The archipelago of Hawaiian Islands brings in flocks of tourists over each season, dispersing to different areas across the eight islands. Two of the most popular destinations in the chain of islands are Waikiki and Maui. Depending on your style of vacationing and preference for activities, you may feel preferential towards one of these destinations over the other.
Waikiki is renowned for beginner’s surfing, shopping excellence, vibrant nightlife, history, and traditional culture. Maui’s best offerings include snorkeling, diving, laid-back beach vibes, romance, and outdoor sports. Your decision may depend on whether you’re solo, with friends, your spouse, or the entire family. That said, both spots are sure to impress.
Begin your planning by assessing what you’re looking for in a trip. Is it candle-lit romantic dinners by the ocean, or energy-packed luaus that turn into late night parties? Or is it something in between, perhaps? We’ll dive into all things Waikiki and Maui to sort out the best option for each and every type of travelers.
First Time Visitors to Hawaii
First-time visitors to Hawaii are in for a treat, regardless of which area they decide to stay in. If you’re arriving in Hawaii for the first time, it makes the most sense to stay in vibrant Waikiki, which is situated on the coast in Honolulu, Oahu. There are a couple of reasons that make Waikiki the best pick for first-time visitors to Hawaii.
Primarily, if you’re flying into Hawaii, it’s more than likely that you will be arriving at Honolulu’s international airport before being able to access any of the other islands. Waikiki is a short twenty-minute ride from the airport, making it an easy travel destination for travelers arriving from across the Pacific Ocean. You would be remiss to visit Hawaii and bypass Waikiki on your first experience in the Aloha State!
Waikiki is wonderful for first time Hawaii travelers because of its rich culture and history. An afternoon can be spent learning about nearby Pearl Harbor, and also Polynesian culture, customs, and traditions. If you have never been to Hawaii, it’s likely that you haven’t spent much time extensively learning about history and culture. One of the best things you can do in Waikiki is dive into the culture and embrace all that is Hawaiian. Visitors can find themselves in a museum after lunch, and back on the beach in time for the sunset all in the same day. The proximity of these activities in Waikiki makes it easy for first-time visitors to navigate the area and make the most of their time in Hawaii.
Waikiki is also ideal for beginner surfers, with plenty of opportunities to pick up lessons from a local. The waves are suitable for beginners at Queen’s Surf Beach, where many people can be found bodyboarding as well. Even if you’re not planning to hit the waves yourself, you can head up to Oahu’s north shore to check out some of the professionals. Waves can top 40 feet here, and it’s free entertainment to watch the surfers navigate the massive waves with grace!
First-time visitors will enjoy an endless variety of activities to choose from, ranging from historical learning experiences all the way to glamorous luxury shopping up and down Waikiki’s main strip. Waikiki has something for everyone, and if you’re diving into Hawaii for the first time, this mellow metropolis is the place for you.
Couples and Honeymooners
For those seeking a romantic retreat, Maui will be the best pick for a Hawaiian excursion. Maui’s reputation includes the fact that it’s a stellar spot for honeymooners, weddings, and longtime lovers. In addition to the amazing scenery, mountains, and beaches – Maui has a variety of activities that are perfect for couples and honeymooners. While planning your trip, you should assess what type of experience you want and decide on which activities you want to make time for on your vacation. The possibilities are seemingly endless, resulting in a memorable trip whichever avenue you decide to go down.
The island features a grand variety of hotels, some of which specialize in romantic stays. Whether you’re looking for a private mountainside room or a beachfront villa with the sound of the ocean, Maui has enough offerings for any type of romantic getaway.
Hotel Wailea may be a larger resort style lodging option, but it maintains quiet charm as the rooms are quite spread out over the hillside. With sweeping views of the Pacific and the islands, you’ll never want to leave this paradise. Visitors will feel as though they are staying in a secluded village, rather than a major resort. This is a great option for those looking for pure relaxation and low-key days by the pool.
Another popular option for romantics is Travaasa Hana. This hotel is secluded and conveniently located near gorgeous waterfalls and cliffside bluffs, which are perfect for a little adventurous hiking during the day. This all-inclusive option includes a spa, which is a lovely daytime activity for visitors.
For those looking for the ultimate pampering experience, Four Seasons Resort Maui is the place for you. This stay will provide ultimate luxury – beginning with luggage unpacking services, a cold towel, and oceanside massages. The in-pool bar doesn’t hurt, either.
Once you’ve picked your place to stay, you can choose between a myriad of romantic activities all over the island of Maui. If your hotel doesn’t already include a spa package, you can choose from many across the island. There are two popular spas in Wailea: Spa Grande Wailea, and Mandara Spa Wailea.
If spas aren’t your thing, you can get a little bit more adventurous and go for a sunrise hike at Mount Haleakala. This vantage point sits about 10,000 feet about sea level and offers breathtaking views of the sunrise’s sherbet colors and the ocean down below. Due to the elevation, be sure to bring a light jacket, especially since the morning hours tend to be a bit cooler. Grab some coffees to go, and hit the road early to ensure you’ll be ready when the best colors appear in the sky!
Maui is the best choice for couples due to the romantic hotel offerings, spa and relaxation activities, and overall atmosphere. You will feel at home across the island, whether you stay at an intimate cliffside cottage or a luxury five-star resort.
Whole Family Groups
There is fun for the whole family in and around Waikiki, in Oahu. In addition to hitting the beaches, there are a handful of activities that make Waikiki the best option for family travel in Hawaii.
For starters, the Waikiki Aquarium is fun for both adults and children. The aquarium was founded back in 1904, making it the second oldest in the United States! Some of the most popular exhibits include ocean aquaculture, live corals, Hawaiian monk seals, and marine protected areas. The aquarium is an excellent day activity and a chance to learn more about Hawaiian marine life. Adult tickets are only $12, kids are $5, and kids under 3 years old are free.
When you’re ready to move on from sea life to land life, check out the Honolulu Zoo. This zoo is located in Queen Kapiolani Park, right in Waikiki. Families can spend a day learning about indigenous species, then walk outside of the zoo right in time for a sunset on the beach. The zoo has a massive variety of reptiles, birds, baboons, and many other critters to keep your family entertained for the day. Children will love exploring all 42 acres of this spectacular park!
For some outdoor exploring, be sure to visit Queen Kapiʻolani Garden. This family-friendly park is great for long walks, playing in the grass, and checking out the flowers. The plants are beautiful and labeled so that you can learn about various species native to Oahu.
For a short family day trip, you can visit Sea Life Park Hawaii. This is a worthy excursion from the neighborhood. Families can interact with marine life, see a dolphin show, and roam around to take in all of the exhibits available. The park is only a short 30-minute drive out of Waikiki, making it a perfect day trip from the hotel.
Waikiki is the best destination for families traveling to Hawaii. The neighborhood is packed with activities for adults and children, including a handful of great learning experiences for children. When the kids to go sleep, the parents can enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation by the sound of the waves. Many of the restaurants are kid-friendly, and so are the beaches.
If the parks and recreation weren’t enough to convince you, the ease of travel will. Everyone knows that traveling with a whole family can be a bit difficult… That’s why flying into Honolulu directly and making your way to Waikiki is the best for families – it’s a breeze compared to maneuvering connection flights and dragging your entire family across the terminal. Keep things simple by flying directly into Honolulu’s international airport, and hailing a cab once you deplane. Less travel time means more beach time!
Solo travelers will find a way to delight in any Hawaiian island, but Waikiki’s buzzing social scene might be the best way to experience it. Maui is beautiful and features plenty of hiking options, but Waikiki brings the same and more social opportunities for meeting other travelers.
If you’re a solo traveler who likes hostels, Waikiki has got you covered. There are several highly rated hostels in the area, including HI Honolulu – Waikiki and Seaside Hawaiian Hostel Waikiki. If you’re inclined to stay in a dorm to meet other travelers, these are great options to do such. Even if you want a private room, you can pay a little more for privacy but keep the opportunity for socialization open.
In addition to lodging, Waikiki’s nightlife is great for making new friends. Restaurants and bars are highly varied: some are laid back, some are high energy, and others fall somewhere in between. It’s easy to grab a cocktail at the bar anywhere and chat up whoever else is enjoying the atmosphere. A few noteworthy places in Waikiki include Sky Waikiki, which is an upscale club, and LuLu’s, which is an all-day hangout with a full menu. Don’t forget to check out the Mai Tai Bar right next to the Royal Hawaiian! The cabanas are available for lounging, and the vibe is just right for socializing with other travelers and newcomers in Waikiki.
In Hawaii, adventure isn’t just for activities; it’s a way of life. Adventure seekers will be pleased to hang out in Maui, where they have easy access to surfing, hiking, canoeing, paddling, snorkeling, and much more.
For adventure seekers with a higher budget, a must-do is a helicopter ride over the entire island. Thrill lovers can hop on a helicopter with Air Maui to see sweeping views of the island and the ocean below. Enjoy the adrenaline as you sail through the air and whip around the entire island. This experience is definitely a bit pricier, but it will be worth it.
Another noteworthy activity in Maui is ziplining. Maui Zipline Company is right in Waikapu and makes a great daytime activity for the adventurous. The ziplines are strung over a tropical plantation, making the scenery green and gorgeous. Prices vary at different companies, so there’s something within everyone’s budget for ziplining in Maui.
If surfing and snorkeling weren’t enough, adventure travelers can also rent stand up paddleboards (SUPs) and kayaks for an afternoon on the water. Hawaiian Paddle Sports offers tours and lessons, at a reasonable rate.
Adventure seeking travelers will find fulfillment from a trip to Maui. While all Hawaiian Islands feature adventure sports, Maui is one of the best places to experience all types of adventure outings. With easy access to snorkeling, zip lining, helicopter rides and more, Maui is a must-visit destination for thrill seekers.
What Type of Traveler Are You?
Maui and Waikiki are both phenomenal destinations in Hawaii, both offering their own unique and unforgettable experiences. Depending on whether you’re a solo traveler, couple, adventure seeker, first time visitor or a whole family – it may swing your decision between one destination or the other. One thing for certain is that you can’t make a wrong decision: both destinations are filled with enough activities for everyone, but if you have to pick, it’s certainly worth doing the research-based off of your individual (or collective) travel style.
Travelers will also want to consider the time of year that they visit. Waikiki and Maui both follow the same busy season, which generally encompasses the winter months. Travelers to both destinations may be able to score certain deals if they plan to go to Hawaii during the low season, in the summer months. A trip to Hawaii is an investment, but a worthwhile one at that. So pack your suitcase with summer clothes, preferable some Aloha gear, and get to the airport. The sun and sand are waiting!
How Do I Get to Maui?
Maui has three airports: Kahului Airport (OGG), Kapalua Airport (JHM) and Hana Airport (HNM). Kahului airport is the main arrival point for most, but Kapalua and Hana serve West and East Maui, respectfully. Depending on where you plan to stay, this may alter your flight decisions. However, the island is fairly easy to drive around due to its smaller size. Many travelers will pass through Honolulu first, especially if they are coming from an international destination. Connection flights from Honolulu to Maui are highly common and frequent throughout the day.
How Do I Get to Waikiki?
Waikiki visitors will arrive at Honolulu’s international airport. Upon arrival, you can choose between taking a cab, a hotel shuttle, or renting a car. Waikiki is only a short twenty-minute drive from the airport in Honolulu, making it easy to get straight to the beach once you land in the Aloha state.
Renting a car is highly advised because there are many areas within driving distance of Waikiki that are worth exploring. If you prefer to hail a cab, the average price is around $30 USD.
Which is More Expensive, Waikiki or Maui?
All things considered, Maui is slightly more expensive than Waikiki. Waikiki is full of glitz and glamor, but it is easier to find less-expensive vacation packages and room rates for special promotional pricing. In addition, the flights to Oahu are generally cheaper than flying to Maui. While Maui is accessible by direct flights, they are generally more expensive due to less traffic than Honolulu’s bustling airport.
Travelers will want to consider the season that they intend to travel in. The off-season is generally during the summer months, and deals and vacation packages will be much cheaper than during the on-season. If you’re a bargain seeker, it is advisable to book in advance and during the off-season. Hawaii is an expensive destination, whether you choose Maui or Waikiki – so do your research wisely and devise a plan that works for your budget.