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A lot goes into picking just the right place to stay in Hawaii and for everybody that looks a little different. I like the idea of having a more “local” experience as much as the next person, but I LOVE resort life.
A nice room with an oceanfront balcony, endless breakfast buffets, sprawling pools overlooking the beach, drinks with little umbrellas, and hours and hours to get lost in a good book while working on my tan…perfection.
Well, nobody does resort life quite like Hawaii. And on Oahu, that’s Ko Olina.
Ko Olina is an oceanfront resort area on the west side of Oahu. It’s a preplanned community (as in, much of the infrastructure was laid out before many of the resorts and restaurants moved in) so it has a bit of a curated and idyllic vibe that although is definitely not “local” Hawaii, is nevertheless heavenly for vacationers.
Its location on the west side means that the weather is almost always dry and sunny, and it’s home to some of the island’s loveliest beaches. There are four lagoons in the Ko’olina resort area that are ideal, protected places to swim.
Pros & Cons of Staying in Ko Olina
Ko Olina is indeed a lovely place to stay on Oahu, but let me break down some of the pros and cons for you so you can decide if it’s right for you:
The biggest pro of staying out in Ko’olina is its distance from Waikiki. It’s not actually that far, but you’ll feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. If you’re looking for serenity and a well maintained resort area, Ko’olina is exactly what you’re looking for.
Another big positive is the weather. It’s nearly always hot and sunny in Ko’olina no matter the time of year. Even when it’s rainy or overcast on other parts of the island, the leeward side is more often than not sunny.
If your goal is to stay at a nice resort and not have to get out and about around the island, Ko’olina is definitely set up for that. The three resorts here are mega resorts (which I define as big and nice with enough amenities that you don’t actually ever have to leave) and the Ko Olina Center offers enough shopping and dining options to have a little variety. Also, being able to catch a snorkel/dolphin excursion from the marina is a nice convenience.
If you’re not planning to leave the Ko’olina area, you can definitely manage without a car. There’s also a complimentary shuttle that runs between all of the resorts, the golf club, and the marina.
Another big plus to staying in Ko’olina is its proximity to Kapolei. You’ll find a Target and Costco there along with a nice selection of restaurants. If you have a car, it’s a nice place to stock up on necessities before hitting your resort.
It kind of feels like it’s out in the middle of nowhere. And actually, it is haha. The resort’s seclusion, which is a pro, can also be a con if you’re interested in getting out and exploring the whole island. It’s only about 30 minutes into Waikiki, but traffic can make it a lot longer and many of the most beautiful parts of the island (the north shore and the windward side) are much further.
Ko Olina is beautiful, but it’s not exactly the “real Hawaii.” While it is in close proximity to local towns like Waianae and Makaha on the west side, these places don’t have the draw that local towns on the north shore and windward side of the island have and that’s mainly because they haven’t been as developed and still maintain a stigma as being unsafe for tourists from decades past when crime rates where very high (opinions of whether or not this is still true vary greatly).
So if you’re staying in Ko Olina, it’s highly likely that all of your island exploring is going to happen back towards the east. It is, however, pretty much the only “resort area” you’ll find on Oahu outside of Waikiki. Turtle Bay on the north shore is lovely but it’s just a single resort and points of interest along the north shore are rather spread out so it’s not walkable like Ko Olina.
To sum it up, if you’re looking for a nice and relaxed Hawaiian beach location and you’re willing to rent a car and get out and explore the island, Ko Olina is a lovely place to stay.
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
Where to Stay in Ko Olina
If you’ve decided that Ko Olina is the place for you, it shouldn’t be too hard to narrow down a specific place to stay.
Actually, I feel like most people end up staying in Ko Olina because they’re drawn to a specific resort there.
Here are your options:
Aulani is the big star around these parts. While being “Disney,” it’s surprisingly the most “Hawaiian” resort I’ve come across in Hawaii.
The resort has taken amazing steps to preserve and honor Hawaiian culture and heritage as well as share it with guests.
It’s definitely THE place to stay if you have kids. It practically has its own waterpark, and the place has a very comfortable but upscale feel.
There’s so much to do at this resort that you’ll constantly be torn between taking advantage of all of the activities and wanting to just lounge around the amazing beach and pools.
Book your stay at Aulani here.
If you’re looking for luxury, you’ll find it at the Four Seasons.
Recently renovated and converted from a JW Marriott, this property is everything you’d expect from the Four Seasons. With an amazing spa, tennis facility, multiple pools, and yummy restaurants, you’ll be able to pass your vacation here in style.
This Four Seasons is considered an entry level Four Seasons property (not quite as lavish and expansive as the resorts on Maui and the Big Island), so if you’d like to experience luxury at a lower price point, this is a great option. It’s usually on par price wise with Aulani.
Book your stay at the Four Seasons Oahu here.
If you’re a points tracker or loyal to Marriott/Starwood, you’ll definitely want to check out this spot.
This gorgeous resort has more pools than you can imagine and wonderful amenities if you’re looking for a good bang for your buck. The resort has 1-3 bedroom villas with kitchens so you’ll have more room to spread out. The Marriott is also the only resort on lagoon #3 in Ko’olina (Aulani and the Four Seasons share lagoon #1), so it may seem a little quieter.
Book your stay at the Marriott Ko’olina Beach Club here.
If you’re looking for a spacious condo with resort-like amenities, you’ll love this place. It’s located on Lagoon #2 and it’s a great option to save some money while still feeling like you’re living it up.
Book your stay at the Ko Olina Beach Villas here.
There’s also a little neighborhood behind the shopping center that’s surrounded by the golf course where you can rent individual houses/villas through Vrbo.
If you’re looking for something even cheaper, expand your search to the nearby town of Kapolei. It’s inland a few miles but still close enough to pop over to the beach and you might find more economical accommodations if you’re just looking for someplace to set up a basecamp to explore the island from.
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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