If you’re thinking about coming to Oahu, you might automatically assume you should stay in Waikiki. And while Waikiki is a fantastic place to stay and has a lot to offer travelers, I want you to know that there are a few different areas on Oahu where visitors like to stay. You have options, and I want to make sure you know about all of them before you come to visit!
Depending on your needs, budget, and how you want to spend your time on Oahu, you might want to stay closer to the action in Waikiki, experience the laid-back vibes on the North Shore, or get away from it all in Ko’Olina.
How will you know which part of Oahu should you stay on? Let me help you decide…
Waikiki is where most visitors to Oahu stay, and for good reasons. When I need a staycation, I love to go down to Waikiki for an evening or sometimes for an entire weekend. Everything is one place, and there are many different hotels and resorts in all different price ranges. There are luxury resorts right on the beach, and there are cheaper hotels a few blocks away. Views from some of these resorts are simply stunning, with the gorgeous ocean waters and Diamond Head in the distance.
Things to do
On Ala Moana Boulevard and inside Ala Moana Mall, you will find high-end shopping and dining. The restaurants, bars, and nightlife cannot be beaten.
Of course, there is Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. There are also tons of museums, including my personal favorites, the Honolulu Museum of Art Bishop Museum, and Spaulding House. Waikiki is also home to the Honolulu Zoo and Honolulu Aquarium.
Waikiki offers decent access to the other parts of the island, making it a great option for people who want to explore all that Oahu has to offer. Depending on traffic, it could take between 35 minutes and an hour to get to the Dole Plantation, and about 45 minutes to an hour to get to Haleiwa, the North Shore’s busiest town. From there, you can spend the day exploring all that the North Shore has to offer.
Honolulu is a city, and local community events like farmers markets and Eat the Street, are also nearby.
Almost every visitor to Oahu wants to visit Pearl Harbor, which is about a half hour from Waikiki, depending on traffic.
Don’t want to drive? Many companies pick up guests at hotels in Waikiki for tours around the island. Book our Pearl Harbor Experience Private Tour, our Hawaii Culture Tour, or our Oahu Circle Island tour.
Pros of Waikiki
Waikiki has incredible sunsets. When I think about a Hawaiian vacation, I think about sipping Mai Tais while watching the sunset in Waikiki. Also, Waikiki is walkable. It’s located in the middle a great city, so there is a lot to do here. You could spend weeks here and never get bored.
If you are a foodie, you will want to be in Waikiki. Some of the best restaurants and world-class chefs are in Waikiki. Waikiki also has the best nightlife of anywhere on the island. In fact, nightlife is pretty much nonexistent in the other areas that cater to visitors.
Cons of Waikiki
There is a lot of traffic. All of the time. Parking can be difficult and expensive. Most hotels will charge a separate parking fee. If you don’t plan to leave Waikiki, you could get around without a car, but I highly recommend renting a car and getting out of Waikiki. Allow yourself more time than you think that you will need to get around.
Also, you will pay a higher price tag in Waikiki for nearly everything, simply because it’s such a large tourist destination (of course, Hawaii Aloha Travel’s Travel Agents can help you get the best prices).
Oahu’s fabled North Shore is known for the huge waves that draw surfers from all over the world, a more laid-back vibe, and local shops and farms. Think about it this way. Waikiki is the busiest, biggest city on Oahu, whereas the North Shore is one of the most rural areas on the island. They may only be an hour apart, but there is an entirely different vibe.
The North Shore is home to Haleiwa, a small town with restaurants, coffee and ice cream shops, boutiques selling local products, and art galleries featuring local artists.
The only real option for lodging on the North Shore is Turtle Bay Resort. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. Turtle Bay is a gorgeous resort, and it caters to both families and couples, but it doesn’t leave you with options if you are looking for something a bit cheaper.
Things to do
If you stay at Turtle Bay Resort, there is a lot to do both at the resort and nearby. Turtle Bay Resort is home to one of the best golf resorts on the entire island. Visitors have been known to drive from all over to play here.
Turtle Bay also has a beautiful spa where you can get a seaside massage, and they offer many different excursions, including snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, outrigger canoeing, horseback riding, and more. Turtle Bay also has a number of excellent dining options. You could easily spend your entire vacation at Turtle Bay if you are looking to relax on the beach, drink by the pool, golf, and enjoy some water activities.
If you drive around the North Shore, chances are you will be able to find a beach that you can have all to yourself, or at least, a beach with not too many people. The beaches are gorgeous, set against the backdrop of the mountains. You can explore the towns, get shave ice, stop at a farm stand on the side of the road to get a coconut and see where the day takes you.
Turtle Bay is a good location for exploring the North Shore. Going up to the North Shore is one of my favorite things to do in Hawaii. You can go to Kualoa Ranch, go snorkeling at Shark’s Cove, hike to Waimea Falls, tour the Dole Plantation, and see sea turtles. Visit the surf shops or watch surfers in the winter months, eat at the famous shrimp trucks, eat on a farm, try shave ice, and visit the famous Ted’s Bakery. You can enjoy the pristine, quieter beaches, and watch the gorgeous sunsets on Sunset Beach.
Pros of the North Shore
The North Shore is quiet and laid back. There are fewer people here. Turtle Bay is a small, beautiful resort and a great way to get away from everything. Plus, every room has either a partial ocean view or a full ocean view.
Cons of the North Shore
You are at least an hour and fifteen minutes from Waikiki could be more depending on traffic. That means if you want to visit the attractions in Waikiki, it will be a long day for you. You are also far from Pearl Harbor. There is no nightlife on the North Shore.
A bit off the beaten path, on the western side of the island, Ko’Olina is a great place to stay for both families and couples. Families will love the quiet, secluded, laid-back vibe of Ko’Olina. The Aulani Disney Resort is perfect for kids, and the famous Ko’Olina Lagoon is a great place for kids to play in the water.
For large families who need more than one hotel room, The Beach Villas at Ko Olina are perfect. And then there is The Four Seasons, which is ideal for couples looking to splurge who want some peace and quiet. I’d say that would make for a pretty awesome honeymoon.
Things to do
Because there are so many resorts in Ko’Olina, many tour companies offering water activities. Ko’Olina is also home to some of the island’s best luaus.
Located on the west side of the island, this is where you go for the once-in-a-lifetime dolphin and snorkel tours.
The Ko’Olina golf course is a great course and is reasonably priced. If you are looking to treat yourself, the spa at the Aulani cannot be beaten. And, if you book just one treatment, you can spend the whole day in the spa garden with pools.
If you are looking for romance, look no further than the Four Seasons. Locals rave about the happy hour at Fish House. Another local favorite is Monkeypod restaurant (save room for the pie!).
On the west side of Oahu, there is not too much outside the resort area, but Ko’Olina is just about 30 minutes from Waikiki. You could easily spend a day or two exploring Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, and Honolulu using Ko’Olina as your base.
Pros of Ko’Olina
While more built up than the North Shore, Ko’Olina is still less congested than Waikiki, so you have more privacy. You have that same feeling of seclusion with the benefit of only being closer to Honolulu than the North Shore. The resorts offer some amenities and dining options as well.
Cons of Ko’Olina
There are not as many resorts to choose from as there are in Waikiki. If you are looking for more budget-friendly options, you might want to try Waikiki.
There are not as many activities to enjoy in Ko’Olina as there are in Waikiki or the North Shore. While there is plenty to do and you could be perfectly content staying at your resort for your entire visit, you will have to drive if you want to get out of the resort area.
So, what do you think? Are you still unsure where to stay on Oahu? Don’t worry! Give our travel agents a call today, and we will work with you to design the best vacation for you!