Waikiki, Oahu Travel Guide
- Only 10 minutes from the Honolulu Airport; you can be off the plane and on the beach in an hour.
- Flights to Oahu generally run $100 to $200 cheaper (from both coasts) than flights to Maui or Kauai.
- More midrange and budget options than most all other areas of Hawaii
- Decent snorkeling (Hanauma Bay) and hiking (Diamond Head), both within 15 minutes by car
- Best nightlife in all Hawaii (though things close down quite early compared to nightlife on the mainland)
- No need for rental car; you can get around cheaply and easily via the bus
- High-end shopping along the main drag -- Fendi, Tiffany, Ferrari, Louis Vuitton, etc.
- Beach Walk -- great pedestrian walkway lined with shops and restaurants
- Fun surfing culture; locals surf alongside tourists
- Calmer waves and tons of available instructors make it a great spot for beginner surfers
- Swimming, surfing, parasailng, and catamaran-riding are always just steps from the main streets
- Lots of fresh local food dining options
- Experiences less rain than the majority of Hawaii
- Some may find Waikiki -- with its high-rise buildings, traffic, malls, knickknacks, chain restaurants, and fast food -- cheesy or too much like home.
- Waikiki Beach is notoriously crowded: It's often tough to walk the beach without weaving between all the towels.
- No fish in the water; you need to head 10 to 20 minutes away for decent snorkeling
- Vagrancy/homelessness and prostitution is relatively prevalent (though violent crime isn't a problem)
- If you do bring a car, parking is usually upwards of $20
What It's Like
Waikiki, Oahu's tourism center, is a bustling sub-city. Because of all of the development, the area is decades removed from the unspoiled tropical paradise that many mainlanders associate with the entire state. Nevertheless, Waikiki remains an obvious choice for those who want a Hawaiian vacation -- sun, sand, luaus, surfing, hula, mai tais -- without sacrificing the comforts of home. At any given time, 44 percent of visitors in the entire state are spending the night in Waikiki, enjoying the touristy, mile-long stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels that runs along Oahu's southeast coast. Waikiki offers a curious blend of mainland suburban staples and local flavor. On the sidewalks, Japanese tourists intermingle with tanned locals, surfboards under their arms, on their way to the beach to catch a few waves after work. On both sides of the street, high-end retailers -- Tiffany, Cartier, even an Apple store -- are interspersed with indoor malls and streetside vendors hawking cheap seashell jewelry and T-shirts. Seemingly every midmarket chain restaurant can be found here -- Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, Tony Roma's -- along with more than a handful of Starbucks and fast-food joints.
Where To Stay
With its plethora of budget and midrange options, Waikiki is an excellent choice for those who want a Hawaiian vacation without breaking the bank. On that prudent end of the spectrum, we highly recommend Hotel Renew, the Aston Waikiki Beach, the Park Shore, and -- a steal that's often less than $100 a night -- the newly renovated Aqua Waikiki Pearl. And for those with a little more leeway, price-wise, we like the Marriott Waikiki, Sheraton Waikiki, and the Hilton Hawaiian Village. And for those with a lot more leeway, price-wise, there are really only three luxury hotels in Waikiki: the Moana Surfrider, the Royal Hawaiian, and the Halekulani, all of which offer their own advantages and disadvantages.
Waikiki Hotel Guides
We compiled lists of the best luxury hotels, best value hotels, best family-friendly hotels, most romantic hotels, "hidden gem" hotels, our favorite hotel rooms, and the best hotel spas. Don't have time to read all that? Not to fear. We selected one hotel from each list that bests its competitors (if only slightly).
The packed beaches and megaresorts of Waikiki tend to be most popular with budget travelers and families. But luxury travelers who like Oahu for its familiarity and convenience will still find a handful of posh havens amidst the hubbub.
Budget travelers who don't think Hawaii is in their price range should think again. It's exotic, sure, but it's accessible for every budget -- especially in Waikiki, where competition between megaresorts to fill their many rooms results in refreshingly low rates.
A kid-friendly resort in Oahu is usually one of two things: A large, amenity-packed mega-resort with kid activities and dining options galore, or a do-it-yourself, kitchen-equipped condo for longer (albeit no-frills) stays. We found standouts of both types.
On Oahu, it's important to remember that the reality can include crowded Waikiki beaches, which makes finding a romantic hotel a bit of a challenge. But if you choose wisely, there are gems to be found among the hyper children and rows of towels.
Visitors to Hawaii constantly get to experience the thrill of discovery: a beautiful flower, a breathtaking view, or a secret beach can feel as though it belongs to you alone. But when it comes to hotels, it's hard to find a refuge that hasn't already been discovered by the teeming hordes.
Rooms in Hawaii vary greatly in size, style, and amenities, but we've slept in over 90 beds across the state to bring your top picks. Here's our list of the top eight rooms that we found to be the most spacious, stylish, and sumptuous.
Oahu draws more families than romance or luxury travelers (who often head to Maui), but spa-lovers and stressed-out parents counting on relaxation shouldn't worry: the island is home to a number of top-notch spas.