Last updated on February 2, 2023 by Wandering our World
A visit to the tropical paradise of Hawaii is on nearly every traveler’s bucket list, and Maui and Honolulu (located on the island of Oahu) often top that list.
As the two most popular vacation destinations in the Hawaiian Islands, each offers their own unique blend of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and recreational activities.
For example, if you’re a nature lover and someone who likes to get off the beaten path, Maui might be more up your alley than Honolulu.
On the other hand, the big city vibe of Honolulu will bring you amazing restaurants, bars, great beaches, nightlife and activities on every corner.
Of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how different these two destinations are, so deciding which one to visit can be as tough a choice as it is important.
Luckily we know both well!
So below we’ve put together our honest comparison of Maui and Honolulu. We’re sure by the time you’ve finished, you’ll know exactly where you want to go.
- Which Has The Better Vibe?
- How Does The Weather Compare?
- Which Is Easier To Travel To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is Better For Nature Lovers?
- Which Has Better Beaches?
- What Has The Best Cuisine?
- Which Has Better Cultural Attractions?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Better For Families?
- Which Is Better For Honeymoons & Couples?
Which Has The Better Vibe?
The answer to this question is twofold. The first thing to note is that all of the islands in Hawaii have similarities that make them incredibly pleasant to visit and vacation on.
For the most part, Maui and Honolulu have similar climates, seasons, and enriching cultural attractions. You will be able to get a quintessential Hawaiian experience on both islands.
However, Maui and Honolulu do have different ambiences, and it’s worth considering what type of vacation you would like before making a decision about either one.
Overall, Honolulu, which is located on the island of Oahu, is more urban and developed than Maui.
Other parts of the island are less built up, but the experience in Honolulu is best described as an interface between tropical paradise and urban jungle–think malls, bars, and delicious restaurants right down to the waterfront.
Maui, on the other hand, has resorts and urban areas scattered among the beautiful jungles and mountains that we associate with Hawaii – you’ll be able to find all the amenities you could possible want, but the vibes are more mellow and laid-back away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
How Does The Weather Compare?
One thing to note anytime you are considering a vacation in Hawaii is that each island has multiple microclimates.
This means that different parts of the island might have different weather systems, and when it’s raining in one area, it might be dry and sunny in another.
So it’s always good to check the forecast before you go anywhere on any of the Hawaiian islands!
The biggest difference between Maui and Honolulu’s climate, though, is just how hot it gets. While neither island has major fluctuations, Honolulu gets hotter than Maui during the summer months, and it is drier overall.
It’s not unusual for Honolulu, during June through October, to have sustained temperatures in the high 80s and for it to be quite dry.
Maui, on the other hand, will be a little cooler with more frequent rainfall year round–while still being nice and warm of course.
Which Is Easier To Travel To?
Hawaii is a long trip for anyone, especially if you are coming from the States or Europe. That being said, the simple fact that Hawaii is a popular vacation destination means that there are no shortage of flights to both Honolulu and Maui.
However, Honolulu, by dint of being the capital and the main metropolis in the Hawaiian islands, will have the highest number of flights and is likely to be the easiest island to fly to.
Maui has an international airport, but may require an additional stop or two to get to.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
One factor that may be important for those considering which destination is right for them is how much traveling you want to do while you’re actually on the island.
One advantage of Honolulu is that it’s a city and there is extensive public transportation. It’s many main activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, cultural activities, etc., are all very easy to get to and are all located in the main area too.
Maui, on the other hand, will require some more time spent traveling to different parts of the island, since resorts are more spread out, as are the beaches, hiking trails, and other cultural attractions.
Therefore, if you prefer to spend your vacation settled in one spot and not coordinate travel and transportation, Honolulu might be more up your alley.
This is also something to consider depending on the length of your trip. If you only have a week or less, Honolulu will most likely give you the most bang for your buck, as you will be able to experience many of Hawaii’s novelties without having to travel very far.
Which Is Better For Nature Lovers?
This one might be easy to guess, but for those unfamiliar with Hawaii in general, it’s important to recognize that Maui will definitely be the destination for you if you’re a nature lover!
Maui is largely undeveloped, with large forest reserves, great wildlife, hiking trails, and secluded beaches to be enjoyed by those who want to escape the city and enjoy the stunning natural landscape.
For avid hikers, there are ample trails to explore on Maui.
Haleakala crater, one of the two main volcanoes on Maui, is 10,000 vertical feet (not a hike for the faint of heart!) and provides breathtaking views across the water to the other islands.
But those who want a more low-key hike can get stunning views on the Pipiwai trail, which winds out of Hana past seven idyllic pools to the base of a 400 foot waterfall called Waimoku.
If you get tired of hiking and walking, Maui has no shortage of undeveloped beaches where you can truly get off the beaten path and away from resorts and shops. There’s plenty of places to whale watch from the shoreline too – Maui is famous for that!
As for Honolulu, you can hike Diamond Head which has wonderful views of the city and the bustling Waikiki beach – so even a stay in the city will bring up some, albeit limited, options in nature.
Which Has Better Beaches?
One wonderful thing about visiting anywhere in Hawaii is that all beaches are public, although some require reservations to prevent overcrowding.
But ultimately comparing beaches in Maui to beaches in Honolulu really comes down to what type of beach experience you are looking for.
Many of Honolulu’s most popular beaches are all part of Waikiki beach, which runs along a section of Honolulu’s waterfront.
This means that if beaches with phenomenal food and drink options, places to hang out, and amenities are what you’re looking for, Honolulu should be your destination.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a beach experience that is more private and away from the hustle, Maui will be the place for you.
Keep reading for a more detailed breakdown of the beaches in Maui and Honolulu!
Honolulu: The Beaches
As introduced above, Waikiki beach is the main beach along Honolulu’s waterfront. Waikiki can be divided up into many smaller sections, each of which has a different atmosphere and different amenities.
Perhaps the best part of Waikiki beach is that there really is something for everyone, located all in one area.
Below are two of the most popular sections of Waikiki, along with one option if you feel like driving out of the city (only 30 minutes though!)
1. Kahanamoku Beach
Kahanamoku is located in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, but is open to the public.
This beach is best known for having a man made lagoon that is cleaned every day, where the water is slightly colder than the ocean and refreshing.
Families will find this to be the perfect beach for small children that might be too young for the open ocean, and its proximity to restaurants is perfect for those who don’t want to travel far for food and drink.
The beach is also close to a pier, from which you can charter a sailboat or catamaran ride, or even a submarine!
2. Sans Souci Beach (Also Known As Kaimana)
This beach is located on the end of Waikiki beach, closest to Diamond Head State Monument.
Popular with locals, it is a little quieter than other parts of Waikiki, and there is no protective break here, making the surf a little larger than other areas, though still gentle.
If you want to escape the crowds in other areas, this spot is for you. It is also located next to the Kapiolani Park, which has both an aquarium and a zoo for off-beach entertainment.
3. Kailua Beach Park
For those wanting to get out of Honolulu but still not wanting to go far, Kailua Beach Park is perfect.
With its powdery white sand, extensive length, and proximity to the small town of Kailua, this beach is popular with both locals and tourists.
An easy 30 minute drive from downtown Honolulu, Kailua Beach has no shortage of activities–it is popular with kite-surfers, boogie boarders, and kayakers.
If you feel like swimming in the gentle swells, you can do that too, as the surf never gets too rough here.
Maui: The Beaches
1. Ka’anapali Beach
It would be impossible to talk about the best beaches in Maui without mentioning Ka’anapali Beach.
The first planned resort in Hawaii, Ka’anapali has a rich history and has become a model for resorts around the world.
The beach itself is gorgeous, combining expansive soft white sand with the contrast of black rock cliffs. It’s also well known for being one of the best areas to swim and snorkel with sea turtles, and the water is always warm and inviting.
Beyond the beach, there are endless activities – Whaler’s village (a whaling museum), world class shopping, zip-lining, and the not-to-be-missed evening cliff-diving ceremony held on its northernmost point. For those wanting an all-inclusive beach experience, this is it.
2. Kapalua Bay
For those wanting the best beach for snorkeling, look no further than Kapalua Bay. Located on the northwest side of the island, Kapalua has become known for its access to marine life close to shore.
Sea turtles, rare monk seals, and every type of vibrant fish you can imagine reside in the reefs just off-shore. Rentals are easily available, and the shape of the bay means that the water is protected and calm, making it perfect for even smaller kids who want to get out in the water.
Small restaurants and food trucks are available for food, and there are bathrooms and showers as well.
3. One’uli Black Sand Beach
We would be remiss to not discuss one of Maui’s great wonders: black sand beaches.
These fascinating beaches have been formed by the erosion of lava flows from Maui’s volcanoes (both dormant at the moment, thankfully!).
One’euli is special for a variety of reasons: the view of the Puu Olai cinder cone at one end (a geological attraction in and of itself), the lack of crowds, and the phenomenal snorkeling for those wanting something off the beaten path.
Additionally, large green turtles rest along the beach, making this a perfect opportunity to get up close with wildlife.
While there are other black sand beaches, One’euli is special for its proximity to the mountains and its secluded views.
What Has The Best Cuisine?
For most of Hawaii’s existence, travelers came for the beaches and the natural wonders, not necessarily because it was a culinary paradise.
Honolulu: The Food
In recent years, though, things have changed, and the Hawaiian islands now boast many world-class restaurants – most of which are found in Honolulu. Thus, for foodies and adventurous eaters, Honolulu may have Maui beaten for culinary excellence.
That is not say that you can’t find delicious food in Maui. But Honolulu has seen an explosion in fantastic fusion and international cuisine in recent years, and there are some restaurants that are not to be missed.
Below you’ll find our recommendations for a few of the the finest in Honolulu:
Merriman’s: Founded by local culinary pioneer Peter Merriman, this gastropub offers the best mai-tai on the island (topped with yellow passionfruit foam!), and the best of classic Hawaiian offerings–like a Kalua pork quesadilla and their signature smoked oysters.
MW: For an incredible Pacific-rim fusion dining experience, look no further than MW. An award winning husband and wife team whips up creative dishes like mochi-crusted kona kampachi and unagi butterfish arancini in an unfussy but inviting restaurant, located on the 2nd floor of one of Honolulu’s downtown buildings.
Morimoto Asia Waikiki: Sushi and pan-asian seafood dishes are almost synonymous with Hawaiian cuisine, and some of the best is found at Morimoto.
Offering dishes like bronzino, dim-sum, and even barbecued black cod, this is a can’t-miss destination. Although the interior may seem fancy, the location within the Alohilani resort means families and those fresh off the beach are welcome here.
Maui: The Food
While Honolulu certainly has numerous world class restaurants, if you decide Maui is more up your alley overall, you can still find delicious cuisine tucked away in Maui’s jungle corners.
We would be remiss to not mention Mama’s Fish House, located on the north shore of Maui. Perhaps the iconic restaurant in Maui, Mama’s Fish House books out 3-6 months in advance.
This is because of their inventive approach to Polynesian food and their commitment to sea-to-table cuisine.
Their menu lists the fisherman who caught each type of fish on the menu, along with the exact location off the coast.
Their sea-side restaurant has spectacular sunsets and you can even stay in the inn run by the restaurant–for a price, of course!
Which Has Better Cultural Attractions?
Honolulu and Maui are both culturally rich and offer numerous opportunities to experience the beauty of Native Hawaiian rituals.
However, Honolulu, because of its urban nature, offers more historical attractions like the Pearl Harbor Museum, while Maui, with its more laid-back vibe, will have more native Hawaiian cultural pastimes to enjoy.
Honolulu: The Cultural Attractions
As previously mentioned, the Pearl Harbor Museum is located in Honolulu and for those interested in American history, this can be a fascinating glimpse into the intersection of Hawaiian and American interests in the region.
Another museum not to be missed is the Bishop Museum, which takes a deep dive into Polynesian migration to the islands and the rich history of Hawaii’s monarchy. It also has sections on Hawaii’s rich biology and oceanography.
For those wanting more information on the native peoples of the Pacific, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a must-see.
This is perfect for families that want to take their children to explore, as the PCC is laid out almost like a theme park, with different areas representing the various different tribes that call Hawaii home. With exhibits, live shows, luau’s, and other performances, this is informative, family-friendly fun.
Maui: The Cultural Attractions
For those fascinated by Hawaiian culture, Maui has no shortage of sacred heritage sites.
Once known as the “whaling capital of the world”, Maui even has a museum dedicated to its rich whaling history: the Whaler’s Village mentioned above as a spot to visit at Ka’anapali Beach.
Nowhere is Hawaiian culture more richly displayed than at Bailey House Museum, which houses hundreds of artifacts and displays that give a glimpse into the intricately woven joint history of Hawaiian natives and the missionaries which influenced them so heavily.
If you feel like leaving the museum and seeing the lush countryside of Maui along with a rich piece of history, take a walk to ‘Iao Valley, where you’ll find the ‘Iao Needle, a rock formation that climbs one thousand feet into the air.
Beyond being an incredible walk through the lush jungle, plaques along the way tell the history of the bloody battle fought between Maui and the Big Island in 1790.
Finally, if you’re driving the gorgeous Road to Hana (highly recommended!) you will have to make a stop at Kahanu Garden – one of the largest lava rock temples in Polynesia.
It is believed that this temple, built in stages over multiple centuries, was the seat of power in Maui through many rulers, and as such holds immense cultural significance.
The temple is surrounded by stunning botanical gardens, and sits right on the ocean, so you can take in the views and the history together.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
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. See photos and rates!
Luxury: With its gorgeous rooftop infinity pool that looks out unobstructed onto the Pacific from Waikiki Beach, its hard to find anything more luxurious than Espacio – The Jewel Of Waikiki. The location is perfect, the suites unbeatable, and the service world class. See photos and rates here.
Budget: 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. See photos and rates!
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. See photos and rates!
Which Is Better For Families?
Overall, you can find a family friendly experience on both Maui and Honolulu, but overall, Oahu is known for being the most family friendly island, both for the sheer number of activities for kids, and also for its affordability.
Because Honolulu is more affordable than other areas, you will be able to do more activities if you have a big family without also having to go very far – perfect for young kids who may be wondering ‘are we there yet’ after ten minutes in the car.
Maui, on the other hand, is still kid friendly, but you’ll find that many of the activities and sight-seeing will only come at an all-inclusive resort, which can get quite pricey.
Recommended: The Best Hawaiian Island For Families
Which Is Better For Honeymoons & Couples?
Maui’s secluded beaches, smaller crowds, and tucked away restaurants all make Maui a great destination for honeymooners.
It can be hard to find privacy in Honolulu, so if being able to get away and do an activity with just you and your significant other is important, Maui will be the island for you.
The Four Seasons Resort (see photos and rates), known for being one of Maui’s best, is touted as the best all-inclusive honeymoon resort on the island and is well worth checking out.
Or, if you want to feel more secluded while celebrating the big day, you can check out the Hana-Maui Resort (see photos and rates), a secluded, private resort tucked away in Eastern Maui along the stunning “Road to Hana” highway.
Honolulu vs Maui: Which Is Better?
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either destination.
However, if you’re a nature lover and someone who likes to get off the beaten path, Maui might be more up your alley than Honolulu.
Maui will still provide all the amenities you could possibly want, while allowing you to be slightly more independent and explore Hawaiian culture at your own pace.
On the other hand, Honolulu will have amazing restaurants, bars, and activities on every corner, so for the traveler who wants the convenience of the whole package Hawaiian experience, Honolulu might be best for you.