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If you’re headed to Oahu, you’re probably excited to visit the glitzy and gorgeous Honolulu. With many different neighborhoods set between the mountains and the beautiful beaches, you have your choice of things to do and see. If you’re trying to pick where to stay in Honolulu, we have you covered with the best options.
Get the best of your Oahu trip with more planning resources:
– If you’re just starting to plan, take a look at our Start Here page and Planning a Trip to Haiwaii
– Take a deep dive on everything Oahu with our Oahu Travel Guide
– It’s not a Hawaii vacation without plenty of beach time and activities, which is why we have a list of the best Oahu beaches and a curated selection of the best tours and activities
Where is Honolulu?
Nicknamed the Manhattan of the Pacific for its glittering skyscrapers, the city of Honolulu is located on the southeastern end of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, near the largest port in the state.
Honolulu can be a complicated area of Hawaii to pin down, despite its status as the capital. What gets confusing for most visitors is that there is the city of Honolulu with its sprawling neighborhoods, but also the county of Honolulu, which happens to be the entire island of Oahu.
When you’re doing your research, most guides and websites will be referring to the city of Honolulu, but it’s always good to double-check.
What is the Best Area to Stay in Honolulu?
As the bustling capital of Hawaii, figuring out where to stay in Honolulu can seem daunting. Many of Honolulu’s visitors stay in the Waikiki neighborhood. A plethora of hotels and vacation rentals, beautiful Waikiki Beach, and tons of restaurants and activities are all reasons why this is such a popular spot to set up shop on Oahu.
If you’re not keen to spend your time in the tourist hot spot of Waikiki, there are over 24 neighborhoods in Honolulu to choose from. Some of our favorites are Kaka’ako, Chinatown, Kahala, and Ala Moana.
Kaka’ako is one of Honolulu’s trendiest neighborhoods with loads of restaurants and bars to dive into and cool street art to spot. Honolulu’s Chinatown is located near the financial district and is a bustling cultural center with traditional dim sum restaurants, colorful temples, and an artsy core of studios and galleries to explore. If Kaka’ako is the hip spot in town, then Chinatown is its funky little sister.
Also located in the heart of downtown, the Ala Moana neighborhood has a more laidback and residential feel, while still sharing a border with lively Waikiki. Kahala is situated much more off the beaten path, south of Honolulu’s downtown. This neighborhood is secluded from the hustle and bustle with a few beaches and plenty of natural areas to explore nearby.
How Many Days Do You Need in Honolulu?
Five days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Honolulu, especially if you’re planning to explore more of the island of Oahu. If you are just sticking to the city, you could probably get by with three days instead, although you’d be missing out on some of the best things to do in the “Gathering Place” as Oahu is affectionately called.
Despite being Hawaii’s third largest island, Oahu is fairly large and it can take a while to get around – especially with the notoriously headache-inducing traffic. Honolulu makes for a great place to base yourself for explorations further afield or to simply take a relaxing beach trip – it does have some of the best beaches in Hawaii after all!
What Is There to Do in Honolulu?
As the capital of Hawaii and the largest city in this chain of islands, there’s an endless list of things to do in Honolulu!
First and foremost, you’ll want to head out to the city’s famous beaches. Punctuated by views of the Honolulu skyline and striking Diamond Head as a backdrop, world-famous Waikiki Beach is hard to beat in terms of views. Head to either of the far ends of this 2-mile-long stretch of sand to seek out a quieter atmosphere, or hang out in the center if you want to be in the heart of it all.
We also highly recommend a visit to Kahanamoku Beach for incredible views of Diamond Head that rival those of Waikiki Beach. Bonus, it’s also previously been rated the #1 Beach in America by Dr. Beach. This is an excellent spot to watch the Friday Night Fireworks, year-round.
Speaking of beaches, Waikiki Beach is one of the best areas on Oahu to take surfing lessons. Its lazy, rolling waves are great for beginners and we highly recommend signing up for a lesson if this is your first time. For the old pros, there are several areas to rent surfboards.
Foodies rejoice! You can also eat and drink your way through Honolulu having extraordinary meals. Traditional Hawaiian food is a mixture of fresh, local ingredients and influences from China, Japan, Korea, Portugal, and mainland America. Lucky for you, Honolulu is one of the best places in Hawaii to dive into the food scene. Some of our favorites are poke bowls at Sato, udon and spam musubi from Murugame Udon, and don’t miss shave ice or malasadas if you have a sweet tooth.
A quintessential Hawaiian activity is attending a luau and there are plenty to choose from in Honolulu. One of the best is the oceanfront luau at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel! These are our favorite on Oahu, but we actually say you should skip the luau and head out on this cultural catamaran experience from Waikiki.
Outdoorsy types will also have a field day around Honolulu from snorkeling and surfing to the Diamond Head Crater or Manoa Falls hike. Or just take a walk around Kapiolani Park and visit the Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo.
On the other hand, history buffs aren’t left out with plenty of history and heritage to explore at the Bishop Museum and the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
And of course there is plenty of shopping and nightlife. The Ala Moana Center, the Royal Hawaiian Center, and the stores along Kalakaua Avenue all have a wide range of shops.
But wait, there’s more!
40 Things to Do on Oahu, Hawaii (we will surprise you!)
23 Best Things to Do on Oahu With Kids (from The Hawaii Vacation Guide mom and dad)
21 Amazing Things to Do on Oahu’s North Shore
Where to Stay in Honolulu:The 10 Best Places
Whether you want to be front and center in Waikiki or a little more off-the-beaten-path, these are the best places to stay in Honolulu. There aren’t many places to stay in downtown Honolulu, so you won’t see any on this list. Plus we have full reviews of most of these hotels which you can find by clicking the links in the descriptions below or book directly using the booking buttons.
1. Halekulani Hotel
The Halekulani Hotel is the picture of elegance and a fantastic place to stay if you’re celebrating something special. This oceanfront accommodation provides a tranquil respite from the bustling feel of downtown Waikiki while also providing guests with a quintessential Honolulu experience.
If opulent luxury is your cup of tea, this is the hotel for you! From unparalleled service and ultra-friendly staff, a beautiful restaurant and bar to watch the sunset, and an overall relaxing feel that can be hard to come by, Halekulani Hotel is worth the splurge – especially since there’s no resort fee.
Unfortunately, staying at one of the most luxurious hotels in Waikiki comes with an equally as extravagant price tag. Experiences are limited to exercise classes and while there isn’t much of a beach out front, the stunning 82’ pool made from 1 million glass tiles makes up for it.
2. Halepuna Hotel
Like its sister hotel, the Halekulani, Halepuna also enjoys a more quiet and secluded vibe, despite being in the heart of Waikiki. Although this hotel isn’t beachfront, it’s close, and the hot tub and infinity pool with ocean views certainly help.
Ocean-view rooms and suites overlook the beautiful Waikiki scenery and feature balconies that are great for enjoying a drink. Incredible service and friendly staff, beautiful contemporary decor and design, and access to many of the amenities at the Halekulani Hotel next door make a stay at Halepuna a no-brainer.
Admission to several nearby attractions is included in the price of your room, including the Bishop Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, and the Manoa Heritage Center. Rooms are a little small and parking fees can add up, but overall it’s hard to find much wrong with the Halepuna Hotel!
3. Royal Hawaiian Hotel
Nicknamed the “Pink Palace” for its rosy facade, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel first opened its doors in 1927 as Honolulu’s premier luxury hotel. The Royal Hawaiian is situated on 15 acres while still being in the center of Waikiki. This is one of our favorite accommodation options in the Waikiki neighborhood and a rare opportunity to stay in a piece of Hawaiian history, which is why we always opt for rooms in their Historic Wing.
There are two different pools onsite, one geared towards kids with a waterslide and fountain area, and one that’s more quiet and secluded. Both have plenty of lounge chairs although you might need to get there early to snag one at the kid-friendly pool. The hotel is also situated right on a beautiful stretch of beach and has chairs and umbrellas for rent.
Dining options both at and around the hotel are excellent. Three restaurants are located onsite, Mai Tai Bar, Azure, and Surfside Lanai. Bonus points for the Royal Hawaiian Bakery which serves up pink pastries and breakfast items. To top it off, one of the most highly rated luaus on Oahu, Ahaaina, is also located at the hotel and pays homage to Hawaiian royalty!
Guests can choose to stay in the historic wing (even better if you get views of the ocean) or their newer tower that has larger, updated rooms with lanais. The list of included activities is endless with morning yoga and cultural experiences like ukulele lessons, hula, and lei making, just to name a few.
While there aren’t many things that we don’t like about the Royal Hawaiian, the parking and resort fees can be a shocker (although this is typical for hotels in Hawaii), and having to rent beach chairs and umbrellas on the beach is a little annoying.
If you’re looking for shopping you won’t have to walk far as the Royal Hawaiian Center has plenty of stores and restaurants to keep you busy.
4. Sheraton Waikiki
The Sheraton Waikiki recently underwent a multi-year, multi-million dollar renovation and they’re finally ready to unveil it all. Suites have been updated with modern furnishings and contemporary decor with lanais that either overlook the ocean or cityscape in every room. This resort is big – and it feels like it with over 1,600 rooms.
Amenities know no bounds at the Sheraton Waikiki and include the #2 Best Hotel Pool in America according to USA Today (2nd only to the Koloa Landing on Kauai) – also shared with the Royal Hawaiian. The resort feel continues with multiple restaurants and bars like the oceanfront RumFire or Kai Market, as well as snack areas like Lawson Station and The Cookie Corner. Guests can also hop over to the Sheraton’s sister hotels, like the Royal Hawaiian, to experience their dining options.
Cultural activities include lei making, hula, and ukulele lessons, alongside beach activities like surfing lessons. Guests are also able to easily walk over to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, located just next door, for their awesome luau experience. Overall, the name of the game at the Sheraton Waikiki is location, location, location, and access to a never-ending list of amenities.
Keep in mind that onsite food and drink can be pricey and getting across the resort requires a hefty walk at times.
5. Queen Kapiolani Hotel
If you’d rather forgo proximity to downtown in favor of stunning views and a more budget-friendly option, the Queen Kapiolani Hotel might be just the place!
Guests who stay at the Queen Kapiolani can look forward to a more traditional hotel feel instead of a busy resort while still being only a few minutes’ walk from the beach and the Honolulu Zoo and located just on the outskirts of the Waikiki high rises in the Kapahulu neighborhood.
Although this is a less pricey alternative, there are still loads of fun experiences and amenities onsite. Relax at the pool with seriously jaw-dropping views of Diamond Head, take part in a lei-making class or hula lessons, and enjoy live entertainment. A poolside bar and restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner are great spots to grab a bite or drink while also providing stunning scenery.
Did we mention they have Dole Whip and fresh juice to welcome you? While it’s definitely a more budget-friendly option, the Queen Kapiolani doesn’t escape the daily resort and parking fees that are typical of Honolulu, but it does offer up touches that make it feel like a special stay.
6. Outrigger Beachcomber
If you’re feeling a bit disenchanted by the hefty price tag of Honolulu’s resorts, the Outrigger Beachcomber might be the solution. This is one of our favorite budget options in Waikiki if you don’t mind a super short walk down to the beach.
What the Beachcomber lacks in oceanfront location it more than makes up for in both savings and proximity to activities – and places to grab a bite to eat. You’re still right in the middle of Waikiki and just a block from the beach, with a rooftop pool and hot tub to boot.
Staff were incredibly friendly during our visit and the entire design of the hotel took inspiration from local artists and is beautifully decorated. Onsite dining options include the awesome Maui Brewing Co. and the Hawaiian Aroma Caffe, both of which are inexpensive and absolutely delicious.
Some guests did complain a bit about noise due to its central location, but we didn’t find it to be anything overwhelming. At the end of the day, the Outrigger Beachcomber is the perfect middle ground of a great price and excellent location all while being beautifully designed.
7. Kahala Resort
If you’re looking for ultimate luxury – this is it! Located 15 minutes away from Waikiki in the quiet Kahala neighborhood, the Kahala Resort is the creme de la creme of Waikiki accommodations. With sprawling rooms, a luxurious open-air feel to the entire resort, and truly remarkable service, it’s no wonder why celebrities and dignitaries alike frequently book rooms here.
This secluded, beachfront resort is your one-stop shop for a relaxing getaway with all the benefits of being close to Waikiki. Even better? No resort fees! The beach in front of the Kahala Resort is calm, both in terms of ocean conditions and fellow visitors. A reef keeps out the swells while simultaneously providing a great place for kids to splash around.
If you’re expecting to be in a walkable destination, this option probably isn’t for you. You’ll need a car and parking fees aren’t included. The same goes for an opulent pool experience. While the Kahala Resort’s pool is in a beautiful spot with ocean views and poolside service, its fairly small.
Another important factor to keep in mind is that this hotel offers Dolphin Quest. Essentially, dolphins are kept in captivity here and while they’re well cared for, it might make some visitors uneasy – particularly the fact that you can frequently see them swimming in their lagoon from some of the rooms.
8. Hyatt Regency Waikiki
Prime access to the beach, recently renovated rooms, located right in the beating heart of Waikiki, and luxury amenities like a spa and fancy restaurants. What more could you ask for? The Hyatt Regency Waikiki offers all of this and more at its nearly oceanfront resort.
This resort feels posh and it’s big, we’re talking over 1,200 rooms! Dining options are elegant and include restaurants like the SHOR and SWIM, both featuring local ingredients, as well as the Buffet at Hyatt an open-air restaurant with international dinner options.
You’ll be in the center of it all here which means it can feel a bit busy at times. If you don’t mind sacrificing peace and tranquility in nature for being a walking distance from anything and everything, this is might be your best bet in Honolulu!
Note that parking is very pricey at $50 to $60 a night depending on if you want valet service (and then you’ll want to factor in tips). You’ll also need to fork up some serious cash to eat at the resort and the pool can get pretty busy at times.
9. Aston Waikiki Beach Tower
While the Aston Waikiki Beach Tower feels like a 5-star resort, it’s actually individual vacation rentals! Despite each unit being separately owned, you’ll still feel like you’re staying at a Waikiki resort or hotel with cultural activities, daily housekeeping, both yoga classes and a fitness center, and two pools, one that’s specifically geared towards kids.
One of the main draws here is the space. So much room for activities! Each apartment is 880 to 1,200 square feet, depending on how many bedrooms you want. You’ll also have the added comfortability of in-unit laundry, private lanais, and a full-size kitchen, all great if you have little ones in tow. If you don’t feel like cooking, you’re also a few minutes’ walk from the best restaurants in Waikiki. Did we mention the beach is less than a block away?
10. Waikiki Shore
The Waikiki Shore is Honolulu’s only vacation rental option that also happens to be beachfront. Decor and furnishings vary due to the fact that each of these condos is individually owned, but this also makes it fun to go through and choose the one that suits you best. When booking, be sure to look for an oceanfront room that offers beautiful views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head in the distance.
Room size varies from a studio to a 2-bedroom suite, giving guests additional flexibility in price and room size. This is another Outrigger property and accommodations can be booked via their website and VRBO. Although there is no pool located onsite, guests are able to use the pool at the hotel next door. Plenty of restaurants and bars are within walking distance along with the pretty Fort DeRussy Beach Park.
Want to expand your search? Check out our favorite places to stay on all of Oahu!
An Itinerary to Plan the Rest of Your Trip
It really doesn’t get any easier than this. Wherever you are in the planning process, you’ve probably realized there’s a lot that goes into planning the perfect Hawaii vacation. It’s hard to have a bad trip to Hawaii, but we make it easy to have an extraordinary one. From truly countless trips ourselves, living on Oahu and Maui, to all the research we’ve done, we cut straight to the chase in our itineraries. Just pick the island(s) you want to visit and get ready to experience the islands like a local.
We loved both of these itineraries! It was an excellent use of our money. I would recommend them to anyone who plans to travel to Hawaii. The itineraries were both so well written and easy to use. All the restaurant recommendations were amazing! We loved every minute of our 2 week vacation and plan to come back to different islands and use hawaii vacation guide itineraries to help us navigate the different islands.Kimberly H + family
Get The Oahu Itinerary
The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.
Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Oahu.