Here we’ve listed the 10 best places to stay in Oahu, so you can get the absolute most out of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is much to do and see on Oahu, and you may feel a bit overwhelmed by all the prospects before you.
Oahu means “The Gathering Place” in Hawaiian, and it couldn’t be a more fitting attribute. The Hawaiian island is not only home to the capitol of Honolulu, but has the largest population of all the Hawaiian islands.
Oahu has been inhabited since the 3rd century, and was the first to be spotted by Captain James Cook and his crew during their arrival in 1778.
With it’s paradisiacal beaches and stunning natural landscape, it’s no wonder Oahu has drawn visitors and aspiring inhabitants alike for well over a century.
Where to stay in Oahu: 10 Best Areas
1. Waikiki, where to stay in Oahu for nightlife and entertainment
Often cited as the heart of Honolulu–if not the whole of Hawaii–Waikiki is a popular resort destination and one of the most in-demand areas to stay in Oahu. Here you will find the most extensive choice of hotels, villa rentals, and luxury resorts.
Waikiki offers a variety of accommodations, and a large selection of dining options, shopping, and nightlife.
You’ll find a huge variety of attractions, restaurants, clubs, fancy shopping centers, high rises, museums, cultural sites, plus the zoo and the aquarium.
Waikiki Beach actually covers 8 other beaches, and was once used by royalty to receive guests. Locals and international surfers have gathered along the shores since the mid-20th century to ride giants–colloquial surf speak you’ll no doubt want to familiarize yourself with!
Aside from surfing, this 2 mile strip of beach is where you will find additional water sports facilities where visitors can learn to scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and catamaran sail.
Beyond Kahanamoku Beach lies Fort DeRussy Beach Park, an idyllic spot for picnicking and relaxing. Gray’s Beach and Royal Hawaiian Beach are both extremely popular as well, and located a bit farther down.
Kuhio Beach Park, alternately known as Prince Kuhio Beach and The Ponds, is where you will find particularly calm swimming waters which are especially ideal for families with small children or inexperienced swimmers.
Kapiʻolani Regional Park is the oldest of its kind in Honolulu, and is much-loved by the people. The park includes many noteworthy attractions including the 42-acre Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, and picturesque Queen Kapiolani Gardens.
The park contains additional jogging and bike paths, as well as designated picnic areas and tennis courts.
Waikiki’s main street, named after King David Kalakaua, runs the length of a mile from Beretania Street to Kapiolani Park, and is where you will find the majority of shops, eateries, bars, hotels, and local points of interest such as the nearby Waikiki Shopping Center and International Market Place.
You won’t want to miss a trip to Atlantis Submarines, where guests can experience Waikiki’s marine mysteries in one of the dozen passenger submarines and learn about native aquatic life.
There is also the US Army Museum of Hawaii, located in the 1909 defense building used during the attack on Pearl Harbor, that is dedicated to the state’s history and heritage ranging from the island’s colonial conflicts of the 18th century to the Second World War.
Waikiki is the most popular area where to stay in Oahu and offers a wide range of choices when it comes to accommodation.
The accommodation options are varied enough to suit almost any visitor’s tastes and budget, including those on a budget.
2. Diamond Head, where to stay in Oahu if you are looking for a mix of city and nature
Diamond Head refers to the area in which the Diamond Head Crater is located, an extinct volcano known by the natives as Le’ahi. The name Diamond Head was coined by 19th century sailors who mistook the shimmering calcite crystals for–you guessed it–diamonds.
The Diamond Head State Monument is the best spot to see the crater, and historic hiking trails offer particularly stunning views of Waikiki’s vistas.
While the Diamond Head State Park is the main draw of the area, visitors can also visit the nearby Fort Ruger, Hawaii’s first United States military reservation.
The nearest hotels to Diamond Head are generally located along Waikiki’s beaches and inland around Honolulu, though there are several resort spas in the immediate vicinity.
3. Kahala, upscale residential area
Situated within Honolulu, this upscale residential area is known for its beaches and entryway to the Diamond Head Summit Trail, which concludes at the Diamond Head Crater.
Here guests can indulge in elite eats, shopping, local activities, as well as the dreamiest of views and best swimming thanks to the area’s calm, clear waters.
Kahala is known for being the departure point for extensive all-day tours of the island, and visitors can experience the full extent of Oahu’s culture through food, scenery, and local history.
The Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art Culture & Design is not to be missed, with countless visitor reviews citing it the most poignant stop on their tour of Oahu.
The Kahala Mall contains over 50 shops, outlets, and department stores, with plenty of mouthwatering eateries showcasing the best of local and fusion fare.
Lovers of real estate ogling will definitely want to check out the area’s sumptuous homes, and maybe even rent one for the duration of their stay.
There are plenty of hotels, resorts, and villa rentals besides, though prices can be extremely steep compared to other areas of the island.
While not the cheapest place to stay in Oahu, nothing compares to the lush splendor of Kahala.
4. Ala Moana / Honolulu Downtown, sightseeing, shopping, and entertaininment
The bustling district of Ala Moana is where you will find all the sightseeing, shopping, and entertaining one could desire.
While relatively small in size, Ala Moana is host to the largest open-air shopping center in America, making this a must stay in Oahu.
More than just a mall or market, the Ala Moana Shopping Center brings commerce and culture together through a subtle blend of nature and architecture.
Along with over 290 merchants selling everything from luxury brands to specialty items, the Ala Moana Shopping Center boasts an international food court guaranteed to satisfy the most diehard of foodies.
And if that wasn’t enough, the shopping center transforms into a live Hula show Monday through Saturday, offering visitors a unique glimpse into the iconic Hawaiian dance.
Once you’ve had your fill of the Ala Moana Shopping Center the Ala Moana Beach Park awaits, drawing visitors from around the world to its serene beaches and unhurried, relatively tourist-free pace.
The beach park also has plenty of hiking and biking trails, playing courts, and various outdoor amenities. And you won’t find a better place to pause and watch the sunset after a busy day.
Downtown Honolulu is more than just a business hub with its intimidating skyscrapers and luxury high-rises, but an eclectic gathering place where culture is celebrated alongside every conceivable modern convenience.
There is the Iolani Palace, the 19th century residence of Hawaii’s royalty, as well the Hawaii State Art Museum and Art Deco Aloha Tower to start off your tour; from there you can explore the Foster Botanical Gardens and get lost among the many shops and sights along the way.
Guests are encouraged to visit the Bishop Museum, which offers an invaluable peek into Polynesian culture.
Honolulu’s Downtown area has no shortage of luxe hotels and private home rentals, as well as hostels, bed & breakfasts, and even pet-friendly choices for your four-pawed family members.
Because of its convenient locale and unending attractions, the Downtown area is one of the most exciting places to stay in Oahu.
5. Kapolei, best place to stay in Oahu for families
A planned community located in Honolulu County, Kapolei is referred to as Oahu’s second city. It is one of the fastest growing areas of Hawaii, with a population spike of 60% in just 15 years.
Kapolei is where visitors will find a seamless blend of sweeping natural beauty and close-knit charm.
While not as large as Honolulu, Kapolei more than holds its own with plenty of outdoor dining options, boutique shops, and local sightseeing.
This neighborhood is home to the annual Aloha Festival, as well as the Kapolei City Lights Electric Light Parade.
Kapolei is a very family-friendly area. For youngsters there is the Wet n’ Wild water park, along with plenty of beaches, trails, and sporting activities.
Golf enthusiasts will definitely want to get some practice in at one of Kapolei’s golf courses set against the azure backdrop of the sea and sky.
There are a number of Airbnbs, hotels, and private rentals available in Kapolei, and the area is especially well-suited for travelers looking for a more community feel to their stay in Oahu.
6. Waianae/ Makaha, where to stay in Oahu for surfing
Waiʻanae’s name translates to “waters of the mullet,” though in this case we’re talking about the marine fish and not the haircut.
This census-designated area in Honolulu County is especially popular for its horseback tours, lovely beaches, and winding coastal trails such as the Mt Ka’ala Trail that reaches the highest point of Mount Ka’ala.
The Makaha Beach Park is a 21-acre mecca for surfing pros, with waves reaching up to 25 feet at Makaha Point.
The Waikiki Surf Club set up the Makaha International Surfing Championships in 1952, with the annual Buffalo Big Board Contest one of the most popular events.
For those who aren’t so comfortable atop a surfboard, Makaha Beach’s powdery white sands and spellbinding views are a worthwhile draw all on their own.
Guests wishing to stay in the Wainae/ Makaha area will have a wide selection of beachfront hotels, resorts, and boutique rentals at their fingertips.
7. Kailua, tropical beauty and slow-paced atmosphere
This little beach town situated on the east coast of Oahu is known for its tropical beauty and slow-paced atmosphere.
The Kailua Beach Park, located along Kailua Bay, is a popular water sports hub, while the Kalama Beach Park offers a gentler setting for low-key beachgoers.
For water sport rentals and guided activities, Kailua Beach Adventures can’t be beat.
Lanikai Beach, which overlooks the avian-rich Mokulua Islands, boasts the Lanikai Pillbox Hike or Ka’iwa Ridge Trail, which ascends the beach cliffs and ultimately leads to a series of old military bunkers.
The weekly Kailua Farmers’ Market is where locals and visitors browse locally sourced produce and organic products, as well as sample from the many Hawaiian and fusion food stalls. There are also plenty of booths selling freshly baked pastries and hand-spun ice cream.
Thanks to its slow-paced way of life and assortment of activities and sights, Kailua is one of the most relaxing–but no less fulfilling–places to stay in Oahu.
8. La’ie, easy going coastal area
This easy going coastal area is famed for its luau feasts held at the nearby Polynesian Cultural Center.
On this 42-acre expanse of tropical vegetation visitors and especially families are encouraged to immerse themselves in hands-on activities that celebrate all aspects of Polynesian culture, from song and dance to food and game playing.
Guests can even learn how to fish without a net and learn how to wrangle the fiery poi.
While the waters of La’ie Beach Park draw surfers from around the world between May and October, Hukilau Beach Park is where swimmers and sunbathers can enjoy a less competitive environment.
A little ways inland you’ll find the La’ie Falls Trail, along with the magnificent La’ie Temple.
As with other listed areas of Oahu, there are plenty of beachfront resorts and hotels to choose from should you wish to stay in La’ie during your Hawaiian sojourn.
9. Turtle Bay, where to stay in Oahu for snorkeling and scuba diving
Just a 55 minute drive from Honolulu International Airport and located on the North Shore of Oahu, Turtle Bay is named for the green sea turtles that feed and nest along the beaches.
One of the last remaining undeveloped areas of the island, Turtle Bay is one of Oahu’s greatest draws, if not in the whole of Hawaii.
Unsurprisingly, surfers have made the North Shore one of their main meet-up points, as well as the official location of the Jamie O’Brien Surf Experience, Oahu’s premier surf school.
Whale sightings are commonplace in the winter, and the area is home to many sacred ancestral Hawaiian burial grounds.
Visitors are encouraged to explore the natural world of Turtle Bay via snorkeling and scuba diving, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the company of the bay’s namesake sea turtles!
Turtle Bay boasts a few beautiful and sumptuous resorts, and for those looking for a more personalized lodging, there are variously sized beachfront homes for rent ranging from intimate beach huts to fully-equipped condos.
Pricing can vary by season, so keep an eye out for special one-off rates and online deals.
10. Pūpūkea, good place to stay in Oahu for surfers
Located in the census-designated Koʻolauloa District, pūpūkea means “white shell,” which could be a symbolic nod to the area’s cerulean waters and stunning blend of lava and white sand beaches.
Pupukea is perfect for surfers, offering access to some of the island’s most famous surfing beaches.
The long stretch of scenic shoreline encompasses three separate areas: to the north there is Sharks Cove, and to the south you’ll find the Old Quarry and Three Tables, the latter named for the flat table-like ledges that rise out of the water.
Sharks Cove is famed for its reef formations and marine life while the Old Quarry, with its tide pools and natural rock formations, offers a beautifully rugged, untouched paradise for the less pristine-minded.
It’s worth noting that all of Pūpūkea’s beaches are protected as part of the marine-life-conservation district.
Most of your accommodations options in the Pūpūkea area are going to be vacation rentals or B&B’s.
Traveler’s Tip: Know Before You Go
As with any island setting, it’s best to rent a car during your stay in Oahu. This will allow you much more freedom with your itinerary, and ensure that you won’t miss a single sight along the way.
Just make sure you familiarize yourself with the local navigation lingo; for example, to go ʻewa is to head towards the westernmost tip of the island, “mauka” refers to the inland, and Diamond Head is often cited when directing travelers to the easternmost tip of Oahu.