Maui vs. Honolulu

For an idyllic and outdoorsy island escape, choose Maui. If you want to sprinkle in city life, Honolulu's the way to go.
Carissa Rawson
By Carissa Rawson 
Edited by Meg Lee

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Is a trip to Hawaii in your future? Whether you're visiting for the first or fifth time, there's no denying that a vacation to Hawaii is an amazing experience. But if you've looked at all the different islands and are still trying to figure out Honolulu versus Maui and how they compare to each other, we're here to help. 

The main difference between Maui and Honolulu is that Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and offers an urban experience on the island of Oahu. It's home to most of Hawaii's population, so you'll always find plenty to do.

Meanwhile, Maui, nicknamed The Valley Isle, is an island itself. It's well-known for its beachy, laid-back ambiance and the popular Haleakala National Park. The largest settlement in Maui is Kahului, considered the island's commercial and financial hub.

Let's look at the differences between these two destinations, where to stay in each and what to do when visiting.


Both Hawaiian destinations are very popular with visitors, owing no doubt to their tropical, far-from-home feel. 

However, the island of Oahu is the most popular by far. In 2021, Honolulu, Oahu, saw a total of 3.3 million visitors, while neighboring Maui received fewer at 2.3 million.

Despite this, these two destinations are by far the most-visited across the Hawaiian islands, which makes it much easier for guests to find places to stay and things to do. 

When to visit

It's always a good time to visit Hawaii, but the best time to visit depends on your needs. The high season runs from December to March when some travelers arrive to escape the cold wintery weather, and June to August when families come for summer vacation. This is when the islands are busiest, so you'll compete for activities, restaurant reservations and accommodations. 

Consider instead visiting during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, when the islands are less crowded. 

Weather-wise, May to October is the summer season, when the average daytime temperature hovers around 85 degrees. On the other hand, November to April is the winter season and is noticeably cooler than summer, with an average daytime temperature of 78 degrees. 

Where to stay

There's a wide variety of lodging options for Honolulu and Maui, though be aware that accommodations in Hawaii can be very expensive, especially during the high season. 

You're spoiled for choice if you intend to stay in a hotel. There are options from major hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt located in Honolulu and Maui. There are also plenty of vacation rentals from which to choose. 

Depending on the type of vacation you're looking to have, you'll want to decide whether to stay city-center or beachside. Oahu has big city vibes in Honolulu and beautiful beaches in nearby Waikiki. 

Maui may be more your speed if you envision a more remote — or luxury — experience. It's home to properties such as the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort and The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua.

Things to do

You'll never run out of things to do when visiting Hawaii. Honolulu, Maui or elsewhere, these islands are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, which means there are tons of water activities. 

Want to swim, snorkel, dive, parasail, paddleboard, fish, surf or relax on the beach? Both Maui and Oahu provide these activities in spades. Or, if you're looking for something more unique, why not try swimming with dolphins or whale watching?

If surf and sun aren't your things, you may want to veer toward Honolulu for your vacation, as most of Maui's activities are oriented towards the outdoors. Honolulu, meanwhile, has a wealth of cultural sites to visit, including Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace, home of Hawaii's last reigning monarchs.


No conversation about Maui versus Honolulu is complete without considering the cost of the visit to Hawaii. That said, Honolulu, on Oahu, is significantly cheaper than Maui. 

How significant? In December 2022, the average nightly rate for a hotel in Oahu was $202. In Maui, the average rate for a hotel was $410. 

In fact, Oahu is the cheapest of the Hawaiian islands for lodging, coming in behind both the Big Island and Kauai. Add to this its lower costs for food and transportation, and Oahu becomes a much more affordable option than Maui. 


Despite their remote location, both Maui and Honolulu are well-connected to the outside world, thanks to the millions of visitors that come through each year. 

That said, it's easier to find flights to Honolulu than to Maui. The Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu features 26 direct routes to the continental U.S., while the Kahului Airport in Maui has service to 18. 

Interestingly, prices for flights to the two airports are relatively similar, with Maui being slightly more expensive; expect to pay from around $250 to $500 for a round-trip ticket from Los Angeles in economy class — though it can get pricier during high season.

So, is Honolulu better than Maui?

It depends on your preferences in the battle of Maui versus Honolulu. Hawaii is a stunning location with plenty of fun things to do, no matter which island you visit.

If you're in the market for a beachy, relaxing vacation, you may want to head to Maui. Otherwise, consider Honolulu for its abundance of hotels, things to do and plentiful flight connections to other U.S. cities.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.


Intro offer

Up to $300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.


Intro offer


Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

See more travel cards
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.