Oahu is Hawaii’s most populous island – by a lot – and often gets a reputation as being too developed or too commercial or too busy. Oahu just can’t catch a break! But the good news is that if you spend some time doing research on where to stay on Oahu, nearly every traveler can find the kind of experience they’re looking forward to on this seemingly-crowded island paradise. Finding the right place to stay on Oahu for you can make or break your entire visit! (Speaking of your visit, have you checked our our 7 day Oahu itinerary?)
In this article we’ll take you through the pros and cons to help you pick the best area of Oahu for your visit – including showing you where to stay on Oahu besides Waikiki, in case the big city doesn’t float your boat. We’ll also help you find the best places for you to stay on each part of the island. Ready to get planning?
Where to stay in Waikiki and Honolulu
When most would-be visitors think of Oahu, the first thing that comes to mind is the view of Diamond Head alongside the towering hotel towers of Waikiki and the dense city skyline of Honolulu. But is Waikiki the best place for you to stay on Oahu?
Pros of staying in Waikiki or Honolulu
-You don’t need a rental car if you’re staying in Waikiki (though you may still want one for a day or two). You can walk from your hotel to the beach to restaurants to world-class shopping. Many activities and excursions around the island offer van services (some free, some with a fee of up to $15 per person) that pick up from Waikiki hotels.
If you want to explore the island a little more, TheBus runs right through Waikiki and takes you to most parts of the island – easy since there are really just a few main roads. Uber is also an option to get to some parts of the island (though it may be difficult to snag a return ride from more remote areas, so make sure you’ve looked up bus routes as a backup).
-There’s a reason Waikiki Beach is world-famous. It’s a great place to learn to surf and it has some of the cleaner waters around Oahu. There’s no denying it’s a beautiful place! You’re also a pretty quick drive or bus ride to Hanauma Bay, which isn’t perfect but still offers some of the best snorkeling on Oahu.
-There are lots of fun activities around. Free hula shows Tuesday and Saturday evenings near the “Duke statue”. Friday night fireworks. A zoo and and aquarium. Catamaran trips. Mega-hotels with waterslides. World-class shopping. Museums. Music clubs, bars, restaurants. If there’s a developed amenity you want, you’ll find it in Waikiki! If you’re coming from a small town or a rural area, an action-packed city like Waikiki could be an amazing change of pace.
-Those Waikiki sunsets! They’re hard to top.
Cons of staying in Waikiki or Honolulu
-Many people who visit Oahu and stay in Waikiki (technically a neighborhood of Honolulu) come away saying that “Oahu is just a big city like any other in the US and you don’t really feel like you’re in Hawaii”. What they really mean is “Honolulu is a big city”.
And that’s absolutely true! Honolulu is home to over 350,000 people. The island averages over 100,000 visitors on any given day, and the vast majority of them stay in Honolulu/Waikiki. Driving down Kalakaua Avenue doesn’t feel that dissimilar from driving through Beverly Hills, but with more people and more towers. It is crowded.
-If you do want to rent a car, the parking can be very expensive. Fortunately some of the budget-friendly accommodations listed below offer very cheap parking, but if you’re staying at a popular hotel like the Hilton Hawaiian Village you can expect to pay $45 per night to park.
-You’re more subject to “tourist pricing” than elsewhere. If you prefer to self-cater breakfast and lunch to save money, you’ll get a much better deal on groceries outside of Waikiki – but it’s easier to manage that type of journey with a rental car, of course. If you have a rental car, definitely visit Costco in Honolulu for groceries and to fill up on gas!
-You’re far from some of the island’s most beautiful places and most interesting activities, and the traffic can be rough. Really. I’m from LA and I’m telling you that peak traffic in Honolulu and Waikiki is no joke! Driving the 30-odd miles to Haleiwa or the Polynesian Cultural Center might take you a reasonable 45 minutes on the way there and two hours on the way back if you time it wrong.
-There’s been so much development over the decades that many hotel room just have a few of more hotels. Make sure to book one of the Waikiki beachfront hotels or request a high floor if the view is important to you.
Best places to stay in Waikiki
There are dozens of hotels in Honolulu, including many Waikiki beachfront hotels. Which one should you pick?
According to our Tiny Globetrotters members, one of the best hotels in Waikiki for families is the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It offers five different pools (including the island’s longest slide and a separate kids’ pool), easy access to gorgeous beach, tons of on-site restaurants and a variety of rooms to suite different needs and budgets. You can see all the options here. Just remember that you’ll have to pay a resort fee and that there’s no free parking.
If you need more space for a big group to stay in Waikiki, check out the ever-reliable Embassy Suites. Their rooms are true suites – bedroom, separate living room, kitchenette – and the rate even includes free hot breakfast and poolside snacks! You can enjoy live Hawaiian music on-site several times each week in between dips in the big pool, kids pool and hot tub. It’s doesn’t get much easier than that. Check out rates here.
Looking for a boutique hotel in Waikiki? A little further south, close to Diamond Head, you’ll find two great gems!
The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel features both rooms and suites and everyone gets a balcony and a view of either the ocean or Diamond Head.
The nearby Lotus Honolulu Hotel gives its guests the royal treatment: coffee and tea in the morning, wine in the evening, and free use of beach chairs and towels in between.
If you’re on the hunt for luxury hotels in Honolulu, check out Halekulani. The photos are absolutely stunning! Halekulani offers top-notch restaurants, a beautiful spa, luxe touches like bathrobes and chocolates, and of course an amazing beachfront location. It’s one of the best hotels in Waikiki for couples looking for a romantic getaway.
If you aren’t interested in city life on your island vacation, maybe you’re wonder where to stay on Oahu besides Waikiki. The good news is that you have plenty of choices! There are lots of amazing places to stay in Oahu that have a totally different vibe.
Where to stay on the North Shore of Oahu
Another popular area to stay in when visiting Hawaii is the North Shore of Oahu. It’s known as a laid-back surfer’s paradise (at least in winter) but there’s a lot to love for visitors of all types.
While most people think of the North Shore as the stretch from Haleiwa to Kahuku (the northern tip), it actually extends all the way from remote Ka’ena point on the far west up to Kahuku Point and then down past Laie on the east side. It’s a huge area and you’ll find plenty of variety in activities and types of North Shore Oahu accommodations.
Think it might be right for you?
Pros of staying on the North Shore
-It feels much quainter than the metropolis of Honolulu, but still has plenty of development if that’s what you’re after. Haleiwa town offers a great variety of restaurants and food trucks plus some nice boutiques. Popular Matsumoto’s Shave Ice has a great range of flavors, though quieter Aoki’s across the street often gets the nod from locals.
It’s a quick drive to the Dole Plantation to get your fill of Dole Whip and pineapple-themed souvenirs (if that’s your thing); more sophisticated palates may prefer Green World Coffee Farm next door (try the Rainbow, it’s awesome!).
You also have easy access to the stunning gardens at Waimea Valley and its sometimes-swimmable waterfall. The beach across the street, Waimea Bay, has calm waters in the summer and a huge rock that daredevil locals and visitors use as a diving board.
If you stay on the east side of the North Shore, you’ll be right next to the Polynesian Cultural Center, which will make it easy to pack in a full day (and possibly take advantage of their option to return on a second day).
-If you’re a surfer (or an interested spectator), there’s no better place to be in the late fall and winter months! Some of the world’s top surfing events take place right here near Sunset Beach. Check out this comprehensive guide.
-Snorkelers will love Shark’s Cove during the summer (though conditions aren’t reliably safe in the winter).
-Whether you prefer an Airbnb, resort, boutique hotel or bed and breakfast, the North Shore of Oahu has tons of great places to stay at all price ranges. You won’t have to deal with as much “tourist pricing” as in Honolulu when it comes to groceries, gas and parking.
Cons of staying on the North Shore
-Depending on where you stay on the North Shore, you may be far from some things you want to go do, and the road network on that part of the island isn’t as extensive as on the South Shore (largely due to the topography). As an example, if you’re staying at the stunning Turtle Bay Resort, it could easily take 1.5 hours to drive to Diamond Head if you get stuck in traffic.
-Even within the North Shore itself, traffic can be a beast. There’s lots of traffic on the one road from Haleiwa to Sunset Beach (Kam Highway, which circles the island), and it can take an hour to get to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie – but it’s worth it! North Shore traffic is often worse on weekends when locals from “town” area heading up to enjoy the waves.
-Don’t expect the developed areas you’ll find in Waikiki. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Haleiwa town, but it’s quieter at night and there are no big chain stores.
Best places to stay on the North Shore
Unlike Waikiki and greater Honolulu, most of the great places to stay on the North Shore are small operations. There are tons of great Airbnbs available – check out some top options here. Especially if you’re looking for places to stay in Haleiwa, Airbnb is your best bet.
But the North Shore isn’t all self-catering and mom-and-pop’s… no, it’s actually home to one of the best resorts on Oahu! The world-famous Turtle Bay Resort is located near Kahuku Point at the far northern end of Oahu and it offers something for everyone.
There are various types of accommodations on-site, including traditional hotel-style rooms and villas with kitchens that are perfect for families. There’s even snorkeling at Kuilima Cove. If you’ve seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then you know what Turtle Bay is all about! (Fun fact: Watching that movie inspired our epic five-week visit to Oahu, so big thanks to Jason Segal!)
If you’re looking for the best family hotel on Oahu but you’re also considering Oahu hotels with a kitchen, these properties at Turtle Bay give you the best of both worlds – and for very reasonable pricing! You get the stunning location, access to all resort amenities and even a daily credit for rentals and activities. Check out these options to see which one is best for you – don’t forget your Airbnb coupon. You can also cross-check pricing with booking.com.
But Turtle Bay might also be the best place to stay in Oahu for couples thanks to the hotel’s (relatively) remote location and luxurious feel. Check out these photos! Surprisingly, there are some deals to be had if you’re flexible on dates.
The North Shore technically extends to the northern part of Oahu’s east coast, south of Laie. If you’re looking for places to stay in Laie, the new Courtyard by Marriott is a great option. It has a beautiful pool area, ocean views and an extremely convenient location for visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center and Kualoa Ranch.
Check out our review and tips for the Polynesian Cultural Center – then buy your discounted tickets!
Where to stay in Ko Olina
If you’re looking for the best resorts in Oahu, especially Oahu luxury resorts, look no further than Ko Olina. This area on the west coast was designed with vacationers in mind, whether they’re Hawaiians, mainlanders or international tourists. Ko Olina is home to Disney’s Aulani, the Four Seasons, Marriott and more – truly the best Oahu resorts!
Pros of staying in Ko Olina
–Aulani. Whether you love Disney or not, Aulani is easily one of the best resorts in Oahu for families. Disney places a huge emphasis on the enjoyment of their guests, and it shows. Everything at Aulani is done with great care to make sure everyone has a great time. They offer a range of free and paid activities, including an extremely popular kids club. Most guests report that the splash of “Disney magic” feels just right, without overwhelming the experience of being on vacation in paradise.
There are obvious nods to the fact that you’re in Hawaii, like the lobby full of contemporary Hawaiian art. The kids club is Aunty’s Beach House and features hula lessons, Hawaiian-style crafts and more for kids ages 3+.
Even if you aren’t staying at Aulani, you can still pay to attend a character breakfast. The Ka’wa’a Luau at Aulani also gets high marks. These experiences are obviously more convenient if you’re staying nearby in Ko Olina than if you’re 40-60 minutes away in Waikiki.
-The tranquil man-made lagoons of Ko Olina offer some of the best splashing for tiny visitors that you’ll find anywhere on the island. Beyond the lagoons, there are some amazing natural beaches to check out like Paradise Cove and Secret Beach. If you prefer pools to ocean swimming, the resorts in Ko Olina all have amazing options like adults-only pools, family pools, water slides and lazy rivers.
-It’s much quieter than Honolulu/Waikiki. If you stay in Ko Olina, you’ll feel totally removed from the hustle and bustle!
-If you like eating your meals out, there are plenty of good restaurants to choose from. You don’t have to dine at your resort all the time!
-You can find a range of accommodations that include traditional hotel rooms and villas with their own kitchens. There’s even a Costco right there in Kapolei to save on groceries and gas!
-Pearl Harbor is less than 30 minutes away if there’s no traffic. Plan to head there early in the day and return to Ko Olina by mid-afternoon to avoid rush hour! Check out our complete guide to visiting the many sites of Pearl Harbor.
Cons of staying in Ko Olina
-Many of the island’s main tourist attractions are far away, or at least they take a long time to get to if you get stuck in traffic. It can take an hour to get to Hanauma Bay or the gorgeous beaches of the Windward Coast, 1-1.5 hours to get to the Polynesian Cultural Center and potentially even longer to Sunset Beach on the North Shore on a weekend.
-You may not get the same feel for Hawaii that you would on the North Shore or the Windward Coast if you’re staying at some of the Ko Olina resorts and don’t explore beyond the gates. For example, you can pay to snorkel at Disney’s artificial Rainbow Reef lagoon… or head elsewhere on the island to check out a real reef for free (Electric Beach is nearby and supposed to offer great snorkeling). Of course it’s up to you whether or not that’s an important factor in planning your vacation!
-It ain’t cheap. Ko Olina has some of the most expensive accommodations on Oahu! There are ways to score deals (like renting Disney Vacation Club points) but it still won’t be as affordable as renting an Airbnb elsewhere on the island.
-Speaking of Airbnb… Just like many cities in Europe, local residents have resisted the growing Airbnb trend and may not be as welcoming of tourists staying off-resort as other parts of the island.
-If you do venture off the resort, keep your rental car clear of valuables. Waianae to the north has the highest crime rate on Oahu, with most of that being property crime.
Best places to stay in Ko Olina
The resorts in Ko Olina are pricey for sure, and they offer a very different experience than staying elsewhere on Oahu. If budget is a concern, consider splitting your time and spending a few nights in Ko Olina and the rest of your visit elsewhere on the island.
Disney Aulani Resort & Spa leads the pack for best resorts in Oahu for families. You’ll get gorgeous grounds, top-notch service and family-friendly activities… plus little hints of Disney like favorite characters popping up during the day. It isn’t cheap, but many families feel it’s worth the splurge! Orbitz often has great deals on Aulani – check prices for your dates here.
Among the Oahu luxury resorts, Four Seasons Resort Oahu is a stand-out. While families are welcome there and have a dedicated pool, this might be the best place to stay in Oahu for couples who want a resort experience.
A more affordable option is the Beach Villas at Ko Olina by Ola Properties. This is a condo-style hotel, so it’s a great choice for a longer stay on Oahu. You’ll get one, two or three actual bedrooms, a full kitchen and a living/dining room and even a balcony! These units are ideal for big family groups visiting Oahu since they’re so spacious. The downside is that you won’t get the fancy amenities of the other resorts in the area, though there is a large pool complex. The grounds are beautiful and the hotel is extremely convenient to Lagoon 2. Check prices here.
Another option for those who can’t stomach the cost of Aulani or Four Seasons is Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club. Again, you’ll get an apartment-style layout, some wonderful pools and access to the pristine beaches of Ko Olina. You’ll find the various room options here.
Where to stay on the Windward Coast
“Where to stay on where?”
Most visitors to Oahu have never heard of the Windward Coast, though many visit without knowing! Windward refers to the east side of the island, where moist ocean air blows onshore before it’s intercepted by the lush Ko’olau Range. This is the area where we stayed during our five-week Home Exchange and we fell more than a little in love with the area. Find out what makes it so special… but why it might not be for everyone!
Pros of staying on the Windward Coast
-Some of the best beaches on Oahu are right there in your back yard! Lanikai, Kailua, Waimanolo… they’re hard to beat!
-There are lots of great attractions nearby, and you won’t have to battle too much traffic to get to them. There are three different highways connecting the Windward Coast with Honolulu, so if you use Waze or a similar app that monitors traffic you’ll be able to keep drive times in check.
Most other attractions (beyond the stunning local beaches) are 30-60 minutes away. And those drives are some of the most beautiful on the island! Attractions like the Polynesian Cultural Center and Kualoa Ranch take you along Kam Highway where the Ko’olau Range nearly falls into the sea and it’s so breathtaking that you won’t mind looking out the car window.
-If you’re looking for house or apartment rentals on Oahu, you’ll have plenty of choices in this area. After all, people live here and they go away on vacation too! Many also have rental properties as an investment. Check out all the awesome Airbnbs on the Windward Coast.
-Because the area is mostly for locals, you’ll find all the amenities you need. There’s a big Target in Kailua Beach for stocking up on your beach needs and food staples (hint: they match Target.com mainland prices!). FoodLand has some decent grocery prices. You can also easily access Costco in either Honolulu or Hawaii Kai. Want to see a movie? Head to Windward Mall. None of this is as exciting as being served a mai tai by someone wearing an aloha shirt, but it’s a different way of traveling.
-Another big pro of staying in an area where locals live? You’ll actually meet and connect with locals! Shocking, I know. But we had so many awesome experiences making friends all along the Windward Coast: at quiet beaches most tourists don’t make the time to explore, at poke places away from the main drag, at the used book shop, on hiking trails that aren’t Diamond Head. We even went trick-or-treating with thousands of locals on Halloween!
Cons of staying on the Windward Coast
-You know the song line “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”? Well on Oahu, the rain stays mainly on the Windward side of the island. It’s all about orographic lifting: the moist ocean air is pushed to higher elevation by the steep Ko’Olau mountains; at the top of the mountains the moisture condenses into a fairly persistent cloud band; finally, those clouds dump buckets and buckets of rain on parts of the Windward coast.
We visited in October and November, which is the start of the rainier season, so the effect wouldn’t be quite as dramatic in summer. But every night starting around 9pm it was as if the floodgates opened and dumped buckets on the roof of our house (which was in the foothills of the mountains). There were also periodically brief mid-day showers, but those can occur on other parts of the island as well and aren’t enough to spoil a day.
The good news is that the microclimates of Hawaii are extremely localized. We’d often wake to gray skies in Kaneohe, but find blue skies just five miles away at Kailua Beach.
Fun fact about me: My first visit to Hawaii was in 2004 on a geology field trip with my undergraduate program. Every student had to prepare a relevant topic to present to the group and mine was on the microclimates of Hawaii!
-Some of the more developed parts of the Windward Coast (like Kaneohe and Kailua Beach) can feel more like mainland suburbia than a tropical island retreat. It’s up to you whether or not that’s a good thing!
-If you’re looking for a big resort with “resort amenities”, you won’t find it here. There is one low-key resort that looks absolutely amazing and is worth considering if you like the area but don’t want to stay in an Airbnb.
Where to stay on the Windward Coast
It’s a little tougher to decide where to stay on the Windward Coast, as most of the options are vacation rentals. You’ll find a huge variety of sizes and price ranges on Airbnb. Check out Windward Coast listings here – you may want to focus on those that are walking distance to Kailua Beach (great for boogie boarding) or Lanikai Beach (great for snorkeling).
You’ll also find tons of great Windward Coast vacation rentals on booking.com! We love how easy it is to search, sort and filter with their interface. You can save even more on their platform with these easy-to-follow tips.
If you prefer to stay in a hotel on the Windward Coast, there’s kind of only one choice: Paradise Bay Resort. This secluded spot offers some of the amenities of the big cousins on the other side of the island, but scaled down. There are optional entertainment-filled meals, kayak rentals, and boat excursions. Daily breakfast is included in your rate.
“Best of” where to stay on Oahu
Best resorts on Oahu for families
Disney Aulani – Ko Olina
Hilton Hawaiian Village – Waikiki
Beach Villas at Ko Olina – Ko Olina
Sheraton Waikiki – Waikiki
Best pet-friendly hotels on Oahu
Turtle Bay Resort – North Shore
Lotus Hotel – Waikiki
Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach – Waikiki
Paradise Bay Resort – Windward Coast
Cheapest place to stay on Oahu (including the best Oahu hostels!)
Ilima Hotel – 2 blocks from Waikiki along the Ala Wai Canal; older hotel with a small pool
THE BEACH Waikiki Boutique Hostel – offers both mixed and female dorms and private rooms for 2 or 3; breakfast included; parking is just $12 per night
Hostelling International Honolulu – offers both unisex dorms and private rooms for 2; free boogie boards, snorkel gear, beach mats and more to borrow; parking is just $10 per night
Seaside Hawaiian Hostel Waikiki – offers both mixed and female dorms (ranging from 2-6 people); light breakfast included; free boogie boards and snorkel gear;
Sharks Cove Rentals – offers both unisex dorms and private rooms; cheapest place to stay on Oahu outside of Waikiki; free snorkel gear – perfect since you’re across the street from Shark’s Cove
Hale Koa Hotel – only open to military personnel, with rates depending on rank; in the heart of Waikiki; great rates, pool and cheap on-site parking; solid luau available for guests
Campgrounds – The cheapest place to stay on Oahu is right on the beach! Many of the island’s beach parks offer camping, with various levels of amenities. Maleakahana Beach Park (just north of Laie, near the northern end of the island) is beloved by locals and costs just under $10 per person. Just remember that you’re camping, so expect things to be a bit rustic.
Best Oahu airport hotel
Where should you stay if you’re just stopping briefly on Oahu to catch a flight to another island or want to pay your respects at Pearl Harbor? It makes the most sense to stay near HNL airport to avoid the inconvenience of driving all over the island. We think you’re missing out by not spending more time exploring Oahu, but hopefully you’ll have the opportunity at some point!
But I digress… there aren’t many choices for places to stay around the airport and Pearl Harbor. Probably the best Oahu airport hotel is Best Western The Plaza Hotel. It offers everything you want from an airport hotel: 24 hour shuttle service, free breakfast, a pool and bargain pricing. You can even bring a dog or two!
More resources to plan your trip to Hawaii
Travel planning resources:
Travel insurance for Hawaii
Compare rental car prices for Hawaii
5 simple money-saving hacks for booking.com
General Hawaii resources:
How to visit Hawaii on a budget
What to pack for Hawaii
Is a cheap GoPro knock-off worth it?
Hawaii with kids:
What’s the best Hawaiian island for families?
Is it worth visiting Hawaii with a baby?
Top 10 things to do with kids on Oahu
The best snorkel gear for kids of all ages
Best Oahu travel guide book
Perfect 7 day Oahu itinerary
Where to stay on Oahu
Getting the most bang for your buck on your Go Oahu discount card
Insider tips for visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center
The best beaches on Oahu (and why to visit them)
Where to find the best shave ice on Oahu
The best easy hikes on Oahu
Kayaking to the Mokes with Twogood Kayaks
Family-friendly kayaking with Holokai Adventures
Visiting Pearl Harbor
Big Island resources:
Best Big Island travel guide book
Perfect 5 day Big Island itinerary
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