As you probably already know, Hawaii consists of eight main islands, most of which are inhabited and open to visitors. The most popular islands to visit are Oahu, Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, and Lanai. These popular tourist destinations offer visitors stunning beaches, active volcanoes, natural beauty, and award-winning golf courses.
But Hawaii is not just a tourist destination. The islands are rich in history, and preservation of the islands’ natural resources is crucial to keeping this place a tropical getaway that families can enjoy for generations to come. Keep this in mind while visiting this beautiful paradise.
When planning a visit to the islands, you’ll probably want to research which island is best for you in terms of accommodation options, outdoor activities, and proximity to other top attractions. If you have the means to, I highly suggest visiting multiple islands, as each one offers visitors a different vibe. There are multiple flights between islands, so island hopping is a breeze in Hawaii.
Without further ado, let’s get into the best areas and neighborhoods to stay in Hawaii! We’ll also briefly go over our top picks for hotels and vacation rentals in each area so you can get a feel of the type of accommodations that each place has to offer.
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Show Table of Contents
- TL;DR: Best Places to Stay in Hawaii
- Best Areas to Stay in Hawaii
- Where to Stay in Hawaii
- 1. Waikiki, Oahu
- 2. Ko Olina, Oahu
- 3. Kapolei, Oahu
- 4. North Shore, Oahu
- 5. Kaanapali, Maui
- 6. Wailea, Maui
- 7. Poipu, Kauai
- 8. Princeville, Kauai
- 9. Kapaa, Kauai
- 10. Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island
- 11. Hilo, Hawaii Island
- 12. Waikoloa, Hawaii Island
- 13. Lanai Island
- 14. Molokai Island
- Where is the most luxurious place to stay in Hawaii?
- How difficult is island hopping in Hawaii?
- Which Hawaiian island is the best to visit?
- Which is the least touristy Hawaiian island?
TL;DR: Best Places to Stay in Hawaii
- Best Luxury Hotel in Hawaii – Four Seasons Resort Lanai (Lanai Island)
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Hawaii – Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay (Kapaa)
- Best Budget Hotel in Hawaii – Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa (Kailua-Kona)
- Best Vacation Rental in Hawaii – Papakea Resort Condo (Kaanapali)
- Best Resort in Hawaii – Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina (Ko Olina)
- Best Family-Friendly Hotel in Hawaii – Hilton Hawaiian Village (Waikiki)
Best Areas to Stay in Hawaii
- Best area for first-timers/tourists – Waikiki, Oahu
- Best area for budget travelers – Kapolei, Oahu
- Best area for luxury travelers – Lanai Island
- Best area for safety – Ka’anapali, Maui
- Best area for families – Ko Olina, Oahu
- Best area for nature lovers – Princeville, Kauai
- Best area for shopping – Wailea, Maui
- Best area for outdoor adventures – Hilo, Big Island
- Best area for culture and history – Molokai Island
Where to Stay in Hawaii
1. Waikiki, Oahu
Everyone has heard of the famous Waikiki Beach, and for good reason. The beach, located on Oahu’s south shore, was once the site where Hawaiian royals would surf and relax and has transformed into the ultimate tropical getaway. Waikiki Beach is the best place to stay in Hawaii if you’re a first-timer or just looking for the ultimate convenience.
The Honolulu neighborhood is filled with some of the best restaurants and best hotels in Hawaii. In Waikiki, you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous beaches, swaying palm trees, and high-end shopping while being in close proximity to some of Oahu’s top attractions, including Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, and Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.
If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll love to visit the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium, both located in Waikiki near Kapiolani Park. Staying in Waikiki allows you to choose if you want to have a completely relaxing beach vacation or if you want to adventure throughout Oahu island.
If you plan to rent a car, there are several car rental companies that have offices in Waikiki if you’d rather not deal with it upon arrival at the Honolulu International Airport.
While the whole island of Oahu is easily accessible from Waikiki, here is a list of my top picks of things to do in and around Waikiki:
- Learn about the Pearl Harbor bombings at the USS Arizona Memorial
- Enjoy the various nearby hiking trails, including Diamond Head, Koko Head, Manoa Falls, and Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
- Go shopping at Ala Moana Center, the world’s largest open-air shopping mall
- Enjoy a sunset and cocktail cruise along Waikiki beach
- Visit ‘Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States
For more ideas of things to do in Waikiki, check out our list of Fun & Best Things to Do in Waikiki, Hawaii. Otherwise, here are our top recommendations for accommodations in Waikiki:
- Best Budget Hotel: Waikiki Malia by Outrigger – The Waikiki Malia is a great affordable option in Waikiki that features clean, spacious rooms. It is just a few blocks from the shores of Waikiki Beach.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach – This stunning hotel boasts amazing views of the famous Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head from its modern rooftop pool area. You’ll be wow-ed as soon as you walk into the lobby and see the giant oceanarium tank.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hilton Hawaiian Village – This resort is an amazing family-friendly hotel in Waikiki. The resort features five swimming pools, daily cultural activities, a fitness center, and direct beach access. It’s the perfect place to be based during your Waikiki Beach vacation.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Hawaii & Places to Visit
2. Ko Olina, Oahu
Located on the west coast of Oahu, Ko Olina is a resort area known for its calm lagoons and white sand beaches. If you’re trying to figure out where to stay in Hawaii with kids, I highly recommend Ko Olina! The ocean is calm here year-round because of the protected lagoons and it’s home to Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa.
Even if you’re not staying at Aulani, you can still enjoy the restaurants, including breakfast with Disney characters. Ko Olina is a self-contained area with several dining options and awesome local boutiques. There is even a convenience store if you’ve forgotten to pack something.
Two of my favorite local boutiques, Mahina and BikiniBird, have storefronts in Ko Olina that offer cute outfits and high-end swimwear. In addition to all of this, Ko Olina also has its own golf course that you can enjoy while visiting. The entrance and exit to the resort area leads directly to the H-1 freeway, so you can easily access the rest of the island.
Unless you plan to be on the same beach all day everyday (no judgment here!), I recommend renting a car, as Oahu’s public transportation system is not accessible from Ko Olina. You can get from Ko Olina to Waikiki in 45 minutes to just over an hour, depending on traffic.
Otherwise, here are the best things to do in Ko Olina:
- If you’re a Disney fan, Aulani’s character breakfast is a must!
- Dinner at Mina’s Fish House at the Four Seasons Resort (I recommend the lobster bisque with truffle boba, yum!)
- Enjoy traditional Hawaiian cuisine and a show at Paradise Cove Luau
- Go on a dolphin and sea turtles snorkel tour from Ko Olina’s Malakole Harbor
- Play a round of golf at the Ko Olina Golf Club
Even if you’re not planning to stay in Ko Olina, it’s still an awesome place to visit, especially for kids. Not only can you see some of your favorite Disney characters on vacation at Aulani, but the lagoons here are also protected from large waves, which makes it a safe place for the whole family to enjoy the warm sea.
If this does sound like the perfect place for you to stay in Hawaii, here are our top accommodation picks:
- Best Budget Vacation Rental: Coconut Plantation Condo – This beautifully-decorated condo can accommodate up to six guests and is located in a secure gated community. You can walk to the lagoons of Ko Olina in just a few minutes.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club – This hotel features not one but three outdoor pools and is located right on the beach. Guests can also enjoy a poolside bar and an on-site restaurant.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina– Nothing says luxury quite like the Four Seasons brand. The hotel features four outdoor pools, a relaxing spa, and four restaurants.
3. Kapolei, Oahu
If you’re searching for where to stay in Hawaii on a budget, I highly recommend looking into Kapolei! Kapolei is also located on the west coast of Oahu and is the second-largest city on the island. The town is more residential than Waikiki and Ko Olina but offers visitors more affordable hotel options than the latter.
Kapolei is a great option for where to stay in Hawaii if you’re traveling with kids. Not only do many of the hotels offer family and adjoining rooms, but you’re less than 10 minutes away from Ko Olina.
If you’re hoping to give your kids a magical Disney Aulani experience without breaking the bank, staying in Kapolei and visiting Aulani during the day is a great alternative. I would only recommend staying in Kapolei if you absolutely plan to rent a car while on the island.
While you can access public transportation in Kapolei, you’ll have to change buses in downtown Honolulu if you want to reach Waikiki Beach, the east side of the island, and the North Shore. This will make your journey much longer than if you were to drive. But this is the trade-off for more affordable accommodation options.
Top things to do in Kapolei include:
- Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii waterpark
- Zipline at Coral Crater Adventure Park
- Ka Makana Ali’i shopping center
- Go on a tour at the Hawaiian Railway Society
Kapolei is not usually on tourists’ itineraries, but it is a nice stop if you’re looking for affordable dining options and several local boutiques if you’re looking for some souvenirs. Even so, it’s a nice and affordable place to base yourself while on Oahu and offers a bit of a break from the crowds of Waikiki and Ko Olina. Here are our top hotel picks in Kapolei:
- Best Budget Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu Kapolei – This hotel is located just next to the Ka Makana Ali’i mall and features free Wi-Fi throughout the property, free breakfast, and an outdoor swimming pool.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Embassy Suites by Hilton Oahu Kapolei – This modern hotel features a lovely pool and hot tub area, free breakfast, and a free shuttle service.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Unfortunately, there are no luxury hotels in Kapolei. No worries, though. Ko Olina is less than 15 minutes up the coast and offers wonderful luxury beachfront hotel options.
See Related: A Guide to Hiking Oahu’s Stairway to Heaven
4. North Shore, Oahu
Oahu’s North Shore is home to world-class surfing, glassy water, and a laidback surfer vibe that’ll turn anyone into a beach person. The North Shore is home to some of the most lovely beaches on Oahu, including Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, and Ke Iki Beach.
The North Shore of Oahu is one of the best places to stay in Hawaii if you’re looking to appreciate the Hawaiian islands’ natural beauty without the distraction of the hustle and bustle of a city. There are no high-rises on this side of the island, and the people are super friendly.
The North Shore includes several charming beach towns, including Haleiwa, Laie, Pupukea, Kahuku, and Waialua. Each town offers beautiful beaches and a feeling of an endless summer. If you’ve ever dreamed of living
The beautiful beaches of the North Shore aren’t the only things that’ll have you coming back to this part of the island. Here are some of my top picks of things to do on and near the North Shore of Oahu:
- Check out the food trucks in the beach town of Haleiwa (my favorite is Giovanni’s)
- Spot Hawaiian Monk seals and Hawaiian Green sea turtles at Laniakea Beach Park
- Enjoy a refreshing cup of Dole Whip at Dole Plantation
- Snorkel at Shark’s Cove
- Jump from the rock at Waimea Bay
- Go horseback riding along the shore
- Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center
Even if you don’t plan to stay on the North Shore, it’s definitely an area you must visit when on Oahu! But it does make an awesome island getaway where you’re surrounded by the waves of the ocean and not much else. Here are our favorite accommodations on the North Shore of Oahu:
- Best Budget Vacation Rental: Pupukea Studio – This charming studio is just a few minutes away from top attractions like Waimea Bay and Shark’s Cove.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore – This hotel is located right across the street from a lovely beach and adjacent to the Polynesian Cultural Center.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Turtle Bay Resort – This luxury resort is not far from some of the most beautiful beaches on the island. The resort offers six dining options, a luau show, and even its own surf school. Guests are welcome to enjoy the beachfront at Kuilima Cove or the fun outdoor swimming pool.
5. Kaanapali, Maui
Located in West Maui, Kaanapali is the top resort area of the Valley Isle. It’s home to several of Maui’s most spectacular family-friendly hotels and resorts and was the first planned resort area in Hawaii.
Kaanapali is a neighborhood of Lahaina, one of the oldest towns in the Hawaiian islands. The town has a rich whaling history dating back to the 1800s. Lahaina is also home to one of the oldest banyan trees in the United States; it was planted over 150 years ago! The town also served as the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom from 1820 to 1845.
This is one of the best areas to stay in Hawaii for those looking for family fun and adventure. Kaanapali is pretty self-contained and offers all the amenities you’ll need to live your best tropical vacation life.
The beach in Kaanapali is a three-mile stretch of white sand complemented by crystal-clear water and was once named America’s Best Beach. In the evening, don’t miss the daily cliff diving ceremony. At this time, a cliff diver runs along the rocky portion of the shore, lighting torches and blowing into a conch shell before diving off the top of the rock.
Kaanapali is home to two golf courses that are both suitable for golfers of all levels. You can also enjoy great shopping at Whalers Village or in Lahaina town. So whether you’re looking to lay out on the beach, hit the links, or partake in some retail therapy, you can find all that you need right here.
Some fun things to do in and around Kaanapali include:
- World-class shopping at Whalers Village
- Enjoy the Old Lahaina Luau dinner show
- Check out the art galleries on Front Street in Lahaina
- Lounge on Kaanapali Beach
- Enjoy a round of golf at the Royal Kaanapali Golf Course or Ka’anapali Kai Golf Course
- Zipline at Kaanapali Skyline Eco Adventures
Kaanapali has a lot to see and do, so it’s worth a stop even if you don’t plan to stay here. Lahaina is also a must-see place while on Maui. And if this area does catch your eye, here are our best recommendations for hotels in Kaanapali:
- Best Budget Vacation Rental: Papakea Resort Condo – This garden-level condo is located at a beachfront property filled with tropical plants, koi ponds, and a ton of amenities. It’s not far from some of Kaanapali’s best restaurants and shops.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Kaanapali Beach Hotel – Surrounded by lush tropical gardens, this hotel was recognized as “Hawaii’s most Hawaiian hotel” for its wide variety of cultural activities and experiences offered to guests.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa – This stunning resort features an amazing waterpark, three other outdoor swimming pools, and a full-service spa. Check out the hotel’s Drums of the Pacific Luau for a Hawaiian buffet and live entertainment.
See Related: Best Islands to Visit Around the World
6. Wailea, Maui
Wailea is a stunning resort area located in beautiful south Maui. It is home to some of the best beaches and impressive golf courses on the island. This is also where you’ll find the highest concentration of luxury hotels on Maui. This part of the island is much quieter than west Maui while still offering visitors gorgeous beaches and amenities.
Wailea Beach was also once named America’s Best Beach and is excellent for swimmers of all ages. Nearby Polo Beach is a great place for snorkeling and observing magnificent marine life. If you’re looking for a place to unwind, most of the luxury hotels in Wailea offer fantastic full-service days spas that offer scalp, face, and body treatments so you can relax and rejuvenate.
This luxury escape is among one of the best places to stay in Hawaii if you’re looking for a tropical getaway while being completely pampered. The services at Wailea’s luxury hotels are top-notch, and all details are thought of. Nature lovers can also indulge themselves in countless beach activities offered by resorts and nearby tour companies.
Some fun things to do in Wailea include:
- Playing a round of golf at Wailea Blue, Gold, or Emerald golf courses
- Visit the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve
- Go snorkeling at Turtle Town
- Spend a day at Big Beach
- Enjoy traditional Hawaiian dances, games, and music at the Te Au Moana luau
- Luxury shopping at The Shops at Wailea
If you’d like to spend a day in luxury, Wailea is a fabulous place to do this. The Shops at Wailea features stores such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Prada. The resort area’s luxury hotels also offer some of the finest spas on the island. Here are our top picks for accommodations in Wailea:
- Best Budget Hotel: Days Inn by Wyndham Maui Oceanfront – This affordable hotel offers guests direct access to the sandy beaches of Wailea. Some guest rooms also feature stunning ocean views. A fitness center, beachfront restaurant, and free parking are also available to guests.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea – This hotel is just a 15-minute walk from the beach and features a beautiful outdoor swimming pool.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea – This luxurious resort features three swimming pools and three on-site restaurants. Kids can enjoy the children’s club while adults relax at the full-service spa and salon.
7. Poipu, Kauai
Located on Kauai’s south shore, Poipu Beach is a perfect escape for a family-friendly vacation on Kauai island. The biggest draw of Poipu Beach is its gorgeous crescent-shaped sandy beach surrounded by lava rocks.
This bay is known for its calm waters and fantastic snorkeling. The waters of Poipu are known to be calm year-round, making it a fantastic place for the whole family to enjoy. The natural beauty of the island is showcased in Poipu through its several surrounding beaches.
While Baby Beach and Poipu Beach are both known for their calm waters, Shipwreck Beach is known as a popular sunset and surfing spot. Head a bit west, and you’ll end up at Spouting Horn, a stunning natural display of a geyser-like spout of ocean water.
Kauai island is fairly small, so even if you’re based on the south shore, you are still able to easily access the rest of the island in a short amount of time. However, Poipu and the surrounding area also offer a ton of fun things to do and see.
Some of the best things to do in and around Poipu include:
- Enjoying seafood and local flavors at Beach House Restaurant
- Zipline just north of Poipu in Koloa
- Tour the back roads of Kauai on an ATV
- Snorkel the shallow waters of Baby Beach
- Visit McBryde & Allerton Gardens, National Tropical Botanical Garden
- Watch the sunset from the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
- Play a round of golf at Poipu Bay Golf Course
- Visit Spouting Horn blowhole
Poipu is a fantastic place to visit, especially if you’re looking for calmer water. Poipu Beach is a fantastic spot for the whole family to snorkel and is among the island’s most beautiful beaches. If this sounds like the place for you, here are our top recommendations for accommodations in Poipu:
- Best Budget Vacation Rental: Poipu Oceanfront Condo – This beautiful condo puts you in the heart of Poipu with a private lanai that overlooks the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club – This lovely beachfront hotel is full of tropical green gardens and features two swimming pools and a poolside bar.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort – This tropical island resort features seven restaurants, a golf course, and a spa. There is also a luau everyday Wednesday and Sunday that is accompanied by a Hawaiian buffet.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Maui, Hawaii
8. Princeville, Kauai
On the complete opposite side of the Garden Isle from Poipu, you’ll find the gorgeous resort town of Princeville. Princeville is surrounded by some of Kauai’s top attractions, including beautiful beaches, hiking trails, botanical gardens, and state parks.
The most popular beaches on this side of the island are Ke’e Beach, Haena Beach, Tunnels Beach, Hanalei Pier, and Queen’s Bath. Ke’e Beach is the last beach you can drive to before hitting the famed Na Pali Coast, which is only accessible by boat. The 1957 film South Pacific was filmed at Haena Beach, while Soul Surfer (2011) was filmed at the next beach over, Tunnels Beach.
Queen’s Bath is an absolutely breathtaking tidepool area just outside of Princeville. While it can be an absolutely gorgeous place to swim and admire marine life, the rocks can get slippery and rogue waves can show up unexpectedly. If you choose to take a dip at Queen’s Bath, always be aware of your surroundings and never turn your back to the ocean.
The ocean on the north shore of all the Hawaiian islands is much rougher during the winter months, so keep that in mind before visiting. Some of the amazing things to do and see around Princeville include:
- Swimming and snorkeling at one of the beaches above
- Visit the dazzling Na Pali Coast on a half-day snorkel tour
- Enjoy the views from Koke’e State Park
- Sample local fruit, honey, and chocolate on a tour of the Princeville Botanical Garden
- Go on a Kauai movie tour
- Jump off the end of Hanalei Pier
- Hike the Kalalau Trail
Princeville is a great place to stay if you want to be in the middle of all the action on Kauai. Here are our top picks for hotels in Princeville:
- Best Budget Vacation Rental: Sealodge Condo – This charming condo is located on the stunning cliffs of Princeville and can accommodate up to four guests.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: The Cliffs at Princeville – There are endless amenities for guests to enjoy at this resort, including two tennis courts, two swimming pools, and a playground.
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas – Overlooking the North Shore of Kauai, this resort offers spacious villas that include all the most important amenities, including full kitchens. There is also a complimentary shuttle that will take you to the surrounding golf course and shopping centers.
9. Kapaa, Kauai
Located on Kauai’s eastern shore, Kapaa is the largest town on Kauai. Despite holding that title, Kapaa definitely gives off small beach town vibes. The town is surrounded by sandy beaches, great hiking trails, and lush tropical forests.
The other areas we’ve mentioned on Kauai, like Princeville and Poipu, are resort destinations made for visitors. Kapaa, on the other hand, is an authentic Kauai town where locals come to as part of their daily lives. As a result, it’s also a bit less expensive.
You’ll also find some great local boutiques and fun eateries. If you’re looking for a keepsake or something to bring back for a loved one, check out the Coconut Marketplace, where you’ll find many jewelry shops, art galleries, and souvenir shops.
There are some great sandy beaches on the shores in and around Kapaa, some of which have great waves for surfing. The roads up the mountain reveal several waterfalls, and if you kayak up the Wailua river, you can escape into an island jungle that seems like it came from another planet.
Plus, Kapaa is a central place that makes for convenient access to the rest of Kauai. While in town, these are some of the top things to see and do:
- Surf or swim at Kealia Beach
- Take a short hike to Ho’opi’i Falls
- Drive to the Opaeka’a Falls viewpoint
- Kayak up the Wailua River and hike to Secret Falls
- Shop at the Coconut Marketplace
As you can see, there’s quite a bit to do in this part of Kauai, and you might consider stopping by this busy beach town whether you stay a night or not. If you want to make this your spot to explore Kauai from, here are some of the best accommodations in town:
- Best Budget Hotel: Kauai Shores Hotel – You’ll get a great deal and be directly on the beach at the Kauai Shores Hotel. Rooms are nicely outfitted with Keurig coffee machines and balconies, and happy hour by the pool is hugely popular.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay – Earn or redeem your Hilton Honors points at a great rate at this seaside property. Besides the comfortable and modern rooms, guests love the pool and hot tub by the beach after a long day of fun under the Kauai sun.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort – This property was recently upgraded from a Courtyard by Marriott to a Sheraton, and it’s the hotel of choice for many frequent travelers to Kauai. It’s on a great spot on Coconut Beach, has a beautiful pool, and is located minutes from a golf course.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Honolulu, Hawaii
10. Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island
Hawaii’s Big Island is appropriately nicknamed as it is Hawaii’s largest island, even including the northwestern Hawaiian islands. Its official name is Hawaii island, the same name as the state. When visiting the island, the most popular places to stay are in Kailua-Kona or Hilo.
Some visitors choose to rent a car to explore the vast island, while others just plan to relax at the beach and resort area all day, everyday. Kailua-Kona is a great area to stay in Hawaii if you’ve already visited more popular islands like Oahu or Maui and are looking for somewhere with less development and more raw beauty.
However, you also have the option of staying at a resort with a ton of amenities that you’ll never want to leave. The Kona side of the island is a bit ritzier and sunnier than its east side counterpart. Several popular luxury hotels can be found in this lovely part of the island.
The area is also known for its world-famous Kona coffee, with many plantations offering tours and tastings.
Some of the best things to do in and around Kailua-Kona include:
- Night snorkel with manta rays
- Enjoy fresh seafood at Umekes Fish Market Bar & Grill
- Swim at Kahalu’u black sand beach
- Admire the clear, glassy water at Kua Bay
- Visit Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation
- View an ancient Hawaiian village at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
- Visit the summit of Mauna Kea
Kailua-Kona is beautiful and one of my overall favorite places to stay in Hawaii. If a mix of relaxation and adventure sounds like the type of vacation you’d like to have, I recommend staying in Kailua-Kona. Here are our favorite accommodations:
- Best Budget Hotel: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kailua-Kona – This hotel is a great affordable option located right in the heart of Kailua-Kona town. It features free daily breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and a fitness center.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa – This resort offers a fun yet relaxing environment for the whole family. Guests can enjoy the hotel’s expansive multi-level pool and absolutely gorgeous views of Hawaii’s largest island.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai – There is nowhere more relaxing and secluded on Hawaii’s Big Island than the Four Seasons Resort. Three restaurants and multiple swimming pools are available for guests to enjoy. You must stop by the saltwater lagoon, King’s Pond, to say hi to Kainalu, the resident Spotted Eagle Ray.
11. Hilo, Hawaii Island
Located on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, Hilo is known as a sleepy, rainy town. The windward side of the island sees more rain than the leeward side, making this area lush and full of tropical rainforests and cascading waterfalls.
Hilo is a great place to stay in Hawaii if you want to be immersed in Hawaii’s tropical forests and other various climate zones. You can literally go from playing in the snow on Mauna Kea to surfing at Honoli’i Beach Park all in the same day.
This is the closest major town to the famous black sand beach on the Big Island, Punalu’u Beach. It’s an hour south, but the drive is well worth it, as you’ll usually find the black sand covered with green sea turtles.
While vacationing on the Big Island, a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must. The island’s top tourist destination welcomes over one million visitors every year and is easily drivable from Hilo and Kailua-Kona.
Some of the best things to do in and around Hilo include:
- Stand-up paddle boarding around Hilo Bay and Coconut Island
- Explore Hilo’s most popular waterfalls: Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls
- See Kilauea in action at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of the world’s most active volcanoes
- Have a relaxing day at Liliuokalani Gardens
- Enjoy the trails at Wailoa River State Recreation Area
- Try some local comfort food at Hawaiian Style Cafe
- Check out the fresh tropical fruit at the Hilo Farmers Market
While Hilo may seem like a sleepy little town, it’s surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island. It’s also a lot more affordable than the Kona and Kohala Coast. If Hilo sounds like the right place for you, here are the best accommodation options:
- Best Budget Hotel: Wild Ginger Hotel – This quaint hotel will put you in the midst of a tropical rainforest. The hotel features a peaceful garden, free Wi-Fi, and family rooms that can accommodate up to four guests.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Grand Naniloa Hotel, a Doubletree by Hilton – This charming oceanfront hotel offers guests stunning views of Hilo Bay and the Hamakua Coast and features an outdoor swimming pool. It is also next to the Naniloa Golf Course, where guests can enjoy a free round of golf everyday.
- Best Luxury Hotel: There are no luxury hotels in Hilo. If you are looking for luxury on the Big Island, I recommend checking out Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa. You can always make a day trip to Hilo from that side of the island!
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Maui, Hawaii
12. Waikoloa, Hawaii Island
The beautiful resort area of Waikoloa can be found just a few miles north of Kailua-Kona on the leeward side of the Big Island. Though it has been developed into a lively resort area, Waikoloa is also known for being home to ancient Hawaiian structures and petroglyphs.
This extra sunny part of the Kohala Coast features rocky beaches where beautiful Hawaiian Green sea turtles and other wonderful marine life are known to frequent. Though, the best part of staying in Waikoloa is the sprawling resorts that line the shores.
These family-friendly resorts feature everything from lazy rivers to full-service spas and golf courses. It’s a great place for the whole family to relax and have fun under the Hawaiian sun. If you’d like to explore the rest of the island, you have the option to rent a car or have your hotel arrange various tours for you and your loved ones.
Some of the best things to do in and around Waikoloa include:
- Visiting the Puako Petroglyph Park
- Enjoy a round of golf by the sea at Mauna Lani Golf
- Snorkel at Anaeho’omalu Beach
- Shop at the local boutiques at Queens’ Marketplace
- Have a peaceful moment at Buddha Point
- Try whale watching in the winter months at Puako Bay
Waikoloa is an awesome place to relax and unwind. Even if you don’t plan to stay, spending a day golfing at Mauna Lani is one of the top things you can do on the island besides visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If Waikoloa does sound interesting to you, here are our top accommodation picks:
- Best Budget Hotel: Paniolo Greens Resort – This hotel offers one- and two-bedroom villas, each complete with a fully-equipped kitchen, private balconies, washing machine and dryer, and free Wi-Fi. The property also features a swimming pool, a children’s wading area, and a fitness center.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hilton Waikoloa Village – This amazing resort spans over 62 oceanfront acres and features three swimming pools and a saltwater lagoon. The hotel takes guests to their rooms using canal boats, creating magical moments for the whole family to look back on.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection – With two championship golf courses on the property, this stunning resort is a golf lover’s dream. Additionally, this resort features a farm-to-table Hawaiian restaurant and cultural activities like hula dancing lessons.
13. Lanai Island
There is nowhere to stay in Hawaii that is more luxurious than the island of Lanai. Owned by billionaire and Oracle founder Larry Ellison, the island is a secluded playground for the rich and famous. The Four Seasons has two luxury resorts on the island, a family-friendly resort on the shores of Hulopoe Bay and an adults-only wellness resort up in the mountains above Lanai City.
No matter which hotel you choose, you’re sure to have a lovely time enjoying one of Hawaii’s least populated islands. Snorkeling, sailing, and fishing are all popular activities that you’ll be able to enjoy in this tropical paradise. The waters of Lanai are clear and warm, allowing for great views of the underwater life that surrounds the island.
While you might be tempted to spend every minute at the luxurious resorts, don’t miss the chance to rent a Jeep and tour the island. You need a Jeep in order to access most roads, but they reveal ancient rock formations, offshore shipwrecks, and herds of wild axis deer roaming the empty land.
With all of this in mind, Lanai Island is the best area to stay in the Hawaiian islands if you’re looking for a luxury vacation with a ton of privacy and natural beauty. While you’ll probably spend most of your time relaxing at the resort, some other fun things to do on Lanai include:
- Exploring Lanai City
- Visiting the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, home to over 300 felines!
- Go off-roading by renting a Jeep from the hotel
- Visit the Garden of the Gods, also known as Keahiakawelo
- Snorkel in Hulopoe Bay
Lanai is accessible via a ferry from Maui if you don’t plan to stay here and just want to explore for a day. However, if seclusion and privacy on a small Hawaiian island sound like a dream to you, here are our top accommodation picks on this tiny island:
- Best Budget Hotel: Unfortunately, there are no budget hotels or accommodations located on the island of Lanai. However, you can stay at an affordable accommodation on Maui and take the ferry over to Lanai for the day!
- Best Mid-Range Vacation Rental: Lana’i Paradise Getaway – To stay within a reasonable budget, you’ll need to stay in Lanai City and not on the beach. You can find several houses for rent, like this one, with several bedrooms and self-catering amenities for a comfortable stay in town.
- Best Luxury Hotel: Four Seasons Resort Lanai – Most visitors stay at the Four Seasons while on Lanai. This massive resort is on the best beach on the island, has the most relaxing pool I’ve ever been to, and offers Jeep rentals for going off-road on the rest of the island.
See Related: A Complete Maui Itinerary You’ll Want to Copy
14. Molokai Island
Molokai is specifically interesting for travelers who have been to Hawaii before or for those who are planning a big trip and have the time for it. This island isn’t the first on every Hawaii traveler’s mind, and it is by far the least-visited, but those who make the trip are rewarded with authentic, old Hawaii where time seems to stand still.
The only way to get to Molokai is by flight on a small Cessna from Honolulu or Maui, which will bring you to the main town of Kaunakakai in the central part of the southern coast. This is where you’ll find the island’s only true hotel, its famous bakery, and the few restaurants the locals have to choose from.
Molokai is nicknamed “The Friendly Isle,” and you should immediately notice the kindness of the small population of mostly Native Hawaiians who will be interested to know what brings you to their island. There isn’t a single traffic light here, and if you’re looking for nightlife or shopping, you’re in the wrong place.
What you will find are empty beaches, untouched mountain trails, and abundant culture. Here are some of the favorite things to do and see on Molokai:
- Get some Molokai Sweet Bread from Kanemitsu’s Bakery
- Swim, relax, and hunt for shells at the beautiful Papohaku Beach
- Make the journey to Halawa Bay, where the jungle meets the sea
- Ride a mule down the mountain to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, where a few remaining patients of the outcast leprosy community continue to live in isolation
- Take a helicopter tour of the north shore of Molokai to see the world’s tallest sea cliffs, along with endless waterfalls
Molokai isn’t for everyone, but it is incredible for the right kind of traveler. If you want to spend a few days in this hidden corner of paradise, here are your options:
- Best Budget Hotel: Kepuhi Beach Resort – This “hotel” is composed of individually-owned units on the western end of Molokai, near the beautiful Papohaku Beach. While you’re a bit of a drive from other island attractions, you’ll get a great price and amazing views, including the sparkling lights of Oahu at night.
- Best Mid-Range Vacation Rental: – This is “the hotel” on Molokai, as anything else you find is technically a vacation rental. It’s a small boutique property with an ocean view, a pool, and easy access to Kaunakakai. It’s everything you need for a stay on Molokai. Hotel MolokaiMolokai – This is “the hotel” on Molokai, as anything else you find is technically a vacation rental. It’s a small boutique property with an ocean view, a pool, and easy access to Kaunakakai. It’s everything you need for a stay on Molokai.
Where is the most luxurious place to stay in Hawaii?
Due to its seclusion, high-end amenities, and first-rate service, the most luxurious place to stay in Hawaii is the island of Lanai. The Four Seasons offers two upscale resorts with two different vibes, one on the beach and one in the mountains.
How difficult is island hopping in Hawaii?
Island hopping between Hawaii’s islands is extremely easy! There are multiple flights a day between islands. Currently, there are four airlines that offer inter-island travel, including Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
Which Hawaiian island is the best to visit?
This really depends on what kind of vacation you’re looking to have. If you’re visiting for the first time, Oahu is the best island to get a feel for the islands. Maui is the best for family-friendly fun, and Lanai is the best for privacy and luxury. Check out our article, Best Island to Visit in Hawaii: What’s Best for You? to get an in-depth breakdown and comparison of each island.
Which is the least touristy Hawaiian island?
While you can find more local sides of each island in Hawaii, if you’re looking to get off the beaten path, you should be looking at Molokai. It’s the least visited island, but don’t let that fool you – the beaches are pristine, the mountains are inspiring, and the people are among the friendliest in the state.
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Brittney is a lifelong traveler from Oahu, Hawaii. She has visited more than 35 countries and is continually researching new places to explore!