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Introduction to the Neighborhoods of Oahu

A general introduction to the neighborhoods of Honolulu and other parts of Oahu.

The beauty of Oahu glows in its eclectic array of historical sites, attractions, cultures and people. Hidden between the Pacific Ocean and the many valleys and ridges of the mountain ranges, lie communities and neighborhoods rich in heritage, exotic cuisines and residents with stories to tell. Visitors taking the time to explore Oahu’s diverse neighborhoods will discover a part of Hawaii that is often overlooked – the lives of locals.

Downtown Honolulu is the business center of Oahu. Central is the state’s government center including the state capitol building, Honolulu Hale (city hall), judiciary buildings and Washington Place (the Governor’s official residence). The Hawaii State Library also is located here, as well as Iolani Palace, the only palace on U.S. soil, and Mission Houses Museum, which contains the oldest existing house in Hawaii. Eating venues are in abundance with countless plate lunch locations. Inland of downtown Honolulu, visitors will find the 20-acre Foster Botanical Gardens, a popular place to enjoy a picnic while surrounded by exotic flora and fauna.

Filled with color, excitement and the hustle and bustle of vendors, shoppers, business people and tourists, Chinatown is a place of history, mystery and fun. Amidst the lei stands, noodle and dim sum factories; hole-in-the-wall Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants; and acupuncture and herbal medicine shops, there is a place called the Oahu Market. The market is known for having the best “sashimi” (raw fish), fresh meats and produce. Chefs from many local eateries and fine dining restaurants often visit the Oahu Market early in the morning to wrangle for choice cuts for their exotic island dishes. In the maze of vendors, local produce can be found including bok choy (Chinese cabbage), mustard cabbage, Manoa lettuce, mango, soy beans, papaya, avocado, Japanese cucumbers and lemon grass. The best part is most of these items are bargains compared to major grocery store prices. If you keep walking mauka (toward the mountains), you’ll come across the Kuan Yin Temple. This is the oldest Chinese temple in Honolulu and worshipers still come here to light candles, burn incense and offer prayers. Another “oldest” is Wo Fat restaurant, around since 1882 and still a favorite among locals demanding good, authentic Chinese food.

High-rise Moiliili has been a middle-class neighborhood since its development in the 1920s. As a business district along King Street, it serves local residents and University of Hawaii at Manoa students. Flower stalls are numerous, creating a romantic air about the neighborhood. Le Flowers sells an endless variety of lei and freestanding tropical flowers at low prices. For those seeking the natural way to live, Down to Earth, Hawaii’s largest natural food store, sells everything from organic produce to aromatherapy. For some of the best ice cream on Oahu, visit Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts, Inc. Open late, you’ll find yourself surrounded by students who love the unique names of the delicious desserts as much as the flavors. Then head over to Eastside Grill or Players Sports & Entertainment Club and enjoy a drink, some dancing and great company. If the bar scene is not for you, Magoo’s Pizza is a popular gathering place for casual conversations, loud laughs and plenty of great food and drinks at college prices. Steps away, ethnic food abounds with Greek, Thai, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants.

Nestled behind the University of Hawaii at Manoa is a lush valley that has retained much of its old Hawaiian charm. Manoa’s ambience is best captured in the fine old homes built at the turn of the 20th century by families who established many of Oahu’s first businesses. In this quiet neighborhood, you’ll find Manoa Valley Inn, an arts and crafts bed and breakfast featuring beautiful period furnishings reminiscent of the pre-World War II lifestyle. Nearby is Manoa Marketplace, home to a host of unique shops including Hawaiian Bagels, where bagel lovers can enjoy an almost endless list of choices in fresh-baked bagels and sandwiches; and Island Manapua Factory, which serves a variety of manapua (Chinese dumplings) and chow fun. For a more intimate dining experience, just up the road is the Waioli Tea Room. Residents and visitors frequent this historical landmark to enjoy blended teas, breakfast and lunch in a tranquil, secluded teahouse nestled in the lush green valleys of Manoa. Pamper yourself to a lomi lomi massage or seaweed wrap at the new Malama Salon & Day Spa. Malama offers everything from haircare, skincare, and body care, with special Hawaiian touches.

Just inland of Waikiki, Kapahulu is where you’ll find many favorite local hangouts. Have a plate lunch at Rainbow Drive-In or Kanak Attack, where the motto is “eat till you sleep.” Enjoy Oahu’s best Hawaiian food at Ono Hawaiian Food, a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant that always has a line of people out the door and down the sidewalk. For a perfect end to any meal, stop in at Leonard’s Bakery for a malasada (Portuguese donut), plain or filled with chocolate or haupia (coconut) pudding. A gem of a store is Bailey’s Antique & Thrift Shop, filled with antique aloha shirts and other memorabilia. Down the street is Aunty Mary Lou’s Na Lima Mili Hulu Noeau, a small shop specializing in handmade feather lei and in classes on how to make a feather lei. For the sports enthusiast, Island Paddler specializes in shaping and selling boards. Go Bananas is a kayak and watersport supply store for the adventurous athlete. Blue Planet Surf Shop, Running Room and Island Triathlon and Bike also are great places to find out what’s hot in Oahu sports. Kapahulu is also home to Hale Noa, the nation’s first kava (awa) bar. This natural herbal elixer is the perfect relaxation remedy after an exciting day.

Just up the road from Kapahulu, in the shadow of Diamond Head, is a delightful neighborhood frequented by surfers, tourists and locals. Teddy’s Bigger Burgers is always busy serving their 50s-style burgers, fries and ice cream sodas. For the creative types, sit, chat and create a masterpiece at Fire It Up!, a ceramics painting studio that supplies the materials to create your own one-of-a-kind pottery designs.

Low-rise Kaimuki is a middle-class neighborhood, first developed in the 1920s. While it was once the hub of banking giants, Kaimuki today has the feel of pre-World War II Honolulu, with residential side streets featuring simple homes on neatly tended plots. This quaint town offers cozy shops, service establishments and a smattering of good and affordable restaurants. The Temari Center for Asian and Pacific Arts, a small art center tucked away, offers classes in lei making, basketry, book binding, flower pressing, paper making and painting on silk. Comme Ci Comme Ca Consignment Boutique and Pzazz are favorites among those who frequent thrift and consignment shops. Kwilts ‘n Koa is a small Hawaiian quilt shop and Montsuki features mother and daughter designed fashions using Japanese kimonos, silk and natural fibers. On Waialae Avenue, take your pick of some great restaurants: 3660 On The Rise (Euro-Asian), Beau Soleil (Mediterranean) and Eastern Garden (Chinese) to name a few. Pick up delicious manapua at Kwong On and fresh island fruits and vegetables at Kaimuki Produce Market. Calm your mind, body and spirit at Teja Tea House. Experience a non-traditional tea ceremony which includes a tea reading, and learn about how tea ceremonies have evolved in Hawaii.

The 2,584-acre Palolo valley is nestled between the green hills of St. Louis Heights and Wilhelmina Rise. The neighborhood mainstays of schools, churches and recreation center are scattered, but grocery stores and other small businesses are aligned mostly along 10th or Palolo Avenues, the two main streets of the valley. Check out the more than 350,000 orchids at Kawamoto Orchid Nursery. The greenhouse is ablaze in lavender, yellow, orange, red, green and variegated blooms. Palolo is a community where everyone takes care of each other, and no where is this more apparent than at Frank’s Palolo Market, a neighborhood grocery that keeps prices low in support of the community. Kealii o Kamalu teaches Christian hula with movements choreographed to Christian-based music, as well as traditional music. Delve into local artwork at Noelani Gallery and Picture Framing, and go home with a permanent part of Oahu. And don’t miss Hobbietat, a small shop that has been around for more than 21 years and caters to everything a fisherman or an enthusiast of radio-controlled model car, boat or airplane could want.

Kahala, east of Diamond Head, is one of Oahu’s upscale neighborhoods. The main shopping center is Kahala Mall, home to big name chains such as The Gap and Banana Republic, and local favorites including The Vue, offering Hawaiian clothing and gift items, and Marsha Nadalin Salon & Day Spa. Not lacking for places to eat, Kahala has numerous restaurants to choose from including Olive Tree Café (Greek), I Love Country Café (varied healthy and hearty), Japanese Restaurant Yoshino, Yen King (Chinese), and Chili’s.

Hawaii Kai is built around a man-made marina that opens to Maunalua Bay, which is where tourists and locals partake in a variety of water sports including paddling outrigger canoes, jet skiing, kayaking and fishing. With the support of Koko Marina Center and its collection of specialty shops and eateries, people from around the island partake in Hawaii Kai’s offerings. Before jumping in the ocean, visit the local ocean activity stores for the proper equipment. Hawaii Ocean Tours, Aloha Dive Shop, Fun Island Watersports, Local Motion, Sea Breeze Parasailing and Suyderhoud Water Ski & Wake Board Center Inc. are just a few to choose from. Make sure to grab a picnic lunch at Zippy’s, Yummy Korean Bar-B-Q, Assaggio Hawaii Kai (Italian), Kozo Sushi (Japanese) or Joy Garden Chinese Seafood Restaurant.

In the town of Kailua, visitors will discover a shop of odds and ends and unexpected treasures at The Hunter: Kalapawai Market, a mom and pop store in operation since the 1930s that sells everything from crack seed (Chinese preserved plum) and bento (box) lunches to its own brand of coffee; and there is a variety of eateries to choose from, such as Boston’s North End Pizza Bakery and Kolohe Hawaiian Restaurant. Hearty breakfasts at Boots & Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen, deli fare at Brent’s and Pacifica-style cuisine at Kailua Beach Restaurant will satisfy all of your cravings. Relax at Kailua Beach or Lanikai Beach, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, take a windsurfing lesson or rent a kayak and paddle off shore to the Mokulua islands.

Kaneohe, a large Windward residential suburb, is nestled at the foot of misty Koolau Mountains. A must see is the Byodo-In Temple, a place of beauty and tranquility. Located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, Byodo-In Temple is a replica of a temple in Japan and built in the shape of the Phoenix, a mystical bird representing life and spiritual hope. Inside the temple is the largest wooden Buddha hand carved in 900 years. The temple’s garden, the largest of its kind outside of Japan, is designed to reflect traditional Japanese grace and serenity. The reflecting ponds that wind their way around the temple are home to more than 10,000 carp. It’s common to see local wedding parties posing for photos throughout the grounds. Hoomaluhia (to bring about/cause peace and tranquility) Botanical Garden is a 400-acre expanse with a lake; campgrounds; walking trails and picnic areas; visitors’ center complete with an exhibition hall used by local artists, workshop and botanical library; and the largest collection of tropical plants in the U.S. Walking tours led by trained volunteers are offered on the weekend. For an awe-inspiring view of Kaneohe Bay, visit Senator Fong’s Plantation and Gardens. Take a tram ride through 725 acres of lush green foothills and rain forest or walk through a botanical garden with more than 75 kinds of trees, plants, fruits and flowers. Senator Hiram Fong, who served 17 years as the nation’s first Asian-American senator, can be spotted daily working in the gardens.

A predominately Mormon community, Laie is a quiet town that hosts some of Oahu’s largest attractions. Polynesian Cultural Center continues to be popular among locals and visitors. The cultures of the entire Pacific basin come together and educate through entertaining performances, the sharing of arts and culture of native Polynesians. While visiting Polynesian Cultural Center, tour the handsome white structure of the Mormon Temple and the campus of Brigham Young University.

At North Shore’s historic town of Haleiwa, discover old storefronts, cafes, art galleries and boutiques. Start the day with breakfast at Café Haleiwa where the food is hearty and surfer-sized. Dine alongside surfers of all ages who brave the area’s 20-foot winter waves. Browse through the Wyland Gallery with its incredible collection of marine art or shop with the locals at Jungle Gems, Oogenesis Boutique and Silver Moon Emporium, where you can spend as little as $15 for a pair of earrings or as much as $400 for an exotic dress. Lunch is a must at Kua Aina Sandwich Shop, a little restaurant with the island’s best burgers (they claim it’s the splash of vermouth), shoestring french fries and fish sandwiches. For dinner, the newest place to be is Haleiwa Joe’s Seafood Grill. A casual oasis, enjoy freshly cooked meals while enjoying beautiful views as the restaurant is situated next to the famous Anahulu Stream Bridge (Rainbow Bridge) built in 1921.

Top this off with a rainbow flavored shave ice at Matsumoto’s and ask for a scoop of ice cream and azuki beans. Don’t miss the Liliuokalani Protestant Church, founded by Protestant missionaries in the early 1830s, Waimea Valley Audubon Center’s 1,800-acre flora and fauna wonderland, or Waimea Bay, popular for its big winter surf.

Wahiawa is an older community with relics of rural life remaining. While the U.S. Army Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Air Field are nearby, Wahiawa still hosts some of Oahu’s most sacred treasures. The Wahiawa Botanical Gardens spread across 27 acres, featuring plants from Africa and Australia, Asian camphor trees and gum trees from New Guinea. Another area not to pass up is the Kukaniloko Birthstones, where royal Hawaiian women once bore their children. Don’t leave without enjoying lunch at Aloha Korean BBQ or Seoul In (Korean). But the best part is having dessert at Sunnyside in Wahiawa Sunnyside specializes in pies, famous for their tasty double crust pies.

A developing Oahu community is Kapolei, designed to be the island’s second big city. With a growing business district and residential area, Kapolei will someday offer a large selection of activities and restaurants. Currently, dining is favored at Loco Moco Drive In, Panda Express (Chinese) and Tasty Korean BBQ. Kapolei Golf Course is popular among locals, and the Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park offers thrilling slides, pools, rides and much more to cool off both the young and young-at-heart.

Waipahu is a neighborhood rich in plantation history, and many of its residents are descendants of the plantation workers. To get a glimpse into the history of this area and Hawaii, visit Hawaii’s Plantation Village, a partially recreated and restored village. Comprised of more than two-dozen structures and many different ethnic groups, visitors are provided with a window into traditional life on a plantation. Then fast forward through history to the 1890s and take a ride on the Hawaiian Railway. This train served sugar mills, carried vital equipment and supplies and transported passengers until 1947. A recent addition to the Waipahu area is the Coral Creek Championship Golf Course. No other course in Hawaii can compare to the beauty, challenge and experience of Coral Creek. Nestled along the Ewa Plain, the Par 72, 6,870-yard golf course was designed to expose natural coral rock formations in cliff-like structures, adding to the beauty of the terrain.

Article provided courtesy of the Oahu Visitor's Bureau

See also:
- Attractions on Oahu
- Activities on Oahu

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