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Why I Prefer Oahu Over Maui

Why I Prefer Oahu Over Maui

Allow me to start by saying that it brings me no pleasure to write this post. Even before Lahaina burned in the summer of 2023, I saw Maui as an underdog—and I always root for the underdog.

Indeed, it isn’t so much that Maui rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning (although it did) as it is that Oahu was just so much more my speed. As I’ll explain over the next few paragraphs, all my trips to Hawaii’s islands have been exercises in the futility of expectations, and in the tendency of travel to upend them.

It could end up being, in the end, that your take on Oahu vs Maui is different from mine. But I hope you’ll hear out what I have to say regardless.

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Why I Assumed Maui Would Be Better

This was foolish in retrospect, but I took my position on the Maui vs Oahu debate in advance of ever visiting either island. Both because friends of mine had sung the praises of Maui for so long, and because (as I already stated) I like to root for the underdog, I went into my first trip to Hawaii with the assumption that Maui would be better and more interesting than Oahu.

When I got to Oahu and really liked the island, this made me excited. “If the ‘boring’ island is this great,” I remember telling my mom (whose birthday had been the impetus for our visit to Hawaii), “I can’t imagine how amazing things are going to be across the sea in Maui.” Unfortunately, that sentiment would begin to subside almost as soon as our plane landed at Kahului Airport.


Ways to Compare Oahu and Maui

Beaches and nature

I’m going to make a bold statement: Maui’s beaches are just not very good, neither the golden-sanded (and eroding ones) in east Maui, nor even the red and green “novelty” ones along the Road to Hana. Oahu, on the other hand, won the beach lottery. This is particularly the case along the North Shore (and at Waimanalo Beach in the northeast), but even Waikiki is relatively awesome (and is crowded by Diamond Head in the distance).

Culture and history

Prior to the 2023 fires, this is a category in which either Oahu or Maui could’ve won. Lahaina, when it existed, was at least as interesting to visit as Oahu’s Haleiwa. Beyond this, of course, Oahu probably offers more explicitly cultural and historical experiences—I’m thinking Iolani Palace and Pearl Harbor, respectively, although the latter is admittedly something of a scam these days.

Hotels and restaurants

The issue with hotels in the Hawaiian islands, in general, is that many are old and un-renovated, and simultaneously very expensive. Both are much more pronounced on Maui, however. When it comes to dining, I tend to prefer Oahu, both because Honolulu is a “real” city (and thus offers a full range of global cuisine) and because the more rustic options (i.e. the “shrimp trucks” on the North Shore) are so satisfying.


This is another area where comparing Maui with Oahu isn’t even close. While you can choose to drive around Oahu’s circumference in order to appreciate the scenery, there are several cross-island highways that shorten travel time for practical purposes. In Maui, unfortunately, circuitous routings are the only way to travel between West Maui and East Maui, which if I’m honest is a real pain.

Local hospitality

This might anger some people—feel free to try and prove me wrong—but it really feels like locals in Maui hate non-Hawaiians. This is unfortunate in the wake of the Lahaina fires, as many influential people have actively repelled both donations and the prospect of regenerative tourism. You see some of this on Oahu as well, without question, but in general Oahu residents seem much more hospitable an welcoming.


Is It Better to Spend More Time in Maui or Oahu?

If you do decide to visit both of these islands in spite of my testimony (and frankly, I hope that you do—I’m just one person!), I’d veer toward the side of spending more time on Oahu. As was the case during my first trip to Hawaii, many travelers I speak with seem to protract their stays on Maui (with the expectation that it will be amazing), and at the expense of time on Oahu.

My view is that how many days you spend in Maui should be slightly less than how many you stay in Oahu. If you have a week in Hawaii, for example, I’d recommend a 4-3 Oahu-Maui split, as opposed to the other day around. Ideally, of course, you would do like I’ve done on subsequent Hawaii sojourns and focused on just one island each time. But this will of course vary depending on the flexibility of your work schedule, among other things.

Other FAQ About Visiting Maui and Oahu

Is Oahu or Maui better?

In my experience, Oahu is a more fulfilling place to visit than Maui. While Maui has many unique attractions (such as the Road to Hana and Haleakala Crater), the reality is that Oahu has an aesthetic much more in line with the postcard-perfect image of Hawaii. I also find locals on Oahu to be more friendly and welcoming, and that the homelessness problem plaguing the entire archipelago seems much less pervasive on Oahu than it is on Maui.

Why is Oahu more popular than Maui?

Oahu is the location of Hawaii’s main international airport, which means that people can fly nonstop here from several countries and the majority of US states. This factor alone means that more people set foot on Oahu. Beyond this, however, Oahu offers a wider variety of attractions that are more accessible to a wider range of tourists, which just makes it more appealing on the whole.

Is Oahu or Maui more touristy?

Oahu is more touristy than Maui, but I don’t see this as a bad thing. This means, first and foremost, that facilities are better, with more hotels at more competitive price points, and better roads and other infrastructure. Secondly, people on Oahu tend to be much more welcoming of outsiders than those on Maui, who can be downright nasty and even use offensive slurs.

The Bottom Line

I highly encourage you to jettison pre-existing notions you have about Oahu vs Maui. Like me, many travelers I speak to seem to assume (almost reflexively) that Maui will somehow be a “better” or more interesting island than Oahu. This may be true, in some instances, but I personally found that Oahu far eclipsed Maui in terms of natural beauty, the ease of travel and even the hospitality I felt from local people. I don’t hate Maui, and I wish the people of Lahaina the best in their continued recovery—but we can’t all be soulmates. Need help planning the perfect Hawaii trip? Consider hiring me as your Travel Coach!


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