Oahu is one of the best destinations on the planet for a tropical getaway, offering everything from white sand beaches to glittering cities and a jaw-dropping array of wildlife. But with so much to do, spread across almost 600 square miles, it can be difficult to choose where your accommodations should be during your visit. So if you’re wondering where to stay in Oahu, here’s the 5 best places to make your homebase during your stay.
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Oahu in the Hawaiian language means “The Gathering Place” and this totally rings true, given that the island sees the largest number of annual visitors of all of the Hawaiian Islands (4.7 million!), as well as the largest number of residents (over 875,000). So perhaps it’s no surprise that Oahu also offers an extremely diverse array of places to stay, from bustling cities, sleepy surfer towns, sprawling farmland, and everything in between. So regardless of what kind of vacation you’re looking for, you’re bound to find the perfect place to stay in Oahu.
But where might that be for you? Let’s get into it!
Best Places to Stay in Oahu
In Honolulu, along the southeastern section of Oahu
First time visitors, travelers that want to be in the center of the action, and families
Waikiki, right in the heart of Honolulu, is probably the first place that comes to mind when most travelers consider a trip here. This bustling section of Honolulu, along the two-mile long Waikiki Beach, is far and away the most popular place for first time visitors to stay in Oahu.
In fact, I’ve been to the island four times and have stayed in Waikiki during three of those trips. And it’s no wonder why- beyond its world-class beach, this area offers incredible views of both the Honolulu skyline and in the distance, the Diamond Head crater, looming above.
There’s several benefits to staying in Waikiki- from its diverse array of hotels from which to choose, to family-friendly hotels to luxury resorts. And you’re within walking distance from Waikiki Beach, lots of shopping and dining options, and some of the island’s best attractions.
The biggest drawback is that you’ll usually pay a premium for the convenience of staying here, like pricey parking and resort fees at lots of the hotels.
Additionally, it’s the most touristy area on the island. Are you looking for a place to stay in Oahu with an epic pool overlooking Waikiki Beach? Great news- this is your spot. On the other hand, are you looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience? Not so much.
Things to do near Waikiki:
- Waikiki Beach: Inarguably the most famous beach in Oahu, Waikiki is actually eight different beaches, which offer everything from shallow lagoons, perfect for beginner swimmers, to pretty gnarly surf breaks. It’s included on almost every Oahu itinerary for a reason- it’s an excellent place to boogie board, soak up the sun, or just people-watch.
- Hanauma Bay: In this state park, you’ll have the opportunity to experience some of the best snorkeling in Oahu, as you swim through a former volcanic crater that straight up feels like an aquarium, thanks to the 400 species of fish and sea turtles that call this bay home.
- Iolani Palace: This estate is where the Hawaiian monarchs lived for almost 50 years before Hawaii was forcibly annexed by the United States in 1893. Nowadays, it’s a great place to learn about Hawaiian history and culture and the role of the U.S. in the overthrow of the Hawaiian government.
- Diamond Head Crater Hike: The Diamond Head trail is one of the most jaw-dropping and yet, easy hikes in Oahu, where you’ll hike to the rim of a volcanic crater that was formed 300,000 years ago. When you reach the summit, you’ll be offered jaw-dropping views of the Honolulu skyline, as well as the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Where to Stay in Waikiki:
- Outrigger Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel: I LOVE this resort, where you can walk straight from the lobby onto the soft, white sand of Waikiki. Besides its primo location, the staff is exceptional, there’s nightly live music, and they frequently offer Hawaiian cultural programming at its A‘o Cultural Center.
- Hotel La Croix: If you’re on a bit tighter of a budget, Hotel La Croix is one of the best budget hotels in Waikiki. The pool is very Instagrammable and has a killer poolside bar. Plus, some of the suites, like the Skyline rooms, offer epic views of downtown Honolulu.
- Moana Surfrider: Besides making me want to belt out “Someday, I’ll knooooow, how far I’ll goooooo” (Am I the only Moana fan around here? Cool, cool), this hotel’s location literally on Waikiki itself is top-notch. Additionally, the staff is incredible and there’s a ton of activities for guests, like hula, yoga, and surf classes.
2. Ala Moana
In downtown Honolulu, along the southeastern section of Oahu
Budget-conscious travelers that want to stay in Honolulu and visitors who are interested in a more local, authentic vibe than Waikiki
Ala Moana is just a few miles west of Waikiki and yet, has a totally different feel. You’ll still have a beach here- the aptly named Ala Moana Beach Park- but it’s less busy and frequented primarily by locals. This park is quite popular for its surfing, with waves of every shape and for any kind of surfer. If you just gotta have those Waikiki vibes, you’ll also still be within an easy walk to the western portion of its beach.
Additionally, Ala Moana is actually home to the world’s largest outdoor shopping center and has plenty of other restaurants and shops to choose from. Honestly, it has a lot of the awesome amenities of Waikiki, but with a fraction of the throngs of tourists (and maybe a bit less glitz).
Things to do near Ala Moana:
- USS Arizona Memorial: This memorial, which attracts two million visitors per year, commemorates the 1,102 sailors and Marines that were killed on the USS Arizona, during Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The memorial and the visitor center provides visitors with fascinating information about the events of December 7, 1941, as well as the subsequent involvement of the United States in World War II.
- Bishop Museum: If you’re interested in learning about Polynesian history and culture, this is a great place to dive in (especially on a rainy day), with lots of artifacts dating back over a hundred years, from a variety of regions of Polynesia, plus interactive exhibits to keep the kiddos entertained.
- Lana Lane: One of my favorite hidden gems in Honolulu is Lana Lane, a generally inconspicuous street tucked away in Ala Moana. On Lana Lane and the surrounding streets, you’ll find building after building with massive, vibrant murals and some of the best breweries in Oahu, like the Honolulu Beerworks.
Where to stay in Ala Moana:
- Prince Waikiki: This hotel has an incredible location, tucked away in Ala Moana but close enough to Waikiki that you can join in on the action whenever you want. Plus, the pool, which directly overlooks the Waikiki Yacht Club and offers live music, is, like, next-level cool.
- The Equus: If you can look past the slightly outdated decor, The Equus is one of the best budget hotels in Honolulu. This locally-owned and operated boutique hotel has charming touches, like getting an “aloha” drink at the hotel bar upon check-in, and staff that makes you feel like family.
- Ala Moana Hotel: Can you say “rooftop pool”? This hotel is literally inside the aforementioned world’s largest outdoor shopping center and a quick walk away from the Ala Moana Beach Park. The rooms are basic, but clean and comfortable and its stellar location (and did I mention the rooftop pool?) more than makes up for it.
3. Windward Side (Eastern Side)
Hawaii’s gotta be all fancy, with many folks referring to the islands by the direction of the tradewinds. So you may hear people refer to the “windward” side of Oahu, which means its eastern side.
Travelers who are into outdoor adventures or who are looking for a more mellow environment than Waikiki
Many travelers just focus their attention on Honolulu, which, in my opinion, is a huge oversight. Take, for example, the windward side, which has the Koʻolau Mountains that look straight out of Jurassic Park, the most jaw-dropping beaches on the island, and some of the best hiking trails you’ll find in the state, like Koko Head Crater, Lanikai Pillbox, and the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse.
And while it doesn’t have the variety of restaurants and shopping found in Honolulu, you’ll still find everything you need in its sleepy beach towns, like Kailua (don’t miss Cafe Kopi and Maui Brewing Company here!).
Things to do on the Eastern Side of Oahu:
- Kualoa Ranch: So you know how I said the eastern side of Oahu looks like it’s straight out of Jurassic Park? That’s because Jurassic Park was quite literally filmed here! Many of the scenes were filmed at Kualoa Ranch, where you can go UTVing, ziplining, or on a tour of actual Jurassic Park shooting locations– really, anything and everything you’d want to do in this dino-mite scenery (I’ll show myself out).
- Byodo-In Temple: One of the most unique attractions on Oahu is Byodo-In, which is a scale replica of a temple in Uji, Japan and is completely constructed without nails(!!!). The gardens surrounding the temple, complete with koi ponds, have been immaculately designed by a famed Japanese landscaper and offers a perfect sanctuary to drink in Hawaii’s natural beauty in tranquility.
- Beaches: Okay, sorry, but in my opinion, the eastern side has the best beaches on Oahu, so I really can’t pick just one to list here. But a few that should definitely be on your bucket list include Ka’a’awa Beach Park, Kailua Beach, and Lanikai Beach. Go to Lanikai for sunrise- I promise you won’t regret it.
Where to stay on the eastern side of Oahu:
I’ll preface this by saying one of the unique things about the windward side is that there’s no large resorts or hotels here, so you’ll mainly be staying in guesthouses or locally owned boutique hotels (which, in my book, is kind of rad).
- Paradise Bay Resort: One of the only real hotels on the eastern side of the island, Paradise Bay is a hidden gem, tucked away into a lush jungle, with those epic mountains as its backdrop. This would be a great place for an adventure-loving couple to stay, given the sheer amount of things there are to do—kayak rentals, fire dance shows, and a good ol’ fashioned hot tub and pool.
- Guest House Near Kailua Beach: This cozy little beach house is less than a block away from Kailua Beach and has a lovely lanai for having a nice cold drink at the end of the day, while enjoying that cool ocean breeze.
- Modern Luxury Beach House: This spacious house comes with all kinds of perks, like a well-stocked kitchen and a washer, plus you’ll only be a block from Kailua Beach.
4. North Shore
The North Shore of Oahu is, well… found along the northern shores of Oahu.
Surfers, travelers who are looking for local vibes and outdoor adventures, and families
Listen, I love all of the areas of Oahu like they’re my own children but if I had to play favorites, I’d probably be forced to pick the North Shore. Famed for the Big Wave surfing that dominates its beaches come winter, it should be no surprise that it feels reaaaaally chill here. Like, you shouldn’t be surprised to walk into a grocery store and see someone not wearing a shirt and shoes kinda chill.
Besides surfing and shirtless dudes, the North Shore has a lot to offer, with some great trails, like the Ehukai Pillbox hike; fantastic beaches; and a smattering of stinkin’ adorable small towns, like the surfer haven of Hale‘iwa.
While there’s definitely some awesome restaurants (the food trucks are ON POINT here) and shopping in the North Shore, these kinds of amenities are pretty spread out, as most of this section of the island is farm- and ranchland. Things also tend to close pretty early, so if you’re looking for a raucous night of bar hopping on Oahu, this may not be a great pick for you.
Things to do on the North Shore of Oahu:
- Snorkeling: This part of the island inarguably has the best snorkeling in Oahu, with several beaches with excellent offshore reefs and SO many tropical fish, like Three Tables, Shark’s Cove, and Waimea Bay Beach Park.
Note that it’s only safe to snorkel here in the summer months, when the waves are calm. Come winter, some of the best surfers in the world will come here to ride the waves that can reach up to 30 feet!
- Laniakea Beach: With soft, white sand and lots of palm trees, Laniakea is not only beautiful, but also happens to be one of the best places to see sea turtles on Oahu. Almost every afternoon, sea turtles crawl up on shore to bask in the warm sun before returning to the sea at night. Time your visit for sunset- between the jaw-dropping colors in the sky and the adorable turtles, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
- Waimea Valley: Waimea Valley, which translates to “The Valley of the Priests”, offers a trail, winding through a lush botanical garden and ending at a 45-foot waterfall you can swim in. The pathway is flat and paved, so this would be an excellent option for families or travelers with mobility issues that still want to enjoy Oahu’s natural beauty.
If you want to make a whole day of it, there’s also a luau you can enjoy here, which is a more intimate experience than some of the other luaus on Oahu and in an unbeatable setting.
Where to stay on the North Shore of Oahu:
- Turtle Bay Resort: I may have a soft spot for the resort ever since its appearance on “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, but, in my opinion, Turtle Bay is one of the very best resorts in Oahu.
If you’re looking for one of the best hotels in Oahu for couples, Turtle Bay should absolutely be on your radar. It’s got everything you need for a romantic getaway on Oahu, like a pristine beach, onsite spa, an adults-only infinity pool (complete with a poolside bar), and a variety of upscale dining experiences.
It’s also perfect for families, because, well, you basically don’t need to leave the resort! There’s so many things to do at Turtle Bay, from snorkeling in a super calm lagoon that’s frequented by sea turtles to taking classes at an on-site surf school.
- Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore: This hotel is perfect if you’re looking for something on the upscale side on the North Shore, but don’t need allllll of the amenities that Turtle Bay offers. There’s still a fantastic pool (with its own waterfall!), an onsite restaurant, and an unbeatable location, right by the Polynesian Cultural Center.
- Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village: This is one of the only hostels in Oahu and is a pretty great one at that. While its furnishings are a bit on the outdated side, it’s cozy and clean and has an excellent location, within walking distance of Waimea Bay Beach and Three Tables.
5. Ko Olina
On the leeward (in fancy island-speak, the western) side of Oahu.
Families, beach bums, and luxury seekers
Ko Olina is a resort community that was built in the 1980s, with several upscale resorts, residential communities, four man-made lagoons, and a golf course. This community was created specifically for tourists and in full transparency, it kind of feels like it.
That being said, if you want a vacation where you just unwind and lay on a Hawaiian beach all day and come evening, have some delicious food and drinks—without having to think about a thing—this may be the perfect choice.
It’s also awesome for families. The man-made lagoons are shallow and very calm, making it a great place for beginner swimmers and snorkelers. The water is usually clear and it’s a great spot to see turtles and other wildlife. Plus, there’s literally a Disney resort here—need I say more?
Things to Do Near Ko Olina:
- Snorkeling at Electric Beach: If you’re ready to graduate from the calm waters of Ko Olina’s lagoons, Electric Beach is just a few minutes north and is one of the best places to swim with turtles on Oahu (and if you’re lucky, even dolphins!). The beach is right by a power plant, which emits warm (totally clean) water into the ocean and, in turn, attracts a ton of heat-loving wildlife.
That being said, the waves here tend to be pretty intense, though, especially in winter, so proceed with caution.
- Pink Pillbox Hike: This moderately challenging hike leads you up to a ridge, overlooking rolling green mountains, the western coastline, and beyond, the sparkling Pacific Ocean.
- Luaus: There are several venues that host luaus in the nearby town of Kapolei. While undeniably touristy, luaus are so fun (and, can I just say, TASTY!) and can be an excellent way to learn about Polynestion history and culture.
I’d recommend checking out the Paradise Cove Luau, which takes place on a beautiful beach and incorporates a lot more cultural elements than other luaus near Ko Olina, like hukilau, where nets are pulled in from the ocean.
Where to stay in Ko Olina:
- Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club: For a home away from home, Ko Olina Beach Club has some really nice amenities, like a fully equipped kitchen and washer and dryer in every room. Of course, my home doesn’t also come with three pools, overlooking your own private lagoon, so the Ko Olina Beach Club’s got one up on me.
- Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina: Okay, well, we all know that the Four Seasons puts the “boug” in “bougie”, so I suppose it should be no surprise that the resort in Ko Olina is exquisite. Everything has been engineered to perfection here for any kind of traveler (except, ahem, budget).
Are you looking for a honeymoon resort in Oahu? Check out the adults-only infinity pool, onsite spa for all the couples massages, and (count ‘em!) FIVE fancy restaurants. Have a couple of kids you need to keep entertained? There’s a complimentary kids camp, keiki pool, and lagoon with awesome snorkeling.
- Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa: If you’re looking for that Disney magic whilst being in a tropical paradise, look no further. Kids will absolutely lose their minds over this place, with a lazy river (where you’ll float through a man made volcano!), story-telling around bonfires, ukulele lessons, and plenty of opportunities to hang out with a Hawaiian-shirt clad Mickey.
This resort isn’t just for kids, though- adults will love the private beach, with drink servers at the ready, and the Laniwai Spa, which offers couples massages, a special Hawaiian massage, and other indulgent treatments.
Tips for Where to Stay in Oahu
- You don’t have to stay in one place. If you’re staying on the island for five days or longer, I’d personally recommend spending half of the time in Waikiki or Ala Moana and the other half along the North Shore. That way, you get to experience the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and all of its surrounding attractions as well as the out-of-this-world mellowness and stunning beauty of the North Shore (it’s a vibe, guys).
- Resort fees are a thing. I mentioned this above, but saying it louder for the folks in the back- many of the resorts in Oahu charge a daily resort fee per room, which can cost up to almost $50 a day and may not always be included in your initial booking. If you’re on a budget, be sure to call ahead so you don’t kick off your Hawaiian vacation by having to pay an unexpected extra $500 in resort fees.
Phew- I hope you have a better idea of where to stay in Oahu. Do you have any questions about accommodations in Hawaii? Let me know in the comments below!
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