Where to stay in Hawaii for first time: 4 Best Islands

Finding where to stay in Hawaii as a first-timer can be overwhelming. That’s why, in today’s article, I will help you to find the best places to stay in Hawaii for first-time visitors.

I will share with you what I believe are the best islands to stay in Hawaii for first-timers and tourists, along with a helpful map. I’ll also share where I stayed in Hawaii and recommend some of the best hotels for various budgets.

Hawaii is a U.S. state located in the central Pacific Ocean. It is an archipelago consisting of eight main islands: Hawaii (also known as the Big Island), Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Honolulu, the capital and largest city, is situated on the island of Oahu.

Visiting Hawaii for the first time is an exciting and memorable experience. Here are some tips and recommendations to help you make the most of your trip:

Hawaii is composed of several islands, each with its own unique charm, so you can choose the islands that align with your interests. Oahu is known for Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor, Maui for its stunning scenery and Haleakalā National Park, Kauai for its outdoor adventures, and Big Island for its active volcanoes and a diverse climate.

Research and plan your itinerary in advance, but also be open to spontaneous adventures. Hawaii has a lot to offer, so having a general plan will help you make the most of your time.

Hawaii has a tropical climate, and weather can vary. It is recommended to pack light and breathable clothing, but also bring a light jacket for cooler evenings or higher elevations.

The sun in Hawaii can be intense. Use sunscreen, wear a hat, and stay hydrated. Protecting yourself from the sun will ensure a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Don’t miss out on the local food scene. Try traditional Hawaiian dishes like poke, plate lunches, and shave ice. Also, attend a luau for an authentic cultural experience.

Hawaii offers fantastic hiking trails with breathtaking views. Whether it’s Diamond Head on Oahu, the Pipiwai Trail on Maui, or Waimea Canyon on Kauai, there’s a hike for every fitness level.

If you’re on the Big Island, explore Volcanoes National Park. Be sure to check the current volcanic activity status. Also, keep an eye out for unique wildlife, such as sea turtles and colorful fish while snorkeling.

Remember, Hawaii is about relaxation and enjoying the natural beauty around you. Take your time, be present, and soak in the aloha spirit.

Where to stay in Hawaii for the first time?

The best islands to stay in Hawaii for first-timers and tourists are Oahu, Big Island, Kauai, and Maui. Each island has its own unique appeal, so it’s worth exploring more than one if time allows. Many visitors also choose to island-hop to experience the unique offerings of multiple islands during their stay.

Oahu is a popular choice for first-time visitors and those who want a mix of beach relaxation and cultural experiences. This island is known for its iconic Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and vibrant nightlife.

Maui, often referred to as the Valley Isle, is known for its breathtaking landscapes, including the scenic Road to Hana, Haleakalā National Park, and beautiful beaches like Kaanapali and Wailea.

The Big Island is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands and offers diverse landscapes, from volcanic craters at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to lush rainforests and black sand beaches. Kailua-Kona and Hilo are two main towns worth exploring.

Kauai, known as the Garden Isle, is famous for its lush greenery, dramatic cliffs of the Napali Coast, and Waimea Canyon. It’s a great choice for nature lovers and those seeking a more relaxed atmosphere.

During my first trip to Hawaii, I stayed in Oahu at the mid-range Queen Kapiolani Hotel. It has a great location with a view of Diamond Head and just a short stroll to the main boardwalk and the beach. There were a ton of restaurants and stores nearby. My room was compact with basic facilities but comfortable.

Below is a map of the popular areas in Hawaii for first-time travelers. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the best islands to stay in Hawaii first time
Map of the best islands to stay in Hawaii first time

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in Hawaii, especially for first-time visitors. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in Hawaii have been carefully selected by me from well-known and secure booking sites such as booking.com, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. 

If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

4 Best islands to stay in Hawaii for first-timers and tourists:

1. Oahu

Oahu is a fantastic choice for first-timers and tourists due to its diverse offerings, vibrant culture, and numerous attractions. This island is home to the iconic Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and Pearl Harbor.

Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world, known for its golden sands and excellent surfing conditions. The area is also bustling with shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.

Don’t miss the opportunity to watch the sunset at Waikiki Beach. It’s a beautiful and iconic way to end your day on the island.

You can hike to the top of Diamond Head Crater for panoramic views of Waikiki and Honolulu. It’s a relatively easy hike and offers a great opportunity for some exercise while enjoying breathtaking scenery.

Oahu island is home to the USS Arizona Memorial and the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. This historical site provides insight into the events of December 7, 1941, and the impact on World War II.

Those who love snarling can explore Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a marine life conservation area. It’s a fantastic spot for observing colorful coral and various tropical fish.

The North Shore of Oahu is also a must-visit, especially during the winter months, to witness massive waves and world-class surf competitions. You can explore the charming town of Haleiwa and try some delicious local food.

Other places of interest on Oahu include Iolani Palace, Polynesian Cultural Center, Manoa Falls, and

Chinatown where you can experience local culture and try different Asian cuisines.

The best place to stay in Oahu for the first-time is Honolulu (Waikiki Beach). Other popular areas are  the Windward Side, the North Shore, and Ko Olina.

Best places to stay in Hawaii in Oahu for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Trump International Hotel Waikiki, 5-star hotel centrally located in Honolulu, 20 mins drive from the airport. It is near Waikiki Beach, Beachwalk Rd, Kalakaua Avenue, and Fort DeRussy Beach Park. Lot of restaurants and shops can be found nearby. The hotel has an outdoor pool, superb breakfast, family rooms, and a fitness center. 

Mid-range ($$): Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani, popular 4-star hotel, in a great location on Helumoa Road, close to everything, the beaches, broadwalk, and amenities. Within walking distance from Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center and International Marketplace. Staying here offers free access to the Bishop Museum and Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Budget ($): Imperial Hawaii Resort, 3-star hotel conveniently located in the middle of Waikki, on Lewers Street, easy access to a range of attractions, shopping centers, restaurants and entertainment options. The upper floors rooms have lovely partial views of the ocean.


2. Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii, officially known as Hawaii Island, is an exciting destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. It is the biggest and most diverse of the Hawaiian Islands. It offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors.

The island is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island, showcases the volcanic landscapes and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The landscape varies from black lava fields, such as those in the Ka’u Desert, to green valleys and slopes with diverse plant and animal life. The island’s terrain includes beaches, valleys, waterfalls, and the iconic Mauna Kea, which, when measured from its base on the ocean floor, is the tallest mountain in the world.

The climate on the Big Island is diverse due to its varying elevations. The west side tends to be drier and sunnier, while the east side is lush and tropical.

The largest city on the Big Island is Hilo, located on the east side. Kailua-Kona, on the west side, is another major population center. Other notable communities include Waimea, Waikoloa, and Volcano Village.

Best places to stay in Hawaii Big Island for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, 5-star good value for money hotel located on Ka’upulehu Drive, along the Kona-Kohala coast of Hawaii Island. The hotel has an onsite Jack Nicklaus signature Hualalai Golf Course. It has 3 restaurants, free parking, and a fitness center.

Mid-range ($$): Aston Kona By The Sea, 4-star beachfront hotel with a private beach, located within a short drive from Kona Coast Shopping Center and the Kona Country and Golf Club. Rooms are beautiful and well-equipped with all necessary facilities.

Budget ($): Kona Coast Resort, great 3-star hotel located on Kona Coast in Hawaii,a short drive from Kahaluu Beach. It features accommodations with a fully-equipped kitchen. There are also 2 outdoor pools, free parking, and comfortable family rooms.


3. Kauai

Kauai, often referred to as the “Garden Isle,” is an excellent choice for those seeking a more relaxed and nature-centric Hawaiian experience. It features dramatic cliffs along the Napali Coast, the Waimea Canyon, and numerous waterfalls.

The Napali Coast is a rugged coastline on the northwest side of Kauai, known for its towering sea cliffs, lush valleys, and remote beaches. It is a popular destination for hiking, boat tours, and helicopter rides.

 Waimea Canyon, in the western part of the island, is a geological marvel with its colorful canyon walls and deep gorges. There are hiking trails and lookout points that offer breathtaking views of the canyon.

Kauai is home to some beautiful beaches, such as Hanalei Bay, Poipu Beach, and Ke’e Beach. These beaches offer opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and simply enjoying the sun and sea.

The island is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities such as hiking, zip-lining, kayaking, and helicopter tours. The Kalalau Trail and the Alakai Swamp Trail are popular hiking routes.

Kauai has a rich cultural heritage, and visitors can explore historic sites such as the Kilohana Plantation, where they can learn about the island’s sugar plantation history.

The most polar areas to stay in Kauai are in Princeville and Poipu. Poipu is a great base to explore the south of the island and Princeville is a great location to explore the north of the island.

Best places to stay in Hawaii in Kauai for first-timers:

Mid-range ($$): Sheraton Kauai Resort Villas, 4-star beautiful accommodation in Koloa, close to Kiahuna Beach, Baby Beach, Poipu Beach. The hotel has a 24-hour front desk, a fitness center, family rooms, free parking, a restaurant and a bar. Great base to explore southern Kauai. 

Mid-range ($$): Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, 4-star hotel located on Poipu Road, on the south shore of Kauai. Easy access to  shops, restaurants, and Poipu Beach for sunset to see turtles and seals.  The hotel has a lovely pool and amenities. 

Budget ($): Makai Club Resort, 3-star condo hotel conveniently located on Lei O Papa Road, in Princeville, good base to explore the northern shore of Kauai island. Easy access to Princeville Shopping Center, Hanalei Bay, the Makai golf course.


4. Maui

Maui is a popular destination for a diverse range of travelers. Whether you’re interested in adventure sports, relaxation, or cultural exploration, Maui has something to offer for everyone.

Maui is renowned for its beautiful beaches with golden sands and crystal-clear waters. Popular ones include Wailea Beach, Kaanapali Beach, and Makena Beach.

Haleakalā National Park  is home to Haleakalā, a massive dormant volcano that forms more than 75% of the island. You can go to the summit to witness breathtaking sunrises and explore the unique volcanic landscapes.

Road to Hana is a scenic drive that takes you along the northeastern coast of Maui, passing through lush rainforests, waterfalls, and picturesque landscapes. The Road to Hana is known for its numerous hairpin turns and stunning vistas.

A lush, emerald valley surrounded by towering peaks, Iao Valley is home to the iconic Iao Needle, a natural rock formation. The park is great for hiking and exploring the tropical landscape.

Once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Lahaina is a historic town with preserved architecture, art galleries, and a lively waterfront. It also serves as a gateway to the popular Kaanapali and Kapalua resort areas.

Maui is a prime location for whale watching, particularly during the winter months when humpback whales migrate to the warm Hawaiian waters to breed and give birth.

Maui offers various opportunities to experience Hawaiian culture, including traditional luaus, hula performances, and visits to historical sites like the Bailey House Museum.

Some of the most popular areas in Maui for first-time visitors to book accommodations are in Kaanapali, Lahaina, Kihei, and Wailea.

Best places to stay in Hawaii in Maui for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui, 5-star beachfront hotel with a private beach area, conveniently located on Wailea Alanui Drive, next to The Shops at Wailea Mall. Good base for honeymoon, couples, and families.

Mid-range ($$): Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, popular 4-star beachfront hotel located in Lahaina along the world-famous Ka‘anapali Beach in West Maui, 30 mins drive from the airport.  Short distance from Kaanapali Golf Course and the Whalers Village. 

Budget ($): Aston Maui Hill, great 3-star hotel located on South Kihei Road, Wailea, close to beaches, shops, and restaurants. Within a few mins walk from Kamaole Beach Park III. The hotel features spacious suites with fully-equipped kitchens, barbecue facilities, Family rooms, and free parking.


In conclusion, Oahu, Big Island, Kauai, and Maui are the best places to stay for first-timers and tourists. Remember, each island has its own distinct charm, so you may want to visit multiple islands if time allows. You can consider renting a car to explore the islands more freely.  

You can continue reading about Hawaii in these articles:

There you have it, my recommendations for the most popular and safest neighborhoods that you can stay during your first trip to Hawaii. I hope you enjoyed my article and find it both informative and helpful.

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Your feedback is invaluable and helps me continue to create more quality content.

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

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