Location, location and luxury. That's what I got when I hotel-hopped my way around Oahu recently, overnighting in three very different places which, together, offered something for everyone.
I stayed at a Waikiki high-rise hotel, a secluded deluxe resort and a laid-back bungalow. The common denominator: All three of these Oahu lodgings were oceanfront because, really, that's the best way to stay in Hawaii, within sight and sound of the magical, warm ocean.
Being oceanfront, however, meant none were budget stays.
Here's a look at each place with pros/cons and tips.
WAIKIKI BEACH HIGH RISE
Dozens of high-rise hotels and condos are packed into Waikiki, along the famous stretch of white-sand beach that offers excellent swimming, people-watching and surfing.
Beyond the beach, Waikiki is full of restaurants, bars and stores, from outdoor markets to luxury designer shops. If you like urban bustle and convenience in a tropical beach setting, Waikiki is your place.
The hotel: I stayed at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, an older 645-room hotel that's been recently refurbished. Watch for online sales. I got a sale rate of US$158 (NZ$184.28) a room, a good deal since rooms easily can cost US$200-US$250 a night and up. It included a room upgrade and parking; my 27th-floor room had a stunning view of the Waikiki cityscape and of surfers bobbing in the waves.
Pros: Excellent location on the beachfront Kalakaua Avenue, at the somewhat quieter southeast end of Waikiki Beach where there's a breakwater that creates a protected swimming area. Comfortable, although not fancy, compact refurbished rooms. Continental buffet breakfast included (plus an insulated lunch bag so you can take it back to your room).
Cons: Expensive parking, US$27 (NZ$31.5) a night. Little, no-frills pool. Daily amenity/resort fee of US$23 (NZ$26.8) (for things like, hmmm, using in-room safe and coffee maker as well as breakfast and wi-fi).
Tips: Ask for a high-floor, quiet room (not a standard-category room) to get a better view and get away from the loud music of the hotel's open-air restaurant and breakfast buffet.
More info: astonwaikikibeach.com
NORTH SHORE LUXURY RESORT
The North Shore of Oahu is the island's surfer-life epicentre, blessed with 11 kilometres of beach and massive waves in winter where world-class surfers play. Low houses hug the beach - there are just a few places to stay and a scattering of shops and restaurants - and many locals want no further development. Go here for the laid-back beach life and beauty, not for entertainment or nightlife.
The hotel: Turtle Bay is the only big hotel on the North Shore, a luxury 452-room destination resort that's recently undergone a massive renovation of guest rooms and public spaces.
With its main building just metres from the ocean (you could build that close to the water back in the 1970s when the hotel opened), Turtle Bay is a place you could hide out for days, with kilometres of undeveloped shoreline to walk; tennis courts; two golf courses; horseback rides; a reef-protected swimming beach; several restaurants; and a spa.
I got an oceanview room for about US$250 (NZ$292) a night, thanks to a buy-in-advance rate and an upgrade. Such rooms usually cost about US$325 (NZ$379) and up a night, although rates vary widely.
Pros: Spacious, comfortable and calm rooms, with big balconies. Lovely, peaceful oceanfront location with classic views of sun, surf, palm trees. Self-parking is included (or pay for valet parking).
Turtle Bay's Ola restaurant is a casual but serious-about-food restaurant right on the beach, with some tables planted in the sand and lit by candles and the moon. You'll pay for the romantic beauty, with dinner entrees starting around $US30.
Cons: Very slow in-room wireless when I was staying there. A hefty resort fee of US$32 (NZ$37.3) a night. Hotel's restaurants, while good, are pricey, and it's about a half-hour drive to restaurants in the little North Shore town of Haleiwa.
Tips: If you can afford it, get a room in the east wing for the best views (the hotel has three wings).
More info: turtlebayresort.com
NORTH SHORE BUNGALOW
For a completely different way to stay on the North Shore, Ke Iki Beach Bungalows are in the heart of the North Shore residential area, tucked between the beach and a narrow two-lane road - the main drag on this side of the island.
If you're looking for a low-key, get-away-from-it-all vacation where you can spread out, make your own meals (units have full kitchens) and where the biggest excitement is watching the sun go down, then this is the place. Don't expect hotel amenities or service; this is more like having your own vacation cottage once you've checked in at the manager's in-home office. A one-bedroom beachfront unit is around US$200 (NZ$233); a two-bedroom around US$230 (NZ$268.25); not many deals are available, as Ke Iki is small and popular.
Pros: Units are spacious and simply but comfortably furnished. Barbecues, picnic tables and hammocks are outside.
The bungalows are just a few steps above the lovely, white-sand Ke Iki beach, which adjoins Sunset Beach. Walk the beach or watch the expert surfers play in the curling waves of Banzai Pipeline. Swimming can be lovely in summer (although in winter, massive, dangerous waves can pound the North Shore beaches).
Cons: Soundproofing was lacking in the main garden-view building where I stayed; I could hear my upstairs neighbours rather too clearly.
A cleaning fee is additional, roughly US$60 (NZ$70) to US$75 (NZ$87.5) per visit.
Tips: Get a beachfront unit for the stunning views (and sounds) of the waves. And sunsets.
Book well ahead, or watch for cancellations, since Ke Iki has devoted repeat visitors.
More info: keikibeach.com