Oahu Vs Kauai: Which Island Should You Visit? 2023
Are you deciding between Oahu vs Kauai for your Hawaiian vacation?
Oahu and Kauai are beautiful islands offering travellers unique experiences and different activities. No matter which island you choose, you will not be disappointed.
I have compiled information in this blog post to help you better decide between Oahu or Kauai for your next vacation.
Oahu vs Kauai: Which Island Should You Visit?
Before diving into the specifics of things to do on the islands, I will start with broader information on the two islands.
The third-largest island, “The Gathering Place,” known as Oahu (O’ahu), is the most well-known island among all Hawaiian Islands. Home to the state capital of Honolulu, Oahu is the popular tourist choice when picking a vacation.
Oahu is rich in history and culture. It is the most recognizable island because of its mountains, Wai’anae and Ko’olau Ranges. These shield volcanoes (extinct) are famous in the background of television shows and movies, such as Jurassic Park and Hawaii Five-0.
There are many beaches around the entirety of the island. With 365 kilometres (227 miles) of shoreline, you can find some of the best beaches to hang out on for the day.
“The Garden Island (Isle),” known as Kauai (Kaua’i), is the fourth-largest island, second oldest, and most Northern of all the Hawaiian Islands.
Kauai is well known to be the most dramatic and more developed when it comes to landscape. This lush green island is full of sharp mountain ranges with jagged cliffsides. In addition, waterfalls can be found more on Kauai than on the other islands.
The island is also known as a small-town island because you can drive to many towns that emulate Hawaii’s rich history and culture. However, Kauai (during the winter especially) does tend to get more rain than Oahu.
Is It Cheaper To Go To Oahu or Kauai?
While it may surprise some, Oahu is cheaper than Kauai because more options are available on Oahu (car rentals and hotels). However, Oahu can become more expensive depending on your spending, such as restaurants, excursions, or tours.
Depending on where you are coming from around the world and which airline you decide to fly with will impact pricing when flying to Oahu or Kauai. After checking a few airlines, flying to Oahu tends to be less expensive than Kauai (not including high seasons).
Kauai To Oahu Size
Oahu is 35 square miles bigger than Kauai. However, according to World Population Review, the population of Oahu is roughly 15 times larger than that of Kauai.
Oahu To Kauai Distance
The distance between Oahu and Kauai is 174 kilometres (108 miles). By plane, it is a short 40-minute flight non-stop.
Island hopping to other islands, such as The Big Island (Island of Hawai’i) or Maui, is something that many people like to do to extend their Hawaii adventure.
Do You Need A Car To Get Around Kauai?
Do you need a car to get around Kauai? Yes and no. Yes, because then you will be free to go wherever and whenever on the island you want! Also, it will be 10 times more convenient for you.
No, because you can use the local bus system; however, they can be infrequent and limited to certain island areas. If you plan to stay in one place on the island for the entire trip, you do not need a car. But it is highly recommended that you rent one.
Oahu vs Kauai For Families
Depending on what your family like doing, both islands offer similar and different excellent options.
Oahu may be excellent for your family if…
✔ Want to surf (all levels)
✔ Better swimming conditions
✔ More/better beaches
✔ More touristy destinations
✔ Faster paced environment
Kauai may be excellent for your family if…
✔ More hiking options
✔ More engaging local culture
✔ More laid-back environment
✔ Less touristy destinations
✔ Okay, with rain (certain times of the year)
✔ Okay, with places closing early
Best Things To Do On Oahu
Suppose you decide that you choose to visit Oahu. In that case, here are a few top things to see or do while exploring the island.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a beautiful location on the Southeast side of Oahu. Hanauma Bay, 30 minutes from the city, became a popular resident and tourist spot for snorkelling.
You will likely see sea turtles and many tropical fish when you snorkel in the bay. There is a place where you can rent snorkelling gear at Hanauma Bay. However, it can be pricey, and bringing your own snorkelling gear is best.
Moreover, the protected cove was once where marine life became neglected and over-visited.
After the world started to open back up, Hanauma Bay is now regulated and run by the County and City of Honolulu with strict rules enforced. Hanauma Bay is open to the public on Wednesdays through Sundays. Mondays and Tuesdays are closed, so marine wildlife has time without human interference.
There is a $25.00 USD entrance fee, and you can book them online through the Department of Parks and Recreation. There is a separate parking fee, first come, first serve, that you must pay $3.00 USD in cash when you reach the bay. There are also no in and out privileges. Get there as soon as possible before they open to ensure you get a parking spot.
The nature preserve is open from 6:45 AM until 4:00 PM (the beach will be cleared before 3:15 PM). However, entry is only until 1:30 PM, and you cannot enter after that time.
A limited amount of tickets are sold online for two days in advance. The possibility of selling out is fast and could be sold out within five minutes after reservations are available at 7:00 AM. Walk-in tickets are also available but sell out quickly.
NOTE: All visitors must watch a mandatory short educational video on snorkelling safety and conservation of the bay before entering the beach.
One of the most reputable and popular tour operations on the island of Oahu is Kauloa Ranch. There are dozens of tours going out daily, such as UTV, e-bike, ziplining, horseback riding, and farm & cultural tours.
Kauloa Ranch is also an active cattle ranch while still being a popular tourist destination and filming location. Jurassic Park is the most well-known movie that was filmed at the Kauloa Ranch, and you can experience all of that with their Jurrasic Park tours.
Pearl Harbor is a significant location that is a part of Hawaii’s history. On December 7th, 1941, the Naval base on Ford Island was, unfortunately, part of a surprise attack by Japan. The devastating day as it declared the Pacific War.
Today it is a museum and memorial site for all civilians and thousands of Navy soldiers who lost their lives that day, including destroyed Naval vessels, eight battleships and over 300 airplanes.
In addition, tickets must be purchased online in advance if you want to see Ford Island.
Suppose you cannot visit Ford Island; there is a memorial site across from Ford Island. The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a free entrance visit (there is a parking fee), with memorials displayed and informational museum areas.
NOTE: No large backpacks and purses are permitted inside The Pearl Harbor National Memorial site.
Best Things To Do On Kauai
If you have decided that Kauai is your destination, these are some top things to do while visiting the island of Kauai.
Nāpali Coast State Park
The Nāpali (Nā Pali) Coast is a true gem to Kauai — beautiful coastlines with deep, rugged valleys and pails (cliffs) that end abruptly at sea. Waterfalls and streams flow through the narrow valleys creating deeper cuts.
There are three ways you can experience the Nāpali Coast. First is by sea; many tour companies advertise tours for boats and kayaking along the coast. You can see more of the coastline than on foot if you explore by sea.
Tours usually happen during the summer when the weather and calmer waters. However, the weather can be unpredictable, and tours may be cancelled anytime.
The second is by land. Hiking the 17-kilometre (11 miles) Kalalau Trail is the ultimate way to experience everything the state park offers. However, there are specific rules and regulations, permits, and other information that hikers must follow in advance.
The third option is to go by air. Helicopter tours run daily, but they are the most expensive way of experiencing the coast. There are reputable companies available on the island for you to book with. Blue Hawaiian is a well-known helicopter company that operates on all the main Hawaiian Islands.
Hanalei Bay and Beach Park
Hanalei Bay is the largest bay on the North side of Kauai. The wetlands at the bottom of the mountains were used to grow taro to make Poi, a Hawaiian starch. It is located in the small town of Hanalei. The town itself is home to many historical places and art galleries.
The beach is an excellent spot for water activities such as snorkelling, surfing, paddle boarding and more. In addition, the historic Hanalei Pier and Black Pot Beach is a local’s favourite place for gathering, fishing, swimming, and playing music.
Makua “Tunnels” Beach
Known as the best snorkelling beach in Kauai, Makua “Tunnels” Beach is where everyone loves to go. It has a coral reef that almost hits right up against the shore.
Sea turtles frequent Makua Beach because of the small caves they like to rest in. There are also many tropical fish to see in the reef. Please do not touch any of the marine wildlife, and be respectful of the coral reef.
NOTE: There are no lifeguards and a lack of facilities. Ha’ena State Park, which neighbours Makua Beach, will have facilities.
Conclusion: Oahu Vs Kauai
Oahu and Kauai are beautiful islands that offer unique experiences to their visitors. Whether you are looking for a bustling city atmosphere or a more relaxed island vibe, either of these islands will provide the perfect vacation destination to meet your needs.
With the information in this blog post, I hope this helped you decide on Oahu vs Kauai and enjoy your vacation.
Have a good day 🙂