You’ve been to Oahu and stayed in Waikiki once, twice, three times, or more. You’ve vowed to stay somewhere else the next time, with fewer tourists, fewer ABC Stores, and one less ROSS Dress for Less. That said, you don’t want to sacrifice all of the conveniences that the world famous beach community has to offer, including access to great accommodations, activities, and attractions. You’re in luck, because there are other welcoming communities that impart an unforgettable experience without the crowds or overreaching familiarity of Waikiki.
3 Other Communities to Stay In for Your Next Oahu Vacation
Ko Olina in Kapolei is second in command to Waikiki Beach when it comes to resort communities. It encompasses nearly 650 acres, which are bedazzled by a four-tiered series of lagoons that front the luxury resorts. The community is connected by over a mile and a half of coastal pathways that invite you to wander in wonder, wondering if you will ever return to Waikiki. Would you need to? Maybe not.
Ko Olina may be less budget-friendly that its older south shore sibling, yet you absolutely get what you pay for. The area boasts a world class golf course, but also has a number of fishing charters in addition to snorkeling, scuba, and dolphin watching tours that depart from the Barber’s Point. It also hosts the most popular luau on the island at Paradise Cove. Even the historic Ewa Train tour cuts through the immaculate green that paints Ko Olina. If you want to explore on your own terms you can follow (on-foot) the railroad tracks over to Hawaiian Electric Beach Park which is one of the most unique snorkeling destinations on Oahu.
There are obviously great dining and beverage options within each upscale resort, but Ko Olina Center is where both Kapolei locals and visitors go for great food and even better drinks. Highlights include Monkeypod Kitchen which serves one of the best Mai Tais on Oahu, in addition to the famous Eggs ‘n Things and Island Vintage Coffee which are also Waikiki mainstays. Shopping outside of the resorts is decent, featuring Pineapples Boutique, Honolua Surf Co., and Gallery Olani, the latter of which curates incredible works from artisans found throughout the island.
Where to Stay in Ko Olina:
image: courtesy of Courtyard by Marriott in Laie
This is a debatable one for some. The biggest argument against a staying in Laie is that it’s an alcohol-free zone. Those that have visions of Mai Tai laden evenings and nights on a lanai have a little extra work to do (well, a 10-minute drive). Minor inconvenience aside, there is a lot of treasure to be found in this town that bridges that gap between Oahu’s windward side and the fabled North Shore.
For one, it’s home to the Polynesian Cultural Center, where you can immerse yourself in the six different island nations that buttress Polynesia. In fact, you can spend many a day venturing around the property, partaking in the wide number of activities, while taking advantage of the expansive shopping and dining options. The community is also home to some amazing natural wonders, namely Laie Point, which is where you’ll find the most daunting cliff jump spot on the island along with Puka island. Laie Falls hiking trail is just a 5-minute drive or 35-minute walk from there if you want to plan a full day of adventure.
As far as the basics go, you won’t miss Waikiki’s ABC convenience stores. Laie Shopping Center, Foodland, and more importantly, an L&L Hawaiian BBQ are just around the corner.
Lastly, Laie is conveniently located near the more popular North Shore attractions (more on those below) and the neighboring community of Kaneohe which puts you in close proximity to Kualoa Ranch of Hollywood film fame.
Where to Stay in Laie:
We’ve saved the best for last, as there is no beating the experience of spending your vacation on the North Shore.
In the past, you may have done day trips from Waikiki to the crown jewel of the island, but like most, you retreated at sunset before the dark swallowed up the sleepy neck of Oahu. In doing so, you rob yourself of the opportunity snooze to the soundtrack of crickets and crashing waves. You don’t get to wake-up to the cock-a-doodle-doos of roosters who let you know it’s time for a cup of java at The Sunrise Shack. You miss out on the experience of not having to glance at a clock, preferring to let the sun’s position tell you the time. Even buying groceries at Foodland Pupukea feels like an exciting activity, especially when pro-surfing heroes share the express line with you. Along the seven-mile miracle (as it’s known) you’ll have access to the island’s top beaches, surf spots, food trucks, fruit stands, farmers markets, boutique shops, bike paths, sea life tours, horseback rides, film locations, natural attractions, and some of the world’s best shave ice.
There’s simply nothing like the laid back vibes of a morning, afternoon, and evening on the North Shore. The quaintness of Haleiwa Town and wild coastal country of Pupukea combine to create a persona that no other community on Oahu can emulate, especially Waikiki.