Should I Stay In Waikiki or the North Shore?


Next to “to be or not to be” this is the question that weighs heavy on the souls of so many up and coming visitors to Oahu. OK, we’re being a little dramatic, but it is definitely one of the most frequently asked questions. When taking people from the airport to Waikiki (most typical destination) they often ask what we think, as if they have the option to cancel their existing reservation, turn in the other direction, and head for Haleiwa.

The answer however, is completely contingent upon you and your party, but we will do our best to help you match your preferences to the two options being presented to you today.

5 Things New Visitors Need to Consider When Deciding Between Staying in Waikiki Beach or the North Shore of Oahu

1. Transportation

If you and your party don’t plan on renting a car and prefer to stick around in the general vicinity of your accommodations with the odd day trip here and there, then there is definitely something to consider.

You can do this in Waikiki with ease. Pretty much all of the shopping (more on this below), ocean sports and recreation, beach lounging, dining, nightlife, and people watching/socializing that you came for can be found here. When the time comes to venture off and see one of the islands top attractions (a visit to the North Shore included) you can hop on transit or use a ride hailing service (just not to/from the airport). But one word of caution about taking TheBus – it takes a long time to get anywhere that’s really worth going to (aside from Ala Moana Center) and the schedule from Waikiki Beach to anywhere isn’t very dependable. For instance, one of the most popular routes, No.22, to Hanauma Bay and Hawaii Kai pretty much shows up whenever it wants to. Does the schedule state 9:38 AM pickup across from the Honolulu Zoo? It may show up anywhere between 9:30 and 10:15. Yes, it’s that bad. Otherwise, routes leaving from Ala Moana (20-30 min walk or bus from Waikiki) are much more dependable, even if the ride itself takes at least double the time of a car.

When it comes to staying on the North Shore, transportation up and down Kamehameha Highway from Haleiwa Town to Turtle Bay is actually pretty great. So if you plan on sticking to the North Shore, then the back and forth is easy even without a rental car. There are bus stops at every major point of interest and they run pretty late at night, although some people will be uncomfortable waiting at a bus stop in the pitch black in the country if they stuck around Waimea Bay way passed sunset. Things are much more complicated when it comes to leaving the North Shore for half/full day trips. The number of stops that make transit convenient here also extend the amount of time it takes to get to other popular spots that are somewhat accessible from the North Shore, including Kaneohe where Kualoa Ranch (aka Jurassic Park) and Chinaman’s Hat are found. If you want to keep to the North Shore, no transportation is needed, but if you want to take numerous day trips during your stay you will need to rent a vehicle.

And remember, no matter the side of the island you choose to stay on, the best way to get from Honolulu International Airport is to book a direct, flat rate, no-share shuttle.

Book your flat rate from HNL to Waikiki or the North Shore

2. Accommodations

There’s no question about which of the two has the most hotels and short term rentals. Waikiki is king/queen in this capacity. Every hotelier brand from Aston and Aqua to Hilton and Hyatt and beyond exists along the strip of Kalakaua Avenue and the numerous side streets that divide the densified district. Given the great supply, prices are more competitive and convenience is abound.

However, if you’re looking for more of an authentic island experience (whatever you deem that to be) then you’ll find that the North Shore boasts some of the most amazing short term vacation rentals (STR) in the world. Sure, Turtle Bay is great, but the available STR houses, homes, and hales that front the beaches from Keiki to Kawela Bay are second to none. Fresh tropical flora, free running baby chicks, beach access, and the sounds of the fabled North Shore waves to lull you to sleep at night are just a few of the reasons you may prefer to stay on the North Shore. Ke Iki Beach Bungalows is one of the most popular places to stay, but as with any North Shore STR the biggest challenge is availability so don’t wait to the last minute, wherever it is you choose to lay your head.

3. Dining

Once again Waikiki wins when it comes to the number and variety of places to eat. From fast food to fine dining it’s all here. There are food courts, food trucks, hotel/resort restaurants, standalone eateries, and more. We won’t even bother listing them but rest assured you’ll want for naught when those hunger pangs kick in.

On the flip side, the North Shore may not have the number and variety, but it takes the cake in one category – food trucks. The North Shore is known for this, with food truck lots in Haleiwa Town, Pukukea, and Kakuku, along with the odd standalone (Pupukea Grill, Crispy Grindz, etc.) peppering Kamehameha Highway. The food truck scene is exactly that, a scene. Each lot is a gathering place where you can eat, mingle, and fill your smartphones with Instagram-worthy moments until your hearts and bellies are content. Yes, there are some great restaurants and watering holes (for pub food) too, but there is no rival to the North Shore when it comes to mobile eateries on Oahu.

4. Attractions

Waikiki and the North Shore are attractions in themselves, but when it comes to access to your list of “must see” places it’s a bit of a tie.

The North Shore is home to Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach), Waimea Bay, Waimea Valley, Shark’s Cove, Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, Kawela Bay, and so much more. In addition, by following Kamehameha Highway you’ll reach Laie Point and windward gems such as Kualoa Ranch and Chinaman’s Hat in a more breathtaking coastal way than you would when coming from Waikiki.

Waikiki Beach does afford immediate access to Diamond Head Crater and when you hit Kalaniana’ole Highway you can quickly (fairly) get to China Walls, Koko Head, Hanauma Bay, Halona Blow Hole, Sandy Beach, and Makapuu Trail and Beach Park. It’s also closer to Kailua Bay and Lanikai Beach (with the Mokulua Islands in the distance) –  two of the top beaches in the world with the latter being a favorite among the frat house and navy castaway crowd.

All of these scenic attractions offer some variety of cliff jumping, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, surfing, paddling, zip lining, and so forth.

5. Shopping

Last but not least is a category that some are very passionate about. There is no subjective opinion here as Waikiki absolutely dominates this category. Access to Ala Moana Center (the biggest mall in the entire Hawaiian island chain) is one thing, but in Waikiki Beach alone you’ll find boutique shops and upscale retailers such as Louis Vuitton and Hermes along with budget friendly stores like H&M, Forever 21, Macy’s and more. They all converge upon Kalakaua Avenue and the roads that extend from the famous shopping strip. There is also the Royal Hawaiian Center and recently revamped International Village which is an impressive open air shopping center decorated by a large Banyan and tropical flora, all of which is within a few juxtaposing steps from the beach.

What about the North Shore? While it can’t compete in scale and variety, Haleiwa Town is certainly no slouch with an eclectic collection of boutique stores, surf shops, and quaint art galleries. For some, this is more than enough.

While we could go on and on, the items addressed above will certainly help you make your decision. Click here for more information about how to get from Honolulu Airport to the North Shore. Click here for information about getting from HNL to Waikiki’s Hilton Hawaiian Village or here for the local hostel, both of which serve as examples for any HNL to Waikiki accommodation transportation scenario. Otherwise, simply contact us with any questions you may have about booking your flat rate direct shuttle from the airport to anywhere on the island.

Book your flat rate from HNL to Waikiki or the North Shore