Honolulu Neighbourhood Guide: Where to Stay and Play

Discover which Honolulu neighbourhoods have the best hotels, beaches, restaurants and more!

A beautiful blue, orange and pink sunset in Honolulu

5min read

Published 18 January 2024

Flight Centre Author

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Kaitlyn Funk

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Discover which Honolulu neighbourhoods have the best hotels, beaches, restaurants and more!


Deciding where to go and what to do in Hawai‘i can be difficult. First, you have to choose which of the main Hawaiian islands you want to visit. If you’ve landed on this page, chances are you’ve already selected O‘ahu (great choice!), so now you’ve got to decide where on the island you want to stay.

While the North Shore is certainly tempting, you really can’t go wrong with Honolulu. In addition to its sandy shores, the state capital has a lively downtown core. In other words: you get to enjoy a little city time with your beach time. 

So, what’s the best area to stay in Honolulu? Keep on reading to discover which neighbourhoods have the best hotels and most pristine beaches, which parts of the city are best for a family vacation, and more!



Waikiki Beach is a famous spot for surfing and other water sports
Waikiki Beach is a famous spot for surfing and other water sports
Waikiki Beach is a famous spot for surfing and other water sports

Waikiki

Best area for families and beach bums

Waikiki is arguably one of the most popular destinations in all of Hawai‘i — and for good reason! First and foremost, this beautiful neighbourhood is home to the famous Waikiki Beach. Whether you prefer to lounge on the sand or play in the surf, your time in Waikiki should primarily be spent here. The conditions are almost always perfect for parasailing, paddleboarding and countless other water sports and activities (this is pretty much where modern-day surfing was invented!). 

Located on Honolulu’s south shore, Waikiki is also considered to be an incredibly convenient and central location. The neighbourhood is chock full of luxury resorts and family-friendly hotels; a wide selection of bars, clubs, and restaurants that cater to every appetite and budget; and some of the island’s top attractions — including the Waikiki Aquarium and Waikiki Historic Trail. Put simply, there’s an activity (or seven!) for each member of your family to enjoy in this slice of paradise. 



ʻIolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu
ʻIolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu
ʻIolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu

Downtown Honolulu

Best area for history and culture buffs

If you want to soak up the sun and Hawaiian culture, set your sights on Downtown Honolulu. This is the city’s historic centre and as such, it’s home to some pretty old (and impressive!) buildings, museums and landmarks.

Take the ʻIolani Palace, for example. Built in 1879 in the American Florentine style, which combines traditional Italian Renaissance and Hawaiian architecture, it served as the official residence for the state’s last two monarchs: King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani. In other words, this is an attraction fit for royalty — and you can explore both the rich interior and the spacious grounds. 

The nearby Hawaii Theatre, Aloha Tower, Hawaii State Capitol building and Western-style Mission Houses also hearken back to earlier times (1922, 1926, 1965 and 1821, to be specific). Pearl Harbor seems to be one of the few tourist attractions that isn’t located in this neighbourhood — but it’s not far from it, and there are plenty of tours from Honolulu that will take you there.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of Hawaiian culture, head to the Arts District to refuel. The Pig and the Lady serves up some delicious Vietnamese fusion dishes, including a French dip bánh mì, squid ink spaghetti with uni butter, and escargot in a green curry sauce. Alternatively, make your way to the Honolulu Night Market for a street food feast!

Travellers hiking up the Diamond Head crater in Honolulu
Travellers hiking up the Diamond Head crater in Honolulu
Travellers hiking up the Diamond Head crater in Honolulu

Diamond Head/Kapahulu/St. Louis Heights

Best area for outdoor enthusiasts

When we think of O‘ahu, a few things come to mind. Among them is the stunning Waikiki Beach (for reasons already discussed) and the Diamond Head crater. This volcanic tuff cone was formed approximately 300,000 years ago and is one of the most recognizable natural attractions on the island. 

Of course, it’s not just there to look at. Hiking the crater is one of top things to do in Hawai‘i — not just Honolulu. The 1.6km trail is pretty steep, but the panoramic views of the city and the Pacific Ocean more than make up for it. If this is the kind of thing you like to do on vacation, then the Diamond Head/Kapahulu/St. Louis Heights neighbourhood is for you. Not only will you be close to the trail head, but you’ll also likely save money on your accommodation (prices are lower here than they are in the heart of Waikiki!). 

Staying in Diamond Head/Kapahulu/St. Louis Heights also puts you in close proximity to Kapiʻolani Regional Park, Lē'ahi Beach Park and Kuilei Cliffs Beach Park so you can spend as much of your time as possible in the great, Hawaiian outdoors! The nearby Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, located a short 30-minute drive from Diamond Head, is also worth visiting — especially if you love snorkelling and scuba diving.

The Kahala Hotel & Resort is one of the best places to stay in Honolulu
The Kahala Hotel & Resort is one of the best places to stay in Honolulu
The Kahala Hotel & Resort is one of the best places to stay in Honolulu

Waialae Kahala

Best area for luxury travellers

Waialae Kahala is one of the most upscale neighbourhoods in Honolulu — so don’t expect to find any budget vacation rental properties or B&Bs here. Rather, make your way to the amazing Kahala Hotel & Resort. With beautifully appointed rooms and suites, a sparkling outdoor swimming pool, a CHI fitness centre and spa, casual and upscale dining options, and a natural lagoon, this is truly the best luxury hotel on the island.

You won’t have much of an excuse to leave the hotel, but you can and should go out and explore the neighbourhood (aka the “Beverly Hills of Hawai‘i”). Visit the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design, wander the shops and grab a bite to eat at the Kahala Mall, or venture to one of the area’s many secluded beaches. At the Kahala Hotel & Resort, you’ll have access to a 1km stretch of white sand that’s so peaceful it feels like a private beach — but it wouldn’t hurt for you to get a change of scenery. 

Magic Island in Honolulu's Ala Moana neighbourhood is a great spot for swimming
Magic Island in Honolulu's Ala Moana neighbourhood is a great spot for swimming
Magic Island in Honolulu's Ala Moana neighbourhood is a great spot for swimming

Ala Moana

Best area for shopaholics

Located between Downtown Honolulu and Waikiki, Ala Moana is a residential and commercial district. In other words, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a little retail therapy. The Ala Moana Centre is the world’s largest open-air mall, boasting more than 350 department stores, luxury shops and local boutiques. That’s more than three-times the number of stores than the Royal Hawaiian Centre in neighbouring Waikiki, so make sure to leave some room in your suitcase! 

That said, the Ala Moana shopping centre isn’t the only reason to stay in this neighbourhood. The grassy fields and sandy beaches at Ala Moana Regional Park (also known as Ala Moana Beach Park) are the other major draws here. It’s easy to while away a day at this outdoor playground. You can hang ten — the waves are ideal for more seasoned surfers — play a game of tennis or volleyball, swim or simply bask in the sun. Make sure to take the short walk out to Magic Island, a man-made lagoon that offers calm waters and lots of great photo opportunities. 



The Kaimuki neighbourhood in Honolulu
The Kaimuki neighbourhood in Honolulu
The Kaimuki neighbourhood in Honolulu

Kaimuki

Best area for wannabe locals

We’ll be honest: there aren’t a lot of attractions or accommodation options in Kaimukī — there are no major shopping centres, no luxury hotels and no white-sand beaches here. And you know what… you don’t need them!

This quaint neighbourhood north of the Diamond Head crater is where you can get a more authentic, local experience in Honolulu. Waialae Avenue, Kaimukī’s main street, is lined with hidden-gem shops and restaurants:

  • Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors serves up some of the best poke on this entire Hawaiian island
  • Pua Hana is filled to the brim with colourful bouquets and leis 
  • Mud Hen Water invites you to try innovative Hawaiian dishes
  • Island-Boy sells a gorgeous collection of vintage and locally-made gifts, from homewares to skincare products
  • The Curb and Kaimuki Storeroom is a hybrid coffee shop and natural wine bar

If you feel like you’re missing out on the more “popular” attractions… don’t! But you can also take solace in the fact that Kaimukī is just a short 10-minute drive from the bustling Waikiki neighbourhood.

 

Now that you know all the best areas to stay in Honolulu, it's time to book your trip! Check out our current Hawai‘i vacation deals or chat with a consultant today! 

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