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Headed to Hawaii and wondering where to stay in Oahu?

I get it. My first trip to Hawaii I spent about 1 week in Oahu and struggled to pick a place to stay. Did I want to stay downtown? By the beach? Away from Honolulu and the crowds? Despite being a relatively small island, there are actually quite a few options when it comes to figuring out where to stay in Oahu. As for the best place to stay in Oahu? Well, that really depends on how long you are staying, what you want to see and do, and how you plan to spend your time. Here are my thoughts and suggestions to help you better decide.

Where to Stay in Oahu: Honolulu and Waikiki 

Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and is a typical urban beachside city. However, it’s much bigger than I expected and quite spread out meaning it’s not as fast and easy to get from Point A to Point B as you would think. For this reason, if you are considering staying in Honolulu I would suggest you stay specifically in Waikiki.

Waikiki is, in fairness, the most popular part of the city. But, for good reason. It’s lined with beaches perfect for tanning, surfing, and swimming (with protected beaches for kids!). The beaches and streets are lined with hotels ranging from 5* luxury to budget-friendly backpacker hostels. There are tons of bars, restaurants, and cute little shops for some local products and souvenirs. Basically, Waikiki has it all. Plus, it’s super convenient.

Convenience is a huge part of why I chose to stay in Waikiki. My flights were very late so it made it easy to get to/from hotel to airport safely. As a solo traveller in Hawaii, I also chose to use public transit and rely on day tours (including swimming with wild dolphins!) which was also easiest from Waikiki. Plus, it’s by the beach which is what I wanted.

Yes, it’s busy. Yes, it feels like a big city rather than a quiet tropical island. However, it’s fun. There are a number of options for different budgets and it’s incredibly convenient. If you are a solo traveller, travelling with family, or even just a first time visitor to the island, I would argue that Waikiki might be the best place to stay in Oahu.

Insider tip: if you choose to stay in Honolulu because it’s so central and convenient but don’t love the idea of staying on the Waikiki strip, go down a bit further closer to Diamond Head. This is still very central but it’s a bit quieter.

Looking for some recommendations for accommodation in Waikiki?

The Royal Hawaiian: Honolulu’s famous luxury pink hotel. With an exclusive beachfront location in the heart of Waikiki, it doesn’t get more central than here. There is also a full-service spa, two pools, a hot tub, water sport rentals and cultural activities. Book your stay here.

Moana Surfrider (pictured above): Another famous pick and considered one of the best hotels in Honolulu. Moana Surfrider also has a private beach space along with a pool, state of the art fitness centre, and several on-site dining options. It’s an absolutely stunning hotel and THE place to go if you are looking to splurge. Book your stay here.

SurfJack Hotel & Swim Club: I stayed here for a few nights and really liked it. It’s a more mid-range option for Honolulu. Unfortunately, it is not beach front but it’s still within easy walking distance from the beach and strip. There is an on-site pool and restaurant with a cool cocktail bar. I loved the beachy tropical vibe of this Honolulu hotel. Book your stay here.

There are two main hostels in Honolulu for budget backpackers. Hostelling International Honolulu (not a great location) and Hosteling International Waikiki. I spent my first couple of nights in the Waikiki location and while the location was great the hostel was not. I met amazing people but found it very loud, the staff was unfriendly, and it was kind of dirty so I honestly don’t really recommend unless you are desperate.

Where to Stay in Oahu: The North Shore

Another popular area to stay in is the North Shore which is best known for surfing and often considered to be ‘the real Hawaii’. I did a day trip up to this part of the island and really liked the vibe. It was much more laid back and relaxed. Not as crowded and tourist-centric as Honolulu and Waikiki but still lots to see and do, especially if you love beaches and nature. That being said, I think it would be best for those who plan on renting a car while in Hawaii. Getting around by public transit did not seem to be very easy, especially in terms of making it to/from the airport.

Keep in mind that the North Shore is a surfer’s paradise which means that the beaches and waves are a lot stronger than in Honolulu and Waikiki. I went swimming here but a few in my friend group chose not to because they felt the waves were too strong for their swimming ability. So if you want to go surfing or are a strong swimmer, it’s not bad. But if you want calmer, quieter water for your beach time then this isn’t a good pick. Note that the beaches are more swimmable in the summer and the waves are at their highest during the winter months.

Accommodation options along the north shore aren’t quite as abundant as those in Honolulu. It’s a bit trickier to find budget options but great for high-end resorts. 

Looking for accommodation in the North Shore?

Turtle Bay Resort (pictured above): Turtle Bay Resort is considered to be THE place to stay in the North Shore. It is high-end luxury and absolutely beautiful property. I stopped on a day trip for a drink at their outdoor restaurant and could quickly see why so many people say it’s worth the splurge. With 8km of beach, two golf courses, several dining options and a full-service spa, this is definitely one of the best resorts in Oahu. Book your stay here.

Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore: A more moderately priced mid-range option is the Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore. There’s a large outdoor pool and beach nearby. It’s also right by the Polynesian Cultural Centre. Book your stay here.

Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village: A budget option ideal for solo travellers looking to meet others or those just visiting Oahu on a budget. It’s a basic place to stay but a great location for beach lovers with the added bonus of free parking. Book your stay here.

Where to Stay in Hawaii: Ko’Olina

If you are looking for somewhere a little more remote without the crowds of Honolulu but still with quiet, family-friendly beaches then Ko’Olina might be worth considering. Located on the west side of the island, about a 30-minute drive from Honolulu, Ko’Olina is another popular spot to stay and is known for having some of the best resorts in Oahu. It’s a good spot for snorkeling, swimming, and beach time and there are plenty of options when it comes to shops and restaurants. However, if you plan on doing day trips and exploring more of the island, then you will definitely need to rent a car. Note that since so many accommodation options here are resorts, it can get a bit pricey.

Looking for some ideas on where to stay in Ko’Olina? 

Aulani, Disney Vacation Club Villa (pictured above): Disney in Hawaii! This Oahu resort is a family favourite and, as per most Disney branded hotels, it comes with all kinds of cool amenities. It is a beachfront property and there is an outdoor swimming pool. BBQ facilities, movie nights, watersport facilities, and evening entertainment are also all on offer here. Please note that this is one of the most popular places to stay in Oahu and books up quickly. Book your stay here.

Four Seasons Resort at Oahu Ko Olina: Ideal for a romantic getaway, the Four Seasons Resort is an elegant beachfront resort. With three swimming pools, a spa and wellness centre, and on-site restaurants it’s one of the top-rated resorts in Oahu. Book your stay here. 

Hampton Inn & Suites Oahu/Kapolei: A more budget-friendly option is the Hampton Inn and Suites. Free breakfast and swimming pool access is included with your stay. The closest beach is about 10 minutes away and it’s located beside the Ka Makana Ali’I which has more than 150 shops, restaurants, and entertainment spots. Book your stay here.

Final Word on where to stay in Oahu 

Based on convenience and everything in the nearby area, I would suggest staying in Honolulu, specifically Waikiki. As a solo traveller, it was great for me and I also think it would be ideal for first-time visitors and families with children.

That being said, if you are spending a week or so here, I would recommend renting a car and splitting up your stay. Go to the North Shore or one of the more remote areas to really experience the natural beauty of Hawaii and get away from the crowds.

Finally, book early. Hawaii is an incurably popular destination year-round and the best hotel rooms get scooped up really quickly. So if there is a property that you love or an area you really want to base yourself in, don’t wait to book or your might end up disappointed.

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