Without a doubt, Hawaii has some of the best shorelines in the world. Every year, millions of tourists flock to the refreshing island to take a break from the city’s often smoggy and mundane lifestyle.

A luxe vacation in Hawaii offers everything you can imagine from an island vacation. The golden sun rays pierce the briny, blue waters and the island’s cheerful spirit brings out your inner child. We’re huge fans of Hawaii. After all, Hanauma Bay in Oahu ranks in our top 20 bluest waters in the world.

With so many charming Hawaiian islands to choose from, selecting one can be difficult. You may find yourself experiencing some serious FOMO. In this post, we do a face-off between Hawaii’s two most popular islands and help you decide which one is better – Oahu or Maui?

We discuss everything from food, drink, shopping, and adventure activities to the beaches and nightlife for a fair battle.

Oahu Versus Maui – How to Get There

It can take West Coast residents up to six hours, and East Coast residents double that time to get to Hawaii by plane.

Once at the Honolulu International Airport, it’s an approximate 10-minute taxi ride to get to Waikiki in Oahu. For Maui, Kahului Airport (OCG) is the main port of entry. It takes approximately 20-minutes to get to Maui from Kahului Airport by car.

How Far Is Maui From Oahu?

Oahu and Maui are stationed approximately 65 miles (105 km) apart, with the Molokai island separating them. A plane ride from Maui to Oahu is about a swift 40-minutes. You can also fly to Honolulu International Airport (HNL) for Oahu and then take a 30 to 40-minute flight to Maui.

Is Honolulu in Maui?

No, Honolulu is not in Maui. It is on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Honolulu is the capital and largest city of Hawaii and a gateway to this heavenly island. Within Honolulu is the famed Waikiki neighbourhood – serving as the hub for Oahu’s dining, shopping, hotels, resorts, and nightlife.

Maui vs. Oahu

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When we picture an island, we think of a sandy beach, turquoise-coloured water, and palm trees with coconuts resting at its feet. But each island is a piece of heaven with its own personality and unique characteristics.

Key Differences

Oahu is the central scene of Honolulu. It’s known as one of the most diverse Hawaiian islands, offering lots of adventure (like one-of-a-kind dance shows), culture, and beautiful mountain peaks. The island offers a vibrant city life at night and fun water activities during the day – giving you the best of both worlds.

Maui is a personal favourite of tourists because it exhibits everything one imagines when thinking of Hawaii. The island is a beautiful canvas of beaches, volcanoes, palm trees, and nature.

Perhaps, one of the key differences between Oahu and Maui is the crowd. Both islands have their fair share of tourists, but Oahu has a bigger city. This makes Oahu the ideal destination for people seeking a social life and Maui the perfect spot for people who like to avoid crowds.

Adventure Activities

Both islands offer their fair share of adventure and thrill in the form of snorkelling, surfing, and hiking. Each island has its speciality for golfing, biking, windsurfing, sea kayaking, fishing, and other similar water and land sports.

Oahu’s Activities

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Known as the “gathering place,” Oahu is made up of two separate inactive volcanoes.

Surfing is popular, with waves going up to 40 to 50 feet. Snorkelling is another popular activity. The go-to places for snorkelling in Oahu are the Waikiki Marine Life Conservation District and the Hanauma Bay.

Diamond Head is a volcanic cone and probably one of the best-hiking sites in Oahu. Known as “Lēʻahi” amongst the locals, the enormous crater offers a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of Waikiki and Oahu’s south shore.

History buff or not, a visit to the Pearl Harbor and Bishop Museum will be worth your time. The Pearl Harbor in Oahu is the site of one of the most important events of WW2. It is home to the Arizona Memorial, the U.S.S. Bowfin, and the U.S.S. Missouri. The Bishop Museum showcases Hawaii’s history and culture and is known as one of the finest Polynesian museums in the world.

Other famous places in Oahu include Waikiki for a sunset sail and the Polynesian Cultural Centre to learn about the six different Polynesian cultures. This center also features displays of crafts, an indoor theatre, a nighttime show, interactive games, boat rides, and a Football Hall of Fame.

Maui’s Activities

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Maui’s nightlife falls short compared to Oahu’s. But this doesn’t mean Maui has no nightlife. Many people go to this island for its positive energy. However, most of its attraction lies in its natural beauty and peaceful stillness.

Explore the untouched parts of Maui’s island (like Hana). Visit the summit of Haleakalā and get a close-up view of the largest volcano in Maui. Boat ride to the Auau Channel and witness the whales migrate from November to March. And experience the aesthetically pleasing “up-country” lifestyle.

The “up-country” lifestyle in Maui presents a unique perspective on Hawaiian life – one often overlooked by many tourists. The hillsides of Haleakala have a series of small farms, and the town of Kila offers farm tours featuring lavender, coffee, pineapple, and proteas. You can also visit a distillery or winery here and taste Hawaii’s first-rate fruit wines.

Snorkelling is the coach of all water sports in Maui. The island’s clear waters make for a smooth and clean snorkelling experience. Discover the underwater world of sea turtles, wild dolphins, and thriving coral reefs. Some world-famed snorkelling and diving centres in Maui include the Molokini Crater, Cathedrals of Lanai, Po’olenalena Beach, and Makena Landing.

If you’re a golf expert or simply a golf enthusiast, the pristine Kapalua Plantation Course is a must on your list. It was designed by world-renowned golf architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore and interestingly sits on the slope of a dead West Maui volcano. This leads to fluctuating elevation changes between the points, making for a nail-biting game.

Another must-see attraction is the Road to Hana – an alluring highway that serves endless Jumani-type scenes; like waterfalls, gardens, beaches, and a grove of eucalyptus trees.

Shopping

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Shopping in Oahu is a heavenly experience with boutiques selling high-end brands and small stores selling locally made products. Shopping centers in Waikiki, like the DFS Galleria, Royal Hawaiian Centre, and Waikiki Beach Walk, offer arts and craft goods and designer brands and jewelry. Haute couture brands include the likes of Chanel, Coach, and Gucci.

Shopping in Maui is a popular activity for tourists. Right across the beach is the Whaler’s village that houses many Hawaiian surf brands, an escape room, high-end brands, and local stores.

The Queen Ka’ahumanu Center is the largest mall in Maui and has a wide variety of high-end fashion and luxury brands. If you’re looking for locally made goods to take back home as souvenirs or gifts, drop by Paia (on the North Shore).

Beaches

Oahu is famous for its beaches. The North shore is a treasured spot for surfers due to its huge swells, and it hosts many surf competitions annually. In winter, the North shore puts an impressive show of giant waves that you can see from the Banzai Pipeline beach.

Medium-sized beach towns make up Maui’s beach life. Maui’s beaches differ from Oahu’s by the colour of its sand – Kaanapali resort has white-sand beaches, Koki Beach Park has red sand, and Waiʻānapanapa State Park has black sand.

Culinary and Nightlife

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Oahu sure knows how to live it up. People on this side of Hawaii paint the town red almost every night. They spend their time revelling in world-famous foods, drinks, and live music at local hotspots. You’ll find yourself overindulging in the finest cuisines here and holding your tummy from fits of laughter.

Although not as boisterous as Oahu, Maui has its share of food spots where you can dine and socialize. There is an endless list of restaurants, some celebrity-owned restaurants, offering grill food, seafood, and cafe food in Maui. Spend your sunset happy hours at one of Maui’s famous restaurants while spoiling yourself to delectable dishes.

Maui or Oahu – Choose Your Favourite Hawaii Island

Both the island’s beauty makes it feel like it’s unfair to choose just one.

If a calm vacation, with not much of a crowd, is your preference, then Maui is the ideal destination for you. Through this trip, you’ll gain an educational experience by learning about the island and its culture while being in awe of its natural beauty.

If you’re looking for nightlife with lots of socializing, rad surfing, cool hiking trails, and first-class culinary options, then Oahu is your choice.

Once you’ve decided which island is your next destination and you’re ready to pack your bags, check out our ultimate Hawaii packing list here.