Last updated on November 16, 2022 by Wandering our World
So, it’s vacation-planning time again, and we have another big decision to make. We have a battle of the heavyweights to decide on, and maybe we’ll need a points decision to separate these two behemoths. It’s East Coast vs. West Coast; the Sunshine State vs. the Aloha State; Florida vs. Hawaii!
Although Florida is around six times larger than Hawaii, these two states are both big hitters when it comes to attracting visitors to their sun-kissed shores. Both offer stunning beaches; warm, clear oceans; rugged and beautiful national parks; exciting activities for the kids; and importantly, perfect climates for a great vacation!
However Hawaii is probably the better choice for an adventurous vacation in a destination known for its unique culture and dramatic landscape, whereas Florida may be better for those looking for sunshine and fun, but in more familiar surroundings.
But which boasts the best beaches? Which has the better hotels and which is more expensive? What about which one is better for families? We’ll answer these and many other questions as we delve deep into the best features of these two states to help you decide which one is ideal for your next vacation of a lifetime…
By the end of this article, we’re sure you will know which destination suits you best.
Let’s get started!
- Which Is Easier To Get To
- Which Is Easier To Get Around
- Which Has The Most Impressive National Parks
- Which Is Better For Beaches
- Which Is Best For Surfing
- Which Is Best For Scuba Diving
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Has The Best Golf Courses
- Which Has The Best Nightlife
- Which Is Best For Families
- What Time Of Year Is Best
- Which Is More Expensive
- Which Is Better
Which Is Easier To Get To?
The good news here is that both of these mainstream destinations are served by a plethora of inbound flights.
If you are traveling from within the United States, you should have no problem finding a direct flight from your nearest major airport. And obviously, if you are located on the US eastern seaboard, then Florida will be a little easier to get to, and from the US west coast, Hawaii will be slightly easier to reach.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country, and United Airlines all operate direct flights from an airport within the US to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Check their routes to see if they have a convenient departure point for you to travel to.
Florida, being the largest state in the east of the United States, has four major airports to choose from as your point of entry into the state. Orlando International Airport is the busiest airport in Florida, followed by Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, and Tampa International Airport. Depending on your planned itinerary, check which airport will be the most convenient to the areas of Florida that you wish to experience.
For European departures, it will also be much easier to get to Florida, with Hawaii requiring two long-distance flights. And conversely, if you are traveling from Asia or Australia, then you will be closer to Hawaii and should be able to reach the archipelago via one flight.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Both destinations are relatively easy to get around, but both present their own little obstacles to overcome.
For Florida, the main obstacle to getting around the state is the sheer size of it — it covers a total area of 170,312 square kilometers.
The good news is that there are plenty of other airports aside from the big four previously mentioned. You can find good-sized airports at many of Florida’s other main locations—West Palm Beach, Pensacola, and Jacksonville, to name but a few.
If you plan to stay within a small area of Florida, then a hire car can give you the freedom to explore that you crave. For example, if you want to explore the Florida Keys, a flight to Miami and a rental car would be perfect for your planned exploration route.
In Hawaii, with its 28,313 square kilometers, the main obstacle is water; the Pacific Ocean, to be precise.
The Hawaiian archipelago is comprised of over 130 individual islands. In terms of tourism, we will focus on the main eight islands in the group: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii.
If you plan to visit only one of the major islands on your vacation, travel within each island is relatively straightforward due to their small size. Public buses, tourist tours, or a hired car will enable you to get the most from each island.
Moving from island to island within Hawaii is no big deal either. There are plenty of scheduled inter-island flights each day, and expense aside, you should have no problem island-hopping your way through the United States’ only truly tropical state.
Recommended: Which Hawaiian Island Is Best For Families?
Which Has The Most Impressive National Parks?
If getting down and dirty with nature is part of your vacation plans, then either of these states will have you drooling with excitement with their outstanding national parks and natural attractions.
The United States’ National Park Service lists Florida as being home to eleven official national parks, and Hawaii as housing eight national parks. And they are home to a spectacular array of flora and fauna between them.
Florida: National Parks
Arguably the best known of Florida’s national parks is Everglades National Park. Not only is this area a national park, it has also been designated as a a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Flying around the Everglades in an iconic airboat, searching for American crocodiles is surely an experience that will leave nobody disappointed. Especially if you are also lucky enough to spot the elusive Florida panther.
Aside from the Everglades, the other notable national parks in Florida include Canaveral National Seashore and the remote Dry Tortugas National Park.
A short drive east from Orlando will also bring you to the natural beauty of the Canaveral National Seashore area. Also in this vicinity are Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center.
These two locations have been the launch sites for many iconic voyages of space discovery and have both been designated as National Historic Landmarks. A visit here will surely keep the kids entertained whilst being educational too. Especially if you are lucky enough to have a rocket launch coincide with your vacation dates.
Dry Tortugas National Park covers an isolated island group lying around one hundred kilometers to the west of Key West, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dry Tortugas is also home to Fort Jefferson, the United States’ third largest fort, amongst other points of interest. This national park, and the borders of the tropics, is also a great place to get close to the state’s colorful marine life with its clear waters and excellent snorkeling. For those visiting the Keys, this is a great day out for the whole family to enjoy.
Hawaii: National Parks
When it comes to a conversation about the national parks of Hawaii, we have to talk about volcanoes. Reality is, if you want to see volcanoes on your trip, then Hawaii will be the better choice than Florida.
And the first national park that springs to mind is the aptly-named Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on Hawaii’s ‘Big Island’.
This incredible area is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes—Kilauea and Mauna Loa—and its stunning landscape is a nature photographer’s dream. It’s worth having a quick check on the National Park Service’s website to make sure the volcanoes’ activity hasn’t forced any closures in the park.
Once you have confirmed it’s open, charge your cameras and phones, grab a refillable water bottle, put on your walking boots and hit the trails.
Visitors to the island of Oahu can take in the poignant and historically-significant Pearl Harbor National Memorial. The site of the infamous World War II battle that signaled the US’s official introduction to the war is a must-visit. The kids will enjoy the day and learn about history along the way too.
If you are looking to explore Maui Island, then Haleakala National Park will keep the avid hikers and vulcanologists happy. The area is a hiker’s paradise with plenty of trails to choose from and the summit of Haleakala volcano being a highlight.
So regardless of where you choose, both Hawaii and Florida have great national parks and plenty of outdoor adventure. Which is best for you will depend on where your interests lie – be that wildlife spotting in the Everglades, or watching lava erupting out of the ground in Hawaii.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
The all-important beach—the cornerstone of many a vacation. And we have even more good news on this front. Both Hawaii and Florida are home to stunning, pristine, and idyllic beaches. Some of the most iconic beaches on the planet are housed within these two states.
Hawaii: The Beaches
Let’s start with Hawaii—who hasn’t heard of the iconic Waikiki Beach?
This world-renowned beach on Oahu lies a stone’s throw from Honolulu airport and is touted as the home of surfing. Not only is it a famous surf spot, it also boasts some excellent snorkeling, with the chance of a turtle sighting the highlight.
Make sure you apply some reef-safe sunscreen before snorkeling, and don’t forget the backs of your legs!
Recommended: Shark Attacks In Hawaii & What You Need To Know
This white-sand beach is also perfect for sun-worshippers, and with the Diamond Head crater as a backdrop, it’s easy to see why so many people rave about this beach.
Another of Hawaii’s excellent beaches is Hanauma Bay, also on Oahu. This bay has gin-clear water and is an awesome spot for snorkeling with the Hawaiian marine life. Keep your eyes peeled for a sighting of the Hawaiian state fish, a triggerfish known locally as humuhumunukunukuapuaa.
Visitors to Hawaii’s Kauai will be pleased to know that Kekaha Beach is at their disposal. This is a great beach for relaxing as it is usually very quiet and a perfect place to top up the tan whilst losing yourself in a good book.
Florida: The Beaches
Perhaps the best known of Florida’s beaches is South Beach, in Miami. This beach has plenty going on; it’s a hive of activity. Aside from lying supine in the long stretch of sand, you can snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, paddleboard, or windsurf. The area is also lively after dark, with plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained.
The postcard-perfect Pensacola Beach is another favorite in Florida. The powdery-white sand and stunning landscape are a big draw and seldom leave people disappointed. This beach is also good for snorkeling, and is a great location to watch the setting sun over the Gulf of Mexico.
Recommended: Pensacola vs Destin vs Panama City Beach
And then we have the Keys. The Florida Keys are a chain of small islands trailing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida peninsula, near Miami. This iconic island chain is home to some excellent beaches too. Cannon Beach on Key Largo is definitely worth checking out. Soft sand and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving make this a popular choice.
About halfway down the chain, you will find Marathon and the Curry Hammock State Park, with its 1,200 feet of prime beach. This beach is great for watersports, with kite-boarders and kayakers enjoying the pleasant ocean here.
At the end of the chain is Key West. This renowned island is a big hitter in the tourism world, and if you are heading to Florida, it should be on your itinerary. The beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is Key West’s most popular. The rocky reef lining the ocean floor makes it a great place for snorkeling—again, don’t forget the sunscreen! (Recommended: Key West or Key Largo?).
All in all, it’s hard to separate these two when it comes to beaches. Though the tropical vibe of Hawaii may be the dealbreaker for some, the lively Floridian nightlife at places like Miami Beach attracts tourists too.
Which Is Best For Surfing?
Well, one of these destinations is the birthplace of arguably the greatest-ever pro surfer, and the other is the birthplace of surfing itself!
Kelly Slater, an eleven-time World Surf League champion, was born in Cocoa Beach, on Florida’s Atlantic coast. But legend says that it was in Hawaii that somebody first stood up on a board to ride the waves. They both have the history, but which has the better waves?
Well, it has to be Hawaii.
Hawaii has superb waves for all experience levels, from beginners to pro surfers. Waikiki Beach is one of the most iconic surf spots on the planet, but Hawaii has excellent surfing throughout the archipelago.
There are plenty of surf schools in Hawaii too, so head to your nearest one for some advice and lessons if you have never tried this exhilarating sport before.
But don’t completely discount Florida for surfing! The state’s Atlantic Coast has some fine surfing spots too, especially the Treasure Coast area between West Palm Beach and Orlando. Sunset Beach and St. Pete’s Upham Beach are two popular breaks in this area.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Shoestring: Just one minute from the beach and with free bike rental, Hakuna Matata Hostel on Maui is fun, cheap and friendly. You’ll be making memories in no time here, and without damaging your bank account.
Budget: Located in the heart of Waikiki, 2 minutes walk to the famous Waikiki Beach and surrounded by shopping and dining is the luxury boutique Halepuna Waikiki hotel. This four-star hotel will stretch budgets, but the panoramic views of the ocean and city – alongside the gorgeous infinity pool – will be worth it.
Luxury: Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui is one of those hotels we all wish to stay in one day. It’s extravagant beachfront luxury on a 24-acre landscaped resort with unparalleled views to the sea and beach access. It’s everything you’d expect of a five-star resort and more.
Shoestring:For a fantastic price-quality ratio it’s hard to beat Beach Place Guest House in Florida’s stunning Cocoa Beach. The one bedroom apartments here sit right on the oceanfront and share a gorgeous terrace complete with hammocks and sea view.
Budget: Zota Beach Resort is located in the middle of Florida’s gorgeous Longboat Key. A short drive to the north will bring you to Bradenton Beach, and Siesta Key and Sarasota are a short distance to the south too. So the location is excellent for visiting some of Florida’s most iconic cities.
Luxury: For a bit of luxury and a superb central location in Florida’s Clearwater, check out the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa. At the center of Clearwater Beach’s scene is Pier 60, with fine dining, shopping, and entertainment venues. The Hilton is right next door, slap bang in the middle of Clearwater Beach, with stunning ocean views and powdery-soft sand at your doorstep.
Which Is Best For Scuba Diving?
If blowing bubbles under the waves is your thing, then again, both Florida and Hawaii have some excellent dive sites to tick-off. Though both have unique diving and snorkeling experiences that could help make your decision.
Hawaii: Scuba Diving
Hawaii’s big draw for scuba divers is a very special dive that takes place off the coast of Kona on the Big Island – the Kona Manta Night Dive!
This iconic dive will only disappoint when you get low on air and need to surface, leaving the graceful mantas behind.
For this dive, the dive operators will floodlight the reef. The lights attract plankton, and the plankton attracts the mantas. Then you sit and watch these gentle giants swooping back and forth above the reef, performing perfect barrel rolls as they feast on the plankton.
Another famous dive site in Hawaii is Molokini Island. This crescent-shaped island, formed from a volcano crater, is a must-dive for any certified diver visiting Hawaii!
Florida: Scuba Diving
Florida is also well-known by scuba divers. It’s a wreck diver’s playground – and that’s one reason some may choose it over Hawaii.
But this state has much more to offer besides sunken ships. It’s also famed for its cave diving and is home to some excellent reef dives too.
Of the Florida wrecks, perhaps the Spiegel Grove inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is the biggest draw. This huge wreck is a popular dive, and if you are in the area, it should not be missed.
For the more experienced divers, Ginnie Springs will be a familiar name. This site is world-renowned amongst cave divers, but cave diving can be very unforgiving.
You can dive at Ginnie Springs without entering the labyrinthic cave system, and there is a dive center on site providing instruction and equipment rentals.
But please do not enter the caves if you are not a certified full cave diver—there are very frank signs at the underwater cave entrances warning of the very real risks. But for the certified cave diver, Ginnie Springs will not disappoint.
Looking for gentle reef dives whilst on your Florida vacation? Then head to the Keys – Key West will provide both excellent dives and excellent post-dive entertainment…
Which Has The Best Golf Courses?
If you enjoy a round of golf during your vacation, then both Hawaii and Florida have plenty of courses to choose from.
Hawaii is home to more than seventy golf courses, and you will be sure to find one that suits your game. The course at Mauna Kea on the Big Island is a popular choice, and visitors to Oahu may want to play a round at Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore.
If Maui is your Hawaiian island of choice, head to its south shore and check out the stunning course at Wailea Golf Club.
With way more than a thousand courses, including many championship-level courses, Florida is a great destination – and probably the better one than Hawaii – for golf enthusiasts.
The good news here is that, with so much choice, there are plenty of excellent courses that won’t break the bank for eighteen holes too.
There are also some high-end courses that attract some serious golfers, with the best known being Seminole Golf Course, at Juno Beach. Consistently recognized as one of America’s best courses, this challenging course runs alongside the Atlantic Ocean and would be the perfect choice if you are close to West Palm Beach.
So while golfing in Hawaii should be on any golfer’s bucket list, Florida is likely the better option.
Which Has The Best Nightlife?
If you are looking for exquisite restaurants and lively bars, you will be able to get your fill in either Florida or Hawaii.
However Florida has more iconic party towns and beaches than Hawaii, and therefore more choices for those looking to get lively in the evening. That said, Hawaii has the more ‘cultural’ nightlife scene, where ukuleles mix with tropical cocktails.
For fine-dining and sophisticated cocktails when in Hawaii, Honolulu and Waikiki will be your best bets. This area of Oahu has the most bars and restaurants in Hawaii, and you will be sure to find something to suit your palate. If you are looking for fine-dining with a local twist, head to Roy’s in Waikiki. Chef Roy Yamaguchi offers a fresh menu each day, and seafood lovers will love the choices here.
For a superb fine-dining experience in Florida, head to Miami and book a table at the Palme d’Or inside the Biltmore Hotel. The Michelin-starred Chef Gregory Pugin will ensure you are not disappointed by their fares.
Outside of Oahu, the party crowd will find fewer nightclubs, but if partying is on your agenda, there are plenty of excellent bars and clubs throughout Hawaii. The more popular islands, such as Maui and Kauai, have some great spots for a superb night out too. And if live music is your thing, follow the sounds of the ukuleles to the nearest bar…..
For party-seekers in Florida, South Beach in Miami is a sure-fire winner. Whether you are looking for plush cocktail lounges, dive bars, or mega night clubs, South Beach has it all.
Fort Lauderdale and its famed Entertainment Zone are also excellent choices for a Florida party scene; be sure to check out the Off the Hookah bar.
And if you are hitting the Keys, then the best parties will be found at the end of the chain, in Key West. Get in the mood with a sunset Cuba Libre, then hit the bars and clubs for an excellent night out!
Recommended: A Local’s Guide To Key West Nightlife
Which Is Best For Families?
While both states will be able to provide you with a family holiday to remember, the biggest draw for kids in these two states has to be Disney World in Florida.
A visit to Disney World is on the bucket list of most children, and you can be sure to make them happy with a visit to see Mickey Mouse and his friends.
While the thrilling rollercoasters such as Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain appeal to many, the themed Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean story-based attractions are huge pulls too. And if your kids are into space exploration, be sure to visit the EPCOT Center too.
And with Florida’s Space Coast, the Kennedy Space Center, and actual rocket launches into outer space, this is a state that can mesmerise children of all ages and interests.
So, can Hawaii compete with Disney and rocket-ships when it comes to keeping the children entertained? Probably not, but then again, can anybody?
But there are some great experiences for children in Hawaii too. One such activity is visiting the various film-set locations used in the making of the Jurassic Park movies. there are a few of these locations scattered around the state, and if you are island-hopping, why not see how many you can tick off?
Aside from these attractions, there are plenty of beach activities in both states too. From kayaking to paddleboards, and snorkeling for those comfortable in the ocean, you and your kids will be sure to have a fun-filled vacation in either state.
What Time Of Year Is Best?
Hawaii and Florida both lie very close to the Tropic of Cancer. Florida just to the north of this imaginary line, and Hawaii just to the south of it.
However whilst Hawaii is the only truly tropical state in the US, Florida is only just outside the tropics and enjoys a year-round sub-tropical climate.
In short, both have great weather, and there isn’t a bad time of the year to visit. Surfers or golfers may need to pay more attention to weather patterns before booking though.
The best months to visit Hawaii are between April and October, with December also being very popular. But if you are keen to find some big waves to surf, maybe a little earlier in the year would be better.
For Florida, the best-weather months will depend a little on where in Florida you plan to visit. For Orlando, and Disney World, January through April should see the least amount of rain.
If you are heading farther south, to the Keys, the rain eases off a little earlier in the year, and December through April will be great options to avoid the rains.
Which Is More Expensive?
As an archipelago lying a six-hour flight offshore, things in Hawaii are a little more expensive than in other US states.
A big reason for this is that goods need to be “imported.” Day-to-day living is a little pricier here than in Florida, with the price of gasoline being a good indicator. Gas prices in Hawaii can be quite a bit higher than on the mainland US. The good news for gas prices is that on islands, you can’t drive too far.
Honolulu and Waikiki are the higher-end destinations within Hawaii, and you can spend a fortune on a hotel here, especially at peak times. But there are also plenty of more budget-friendly options too. Check out our useful article on backpacking in Hawaii for some excellent budget tips.
Day-to-day living costs are a little lower in Florida, as are the average hotel room prices. Avoid the peak times to get a better deal on accommodation, but with more choices, you should have no problem finding accommodation to fit your budget.
So when it comes to which is cheaper – or budget friendly – Florida is the clear winner.
Hawaii or Florida: Which Is Better?
The decision on which vacation destination is best for you will depend on what you are looking for from this vacation.
Both Hawaii and Florida are superb, and you can have an amazing, unforgettable vacation in either location.
Both offer stunning beaches; warm, clear oceans; rugged and beautiful national parks; exciting activities for the kids; and importantly, perfect climates for a great vacation!
Plan ahead, check to see if the volcanoes are active or if a rocket launch is scheduled, and pack your bags for a thrilling vacation in either of these beautiful US states.