The Top 5 Islands in Hawaii in 2020

This year’s World’s Best Awards survey closed on March 2, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers’ experiences before the pandemic, but we hope that this year’s honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.

From Hollywood backdrops to honeymoon destinations, the Hawaiian islands have long been synonymous with romance, pristine coastlines, and rugged beauty. But five of the major eight islands in the archipelago, which spans more than 1,500 miles, are consistently lauded as pure paradise, with Maui scoring the top spot for the ninth year in a row — and a place on the World’s Best Islands list.

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.

Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii.
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Related: The World's Best Awards 2020

Oahu, the Big Island (formally known as Hawaii), Kauai, and Lanai also have their ardent fans, securing these islands’ place on this list year after year. Lanai (No. 5) and Kauai (No. 2) appeal to visitors looking for a low-key vibe, where a pair of flip-flops and a cover-up are the only sartorial requirements both on and off the beach. Indeed, Lanai doesn’t even have a single stoplight, which isn’t to suggest that the smallest Hawaiian island is short on luxury: it is home to two Four Seasons resorts, one of which is perched on its Edenic coastline and boasts an 18-hole, Jack Nicklaus–designed golf course, and the other in the former plantation town of Lanai City. One T+L fan of the island suggested that visitors also consider staying at the “charming” Hotel Lanai and dining at inexpensive local restaurants, calling it a “beautiful way to see ‘old’ Hawaii.”

For those craving adrenaline rushes, the Big Island (No. 3) offers myriad adventures, from world-class surfing to hikes through lava fields and rain forests, as well as art galleries and shopping. Whichever isle you choose, you will find spectacular beaches, warm hospitality, and endless reminders that there is such a thing as heaven on earth — at least when you visit the best islands in Hawaii.

1. Maui

Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park, Maui, Hawaii
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WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.38

Visitors continue to vote Maui into the top spot year after year, in part due to its diverse appeal. Whether you spend your time on the 30 miles of beaches or hiking through its national parks and rain forests, indulge at one of the islands’ extraordinary lodgings. Consider the 72-suite Hotel Wailea, which is Hawaii’s only Relais & Châteaux property; the 40-acre Grand Wailea, which has nine pools and three golf courses; or the Lumeria Maui, a former country estate with 24 rooms and a meditation garden located only minutes from world-class surfing. Wrote one T+L reader, “Maui is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. See it all.”

2. Kauai

Scenic landscape of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai, Hawaii
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WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 87.50

3. Big Island

Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island of Hawaii
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WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 86.71

4. Oahu

Waikiki Beach, Maui, Hawaii
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Score: 86.08

5. Lanai

Golden beach and palm trees at Hulopoe Beach Park, Lanai, Hawaii
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Score: 82.78

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2020.

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