If you’re staying in a hotel—versus renting a house—you’ll probably want to be based in Waikiki. It’s not the most relaxing place in Oahu, but it’s not rowdy, either, and it offers Hawaii’s largest array of budget hotels. Unless noted, all rooms have air-conditioning, private baths, mini-fridges, and TVs. A few throw in free parking; others have nearby lots for $6 to $8 per day. Room rates may vary slightly by season, and high season is December through March.
Aqua Kuhio Village: Condominiums partially converted to a hotel back in January. Rates will be increasing, but for now they’re a steal: standard room $49, studio kitchenette $59, family room $89 (two rooms: one king and two twin beds). Maid service is weekly, or add $7 per day. 2463 Kuhio Ave., 808/791-7171, aquaresorts.com.
The Breakers Hotel: A perfectly preserved 1960s relic in a quiet location. Some rooms are Japanese-style, calling to mind a well-organized sushi restaurant (sliding shoji screens hide tiny kitchens and spacious closets). The back terraces of a few face the Urasenke Teahouse, providing a view of traditional tea ceremonies performed by women in kimonos. There’s a small pool, and the front-desk staff knows every guest’s name. Standard doubles are $94, one-room garden suites are $135 and up. Limited free parking. 250 Beach Walk, 808/923-3181, breakers-hawaii.com.
Hawaiiana Hotel: Another vintage hotel, next to the Breakers, but slightly larger. A social clientele hangs around the two small pools, which are surrounded by lava-rock walls and tropical plants. Rooms are nothing special, but all have kitchenettes. Standard rooms $95, suites $165 and up. 260 Beach Walk, 808/923-3811, hawaiianahotelatwaikiki.com.
Hostelling International–Honolulu: In Manoa Valley, near the University of Hawaii. It’s so peaceful you’ll actually awake to the sound of birds chirping. There are two private rooms with shared bath ($48)—they’re very basic and have no A/C, TV, or fridge. Dorm beds are $19. The facilities are spotless and free parking is available. The staff can only be described as mellow. 2323A Seaview Ave., 808/946-0591, hostelsaloha.com.
Queen Kapiolani Hotel: The 315 rooms have standard hotel decor and there’s a big pool, plus a restaurant and lounge. The cheapest rates ($78) go three months in advance. If you can, spring for a deluxe ocean-view room ($105)—they’re bigger, and the best ones have views of both Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. A special room-and-rental-car package can be as low as $74 a day. 150 Kapahulu Ave., 808/922-1941, queenkapiolani.com.
Royal Grove Hotel: This hot-pink Waikiki hotel is Oahu’s best budget bet. Rooms are vast and sunny, with kitchenettes and full-size fridges. The setting feels like something out of Beach Blanket Bingo, with a small courtyard pool and surfboards hanging above the authentic retro furniture in the lobby. Staff members knock themselves out to help. Standard rooms are $60, or $370 per week. One-bedroom suites cost $75, economy rooms without A/C $45. 151 Uluniu Ave., 808/923-7691, royalgrovehotel.com.
The Surfhouse: When you’re ready to get out of Honolulu, consider this quirky North Shore option. In pleasantly overgrown surroundings, there are two private cabins with ceiling fans (no A/C)—the one with a private bath is $55, the one with a shared bath is $45. Beds in the six-person dorm cost $15 each, and camping is $15 for two people in one tent (tents are available for rent). There’s also a common-area kitchen and kayaks for hire. 62-203 Lokoea Pl., Haleiwa, 808/637-7146, surfhouse.com.