Maui and Oahu/ Canva

Maui and Oahu/ Canva

Maui vs Oahu: Which Is Right for Your Hawaiian Getaway?

Amy Fujimoto

Booking a trip to Hawaii and not sure whether you should visit Oahu or Maui?

Oahu vs. Maui is a frequently asked question and for good reason - these two islands take the cake when it comes to popularity, so how do you choose just one?

This Oahu vs. Maui guide will review both islands in a nutshell, then break down each island by travel elements so you can decide for yourself which is the better island for you.

About Oahu

sunset in the shore with a view of an islandChinaman's Hat

What Oahu does exceptionally well is convenience. No matter where you are on the island, it’s easy to find a:

  • convenience store
  • order food
  • find a gas station
  • shop for souvenirs
  • get to places
  • and find something to do

Nicknamed the “Gathering Place”, Oahu is where the bulk of locals live for the simple fact that the largest job market is there. While you would think that would mean Oahu is an island of buildings - it’s not.

Drive out of Downtown Honolulu and there are country roads, secluded beaches, and quiet hikes if you know where to go.

Oahu has a mix of everything - city life, world-class shopping, international cuisine, pristine beaches, and scenic hikes. 

RELATED: The Ultimate Oahu Travel Guide

About Maui

three small waterfalls Wailua Falls

Maui is beautiful with the added benefit of convenience in the larger towns such as Kahului.

While some of Maui’s biggest attractions are isolated (Haleakala National Park and the Road to Hana), the rest of your visit will be a comfortable mix of countryside with a small-town vibe.

It’s a great destination for those who love the outdoors, but also want to do some shopping or want a variety of options to eat at. You’ll find plenty of natural beauty on Maui as you explore.

RELATED: The Ultimate Maui Travel Guide

Oahu vs. Maui: Which is better?

It can be really difficult to decide between Oahu and Maui. In order to help you make a decision, we’ve compiled a list below comparing the similarities and differences between this Oahu vs. Maui staredown.

As you go through the list and sift through activities, attractions, and things to do, don’t forget to include what you need on an island.

Consider convenience, food options, and accommodation availability because what you need will often end up being more important than what you’d like.

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city along the shore

Oahu is the most-visited island in Hawaii and you can find all kinds of accommodation arrangements from camping to luxury resorts.

The most famous location for lodging is Waikiki, where there’s a large selection of oceanfront resorts, small hotels, and vacation rentals.

If you’d rather have a less crowded experience, Ko Olina on the west side of Oahu markets itself as another resort playground. With only 4 resorts you’ll be encouraged to do a lot of driving to explore the island.

As for vacation rentals, most will charge upwards of $100 a night, but if you’re okay with the bare minimum (and a longer walk to the beach), it is possible to find rooms in the $80 - $90 range.


shore with blue sea and green grass and coconutKa'anapali

Maui also has locations devoted to resorts and hotels. The most popular is Ka?anapali where oceanfront hotels and resorts look out to the ocean from the west coast. Head south and you’ll find Wailea, known for luxury resorts with a quieter environment.

If you’re looking for vacation rentals in Maui, look in Lahaina and Kihei. You also may find something suitable in Central Maui, especially if you’re looking for lodging within your budget.

Accommodation in Maui tends to run higher than in Oahu so expect to pay at least $150 a night, but probably more. In 2021 the average cost of a hotel room in Maui was $488 a night.

What it often comes down to is budget. If you’re worried about how much your vacation is going to cost, Oahu is likely the better choice for you.

Not only because of the hotel rates but also because there are a lot of tour and activity options on Oahu, which help to keep prices down. 

Beaches And Ocean Activities


surfer surfing the big waveBanzai Pipeline

Oahu’s beaches are often more crowded, but you won’t feel hemmed in or claustrophobic (except maybe at Waikiki Beach). There’s plenty of space and you’ll find decent spots at some of the nicer beaches.

The farther away you move from Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu, the easier it is to find a beach that’s relatively secluded.

Oahu is also a little better for surfers at a variety of levels. Whether you’re a beginner, expert, or somewhere in between, there’s a shore for you.

RELATED: Best Oahu Beaches For Beginner Surfers

Discover Oahu’s beautiful beaches with our Legendary North Shore Loop driving tour.


white sand beachMakena Beach

Maui’s beaches can also be crowded at the more popular shores, but it’s nothing to be hyper-aware of as you make your decision.

Many visitors believe that the snorkeling and turtle viewing opportunities are better on Maui though.

Maui is home to Molokini - arguably one of the best places to snorkel in Hawaii. There’s also Turtle Town and pockets of beginner-friendly snorkeling spots for newbies.

Explore Maui’s beaches with our West Maui Coastline driving tour.

If you really want to see turtles, Maui is a great option especially if you want to see them while snorkeling.

Both islands have beautiful beaches - crowded and not so crowded, but Oahu has better surfing opportunities, while Maui has better snorkeling spots.

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Hikes And Outdoor Activities


mountainDiamond Head

Oahu has plenty of hiking trails to choose from, but the popular ones can get a little crowded. Luckily, Diamond Head (the most popular) has put into place a reservation system, which will hopefully keep the crowd down.

Koko Head also has an amazing view, but it’s not safe for beginner hikers. Manoa Falls is gorgeous, but the waterfall can sometimes be less than impressive if it hasn’t been raining a lot.

A few more top-favorite hikes on Oahu are the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, Lanikai Pillbox, and Pink Pillbox hikes.

RELATED: Seven Oahu Waterfall Hikes

Shaka Guide’s East Oahu Shoreline Drive has some amazing hikes and views.


hikers sitting at the top of overview in haleakalaHaleakala National Park

Maui hiking is more spread out as many of the hikes are located on the Road to Hana or within Haleakala National Park. Most tourists only visit these attractions for one day, which means the hikes people choose to keep the crowds down in these areas.

Sliding Sands on Mt. Haleakala is very popular, but it’s a day hike that will take you a minimum of 6 hours, so it’s not for everyone (however you can hike part of it and turn around when you’re ready - we’ll guide you there on our sunrise and sunset at Haleakala tours).

On the Road to Hana, the Pipiwai Trail is very popular. However, because it’s part of Haleakala National Park and located past Hana Town - a 2-hour drive from Kahului (near the airport) without any stops - many people end up skipping it.

RELATED: Best Day Hikes In Haleakala National Park

If you’re short on time and love hiking, Oahu will be hard to beat. No matter where you are on the island, there’s a hike near you (including Honolulu!). Maui might be the better choice if you only plan on doing 1 or 2 hikes during your trip.



line of restaurantsHaleiwa Street

Oahu’s restaurants, bars, and snack shops greatly outnumber Maui’s. So if you’re here for a foodie trip, Oahu is the better choice.

From cheap eats to fine dining, you can find something nearby that suits your palate and meets your budget.

There’s also a wide range of lunch wagons all around the island. They often sell local food such as plate lunches, shaved ice, or Hawaiian food for a decent price.

RELATED: Best Places To Eat In Waikiki For Any Budget


Maui’s restaurants have a pretty good range in specialization, but in some areas, you’ll find long lines or few choices because of how isolated the area is.

On the Road to Hana, it’s a good idea to bring food along or eat early (or late) because the lunch hour is packed!

On Mt. Haleakala, you’ll have to drive back down the mountain to Kula to find a restaurant. 

While both Oahu and Maui have plenty of places to eat, Oahu is more convenient in finding one that fits your taste and budget. There are lots of choices in each town and the options are endless in Honolulu and Waikiki.



Image from Flickr by 

Oahu has the best nightlife for sure. There are:

  • bars
  • lounges
  • karaoke bars
  • sports bars
  • dive bars
  • nightclubs
  • jazz clubs
  • and evening performances if you’re in Waikiki or Downtown Honolulu.

Even late at night, you can conveniently walk outside and find many shops on the Waikiki strip open for business.

However, as you get farther away from Downtown Honolulu, suburbia takes over and you’ll find fewer nightlife opportunities.


4 fire dancersImage from Flickr by 

Maui’s nightlife is somewhat muted and spread out in comparison to Oahu’s. There are a few bars and lounges in Ka?anapali, Kihei, Wailea, and Kahului, but not so much that you’ll have a huge selection.

Don’t be surprised if you only have one or two spots pop up in your search results.

If partying late at night is something you want to do while on the islands, Oahu is the clear winner.

Just be sure you’re in Waikiki or Downtown Honolulu, otherwise, you’ll find nighttime to be rather quiet.

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Weather And Seasons

sunset on the beach

Oahu and Maui weather is typically the same. However, it is important to note that the danger of flash floods is higher in Maui because there are more accessible hikes with streams and waterfalls.

Flash floods can overtake or separate you from getting to safety in just a few seconds, so check the weather forecast in advance before you find yourself in trouble.

Seasonality is also important, too. During the winter, the north shores of the Hawaiian Islands receive the winter swells that attract professional surfers.

Winter is also prime time for whale watching in the islands. The humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii to mate and give birth in Hawaii’s warm waters.

You can spot them on a whale-watching cruise or even from shore on both islands. 



colorful bus at nightImage from Flickr by 

Oahu has great public transportation. The Bus is extremely convenient with several routes that can take you almost anywhere on the island. Major bus stops are strategically placed and are easy to find.

There are express buses, handicap buses, and specialized buses with unique routes to serve the 1.5 million people living on the island.

In addition to buses, the Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu area has Biki Bikes, rideshares and carshares, too. Uber, Lyft, and Holoholo are all pretty common so getting around with a car is very possible.

Both areas are also extremely walkable - try out our walking tours for Waikiki and Honolulu

In 2023, Oahu’s rail system, Skyline, also went live. Stops are limited, but it is a transportation option you can use in tandem with The Bus.

RELATED: Hawaii Uber and Lyft Guide


two couples driving

Maui is possible without a rental car, but having a car will make a world of difference when it comes to exploring the Road to Hana or Haleakala National Park.

Rideshare services are less common, but you can generally find them near the main towns and resort areas.

Maui does have a bus system, but unlike Oahu’s, it’s not as robust with routes running several times a day.

Instead, the routes tend to come in hourly, which could put a damper on your travel plans depending on how long you plan to stay on the island.

Use our Classic Road to Hana Itinerary to see why you need a car for this trip.

If you can’t afford to rent a car, Oahu is your best bet. There are plenty of public transportation options, especially in Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu.

Without a rental car, it becomes significantly more difficult to explore all of Maui.


Hawaii in general is expensive. You’ll see high prices reflected in food, accommodation, tour packages, and even gas.

But you’ll see a slight bump in price on Maui because most things being shipped to Maui will have to travel that extra distance from Oahu.

RELATED: Oahu On A Budget - More Fun, Less Money

Oahu And Maui Itineraries

So how did this Oahu vs. Hawaii post help you decide?

As you can see, it’s difficult to choose between Oahu and Maui. In fact, it will probably come down to what you’re looking for in an island. Again, besides thinking of what you want, also consider what you need.

Do you need a convenient island because you’re traveling with kids, have walking issues, love shopping, etc.? Then Oahu is your choice.

Are you more interested in outdoor activities such as snorkeling, hiking, and visiting local shops? Maui might be the one for you.

To help you decide, check out our Oahu Grand Circle Island Tour Itinerary and What You Need To Know Before You Visit Maui posts. We’ve gathered the best things to do on each island and planned it all out for you so you can have a fantastic trip without worrying if you’re missing something important.

RELATED: Which Hawaiian Island is Best?

Want to see more of Oahu and Maui? Check out our 6 tours on Oahu and 6 tours on Maui that will take you all over the islands.

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We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

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