Let’s face it: You probably flew long enough that you’d like to minimize travel time to the water once you’re in Hawaii. Here are Oahu’s best properties right on the beach, whether in Waikiki, on the North Shore or inside the sprawling Ko Olina resort on the sunny southwest side.
TIP: Hotel check-in is usually 4pm. Ask for early check-in. Most hotels will oblige.
Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa
Like many a grande dame, Waikiki’s first hotel (opened in 1901) has undergone several expansions and facelifts over the years. Now part of Marriott’s Bonvoy program (yes, you can use points), the 793-room Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, offers award-winning restaurants, nightly Hawaiian entertainment in the courtyard, an elegant spa and beachfront access to the moana (ocean).
- Within sight of its famed Banyan Tree Courtyard is a wide swath of soft sand and Waikiki’s steadily curling waves.
- If you’re not up for a surf lesson or outrigger canoe ride, rent an umbrella and beach chairs or cabana for a half day — or even the full day, given the entrancing views of Diamond Head.
The Royal Hawaiian
Now a Luxury Collection Resort (and part of Marriott’s Bonvoy points program), this beachfront, Moorish-inspired pink palace has lost none of its lustre since opening in 1927 in a once-royal coconut grove; instead, it’s gained a reputation for excellent mai tais, fine dining and a modern tower that’s a luxury hotel-within-a-hotel. While it shares a seaside fantasy pool with the neighboring Sheraton Waikiki that kids will enjoy, this vintage beauty makes a perfect adult playground, thanks to its center-of-everything location and focus on culinary pleasures.
You’ll feel like one of the many celebrities who’ve stayed here over the years by booking one of the signature pink “umbrella sets”—an umbrella and two loungers—in the Royal Hawaiian’s private area on Waikiki’s soft sand, where you can also order food and nonalcoholic drinks (alcoholic beverages on Hawaii’s public beaches are a no-no.)
Four Seasons Oahu Resort at Ko Olina
The newest Four Seasons resort in Hawaii is almost an island unto itself. Inside the upscale Ko Olina enclave west of Honolulu—known for calm, sandy lagoons and a championship golf course—it boasts tranquil rooms, casual-elegant dining (including Michael Mina’s Fish House), oceanfront pools, a sprawling spa, unique cultural activities and exclusive excursions.
- Easily sharing one of Ko Olina’s four large ocean lagoons with Disney’s Aulani, the Four Seasons also has a secluded stretch of coastline with views that patrons of the discreetly located, cabana-lined Adult Pool can savor.
- Anyone can whale-watch from the shore in season (peak is January–March).
- Or try an outrigger canoe or stand-up paddleboard in the lagoon’s calm waters.
- Those willing to hike along the shore when ocean conditions permit (i.e. when the surf is calm) can also find their way to one of the breathtakingly beautiful natural lagoons on this shoreline.
Kahala Hotel and Resort
Tucked between the Pacific and a private golf club east of Waikiki, this 6-acre, midcentury-modern hideaway boasts U.S. presidents and world leaders among its most famous guests and local luminaries among its spa and dining clientele. Hands down the hotel’s most popular residents: the bottlenose dolphins in the Kahala’s lagoon.
- The resort’s inviting 800-foot-stretch of white sand, protected by two manmade peninsulas, is next to equally uncrowded Waialae Beach Park.
Rent kayaks, snorkel gear or boogie boards for a nominal fee, or take surf lesson with a uniquely Hawaiian way of accessing the break: via outrigger canoe.
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
A city unto itself at the western edge of Waikiki, the high-rise compound of Hilton Hawaiian Village includes the iconic Rainbow Tower, named for its 268-foot-high mosaic. The 3,386-room resort’s Friday night fireworks also add color to the sky, but there’s plenty to enjoy below, from Waikiki’s widest stretch of sand, easy access to the shallow saltwater of Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon and six pools.
- Named for the surfing legend and Waikiki’s longtime unofficial ambassador, the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon is a great place for kids to try paddleboarding or just splash around without worrying about waves.
- You can also rent a waterbee (pedal-powered boat) or kayak for the lagoon, or try a surfboard in the ocean.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
Disney’s first resort without an attached theme park, Aulani celebrates Hawaiian culture as well as animated characters in sunny Ko Olina, west of Honolulu. After romping with kids at the ocean lagoon or one of many pools and “splash zones,” adults will appreciate massages at Laniwai Spa or cocktails at the Hawaiian-language-themed ‘Olelo Room. Lodgings range from studios with kitchenette, queen bed and sleeper sofa all the way up to three-bedroom villas that sleep 12.
- The four manicured, sandy lagoons in the Ko Olina Resort have plenty of room for families to stretch out, and typically calm waters so everyone feels comfortable playing in the water.
- Rent a paddleboard to try in the lagoon directly in front of Aulani, and keep your eyes out for whales in winter.
Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort
This award-winning beachfront property has a prime location in Waikiki near shops and restaurants. Rising above the sands, the 16-story resort has 524 rooms with private lanais and views of Diamond Head and the ocean. At the ground-floor restaurant, Duke’s Waikiki, live entertainment, including jazz and traditional Hawaiian music, takes place every evening.
- This is the original site of the legendary Outrigger Canoe Club, home to famous watermen like Duke Kahanamoku, hence the name Outrigger.
- Enjoy a complimentary introduction to surfing and demonstration four times a day, and free use of boogie boards and beach toys.
Turtle Bay Resort
Set on five miles of beach, the 850-acre Turtle Bay Resort is a natural playground on Oahu’s North Shore, just 45 minutes away from Honolulu. The resort offers a variety of water sports plus horseback riding, helicopter tours and even off-road Segway excursions, while awaiting nearby are fruit and shave ice stands, world-class surf breaks, the family-friendly Polynesian Cultural Center and lush Waimea Valley. Currently under renovation, it’s scheduled to reopen in June 2021.
- Snorkel or kayak among sea turtles in Kuilima Cove, or take a surf or paddleboard lesson from one of the North Shore’s expert watermen and women.
The subtle palette in elegantly understated rooms, breathtaking views of Diamond Head and curling waves, and an illustrious spa lead to “serenity now” at this iconic bastion of oceanfront luxury. Shielded from Waikiki’s hustle and bustle, Halekulani shines as a center for gourmets and arts aficionados. Lounging by the shimmering pool with its orchid logo is a treat, although retreating to one of the rooms or suites with private lanais—and in some cases, butler service—is equally indulgent. Currently under renovation, it’s scheduled to reopen in July 2021.
- The small cove in front of the hotel is public, but essentially private, especially compared with the rest of Waikiki.
- Get easily into brilliantly clear water with a sandy channel leading through the reef.