Central Oahu Neighborhoods of Wahiawa and Mililani

Wahiawa and MillaniTowards the center of Oahu you have two communities that sit higher than anywhere else on Oahu because they are on the central plain between the Ko’olau and Waianae Mountain Ranges. Mililani which is mauka (mountain direction from beach) of Pearl City and Waipahu and Wahiawa which sits in just about the exact middle of Oahu.

Mililani Town

Mililani has about 50,000 residents split between Mililani Town and Mililani Mauka – split by the H-2 freeway. It is a planned residential community that sits on former plantation lands. It was designed by famed architect Al Boeke and the first homes were sold relatively recently in 1968. You won’t find any historic landmarks in Mililani from the colonial or territorial periods. Mililani is literally an ‘all American’ suburb town that is the only place in Hawaii to ever win the official designation of ‘All American Town’. In 2005 it was designated as one of the best places to live in the USA by Money magazine. Tourists and visitors will find little to no reason to visit Mililani.

In Hawaiian, Mililani means beloved place of chiefs and that may be true because as the third wealthiest town/neighborhood on Oahu – there are definitely some chiefs living there. Wahiawa, on the other hand, means ‘place of noise’ which is funny because it is one of the quietest places on the island – which might actually be the point because in Wahiawa, you don’t hear the roar of the ocean and so the noise of the wind, birds, and the land itself is probably the loudest.

Wahiawa sits closest to the middle of Oahu. For Hawaiians, this made it a place of power. It is the ‘piko’ or bellybutton of this island. The town was a sacred place for Hawaiian people it is where healers trained in pre-European contact Hawaii. It is where high ranking women would choose to give birth. It is a sacred and powerful place where there was a significant population of Hawaii’s third gender, the ‘mahu’ were centered.

Wahiawa, Hawaii

Today, Wahiawa is a bit of a pit – a typical military town surrounded by bases and military housing. You will find no shortage of fast food, pawnshops, payday loans, furniture rentals, and tattoo shops there along the main strip through town – though – in recent years, residents have made an attempt to clean the town up and are finding some success. Surfer’s Coffee Bar and the surrounding businesses are clean, interesting, and make a nice stop on the trip from North Shore to Oahu. Some decent restaurants have set up shop in Wahiawa. And if you get off the main drag – you will find the free, beautiful, and very well kept Wahiawa Botanical Gardens.

Wahiawa Botanical Garden

Wahiawa has a population of about 18,000 people. The surrounding military bases of Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Field both have significantly larger populations than the town. South of Wahiawa you find Mililani and north of it you find Hale’iwa. Just to the North of Wahia’wa are the Kukaniloko Birth Stones, Green World Coffee Plantation, and the Dole Plantation.

Ko Olina and Makakilo – Disney Resort and the ‘other Waikiki’

Makakilo means ‘observing eyes’ in the Hawaiian Language. This is a small community of about 15,000 people that is really a neighborhood of Kapolei. Sitting on the slopes of the hillsides moving away from the beach – there isn’t really anything to draw visitors here. Like nearly everywhere on Oahu, the really nice neighborhoods are generally military housing. To the West is the manufactured resort neighborhood of Ko Olina.

Makakilo

Ko Olina has a golf course, four beautiful man-made lagoons that would be private in a different state where beach access wasn’t guaranteed. There are four high end resorts on the property along with an unusually large number of wedding chapels and a sort of tourist village with shops and restaurants. The resorts include the Disney Aulani as well as the Four Seasons.

Ko Olina Resort

Ko Olina is largely focused on timeshares and short term condominium rentals though there are a small number of full time residents. Ko Olina is made up of about 642 acres comprised of the four resorts, the golf course, and six ‘villages’ of mostly condos. The population is listed as about 1800 people but I doubt that many of these are full time residents – though if you go to the lagoons early in the morning – there is a group of mostly white senior citizens who gather to play ukulele and sing together on some days.

Ko Olina

As you can see from the photo below – taken from the Ko Olina information site – Ko Olina is working very hard to create a fantasy version of Hawaii – and with the Paradise Cove Luau, the Disney Aulani Resort, the four lagoons, and the creation (in progress now) of an Atlantis Hotel (the one in Dubai) – it is succeeding. If you want to see the Hawaii of your imagination and you can afford it – Ko Olina is the place to go – but make sure you close your eyes while you are driving there from the airport because all around Ko Olina you will see the real modern Hawaii complete with traffic, homelessness, people struggling to survive economically, and since Ko Olina is on the dry side of Oahu – a lot of brown…because all that water used to make Ko Olina green has to be brought there.

Ko Olina Fantasy

Ewa and Kapolei Neighborhoods – Oahu’s Second City

Ewa Sugar PlantationKapolei is primarily built on the old sugar and pineapple lands that were serviced by the little planation town of ‘Ewa back in the territorial days. From about the 1950s onwards, Kapolei has been the focus of a whole lot of government efforts to create a second major urban center on Oahu. The population today is in excess of 100,000 making it the second largest town on Oahu – and in actuality, making it Oahu’s second city – though because of the governmental structure  of City and County of Honolulu covering the entire island – technically, Kapolei and everywhere else on Oahu are actually neighborhoods in the city of Honolulu. It’s a little weird.

Ewa Sugar Plantation‘Ewa means crooked though most locals think it means ‘in a westward direction’. The ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation which ran from 1890 to 1970 played a significant role in the history of Hawaii in the 20th Century. It was one of the most prosperous plantations on Oahu and had a major role in shaping policy and governance of the state.  Today there is a small rustic plantation town and a nice little beach park but for the most part ‘Ewa runs into Kapolei and Waipahu. There are about 15,000 people who call ‘Ewa home. There is a significant military population as well as a number of manufactured ‘neighborhoods’ like Ewa Gentry, Ocean Point, and ‘Ewa Villages. The nearby military resort housing base at Iroquois Point is lovely but off limits to civilians.

Kapolei has government offices, an FBI field office, a water park (Hawaiian Waters), plenty of restaurants, shops, and well ordered streets, parks, and festivals. What it doesn’t have is much in the way of tourist infrastructure. There is a hotel there now and nearby at Ko Olina there are plenty of tourist resorts including Disney’s Aulani, Four Seasons, and Marriot. A large portion of the future growth of Oahu is slated to take place in Kapolei and nearby Waipahu and Millilani.

Oahu Second City Kapolei is the home of the University of Hawaii, West Oahu campus and Hawaii Tokai International College as well as a local high schools and grade schools.

The Honolulu Area Rapid Transit Rail project is going to make a big impact on Kapolei – once it’s all done and figured out. Many of the stores and restaurants in Kapolei are franchise locations of local Oahu businesses from Kailua, Waikiki and more – so don’t be surprised to find Lanikai Juice or Kalapawai Deli on both sides of the island.

So here’s the thing – Kapolei – right now – has many of the same restaurants and shops as you find in areas where there are a lot of tourists – but without the tourists. I’m sure this will change before too long. The outlet malls, the resorts at Ko Olina, and the new Makana Ali’i Mall are all starting to draw people. Mostly though – this is all just getting ready for when the rail opens up this part of the island to all the tourists who have been so far, mostly contained in Waikiki and Honolulu.

Leeward Neighborhoods of Waianae, Makaha, and Nanakuli

Leeward OahuThe Leeward Coast also known as the Wai’anae Coast is one of the most interesting places on Oahu – if you aren’t interested in resort hotels, manufactured tourist attractions, and over-developed promotion of a phony Hawai’i that has never really existed anywhere but in people’s imaginations.

Wai’anae” means “Water of the Mullet.”  These rich fishing grounds were important to the Hawaiian people and the fierce and sometimes inhospitable landscape made it worth the efforts it took to survive here even when other areas on Oahu offered an easier way of living. 

Long before Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii, there were thriving villages on the Leeward coast. After contact, populations tended to grow faster where the living was easier – parts of the beautiful valleys of the Waianae Mountains were used for garbage dumps and bomb practice. Which, by the way – are both atrocious and awful ways to treat a stunning landscape that is host to many endangered species and sacred cultural sites.

In the North there is Makaha and Yokohama Bay – south of there you will find Waianae and Nanakuli – both communities with more than 10,000 residents each. Makaha means fierce or savage in Hawaiian language – and it is likely in reference to the pounding winter surf, jagged reefs, and extremely hot temperatures. There are some beautiful beaches and bays on the Leeward Coast – but most visitors will never see them.

Leeward OahuMost locals think of the Leeward Coast as being a predominantly ‘local’ area – and they are correct. There is a much higher concentration of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders living in this area than the North Shore or Honolulu. In general, there are fewer people of European descent on the Leeward Coast – but – there is actually still a significant military presence – like everywhere on Oahu.

The U.S. Army has a recreation center at Pokai Bay, there is still a military presence in the Makua Valley where sacred landscape has been bombed into uninhabitability, and Kolekole Pass – the shortest way to get from the Leeward Side to another part of Oahu is accessible only to military members and their families  – which, if you ask me – is some serious bullshit.

The largest homeless camp in Hawaii is located on the Waianae Coast. It’s a 20 acre shantytown called Pu’uhonua o Waianae. There are many homeless on the Leeward Coast – a result of gentrification on other parts of Oahu, skyrocketing housing costs, and policies which sweep the homeless from other areas but allow them to stay on the West Side. Civil Beat has done an excellent series on the camp.

Leeward OahuNanakuli is home to one of the oldest Hawaiian Homesteads areas. The name Nanakuli means ‘look at knee’ in the Hawaiian language.  The Hawaiian Homesteads Act was the brainchild of Prince Johan Kuhio and enacted in 1921.

Fighter Max Holloway (MMA champion) and actor Jason Mamoa (Aquaman) both come from the Leeward Coast. Both men are a good example of why you should treat the land and the people of Leeward Oahu with respect if you do choose to visit.

Kahalu, Punalu’u, and Kaaawa Neighborhoods –

There are three little communities on the Windward Side of Oahu that I love. None of them will take you more than a minute or two to drive through and chances are that you won’t get out of your car or spend any time in them. I’m okay with that, and probably most of the people who live in these communities are okay with that.

Oahu Kahalu'uKahalu’u means diving place. All told there are about 2300 people in Kahalu’u. Most of them are Chinese and Hawaiian descent people. This was an area where many Canton Chinese settled in the mid 1800s. The most famous resident was probably Senator Hiram Fong. He was the first Asian American to be a U.S. Senator, the first to run for his party’s nomination for President of the USA, and to date, the only Republican Senator to ever come from Hawaii. I used to take people to Senator Fong’s Plantation in the early 2000s – he died at 97 in 2004. It was always a pleasure to chat with the Senator in his gardens. The plantation continued for about a decade as a fine tourist attraction for about a decade after his death but is now is well past its prime. I’m not even sure it is open to the public anymore but I’ve heard that you can book private walking tours there. Another couple of fun stops in Kahalu’u are the Sunshine Arts Gallery and the many Orchid greenhouses. Like Senator Fong’s Plantation though – these attractions now feel neglected and dated. There used to be one of the very few food trucks in Kahalu’u – Surf Tacos – but that and Mike’s Huli Chicken are both gone now. FDR made a stop in Kahalu’u back in the 1930s.

Driving North from Kahalu’u you will go by the Coral Kingdom, a strange and high priced tourist shop that from my perspective, doesn’t offer much. You should stop at the Macadamia Nut Farm, Chinaman’s Hat, and Kualoa Ranch.

Past the Kualoa Ranch, you will come into sweet little Ka’a’awa. K’a’a’awa means Wrasse. About 1,379 people live in Ka’a’awa. Nicholas Cage’s character gets stuck there in the movie ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’. You can bet some pretty decent Southern BBQ at Uncle Bobo’s restaurant.   I love the beaches in Ka’a’awa. They are narrow strips on the ocean side of the road but rarely crowded and usually the people there are local people fishing, swiming, and talking story. On the North Side of Ka’a’awa you will find the popular Crouching Lion hike behind the now being refurbished Crouching Lion Inn.

Past Ka’a’awa you reach one of the most important places on Oahu – Kahana Valley and Kahana Bay. I’ll save that for another post. Coming around Kahana Bay you will see the red and white of Keneke’s Restaurant and that means you are in Punalu’u.

Oahu Punalu'uPunalu’u means ‘coral dived for’. It is home to about 881 people – and is where some of the oldest inhabitation remains found on Oahu are located. Ching’s Market and Kaya’s Market are the only two stores. These are windward everything stores and carry everything residents might need including food, fishing supplies, hardware, and 5-toed reef shoes called tabies. The Kawananakoa Beach House is located here – it was the summer home of the Kawanakoa Family (heirs to the Hawaiian throne). I lived in Punalu’u back in 2002. I managed and helped build a hostel called Countryside Cabins – it was an amazing period in my life and I learned much of what I love about Hawaii from the residents in Punalu’u who taught me about aloha, the Hawaiian way of life, and local Oahu culture. Punalu’u has fallen on some fairly hard times these days. The cabins fell into disrepair when I left and eventually folded. You will find the first of the shrimp trucks near the market’s in Punalu’u.

While very few of these places I’ve mentioned will ever make it to anyone’s Top 10 of Oahu – that is probably a good thing because Punalu’u, Kahalu’u, and Ka’a’awa all remain truly authentic places. You can’t get them by stopping for a few minutes and you won’t find hotels in any of them.

 

 

Waimanalo Town

WaimanaloWaimanalo Town on the Windward Side of Oahu is a little town about three miles long that stretches from Makapu’u Point to Kailua. There’s not a whole lot in Waimanalo Town but you’ll see many Hawaiian flags there because it is one of the few places on Oahu where roughly half the population is of Native Hawaiian descent. Some of the flags will be upside down which indicates that the Hawaiian Nation is in distress. There are a little more than 10,000 residents in Waimanalo Town.

Waimanalo Beach is probably the biggest draw to the area – it’s a long white beach with stunning views of the Koolau Mountains behind.The telveision show. Baywatch Hawaii was shot there. Another draw is Bellow’s Beach which is only open on weekends because it is part of an Airforce and Marine military complex.

Waimanalo

Across from the entrance to Waimanalo Beach Park is a polo field. The Hawaiian Royalty loved polo and the tradition continues to this day.  In terms of other activities – there isn’t really much…Sea Life Park is just down the road along with the walk to the Makapu’u Light House. There are many agricultural properties and a lot of greenhouses in Waimanalo – but they aren’t tourist attractions. The little red and white checked restauarant across from 7-11 is a bizarre religious plate lunch place called Keneke’s Divine Grinds. There are also a couple of fast food restaurants including the popular L&L Drive Inn.

Waimanalo

Here are my three favorite hidden treats in Waimanalo.

1) Shima’s Market has amazing poke!

2) Ono Steak and Shrimp (behind Kenekes’s) has great food, big servings and reasonable prices

3) The Waimanalo Co-op next to McDonalds has a variety of fresh products and locally produced artisanal craft work.

WaimanaloAlso, this is a great place to stop at McDonalds for Spam, Eggs, and Rice or some pineapple or taro pies – Hawaii specialties you won’t find on the mainland. Also, don’t be afraid to stop for the roadside food in Waimanalo – ice cold coconuts, plate lunches, and much more from tents by the road. As for Keneke’s – it’s okay – not expensive but not the greatest food by any stretch.

There used to be a statue of the Sumo Wrestler Akebono in the Waimanalo shopping center. He was a local Hawaiian boy who went on to become the tallest and one of the greatest Yakuzuna (grand master) in sumo history. I’m not sure what happened to the statue but I heard that it was knocked over and is being repaired.

I’ve heard one legend of Waimanalo which is fun and shares a bit of the deep meanings that Hawaiian tales often offer. The legend says that a fisherman once decided to taunt the shark god because his catch was frequently stolen by sharks. The fisherman killed as many sharks as he could find and dumped their bodies into Waimanalo Bay. The shark god was angered and decided to eat the fisherman. He knocked over the fisherman’s boat and preceded to eat the legs of the fisherman. As he worked his way up, the stinky ass of the fisherman was too much for him and he couldn’t continue. He spit the legless fisherman on the shore and vowed never to eat another human from Waimanalo. This is why the locals don’t worry about shark attacks in Waimanalo Bay. It’s also why they respect sharks and don’t kill them when they are found in their nets.

Laie Town and Windward Neighborhoods of Kuhuku and Hau’ula

Laie PointVisitors to Oahu tend to have heard of The North Shore, Waikiki, Honolulu and maybe Kailua – but those are just three places out of hundreds. You have to hit the road to find the most interesting places.

The North End of the Windward Side of the Island of Oahu is an interesting place! What makes it interesting? What about a bizarre collision of Mormonism, Sumo Wrestling, shrimp, and giant lizards? Interesting enough for you? Because you will find it all there.

Let’s start with the giant lizard – Hawaiian legend has it that the rocky point in Laie (Laie Point) yused to be patrolled and guarded by a giant monster lizard name Laniloa. A warrior named Kana came and killed the lizard, slicing it into five pieces – these pieces can still be seen today as the islands off the point – including the skull of Laniloa with his eye socket staring at you!

Laie Hawaii Mormon Visitor Center
Space Jesus at the Mormon Visitor Center

Laie is a Mormon town. The Mormons trusted a man named Walter Murray Gibson to come buy them an island homeland in Hawaii after the U.S. occupied Utah. Gibson bought the island of Lanai for them but decided to keep it for himself. He gave up Mormonism, took to drinking with King Kalakaua, and became the Hawaiian Kingdom’s Prime Minister. When the Mormon’s arrived – he refused to give them Lanai and instead the king sold them Laie where they built a temple, a university, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. You’ll also find the Hukilau Cafe, though it’s not the one from the movie 50 First Dates.

Laie Hukilau Cafe

Just south of Laie is Hau’ula. There’s not much in the town, but it is well known as the home of one of Hawaii’s most famous sumo wrestling schools and many of the sumo greats trained or came from Hau’ula.

Konishiki Sumo

I’ve been told that Konishiki came from Hau’ula. I actually met him at the backyard sumo school there about twenty years ago. I wasn’t wrestling, just checking it out.

Shrimp Trucks Oahu

North of Laie you find Kuhuku with the shrimp ponds, the remains of the old sugar mill, and the many food trucks that have moved there. Locally, however, Kuhuku is most famous for the high school football team, the ‘Red Raiders’. This tiny school’s team has produced more NFL players than any school in Hawaii and has ranked second in the U.S. for most active NFL players from a single school.

Pearl City, Waimalu, and Aiea Neighborhoods – Sugar, Sports and Military

Pearl City Aiea WaimaluMost visitors to Oahu end up making at least one trip into the Pearl City, Waimalu, and Aiea neighborhoods – they do so when they visit Pearl Harbor. Another reason to visit might be to go to the Aloha Stadium Swapmeet. Beyond those two major draws however, there isn’t much to draw visitors to these three neighborhoods. All three are mostly local redisential demographics with slightly higher than Oahu median age and considerably lower median income than Oahu median. Those demographics shift if you include military families and personnel in the criteria – as all three areas have large military populations – more than a few entire neighborhoods in this area are military housing. The total non-military population of the three combined comes to about 75,000 people.

Pearl City Aiea WaimaluPearl City is the area east of Waipahu and streching down from Waipio and Millilani to the North. Bordering Pearl City are Waimalu and then Aiea. East of Aiea is the Salt Lake/Moanalua Neighborhood (West Honolulu). Pearl City, Aiea, and Waimalu are lumped together on many neighborhood maps as Pearl City. Residents of Aiea though, take issue with this, as Aiea has it’s own attractions, history, and zipcode.

Pearl City is essentially, a city built around a sprawling military base. Aiea on the other hand is a city that grew around a sugar cane plantation. Waimalu is caught between the two. In ancient times, the whole area was part of the Aiea ahupua’a – the Hawaiian way of designating chief controlled land – essentially a pie slice going from the ocean to the mountains.

Pearl City Aiea WaimaluFrom the late 1800s to World War II, it was the sugar industry that was the main driver of the economy in this area. When the U.S. moved the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor at the dawn of WWII, the economy of the area shifted to that of military dependency. The closing of the sugar mill and plantation after WWII accelerated this process. Much of the former sugar cane lands are now military owned neighborhoods. C & H Sugar closed the last mill in the area in 1996 and it was torn down in 1999.

Today, Aiea is home to the Aloha Stadium where the University of Hawaii Warriors play their home games. It is also home to the largest enclosed mall in the state, Pearl Ridge, and the Sumida Farm – Hawaii’s largest watercress farm – located in wetland fields between highways and the Pearl Ridge Mall – which creates an interesting contrast. There are several nice hikes in the hills around this area but no beaches due to the waterfront land being controlled mostly by the military.

Pearl City Aiea WaimaluThe current Governor of Hawaii, David Ige comes from Waimalu. Former Lieutenant Governor, Duke Aiona is from Pearl City, and Bette Midler, the actress and singer was born and raised in Aiea.

The major US Military bases in the area are Camp Smith, Pearl Harbor, Hickam, and Fort Shafter.

Makiki Neighborhood including Punchbowl Cemetary and Tantalus Overlook

Honolulu is a city of neighborhoods. It can also be argued that each on Honolulu’s neighborhoods are actually small towns and cities and they all get thrown together as the City and County of Honolulu. One of the unique neighborhoods of Honolulu is Makiki. It’s where Barack Obama and Bruno Marw were both born and it’s where deposed Philippine President Ferdinand Marco lived and died.

Makiki

Makiki could be described as central Honolulu – it stretches from the Tantalus neighborhood above and skirts Manoa on one side and to the Nu’uanu neighborhood on the other and goes seaward until it meets downtown Honolulu and the Ala Moana neighborhood. Makiki doesn’t include any beachfront areas – which is why it is largely off the radar of most visitors to Oahu.

There are older houses, churches, a hospital, library, schools and a community center. The closest thing to tourist attractions would be the Punahou School and the Punchbowl memorial cemetary located in the extinct Punchbowl volcanic crater which last erupted nearly 100,000 years ago.  The Punchbowl was actually a place where ancient Hawaiians are said to have practiced human sacrifice but today it is home to the Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific since 1948.

Makiki

There are hiking trails that wind through the mountains above and the Tantalus (Pu’u Ualaka’a) overlook and Hawaii Nature Center both lie within the boundaries of Makiki.

Makiki

Makiki is home to a beautiful Victorian mansion that was once owned by Claus Spreckels, a Californian known as the ‘King of Sugar’. (Interesting side note – Spreckels wife, Alma Spreckels was the model for the Dewey Monument in San Francisco’s Union Square and she started the Salvation Army).

Makiki

But back to Makiki….It is home to the Central Union Church, several schools, and many of Honolulu’s residents.  The hills above the city, called Tantalus, were home to many of the families who came here from the U.S. Mainland during the kingdom period. They enjoyed the cool, picturesque seclusion. As did Ferdinand Marcos.

Makiki

 

 

Downtown Honolulu – Financial District and Court Street Mall

Downtown HonoluluDowntown Honolulu often gets overlooked by visitors to Oahu. It’s not surprising given that there are so many great places to visit when you come to Hawaii. Most visitors come to Waikiki and then if they are a bit adventurous they had to the North Shore, Kailua, or go to see the South shore sites like Hanauma Bay or the Halona Blowhole – but by not heading into Honolulu’s downtown they are missing a vibrant part of Honolulu and in a way – not seeing the beating heart of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Our downtown isn’t big. You can walk most of it in an afternoon. The downtown financial district is bordered by Chinatown on the West, Vineyard Boulevard on the North, the Historic District on the East, and Honolulu Harbor and Aloha Tower to the South. All told it takes up about four big city blocks. One thing that visitors from the mainland always remark on is how clean it is. There are statues lovingly placed at the corners, a couple of historic buildings, and what you would expect of any financial district of a city of a million people – banks and high rises.

Running right through the center of it is Fort Street Mall – a pedestrian street filled with cheap eateries, convenience stores catering to office workers, and benches for them to have their lunches on. Hawaii Pacific University has it’s campus on the former Aloha Tower Marketplace, so there is a collegiate element which adds to the feel along with plenty of trees, an outdoor farmers market, and a couple of department stores for those who need to grab things before they head home.

Downtown Honolulu

There aren’t a lot of residential units in downtown and there are no real tourist attractions – but there are some great restaurants, a couple of cool shops, and great people watching. The Hawaii State Art Museum, the Aloha Tower, and the Hawaii Theatre are the only big attractions in downtown – but there are plenty of historic buildings, and photo worthy spots to capture while you are there…and did I mention all the little eateries that cater to office workers looking for cheap and fast lunch? Every ethnic food you can think of…but mostly just for lunch.

Downtown Honolulu

Fort Street Mall is a pedestrian road through the center of the Financial District…mostly it works because of the proximity to Hawaii Pacific University…but there are a lot of little lunch restaurants and some interesting sculptures there. Opened in 1968, it takes about ten minutes to walk and will take you from HPU on one side to HPU on the other.  On the mall you will find the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace…the olderst Cathedral on Oahu – built in 1843. It’s beautiful and off the beaten path.

Downtown Honolulu

 

There’s an old metal gate and a cannon along the mall…they’ve been there since 1899…I’m not sure why.

Downtown Honolulu

Usually you can find vendors and open market on Court Street Mall during the weekdays. It’s a good place to buy veggies and flowers and bread. The big problem with downtown and all of Honolulu, actually, is the huge numbers of homeless who are there. A recent study concluded that 1 of every 10 homeless in Honolulu has recently come here from a mainland city. The new arrival homeless congregate in the downtown area along with Chinatown, Iwalei, and Kaka’ako. More recently, large numbers of them are moving to Kailua and Kapolei. The truth is, if you are going to be homeless it might as well be in Hawaii – but the problem is that the more homeless who come here, the less enjoyable this is as a place where if you don’t want to be homeless – you have to work harder and harder to survive.

Downtown Honolulu

Manoa Neighborhood and the University of Hawai’i

ManoaHidden just a bit off the beaten path from most visitors is the Manoa Neighborhood which houses such treasures as Manoa Falls, the Manoa Heritage Center, Lyon Arboretum, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The neighborhood itself has a small shopping center which hosts a weekly farmers market as well as a handful of restaurants, coffee shops, and businesses that serve local residents.

Manoa – which means ‘thickness’ in Hawaiian language –  is a valley that sits about three miles east of the downtown historic district of Honolulu and about a mile inland from Waikiki. Like many Oahu neighborhoods, Manoa fills a valley and gets more rain than the beach areas and thus has more rainbows. On the back side of the valley is Manoa Falls and moving forward, it widens out until you reach the University of Hawaii at Manoa and then the Punahou School, the expensive private school (formerly the Missionary Children’s School) which President Obama attended.

Manoa

Manoa Stream carves it’s way from the waterfall, past the cultural restorations of the Hawaiian Studies buildings of the University of Hawaii – which include some traditional wetland agriculture – kalo ponds, called lo’i in Hawaiian language – and then into the Manoa-Palolo drainage canal and onwards to the Ala Wai Canal. The Manoa Valley was an important agricultural area in ancient Hawaii and later housed the first western style plantations in Hawaii with both coffee and sugarcane being grown there from 1825 onward.

Manoa

In 1907, the University of Hawaii at Manoa was established as the College of Hawaii. The school includes the John A Burns School of Medicine, the William S. Richardson School of Law, the Shidler Business College, and the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. It also houses the East-West Center, the Korean Studies Center, the Hawaiian Studies Center and the Japanese Tea Garden and Koi Pond.  It has an enrollement of about 20,000 students and a beautiful campus of more than 320 acres. It is an NCAA school and part of the Big West Conference.

In the back of the Manoa Valley, the University of Hawaii administers the Lyon Arboretum, one of the most respected tropical botanical gardens in the United States. In addition, there are nice parks, a public swimming pool, and some hidden gem hikes for those willing to get off the beaten path and do a little research.

Manoa

 

Kaimuki Neighborhood – Waikiki’s Hip Neighbor

KaimukiWaikiki is an incredibly fun place, but one complaint that I’ve often heard is that it lacks ‘authenticity’. I don’t agree, because while it is indeed touristic, commericial, and manicured – Waikiki is perfectly authentic as a post 20th century urban & tropical mid-high-end tourist beach destination. There is no place more authentic than Waikiki in that regard!

But still, I understand what people mean. They want to see a place where people live, work, and actually invest their time in businesses – not a tourist destination where less than 10% of the people you see actually live, but a place where people hang out, work, live, and enjoy life.

Kaimuki

Allow me to introduce Kaimuki, Waikiki’s hip and much more ‘authentic’ Honolulu neighbor. Situated between Kahala, the University district of Manoa, and Waikiki – Kaimuki has what you are looking for. Funky shops, great restaurants, a very walkable main street and plenty of hidden gems. Kaimuki is the Honolulu version of the Haight in San Francisco, Hawthorne in Portland, or (on a much smaller scale) New York City’s Brooklyn.

Back in the day, the neighborhood was the personal farm of King Kalakaua. He had a flock of ostriches that roamed over the green hills – so it’s no surprise that Kaimuki still has a flavor that is anything but boring. Kaimuki is a Hawaiian name and it means “Ti Root Oven” which refers to the ancient bakers who made a delicious candy from the roots of the native ti plant (the same plant used to make the hula skirts and rain cloaks of the day).

Kaimuki is the neighborhood on either side of Waialae Avenue from where it meets Kapahulu Ave to where it ends at the Kahala Mall. Kaimuki retains the ‘funkiness’ that Waikiki lost more than a decade ago when every retail space turned into a high end shop or restaurant.
Kaimuki
Which is a little bit ironic because in the early 1900s – Kaimuki was THE high class neighborhood on Oahu, while Kahala was still mostly pig farms and Lanikai was still part of a cattle ranch.  There’s not much left from those days except for the Crack Seed Store which opened about 1940. This is one of the best places to pick up all kinds of Hawaiian snacks (some of which aren’t covered in Li Hing Mui).

Wander the streets and you will find junk shops, surf shops(Surf Garage) , bakeries (Pipeline) shave ice, plate lunch places (Okata! Cheap and yum), thrift shops, boutiques (Superette), great little coffee (Coffee Talk) and breakfast joints (Kokohead Cafe), bars, hole in the wall restaurants (Kaimuki Chop Suey) , and even the old historic  Queen Theatre which opened in the 1930s, closed in the 1980s as a theatre and became a music venue for a while before becoming a plumbing warehouse and then being abandoned. Locals hope that something will someday happen with the Queen, but so far, it is simply becoming a target for grafitti.

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