Looking to relax and restore your senses on Hawai’i’s most popular travel destination? O’ahu, Hawai’i is an island that offers a little bit of something for everyone: beautiful beaches, a fashionable shopping scene, lovely restaurants, hiking, ample water sports, North Shore adventures, beautiful coastal drives, glorious farmers markets, Hawai’i’s best shave ice, and more.
Accordingly, the best hotels in Waikiki– the heart of all the action– and the larger city of Honolulu also offer a little bit of something for everyone. It all just depends on what kind of vibe you are looking for.
Naturally, you’ll want a nice place to stay that keeps you cozy and close to all the island’s most unique activities and amenities. As we wrote in our Insider’s Guide to O’ahu, Hawai’i, Waikiki and Honolulu are great places to stay as a home base for exploring all that this charming and dynamic island has to offer.
Here, you can stay at an iconic beachside hotel, or cozy up in a local rental (it’s becoming increasingly hard to find AirBnB’s on the island, however, as local travel authorities are cracking down on this because they want the tourism tax that hotels charge). Nevertheless, there are options for those willing to look– but that’s a post for another time.
Ultimately, first-timers to O’ahu should definitely consider staying at a hotel in Waikiki or greater Honolulu if budget permits. Waikiki really is the heart of the island’s hospitality industry, and it’s the best place to call home even if you plan to explore other parts of the island. The ample number of tourists is worth the convenience, trust us.
Accordingly, this mini guide spotlights the best hotels in Waikiki and Honolulu below, in no particular order. Bookmark this list for easy reference when planning your trip.
Welcome to O’ahu and enjoy your stay!
The Halekulani (Gorgeous & Refined)
The Halekulani is the ultimate “fancy” Waikiki hotel that delivers everything a luxurious beachfront hotel should. The views over Waikiki and Diamondhead are tasteful and serene, the pool is a welcoming cabana-filled respite, and the fabulous interior designs throughout the hotel honor the local aesthetic (e.g. lots of bamboo and wood furniture, blissful orchids, and architectural glass pieces that harken to the nearby ocean, which you can hear lapping at all times).
The staff, meanwhile, is super knowledgeable and detail-oriented.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for the best of the best, this is the Waikiki hotel for you. The Halekulani Spa offers what I consider to be the best lomi lomi massage on O’ahu— an excellent perk for spa junkies who want to experience an authentic Hawaiian healing ritual administered by native local practitioners. (Not some watered-down corporate interpretation.)
The on-site restaurant, House Without a Key, is a gorgeous place for sunset dinner and music, and it just so happens to be one of the island’s best restaurants for both location and atmosphere. Even locals dine here! (Naturally, their signature Mai Tai is excellent, using a real piece of Hawaiian sugar cane as a stirrer. Drink one of these babies over hula music at sunset and you’ll be happy as a clam. They can also make it virgin!)
The on-site bakery and cafe, meanwhile, offers excellent orchid-topped cappuccinos and unique sweet treats like tropical pastries and pineapple-coconut-banana bread, all made with local fruit. And if you’re looking for a place to belly up to for a morning coffee, it’s the perfect place to launch the day’s adventures.
Ultimately, if budget allows and discretion is your priority, this gorgeous Waikiki hotel cannot be beaten. The Halekulani is an institution. Just as a house waiter might say when you order the local wahoo: it’s an excellent choice.
The Royal Hawaiian (Iconic Art Deco Landmark)
As I previously wrote on Instagram, this iconic art deco landmark is known as “The Pink Palace of the Pacific”, and it’s the place where Joan Didion famously vacationed “in lieu of getting a divorce”.
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, moreover, is a Waikiki landmark is that, Didion wrote, “is not merely a hotel but a social idea, one of the few extant clues to a certain kind of American life.”
All of which is to say that the Royal Hawaiiain is a pretty big deal in these parts, and it’s easily the most famous and iconic Waikiki Hotel– the kind of place that just might make you forget your previous life at home.
Everyone from the Rockefellers to Charlie Chaplin to Babe Ruth has stayed here over the years. (In Season 6 of Mad Men, it’s also the place where Don vacations, if that’s a further indication of its stature.)
Basically, stay here for historic charm and enduring elegance amongst well-heeled Americana-loving intellectual types. It feels like its own dreamy paradise. There are small historic rooms in the original building and newer, expanded abodes in the modern wing, which have been renovated and added to over the years. (The original hotel was built in 1927.)
More importantly, though, walking around the Royal Hawaiian’s lush waterfront campus feels like an archival technicolor dream. We love its endearing pink theme– the beach umbrellas are pink, the wallpaper is pink, the throw pillows are pink, and the Egyptian cotton bathrobes in each room are, you guessed it, pink. They even serve pink pancakes!
All of this is done to match the bright pink Pepto-Bismol colored adobe facade, which stands to this day as the most imposing and revered landmark in Waikiki. (Chances are, it’ll be the first building you notice on your plane ride in, the last one you see when you leave.) People love it, and they come back to stay here again and again.
The Laylow Hotel (Hip & Casual)
This hip, modern hotel is great for budget travelers and young adults, as the design touches and amenities are conducive to fun, convivial social interaction. From the ironically-kitschy collection of Hula dancer figurines behind the checkout wall to the colorful ceramic soap dishes, The Laylow Hotel has a very Instagram-friendly aesthetic.
There’s also a nice gym, a cutely-curated gift shop, and a small pool on site, though the latter is more of a place where you’d take a quick dip with a cocktail than actually try to swim laps or entertain children, for example.
We love the friendly modern vibe of each room, which features colorful maximalist wallpaper and stylish design elements like golden pineapple statues and coffee table books featuring images of local architectural works by Vladimir Ossipoff.
As part of the Autograph Collection of Hotels, the Laylow also offers extended stay packages and there’s also a great coffee bar on site. (In case that matters to you.)
The Shoreline Hotel (Great Budget Option With Hidden Gem of a Restaurant)
The Shoreline Hotel is a colorful, no-frills 3-star option with a super convenient location in central Waikiki. It’s not on the water, but it’s right in the middle of the neighborhood and a 1-minute walk away from the beach and other area attractions.
The most appealing attribute of this hotel is the presence of the on-site restaurant, Heavenly Island Lifestyle, which makes what is secretly some of the best breakfast in Honolulu! Right outside the hotel’s foyer, they serve exquisite Local Eggs Benedict with Kalua pull pork and lilikoi (passionfruit) hollandaise on a cozy little private deck that is frequently attended by birds and local residents.
^ The restaurant works with local farms to make sure that the produce, meat, eggs, and more are local and organic whenever possible– right down to the locally-grown Okinawa sweet potato hash and tropical fruit that they serve as sides. Ideally, eat here for breakfast for brunch, but they have lovely lunch and dinner options, as well. Having this in such close proximity to the hotel is a real boon after a day of adventuring, especially if you are a healthy eater or someone with allergies (which are easier to manage here, as everything is made from scratch).
Ultimately, The Shoreline Hotel is a great budget option given its extremely walkable location in the heart of Waikiki. The price is excellent given the convenience and proximity to all the neighborhood’s cool attractions.
Ask for a walk-up rate when booking last minute and you can save even more money. This is always an option when shopping around for hotels in Waikiki.
If you don’t mind booking last minute, you can book the first half of your trip at a hotel in Honolulu or Waikiki just to get you settled once you’re on the ground, then walk to nearby hotels and ask about the walk-up rate for the second half of your trip. Often, if you book a hotel the day of or day before you need it, you can score a massive discount.
The Kahala Hotel & Resort (Upscale With House Dolphins!)
When looking for a more secluded, all-inclusive luxury experience, many families look to The Kahala Hotel & Resort.
This uber-luxe resort is home to a private dolphin cove where you can swim and interact with dolphins under the guidance of a trained marine biologist. Accordingly, they offer various dolphin adventure packages where everyone from couples to kids can get in the water with dolphins and learn to feed, swim, and play with them.
^ This, of course, is one of the hotel’s biggest draws, and it’s unlike anything else you’ll be able to find anywhere else in Waikiki.
Several rooms overlook the dolphin lanai, so in some cases, it’s possible to see a close-up view of dolphins doing flips in the air from your bedroom! (It’s like SeaWorld, only way fancier and with great interior design.) Other suites overlook the ocean or garden lanai, so you’ll have plenty of options when choosing your preferred flavor of quiet seclusion.
All rooms, moreover, are minimally appointed with vintage furniture and textiles, which give this secluded hotel away from bustling Waikiki it’s signature quiet, contemplative feel. The suite bathrooms are spacious and luxurious, featuring two wardrobe closets and vanities, walk-in glass showers, and deep-soaking bathtubs.
Throughout, the interiors nod to O’ahu’s unique history and culture as it was shaped by the land and sea. (Tropical fans, botanical motifs, rain showerheads, etc.) There are suites and single rooms available, and adding additional beds or cribs to various rooms and suites is easy for families. When you’re paying a premium to stay on-site, they make it worth your while.
Hoku’s, the onsite restaurant, offers a popular weekend brunch buffet that’s worth visiting even if you don’t stay at the hotel. (Swing by the second-floor lanai on your way out to sit in a rocking chair and watch the dolphins play the lagoon below.)
Also, The Kahala– like many of Honolulu’s best hotels– is more expensive in December, which is peak tourism season. If you plan on staying over Christmas, you’ll be charged a primo rate. Book with a travel credit card to get the most out of those points!
Aston Waikiki Beach Tower (Best O’ahu Hotel for Families)
The rental condos at Aston Waikiki Beach Tower are great for families with small children as they have soundproof walls, mini en-suite kitchenettes, washer-dryer units in the rooms, cribs upon request, and gorgeous water views.
Breakfast is not included, but there’s complimentary valet parking for guests, which is great if you’ll be renting a car and need easy access for transplanting littles and their car seats.
Beyond that, no luxury is spared at this luxurious 4-diamond AAA-rated condo resort. And with its location directly across the street from Waikiki Beach, the convenience is unmatched.
Here, you’ll experience attentive, resort-level service with all the perks, privacy, and amenities of condominium living. These include access to a modern fitness center, yoga room, swimming pool, and jet spa, a kid-friendly recreation deck that overlooks Waikiki Beach, and a perfect location amidst all of Waikiki’s walkable mix of attractions, entertainment, dining, shopping, and launch points for various water sports and activities.
Ultimately, we love that the rooms are broken out into separate, soundproof bedrooms (as opposed to open-concept pull-out couch setups that can sleep the same amount of people) and that each condo truly feels like someone’s luxury waterfront apartment (in a good way).
If you’re traveling with kids and just want an easy place to relax and have access to fun amenities while still maintaining some semblance of the kids’ routine, this is your best bet.
‘Alohilani Resort (Ritzy + Modern)
Located right on Waikiki’s main drag, the Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach is an epic, chic hotel option with luxurious, artsy-airy foyers, and a very European design aesthetic. This is the hotel I often recommend to art lovers and those who want a more urban-tropical feel to their travel accommodations.
The private cabanas and rooftop infinity pools feel more like Saint Tropez than Hawai’i; it attracts an international jet-set clientele that loves to lounge, see, and be seen. (Even the well-appointed on-site workspaces and interior “oceanarium” aquarium-filled lounge feel almost futuristic, even if they are just passing features of the space.)
I love the giant coral murals behind the reception desk, above shown, which really encapsulate the vibe of the entire hotel. The design is deceptively thoughtful, global in perspective, and art-focused.
The beachside balcony rooms have gorgeous views at sunset, the partial ocean view rooms overlook twinkling cityscapes at night, and all rooms and suites are full of calming, neutral textiles, blonde wood elements, and sleek, ergonomic furniture.
As a result, this is one of the best Waikiki Hotels for design lovers who don’t necessarily want to be thrust over the head with traditional “tropical” motifs. (No kitschy pineapple wallpaper here!) Instead, the aesthetic experience is more refined– much like the decor and service itself.
The Moana Surfrider (Good for Families, Centrally Located)
This iconic hotel on Kalākaua Ave has been known as the “first lady of Waikiki” since it first opened its doors in 1901. Today, The Moana Surfrider is part of the Westin Hotel chain of resorts, and it’s great for families and large groups who need consistency and an excellent location to call home base.
They’ve got a great gym and spa on-site, a perfect location right along the hotel strip in Waikiki, and simple, clean accommodations with accessible balconies (most rooms have water views).
While the design elements here leave a little to be desired, the Moana Surfrider is, nevertheless, a reliable and consistently well-rated mid-range hotel.
Truly, you’re paying for the location and beach access– and if you’re easily overwhelmed by pretense, you won’t have a problem here. The foyers and gathering spaces are large, open and breezy, the pool overlooks the ocean, and the beach bar is home to one of the largest shade-casting banyan trees in Waikiki.
Sheraton Waikiki (Also Great For Families)
The Sheraton Waikiki is, among other things, a central meeting point where local photographers often do family photoshoots. If you’ve ever seen a family photo of people wearing matching Hawaiian shirts on a beach, it was probably taken here.
The Sheraton, moreover, is a go-to family hotel that often offers discounts through membership programs and third parties like AAA and Booking.com. With its spacious common areas and convenient location on the Waikiki strip, the fact that the hotel also boasts two oceanfront swimming pools and an adults-only infinity pool is just a plus.
The rooms here are simple– it’s not a boutique experience, but it’s super clean and it gets the job done. This makes it a great spot for couples who want to stay in a premier location without breaking the bank. (Ditto for families who don’t have the tolerance or need for pretense.)
Other Walkable Attractions for Families
The Honolulu Zoo and Waikiki Shopping Center (which latter offers dozens of fabulous dining, coffee, and entertainment options) are also just a few minutes walk away. Ultimately, yes, it’s a Sheraton– but this chain’s O’ahu location does its best to adopt a sense of place that feels uniquely, decidedly local.