Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
After we decided to visit the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, the next decision was if we should stay at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Being one of the most iconic beaches in the world, it seemed like a logical place to stay.
However, when we posted the question on our social media channels, the feedback we received was mixed. Some people told us to avoid Waikiki Beach and head straight to Ko Olina or the North Shore. While others told us that Waikiki Beach was the highlight of their Hawaii vacation.
After some deliberation, we decided to spend a 3 nights at Waikiki Beach and 4 nights at Ko Olina Beach. This way we get to experience Waikiki and Honolulu, while also spending time away from the big city. Honolulu is much bigger than we expected; and we expected it to be big.
Note – Hawaiian airlines is now offering deals on winter travel to Hawaii.
Should you stay at Waikiki Beach?
If you travel to Oahu, we recommend you visit Waikiki Beach. Even if only as a day trip. It’s the most famous beach in Hawaii, so of course you have to check it out for yourself.
However, the question, “should you stay at Waikiki Beach?” is what I’d like to explore further.
Now, it goes without saying that travel is personal. What works for us might not work for you, and vice versa. It’s near impossible for us to answer that question without understanding how you travel and what’s important to you.
However, after spending a few nights at Waikiki Beach, we’re undecided we if would do it again.
We stayed at the swanky Alohilani Resort, which is centrally located on Kalakaua Avenue, directly across the street from Waikiki Beach. We enjoyed our stay at this hotel. It’s a nice property and the rooftop pool bar and lounge is really cool. Our hotel room balcony has awesome oceanfront views of Waikiki beach (see below photo).
We actually stayed at Waikiki Beach twice on this Oahu vacation because our return flight home was cancelled – more on that story here.
Related – What it’s like to travel to Oahu during the pandemic
The above photo is the view of the beach from our hotel room at Alohilani Resort. The weather did not cooperate during our first few days in Oahu. It rained heavily for 3 days straight, to the point where the streets were flooded. See photo below.
Now, you might be thinking – I can see why you didn’t have the best experience staying on Waikiki Beach because it rained for most of you visit. This is true. And, truth be told, it might influence our opinion.
However, we did spend two more days at Waikiki Beach later in our trip and the weather was fantastic.
That’s a lot of water! We’re told the streets in Honolulu often flood when big storms hit Oahu.
Of course, bad weather is no reason to avoid staying at Waikiki Beach. Most of Oahu was hammered with rain during our visit. Oahu is a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so tropical storms are to be expected.
Related post – Photos of Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club, Oahu
What we like about Waikiki Beach
There’s a lot to like about Waikiki Beach (and Honolulu). It’s built for tourism, so visitors will find the amenities and comforts they expect from a popular travel destination.
Here’s a few of things we like about Waikiki Beach:
- Lots of hotels to choose from. We like having choice. Honolulu has a hotel or resort for every travel style, from budget to high end. We stayed at Alohilani Resort and Marriott Waikiki Resort and would recommend both.
- Roof top pools and lounges. Many Waikiki hotels have rooftop pools and lounges to soak up that Hawaiian sunshine.
- Plenty of dining options. Kalakaua Avenue has hundreds of restaurants and food options, from chain restaurants to local favourites and everything in between.
- The beach. Duh! It’s nice having a beach within steps of your hotel or vacation apartment.
- Easy access to water sports. You can rent surfboards, jet skis, paddleboards, snorkeling equipment or join an evening sunset cruise. There’s always something to do here.
- Waikiki is buzzing with energy. Music blasts from restaurants, bars and retail shops. Motorcycles and high-end sports cars screech down Kalakaua Ave to get noticed. It’s loud and proud.
- Centrally located to activities. There are plenty of things to do in Waikiki Beach, including the Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo, Kapiolani Park, Pearl Harbour Tour, Helicopter tours, hike to Diamond Head Crater, whale watching tours, Waikiki Atlantis Submarine Adventure, and shopping at Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center and International Market Place.
On a rainy day in Oahu, an easy family activity is a visit to the Waikiki Aquarium. It’s located within walking distance to the hotel strip and it’s close to the Honolulu Zoo.
The aquarium is small. You only need an hour to see everything. It’s an inexpensive activity at $12 per adult and $5 per child.
Our boys like the rooftop infinity pool at Alohilani Resort, even though the water is super cold.
Rooftop restaurant and lounge at Alohilani Resort.
Walking through Surfboard alley at Waikiki Beach.
The iconic Duke Kahanamoku Statue at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.
What we did not like about Waikiki Beach
We did enjoy our time at Waikiki Beach. However, there are a few things we did not like about staying at Waikiki Beach.
- Very crowded and busy. Multiple taxi and uber drivers told us Oahu tourism is still struggling. Japanese tourists, which make up a large portion of international visitors, are not visiting due to travel restrictions. We felt like Waikiki Beach was busy during our visit, so I can only imagine how busy it will be once travel bounces back. Photos like this show how crowded the beach can get.
- Waikiki Beach = Las Vegas of Hawaii? Waikiki is a world famous beach and Oahu is a popular travel destination. We expected it to be touristy, but found it too touristy for our liking. It has a Vegas vibe, with rooftop pool parties blasting music all night and drunk visitors being loud and boisterous.
- Traffic is really bad. Honolulu is a big city with big city traffic problems. If you plan to leave Waikiki and explore the island, expect to sit in traffic.
- Homelessness and drugs are a problem. The beach walk is a temporary home for many people who are struggling with drugs and/or mental health issues. Homeless people yell at tourists, urinate freely and wander into traffic. There is a police station at Waikiki Beach, but it does not appear to be working. It did not feel safe walking along the beach with our kids at night.
- It’s very expensive. Most supplies are shipped to the islands, which increases prices. It doesn’t help that our Canadian dollar is weak right now.
It does not feel like Hawaii.
We’ve visited Maui and Molokai on previous trips to Hawaii. They felt more Hawaiian and we could feel the Aloha spirit. Unfortunately, we did not get the same vibe at Waikiki Beach. Instead, it feel over-developed and heavily commercialized.
Related – Travel to Molokai: What to Do and What Not to Do
View of the beach from our balcony at Marriott Waikiki Resort.
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Should you stay at Waikiki Beach?
Let’s go back to the original question.
Obviously, we can’t answer that question without further information about you, your travel style and what you hope to get out of your Hawaii vacation.
Do you want to learn to surf? Do you like shopping at high-end retail stores? Are you looking for night life and pool parties? If so, Waikiki Beach is probably a good fit for you.
Also, if you’re looking for more budget friendly hotels and/or vacation apartment rentals, you’ll find more availability in the Waikiki area (and Honolulu).
However, if you’re looking for quiet beach time and laidback Hawaiian vibes, it’s best staying at other parts of Oahu.
The island is actually quite big, so you have plenty of options. Consider areas like Waimanalo, Kailua and Lanikai, Waialua and the North Shore.
We spent a few nights at Ko Olina Beach and found it to be more relaxing than Waikiki. That said, Ko Olina is also very developed and expensive. It feels similar to the Wailea area on Maui.
Above – hotels and apartment condos at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
Do you need to rent a vehicle?
We did not rent a vehicle this time because prices are really high right now due to shortages. With daily rental cost, plus gas, insurance and nightly parking, the price is over $1,500 USD for the week (approx $2,000 CAD). And that is for a tiny economy car.
It’s a tough decision.
Reflecting back on the trip, we wish we had explored more of the island and got away from the beach resorts and busy Waikiki hotel strip.
We used Uber and taxis to get around. They are also expensive. For example, it cost us $75 USD to travel from Ko Olina to the Honolulu Airport (approx 25 minute drive).
If you plan to rent a vehicle and drive around Oahu, being centrally located at Waikiki Beach might be the best option for you. However, keep in mind, hotels charge a premium for nightly parking. Expect to pay at least $40 per night for parking at most luxury hotels.
Read more blog posts from Hawaii:
- What it’s like to travel to Oahu right now (during the pandemic)
- Photos from our stay at Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club in Oahu
- Travel to Molokai – What to Do and What Not to Do
- Riding Mules Down the World’s Tallest Sea Cliffs
Have you visited Oahu? What do you think?
Would you recommend staying at Waikiki Beach?
Share your thoughts in the comments below. Our readers thank you!
You don’t mention the time of year you stayed in Oahu. When did you stay near Waikiki?
Traveling Canucks says
We visited Oahu in December.