Where to Stay in Ko Olina: Oahu’s Dreamy Resort Area Has the Island’s Best Luxury Resorts

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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, a Disney Resort and Spa

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.

Four Seasons Oahu

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.

Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club

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.

Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort

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.  

Vacation Rentals

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.

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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