Where to Stay on Oahu: Waikiki and Beyond
On our 20+ trips to Oahu, we’ve stayed at about 14 different hotels and will share our top choices for specific criteria as opposed to reviewing each one. We have considered Air BnB and other vacation rentals but for our short stays, we prefer the convenience and consistent experiences offered by hotels.
Since most of the hotels are located in Waikiki, our suggestions for accommodations are mostly here. In the past, we have stayed in the Ko’olina resort area but since it’s 45-60 minutes from Waikiki and even farther from the places we like to visit, we no longer stay in this area. Since there are no hotels in the Kailua/Lanikai area, we have not had the chance to stay here but since it tends to rain here more than elsewhere on the island, we prefer to drive in for day trips from Waikiki instead.
Here is our list of recommended hotels:
Walking distance to Waikiki but away from the crowds: The Lotus Honolulu Diamond Head
Just a short 1.5 mile walk from Waikiki, the Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head is a small 51 room boutique hotel across the street from the Kapiolani Park. The experience here is very low-key and suitable for independent travelers who like to spend their days exploring and their evenings relaxing in the comfort of their room or on the lanai. While there is a $25 resort fee, it includes a wide variety of useful amenities such as valet parking, beach chairs, bike rental, beach towels, and a daily wine hour when white and red wine is served. While it’s not on the beach, you can access Sans Souci beach by the Outrigger Canoe Club within a 1 minute walk. The beach is very swimmable and a lot less crowded than the main Waikiki stretch. As for the rooms, they are basic but stylishly appointed and very comfortable, even if the shower in the bathroom is slightly small and outdated. We recommend this hotel for couples or solo travellers who want to be close to Waikiki but not in the middle of it.
Worth the splurge: The Kahala Hotel and Resort
Just a 10 minute drive south from Waikiki, The Kahala Resort offers an upscale resort experience in a private setting. Since it has opened in 1964, this iconic hotel has welcomed presidents, royalty and celebrities. Don’t worry, despite its fame, couples and families with children can still enjoy a relaxing and low-key Hawaiian vacation at The Kahala.
To celebrate our anniversary a few years ago, we booked a King Scenic Lanai room with a large balcony that had a view of the Ko’olau Mountains and the golf course. The room was very well-appointed and we loved the huge bathroom. As far as recreation on the resort grounds, there is a huge gym and spa with saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms, a nice un-crowded beach where you can swim, kayak or stand-up paddleboard, complimentary bike rentals are offered, and you can spend time watching the Atlantic bottle nose dolphins in the lagoon or pay to swim with them through Dolphin Quest. Those interested in history will enjoy visiting the hotel’s common areas to read more about its history and its famous guests. We recommend this resort for couples who want a romantic getaway or families who want to enjoy a small and luxurious resort setting close to attractions in Waikiki.
Most quiet hotel in Waikiki: The Royal Hawaiian
Surrounded by large high-rise hotels, the Royal Hawaiian, also known as the “pink palace” is located in central Waikiki and is an oasis of calm from the noise and crowds in this area. Built in 1927, The Royal Hawaiian preserves its historical architecture while modernizing it through time. The rooms are divided between two buildings: the historic wing and the Mailani tower which pretty much operates as a separate hotel.
Since the rooms in the Mailani tower were out of our price range, we booked a garden room in the historic wing and ended up with a corner room on the top floor with a window that opened. Those who don’t prioritize outdoor space, fresh air and large windows will appreciate how private and quaint the rooms are in the historic wing. While the room was very small, it was well-appointed and comfortable but we did find it dark and were annoyed that we had to keep the air conditioning running because we prefer fresh air.
The hotel does have numerous places in the common areas to enjoy the outdoors but they are not very private because they’re accessible to the public as well. We also enjoyed shopping at the Malie boutique to buy some of the koke’e products which we loved from the room and if you spend $100 or more, you can get $20 off your purchase as a guest of the hotel. We recommend The Royal Hawaiian for couples who can sacrifice outdoor space and fresh air and are looking for a more refined and quiet experience in the heart of Waikiki.
Best pools and location on the beach: Sheraton Waikiki
Located in central Waikiki right on the best stretch of beach, the Sheraton Waikiki offers a lively experience at the heart of all the action. Those who want to relax on the beach or in the pool during the day and access nightlife later in the day will enjoy staying here. If a pool is important to you during your stay in Waikiki, then the Sheraton Waikiki is the place for you because compared to other hotels with very small pools, the Sheraton has a few, including the “Edge of Waikiki” infinity pool for adults only and the two pools at the “Helumoa Playground” for children and adults.
We have stayed here a few times and with our SPG Gold status we have been upgraded to rooms on high floors with ocean views and received vouchers for the lounge. The biggest drawbacks of this property are the outdated and slightly rundown rooms (definitely should not be a category 6 hotel), and the loud music from Rum Fire that can be heard from some oceanfront rooms. We recommend the Sheraton Waikiki for couples and families looking for a livelier atmosphere in the heart of Waikiki and those who prefer to swim in the pool than the ocean.
Renovated rooms and a good outdoor club lounge: Hyatt Regency Waikiki
The Hyatt Regency Waikiki is a large hotel complex with two towers in Waikiki just across from the Duke Kahanamoku Statue. This large hotel complex with 1,230 rooms is popular with couples and families looking to be in the heart of Waikiki.
Compared to other club lounges, the Regency Club lounge has a nice outdoor seating area and offers views of the beach. As Hyatt Globalists, we get access to the club lounge for free but we would actually pay for it due to the nice outdoor setting, the quality and quantity of the food, and the drinks they offer as part of the happy hour.
As for the rooms, since the renovation, the standard rooms are a lot nicer than comparable hotels. With fancy Japanese Toto toilets, new carpeting, and a blue surf style, the rooms are basic but very comfortable and clean. As Hyatt Globalists, we’ve been lucky to be upgraded to the Ambassador suite once and to family suites the other times. Each time we’ve stayed here, we’ve had a room on a high floor with a nice view of the ocean to enjoy spending time on our lanai.
The biggest drawbacks to this property are the tiny pool and gym due to how many rooms there are here and that you need to cross the street to get to the beach. Families and couples will enjoy staying here, especially if they are Hyatt Globalists for the amenities offered for elite members.
For families looking for a more relaxed resort atmosphere:
Here some ideas for families traveling with children who may want a more low-key experience:
Hilton Hawaiian Village: The Hilton Hawaiian Village is a large resort in Waikiki about a 10-15 minute walk north of the central area where the Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton are located. We have never stayed here but our parents have and based on us visiting them, families would really like staying here due to how family friendly it is. Compared to other resorts, there are 5 pools here and shallow saltwater lagoons which are perfect for children. This resort offers the best of both worlds; you could stay on resort the entire time or venture out to Waikiki to shop, eat, and access the nicer stretch of beach. If you’re considering staying here, please note there are two Hilton’s in Waikiki; make sure you’re booking the “Hawaiian Village” and not the Hilton Waikiki. I have seen the rate at this hotel discounted by 20% sometimes so have a look at our post about Hilton’s MVP rate to see if you’re eligible for this discount and how to find it.
Ko’olina Beach Resorts: The Ko’olina Beach resort area is located on the north-west part of Oahu in Kapolei, about a 45-60 minute drive from Waikiki. We stayed here on our first trip to Hawaii in 2005 and while we enjoyed ourselves, we did feel isolated from everything because how far it is. That being said, this area is home to two popular resorts for families: the Aulani Disney Resort and Marriott Ko’olina Beach Club. If staying on the resort is your priority, then this is a good area for you to stay. The best part of this area are the 3 large ocean swimming lagoons that are sheltered and suitable for beginner swimmers and those who want to learn to ocean kayak and stand-up paddle board. While it’s quiet and low-key, the Disney resort is loud with staff on microphones trying to induce fun all day which may appeal more to some than others.
Have you stayed at any of these hotel’s? Would you recommend any other hotels in Waikiki for specific reasons? What is your favorite hotel on Oahu? Are there hotels not in this list you have questions about?
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