As in real estate, location matters. And though Oahu is just 44 miles long and 30 miles wide—meaning you can circle the entire island before lunch—it boasts neighborhoods and lodgings with very different vibes and personalities. If you like the action and choices of big cities, consider Waikiki, a 24-hour playground with everything from surf to karaoke bars. Those who want an escape from urban life look to the island’s leeward or windward sides, or the North Shore, where the surf culture creates a laid-back atmosphere.
Most of the island’s major hotels and resorts are in Waikiki, which has a lot to offer within a small area—namely shopping, restaurants, nightlife—and nearly 3 miles of sandy beach. You don’t need a car in Waikiki; everything is nearby, including the Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Aquarium, the 300-acre Kapiolani Park, running and biking paths, grocery stores, and access to public transportation that can take you to museums, shopping centers, and historic landmarks around the island.
You’ll find places to stay along the entire stretch of both Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues, with smaller and quieter hotels and condos at the eastern end, and more business-centric accommodations on the western edge of Waikiki, near the Hawaii Convention Center, Ala Moana Center, and downtown Honolulu.
The majority of tourists who come to Oahu stay in Waikiki, but choosing accommodations in downtown Honolulu affords you the opportunity to be close to shopping and restaurants at Ala Moana Center, the largest shopping mall in the state. It also provides easy access to the airport.
If you want to get away from the bustle of the city, consider a stay on Oahu’s leeward coast. Consider the Ko Olina resort area, about 20 minutes from the Honolulu International Airport and 40 minutes from Waikiki. Here, there are great golf courses and quiet beaches and coves that make for a relaxing getaway. But you’ll need a car to get off the property if you want to explore the rest of the island.
Other more low-key options are on Windward Oahu or the North Shore. Both regions are rustic and charming, with quaint eateries and coffee shops, local boutiques, and some of the island’s best beaches. One of Oahu’s premier resorts, Turtle Bay, is located here, too.