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You made a good decision. Getting to Oahu is a great island to visit. We encourage all our friends to visit Oahu at least once. Now for the 2nd big decision, which part of Oahu should you stay in? Waikiki or Ko Olina or the North Shore?
Best Area To Stay In Oahu
Ko Olina offers 4 white sand lagoons, stay and play resorts, a Disney resort, luaus and sunny weather, but you are a bit isolated on the far side of the island.
Where To Stay In Oahu: Honolulu, Ko Olina, & The North Shore
Oahu’s famous North Shore with epic surfing, jungle hikes, waterfall swimming, amazing restaurants and food trucks, and a cool vibe, but windy weather means rain and spotty weather.
After living on Oahu for two years, actually on Ko Olina, I can give you the facts about these Oahu destinations so you don’t have to learn the hard way. Here are the pros and cons of what to expect when staying at each of these Oahu destinations.
Waikiki, Ko Olina and the North Shore are the best places to stay on Oahu. Each one offers a different Oahu vacation, so it’s a good idea to understand the personalities of the places before booking a hotel.
Waikiki and Ko Olina offer a selection of family and luxury resorts within 1.5 square miles with beach access. A nice selection of places to stay and a wealth of activities make these resort areas a stay-and-play destination.
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The North Shore is a completely different experience. Hawaii’s premier outdoor entertainment destination. Explore the great tropical nature with jungle walks, go on sunrise pill hikes or watch a surfing competition. A North Shore vacation is more about experiencing Hawaii like a local.
There are other places to stay on Oahu like Kailua, Kaneohe, Ewa and Kapolei. But these cities lack resorts and hotels are few and far between. There are great vacation rentals and I would recommend them if you want to stay in these parts of Oahu.
Our goal is a holiday destination where you will want to return again and again. These unbiased pros and cons put facts and atmosphere on the table so you can choose the right part of Oahu to stay for your itinerary and personality.
Waikiki is a neighborhood in Honolulu, the capital of Oahu and Hawaii. It’s a small neighborhood. At just 1.5 square miles, there’s a buzz for Hawaii’s tourism industry.
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In this small enclave of the city, the area generates $2 billion in tourism revenue each year. That’s 42% of all tourism dollars spent in Hawaii.
People from all over the world flock to Waikiki. It’s a popular spot and for good reason.
Waikiki is the Vegas of Hawaii, without the gambling. Waikiki has something for everyone at any age.
Honeymooners, singles, LGBTQ, couples, seniors and families of all ages will have a ball in Waikiki. There are family-friendly resorts like the Hawaiian Hilton Village, which features a man-made lagoon and Friday fireworks. Couples can enjoy happy hours at the bars and sunsets on the coast. Singles will find an active club scene or pool where they can relax to their heart’s content.
Best Areas To Stay In Waikiki • Waikiki Beach Stays
Waikiki is a 20-minute drive (8.5 miles) from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Honolulu). UberX is a $24 ride to Waikiki.
Located on the southeast shore of Oahu and on the east side of Honolulu, the neighborhood provides the perfect jumping off point to explore the many sites of South Oahu.
Waikiki begins at Honolulu Harbor on the west side and ends at Kapahulu Avenue on the east side. From the shore to the Ala Wai Canal, Waikiki is only 2 to 3 blocks deep.
✅ Plenty of activities: You won’t be bored in Waikiki. Beach activities include surfing lessons, standup paddleboarding, scuba diving, parasailing, bodyboarding, sailing and snorkeling to name a few.
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✅ Local Attractions: Within walking distance of downtown Waikiki is the 500-acre Kapiolani Park, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Honolulu Zoo.
✅ Central Location: Waikiki is within half an hour of various Oahu attractions. Drive or bus to Pearl Harbor, Iolani Palace, hike Diamond Head, Nuuanu Pali Lookout, and Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve for snorkeling (but crowded, so go early).
✅ Easy and cheap local transportation: If you don’t want to walk, hop on the local bus or the many free Waikiki shuttle buses that buzz up and down the main streets of Kuhio Avenue and Kalakaua Avenue.
✅ Waikiki Beach consists of 8 beaches, all with their own specialties. Some offer beach volleyball (Fort DeRussy), some offer the best surfing (Queen’s), and some are great for kids with break walls (Kuhio Beach, shown below).
What Is The Best Place To Stay In Waikiki? [4 Popular Hotels]
✅ Waikiki is cozy: After a few days, you’ll be comfortable and confident moving around the 1.5 square miles.
✅ Restaurants: Pacific Island to authentic Japanese sushi to regional Hawaiian cuisine to Chuck’s Steakhouse. You won’t starve. Of course, you’ll still find Subway, Outback, Red Lobster, McDonald’s and all the big name brand restaurants in the area.
✅ Shopping in Waikiki: There are high-end buys from the likes of Louis Vuitton and Chanel to cheaper options like local t-shirt vendors. You can find what you are looking for at the right price. Start with The International Marketplace in the heart of Waikiki, then continue towards Kuhio Avenue for cheaper shopping if that’s more your fancy. The Royal Hawaiian Center shopping center in front of the Royal Hawaiian spans 3 blocks. Ala Moana Shopping Center is located just above the Ala Wai Canal on the west side of Waikiki.
✅ Places to Stay: You have your pick of hotels, resorts, Airbnb, Vrbo and private condos in Waikiki.
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✅ Performances and Luaus: The entertainment on Oahu is at Waikiki. At Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, you can choose from luaus and shows like Blue Note.
✅ Hawaiian Culture: First, go to Iolani Palace and ask a local to give you a tour, like Kyle Kajihiro or Terrilee Keko’olani. Then for culture, head to the Historical China District and the Bishop Museum. Waikiki has culture too with the free Kuhio Beach Hula Show. Opens with torch lighting and traditional conch blowing every Tue-Thu-Sat, 18:30-19:30.
✅ Local Honolulu Neighborhoods: My favorite part of Waikiki are the nearby Kapahulu neighborhoods and historic Chinatown. If you want local food, neighborhood festivals, Honolulu history, and the best bars on the island, check out these local hoods.
❌ Crowded: 71,000 visitors a day spending $2 billion a year means the small neighborhood can get crowded. The beach is big, but arrive early.
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❌ Restaurants like Duke’s, Hula Grill, Cheesecake Factory, La Mer, etc. fill up fast. Make a reservation a day or two in advance to get a table. Don’t show up at 5pm with a toddler and expect a seat without a 1 and a half hour wait. We made that mistake.
❌ Not great for small children: Busy streets, crowded sidewalks and lack of greenery are not ideal for toddlers and small children. It is a safe place, but the busy roads and sidewalks can be stressful for parents.
❌ Parking Fees: Resorts will charge an average of $40 per night for parking. Ouch. Daily parking at malls and parking garages will cost you between $6 and $20 per day
❌ Luxury Shopping: I felt like there was only luxury shopping in Waikiki. Stores like Hermes, Louise Vuitton, Coach, Chanel etc. are everywhere. This may be an added value for some, but for me there were more luxury options than not. You will also find H&M, Zara and the like.
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❌ Ambiance: Waikiki can feel a bit like a theme park, a bit fake and very hectic. Once you leave your resort, the weather is still amazing, but the streets can be loud and chaotic. Waikiki may not be the relaxing Hawaiian vacation you’ve been craving.
❌ Overpriced food and syrupy drinks: In Waikiki, you can feel trapped with limited options for cheap and quality food. The food is expensive, the happy hour deals aren’t great, and the $25 lava flows are more syrup than rum.
❌ Transportation: Waikiki is surrounded by water on 3 sides, making getting in and out difficult. Avoid rush hour traffic (see below) and have a good navigator. One-way streets and multiple freeway on-ramps make getting in and out of paradise time-consuming.
Waikiki is not ideal for those who want a quiet beach vacation or want to be surrounded by nature 24/7.
Best Oahu Resorts For Families
If this is your first trip to Hawaii, I can only recommend staying in Waikiki for a few days. Waikiki’s central Oahu location, beach activities, local attractions and history make it a memorable and fun start to your vacation. Stay at a Waikiki Beach hotel for the full experience.
Ko Olina is a resort set in four artificial lagoons. Well filtered drone
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