Swaying palm trees, endless turquois waves and technicolor coral reefs. It’s easy to understand why pictures of Oahu and Maui grace so many travel pamphlets, screen savers and stock images you come across on a daily basis. While you can’t go wrong with a vacation to either of these two beautiful islands in Hawaii, each one offers unique features to create a different experience. Whether you’re visiting The Aloha State for the first time or looking to explore a new island on a return trip, choosing Maui over Oahu or vice versa can be a tough decision. Here are a few things to consider before you book your getaway:
Oahu: Both islands are blessed with shimmering waters, white sand beaches and postcard-worthy sunsets, but Oahu doesn’t stop there. Home to Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital city, this popular island blends stunning natural scenery and towering green mountains with the urban causalities of high-rise buildings, malls and museums. For this, it is the most populated island in Hawaii, giving its residents and tourists access to the pleasures of a big city while situated just steps from the beach.
Maui: Referred to as The Valley Isle, Maui is made up of two volcanoes with a bridge of flat land in the middle. While larger in size (the second largest island in Hawaii to be exact), Maui’s population is significantly less than Oahu. Millions visit this beautiful island each year, many of whom are residents from other Hawaiian Islands looking to get away from the traffic and over-crowded beaches of their homelands and enjoy the charm of the island’s quaint towns and stress-free mantra.
The Best Beaches
Oahu: Hawaii is home to hundreds of beaches, and many of those are in Oahu. Waikiki Beach is arguably the most famous beach in not only Oahu but Hawaii as a whole. A gathering place for tourists since the early 1950s, the 2-mile stretch of sand and sea is made up of eight sections connected to one another by a boardwalk, perfect for tourists looking to swim, surf and snorkel without leaving the city. For a less cosmopolitan feel, head to Lanikai Beach, located in the sleepy town of Kailua. This beach has been rated as one of the most beautiful in the world and provides calm, clear blue waters year-round thanks to an offshore reef. Be sure to look for colorful fish and sea turtles!
Maui: Makena Beach State Park is the most photographed beach in all of Hawaii, and once you’ve visited, it’s easy to see why. With golden sands, turquoise waters and far fewer crowds due to its large size and distance from most resorts, this Maui gem is perfect for a day trip. Ka’anapali Beach is another popular beach in Maui and was once a retreat exclusively for royalty on the island. Today, much of the watering hole is open to the public, allowing you to spend an afternoon parasailing, boating and surfing. Head over to Black Rock, a large lava rock formation and popular spot for jumping into the ocean.
Oahu: Scenic beaches are only part of the gifts this island has to give. With Honolulu at the south shore, Oahu is home to a variety of shopping centers, dining hot spots and renowned museums for all ages to enjoy. You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate a trip to Pearl Harbor and feel humbled as you stand above the wreckage of the USS Arizona. For a different kind of history, visit Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, home of the largest Polynesian cultural artifacts collection in the world. The museum also houses a variety of hands-on exhibits examining everything from Pacific plants and animals to surfing and volcanoes. In the evening, make a trip to Paradise Cove for one of the largest and most popular luau shows in Hawaii, complete with fire dancing, arts and crafts demonstrations, an imu ceremony and traditional Hawaiian feast.
Maui: While Oahu wins when it comes to cosmopolitan opportunities, Maui takes the crown when it comes to hikes. In fact, most of Maui’s notable activities embrace the outdoors, making the island a perfect choice for nature lovers looking to escape the city lights, put away their smart phones and reconnect with one another. If you don’t mind getting up early on your vacation, a hike to the Haleakala Crater at sunrise is an absolute must. This enormous shield volcano provides arguably the most spectacular sunrise you’ll ever witness, complete with panoramic views and native flora and fauna you won’t find anywhere else. For impressive views with a less early wakeup call, take a drive on the Road to Hana. This scenic highway will have you twisting and turning around Maui’s cascading waterfalls, lavish rainforests and, of course, stunning beaches. Want to see it all from a different point of view? Take a helicopter tour and enjoy a private landing on some of Maui’s most unique locations.
Oahu: Being the most populated Hawaiian island means there is a lot of diversity, especially when it comes to cuisine. From classic Hawaiian and Vietnamese to French, Indian and Portuguese, you’ll find all of your favorites all within reach. Regardless of what cultural dishes you desire, indulging in some garlic shrimp on the North Shore is an absolute must. Don’t bother getting dressed up, though. This local delicacy is best served fresh from a shack or truck parked between the towns of Haleiwa and Kahuku. Some of the most notable eateries to experience the alluring aroma of sizzling garlic and melting butter include Romy’s Kahuku Prawns & Shrimp, Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp Truck and Big Wave Shrimp.
Maui: If you’re looking for authentic Hawaiian dining – we’re talking endless fresh fish with Polynesian flavors in an open-air dining room – Maui will easily make your mouth water. Mama’s Fish House, an award-winning restaurant in Ku’au, invites patrons to dine in a Polynesian-inspired dining room overlooking the ocean while savoring fresh fish caught the same day. Looking for something a little more laid-back? Grab a seat at one of the surfboard picnic tables at Coconut’s Fish Café and order a round of fish tacos topped with fresh mango salsa and coleslaw (featuring mango milk instead of mayo). Kimo’s is another popular hot spot, celebrated for its oceanfront views, tropical cocktails and reasonably priced menu. While restaurants in Maui have a reputation for being a little more expensive than Oahu, like anywhere you travel, it all depends on the individual restaurant.
Ready to experience the best of these islands for yourself? Take advantage of discounted hotel rates and airfare when you reserve one of Vacation by Marriott’s exclusive packages to Oahu or Maui.