Oahu is already the most populous and most visited of the Hawaiian islands, packed with things to do, and in recent years, as tourist numbers rise even further, hotels have been refreshing properties or giving them a complete overhaul. The result is more views of Oahu’s gorgeous turquoise waters from the pool decks and delightful design touches in the rooms to remind you you’re in Hawaii. Most of the accommodations are in Waikiki, where towers dominate the skyline, while the rest of the island has only a smattering of places to stay, from the luxury hotels on the west side, incongruous with the rural surroundings, to the low-rise properties on the North Shore, befitting its low-key vibe. Here are some of our favorite hotels around the island.
The 11 best hotels in Oahu
All of the rooms at Turtle Bay offer a view of the ocean, which few hotels at this price range (sub-$300) can boast. Add to that spacious rooms, a sprawling 800-acre property filled with trails to explore trails on foot or horseback, and a beachside location on the North Shore offering opportunities to surf or stand-up paddle, and you have the perfect launchpad for your vacation in Hawaii.
The Surfjack has recently been transformed from a drab, nondescript Waikiki hotel into one of Honolulu’s hippest gathering places for locals and tourists alike. The mid-century modern-meets-aloha atmosphere throughout is certainly part of its new-found appeal, with much of the interior designed by local artists, from the shaka wallpaper print to the now Instagram-iconic ‘Wish You Were Here’ tiling in the pool. Other draws include the restaurant Mahina and Sun’s, and the frequent events at the hotel, from art exhibitions to talks on the poke bowl trend.
The Halekulani is pure elegance and class, a haven in frenetic Waikiki. Each room has a lanai (balcony) to take advantage of the oceanfront location, and the interior’s tones of white and beige create a harmonious feeling of tranquility throughout the space. The Halekulani’s service is legendary, as is its Mai Tai, which is best enjoyed at the open-air House without a Key restaurant; we suggest you make it a nightly ritual at sunset, when the graceful hula and live Hawaiian music will pull at your heart strings.
This is where Joan Didion once stayed, when she and her husband came to Hawaii in lieu of a divorce. There are worse places to put one’s life back together than at what’s colloquially known as the pink palace, where the soothing rose façade, Spanish-Moorish arches and hallways framing the cerulean blue of Waikiki’s waters will gently wash your cares away. Opt for a room in the historic wing, which dates back to 1927, with flourishes that call to mind the opulence of the hotel’s heyday.
The Kahala is just a 10-minute drive away from Waikiki, but here, on the other side of Diamond Head, it feels like it’s on its own island. It’s partly because of this seclusion, and partly for the Kahala’s hospitality, that everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Prince Charles and Princess Diana have stayed here. Right in front is a quiet beach, so uncrowded that it feels private (a rare find in Hawaii, where all beaches are public).
Lay low, indeed. This recent addition to the Oahu hotel scene provides a contemporary oasis right in the middle of Waikiki. When you tire of the hubbub, retire to the open-air Hideout restaurant, where you can lounge around the fire pits and overlook the streets below, or head up to your bright room, its stylish mid-century minimalism offset with cheery, modern-chic tropical wallpaper.
The Alohilani was renovated completely in 2017, the rooms lightened and modernized to create a chic-white beach aesthetic with shots of bright colour and wood details, and viewplanes opened up. Don’t miss sunset at the fifth-floor infinity pool, which seems to stretch all the way to the ocean, where you can toast the end of the day with a cocktail from the adjacent Swell Bar. Next to hip hangout spot the O Bar, the Oceanarium houses more than 1,000 indigenous marine animals.
Stay at one of these one-story bungalows on a North Shore oceanfront property if you’re looking for a self-catered beach getaway. The cottages, decked out in wood and rattan furniture, range from studios to two-bedrooms and include full kitchens and barbecues for grilling outside, where you can laze in your hammock while you try to spot whales breach and blow and dolphins play in the nearby ocean. Opt for one of the beachfront units and you can even fall asleep to the sound of the waves.
Being a Disney resort, the Aulani is, as you’d expect, exceedingly family-friendly, with fireside storytelling, movies under the stars, Disney character breakfasts, a sprawling pool area with slides and lazy river, and Aunty’s Beach House, where you can drop the kids off. In building the resort, Disney also consulted with the native Hawaiian community, which is reflected in everything from the architecture and interiors full of contemporary Hawaiian art to the Olelo Room, a bar that celebrates the Hawaiian language (one of the official languages of Hawaii).
Lotus Honolulu sits on the quiet end of Waikiki adjacent to Kaimana Beach, one of the city’s best beaches. Choose a corner room facing Diamond Head and open up the lanai doors to Hawaii’s cooling trade winds; this is one of the few properties in Waikiki where you can leave your windows open and not be bombarded by city noise.
One of the best budget options in Waikiki, the boutique Hotel Renew offers Zen-like tranquil rooms and an ‘aroma concierge’ (a choice of scents for your room). The rooms are small and there aren’t many amenities, though a buffet breakfast and free wi-fi are included, tbut with lots of restaurants in the neighborhood and the beach a block away, it’s perfect for those who don’t need a lot. Though if you need your pooch along for the vacation, dog-friendly rooms are available.