Table of Contents
- The Ultimate Ko Olina Guide: What to Do, Where to Eat, Where to Stay
- What is Ko Olina?
- Where is Ko Olina and How Far is Ko Olina from Honolulu?
- Activities: What is There to Do in Ko Olina?
- What are the Ko Olina Lagoons?
- Hotels and Rentals: Where to Stay in Ko Olina
- Food Options: Where to Eat in Ko Olina
- Other Things to Know About Ko Olina
- Ko Olina Guide: The Video
- Hawaii Inter-Island Travel: Do You Need a COVID Test?
- 5 Things to Do Before You Come to Hawaii in 2021
- 11 Tips for Getting Around Maui Without a Car
The Ultimate Ko Olina Guide: What to Do, Where to Eat, Where to Stay
If you’re planning a trip to Oahu, staying in Ko Olina might be on the top of your list. This resort community is located on the leeward (west) side of Oahu and features four lagoons, great weather, and a quieter atmosphere than busy Waikiki. We spent two years living in Ko Olina and loved getting to know this spot inside and out.
Ko Olina offers activities for everyone: swimming in the lagoons, nearby hikes, snorkeling, stand up paddle, golf, and sailing from the Ko Olina Marina. It has plenty of options for places to stay, from the Four Seasons to vacation rentals. And you won’t go hungry: Ko Olina station is filled with restaurants and each of the four hotels also offer top-notch eateries.
If you want to make the most of your trip to Ko Olina, this guide will take you through everything you need to know (especially about Disney’s Aulani Resort).
What is Ko Olina?
Ko Olina is a resort community located on the southwest coast of Oahu, approximately 24 miles from downtown Honolulu. The main feature of Ko Olina is it’s four man-made lagoons, which offer protected swimming and white sand beaches.
Development of Ko Olina began in the 1980s and the community is now home to four resorts, residential communities, restaurants, shops, and a golf club. The resort is connected by 5 miles of a walking path along the beachfront lagoons, which makes for picturesque walks at all times of the day.
Where is Ko Olina and How Far is Ko Olina from Honolulu?
Ko Olina is on Oahu, approximately 24 miles from downtown Honolulu and 20 miles from the Honolulu airport. Traffic on Oahu can be miserable so the trip between Ko Olina and Honolulu can take as little as 30 minutes or over an hour, depending on the time of day.
Located on the leeward side, Ko Olina is in a perfect location for good weather. The leeward side of the island is dryer and experiences very little rain.
Activities: What is There to Do in Ko Olina?
Though Ko Olina is a little removed from some of the most popular sites on Oahu, it makes up for it by having nearly everything you could ask for all within the Ko Olina grounds. Plus, if you venture just a little beyond the Ko Olina boundaries, you’ll find more than enough to keep you busy on your vacation.
Swimming and Water Sports in the Ko Olina Lagoons
When talking about Ko Olina, the first thing anyone is going to mention is the lagoons (as evidenced by this article). We cover the lagoons more in-depth below, but they offer plenty of water sports to keep you busy.
Aside from swimming, you can try stand up paddle (SUP), canoeing, and snorkeling (the best snorkeling is found in the natural — not manmade — lagoon).
Hikes Near Ko Olina
For all of you hiking enthusiasts, know that there isn’t a ton of hiking near Ko Olina. If you’re looking for lush waterfall hikes, it’s best to rent a car and drive to the North Shore or the windward (east) side of the island.
However, there are a few options for hikes outside of strolling the 5-mile beachfront path (though that is a great option too).
- Kaena Point: Continue driving up the leeward side of the island for approximately 40 minutes and you’ll arrive at this 3.5-mile hiking spot. This coastal hike offers some great views.
- Barbers point lighthouse walk: An easy walk to a beautiful lighthouse just a 15 minutes drive from Ko Olina.
- Mā‘ili Pillbox: A 2-mile round-trip hike up to World War 2 bunkers with stunning views of the coast. Just a 15-minute drive from Ko Olina.
If you are a golf enthusiast, you’ll love staying in Ko Olina. The Hawaii Star Advertiser named the course the Best Golf Course in Hawaii. Learn more about the Ko Olina golf course, including rates, here.
Ko Olina has its own marina, so if you’re looking for an adventure out on the water, you don’t have far to go. Located just beyond lagoon four, the Ko Olina Marina is the spot to start your open water activities. Take a sunset sail, a snorkel trip, a sunrise sail, or a dinner cruise. If you’re excited to get out on the water, this is the spot for you.
When we lived in Ko Olina, Jordan was a frequent Paradise Cove luau attendee. Located by the Four Seasons resort, Paradise Cover offers a beautiful location to eat, be entertained and learn about Hawaiian history.
The Disney Aulani also offers their own luau, Ka Wa‘a, at the Aulani resort.
On Tuesday nights you’ll also have the opportunity to attend the Fia-Fia Polynesian Dinner Show at the Marriott.
I know you didn’t come to Hawaii to spend your day at a water park. But if you need a break from the beach, the Wet ‘n Wild Hawaii water park doesn’t disappoint. Adults and kids will love it — well before we had Henry, Jordan and I spent an entire afternoon here one day and had the time of our lives.
Because you are on the west side of the island while staying in Ko Olina, it would be remiss of me to not mention the beautiful sunsets. When we lived there, watching the sunset was a daily activity that most residents participated in.
Head out to your nearest lagoon (or walk to the natural lagoons for a quieter experience) and enjoy the incredibly beautiful Hawaiian sunsets. They don’t disappoint.
What are the Ko Olina Lagoons?
One of the things that make Ko Olina so special is its four man-made lagoons. The waves can be rough and unpredictable near Ko Olina, but the lagoons keep swimmers totally protected.
There could be huge waves just outside the lagoon but the water in the lagoon itself will be flat and calm.
These lagoons make Ko Olina the perfect place for young (or other less confident) swimmers. Kids can splash around with little worry that a rogue wave is going to knock them down.
Are Ko Olina Lagoons Private or Public?
Just like every beach in Hawaii, the Ko Olina lagoons are public. However, parking is limited so arrive early and don’t sit on the resort beach chairs. The hotel attendants check semi-regularly and they will ask you to move if you don’t have a resort wristband.
What Ko Olina Lagoon is the Best for Snorkeling?
The four lagoons in Ko Olina are great for swimming, SUP, and safe for swimmers that are still getting used to the water.
While they’re great for swimming, they’re not great for snorkeling. There’s no reef (as they are man-made) and there are few rocks. You may be able to find some fish and the occasional turtle towards the lagoons’ ocean opening, but in the middle, you won’t find much else.
But for avid snorkelers, all hope isn’t lost. The best Ko Olina lagoon for snorkeling is one that few people know about. It’s a natural lagoon just north of lagoon 1, near Paradise Cove Luau. This site gives walking directions to help you access the secret beach just outside of Ko Olina.
And as always, use your judgment before getting into the water to snorkel. Ocean conditions can be unpredictable.
What is the Best Ko Olina Lagoon?
If you’re staying at one of the resorts, the best Ko Olina lagoon is going to be the one in front of your hotel. Why? Ease of access and you can grab a beach chair to use for the day.
If you’re coming to Ko Olina to visit for the day, the best lagoon is lagoon 4. It has the biggest parking lot so you’re most likely to be able to snag a spot. Plus, lagoon 3 is easily accessible from the parking lot, so you have two lagoon options within a very short distance.
Hotels and Rentals: Where to Stay in Ko Olina
If you’re planning to stay in Ko Olina, you have a number of hotel options and vacation rentals to choose from. Before we get into those, let me also remind you that we have a review and list of the 7 Family-Friendly Resorts on Oahu. Unsurprisingly, some of the spots in Ko Olina make the list.
Ko Olina Hotels
Located on lagoon 1, the Four Seasons is the most luxurious resort in Ko Olina. It is the smallest of the resorts, with 371 rooms, and offers the best experience for couples, families, honeymooners, etc.
While the resort has fewer rooms, the grounds feel expansive and quiet. The beautiful sun-filled interior opens up to beautiful lagoon views and is decorated well — it’s Hawaiian without being kitschy. And tennis players take note: this is the only hotel with tennis courts in Ko Olina. And they have an ocean view. Does it get any better than that?
While this is the most luxurious hotel in Ko Olina it also has a price tag to match. But if it’s within your budget, a stay at the Four Seasons certainly won’t disappoint.
Fun Facts: The movie Blue Crush opens at the Four Seasons and when the NFL Pro Bowl was played in Oahu, the NFL would rent out the entire hotel for the players and their families. The privacy, luxury, and seclusion from Honolulu was ideal for the players.
The Aulani is the most recent addition to the hotels in Ko Olina. Sharing a lagoon with the Four Seasons, the Aulani is located on lagoon 1 and has 351 rooms and 481 villas.
The Aulani is the definition of kid-friendly, but fun-loving parents will find things they love here as well.
The pool at the Aulani is probably the best in Ko Olina, but it’s also the most crowded (surprising since it’s over 8,200 square feet!).
If anyone in your family loves Disney, this is the place to be.
Can You Visit Disney Aulani for the Day?
You can, but there’s not much to do unless you’re a guest of the hotel. You won’t be able to use the pool and if you see any characters wandering around, you won’t be able to snap a picture with them (they check wristbands before allowing photos).
But if meeting Mickey and the other Disney characters are part of your must-do list, you can head to Aulani for the character breakfast. The Disney character breakfast is at the Makahiki restaurant from 7 am – 11 am. Characters walk around and pose for pictures in their Aloha Shirts. There are three different seating times and you’ll want to make a reservation before going.
Just one lagoon over but much quieter is the Ko Olina Beach Villas. The beach villas are condo living with resort amenities.
You can rent two-bedroom or three-bedroom villas with full or partial ocean views, directly on lagoon two. You’ll also have pools, a spa, a beach bar, and a fitness center to make your stay complete.
Choose from regular hotel rooms, one-bedroom, or two-bedroom villas at this Ko Olina hotel. Located on lagoon three, the Marriott Beach Club isn’t in the center of Ko Olina, so you’re a bit of a walk away from the restaurants at Ko Olina Station and the golf course. But, there is a shuttle that will take you around Ko Olina for free, so you won’t need to walk everywhere.
Just like the Beach Club, the Marriott Beach Club feels quieter than the two resorts located on lagoon one.
Read our review on Where to Stay on Oahu with Kids for more details on the Ko Olina family-friendly resorts.
Ko Olina Vacation Rentals
If you’re looking to stay away from the busy hotels, there are a number of gated communities just across the street within the Ko Olina resort.
Ko Olina Coconut Plantation
After living in Coconut Plantation for two years, I am slightly biased, but I think this is the best spot to stay. The gates to Coconut Plantation are just outside of Ko Olina station, meaning you have all the restaurants and shops right at your fingertips. It’s also directly across the street from the Four Seasons and Disney Aulani Hotel so you don’t have to go far to be in the middle of the action.
Coconut Plantation also offers two pools, three jacuzzis, BBQs, and hammocks. You’ll find two to three-bedroom condos and townhomes available to rent.
If you’re going the vacation rental route, we recommend Coconut Plantation or Ko Olina Kai over the other resort neighborhoods.
Ko Olina Kai Golf Estates
Located just next to Coconut Plantation is Ko Olina Kai. This community features condos, townhomes, and single-family homes so you’ll find larger rentals here than in Coconut Plantation.
BBQs and pools galore at Ko Olina Kai. Unlike Coconut Plantation, the golf estates overlook the golf course so you may have a view of the green from your lanai.
Ko Olina Fairways
Ko Olina Fairways is the oldest of the communities and the furthest from the center of Ko Olina. You’ll find better-priced accommodation here, but be prepared to need your car (or a golf cart) to enjoy what the rest of Ko Olina has to offer. The Fairways offer fewer amenities, compared to the other residences.
Ko Olina Hillside Villas
Across the street from the Ko Olina Fairways is the Ko Olina Hillside Villas. These townhomes are the newest residential community in Ko Olina and, as the name implies, they are up on a very slight hillside.
Like the Fairways, they are a bit far from the center of things — it’s about a mile walk to the closest lagoon. You’ll want to have a rental car or a golf cart to make getting around Ko Olina easier.
Staying in Ko Olina can be very expensive. If you want to stay near the action of Ko Olina but for a significantly cheaper price, there are some hotel options in Kapolei, which is a 5-10 minute drive to Ko Olina.
In Kapolei, you’ll find Embassy Suites, Residence Inn by Marriott, and Hampton Inn & Suites. These hotels are all relatively new, have outdoor pools, and great reviews. As a bonus, being located in Kapolei means you’ll have many more food options available to you at a lower price.
You’ll save both at the hotel and on your food.
Just remember, you’ll need to drive to Ko Olina and arrive early enough that you can grab one of the public parking spots.
Food Options: Where to Eat in Ko Olina
Within the Ko Olina grounds, you have a number of food choices, from an island market to fine dining. A number of food options are located at Ko Olina Station, the shopping center across the street from the Four Seasons and Disney Aulani. You’ll also find restaurants within each of the hotels.
Plus, if you want to venture further afield, there’s nearly every store you could ever need located just down the road in Kapolei. Perfect for stocking your condo’s or villa’s refrigerator.
Ko Olina Restaurants
I won’t cover every restaurant because there are a number of them, but I’ll give you an overview of the ones you shouldn’t miss:
- Roy’s: One of chef Roy Yamaguchi’s restaurants, Roy’s is located on the Ko Olina golf course. You’ll have a selection of seafood, sushi, and land options like chicken and steak. The Butterfish is always my go-to order at Roy’s.
- Monkeypod: There are three Monkeypod locations in Hawaii and one of them is located in Ko Olina Station. Started by chef Peter Merriman, who runs a number of other upscale restaurants in Hawaii, Monkeypod is his most casual restaurant. The drinks are great, they have live music, and happy hour includes ½ off appetizers and $10 pizzas. This is a must-visit spot in Ko Olina.
- Eggs‘n Things: This is your spot for a good breakfast in Ko Olina. Located in Ko Olina Station.
- Longhi’s: If you’re interested in another breakfast/brunch spot, check out Longhi’s located in the Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club. They do offer dinner as well, but it’s not what they’re best known for.
- Just Tacos: One thing that is missing from Hawaii is truly good Mexican food. While the tacos here are nothing memorable, this is a casual spot to have a margarita and some Mexican food on your Hawaiian vacation.
- Mina’s Fish House: If you’re looking for an upscale seafood dinner, this restaurant at the Four Seasons won’t disappoint. Overlooking the water with indoor/outdoor seating.
- Makahiki: If getting a picture with a Disney character is on your list, this is the restaurant with the character breakfast. Reservations required.
- Two Scoops: There’s nothing better than having ice cream in Hawaii. Head to Two Scoops for ice cream (they serve Dave’s ice cream). This was one of the first places to open in Ko Olina Station years ago and they’re still serving the crowds.
Island Country Markets
This spot gets its own section because if you’re looking to have some meals away from a restaurant, this shop is the spot. It’s an upscale ABC Store and from the street, it looks like it might not offer much in the way of food. Don’t let it fool you.
Walk back to the deli section and you’ll find plenty of salad, sandwiches, and entrees offered at very reasonable prices. It’s located in Ko Olina station just outside the Coconut Plantation gates. If you need groceries or a quick meal and don’t feel like driving to Kapolei, this is the spot.
Other Things to Know About Ko Olina
Do You Need a Car in Ko Olina?
If you’re staying at Ko Olina and don’t plan to leave, you can get by without a rental car. There is a free Ko Olina shuttle that stops at the Marriott, Roy’s, Ko Olina Station, the Marina, Four Seasons, and Disney Aulani.
If you want to do anything outside of Ko Olina, it’s wise to rent a car. Ko Olina is a bit secluded and taking a cab to see the sights would add up quickly.
Ko Olina vs Waikiki
It can be difficult to know where to stay when coming to Oahu. The majority of visitors stick to Waikiki. But is that the right choice?
Here are some things to consider as you make your decision:
- Ko Olina is less central: Waikiki is part of Honolulu and is located within a quick drive to many attractions. Ko Olina is a long drive out on the west side of the island and it can make getting to see some of the sights a little less convenient.
- Ko Olina is less crowded: Waikiki may be central but a downside is that it’s very, very crowded during all times of the year. Ko Olina is more relaxed, quieter, and spacious, leaving you with a more peaceful Hawaiian vacation.
- Ko Olina may be better for young families: When we visit Waikiki with our toddler, one thing that always frustrates me is the lack of green space to let him roam. Ko Olina has no shortage of green space or running paths that he can trot down for miles.
- Ko Olina has a true resort experience: Because Waikiki is centrally located in a city, you do miss out on the resort experience. If that’s what you’re looking for, the hotels at Ko Olina will provide more of what you’re looking for.
Ko Olina vs Turtle Bay
Ko Olina and Turtle Bay Resort are both wonderful locations but they are very different.
Here’s what you need to know before booking a trip to either location:
- The weather is better in Ko Olina: Turtle Bay is located on the North Shore — a lush environment that has more rain. The scenery on the North Shore is more tropical and Ko Olina is a much drier climate. If sunny days are your absolute priority and a little rain will ruin your trip, stick with Ko Olina.
- The North Shore is a more authentic experience: While yes, the North Shore is touristy, it’s much more authentic than the environment in Ko Olina.
- There is more to do near Turtle Bay: While there is plenty to do in Ko Olina, the North Shore is bursting with activity. Hike to a waterfall, watch a surf competition, eat at the food trucks, stroll through Haleiwa town, snorkel in Waimea Bay.
- Both are secluded and peaceful: You won’t find much of a nightlife in either place — they are both truly places where you can get away from it all.
If you really can’t decide we have a video and an article to help: Waikiki vs. Ko Olina vs. The North Shore. Watch or read and you’ll have a much better idea of where you want to spend your Hawaiian holiday.
Ko Olina Guide: The Video
Jordan and I had a wonderful time showing Henry around Ko Olina. We are looking forward to going back and staying in one of the resorts next time. Watch our Ko Olina Guide video to get the full Ko Olina experience before you book your trip. We sure had fun playing in the lagoons and touring the resorts.
I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I am a planner! I love to plan island-hopping adventures, days out on Maui, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time on our SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!
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