’s highlights, 3-4 days would be great. However, to really see the island you should stay at least 5-7 days.

Are beaches better in Oahu or Maui?

Both Oahu and Maui have beautiful beaches great for relaxing, snorkeling, or surfing. Which particular beach that is better for one person might not be better for the next person.

Is it more expensive to stay in Oahu or Maui?

You’ll find Oahu has more affordable accommodations, specifically in Honolulu versus Maui. Maui is known for its super luxurious resorts, however, Oahu has its fair share of luxurious resorts too.

Final Thoughts: Oahu vs Maui

A must-take picture spot at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.

In the end, the decision between Oahu and Maui comes down to what kind of Hawaiian experience YOU are looking for!

Oahu, with its lively urban scene, historical landmarks, and vibrant beach culture, offers a dynamic mix of entertainment and cultural immersion.

On the other hand, Maui beckons with its serene landscapes, opportunities for outdoor exploration, and a more relaxed atmosphere that encourages rejuvenation and tranquility.

So you might be wondering, which island my family and I prefer…..

Without a doubt, OAHU is our favorite!! 🌴 🌆

For us, Oahu had everything we wanted in a Hawaiian vacation.

Here are some of my favorite things from our recent trip to Oahu:

I enjoyed the view of the Honolulu cityscape and the mountains from our hotel at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki! 🌇

I loved the panoramic view at the peak of Diamond Head with the tall buildings and beach. It was absolutely memorizing!

I loved the energetic vibe of the city and all of the shopping. 🛍️

I loved going to the windward shore for a completely different change of scenery. The mountains in and around Kualoa Ranch were absolutely breathtaking! And the UTV tour there was so much fun! The Byodo-In Temple near it was also so amazing to see! ⛩️

I am also a huge Disney fan, so needless to say I also greatly enjoyed our time at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa!

But since Oahu was right for us, doesn’t mean it’s right for you!

So whether you’re drawn to Oahu’s energetic diversity or Maui’s peaceful escape, the Hawaiian Islands are ready to welcome you with their enchanting wonders.

Aloha! 🌺