Where to Stay on Oahu, Hawaii
There are two main areas of the island that people often stay – Honolulu/Waikiki and the North Shore.
As you can imagine, the North Shore is the Northern end of the island while Waikiki is near the Southern end. Both sides of the island have a lot to offer and the one you choose depends on your personal preference. It’s about a 1 hour drive to get from one side to the other, so choosing one side doesn’t mean you won’t get to see anything else.
There isn’t a wrong choice when it comes to such a beautiful place like Oahu!
A coastal city with a long strip of hotels down the beach, Waikiki is where all the action is. The vast majority of hotels are in Waikiki, which is right next to the capital, Honolulu. If you know someone who has visited Oahu, it’s more than likely they stayed in Waikiki. There are tons of restaurants, hotels, malls, and of course, many beaches. Waikiki is more of a big city and doesn’t feel as much like being on an island. Life is a bit more fast-paced and there are many more activities. Please note the pros and cons are my personal opinion based on my experiences – other people may have different opinions.
pros: plenty of hotels to choose from, lots of things to do, shopping mall with target, many restaurants, gorgeous beaches.
cons: lack of Hawaiian feel, very touristy, lots of traffic and city drivers, commercialized.
The North Shore is full of beaches, wildlife, and tropical vibes. There are many local neighborhoods around with food trucks and shacks along the main road. You’ll only find a few hotels here, but plenty of vacation homes to rent. The beaches here are lovely and tend to be less crowded than Waikiki beaches. Cities in North Shore include Haleiwa, Pupukea, Kawela Bay, and Kahuku. Life moves slower here and is the perfect area for a relaxing vacation.
pros: stronger hawaiian culture, local feel, incredible food trucks everywhere, less crowded beaches, more wildlife and nature.
Cons: lack of hotel options, not many actual restaurants, less tours/planned activities.
Vacation home or hotel/resort?
I’m grateful to have visited the Hawaiian islands more than a dozen times. I’ve visited Oahu twice – once when I was around 9 years old and again in August 2019 – and stayed on the North Shore both times. I had incredible experiences both visits and highly recommend the North Shore over Waikiki if you’re wanting a more relaxing, island-feel vacation.
The first time I came to Oahu, we rented a big beach house with our whole family which was so much fun! This most recent trip we found an incredible deal at Turtle Bay Resort and snagged that.
So, rent a home or stay at a hotel/resort? This is entirely up to you and your preference.
• A vacation home will give you a more local experience, you’ll have a full kitchen to cook in, just steps away from the sand, and you most likely won’t be sharing a wall with strangers.
• A hotel or resort feels luxurious, you’ll have housekeeping to refresh your room daily, a pool/somewhat private beach, and there are restaurants on-site so you don’t need to leave the resort for lunch or dinner.
Typically, I prefer to stay in an Airbnb when traveling so I can stay in local neighborhoods and be submersed in the local culture. I really like having a kitchen so we can go to the grocery store or farmer’s market and cook our own meals (saves so much money!). This recent trip was really nice and relaxing, part of that was because we stayed in such a beautiful resort.
Renting an Airbnb
If you’ve never rented an Airbnb before, it may seem like a weird concept staying in someone else’s home. I 100% get this which is why I always filter my searches to “entire home/apartment” so I won’t be sharing with any strangers. Typically, the places that are the “entire home/apartment” are just second homes people rent out and not their actual living space.
You can click here to sign up and get $40 off your first stay and $15 off your first experience! If you’re already signed up but have never booked a rental, you can click here for $30 off your first stay.
While I haven’t rented an Airbnb in Hawaii yet, I traveled throughout Europe and stayed in airbnb’s along the way. It was such a cool way to travel – staying in local neighborhoods, unique and beautiful homes, and sometimes meeting new people (the hosts!). I have a full blog post about my incredible Airbnb experience in Seville, Spain.
Staying at a hotel/resort
For the ultimately relaxing vacation, a resort is a great option. It tends to be pricier, but there are many amenities included that you might not otherwise get at a vacation home. Turtle Bay Resort was very luxurious with 6 restaurants on site, bikes, snorkel gear, and more available for rent, a pool, and multiple beaches.
Every single room has an ocean view due to the unique architectural layout. It was really nice having housekeeping come to make the bed each day and vacuum – sand. everywhere.
The beaches on the property are beautiful and weren’t very crowded while we were there. They have so many activities and excursions you can book on-site – even though this is the North Shore where there aren’t as many activities as Waikiki.
Turtle Bay is the best of both worlds in terms of location and excitement. We had the best time!
It is very pricey, BUT while researching for this post, I found listings for Turtle Bay Condos on Airbnb for 1/3 of the price of the regular hotel rooms. Again, if you’ve never signed up for Airbnb and want $40 off, click here first and sign up. Once you’ve signed up, you can search for Turtle Bay and find condos on the property that people own and rent out for great deals!
Travel tip: Some hotels list rooms on Airbnb for lower prices when they want to fill rooms. Resorts with condos that are owned independently can also be found on Airbnb (like Turtle Bay Resort) for lower prices than the regular rooms/rentals.
Look, Hawaii is amazing and Oahu is no exception. No matter where you stay or what you stay in, you’ll have an unforgettable trip. There is no right or wrong way to visit Hawaii – just remember you are a visitor – be respectful of all local people and wildlife, follow rules and signs, and be kind.