Maui vs Honolulu & Oahu

Imagine crystal clear waters, picturesque beaches, surfing, warm temperatures, and snorkeling. That’s exactly what Honolulu on the Island of Oahu and Maui has to offer.

Maui and Oahu, the island where Honolulu is located, are the most visited of the eight Hawaiian islands and they’re the typical picture of a Hawaiian holiday. They’re a popular choice among first-timers and offer a lot of amenities for tourists, such as hotels and resorts, shopping malls, restaurants, and tours.

Which one should you choose? Here you will find some things to keep in mind to help you decide where to go.

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Maui vs. Honolulu: Our Quick Take

When it comes to choosing between the two Islands, we prefer Maui. We love the resorts, the beaches and the natural beauty. We do recommend Oahu for people that want to go to Waikiki for the shopping and excitement. Since flights between the two islands are short and affordable, it is also easy to just fit in both in one trip.

Did you know?

  • 85% of all the inhabitants in Hawaii live on Oahu, and it receives half of the more than 10 million tourists that arrive every year
  • Maui is also known as the Valley Isle due to the large portion of low land between its two volcanoes, Mauna Kahalawai and Haleakala
  • Lanikai Beach’s popularity increased considerably after Barack Obama spent some vacations there between 2008 and 2012.

Maui Overview

Maui is the second most visited island in Hawaii after Oahu, and it’s famous for its beautiful beaches and beachfront resorts. Visitors flock to Maui to experience the sheer beauty and diversity of the island’s landscape.

Not only do visitors want to visit the beaches, but Maui is also home to the world’s largest dormant volcano inside Haleakalā National Park. If a trip to the park doesn’t fit your idea of an island vacation, then you might want to see the rainforests and waterfalls the island offers. 

Maui houses the Kahului Airport (OGG), and there are dozens of direct flights offered from a number of different U.S. cities, including direct connections from Los Angeles for around $400.  Several airlines offer one top flight with one-stop, including one from New York for around $550. So the island itself is easily accessible. 

Honolulu (Oahu) Overview

With nearly 1 million residents, Oahu, aka the Gathering Place, is the cultural and economical center of Hawaii and is visited by more than 5 million tourists every year. A major draw for visitors to Oahu is the capital city, Honolulu.

Honolulu itself is not only a gorgeous island destination, but it also houses many historical sites. You can see places like Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace without sacrificing a beach day.

plane to bahamas

Honolulu is home to the biggest airport in the archipelago and receives flights from all over the world. Several major airlines such as Swiss Air, United, Air New Zealand or Hawaiian Airlines, offer 10-hour direct flights from New York for around $650.

If you want to save some money, there are options for $500 with one stop in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Phoenix. Hawaiian Airlines, Air Canada, and some other airlines, also have direct flights from the west coast for less than $400.

A flight from the main European cities to Honolulu takes around 24 hours and starts at $800.

Maui is the second most visited island in Hawaii after Oahu, and it’s famous for its beautiful beaches and beachfront resorts. Several airlines offer flights with one stop from New York for around $550 and direct connections from Los Angeles for nearly $400.

Oahu & Maui Travel Packages

Maui vs Honolulu (Oahu): Best Time to Go

Honolulu receives half of all the visitors that arrive in Hawaii so planning when to go is especially important to avoid crowds and high prices.

Miami beach

Honolulu enjoys warm temperatures year round and Oahu is said to be the island with the best weather in Hawaii. Most tourists arrive between June and August during the summer months and between December and April. It goes without saying that during these periods plane tickets and hotels rates are at their highest.

Considering accommodation prices, weather, and crowds, the best months to visit Honolulu are May, September, and October.

Maui, on the other hand, has pleasant weather during the whole year but has more rainfall from November to March. Additionally, most visitors flock there between June and August, and between December and March. During these months, the island is at its busiest and accommodation is more expensive making the ideal months to go April, May, September, and early October.

Maui vs Honolulu (Oahu): Weather

Maui’s weather is almost always pleasant. It boosts year-round temperatures that range between the mid-70s to the mid-80s. The only major weather change is the amount of rain the island gets. 

Maui’s dry season runs between April and October, while the rainy season is from November to March. During the rainy seasons, the island can get anywhere from five to 12 inches of rain per month. But that’s just an average. Different areas of the island can get much more, so it’s best to plan for lots of rain if you’re traveling to Maui between November and March. 

Honolulu, and the rest of Oahu island, has very similar weather to Maui. The year-round temperature ranges between the mid-70s and mid-80s. Rain is a common occurrence on the island, but it’s more common during the rainy season from November to March. The similarities between Honolulu and Maui weather make sense given they are only about 116 miles apart.

Maui vs Honolulu (Oahu): Accommodation

Oahu and Maui are the most developed islands for tourists and even though they’re usually more expensive than the others, they both offer plenty of accommodation options for every budget.

Oahu has hotels and resorts all around the island, although many are concentrated in Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. Even though it can vary with the seasons, you can find a bed in a hostel dorm starting at $40 per night, affordable private rooms for $150, 4-star hotels for $350 per night, and exclusive beachfront houses for $700 and above.

In Maui, most of the accommodation can be found on the south or west side of the island.  A bed in a hostel dorm starts at $50 per night, a 3-star hotel with nice facilities will cost you around $250, and a more exclusive beachfront resort will set you back $600.

Maui vs Honolulu (Oahu): Things to do

Honolulu and the surrounding areas are famous for its scenic beaches, water sports, and waves making it an ideal destination for beach and surf lovers.

With views to the famous Diamond Head and great snorkeling, Waikiki is the most popular beach and it’s full of resorts, restaurants, and shops. Not too far away you also have the spectacular Lanikai, which is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. For surfing fans, the North Shore is the best option with its world-renowned beaches such as Pipeline, Sunset, and Waimea Bay.

Memorial in Oahu

Another must-see in Honolulu is the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor where you can soak up history by visiting two museums. Even though the entrance is free, there is a daily limit on visitors so it’s a good idea to book your spot in advance. If you want a cultural experience, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Paradise Cove Luau are great places to visit.

For those who are more active, the Diamond Head State Monument is a popular place for hikers and offers stunning views of the coast and the city of Honolulu.

Maui, on the other hand, offers beautiful beaches (some even with black sand), calm waters with great snorkeling spots, a wide variety of shopping areas, and famous sunsets.

For travelers who like the outdoors, Maui has got you covered. The Road to Hana, a highway that stretches for 64 miles and goes through beautiful beaches and waterfalls, is definitely a must, as well as a trip to the famous Haleakala, the largest dormant volcano on the planet.

Whale spotted in Maui

Additionally, Maui is famous for being a world-class whale-watching destination, so if you happen to visit the island from November to May, book a tour and don’t miss your chance to see the humpback whales’ migration.

Maui vs. Honolulu (Oahu): The Food

Hawaiian cuisine is a reflection of its diverse demographics and ethnicities and incorporates varied flavours. Many famous Hawaiian dishes were brought over from the Polynesian and Asian islands, while also having American and European influences.

Oahu and Maui are probably the two islands that offer more diversity when it comes to food. You have your pick of international and local dishes no matter your budget.

Apart from the famous kalua pig (pork wrapped in banana leaves), poi (taro root paste), lomi lomi salmon (salted salmon usually served with tomato and onion), luau stew (beef brisket cooked with taro leaves), and saimin (also known as the Hawaiian ramen), Oahu is famous for its delicious shrimp, especially near the North Shore.

In Maui, you can taste all the traditional Hawaiian dishes as well as some artisanal goat cheeses.

On both islands, you can expect to pay around $60 for a meal for two people in a good restaurant and between $80 and $100 for a more upscale option. If you get out of the tourist areas, you can find local places that offer some dishes for less than $20 per person.

Maui vs Honolulu (Oahu): Cost

Generally speaking, as Honolulu and Maui are the two most visited places in Hawaii, they tend to be more expensive than other islands. However, it’s also possible to enjoy both destinations without spending a lot of money.

Oahu has a wide selection of shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment areas, especially around Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, so it’s a place where you could easily spend a lot of money. The good news is that there are also many free (or almost free) things you can do to enjoy your time in this beautiful island such as trek the Diamond Head, visit the USS Arizona Memorial or enjoy one of the countless beaches on Oahu.

In terms of accommodation, shopping, and eating, Maui isn’t the cheapest island. Having said that, there are local restaurants and shops that offer great value for money and will allow you to have a more authentic Hawaiian experience.

Overall, in both islands, you can expect to spend between $150 and $250 per person per day including accommodation, food, and activities.

Maui vs. Honolulu (Oahu): Getting Around

The best way to explore both Maui and Honolulu is by renting a car which will normally cost between $40 and $50 per day. Car rentals mean you have the freedom and flexibility to explore the island on your own time. And you can visit those more remote places that aren’t serviced by public transportation.

It is important to note that both Maui and Honolulu can be hit by times of traffic congestion. If you do decide to rent a car, it’s important to do a little research about the traffic flow and when you might expect traffic.

Both islands do offer reliable and well-developed public transportation. In Maui, it’s called Maui Bus, and in Honolulu, it’s called TheBus. This option is often more affordable than long-term car rentals, and you can still reach all the must-see areas of the islands. 

Honolulu also offers a second form of public transportation called The Waikiki Trolley. This option is incredibly tourist-friendly and gets you to dozens of popular areas.

However, if you plan to have a more relaxed holiday sticking to the main cities and occasionally doing a day trip on either island, taxis, or local Uber and Lyft drivers have you covered.

Maui vs Oahu For Families

Both Maui and Oahu are very family-friendly but for different reasons. If your children want a variety, Oahu may be better for you. The Island is larger and has more diverse attractions. Your kids may have learned about Pearl Harbor in school and want to see it.

On the other hand, it may be boring for them. Oahu has more locations worth a day trip like the North Shore and the Polynesian Cultural Center, which has many interactive activities for kids. One major reason families choose Oahu is Disney’s Aulani resort.

Maui on the other hand is great if your family wants to check into a hotel and stay put. The resorts lend themselves to enjoying more swimming and beach time. There are still plenty of activities like whale watching and snorkeling with sea turtles, but it is a different type of vacation than Oahu.

Maui vs Honolulu: The Verdict

Oahu and Maui are the two most visited islands in Hawaii and the top choice for first-timers.

Honolulu is the most populated and developed island and is famous for its spectacular beaches and great waves. It’s the island where you will find the widest variety of hotels, shopping, restaurants, and nightclubs.

Additionally, it has a couple of interesting historical and cultural sites such as the Pearl Harbor memorial, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and the Paradise Cove Luau. If you like the outdoors, you could climb the famous Diamond Head and enjoys the views of Honolulu.

On the other hand, Maui is a great choice for those who want to enjoy beautiful beaches and also spend some time snorkeling and hiking. Even though there are condos, hotels, many restaurants, and shopping areas, it’s not as crowded as Oahu. Apart from its beautiful coast, Maui offers excellent outdoor activities such as the Haleakala volcano and the famous Road to Hana.

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