Best Area to Stay in Oahu for First Timers

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Oahu is a great destination for visitors who want to combine the excitement of a city with the serenity of a beach paradise.

From the beaches, to the mountains, and everything in between, there’s something for everyone here.

But if this is your first time visiting this Hawaiian island, deciding where to stay can be difficult.

Here are the best areas to stay in Oahu to make the most out of your trip.

Waikiki

WAIKIKI BEACH VIEW

Waikiki is a neighborhood of Honolulu, located on the south shore of Oahu, and it’s where the majority of tourists stay.

This area is considered to be one of the most expensive areas for accommodations in Oahu.

Hands down, Waikiki is the most popular area to stay in Oahu and when people think of Hawaii, this is one of the first places that come to mind.

The area was a retreat for Hawaiian royalty in ancient times, but today offers both luxury hotels as well as budget accommodations such as hostels and bed-and-breakfasts.

Waikiki also offers some of the best shopping, restaurants, and nightlife – a great place to stay if you want easy access to all that Oahu has to offer.

The only downside to staying in this area is the large number of tourists and traffic congestion on the roads.

Waikiki is also the most crowded area during the summer months, so if you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, consider planning your trip outside of the high season.

Waikiki is best for...

Waikiki is the best area to stay for first-timers visiting Oahu.

It's great for tourists that want to be in the center of everything, with great nightlife and attractions nearby.

It's the most expensive area to stay in Oahu, but it provides easy access to everything the island has to offer.

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Top Attractions in Waikiki

Waikiki Beach is the most famous beach in Hawaii. Tourists can rent surfboards from one of many rental shops on the beach and try surfing for themselves! Many people also go to Waikiki Beach just to people-watch and admire surfers riding the waves.

Visit Diamond Head Crater, one of Hawaii’s most famous landmarks. A volcanic cone that rises above the sea and provides breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Waikiki Beach and the Honolulu skyline.

The hike up to Diamond Head can be strenuous depending on fitness level, but it’s well worth the effort to see this beautiful Hawaiian landmark.

Walking around Waikiki is a great way to get a feel for the Hawaiian culture and history. There are many historical sites, such as the Iolani Palace, which was the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchy from 1882 until it was vacated in 1895.

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The Honolulu Zoo offers many opportunities to interact with animals native to the Hawaiian islands. It’s a great place to spend a day with the family!

Waikiki Beach Walk is a walking path along the beach in Waikiki that takes you through a loop of shops and restaurants and offers beautiful views of the ocean.

It’s about 4.8 miles in length and is great for people who are looking for some exercise or just want to enjoy the scenery!

Kapiolani Park is an oasis in the middle of busy Waikiki. The grounds are lush with tropical plants and trees, and home to the Honolulu Zoo. You can find many people here enjoying the cool shade of trees or just relaxing on one of the benches.

Hanauma Bay is a great place to experience the beautiful underwater world of Hawaii. The bay is home to thousands of Hawaiian fish and coral reefs and offers some of the best snorkeling in all of Oahu.

North Shore

north shore oahu

The North Shore of Oahu is a top surfing destination, offering visitors pristine stretches of beaches with large waves.

You’ll find some of Hawaii’s most famous surfing spots such as Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay.

If you’re a surfer, this is the place to be!

This area is also home to some of the most scenic sights in Oahu with its green mountains, waterfalls and rainforests.

The North Shore has become a popular outdoor adventure destination for hiking, biking and zip-lining.

The downside to this area is that it’s a little more isolated than other parts of Oahu and not as convenient for accessing Honolulu or Waikiki.

If you’re looking for a more remote experience, consider staying in the North Shore of Oahu.

The North Shore is best for...

The North Shore is perfect for tourists that enjoy an active vacation.

Surfing is the most popular activity here, but there's plenty of hiking trails and other outdoor activities.

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North Shore Top Attractions

Observe sharks in their natural habitat while inside a protective cage! Shark cage diving is a popular activity for many people that visit the North Shore.

The Polynesian Cultural Center offers an educational and entertaining experience for tourists. Visitors can learn about the history and culture of Polynesia through Hula dances, music and authentic Hawaiian cuisine.

The North Shore is home to the world-famous Banzai Pipeline; it’s known for its large waves and thrilling conditions that are popular with surfers.

Laniakea Beach is home to the largest population of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. See these little critters in their natural habitat, but don’t get too close! It’s against the law to touch them.

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Kiteboarding, paddle boarding, and windsurfing are all popular activities on the North Shore. The waves are big enough to get the adrenaline pumping and offer professional athletes the opportunity to practice their craft.

Shark’s Cove is known for its clean, clear water that’s great for snorkeling and scuba diving. Don’t worry, there’s no sharks here; the water is calm and completely safe to swim in.

Waimea Valley is one of the most scenic spots on the island. If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure that will leave you speechless, this is it! The valley offers vistas of a beautiful waterfall that cascades into an oasis below.

Want more ideas? Check out our guide on the top things to do in Oahu’s North Shore.

Best Hotels on the North Shore

Turtle Bay Resort
Courtyard Oahu North Shore

Ala Moana (Downtown Honolulu)

ala moana beach park aerial view

Located on the southern coast of the island and just a few miles west from Waikiki, Ala Moana isn’t as touristy as Waikiki and has more of an authentic feel.

Known as downtown Honolulu, this area has plenty of shops and restaurants to explore.

It was designed as a modern city center with an international flair – featuring luxury hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers.

It’s also a great place to stay for those looking for a bit more culture, a quieter neighborhood, as well as easy access to the rest of the island.

Ala Moana is a great place to walk around. It’s a lot bigger than Waikiki, but it’s still very walkable!

The Ala Moana district is only minutes from Waikiki Beach, Ala Moana Center shopping center, and Honolulu’s Chinatown.

Away from the hustle and bustle of the main strip in Waikiki, you can find nice hotels for a reasonable price here, as well.

Ala Moana is best for...

The Ala Moana district is a great middle-ground for those who want to stay close to the main attractions but don't want to empty out their wallets.

It's a little more laid back and quiet compared to neighboring Waikiki, but there's plenty of restaurants and shops to keep you busy!

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Top Attractions in Ala Moana

The Aloha Tower was once the tallest building in Honolulu and is now a museum and landmark. It was built in 1926 to welcome visitors to Hawaii. The Aloha Tower was built as the centerpiece of the Honolulu Harbor, and it’s been a fixture on Oahu’s waterfront since then.

Ala Moana Beach Park is a beautiful beach that offers many recreational activities, such as swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and paddleboarding. If you want to learn how to surf or want to rent some equipment for the day, this is the place to do it!

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The Honolulu Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the United States and has an impressive collection of both Asian and Western art. The museum is free for children 18 and under!

Ala Moana Center is one of the largest malls in Hawaii and is a great place to go if you want to do some shopping. You’ll find anything from mid-end fashion to world-renowned brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada.

The USS Arizona Memorial honors the brave men who lost their lives on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. It’s a moving tribute to those who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor and is one of the most important memorials in Hawaii.

Leeward Coast (West Oahu)

MAKUA BEACH, WEST OAHU

The Leeward Coast is a region of Oahu on the island’s western shore. It is characterized by more undeveloped areas and fewer tourist attractions, but is still quite popular with tourists.

This region of Oahu offers a great balance between beach life and sightseeing – it’s not too crowded like Waikiki but still offers a lot.

Western Oahu offers many opportunities for recreation such as swimming, snorkeling, surfing, boating or just simply relaxing on one of its pristine white sand beaches.

There are also several historic sites such as Kaena Point State Park that offer scenic views and opportunities for hiking or camping in natural settings away from city life.

The towns of Kapolei, Waianae and Makaha are where most people choose to hang their hats when they stay on this part of the island.

If you’re looking for a more laid-back experience with fewer crowds, consider staying in this area.

The Leeward Coast is best for...

The Leeward Coast is a great area to stay for those looking for a quieter beach stay.

You won't find tons of touristy attractions here like you would in Waikiki, but there are plenty of beaches to enjoy and many small towns to visit.

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Top Attractions in West Oahu

For outdoor enthusiasts who want to explore Oahu on foot, Kaena Point allows visitors to walk down an easy trail overlooking some breathtaking views while they take in nature at its finest. Perfect for bird lovers since this area is a protected sanctuary!

Koko Crater is an extinct volcano that sits on the south-eastern side of Oahu. The 1,050 step stairway will take you to this amazing site where you can see panoramic views of the city. It’s one of Hawaii’s most popular hiking spots!

Makaha Beach Park is a great place to go if you’re looking for a quieter beach with lots of activities nearby. There’s an area where you can rent paddleboards and kayaks.

Windward Coast (East Oahu)

OAHU EAST COAST

Between the hustle and bustle of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu, people don’t think to explore the other side of the island.

Often overlooked by visitors, the eastern side of Oahu is home to many swimmable beaches and picturesque landscapes.

Think Jurassic Park and you’ve got the Windward Coast.

The rural landscape is dotted with farms, beautiful oceanfront towns, and quiet bays.

There are also many great golf courses in this area of Oahu, so if you’re a golfer that’s a plus!

The eastern side of the island is also home to some of the most popular hiking trails on Oahu.

Don’t let the lack of commercialization fool you; there’s a lot to see and do on this side of the island!

The Windward Coast is best for...

The Windward Coast is best for travelers seeking a more intimate experience with nature.

There's plenty of opportunities for sightseeing as well as relaxing on secluded beaches without being crowded like Waikiki is.

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East Oahu Top Attractions

Spend some time in the water! Mokoli’i is a small island off the eastern coast and is a popular spot for kayaking. The island is known as Chinaman’s Hat because of its distinctive shape.

Kualoa Ranch has been used as a filming location for many blockbuster movies and tv shows such as Jurassic Park and Lost. The ranch offers a one-of-a-kind experience with its natural landscape, rich history and amazing activities that include horseback riding, guided tours to historic sites and views, ocean kayaking, hiking and biking trails.

The Makapuu Lighthouse is the second most popular hike in Oahu (after Diamond Head) because it offers spectacular views of Koko Head, Makapu’u Beach, and the smaller inhabited islands of Lanai and Molokai.

Visitors can enjoy scenic drives along the coast with plenty of shops in Kaneohe Town Center that offer tourist-friendly souvenirs like Hawaiian shirts or jewelry made from local materials such as lava rock.

Best Hotel in East Oahu

Paradise Bay Resort