Family Travel


Waikoloa vs. Honolulu: A Hawaii Travel Guide

Aloha written in the sand on the beach of Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii

Waikoloa vs. Honolulu: A Hawaii Travel Guide

Are you trying to decide between Waikoloa and Honolulu? Your choice largely depends on the type of experience you are seeking for your family's vacation. Waikoloa, located on the Big Island, offers a more serene and laid-back atmosphere compared to the bustling city vibe of Honolulu on Oahu.

Waikoloa offers a serene escape. Many luxurious resorts with world-class amenities, as well as championship golf courses, can be found in Waikoloa. Its beautiful beaches are ideal for sunbathing and snorkeling. Waikoloa is a great choice for travelers who want to unwind in a more secluded setting yet still have access to a variety of dining and shopping options.

On the other hand, Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii, is teeming with great restaurants, beaches, and historical landmarks. Waikiki Beach is one of the world's most famous beaches due to its iconic stretch of golden sand. Moreover, it has the perfect waves for surfing. In addition, there are a number of world-famous resorts and hotels to choose from. If you crave the energy of a bustling city combined with the allure of a tropical paradise, you may prefer Honolulu.

Our Hawaii guide can help you choose the best location for your family. We provide recommendations for each place, including its top beaches, dining and shopping options, and accommodations.

Waikoloa vs. Honolulu: Waikoloa

Waikoloa is a stunning location on the western coast of the Big Island. It is located approximately 25 miles north of Kona International Airport. This place is famous for its upscale shopping, stunning beaches, and luxurious resorts. Visitors can learn about the Hawaii's rich culture and history by attending traditional luaus, exploring the ancient petroglyphs at the Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve, and visiting the nearby Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site. For those seeking adventure, the coast of Waikoloa offers excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities. You can also explore Hawaii's fascinating lava fields, go horseback riding, hike, and much more. We will recommend the best beaches and places to stay in Waikoloa. We also explore the best dining and shopping options available in the area.

Waikoloa: Beaches and Swimming

Located at the heart of the Kohala Coast, Waikoloa has long been a popular destination for beach enthusiasts from all over the world. With an abundance of stunning beaches to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide which ones to visit. If you are looking for advice, we recommend three top-notch beaches in Waikoloa that you do not want to miss.

Sunset with palms at Waikoloa beach with colorful skies, Big Island, Hawaii
Waikoloa, located on the Western coast of the Big Island, offers stunning beach views and incredible resorts.

©Jaromir Vanek/Shutterstock.com

49 Black Sand Beach

This semi-exclusive beach is situated in the luxurious private home community of 49 Black Sand Beach and is guarded at its entry point. Although it may be difficult to visit at times due to the limited parking spots (only 20 available), this beach's natural beauty and unique black sand make it worth the effort. Additionally, because the space is so limited, it is a quiet beach that is perfect for relaxing.

There is a charming cove with crystal-clear water that is ideal for snorkeling and observing coral. Additionally, there are picturesque trails around the beach, perfect for a tranquil and scenic hike. This lovely little beach also features outstanding restrooms and clean-up facilities, making it a great option for families with young kids.

Hapuna Beach State Park

Hapuna Beach State Park is one of the few white-sand beaches on the west coast of the Big Island. It is a popular state park enjoyed by both tourists and locals. There is a five-dollar entrance fee for non-residents. You can also stay overnight in one of their cabins, which is 70 dollars a night for non-residents.

Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including swimming when the ocean is calm, bodysurfing during periods of shore breaks, sunbathing, and picnicking. However, it is important to note that there are dangerous rip currents and pounding shore breaks during periods of high surf. Fortunately, the park provides lifeguards for those who choose to swim. Additionally, visitors can enjoy hiking opportunities along the coastal trail that runs through the 61.8 acres of the park.

Makalawena Beach

Makalawena is one of the best beaches on the Big Island, but it is only accessible by hiking, which keeps the crowds away. If you are looking for an untouched beach, this one offers white sand, lava rock landscapes, and crystal-clear water with panoramic views. This beautiful beach is worth the challenging hike, but you should pack all your essentials since there are no facilities available on the beach. Before leaving, make sure to clean up thoroughly to help maintain the natural state of the beach.

Waikoloa: Dining and Shopping

Waikoloa offers great dining options, unique stores, and opportunities to learn about Hawaii’s culture while enjoying your vacation. There is a wide range of restaurants to choose from, whether you are searching for fine dining or budget-friendly eats. The two most popular shopping destinations are the Queens Marketplace and the Kings' shops, where you can pick up everything from souvenirs to clothes to essential supplies.

Sprinkling sesame seeds on cooked poke bowl close-up. Traditional Hawaiian dishes made of sliced vegetables, fish and greenery, dried seaweed. Healthy vegetarian food. Asian vegan raw meal on table.
Waikoloa offers a huge variety of restaurant options, including the opportunity to sample delicious Hawaiian dishes.


Lava Lava Beach Club

Located near Waikoloa Beach Resort, this restaurant has been serving delicious food since 2012. Due to its beachfront location and relaxed atmosphere, it is a popular choice among diners. However, reservations are not accepted, so get there early or plan to wait. In the evenings, guests can enjoy live music and dancing while taking in the breathtaking beach views.

Queens' Marketplace

If you are looking for a shopping destination in Waikoloa, Queens' Marketplace is definitely worth a visit. This shopping center has over 35 shops and the Big Island's largest food court. The food court has easy grab-and-go options like Dairy Queen and Starbucks, as well as sit-down options like Waikoloa Shrimp Company and Island Greens restaurant. There is also a movie theater, yoga study, and hair salon.

Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill

Roy's Waikoloa Bar & Grill has been serving Chef Roy Yamaguchi's Pacific Rim cuisine for over 26 years. His award-winning restaurant offers a high-end dining experience and locally sourced ingredients. Popular dishes include the Misoyaki Butterfish and the popular Blackened Ahi. However, the restaurant can get quite loud around peak hours. As a result, it is better to arrive early if you prefer a quieter dining experience.

Waikoloa: Where to Stay

The Waikoloa area is a popular resort destination, with a variety of high-end hotels and vacation rentals ranging from luxurious resorts to condominiums. Some of the most popular resorts in the area include the Hilton Waikoloa Village, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, and Paniolo Greens.

The shadow of a palm is reflected on a pool at a resort hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Waikoloa's resorts offer amazing amenities for a truly luxurious vacation experience.

©Patricia Marroquin/Shutterstock.com

Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort

This enormous resort is on the northwest coast of the Big Island. If you fly into Kona International Airport, it is a 20-minute car ride away, whereas Hilo Airport is more than an hour’s drive. Hilton Waikoloa Village is spread across 62 acres of land and offers three European-style trams to help visitors navigate the resort. Moreover, the resort boasts over 1,800 artworks from Asian, Western, and Oceanic cultures, making it a great place to immerse yourself in island art and culture.

The Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort has a lot to offer, including on-site restaurants, yoga classes, and professional photography services. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy two championship golf courses at this award-winning resort. Guests can also take a dip in one of three swimming pools, snorkel in the ocean-fed Lagoon Beach, and explore a variety of waterfalls and waterways.

Furthermore, it is a popular spot for weddings, with three different packages available. Couples can exchange vows in the charming Hale Aloha Wedding Chapel and celebrate with specially catered food and drinks. Besides weddings, the resort also has several outdoor venues available for booking special events.

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

The Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa is one of the few resorts in this area located directly on the ocean. Visitors can go down to Anaeho'omalu Bay to relax and explore the beach. Golfers will love the 27-hole golf course of Waikoloa Beach Resort Golf. You can also treat yourself to a spa day at Mandara Spa. In addition to these amenities, this resort has two on-site restaurants and nightly luaus.

If you want to explore the Big Island, this resort can help. You can choose from a variety of tour options, such as horseback riding, walking, ATV riding, or helicopter tours, to discover some of the island's most stunning locations.

Paniolo Greens at Waikoloa

Visitors to Paniolo Greens at Waikoloa can enjoy spacious, fully furnished villas and unwind on private lanais that offer a refreshing breeze and warm Hawaiian sun. There is also an onsite spa, gym, and a world-class golf course. With so much to do onsite, you may not want to leave this resort.

However, when you are ready to explore, this Big Island resort is centrally located. It is close to many destinations, including Waipio Valley and Volcano National Park. Not only can you spend the morning surfing in tropical waters, you can spend the afternoon snow-skiing on the breathtaking Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano.

Golf enthusiasts will enjoy playing on one of the 10 world-class golf courses nearby. In addition, dining, shopping, and entertainment options are conveniently located nearby in the Highlands Shopping Center, the Shops at Mauna Lani, or the Waikoloa Kings Shops.

Waikoloa vs. Honolulu: Honolulu

Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii, is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. From its incredible beaches to its countless outdoor activities like hiking, snorkeling, and ziplining, tourists will find plenty to do. Honolulu also has a great shopping scene, including the Ala Moana Center, one of the largest shopping malls in the world.

Furthermore, the city has a unique and varied culinary scene, with a blend of global cooking and local Hawaiian delicacies. Furthermore, multiple top-rated resorts will cater to your every need while you are on vacation. We have compiled a list of some of the best beaches, restaurants, and hotels in the area for you to explore.

Surfer woman walking in city with surfboard to go surfing. Urban Hawaiian surf concept. Asian girl holding surf board crossing street to go to the beach. Waikiki, Honolulu city, Oahu, Hawaii, USA.
Honolulu is a city that blends an urban vibe with a tropical paradise.


Honolulu: Beaches and Swimming

Hawaii's capital city is home to an awe-inspiring coastline with numerous beaches to suit everyone's preferences. Whether you want to swim, snorkel, or simply sunbathe, there is a beach for you. Here are three of Honolulu's top-rated beaches.

Ala Moana Beach Park

If you want a less crowded beach spot, Ala Moana Beach Park is a protected beach that is ideal for relaxing and swimming. In addition to the stunning beach, this location offers amenities such as tennis courts, a yacht club, and three concession stands. Moreover, the famous Magic Island is a half-crescent beach located a short distance away from the beach park. Additionally, there are many shaded areas to relax, and this beach park is an ideal location for jogging. This beach's calm waves, multiple food concession stands, and restrooms make it a great destination for families.

Kailua Beach Park

The serene town of Kailua is located on the Windward coast of Oahu, just a 30-minute drive away from Honolulu. Despite being close to the bustling city, Kailua has a completely different vibe. Kailua Beach Park is consistently ranked among the most beautiful beaches in the world. This beach has a three-mile-long crescent-shaped bay with soft, white sand and warm, crystal-clear turquoise waters, making it an absolute beautiful spot.

Moreover, this spacious, uncrowded beach is one of the cleanest beaches in the area. The waves are not strong, making it perfect for children to swim and play safely. The park has excellent amenities, plenty of parking spaces, and a relaxed atmosphere where you can unwind and enjoy a full day.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach in Oahu is a popular two-mile stretch of shoreline filled with hotels, shops, nightlife, and restaurants. It is not only a popular vacation destination but also a jumping-off point for many excursions to the rest of Oahu. Many visitors only stay in this area and on this beach because there is so much to do.

It is also a great place to watch the sunsets, particularly from the west end of the beach. Sunset cruises are also available. Every Friday at 7:45 pm, there is a fireworks display on the beach. While they come from the Hilton Hawaiian Village, everyone on the beach can enjoy them. There are also many great spots to get a Mai Tai and listen to music while enjoying the beach.

Honolulu: Dining and Shopping

In Honolulu, you will find a wide range of dining and shopping options that cater to every taste. Whether you want traditional Hawaiian cuisine or fast food, there is something for everyone. Furthermore, you can explore numerous shopping venues, offering everything from Hawaiian souvenirs to high-end fashion. We have handpicked three must-visit places in Hawaii's state capital that you should add to your itinerary.

Aerial view night traffic of Waikiki city in Oahu, Hawaii, United States. Moving people and car glowing trails in the street. City night lights of shops and nightlife concept
Honolulu is known for its lively nightlife, which makes it an excellent location for dining out.

©Benny Marty/Shutterstock.com

Ala Moana Center

The Ala Moana Center is an open-air shopping mall that houses over 360 stores and 70 dining options. The mall has four levels, with designer shops located on the 2nd and 3rd levels. Additionally, the mall hosts four major department stores, along with several local Hawaiian retailers that specialize in souvenirs and handmade products. We recommend that you wear comfortable walking shoes and clothing as you will likely spend the entire day exploring the mall. The stores are air-conditioned, but since it is an outdoor mall, it does not have centralized air conditioning.

The Pig and the Lady

The Pig and the Lady restaurant has a devoted local following. It offers an ever-changing menu of Vietnamese comfort food, which blends the owner's family recipes with Hawaiian ingredients. Additionally, it has an innovative drink menu, including the Cobra Commander, which is made with avocado-infused mezcal, sriracha ice, grapefruit, rose, and lime. In addition to its restaurant in Chinatown, this restaurant also has pop-ups at the Farmer's Market throughout the week.

Waiahole Poi Factory

If you are searching for authentic Hawaiian cuisine, then you should definitely give Waiahole Poi Factory a try. Although it is not the fanciest restaurant in Honolulu, it is consistently rated as one of the best dining spots in the city. Additionally, it is one of the most affordable places to eat at. Single-entrée plates are priced at $9.50, while two-choice combo plates cost $12. Both of these options come with rice or poi, lomi salmon, and haupia. Moreover, Waiahole Poi Factory is the only place in Hawaii where you can taste the Sweet Lady of Waiahole, a dessert consisting of kulolo topped with haupia ice cream.

Honolulu: Where to Stay

Honolulu offers a wide range of resorts and hotels catering to all budgets and preferences. When choosing where to stay, consider your budget, desired amenities, and the hotel's proximity to attractions. To help you out, we suggest three of the most comfortable and enjoyable places to stay during your vacation in Honolulu.

One of the first hotels established in Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian is considered one of the flagship hotels in Hawaii tourism.
The Royal Hawaiian is one of Honolulu's most famous hotels.


Halekulani Hotel

Opened in 1907, the Halekulani Hotel has 453 guest rooms painted in seven shades of white to accentuate the stunning blue views of the ocean. The hotel, which is set on five acres of land facing the iconic Waikiki Beach, provides guests with a tranquil haven centrally located in Honolulu. In fact, if you are planning to explore the Honolulu area, you will not need to rent a car.

All of the rooms have balconies, deep soaking tubs, mini-fridges, and high-speed WiFi. Moreover, there are six bars and restaurants, including the highly-rated La Mer, a French restaurant. SpaHalekulani, the newly redesigned spa, features therapies rooted in the healing traditions of the Hawaiian Islands and Japan. Finally, this resort has an extensive art collection for guests to explore and enjoy.

Halepuna Hotel

Halepuna Hotel is a highly rated hotel that is a two-minute walk from the beach and a short walk to restaurants and shops on Kalakaua Avenue. In addition to its modern fitness center, it offers guests access to a heated open-air pool with a sundeck and ocean views.

The Halekulani Bakery & Restaurant, located next to the lobby, offers a variety of delicious coffee, pastries, bread, and all-day dining options. If you are in a hurry and need a quick snack during the day, this is the perfect stop.

One impressive feature of this resort is that it does not charge a resort amenity fee, which is quite rare among Honolulu resorts. Moreover, there is no shortage of amenities at this hotel, rivaling others on our list. However, it is worth noting that the rooms may be on the smaller side, making them better suited for families with older tweens or teens.

Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Built in 1927, the iconic Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, is famous for its Pink Palace. This resort may be the most coveted hotel on Waikiki Beach due to its long, illustrious history and unusual architecture. The resort offers stunning panoramic views of Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, and the Pacific Ocean from its guest rooms. Families can enjoy two of the best hotel pools in Hawaii, including the kid-friendly Malulani Pool and Helumoa Playground.

If you want to spend the day at this beautiful resort, a poolside food and beverage service offers a large selection of cocktails, smoothies, and even full meals. You can also order a private beach set, which includes the use of one umbrella and two chaise lounges for the duration of the day. However, these are quite popular, so you should reserve them in advance.

Final Thoughts

Are you torn between Waikoloa and Honolulu for your family vacation? Your choice largely depends on the kind of experience you want. Waikoloa, on the Big Island, offers tranquility amidst luxurious resorts, championship golf courses, and pristine beaches.

On the other hand, Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii, offers a city atmosphere with a wide selection of world-class resorts. Honolulu is an excellent destination for those seeking a mix of city energy and tropical paradise.

Our Hawaii guide can help you choose between Waikoloa's serenity and Honolulu's urban charm. Regardless of your choice, your family's Hawaiian vacation is guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience.

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