Before you head to a tropical Hawaiian paradise, you need to get familiar with a map of Hawaiian islands and all the tropical landmasses that make up this state.
We’ve got you covered with this quick overview of the 7 Hawaiian islands, including the 6 most popular island destinations for tourists! Check out the map of Hawaiian islands below and learn what makes each one special.
Whether you’re looking for the quintessential Hawaiian experience or something a little more laid-back and undisturbed by tourists, there’s a Hawaiian island for you.
Map of the Hawaiian Islands: The 7 Islands to Know
If you’ve never been to Hawaii or haven’t yet ventured away from your favorite island, checking out a map of Hawaiian islands can help you expand your horizons. But it’s hard to tell by looking at a map which islands are most worth visiting.
- What’s the vibe and feel of each one?
- What are the different islands known for?
- Which islands are the most and least crowded?
Take a look at the map of Hawaiian islands and see a quick overview of each one below. You’ll be able to narrow down the island (or islands) you want to visit in your upcoming trip to paradise!
- The “modern” island
- Home to Waikiki and the North Shore
- Site of Pearl Harbor and historical museums
Oahu means “gathering place” in Hawaiian and the name certainly fits. This bustling, urban island has the largest population and gets the most visitors of all the Hawaiian islands! It’s home to the world-famous Waikiki Beach and the North Shore – the surfing capital of the world.
People visit Oahu for the ultimate Hawaiian experience with a touch of high-end luxury. There are tons of hotel and accommodations options here, gourmet restaurants, high-end shopping, and plenty of casual beachy spots, too.
Browse the Polynesian Cultural Center here and take in a luau and evening show, venture to the North Shore to catch surfers in action, and swing by Waikiki Beach to sip a fruity cocktail on the tropical shores.
People enjoy taking in historical sites and museums on (as the locals say – not “in”) Oahu, the site of Pearl Harbor. Check out the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, and the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
Popular Oahu Guides:
- The “adventurous” island
- Top whale-watching destination
- Home to famous red and black sand beaches
Maui is the second-largest Hawaiian island and a favorite destination for more adventurous visitors who want to experience the many sights and activities of Hawaii.
On Maui, you can drive the famous Road to Hana, which leads to Waianapanapa State Park – home to amazing waterfalls and otherworldly black sand beaches. Visitors marvel at the Haleakala Volcano and the amazing views of the Iao Valley.
Watch the incredible humpback whale migration in winter, try your hand at snorkeling and windsurfing (both popular activities on the island), and do a little island-hopping to experience the nearby islet of Molokini.
Or swing by Front Street in Lahaina to see the nation’s largest banyan tree. If you’re interested in experiencing Maui off the beach, you’ll enjoy a visit to a tropical cacao farm.
Maui Kuia Estate Chocolate offers tours of its cacao farm nestled in the West Maui Mountains. There are also plenty of hotels, shops, restaurants, and activities to keep you busy during your visit to Maui!
Popular Maui Guides:
3. Hawaii/Big Island
- The “road tripper” island
- Home to the world’s most active volcanoes
- Explore rain forests, tropical farms, and more
The island of Hawaii, also called the Big Island, is aptly named. It’s almost double the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined! If you want a vast expanse of tropical paradise to explore with all the must-see Hawaiian sights, the Big Island is perfect.
Hawaii is home to the some of the world’s largest and most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa, located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
These volcanoes are so active that you’ll want to check online for eruption updates that may affect travel planning. If you’ve always wanted to see the dangerous majesty of a towering volcano glowing with red-hot lava, this is the place.
Take a scenic drive down the Chain of Craters Road, snorkel with the friendly local manta rays, chase waterfalls on the east side of the island, visit a coffee farm, or tour a seahorse farm (yes, it’s a real thing). History buffs will enjoy the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.
Popular Big Island Guides:
- Best Restaurants on the Big Island
- Where to Stay on the Big Island
- Best Times to Visit the Big Island
- The “scenic” island
- Beaches, mountains, canyons, and more
- Perfect off the beaten path destination
Nature lovers, look no further than Kauai – “the Garden Island” of Hawaii. This lush patch of land in the Pacific is home to the dense, tropical greenery and vast beaches that Hawaii is known for.
You get the best of all Hawaii’s different landscapes here – mountains, beaches, canyons, waterfalls, and the rugged Napali Coast. Kauai is perfect for adventurers who want a taste of the “real” Hawaii. Tour the unspoiled, 17-mile Napali Coast via helicopter, or take a strenuous hike to see it all on foot.
Snorkeling, sailing, abundant wildlife (sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals are commonly spotted), and views of the Olokele Canyon and Waimea Canyon make Kauai a very special destination.
Don’t miss Manawaiopuna Falls – at 400 feet high, it’s hard to – which were featured in Jurassic Park. Spend a laid-back day at Poipu Beach Park, ride tubes through an old sugarcane plantation that winds through the mountains, and take in tasty local cuisine and treats during your visit.
Popular Kauai Guides:
- The “private” island
- Unspoiled, authentic vibes
- One of the least crowded islands
For travelers who usually stray off the beaten path for adventure, Molokai is an ideal Hawaiian island to visit. It’s not a tourist-y island, though visitors and tourists are very welcome here.
If you want to experience Hawaii like a local, this is where you need to plan your stay. There’s not a single traffic light on Molokai, so visitors say it feels a lot like stepping back in time with a tropical backdrop.
This minimally-developed island is far less crowded than the most popular islands, making it feel like your own private island when you visit. It also means there are fewer hotels, shops, and restaurants.
Check out Papokaku Beach Park on the west shore while you’re there. It’s one of the largest white sand beaches in Hawaii and home to great surfing if you’re gnarly like that.
Another must-do activity is a guided hiking tour through Halawa Valley on the east shore. Home to waterfalls and renowned hiking trails through the tropical lush scenery, this is one of those destinations that you’ll never forget.
- The “laid-back” island
- Ideal for romantic getaways
- Sparsely populated with fewer tourists
If a laid-back Hawaiian experience is what you’re after, you’ll have to check out Lanai. This is considered one of the best spots for a romantic getaway or honeymoon.
With no traffic lights, less than 4,000 residents on the island, and few tourists, you’ll almost feel like you and your honey have the place to yourselves. Lanai is the smallest inhabited Hawaiian island with only 30 miles of paved roads.
If you rent a car with 4 wheel drive, you’ll have more options for activities and sight-seeing. At one time, it was a pineapple plantation owned by Dole.
Today, it’s an unspoiled tropical paradise perfect for sipping fruity cocktails on the shore, snorkeling, and getting pampered with massages at a local beachfront spa.
There are just 3 hotels on Lanai, so plan early to ensure availability. Since the island is very small, you’ll be able to adventure across the island easily. Check out Hulopoe Bay on the southern coast (snorkeling and swimming hot spot).
Less than a mile away is Puupehe or Sweetheart Rock, an 80-foot high rocky islet with scenic cliffs that jut out over stunningly blue waters.
- The “Forbidden Island”
- Invitation-only, not open to the public
- Steeped in Hawaiian culture and history
Niihau, the “Forbidden Island,” is surrounded by myths, legends, and history that make it one of the most fascinating islands in the state of Hawaii.
More than a hundred years ago, the island’s owners promised a Hawaiian king that they would protect and care for the island to keep the Hawaiian heritage from being spoiled by modern conveniences and tourism.
It worked – this island has no electricity, running water, internet, or modern retail shops and restaurants. There are no hotels, no paved roads, and few cars on the island.
Solar power and generators power this mysterious island, and the locals still hunt and fish for sustenance. You’ll need a direct invitation from the owners – Keith and Bruce Robinson – to visit, but if the opportunity arises, you should definitely take it!
Frequently Asked Questions
You’ve seen the map of Hawaiian islands and a quick overview of what you can expect on each island. Here are some of the most common questions visitors have about the Hawaiian islands – find answers to your questions here!
What month is the cheapest to visit Hawaii?
The cheapest time to visit Hawaii is during the months of February and March. This is the low season during Hawaii's very mild "winter" so tourists are sparse and prices dip in response. Plan your visit during February or early-to-mid March (before Spring Break hits) for the best pricing on a Hawaiian getaway.
What are the names of the 7 Hawaiian islands?
Hawaii is made up of 137 islands, but only 7 of the 8 largest islands are inhabited. The 7 major Hawaiian islands are Oahu, Maui, Hawaii (Big Island), Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and Niihau. Kahaoolawe is the 8th largest Hawaiian island, but it’s against the law to visit unless you’re there for a valid volunteer work opportunity.
Which Hawaiian island is the most beautiful?
Kauai is widely considered the most beautiful and scenic Hawaiian island to visit. This island is covered by rain forests, many vast beaches, stunning cliffs, canyons, and the Sleeping Giant mountain ridge. If you’re out to enjoy gorgeous scenery unspoiled by high rises, this is the best place to experience it.
Which is the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit?
Oahu is generally the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit. As the largest and most-visited island, there are always plenty of hotels, shops, restaurants, and public transit available, which drives prices down. While Oahu is known for being the most modernized and urban island, it still boasts its fair share of tropical, natural beauty blended with modern conveniences.
Is there a ferry between Hawaiian islands?
Island-hoppers, rejoice! There are 2 inter-island ferries in Hawaii, and both depart from Maui: The Molokai Ferry and the Maui-Lanai Expeditions Ferry. The Molokai Ferry leaves from Lahaina (Maui) twice daily to deliver visitors to Molokai in about 90 minutes. The Maui-Lanai Expeditions Ferry leaves from Lahaina (Maui) 5 times a day to deliver visitors to Manele Bay on Lanai in about 45 minutes.
Which Hawaiian island has the best beaches?
Oahu arguably has the best beaches in Hawaii. There are 227 miles of shoreline on Oahu, with plenty of sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing, and boating opportunities around. The waters are calmer on Oahu, so it’s perfect for families and lazily floating on the shore.
What is the least populated Hawaiian island?
Niihau, the “Forbidden Island” of Hawaii, is the least populated with less than 200 permanent residents. This is the least-inhabited Hawaiian island, so it’s perfect for those seeking a truly undisturbed getaway without modern distraction. It’s privately owned and only open to visitors by invitation, however.
Find Your Destination on the Map of Hawaiian Islands
Now that you’ve taken a good look at the map of the best Hawaiian islands and a quick overview of the 7 inhabited islands, you’re one step closer to settling on your Hawaiian destination. Let’s recap and summarize what makes each island special before you head to plan out your itinerary.
- Oahu: Modern, bustling, and perfect for tourists (especially families) who want a taste of tropical Hawaii with modern-day conveniences
- Maui: Adventure-filled with red and black sand beaches; ideal for whale watching, snorkeling, and windsurfing with plenty of hotels, shops, and restaurants
- Hawaii: The Big Island known for amazing volcanoes, rain forests, waterfalls, farms, and parks with plenty of hotels, shops, and restaurants
- Kauai: The “Garden Island” covered in rain forests and known for natural beauty and lush, tropical scenery; mountains, beaches, and canyons dot the landscape
- Molokai: Less-visited island known for white sand beaches, parks, and zero traffic lights; fewer hotels, shops, and restaurant options
- Lanai: Smallest inhabited island known for natural beauty with few hotels, restaurants, and shops; ideal for romantic getaways and exploration
- Niihau: “The Forbidden Island” open only by invitation; less than 200 permanent residents, unspoiled natural beauty, and protected habitats make it incredibly lush and scenic
Find your destination on the map of Hawaiian islands and get busy planning your tropical trip to paradise! Learn more about visiting Hawaii by reading these guides next!