My Favorite Boutique Hotels in Waikiki: Old Classics & New Favorites

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If the Hawaii trip of your dream looks like a vintage but trendy boutique hotel, mai tais with little umbrellas, palm trees, and easy access to food, shopping, and world class attractions all on one of the world’s most beautiful and iconic beaches, then you’re going to love Waikiki. 

Now, I want to be totally honest with you…I have a love/hate relationship with Waikiki. The beach and area itself is BEAUTIFUL and it definitely has its attractions, but a lot of people (usually ones who don’t do their research before their trip) end up disappointed because it’s not what they expected Hawaii to be like. 

So instead of just plowing ahead with my favorite boutique hotels in Waikiki, let me do a quick breakdown to help you decide if staying in Waikiki is right for you or not….

Why You Might Like Waikiki

Here’s why many people like staying in Waikiki:

First things first, Waikiki Beach is seriously STUNNING. The view down Waikiki with Diamond Head in the background is probably the most iconic view in Hawaii and it’s one that many people grow up imagining. The water is calm, warm, clear, and blue. The sand is soft and white. Palm trees are swaying. There are views for days. You get the picture. 

Some of the most legendary hotels in Hawaii are on Waikiki Beach. It’s Hawaii’s oldest resort area so there’s a lot of history. The Moana Surfrider (built in 1901) was Hawaii’s first hotel and it’s still a major draw today. And the Royal Hawaiian, nicknamed the “Pink Palace of the Pacific” and made famous by Hollywood in the 1960s is everything you associate “old Hawaii” with. 

You can find cheap hotels. A lot of them. Just like any major city, the more hotel rooms there are, the more competitive prices are.

You can get around the area without a car. Shuttles/Taxis/Ubers are a dime a dozen from the Honolulu airport to Waikiki and most visitors tend to stay in Waikiki/Honolulu and not venture out to the rest of the island much (or only on excursions). Oahu also has a decent bus system and there are frequent tourist oriented trolleys that have good coverage of Waikiki and certain places in Honolulu. Since parking at hotels can run you up to $40/day, not absolutely having to have a car (at least every day) is attractive. 

Waikiki is pretty densely populated with attractions. There are tons of museums, historic and cultural sites, the zoo, aquarium, etc. as well as companies that pick up for excursions like snorkeling, ziplining, luaus, ATV tours, etc. making it a central station for activities and entertainment on Oahu.

There’s a LOT of shopping. From luxury designer brands at the Ala Moana to major chain stores at the Royal Hawaiian Center, to cheap souvenir outlets everywhere, Waikiki is a shopper’s paradise.

There are a ton of restaurants. You’ll find major chains (Cheesecake Factory, Hard Rock Café, etc.) and pricey resort restaurants as well as local joints (as you venture away from Waikiki into Honolulu). Honolulu is also something of a foodie’s paradise (especially if you love Asian cuisines) if you’re willing to venture off the beaten path. Read about the best places to eat in Waikiki and Honolulu here

Why You Might NOT Like Waikiki

Now, a few reasons you may not like Waikiki:

It’s very crowded. Like…very, very crowded. There are over a million people that live on Oahu PLUS droves of tourists and they all seem to concentrate in Waikiki and Honolulu. It is not an undiscovered Hawaiian paradise. 

Even the nice beachfront resorts are crowded. Also, for the price I don’t generally find the nicest places in Waikiki to be as nice as comparable resorts in other parts of Hawaii. 

There’s soooo much traffic! You’d expect traffic in the city, but even if you have a car and you’re willing to get out and explore the rest of the island, there just always seems to be traffic everywhere. And I guess you really shouldn’t be surprised with over a million people on a small island.

There’s so much to see on the island besides Waikiki (the truly beautiful parts!) and getting around by bus isn’t too convenient. Which means you’ll most likely want to rent a car (at least part of the time) and most resorts charge about $40/day for you to park it (but if you can find a resort anywhere in Hawaii that doesn’t charge for parking let me know ; ) 

You may come home feeling like you’ve had more of a city vacation instead of a beach vacation. Most people expect Hawaii to feel like an island getaway. And it certainly can. But that’s not at all the vibe in Waikiki. It’s tall buildings, endless shopping, traffic, people everywhere, and all of the trappings of a tourist destination (timeshare pitches, cheap souvenir shops, etc.). 

BUT if you’re okay with a more crowded, city vacation on one of the world’s most iconic beaches, then a Waikiki vacation can be really fun!

My Favorite Boutique Hotels in Waikiki

Now here’s the deal…I am not going to recommend every single resort or hotel in Oahu to you. 

First of all, this is a list of MY personal favorites. Second, there are a lot of good places to stay and your budget and circumstances may make you lean in a certain direction. So if you have your eye on a certain place and I don’t recommend it here, it’s not necessarily a bad place to stay. I’m just really picky about where I like to stay and what I recommend.

Also, my specific recommendations in this post are for HOTELS AND RESORTS only. If you’re looking for a condo (even a condo-tel/condo resort), you want this post

Final Note (and a big favor to ask): If you find my blog and info AT ALL helpful, the absolute best thing you can do to help me out is to click through the links in this post to book your hotels. I make a small commission on your bookings and if you’re going to book a hotel anyways, it’s a WIN WIN. Thanks so much!

The Royal Hawaiian

This is definitely the most iconic hotel in Waikiki…in all of Hawaii!  “The Pink Palace of the Pacific” has a style that speaks of a bygone era but it’s still high on modern luxuries. 

It’s right in the heart of Waikiki, but tucked back off the main strip behind the Royal Hawaiian Center so it never feels quite as busy as so many of the other big hotels. 

If it’s in the budget, definitely book the Mailani Tower. It’s the newly renovated “luxury” tower and it has much more modern and updated rooms (not to mention ah-mazing views) than the older wing.

Check pricing here.

Moana Surfrider

They just don’t make hotels like this anymore. The oldest hotel on Waikiki (it’s been around since 1901) definitely feels like it’s from another era. Their porch is iconic for guests and visitors alike and while it’s always pretty busy since it’s right on the main strip (and the beach), it has an elegant and relaxed feel. 

They do afternoon tea on the verandah on the weekends and that’s pretty high on my Hawaii bucket list. 

Check pricing here.

The Laylow

This is my favorite “off beach” place to stay in Waikiki. It’s a great spot if you want a nice resort/hotel experience but don’t need to be right on the beach. They’ve really embraced the vintage Hawaii vibes. 

The rooms are spacious and comfy and they provide some fun amenities like snacks, flip flops, and reusable water bottles. 

The pool area is a nice retreat and their restaurant/bar “the Hideout” is a great place to escape the Waikiki hustle and bustle while still feeling close to it all. And bonus! It’s part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection so you’ll get all the perks of status and points. 

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a budget hotel, but it’s usually much cheaper than other comprably nice beachfront hotels. 

Check pricing here.

Halekulani Hotel

This is probably Honolulu’s most luxurious hotel and its location (it’s a bit tucked away off the main strip) means it’s not as busy with foot traffic as some places. You’ll have amazing views of Diamond head from the beach, pool, restaurants, and guest rooms. Some of Waikiki’s most sought after dining is also located here (La Mer, Orchids, and House without a Key).

Check pricing here.

The Modern Honolulu

While not beachfront, The Modern Honolulu is a super trendy waterfront hotel (located on the Ala Wai Harbor) with a great location in Honolulu. It’s not a budget hotel, but it’s becoming an increasingly popular place to stay. Its location puts you in a different sphere than the more tourist oriented parts of Waikiki as you’ll be closer to Ala Moana and Kakaako but still nearby all the fun spots in Waikiki. 

Check pricing here.

The Surfjack Hotel

This budget friendly/mid range boutique hotel really plays up 1960s Hawaiian beach culture. It’s not on the beach, but it’s not too far to walk and it’s a great spot if you want a reasonably priced place to stay while exploring the island, but you don’t want to sacrifice style and a nice room. 

Check pricing here.

Kaimana Beach Hotel

Recently under new ownership, this property has been undergoing some pretty significant renovations that have made it one of the more trendy spots in Waikiki. It’s located down at the quieter end of Waikiki (by the zoo and aquarium) so it’s a totally different vibe, but the design is so on point and their restaurant (Hau Tree) is supposed to be amazing. Most of the common spaces and the suites have been totally renovated, but last I checked they were still working on the regular rooms. It’s a great deal for an oceanfront hotel too. 

Check pricing here.

Shoreline Hotel Waikiki

If budget is the number one factor, I’d check this place out. It’s not on the beach (quick walk though) and it’s a streamlined/efficient kind of hotel but with a super cute instagram aesthetic. Some of the rooms can be a little worn, but it’s clean and the common spaces are well done (the rooftop pool is great) and I love Heavenly Island Lifestyle, their casual cafe. Their kalua pork eggs benedict are AMAZING. 

Check pricing here

Still Looking for a Place to Stay?

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable. 

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan. 

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too. 

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours). 

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before. 

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).  

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset. 

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly. 

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window). 

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot. 

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person. 

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle. 

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM. 

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of. 

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day. 

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before. 

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online. 

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor. 

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here

You’ve got three options here: 

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation. 

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas. 

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer. 

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation. 

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and they’ve been opening reservations (and selling out) 4-6 months in advance. You can call and get on the waitlist for one day or you can set notifications on OpenTable to alert you for cancellations every day of your trip. Most people have pretty good success on OpenTable. 

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist. 

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance. 

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance. 

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance. 

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance. 

Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Oahu:

If you’re trying to figure out where to stay, you’re going to want to look at my favorite boutique resort in Waikiki and the lowdown on where to stay on Oahu besides Waikiki. Plus I’ve got the scoop on how to avoid illegal vacation rentals and a roundup of where to stay in Ko Olina and reviews of the Laylow and Disney’s Aulani Resort. And a LOT more on Aulani like is Aulani worth it?, tips for staying at Aulani, how many days to spend, and the best things to eat and drink at Aulani

If you’re researching luaus on Oahu, I’ve written quite a bit. First, I’ve got a full breakdown of the best luaus (and the worst) on Oahu. Then I’ve got complete reviews of Paradise Cove, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and Aulani’s Ka Wa’a Luau. And if you’ve narrowed it down to the top two most popular on the island and still can’t decide, here’s Paradise Cove vs Polynesian Cultural Center

If you’re trying to put together an itinerary full of the best things to do, take a look at my best 5 day itinerary, and roundups of the best things to do in Waikiki, “secret” things to do on Oahu, plus my favorite things to do in Kailua and the windward coast, in Ko Olina, and on the north shore. And if you’re looking for food recommendations, I’ve got the best restaurants in Ko Olina and where locals eat in Waikiki

And last but not least, some of my favorite things on Oahu like Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch, Shangri La and the Honolulu Museum of Art, tips for visiting Pearl Harbor, easy hikes on Oahu, and the best spas on Oahu. And everything you need to know BEFORE you go to Oahu.

P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

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