Although not the biggest of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is the most densely populated and commercialized of them all. Home to the state capital, Honolulu, Oahu is awash with cultural, historical and natural gems to explore.
Oahu acts as the gateway to Hawaii and is a great starting point for travelers wanting to get to grips with this tropical state. Much like any other state capital, Honolulu is a big and bustling business hub. Should you escape the city limits, however, you will find a tropical paradise lying in wait.
Fun fact for you – Oahu is just 44-miles long and 30-miles wide. This tiny island can be driven around in the space of one day, so remember that wherever you choose to stay you are never too far from Oahu’s best attractions and hidden gems.
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii’s most iconic historical landmark, can be found on Oahu. This was the site of the surprise Japanese military airstrike in December 1941. No visit to Oahu would be complete without taking the time to learn about this tragedy.
Let’s take a look at where to stay in Oahu so you can find a neighborhood to suit your travel style and Hawaiian bucket list itinerary.
Waikiki is a great starting point for travelers to Hawaii. Also known as Oahu’s hotel district, this southerly neighborhood offers a wide range of choices when it comes to accommodation.
Ideally located within a 15-minute drive of Diamond Head and 45-minutes from Pearl Harbor, Waikiki puts you at the heart of the action in Oahu.
As a neighborhood of Honolulu, there is a city feel to Waikiki. That said, with the beach only ever a few minutes’ walk away, there is a suitably laid back feel to the area. Waikiki was first put on the map as a tourist destination back in 1901, before the Pearl Harbor attack. The first hotel, Moana Surfrider, was well before its time and is something of an institution nowadays.
Surfing, shopping and sunbathing are all popular pastimes in Waikiki. The nightlife scene is one of a kind – don’t miss out on the chance to party Hawaiian style.
Good For: Active Travelers, Backpackers, Beach Bums, Budding Historians, Culture Vultures, Families, Nature Lovers, Whistle-Stop Travelers: All Kinds of Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay, ‘Ioloani Palace, , Diamond Head, USS Arizona Memorial, Waikiki Aquarium, Polynesian Cultural Centre, Royal Hawaiian Centre, Lucoral Museum
- Waikiki Gateway Hotel – An excellent mid-range hotel that offers guests use of the swimming pool and well-equipped fitness center. Breakfast is included in some room rates and is a classic American style buffet. There is free and unlimited WiFi throughout the property. All rooms have an ensuite bathroom and coffee machine.
- Aqua Ohia Waikiki – Conveniently located in central Waitiki with a modern, minimalist feel. There is both air conditioning and WiFi throughout the hotel. Rooms are more classic in terms of design, with dark wood furniture. There is a 24-hour front desk and an airport shuttle can be arranged on request.
- Waikiki Resort Hotel – In an ideal location in the middle of Waikiki, just a two-minute walk from the beach. All rooms have a flat-screen TV with cable and DVD player. Every room has a coffee machine and breakfast is included in some room rates. Some rooms offer sea views, others city views.
The ideal spot for city slickers whose hearts yearn for the great outdoors, Diamond Head is where city meets countryside in Honolulu.
Diamond Head is one of the most famous geographical landmarks on Oahu and was once the most active volcano on the archipelago. The Diamond Head Hiking Trail attracts hikers from all around the world, and its peak offers simply breathtaking views of the island. Remember to bring plenty of water with you if you are attempting the hike, all too many people have to seek assistance after forgetting such a simple thing.
As one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Oahu, Diamond Head is adorned with lavish mansion houses and extravagant estates. If Oahu had a Beverly Hills, Diamond Head would be it.
Away from the magnificent National Monument, there are some wonderful cultural attractions to explore. The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design displays Heiress Doris Duke’s expansive collection of Islamic art.
Good For: Active Travelers, Beach Bums, Culture Vultures, Families, Hikers, Nature Lovers, Luxury Travelers, Whistle-Stop Travelers: All Kinds of Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Diamond Heart National Monument, Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design, Diamond Heart Beach Park, Battery Harlow, Diamond Head Memorial Park, Leahi Beach Park, Makalei Beach Park, Louise Dillingham Memorial Fountain
- Diamond Head Tiki Estate – Luxury three-bedroom villa located a 10-minute walk from Kaimana Beach. The villa has a fully equipped kitchen including an oven, microwave, toaster and dishwasher. Guests have their own private balcony and garden area. The villa offers amazing ocean views and has air-conditioning and WiFi throughout.
- Diamond on Diamond Head – Private apartment rental on Wauke Street, 20-minute walk from the beach. The apartment has a kitchenette complete with coffee maker, microwave and fridge. The small living room area has a sofa and TV. The bedroom is spacious and features modern decor. There is free parking on-site and free WiFi.
- Lotus Honululu – Modern boutique-style hotel on the border of Waikiki and Diamond Head. Each room has tea and coffee making facilities and guests have the option to dine at the Wisp Restaurant & Lounge. All rooms have cable TV, iPod docking station and a mini-fridge. WiFi and onsite parking are available.
Kapolei is probably the most family-friendly neighborhood for travelers in Oahu. Although there is a safe and welcoming atmosphere everywhere you go on the island, Kapolei just has that bit more for youngsters to do.
Wet’n’Wild Hawaii is a great day out and provides a more overtly entertaining day out for little ones. This massive tropical waterpark features 25 different attractions and is suitable for all ages. Even parents enjoy the epic water slides at Wet’n’Wild Hawaii.
For anyone looking to gain a greater understanding of Hawaiian culture, Chief’s Luau is the place to visit. This cultural center offers visitors traditional hula lessons, fire knife dancing and a taste of traditional ceremonial foods too.
Another great day out for the family is Coral Crater Adventure Park. Offering zip-lining and exhilarating off-roading experiences, there is fun to be had whatever the weather. You can bring your own picnic or grab lunch from one of the stalls.
Good For: Active Travelers, All-Inclusive Travelers, Culture Vultures, Families, Young Travelers, Whistle-Stop Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Chief’s Luau, Wet’n’Wild Hawaii, Coral Crater Adventure Park Pearl Harbor, Kahe Point Beach Park, Naval Air Station Barbers Point Museum, Paradise Cove Beach, Ko Olina Lagoons, Makaha Beach Park
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Oahu Kapolei – Embassy Suites offers a free breakfast for all guests daily – a choice of buffet or continental. Guests can dine at the hotel’s own restaurant and bar and relax in the shared lounge. There is an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub and fitness center. A complimentary airport shuttle can be arranged on request.
- Marriot’s Ko Olina Beach Club – With rooms and suites available, Marriot’s Ko Olina Beach Club is ideal for families. Rooms all have air conditioning and WiFi. Guests can make the most of the swimming pool, relax in the lavish spa or hang out at the bar. Hotel is located a one-minute walk from the beach.
- Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina – One of the most luxurious hotels in Kapolei. Guests are welcome to use the hotel’s golf course and tennis courts, as well as the swimming pool. Outstanding levels of service and attention to detail for all, twice daily housekeeping and room service is available. Free and unlimited WiFi.
Kailua means ‘two seas’ and its name is derived from the two lagoons that make up Kailua Bay. This is one of the most beautiful spots on Oahu and chances are you have never seen the ocean so blue.
Kailua is wonderfully laid back and the locals are used to having tourists aimlessly wandering through their streets. They are helpful and accommodating and welcome the more adventurous travelers that set foot on their shores.
For the said adventurous traveler, Kailua serves as a fantastic base. Oahu is very easy to drive around, and along this stretch of coastline you will find some of the most photogenic landscapes and beautiful hidden beaches.
Foodies will feel right at home in Kailua. Away from the big-brand chains of Honolulu, Kailua is paradise for health food fans who like to stay trim while they travel. Nalu Health Bar & Cafe and Down to Earth Organic are not to be missed.
Good For: Active Travelers, Adventurous Travelers, Beach Bums, Country Bumpkins, Foodies, Nature Lovers, Like a Local Travelers, Road Trippers
Neighborhood Highlights: Kailua Beach Park, Lanikai Beach, Pillbox Hike, Na Mokulua, Weekly Farmer’s Market, Popoia Island, Kalama Beach, Olomana, Ulupō Heiau State Historic Site, Friendship Garden, Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden Visitor Center
- Celebrity 5 Bedrooms Suites – A series of luxury villas sleeping two people. One villa is ideal for big groups and can sleep up to ten people. All villas come with a fully equipped kitchen complete with dishwasher. Each villa offers guests an ocean view from the private balcony.
- D&D’s B&B – Locally owned and managed bed and breakfast that is a 10-minute walk from the beach. The rooms are cozy and comfortable, with work desk, wardrobe and ceiling fan. There are coffee machines, microwaves and mini fridges in the rooms too. Free WiFi and free onsite parking.
- Kailua Beach Guest House – Gorgeous holiday cottage just two-minute walk from the beach. Guests can make use of the sun trapped garden and deck-terrace. The cottage has one bedroom with wardrobe, fan and flat-screen TV. Cute decor with a seaside theme throughout the house. Kitchen has oven, microwave and fridge.
As the gateway to Oahu’s North Shore, Turtle Bay is often overlooked as visitors travel on through. This tiny bay is seldom busy and always beautiful.
As its name would suggest, Turtle Bay is a haven for critically endangered turtles. This is one of the best places to experience turtles in all of Hawaii. If there are turtles on the beach, keep at least 30-feet away and turn your flash off.
This is a spot famed for its incredible diving and surfing. Due to the large reef that lies close to the shore, surfers have to swim out pretty far to hit the big breakers. It’s well worth the paddle. The best surf can be experienced in the winter months – November through to February.
Away from the beach itself, there is a lot to explore in the Turtle Bay area. There are a number of reputable stables offering pony trekking along the cliffs and through the tropical woodlands.
Good For: Active Travelers, Adventurous Travelers, Backpackers, Beach Bums, Nature Lovers, Couples, Surfers: All Kinds of Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Turtle Bay Beach, Kuilima Cove, Kawela Bay Beach Park, The Banyan Tree, Marconi Wireless Telegraphy Station, Kaneakua Cove, Lāʻie Point State Wayside, Polynesian Cultural Center, Kaipapau Forest Reserve
- Turtle Bay Resort – Situated right in the heart of Turtle Bay Village, a five-minute walk to the beach. Guests have use of the outdoor swimming pool and tropical garden, as well as a section of private beach. All rooms are modern and spacious. All feature a coffee machine, air conditioning and free WiFi.
- Haupia Condo – Quaint holiday condo just outside of Turtle Bay Village. The condo features a fully equipped kitchen with an oven, coffee machine and a dishwasher. There is a flat screen TV in the lounge area with cable channels and DVD player. Guests are welcome to relax on the outdoor terrace.
- Honu Lani Condo – Homely condo with traditional decor and private garden space. Guests have access to a tennis court and a swimming pool. There is a fully equipped kitchen, complete with oven and microwave and a gas BBQ on the patio terrace. There is free WiFi throughout the condo.
A little further south than Turtle Bay is the seaside town of Pupukea. Offering access to some of Oahu’s most famous surfing beaches, Pupukea is perfect for beach lovers in search of some surf action.
Sunset Beach is the closest beach to Pupukea, and Waimea Bay is not too far away either. Pupukea is perhaps most famed for being the entranceway to the Banzai Pipeline. This epic surf break can be found off Ehukai Beach Park. This spot is strictly reserved for the most experienced, and brave, surfers around.
For those who prefer to be adventurous outside of the water, Pupukea is the best starting point for exploring the Waimea Valley. A beautifully preserved botanical parkland that features a speculator waterfall, this is a great place to come if you are interested to learn more about Native Hawaiian history. Within the park, you will find half a dozen sacred structures that were built by the original Hawaiian monarchy.
Good For: Active Travelers, Adventurous Travelers, Backpackers, Beach Bums, Nature Lovers, Couples, Surfers: All Kinds of Travelers
Neighborhood Highlights: Sunset Beach, Banazi Pipeline, Waimea Valley, Waimea Bay, Sharks Cove, Pupukea Beach Park, Puu o Mahuka Heiau, ‘Ehukai Beach Park, Velzyland Beach
- Kalani Hawaii Private Lodging – Simple and affordable private rooms a one minute walk from Pupukea Beach. Guests have access to the sun-trapped tropical garden and some rooms have a small terrace. Run by local people, the hospitality is outstanding. Bicycle parking and surfboard storage is available. Free WiFi available in all areas.
- Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village – Ideal for budget travelers, the hotel-come-hostel offers private rooms and beds in a communal dormitory. Only a four-minute was to the beach and just five-minutes from Sharks Cove. Guests have access to the communal kitchen and TV area. Free parking and free WiFi available.
- Little Studio by the Sea – Beautiful studio apartment with covered deck and small garden area. Guests have access to free WiFi and free use of the bicycles. The house is so close to the beach that you can hear the waves. The studio as a kitchenette with gas stove, toaster and coffee machine.