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Oahu is Hawaii’s most visited island (largely because it’s home to the state’s capital, Honolulu, and its major tourist hub, Waikiki). Waikiki (a beachfront neighborhood in Honolulu) is home to about 95% of the island’s hotel rooms, so by default, it’s where most tourists end up. Waikiki is basically a big city on the beach. Think endless high rises, flashy shopping centers, all the major chain restaurants, and a million people. All of the major hotel chains are represented as well as plenty of budget options and even trendy new boutique hotels.
And then there’s the rest of the island. So the big question is…to stay in Waikiki or not?
Psst…once you finish reading this post and have a better idea of where you might like to stay, read these posts for MORE specific suggestions:
Why You Might Like Waikiki
So…if it’s so crowded, why do people stay there? Simple. It’s Hawaii’s oldest resort area (the Moana Surfrider was built in 1901), and people have been flocking there ever since. It’s also a really beautiful beach with stunning views of Diamond Head in the background. Most people who have never been to Hawaii end up in Waikiki, usually because flights to Honolulu are cheaper than the other islands, and because they’ve heard of it. They think, “it’s popular for a reason…it must be where you’re supposed to go.”
Here are a few more reasons why people like staying in Waikiki:
- You can find cheap hotels. Just like any major city, the more hotel rooms there are, the more competitive prices are.
- You don’t need a car. Shuttles are a dime a dozen from the Honolulu airport to Waikiki and most visitors just stay in Waikiki/Honolulu and don’t venture out to the rest of the island.
- Waikiki is pretty densely populated with attractions (museums, historic and cultural sites, the zoo and aquarium, etc.) so most of it’s easily walkable.
- There’s a good (and reasonably priced) trolley system around Honolulu/Waikiki and Oahu has a decent public bus system for getting around to some of the major tourist attractions.
- 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).
Why You Might NOT Like Waikiki
Now, a few reasons you may not like Waikiki:
- It’s very crowded. On the beach, you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with fellow sun worshipers.
- There’s soooo much traffic! Even if you have a car and you’re willing to get out and explore, expect a headache getting around.
- There’s so much to see on the island besides Waikiki (the truly beautiful parts!) and getting around by bus isn’t too convenient.
- If you do rent a car, many Waikiki resorts charge as much as $40/day to park it.
- You may come home feeling like you’ve had more of a city vacation instead of an island vacation.
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Here are some of my favorite properties in Waikiki:
The Royal Hawaiian: This iconic Waikiki resort (nicknamed the “pink palace of the Pacific”) has been featured in movies since the 1960s. Its style speaks of a bygone era but it’s still high on modern luxuries. It’s right in the heart of Waikiki so if you want to see and do it all while staying at some of the coolest digs in Waikiki, this is your spot. Pricing starts at $299/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Moana Surfrider: The oldest hotel on Waikiki, the Moana Surfrider has been around since 1901 and sits directly on Waikiki beach. No trip to Waikiki is complete until you’ve sipped a mai tai on the lanai here. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.
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 getting to be an increasingly popular place to stay. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.
The Surfjack Hotel: The Surfjack Hotel is one of Waikiki’s most popular places to stay. It’s a midpriced boutique resort that plays up 1960s Hawaiian beach culture. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.
Halekulani Hotel: Waikiki’s most luxurious hotel is perfect for honeymooners. Located in the heart of Waikiki, 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 (Orchids and House without a Key). Pricing starts at $515/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Kahala Hotel & Resort: The Kahala Hotel is perfect for honeymooners wanting a little peace and quiet while still being super close to all of the action. Located on the southside (between Diamond head and Hanauma Bay), it’s close to many popular Waikiki/Honolulu sites but still very removed. Pricing starts at $390/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Hilton Hawaiian Village: This 22-acre sprawling resort is practically its own city with its own shopping and dining complex right on the edge of Waikiki. The resort has its own lagoon that’s perfect for kids and its location on the edge of Waikiki Beach makes it very convenient to walk into the heart of Waikiki, but being a bit removed makes it seem less hectic. It also has six pools (one just for kids) including some of the best water slides on Waikiki. The HHV also has a great kids club, which includes off property excursions to the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, Bishop Museum, and Children’s Discovery Museum. Pricing starts at $180/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Shoreline Hotel Waikiki: About a six minute walk from the beach and less than a mile from the Honolulu Zoo, the Shoreline Hotel has a rooftop pool and a casual café. Pricing starts at $143/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your dates.
Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort: Located right in the middle of Waikiki, the Outrigger Waikiki is one of the few beach resorts on Waikiki that doesn’t charge a daily resort fee. It’s home to the famous Duke’s Waikiki Restaurant and Beach Bar as well as a couple of other restaurants. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.
Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa: Located on the beach, the two towers of this resort have upscale rooms (suites are available) and access to a fitness center, spa, outdoor pool with bar, hot tub, and two restaurants. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.
Sheraton Waikiki: This relaxed beach resort right on Waikiki Beach has great amenities including three restaurants, an infinity pool (plus another pool with waterslide), and spa. It’s also right in the middle of Waikiki’s famous shopping district. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.
Kailua and Lanikai
Located on the windward side of the island (a 20-30 minute drive east of Waikiki), Kailua is a quaint little beach town that’s been “discovered.” Among the local breakfast joints and bikini shops, you’ll find a Target and Whole Foods. Kailua Beach and Lanikai are some of the loveliest beaches in Hawaii and much less crowded than Waikiki, although it’s getting pretty crowded on the weekends. The only downside to staying on this part of the island is that you won’t find any hotels or resorts, which is part of its charm. It’s got a much more “local” vibe. If you want to stay in Kailua or Lanikai (a small beachfront neighborhood in Kailua), you’ll need to check Vrbo for vacation rentals.
Read about my favorite things to do in Kailua (and the windward coast) here.
Oahu’s famous north shore stretches all the way from Laie to Haleiwa and is what locals call “country.” You won’t find a Target or Costco up there. But you will find gorgeous beaches (only swimmable in the summer), and sleepy little surf towns. You’ll find a lot of options on Vrbo. If you want to be near a town with a lot of shops and restaurants, focus your search around Haleiwa. There is one resort on the north shore:
Turtle Bay Resort: If the noise and crowds of Waikiki aren’t your thing, escape to Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore. It’s isolated location insures a quiet and peaceful vacation but the resort offers plenty of amenities. It’s also in the heart of Oahu’s north shore with it’s famous surf breaks, food trucks, and snorkeling spots. It’s also conveniently located for getting to Hanalei, the Polynesian Culture Center, and Kualoa Ranch and it’s only about 45 minutes from Waikiki. Pricing starts at $295/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
RELATED: 15 Things to Do on Oahu
This resort community on the west side feels a world away from Waikiki, but very much like a vacation spot instead of the more “local” Kailua and north shore. There are a few large resorts, a golf course, marina, and a small shopping center with some restaurants (as well as a Target and Costco in nearby Kapolei). Otherwise, Ko’olina is a little remote from the rest of the island, which could be a good thing!
Read my full guide to Ko’olina here.
Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa: If ever there as a resort made for families in Hawaii, it’s Aulani, Of course, Disney and kids go together like pb&j, but Aulani is really something special. Yes, it’s a sprawling mega resort with every kind of activity and amenity you could ask for, but the attention to detail in the architecture, design, and landscape manage to make it feel intimate and charming. I’d say it’s the most “Hawaiian” resort you’ll find in Hawaii. Read all about my last stay at Aulani here. Pricing starts at $400/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Four Seasons Oahu: Nothing says luxury like the Four Seasons so if you’re looking to splurge on your honeymoon (or you just expect a high level of quality and service), you won’t be disappointed with the Four Seasons. It’s located in the upscale resort community of Ko’olina on the west side and is situated on a perfectly calm little lagoon next to Disney’s Aulani resort. You’ll get seclusion while still only being 30 minutes or so from Waikiki. Pricing starts at $450/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Marriott Ko’olina: If you’re looking for a relaxed beach vacation away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, the Marriott’s Ko’olina Beach Club is the perfect spot. Located out on the west side of Oahu, it’s situated on a perfect little lagoon perfect for kiddos who want to swim I the ocean. In addition to guest rooms, families can book one and two bedroom villas so you’ll really have room to spread out. The grounds of the resort are lovely and the main pool features a walk-in sand entrance, which is a big hit with kids. Pricing starts at $320/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
My 2 Cents about Oahu
If you’re only going to be on the island for a few days, Waikiki is the easiest place to stay. There are sooooo many options at every price range and it’s fairly centrally located to explore the island. Although if you’re only there for a few days, it’s probably to do the big attractions in Waikiki/Honolulu (Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, etc.).
The north shore and Kailua are by far better places to stay to get a true feel of Oahu, but apart from Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore, that means you’ll be staying in a bnb or vacation rental. I’d probably pick Turtle Bay over any place in Waikiki.
Ko’olina on the west side is the best place in Oahu to get a true resort experience (like Maui). There are only a handful of resorts here (but plenty of condos), but Disney’s Aulani Resort is world class. It’s one of my favorite spots to stay in all of Hawaii. If you have the budget, I’d stay in Ko’olina for the week and plan to explore the island from here. If you’re on a budget, I suggest splitting your stay between Waikiki and Aulani or the Four Seasons and doing your island exploring from Waikiki and your pool/beach time from Ko’olina.
Laie to Haleiwa and is what locals call “country.” You won’t find a Target or Costco up there. But you will find gorgeous beaches (only swimmable in the summer), and sleepy little surf towns. You’ll find some options on Airbnb and Vrbo (although not as many since they’ve cracked down on illegal vacation rentals). If you want to be near a town with a lot of shops and restaurants, focus your search around Haleiwa. There are several “condo” style complexes located near Turtle Bay.
And don’t forget to read these posts for more suggestions on where to stay on Oahu:
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