Maui vs. Oahu Vacation Comparison + Our Week in Honolulu

By Amanda Paa – Updated March 8, 2017

The second date for Brian and I was a 10 day trip to Maui, in 2010. Probably the best impulsive decision of my life.

Short story is  –> the night we re-met after not talking or seeing each other for five years, his pal mentioned they were going to Maui to play golf and kiddingly invited me. To which I scoured flights the next day, promptly booked, and well, we’ve never looked back.

Last month we headed back to Hawaii, this time to Honolulu for 8 days. We stayed at the Hale Koa Hotel on Waikiki Beach along with Brian’s dad and wife, as this property is a designated military veterans hotel (Tom being a former Lieutenant Colonel). The weather was perfect, the drinks were good, the food amazing, and the days restorative. It had been a while since I had traveled for pleasure instead of work, so I soaked up every minute.

Hibiscus dancing in the sun - honolulu

Upon landing, it was evident that our experiences in Maui and Oahu were going to differ quite a bit, but both be wonderful in their own ways. So! I thought I’d share some of those differences and insight in case you’re planning a Hawaiian vacation, along with our favorite Honolulu views and hikes. And I wrote a separate post all about the best local food/drinks/restaurants that rocked my world — HERE.  

The islands themselves:

Oahu is a place where people vacation, but densely populated with people who live and work here. It is an economic island. There is an abundance of Honolulu city life that you’ll see as you’re flying in, high rise after high rise. But then there’s the vast assortment of natural beauty budded right up against the city (!), and all throughout the island. It has all the advantages and disadvantages of a large metropolitan city, with the added benefit of being within easy reach of gorgeous beaches, mountains, hiking, and quiet, rural tropical environments.

The North Shore of the island is less populated, just 40 minutes from downtown Honolulu. It has a surfer, hippie, small town feel, and if we were to visit Oahu again, I’d hands down rent an Air Bnb in this area.

Whereas Maui is much more slower paced and spread out, with fewer people and hustle and bustle. The beautiful beaches are bigger in size, but not as crowded. It is a destination, a vacation spot for even those who live on other Hawaiian islands. Luxurious. The towns are quaint and quiet, with no freeway, and maybe one stop light on most main streets.

City View from Diamond Head, OahuChinaman's hat, Mokolii island, North Shore Oahu


Hawaii is breathtaking, in so many ways. At times it’s hard for the eyes to even comprehend.

In Maui, the beauty is in the lush flowers and land, the ocean, white sand beaches, volcanoes, and flowers/vegetation.
In Oahu, the beauty is also in the shimmering aqua ocean, but set apart by the high and mighty green mountains, rainforest, and unbelievable views.

The two photos below (and the one of the city above) are from our Sunrise Hike at Diamond Head. It made me realize that sunsets get all the attention, but a sunrise is truly humbling. Especially from the top of Diamond Head, just a short 10 minute drive from Waikiki beach. To watch night luminously meeting day, with cotton candy skies and light streaming from the clouds as if they were holy. It made me feel so small, in a world so big. You’ll look out into the ocean and hills from the one side, then an amazing view of the city on the other.

Hiking Diamond Head - Honolulu - Oahu - Sunrise Hike at Diamond HeadHeavenly Light from above -- sunrise hike diamond head

A few pro tips regarding this hike:
a. if you’re traveling from the U.S., it’s likely your clock will be a little off and you are going to wake up quite early the first full day you are there. So plan to do the hike then! It’s easy to get up and you won’t regret it.
b. The hike is not paved, so wear good shoes.
c. There are no areas with lights as you climb up, and it gets REALLY dark. A headlamp would have been so helpful.
d. The hike can get crowded, so just be prepared that you’re going to be amongst others.

I also highly recommend these three hikes/lookout areas:

  1. Makapuu Lighthouse Trail: This easy to moderate summit trail is definitely one of the most memorable, with stunning views overlooking Makapuu Beach, Koko Head, the windward coast, and Molokai & Lanai neighboring islands. The trail is paved.
  2. Tantalus Lookout: offers one of the best views of urban Honolulu and the island’s south shore—from Diamond Head all the way to the Waianae mountain range. You can reach the lookout via Round Top Drive, which loops around  the ridges above right about Honolulu, giving you glimpses into multi-million dollar residential homes.
  3. Nuuanu Pali Lookout: Historic, windswept, obscene with greenery and blessed with magnificent views of Oahu’s windward coast and majestic Koolau mountain range. Incredible.

What You’ll Spend on Daily Needs While Vacationing:

When we went to Maui, I remember all things being very expensive – food/drink, gas, entertainment, and every day things. I was completely {and happily} shocked that everything on the island of Oahu was cheaper TODAY than it was in Maui 7 years ago.  An average entree at a fancy restaurant was between $17-$38 (from scratch pasta on the low end, kobe steak on the high end), a typical drink was $10-$11. I found a glass of wine under $10 at every single place we dined. A high end coffee shop was around $5 for a speciality drink, an ice cream at the “Jeni’s” of Hawaii was $5. Very, very similar to what we pay for everything in the mainland here in the U.S. Gas was around $4 a gallon, which was reasonable since everything is imported, local attractions were priced reasonably. At the drug store, you’ll probably pay $2 more for most things.

Compared to Maui, where even in 2010, we paid double (or more, than on the mainland) for everything. The first day we were there, we hit up Costco and made the rule that we would dine out one meal, eat in the others. Because that was all we could justify. Beers were $7 a pint, most meals, even a hamburger, in excess of $15. Playing golf was also very expensive, as well as anything you wanted to do like scuba diving, boating, etc. If you’re on a budget, vacation might not be as fun because you really have to pick and choose carefully, and do a lot of research ahead of time.

North Shore, Oahu, HawaiiLeonard's Bakery, Honolulu -- MALASADAS {portugese donuts}Fresh Coconut On The Beach -- North Shore, Oahu

Maui is For Lovers, Oahu is For Families:

As I eluded to above, there is a vast assortment of attractions, people, and amenities in Oahu. Being it is an economic center, they’ve done a wonderful job creating parks, museums, cultural experiences, and everyday ocean fun, while also preserving the history of the island.As a side note, visiting Pearl Harbor was the most humbling experience I’ve ever had related to United States history. Don’t think twice about visiting. That being said, families would have an abundance of things to keep them busy, and for those that need nightlife and the buzz of a city, Oahu is for you.

And to be honest, Maui is more for lovers. It’s damn near impossible to not feel romance and connectedness with the constant views of multihued blue ocean waters and white sand beaches. You’ll be more secluded and alone just about anywhere you decide to stay on the island. And the gentle perfume of island flora wafting on the breezes from gardens never gets old.

Don’t Miss The Sunsets

Embrace them every night, no matter which island you’re on. They’re too beautiful for words. Waikiki Beach in Oahu was magical, and Wailea in Maui will bring you to your knees. You’ll never regret planning your dinner around them.

Waikiki Beach Sunset

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March 7, 2017


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  1. Agustin

    heey what´s the beach on the first pic?

    • amandapaa

      Hi! It is a beach in Kualoa Regional Park! On the North Shore of Oahu. The water color is incredible and you can see the Mokoli’i island from there.

  2. Emily Harris

    We are planning to go to Hawaii on our honeymoon we are more into activities like museums and hikes rather than just sitting at the beach which island would you suggest for us. I’m 30 and my husband is older than me :).

  3. Alanna Hollier

    I actually love this! We are off to Oahu and Kona in 6 days and this is really helpful! Thankyou

    • amandapaa

      So wonderful, enjoy your time there!

  4. k8izi

    That being said, unless you have about a month or so planned for your Hawaii vacation, in our opinion, you really shouldn t attempt to stay on every island.

  5. Andi

    I prefer Maui to Oahu, but Hawaii over them all (I’ve yet to get to Kauai). It is even slower paced and greener. It doesn’t matter though I’m in love with all these islands, there is something very special about them!

  6. Heidi | Enlightened Decadence

    “Hawaii is breathtaking, in so many ways. At times it’s hard for the eyes to even comprehend.”
    I’ve never been to Hawaii, but this is exactly what I imaged it would be like. Wonderful to read about your amazing time there, Amanda!

    • amandapaa

      you must go for yourself to see it. pictures don’t do justice! thanks for stopping by, Heidi. xo

  7. Ruby

    YAY I was so looking forward to hearing about your beautiful Hawaii vacation! Stunning photos, great tips. I have got to go there as soon as I possibly can. :) xoxo

  8. Abby @ Heart of a Baker

    For the longest time I was very ‘take it or leave it’ on Hawaii, but now I want to go…like NOW! xo

    • amandapaa

      oh gosh, you should 100% go! maybe 5 year anniversary?

  9. Izzy | pinch of delight

    All these photos are stunning! x
    Izzy |

    • amandapaa

      The land was so beautiful, I just snapped the camera! Truly a little piece of heaven.