A First-Timer’s Guide to the Best Areas to Stay on Oahu

Are you thinking about booking a trip to Oahu? Keep scrolling to find out the best areas to stay on Oahu plus our top picks for hotels and resorts.
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Aloha, future Oahu travelers! Oahu, one of Hawaii’s beautiful islands, is like a patchwork of cool places, each unique and exciting.

From bustling city areas to chill beach spots, there’s a place for every kind of adventurer. But hey, picking the right spot to stay can make or break your trip.

So, whether you’re a beach bum or a city explorer, this guide will help you find the perfect area on Oahu for your dream vacation.

Ready? Let’s find your slice of paradise!

Waikiki: The Tourist Hotspot

Have you ever seen those postcards of Hawaii with golden sands, shimmering blue waters, and tall palm trees? Chances are, that picture-perfect spot is Waikiki!

Located on the south shore of Oahu, Waikiki is like the superstar of the island.

What’s Cool About Waikiki

First off, the beach! Waikiki Beach is world-famous, stretching out with soft sands that welcome your feet.

It’s an excellent spot for sunbathing, building sandcastles, or even trying out surfing for the first time. And if you want to see a breathtaking sunset, this is the place.

But the fun doesn’t stop at the beach. Waikiki is buzzing with life! There’s the Waikiki Aquarium where you can meet colorful fishes and the Honolulu Zoo where you can say “hi” to tropical animals.

And if you’re into history, the statue of the great surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, and the Waikiki Historic Trail are must-sees.

Plus there are tons of fancy shopping centers and boutique shops that sell everything from designer clothing to locally-made items.

Find out the best tourist attractions in Hawaii recommended by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel Guides. Image of Diamond Head - volcanic cone on Oahu, Hawaii
Waikiki is the most popular area of Oahu for tourists.

Where Can You Stay in Waikiki?

Waikiki is like a candy store when it comes to places to stay. There’s something for everyone! Fancy hotels that make you feel like royalty? Check. Cool condos or hotels with kitchen spaces? Got it. Even budget-friendly spots for those saving their pennies.

And the best part? Most places are either beachfront hotels or just a short walk from the beach. Imagine waking up, grabbing your flip-flops, and heading straight to the ocean. Sounds dreamy, right?

Is Waikiki Right for You?

If you’re someone who loves the beach (like, really loves it), wants to be in the middle of all the action, or enjoys dancing the night away, Waikiki might be your perfect match. It’s especially awesome for first-time visitors because everything you need is close by. Shops, restaurants, activities – it’s all there!

In a nutshell, Waikiki is a blend of sun, sea, and a whole lot of fun. It’s a place where memories are made, whether you’re taking your first surf lesson or just chilling with a pineapple smoothie in hand.

North Shore: A Surfer’s Paradise

Imagine a place where time seems to slow down, waves dance to their own rhythm, and the vibe is all about relaxation.

Welcome to the North Shore of Oahu! This spot is like the chill, laid-back cousin of the buzzing Waikiki. Here, it’s all about soaking in nature, catching waves, and letting the Hawaiian spirit wash over you.

What’s So Special About the North Shore of Oahu?

First and foremost, it’s a surfer’s dreamland. If you’ve ever watched movies about surfing or seen pictures of people riding gigantic waves, the North Shore is probably where it happened.

Places like Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay are names that make every surfer’s heart race.

But don’t worry, even if you’re not a surfer, these beaches are amazing just to relax and watch the pros do their thing.

Besides the surf, the North Shore is sprinkled with charming towns, local food spots, and hidden gems waiting to be explored. Remember to try a “shave ice” from a local stand. It’s a Hawaiian treat that’s perfect for sunny days!

Image of Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu
Turtle Bay Resort is the premier place to stay in North Shore Oahu.

Where Can You Stay in North Shore Oahu?

While the North Shore isn’t packed with towering hotels like Waikiki, it has its own cozy charm. Think beach houses where you can hear the ocean from your bed, cute bed and breakfasts run by locals, and even camping spots for those who really want to be close to nature. It’s less about glitz and more about feeling at home.

Is the North Shore Your Kind of Place?

Do you dream of waking up to the sound of waves? Or maybe you fancy learning to surf with a backdrop of green mountains at one of the famous surfing beaches?

If you’re a nature lover who’s happy with simple pleasures, or you’re seeking a more relaxed, “real Hawaii” vibe, the North Shore might just call out to you.

To wrap it up, the North Shore is where the island’s heart beats loud and clear. It’s a reminder that sometimes, the best moments come from just sitting on the sand, watching the waves, and feeling the Hawaiian breeze on your face.

Kailua and Lanikai: The Windward Wonders

Imagine two stunning gems nestled on Oahu’s eastern coast, where the waters sparkle in fifty shades of blue, and soft white sands invite you to take off your shoes and stay awhile.

Welcome to Kailua and Lanikai, two neighboring spots that feel like paradise found.

What Makes Kailua and Lanikai Special?

First off, their beaches are the stuff of dreams. Kailua Beach, with its gentle waves, is perfect for a range of activities. From kayaking to windsurfing, there’s something for everyone.

And when you see Lanikai Beach for the first time, you might pinch yourself. Its postcard-perfect beauty, with powdery sand and turquoise waters, makes it one of Oahu’s most photographed beaches.

The eastern coastline, where these beaches sit, is stunning. There are cool offshore islands to gaze at, and the backdrop of lush green mountains is simply breathtaking. It’s a slice of Hawaii that makes you go “wow” at every turn.

But there’s more than just beaches! The areas of Kailua and Lanikai have a local, welcoming feel. Stroll around, and you’ll find cute boutiques, coffee shops, and local markets.

If you’re up for an adventure, there’s the Lanikai Pillbox Hike. It’s a bit of a climb, but the views at the top? Totally worth it!

Image of Lanikai beach on Oahu
Lanikai Beach on Oahu.

Where Can You Stay?

Here, you won’t find high-rise hotels, and that’s part of the charm. Instead, there are vacation rentals, ranging from cozy studios to beachfront houses. Staying here feels like you’re a part of the community, even if just for a short while.

Is Kailua and Lanikai Right for You?

If you’re traveling with family, these areas are a hit. Safe waters for kiddos to splash around in, parks for picnics, and a relaxed atmosphere make it a family favorite.

And for those who love the beach (who doesn’t?) or want a taste of local life away from big tourist spots, Kailua and Lanikai are perfect.

In short, Kailua and Lanikai are where Hawaii’s natural beauty shines bright, and every day feels like a beach day. It’s a place to relax, explore, and fall in love with the Aloha spirit.

Ko Olina: The Luxury Retreat

Imagine a place where the world seems to pause, letting you bask in luxury and serenity.

Welcome to Ko Olina, Oahu’s upscale resort community that sparkles on the island’s western coast. It’s where the ocean meets opulence, making every visitor feel a touch of magic.

What’s the Buzz about Ko Olina?

Ko Olina is like a world of its own. It’s a series of four gorgeous lagoons, each with its own unique charm, hugged by manicured lawns and swaying palm trees. The waters are calm and clear, making it feel like you’re stepping into a dream.

But what truly sets Ko Olina apart are its luxurious resorts. Think infinity pools overlooking the ocean, spas that make you feel a million miles away, and dining experiences that are nothing short of exquisite. From sushi with a sunset view to gourmet dishes prepared by top chefs, every meal is an event here.

Beyond the resorts, Ko Olina offers a marina for yachting adventures and a championship golf course. Want to shop? The Ko Olina Center has boutiques that’ll make your heart skip a beat.

Image of Disney characters at Aulani
Ko Olina is where you’ll find the Disney Aulani Resort. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Where Can You Stay in Ko Olina?

Well, luxury is the keyword here. Ko Olina boasts some of the island’s most lavish resorts, where every detail is curated for your comfort.

Oceanfront views, tropical gardens, and impeccable service make staying here an unforgettable experience. And for those who prefer a homey touch, there are upscale vacation rentals too.

Is Ko Olina Your Slice of Paradise?

Ko Olina is perfect for those seeking a mix of relaxation and luxury. It’s a top choice for couples on romantic getaways – imagine sunset walks by the lagoon or couples’ massages to the sound of the ocean. If you’re a traveler who loves the finer things in life, Ko Olina rolls out the red carpet just for you.

Wrapping it up, Ko Olina is where elegance meets the ocean. It’s a place where every sunrise feels special, and every moment whispers luxury. If you’re looking to be pampered in paradise, look no further.

Downtown Honolulu: The Urban Experience

Have you ever wanted to dive deep into the heart of Hawaii, where history, food, and shopping come alive?

Welcome to Downtown Honolulu, the bustling capital of Oahu. This isn’t just any city center. It’s where Hawaiian culture meets city life, making for a truly unique experience.

What Awaits in Downtown Honolulu?

First up, history is around every corner. Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the United States, stands proudly in Downtown Honolulu.

As you step inside, you’re taken back to a time when Hawaiian royalty roamed its halls. Nearby, the King Kamehameha Statue stands tall, honoring the great unifier of the Hawaiian Islands.

But that’s not all. The Hawaii State Capitol, with its unique open-air design, is a must-visit. And the Kawaiaha’o Church, often called the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific,” is a testament to the island’s rich history.

Hungry after your history tour? Downtown Honolulu is a foodie’s paradise. From local Hawaiian dishes at hole-in-the-wall eateries to high-end restaurants serving global cuisines, there’s something for every palate. Fresh poke bowls, traditional lau lau, or a modern fusion dish – the choice is yours!

Shopping more your thing? Say no more! From chic boutiques to lively markets like Aloha Tower Marketplace, you’ll find souvenirs, fashion, and unique Hawaiian goods. Don’t forget to grab a fresh lei or some island snacks to take back home!

Spectacular view of Honolulu city, Oahu, Hawaii
There are plenty of places to stay inland of Waikiki.

Where Can You Stay in Honolulu?

Downtown Honolulu offers a variety of accommodations. There are modern hotels with skyline views, boutique inns, and even vacation rentals that give you a local living experience.

Is Downtown Honolulu the Place for You?

If you’re a history buff eager to delve into Hawaii’s past, Downtown Honolulu is your playground. Foodies will rejoice with the range of dining options, while shoppers can find treasures at every turn. It’s urban but uniquely Hawaiian.

In a nutshell, Downtown Honolulu offers a blend of the past and the present, tradition and modernity. It’s a place where you can sip a cup of modern craft coffee in the morning, wander through royal halls by noon, and dine on traditional Hawaiian fare by evening. Dive in and savor the urban heartbeat of Oahu!

East Oahu: The Scenic Escape

When you close your eyes and dream of a place where sapphire waters meet lush green mountains and adventures are just waiting to be had, you’re probably picturing East Oahu.

This side of the island is nothing short of breathtaking, offering spots like Hanauma Bay and Makapu’u that are must-sees for anyone visiting.

What’s Special About East Oahu?

Let’s start with Hanauma Bay. This natural wonder is not just any beach; it’s a marine life conservation area. The bay, shaped like a giant bowl, is home to vibrant coral reefs and hundreds of fish species.

Grab a snorkel and dive in to meet the colorful underwater residents. Just remember to tread lightly and respect the marine life – it’s their home, after all.

Not far from there is Makapu’u, another gem of East Oahu. The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a favorite among hikers. It’s a paved, uphill path leading to a historic lighthouse.

And the view? Absolutely stunning! You can see the deep blue ocean, nearby islands, and if you’re lucky (and visiting between November and May), you might even spot whales playing in the distance.

Snorkelling at the coral reef of Hanauma Bay, a former volcanic crater, now a national reserve
Hanauma Bay is a popular Oahu snorkeling beach.

Adventure Calls in East Oahu

For those with a thirst for adventure, East Oahu won’t disappoint. Along with snorkeling in Hanauma Bay and hiking up Makapu’u, there are hidden beaches to discover, tide pools to explore, and more trails to trek. You can even challenge yourself with a climb up the Koko Head Crater – it’s tough but oh-so-rewarding!

Is East Oahu Right for You?

If you’re someone who gets excited about stunning vistas, getting up close with nature, and filling your trip with action-packed days, then yes! East Oahu is your kind of paradise. It’s perfect for adventure seekers ready to jump into every activity and nature lovers who want to soak in Oahu’s natural beauty.

To sum it up, East Oahu is where nature puts on its best show. From the sparkling waters of Hanauma Bay to the panoramic views from Makapu’u, every moment here is a reminder of the island’s magic.

Pack your hiking shoes, grab a snorkel, and get ready for an adventure-filled journey in East Oahu!

Considerations When Choosing Your Stay

Oahu is like a grand buffet with something for everyone. But with so many delicious options to choose from, how do you pick the perfect spot for your stay?

Just as you would at a buffet, consider what you’re craving most. In this case, think about your budget, the activities you’re looking forward to, and who’s coming along on the trip.

Your Hawaii Budget

The first thing to think about is money. How much are you willing to spend on accommodations?


If you’re watching your pennies, consider places like hostels or budget hotels. Downtown Honolulu and some parts of Waikiki offer affordable options.


For a bit more comfort without going overboard, there are plenty of mid-range hotels and vacation rentals across the island.


If you’re in the mood to splurge, places like Ko Olina or upscale resorts in Waikiki will treat you like royalty.

Activities of Interest

What do you want to do during your visit?

Beach Time

If you’re dreaming of golden sands and ocean waves, Waikiki or Kailua might be your best bet.


For those wanting to catch waves, the North Shore is the place to be.

Hiking and Nature

East Oahu, with spots like Hanauma Bay and Makapu’u, is a haven for nature lovers.

History and Culture

Downtown Honolulu offers a rich dive into Hawaii’s past.

Who’s Coming Along?

Your travel companions play a big role in deciding where to stay.


If you’re with the kids, you might want a place that’s close to fun activities and safe beaches. Kailua, Lanikai, or the resorts in Ko Olina are family-friendly spots.

Solo Travelers

For those flying solo, Waikiki or Downtown Honolulu provide plenty of opportunities to meet fellow travelers and stay in the heart of the action.


Seeking a romantic getaway? The luxurious resorts of Ko Olina or the quiet charm of the North Shore might be just the romantic setting you’re seeking.

Choosing where to stay in Oahu isn’t about finding the “best” spot. It’s about finding the best spot for you. Everyone’s dream Hawaiian vacation is a little different.

Whether you’re hoping for thrilling adventures, peaceful relaxation, or a bit of both, there’s a place on Oahu waiting for you.

Before you book, take a moment to reflect on what you want most from your trip. Once you have a clear picture in mind, finding the ideal area to stay becomes so much easier.

And remember, no matter where you end up, the beauty and aloha spirit of Oahu will make sure your visit is unforgettable.

Additional Oahu Tips for First-Timers

Aloha, first-time travelers to Oahu! You’re about to embark on an unforgettable journey. While you’ve probably got a list of places to visit and beaches to lounge on, there are some other useful tips to keep in mind.

This section will cover ways to move around Oahu, some safety reminders, and ideas to get the most from your stay.

Moving Around Oahu

Public Transport

TheBus is Oahu’s public transportation system, and it’s pretty handy! It goes to a lot of the major sites, including Waikiki, Downtown Honolulu, and even the North Shore. It’s affordable and can be a good option if you’re not in a hurry.

Renting a Car

If you’re hoping to explore every corner of the island, renting a car might be a good choice. It offers flexibility, especially if you want to visit less accessible spots like Hanauma Bay or Makapu’u. Remember, though, Honolulu can have heavy traffic, so plan your trips accordingly.

Bikes & Walk

For short distances, especially in areas like Waikiki, walking or renting a bike is a fun way to explore.

Safety Considerations

Hawaii Water Safety

Oahu’s beaches are beautiful, but some can have strong currents. Always check the safety signs before going in, and if you’re unsure about the conditions, ask a lifeguard.

Sun Protection

Hawaii’s sun can be pretty strong. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen, wear a hat, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.

Hiking on Oahu

If you’re up for a hike, always let someone know where you’re going, and try to hike with a buddy. Stick to the marked trails, and wear appropriate shoes.

Lanikai Beach on the windward coast of Oahu, Hawaii Vacation
There are tons of cool places to explore on Oahu.

Making the Most of Your Stay on Oahu

Early Bird Gets the Worm

Some spots, especially popular ones like Hanauma Bay, can get crowded. Consider starting your day early to beat the crowds and enjoy a peaceful sunrise.

Local Oahu Eats

Don’t just stick to the touristy restaurants. Ask locals for their favorite places to eat. You might discover some amazing food and save some bucks!

Join a Tour

Even if you like exploring on your own, consider joining a local tour for activities you’re less familiar with. Not only is it a chance to learn more, but you’ll also get insights you might not discover on your own.

Stay Flexible

While it’s great to have a plan, sometimes the best adventures are unplanned. Maybe you’ll find a local festival, or perhaps a fellow traveler will suggest a hidden gem. Being open to changes can make your trip even more special.

In the end, Oahu is a place filled with magic, and there’s no wrong way to experience it. By keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to dive into all the island has to offer.

So, tie up those laces, grab your sunscreen, and get ready to make memories that will last a lifetime!

Best Area to Stay on Oahu FAQs

What are the best luxury resorts on Oahu?

The best luxury resorts on Oahu include The Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, Turtle Bay Resort, and The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki.

What are the best places to stay in Waikiki Beach?

The best places in Waikiki Beach include Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, and the Sheraton Waikiki.

Where can I stay near Diamond Head Crater?

You can stay at hotels like The Kahala Hotel & Resort or Queen Kapiolani Hotel, which are near Diamond Head Crater.

Where can I stay near the Polynesian Cultural Center?

Turtle Bay Resort and Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore are popular options near the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Which hotels are near Pearl Harbor?

Hotels such as Airport Honolulu Hotel and Best Western The Plaza Hotel are near Pearl Harbor.

Where is Disney Aulani Resort?

Disney Aulani Resort is located in Ko Olina, on Oahu’s western coast.

What are the best budget-friendly hotels in Waikiki?

The Royal Grove Waikiki and Hotel LaCroix are among the best budget-friendly hotels in Waikiki.

Are there any hotels in Waikiki with a rooftop pool?

Yes, Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach and The Laylow, Autograph Collection both offer rooftop pools in Waikiki.

Do you need a rental car if you’re staying in Waikiki?

No, you don’t necessarily need a rental car if you’re staying in Waikiki, as many attractions, shops, and restaurants are within walking distance, and public transportation options are available for farther destinations.

Best Areas to Stay on Oahu Wrap-Up

Oahu is like a treasure box, filled with so many unique spots to discover.

Whether you’re window-shopping at the island’s largest outdoor mall or waking up in a beachfront hotel to the sound of waves, there’s always something special around the corner.

Don’t just stick to one place; explore the many regions and dive into the island’s rich culture and natural beauty.

From mountains to markets, Oahu has it all. Pack your bags, and let the island’s magic welcome you!

Looking for more Hawaii travel resources? Check out how many days in Hawaii is ideal, tips for exploring Hawaii on a budget, how to plan a solo trip to Hawaii, and my top Hawaii travel tips!

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