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Where to Stay in Oahu: 7 Best Areas & Neighborhoods

Where to Stay in Oahu: 7 Best Areas & Neighborhoods

When planning your tropical island getaway to Oahu, figuring out where to stay in Oaho is probably at the top of your to-do list. While the island is pretty easy to get around if you have a rental car, where you stay can certainly contribute to what kind of experience you may have.

Whether you’re trying to figure out where to stay in Oahu with kids or just looking for the best hotels on Oahu, we’ve got you covered! If you’re visiting Oahu for the first time, you might stay on Waikiki Beach in the middle of all the action.

Kailua Beach or the North Shore might be the best if you’ve been to Oahu and are looking for quieter beaches and neighborhoods. Continue reading to discover the best areas to stay on Oahu and some of our top picks for hotels and vacation rentals!

TL;DR: Best Places to Stay in Oahu

Best Areas to Stay in Oahu

  • For first-timers/tourists – Waikiki
  • For budget travelers – Kapolei
  • For luxury travelers – Kahala
  • For safety – Kailua
  • For families – Ko Olina
  • For nature – North Shore

Where to Stay in Oahu, Hawaii

1. Waikiki

hotels and buildings in Waikiki, Honolulu

Waikiki Beach is known for its warm, golden sands, electric blue water, and streets lined with swaying palm trees. As the emerald palm fronds sway in the wind, you’ll hear kids playing in the sand and surfers catching waves.

Kalakaua Avenue has luxury hotels and tour companies offering various outdoor activities. Accommodation options range from hostels to vacation rentals to fancy hotels, so you’re bound to find something that suits your needs.

The significant benefit of staying in Waikiki is that there are so many things to do and see in the area, so you won’t have to leave Waikiki for your entire vacation if you don’t want to.

I recommend staying in Waikiki to those who are first-timers to the island as well as those who want to be in the middle of the action at all times. Beyond the natural beauty, Waikiki is home to a ton of dining options and fancy shopping centers.

Most tourists opt to stay in Waikiki when visiting Oahu because of the endless options of things to do and places to stay. If you’ve enjoyed too much sun for the day while laying out at the hotel pool or on the shores of Waikiki, you can enjoy shopping at the Royal Hawaiian Center.

The shopping center is home to a mix of high-end luxury brands and smaller local shops. You can also take a caffeine break at Island Vintage Coffee, my favorite coffee shop on the island. Enjoy your beverage while listening to the music and live entertainment at center stage, next to Island Vintage.

Many resorts in Waikiki also offer amazing spas that will have you feeling like you’re relaxing on a cloud. Two of the most popular spas in Waikiki are the Royal Hawaiian’s Abhasa Day Spa and the Moana Surfrider’s Westin Heavenly Spa.

Top attractions in and around Waikiki include:

  • Waikiki Beach
  • Honolulu Zoo
  • Waikiki Aquarium
  • Kapiolani Park
  • Fort DeRussy Beach Park
  • Diamond Head Crater
  • Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon
  • Prince Kuhio Beach Park

Where to stay in Waikiki

  • Budget HotelHoliday Inn Express Waikiki – Centrally located in Waikiki, The Holiday Inn Express Waikiki is just one block from the iconic shores of Waikiki Beach and includes free breakfast for all guests. The hotel features a rooftop pool, fitness center, a large sundeck with games, and free Wi-Fi throughout the property.
  • Mid-Range HotelHilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort – This is my pick for the best resort in Oahu. The resort includes five fabulous swimming pools and a beachfront saltwater lagoon. The hotel offers guests daily on-site activities, including lei-making, yoga, hula, and exercise classes.
  • Luxury HotelSheraton Waikiki – The Sheraton Waikiki is just one of the fantastic luxury resorts in Waikiki. The hotel features a stunning infinity pool overlooking the ocean with a great view of Diamond Head Crater. The hotel features four dining options; I recommend going to RumFire for happy hour cocktails and delicious small plates that can be shared.

See Related: Is Hawaii Worth Visiting?

2. Downtown Honolulu

Downtown Honolulu

You may not know this, but the Downtown Honolulu area is home to high rises, important cultural sites, and rich history. Downtown Honolulu is a fabulous place to find hidden gems for restaurants, cafes, and bars.

The Kakaako district is my favorite place to find cute local shops and unique cuisines. SALT at Our Kakaako offers an array of eateries, including Moku Kitchen, ARVO, and Highway Inn.

You can also walk through the former warehouse district to enjoy the amazing street art that lines the streets. Chinatown also offers many restaurants serving dishes from all over the world and small local boutiques.

Kawaiahao Church, the Mission Houses Museum, and the Honolulu Museum of Art can provide insight into the rich culture and history of the Hawaiian islands. And, of course, no visit to Downtown Honolulu is complete without spending some time at ‘Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States.

There, you’ll be able to learn about the Hawaiian monarchy and the impact that colonization had on the islands. Downtown Honolulu is the best place to stay on Oahu if you want to be centrally located and are looking for easy access to public transportation.

To the east of downtown, right before you enter Waikiki, you’ll find Ala Moana Center, the largest outdoor shopping mall in the world, along with Ala Moana Beach Park. To the west, you can easily reach the Honolulu International Airport and Pearl Harbor in under 30 minutes.

Top attractions in and around Downtown Honolulu include:

  • Ala Moana Center
  • Iolani Palace
  • Honolulu Museum of Art
  • Kawaiaha’o Church
  • Mission Houses Museum
  • USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Where to stay in Downtown Honolulu

  • Budget HotelPagoda Hotel – The Pagoda’s Floating Restaurant offers guests a relaxing atmosphere surrounded by a huge koi pond. Each hotel room has a mini refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, air conditioning, and a TV. There is also a rooftop pool, and you’re just a few minutes away from Honolulu’s great beaches.
  • Mid-Range HotelAla Moana Hotel – The Ala Moana Hotel is located right on the edge of downtown Honolulu before you enter the Waikiki neighborhood. The recently renovated hotel includes an incredible rooftop pool deck and a Starbucks in the lobby. The family-friendly Ala Moana Beach Park is less than a 10-minute walk from the hotel, and a bridge connects the hotel to Ala Moana Center.
  • Luxury Hotel – Unfortunately, you won’t find luxury resorts in Downtown Honolulu. If you’re looking for luxury in this part of the island, nearby Waikiki will be your best bet.

3. Ko Olina

Ko Olina

Located on the island’s west side, you’ll find the resort town of Ko Olina. You’ll find boutique shops, major hotels, and white-sand beaches here. The Ko Olina Golf Course is an immaculate 18-hole golf course that also features a great restaurant called Roy’s.

Ko Olina is the perfect place for a family vacation, especially due to the fact that you can find the Disney Aulani resort here. You can enjoy the fun character buffet breakfast even if you’re not staying at Aulani.

I highly recommend dining at Mina’s Fish House at the Four Seasons. The restaurant has a fish sommelier who can tell you about the fish offerings caught fresh that day just off the coast.

The Ko Olina Center offers everything from restaurants to boutiques to convenience stores. Check out Mahina and BikiniBird for cute outfits and high-end swimwear. Black Sheep Cream Co. offers unique island-inspired ice cream flavors for a quick bite.

And if you’ve forgotten any necessities at home, don’t worry. Island Country Markets should have what you’re looking for. Overall, Ko Olina is the best area to stay in Oahu for families.

The area is small enough that everything is within walking distance but still includes fabulous restaurants, beachfront hotels, and all the amenities you need for a great Hawaiian vacation. Top attractions in and around Ko Olina include:

  • Ko Olina Lagoons
  • Paradise Cove Luau
  • Makaha Beach Park
  • Ko Olina Golf Course
  • Aulani’s character breakfast

Where to stay in Ko Olina

  • Budget RentalKo Olina Hillside Villas Condo – This lovely two-bedroom condo accommodates up to five guests and is next to the Ko Olina Golf Course. Amenities at the Ko Olina Hillside Villas include a fitness center, pool, jacuzzi, and barbecue area.
  • Mid-Range HotelMarriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club – This hotel is located on Lagoon Three in the Ko Olina resort area. Each room at the resort includes a full kitchen, living room, dining room, washing machine, dryer, and TV. Guests can enjoy three outdoor pools, a Longboards Bar & Grill restaurant, a spa, a fitness center, and free Wi-Fi throughout the property.
  • Luxury Hotel (1)Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa – The hotel features two restaurants, three outdoor pools, a lazy river, and a free kids’ club. You’ll definitely feel the Disney magic through character meet & greets, daily character breakfast, dole whip, and character pool parties. Aulani is certainly one of the best places to stay on Oahu for kids and families.
  • Luxury Hotel (2)Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina – If you’re looking for a stunning luxury resort on the sunny west side of Oahu to relax and unwind, I highly suggest the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina. You must have Saturday brunch at La Hiki and dinner at Mina’s Fish House. The adults-only pool offers a relaxing place as you bask in the Hawaiian sun.

See Related: Things to Do in Maui

4. North Shore

Welcome board

The North Shore of Oahu is my favorite part of the island and one of Hawaii’s best places to visit. I highly recommend staying here to avoid the hustle and bustle of Waikiki Beach and downtown Honolulu.

The North Shore is one of the best places to stay on Oahu if you want to be immersed in nature and the island’s surf culture. World-renowned surf breaks like Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay are just some of the famous surfing beaches to be found on the North Shore.

Scuba diving, shark cage diving, and sport fishing are popular activities on the North Shore. Shark’s Cove in Pupukea is among the best places to snorkel in all the Hawaiian islands.

If you want to take a break from the beach, the North Shore is just fifteen minutes from Dole Plantation, where you can enjoy some delicious Dole Whip and learn about the history of the pineapple industry in Hawaii.

If you want to learn more about Hawaiian culture, check out the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. You can also learn more about other Polynesian cultures throughout the Pacific and enjoy live entertainment.

Even if you’re not staying on the North Shore, you must check out the mouthwatering and diverse food trucks in historic Haleiwa town. My favorite is Giovanni’s, which is famous for its garlic shrimp plates.

If you want something lighter, Matsumoto Shave Ice is just across the street from the food trucks and is where you can enjoy one of Hawaii’s favorite refreshing treats: shave ice.

Top attractions in and around the North Shore include:

  • Pipeline
  • Historic Haleiwa Town
  • Polynesian Cultural Center
  • Sunset Beach
  • Waimea Bay
  • Dole Plantation
  • Shark’s Cove

Where to stay on the North Shore

  • Budget HotelBackpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village – Backpackers Vacation Inn boasts a fabulous location and laidback surfer vibes. Accommodation options include a single bed in a dormitory-style room, a private bedroom, and a deluxe private cottage. The hostel is within walking distance of famous North Shore locations like Waimea Bay and Sharks Cove.
  • Mid-Range HotelCourtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore – This family-friendly hotel is next to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s located in Laie, a sleepy beach town known as the home of BYU-Hawaii and the Laie Hawaii LDS Temple. The hotel features a lovely outdoor pool, restaurant, fitness center, free Wi-Fi, and luggage storage.
  • Luxury HotelTurtle Bay Resort – This is the most luxurious resort that can be found on the North Shore of Oahu. The luxury resort features six dining options and a weekly paniolo (cowboy) themed luau and show. The hotel even features its surf school, the Jamie O’Brien Surf Experience, where surfers of all levels can learn from a professional surfer.

5. Kailua

Kailua Oahu

Located on the island’s east coast, Kailua is known for its pristine beaches and surf boutiques, and it is where the Obamas stay during their annual winter holidays. The windward coast is known for having more rain, but showers usually only last a few minutes before you return to sunshine.

Kailua is 25 minutes from Downtown Honolulu, 35 minutes from Waikiki, and 45 minutes from the North Shore. This allows you to be far enough from the hustle and bustle of the city but still close enough to easily access some of Oahu’s top attractions.

The biggest draws of Kailua are its two white sand beaches: Kailua Beach Park and Lanikai Beach. Both offer calm waters and are often visited by Hawaiian Green sea turtles. If you’re looking for a hike with an exceptional view, check out the Lanikai Pillboxes hike.

This trail is easy enough for small children, and viewing the sunrise during the early morning hours is best. If you want to stay in a safe and quiet part of the island, Kailua is the place for you. This town has no hotels but is home to some fabulous vacation rentals. The small beach town vibes here are immaculate.

Top attractions in and around Kailua include:

  • Lanikai Beach
  • Lanikai Pillboxes Hike
  • Kailua Beach Park
  • Island Snow
  • Mokulua Islands (aka The Mokes)
  • Byodo-In Temple

Where to stay in Kailua

  • Budget RentalThe Ginger Studio at Hawaii Sheffield House – The Ginger Studio is located on a quiet street and is part of a bed and breakfast that has been in business on the islands for over 30 years. It’s a great place to stay in Oahu if you’re hoping for a sunny beach vacation without the crowds of Waikiki.
  • Mid-Range RentalPrivate Beachfront Rental – This one-bedroom vacation rental on Kailua Beach offers direct access to beautiful turquoise waters and white sandy shore. The rental also features a beautiful lawn where you can watch the sunrise over the Mokulua Islands.
  • Luxury RentalA Place of Peace Vacation Home – If you’ve been dreaming of waking up to views of Kailua’s famous beach, Lanikai, you must check out this luxury vacation home. It’s high in the hills of Kailua to offer the most spectacular views while still being just a 15-minute walk from the beach. This vacation home features two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a luxury kitchen, an expansive terrace, and free Wi-Fi.

See Related: A Guide to Hiking Oahu’s Stairway to Heaven

6. Kahala

Kahala

Kahala is known as a luxury neighborhood on the island’s southeast coast. It’s certainly more residential than Waikiki but is home to a fabulous luxury hotel. Kahala is great if you’re looking for a secluded escape not too far from Diamond Head, Waikiki, and Downtown Honolulu.

While there’s only one hotel in Kahala, the luxury homes you’ll see here will blow your mind. Due to Hawaii’s strict laws surrounding vacation rentals, there can only be one reservation every 30 days.

This means that many rentals will have a certain minimum amount of days that you must reserve to secure the vacation home. If you’re staying in Kahala over a weekend, check out the farmers’ market at Kapiolani Community College, also known as KCC Farmers’ Market.

This is the best farmers’ market on the island and never disappoints. You can find many products here, ranging from fresh, local produce to handmade jewelry and beauty products to mouthwatering plate lunches.

The KCC Farmer’s Market is between Kahala and Diamond Head, so it is a great stopping point if you travel between them. You can also find Cromwell’s Beach and the Shangri La Museum in the Waialae-Kahala area.

The Shangri La Museum was the former home of socialite Doris Duke and currently houses her collection of beautiful art from around the world, primarily focusing on Islamic Art. Reservations to visit the museum must be made through the Honolulu Museum of Art, though, which is located in Downtown Honolulu.

Top attractions in and around Kahala include:

  • Kahala Mall
  • Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail and Tide pools
  • Alan Davis Beach
  • Kahala Beach
  • Koko Crater Trail
  • Waialae Country Club
  • Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
  • Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art

Where to stay in Kahala

  • Budget RentalKahala Beach Condo – This island-inspired two-bedroom condo is located on the top floor of a luxury beachfront condominium. Guests can enjoy stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from the condo’s private enclosed lanai area and the building’s beachfront pool area.
  • Mid-Range RentalWaialae Golf Course Home – This stunning vacation home is right along Waialae Golf Course and features a beautiful swimming pool and tropical landscape. You’re just 10 minutes from Diamond Head, 15 minutes from Waikiki Beach, and less than five minutes from Kahala Beach.
  • Luxury HotelThe Kahala Hotel and Resort – This is one of Oahu’s lesser-known luxury resorts. For this reason, many celebrities and government officials opt to stay here. It’s one of the best hotels if you’re looking for privacy and seclusion while still enjoying the magnificent beaches of Oahu.

See Related: Best Restaurants in Oahu

7. Kapolei

Kapolei

Located on the island’s leeward coast, Kapolei is another great option for places to stay on Oahu. If you’re searching for where to stay on Oahu on a budget, check out Kapolei.

Kapolei is the largest city on the west side and has recently welcomed several budget-friendly hotels to compete with the resort area of Ko Olina. Kapolei is a great alternative if you travel with your family, but Ko Olina is just out of your budget.

The town offers easy access to the H-1 freeway, which can easily get you to Honolulu, the North Shore, and the Windward Coast. Staying in Kapolei allows you to explore parts of the island that you may not have thought of if you opted to stay in Waikiki instead.

Driving to Waikiki from Kapolei will take about 30 minutes to one hour, depending on traffic. The west side of Oahu is home to many beautiful beaches much less popular than the North Shore and Waikiki beaches.

If you’re looking for a long stretch of sandy beach, drive out to Yokohama Bay, the farthest west you can get on the island by car. The water here gets deep, close to shore, so keep an eye on the kiddos if you choose to venture out there. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.

If we’re talking food, Kapolei has no shortage of fantastic options. If you want to check out a local-favorite bar, head over to Moani Island Bistro at the Ka Makana Ali’i shopping center.

The bar offers amazing small plates to share and live local entertainment. I recommend DB Grill, Young’s Fish Market, and My Cafe for other unique options.

Top attractions in and around Kapolei include:

  • Ka Makana Ali’i shopping center
  • Wet’n’Wild Hawaii waterpark
  • Coral Crater Adventure Park
  • White Plains Beach
  • Kapolei Golf Club
  • Germaine’s Luau

Where to stay in Kapolei

  • Budget HotelHampton Inn & Suites Oahu Kapolei – I pick the best budget hotel. It’s located right next to the Ka Makana Ali’i shopping center, where you can find many great shopping and restaurant options. The hotel offers free breakfast for all guests and features an outdoor pool, fitness center, business center, and free parking.
  • Mid-Range HotelResidence Inn by Marriott Oahu Kapolei – This is a great option for where to stay on Oahu if you’re on a budget. It’s also great if you’re traveling with children, as family rooms are available. The hotel also features an outdoor pool, a restaurant, a barbecue area, and free toiletries.
  • Luxury Hotel – Unfortunately, there are no luxury accommodations in Kapolei. However, Ko Olina is less than 10 minutes away from Kapolei and offers two amazing luxury hotel options. If you’re traveling with kids, Aulani would be awesome; otherwise, The Four Seasons Resort in Ko Olina is amazing.

See Related: Islands in the US to Visit

Tours in Oahu

1. Oahu: Honolulu Like a Local - Customized City Walking Tour Top Recommendation

Oahu: Honolulu Like a Local offers private walking tours of the city, which is guided by an awesome walker who knows the city inside out. This makes it a great way to explore Honolulu like a local and enjoy everything the island has to offer. No more boring bus tours or expensive tours, this is your chance to meet a local Hawaiian and explore the city's hidden gems at your own pace.

2. Oahu Shark Dive

This unique experience allows you to observe the wild sharks in their natural habitat. Before entering the cage, your expert guide will give you a thorough briefing on how to survive your shark dive with no risk of injury. Once you're in, enjoy swimming with blue and white tip reef sharks and tiger sharks just feet away. The Oahu shark dive is suitable for all ages as young as eight can participate, as long as they are accompanied by an adult.

3. Oahu: Sunset Photography Tour with Professional Photo Guide

A photo tour with a professional photographer to capture the most dramatic sunset on the island. You will be positioned in perfect timing to capture the brilliant colors of a Hawaiian sunset, but you get to take pictures of the sunrays as they touch and graze the topography of Oahu Island’s windward side.

FAQs

What is the best luxury hotel in Oahu?

There are several amazing luxury hotels in Oahu. On the North Shore, you have Turtle Bay Resort, Ko Olina offers the Four Seasons Resort, and Waikiki has Sheraton Waikiki, among many others.

What are the quietest areas to stay in Oahu?

Pretty much anywhere outside of downtown Honolulu and Waikiki will be relatively quiet. Ko Olina, Kailua, and Kahala are the quietest areas.

Can I rent a vacation home on Oahu with a private beach?

Hawaiian law states that all beaches must have public access, so no “private beaches” exist on Oahu. However, some beachfront properties are far from the public beach access points, so you may have a large stretch of beach all to yourself!

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