Some five million tourists visit Oahu every year, and 9 out of 10 of them choose accommodations in Waikiki, a 500-acre beachfront neighborhood of Honolulu. Here's where you'll find all the action -- from fast food to fine dining, nightlife including everything from the sweet sounds of Hawaiian melodies to spicy dance music, shopping from bargains to brand names, and every ocean activity you can imagine. Staying here puts you in the heart of it all, but be aware that Waikiki is an on-the-go city with crowds, traffic, noise, and its fair share of crime.

Waikiki, Ewa End -- All the hotels listed here are located in the area bordered by the ocean to Ala Wai Boulevard, and between Ala Wai Terrace, in the Ewa Beach direction (or western side of Waikiki), and Olohana Street and Fort DeRussy Park, in the Diamond Head direction (or eastern side of Waikiki).

Mid-Waikiki, Makai -- All the hotels listed here are between the ocean and Kalakaua Avenue, and between Fort DeRussy in the Ewa (west) direction and Kaiulani Street in the Diamond Head (east) direction.

Waikiki Beach Walk -- If you haven't been to Waikiki in a few years, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the Waikiki Beach Walk. One of Waikiki's biggest projects in decades, the total renovation of an 8-acre area bound by Saratoga Road, Kalakaua Avenue, Lewers Street, and Kalia Road makes the area much more welcoming and visitor friendly than the crowded, narrow streets of just a few years ago. The project, by Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, cost some $460 million.

Phase One, completed in 2007, reconfigured the formerly very congested area (lots of delivery trucks double-parked, crammed sidewalks, and no vegetation) into an oasis of broad sidewalks, tropical foliage, water features, open space, and new, totally renovated hotels. Eleven hotels were razed, upgraded, or changed to suites or condos. Five hotels and one timeshare condominium remain. The bad news for budget travelers is that more-affordable near-oceanfront hotels, neighborhood eateries, and small independent shops have been replaced by luxury properties with 90,000 square feet of swank shops and trendy restaurants to match, all linked through pedestrian bridges and connecting walkways.

Other changes to the hotels in this area include:

  • The former 480-room Ohana Reef Towers is now a 193-condominium unit timeshare, operated by Outrigger and renamed Wyndham Waikiki Beach Walk.
  • The Ohana Edgewater and Ohana Coral Seas were razed and replaced by Waikiki Beach Walk, a 90,000-square-foot retail/entertainment complex with 40 retail shops, four major restaurants, four smaller food and beverage spots, and an open pedestrian plaza.
  • The former Ohana Waikiki Village and the Ohana Waikiki Tower hotels, which had a total of 881 rooms, were demolished and an Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk, with a total of 421 suites, was built to replace them.
  • The Outrigger Reef on the Beach totally refurbished its rooms.
  • The Ohana Islander Waikiki, on the corner of Kalakaua Avenue and Lewers Street, renovated its 280 units.

Mid-Waikiki, Mauka -- These mid-Waikiki hotels, on the mountain side of Kalakaua Avenue, are a little farther away from the beach than those in the neighborhoods listed above. They're all between Kalakaua Avenue and Ala Wai Boulevard, and between Kalaimoku Street in the Ewa direction and Kaiulani Street in the Diamond Head direction.

Waikiki, Diamond Head End -- You'll find all these hotels between Ala Wai Boulevard and the ocean, and between Kaiulani Street (1 block east of the International Marketplace) and Diamond Head itself.

Honolulu Beyond Waikiki

The city of Honolulu extends far beyond the tourist zones of Waikiki. It encompasses a fairly large area, and most of Oahu's population calls it home. Downtown Honolulu is relatively small, occupying only a handful of blocks. The financial, government, and corporate headquarters of businesses are found here. Other neighborhoods range from the quiet suburbs of Hawaii Kai to the kamaaina neighborhoods such as Manoa. With the exception of the heart of downtown, these neighborhoods are generally quieter than Waikiki, more residential, yet within minutes of beaches, shopping, and all the activities Oahu has to offer.

Near Honolulu International Airport -- If you have a late-night flight, a long layover between flights, a delayed flight, or a long period of time between your noon checkout and your flight, consider the services of the hotel choices near the airport: Best Western -- The Plaza Hotel, 3253 N. Nimitz Hwy., Honolulu (www.bestwestern.com; tel. 800/800-4683 or 808/836-0661), where rooms go from $109 to $169 (now charging $10 per day for parking); and the Ohana Honolulu Airport Hotel, 3401 Nimitz Hwy. (www.ohanahotels.com; tel. 800/462-6262 or 808/836-0661), with rooms from $99 (up to superior rooms with breakfast for $205). Both offer free airport shuttle service. These are certainly not where you should spend your Hawaiian vacation, but are good overnight resting places.

The Windward Coast

The windward, or eastern, side of the island is where the trade winds blow, rain squalls support lush, tropical vegetation, and subdivisions dot the landscape. The communities of Kailua and Kaneohe dominate here. Bed-and-breakfasts (ranging from oceanfront estates to tiny cottages on quiet residential streets) abound. This is the place for "island" experiences -- but you're still within a 30-minute drive to Waikiki.

Kailua & Kaneohe

Pat O'Malley, of Pat's Kailua Beach Properties, 204 S. Kalaheo Ave., Kailua, HI 96734 (www.patskailua.com; tel. 808/261-1653 or 808/262-4128; fax 808/261-0893), books a wide range of houses and cottages on or near Kailua Beach. Rates start at $100 a day for a studio cottage near the beach and go up to $600 per day for a multimillion-dollar oceanfront home with room to sleep eight. All units are fully furnished, with everything from cooking utensils to telephone and TV, even washer/dryers.

The North Shore

The North Shore is the Hawaii of Hollywood: giant waves, surfers galore, tropical jungles, waterfalls, and mysterious Hawaiian temples. If you're looking for a quieter vacation, closer to nature, filled with swimming, snorkeling, diving, surfing, or just plain hanging out on some of the world's most beautiful beaches, the North Shore is for you. It boasts good restaurants, shopping, and cultural activities, along with the quiet of country living. The North Shore doesn't have many accommodations or an abundance of tourist facilities -- some say that is its charm. Bed-and-breakfasts are the most common options, but there are some deluxe facilities to consider. Be forewarned: The ocean is rough here in winter, and it's nearly an hour's drive from the North Shore to Honolulu and Waikiki.

Team Real Estate, 66-250 Kamehameha Hwy., Ste. D-103, Haleiwa, HI 96712 (www.teamrealestate.com; tel. 800/982-8602 or 808/637-3507; fax 808/637-8881), manages vacation rentals on the North Shore. Its units range from $65-a-night condos to $120 one-bedroom apartments to $835-per-night 11-bedroom oceanfront luxury homes. A minimum stay of 1 week is required for some properties, but shorter stays are available as well.

Leeward Oahu: The Waianae Coast

This area is a new frontier for Oahu visitors. Currently, there is only one exquisite resort in this beach-lined rural section of Oahu, but more are planned. Here's a chance to escape, far, far away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki. This is the sunny side of the island, with little rain and lots of sandy beaches. People who love to play golf, enjoy the ocean, and participate in cultural activities will have plenty to do. However, outside the Ko Olina Resort area, there is little in the way of fine dining or interesting shopping.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.