Honolulu is home to Waikiki Beach, one of the most famous (and crowded) beaches in the world. Swimming, surfing (calmer waves and tons of available instructors make it a great spot for beginners), parasailng, and catamaran-riding are always just steps from the main streets and the many oceanfront hotels. Speaking of oceanfront hotels — there are a lot of them, so we’ve compiled this list of the top hotels on the beach in Honolulu.
The sprawling Hilton Hawaiian Village lies on the westernmost end of Waikiki, an area known more for its business hotels and shopping malls than its fabled sand and surf. But the reason the Hilton Hawaiian Village properties -- including Grand Waikikian, a luxury time-share tower -- top the list is because they offer direct access to both Fort DeRussy Beach and the manmade Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Lagoon. Protected by a coral reef, Fort DeRussy Beach is wider and calmer than Waikiki's main beach, Queen's Beach. Unlike Queen's Beach, which is notoriously crowded, Hilton's beach tends to have more room for guests to spread out. But the ocean bottom is a bit rocky here. The five-acre, give-foot-deep Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Lagoon is a great place to paddle board, aqua cycle, or kayak.
Like the Grand Waikikian, the upper-middle-range Hilton Grand Vacations Suites is part of Hilton Hawaiian Village -- Hawaii's largest self-contained beachfront resort. Hilton Hawaiian Village sits on a half-mile stretch of Waikiki's Fort DeRussy beach as well as the sheltered Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Lagoon (separated from the open ocean by a wide band of white sand with a boardwalk running across it). Water sports include surfing lessons, paddleboarding, and kayaking -- equipment, as well as chairs and umbrellas, is available for rent from several kiosks near the beach. There are also six different pools, including the 10,000-square-foot Super Pool -- the largest in Waikiki, with a huge sundeck filled with lounge chairs and a shallow kids' area.
With five guest towers housing a total of 3,386 rooms, five pools, 20 bars and restaurants, nearly 100 shops, direct beach access, a lagoon, and even a few dozen species of animals in residence (including parrots and turtles) the Hilton Hawaiian Village is in a class by itself. Covering 22 acres, it's the largest resort in Hawaii. The western Waikiki location might seem out of the way on a map -- and in fact the hustle and bustle of central Waikiki is a 15-minute walk -- but it doesn't matter. Because this Hilton is virtually a small town, guests generally stay within the extensive grounds, enjoying the seemingly endless activities (kayaking, hula-dancing lessons) and entertainment (nightly music, Friday-night fireworks, the popular Starlight Luau). For a city hotel, it doesn't feel like you're in a city, especially as you stroll the lushly landscaped grounds. Above all, the calm waters, fine beaches, five pools, extensive activities, and reasonably priced rooms make the Hilton a favorite among families.
While the Hilton Hawaiian Vacation properties are on the westernmost end of Waikiki, Halekulani is right on the beach in the middle of everything. Halekulani is Hawaiian for "house befitting heaven," and this luxurious hotel lives up to its lofty name, offering 453 luxury-packed rooms, fastidious service, gorgeous views, a notable spa, and some of Waikiki’s best restaurants. It's far more elegant and exclusive than the Hiltons, but while it offer direct beach access, it's to an extremely small plot of sand no more than 40 feet across and about as wide depending on the tide. Pool attendants provide towels and folding beach chairs for guests to arrange themselves on the sand. For a larger stretch of sand than the Halekulani offers on-site, guests can take a short stroll on an oceanfront walkway to Fort DeRussy, a far less crowded section of Waikiki Beach than its more famous neighbor to the southeast, Queen's Beach. The water is shallow, warm, and calm, making Fort DeRussy a decent place to swim, especially for kids.
Located on Kalia Road, the 639-room Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort is as beachside as one can get in Waikiki. This is a real luxury -- the hotel is situated on (not across the street from) Waikiki Beach, with Fort DeRussy Beach the closest subsection. At most Waikiki hotels, it's a haul to go from pool to beach; here, they're a few steps apart. In fact, everything at this Outrigger is a distinct cut above average, except the level of service, which is competent but not particularly impressive (go to Halekulani if you want superior service). Nevertheless, this is one of the top beachfront properties in Honolulu.
The 525-room Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort is on what's arguably the nicest stretch of Waikiki Beach. In fact, the main draw to this Outrigger outpost is its location -- in the heart of the action, between two of the most historic, most luxurious resorts in Oahu, the Moana Surfrider and the Royal Hawaiian. Loosely speaking, the entire mile-and-a-half stretch of sand alongside Kalakaua Avenue is known as Waikiki Beach. In reality, it's more like three separate beaches, the borders of which vary depending on whom you ask. Outrigger Waikiki is located on the section called Queen's Beach, which is the part you see on postcards of Waikiki: manicured, palm tree-dotted lawns leading to a sunny white-sand beach. Children splash about in the shallow water near the shore, while surfers and standup paddle-boarders patrol the outer waters. But its popular location has a downside -- it's incredibly crowded, and often noisy.
Among Waikiki's luxury hotels, the 528-room Royal Hawaiian provides the most stunning design and the warmest service. Technically, all beach space in Hawaii is public, yet the Royal Hawaiian has staked out a "private" plot of sand adjacent to the hotel grounds by cordoning off a rectangle with a low-hanging metal chain. (The Moana Surfrider is the only other hotel that does this.) The distinction between the public and "private" beaches isn't very clear -- alcohol is prohibited on both sides of the chains. The main difference is that the beach chairs in the Royal Hawaiian's rectangle are exclusive to guests and off-limits to outsiders (though there is a daily fee to rent this equipment, and advance reservations are encouraged by the hotel). Otherwise, it seems mostly a tactic to mislead the hoi polloi and discourage them from trampling through and kicking sand on the Royals.
As Waikiki's first hotel, the 1901 plantation-style Moana Surfrider offers a dose of historic charm on one of the nicest -- albeit most congested -- stretches of Waikiki Beach. The hotel is one of a handful of hotels with a small area of the beach to cordon off and call its own. Chairs are crammed in shoulder to shoulder, but the white rope does keep out non-hotel guests from the public beach just beyond. Guests reserve free towels, chairs, and umbrellas at the pool desk on a first-come-first-served basis.
Kuhio Beach, aka "the wall," is the closest subsection to this friendly high-rise budget hotel. This beach is broader and far less crowded than its more famous neighbor to the northwest, Queen's Beach. The water is shallow and warm, and because the wall creates an artificial cove of sorts, it's also calm, making Kuhio the best place for kids to swim, according to the lifeguards there. On the other hand, the ocean bottom is a bit rocky, so tread gingerly.
The Sheraton's oceanfront location is in the heart of Waikiki. The towering property is flanked by luxury hotels on either side, including its sister property, The Royal Hawaiian, and bordered inland by the touristy Kalakaua Avenue -- a busy stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels. The Sheraton is the big kahuna on this section of the beach, and even locals come to hit the waves and the bars here. Humming with activity, the grounds are crowded with guests and bustling with attendees to everything from tech conventions to body building competitions. The Rum Fire bar is a hot spot and watering hole for the surrounding area. Guests surf or lounge by day with views to Diamond Head and stay for the nightlife, which includes the fireworks show every Friday night just down the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.