One of the most delightful little villages on Oahu is the surfing town of Hale’iwa. When I say surfing town, I don’t mean the town itself surfs- that would be silly – but the town does revolve around surfing. Once a plantation village where workers lived and bought what they needed to go about their lives, this village transformed into something else entirely when big wave surfing arrived. Today it is filled with boutiques, galleries, great restaurants, shave ice shops like Matsumoto Shave Ice, and plenty of surf shops. In fact, it is the perfect place to spend the day strolling, shopping, eating, and hanging out with friends and family.
Hale’iwa still has much of the slow paced country village feel about it combined with a chilled out surfer vibe which sits on top of a mouth watering culinary destination and an innovative artisanal movement. Hale’iwa epitomizes the Hawaiian ‘country’ scene without being backward or pretentious.
The town sits between the villages of Pupukea to the East an Waialua to the West. Pupukea is little more than a grocery store, a fire station, and some food trucks (which happen to be sitting at the gateway to the world’s best surfing beaches and the amazing snorkeling at Shark’s Cove) and Waialua has died back to mainly farms,the North Shore Soap Factory and old sugar mill complex. Waialua Bay wraps around and comes into Hale’iwa and then turns into rocky shoreline before reaching world famous surfing at Waimea Bay and the sacred temples in Waimea Valley and atop the hills in Pupukea. The small boat harbor in Hale’iwa is where many shark cage dives, dives, and sailing adventures leave from. To the south of Hale’iwa you will find the Dole Plantation and the town of Wahiawa.
The present day location was the site of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village where it was a common destination for the Hawaiian Ali’i (Royalty) to escape the heat of Honolulu or ‘Ewa in the summer months. People have occupied the area for nearly a thousand years. Hale’iwa got it’s first western style building in 1832 but wasn’t founded as a town until 1898 when Benjamin Dillingham, a local businessman who contracted to have the Hawaiian railway built from the sugar and pineapple fields of the North Shore to the shipping port of Honolulu, saw the potential for tourism and built a hotel at the northern terminus. He named the hotel for the nest of the black frigate bird, called the ‘iwa bird in Hawaiian language. Hale is the Hawaiian word for house, so – House of the Frigate Bird.
The hotel is long gone and village residents fight tooth and nail whenever anyone tries to bring a new hotel into the area. The last thing anyone wants is for Hale’iwa to turn into another Waikiki. If you want to stay on the North Shore, you need to either book a room at the expensive Turtle Bay Resort on the Northeast corner of the island or find a vacation rental. There are no other hotel options.
South East of Honolulu are the neighborhoods of Aina Haina and Hawaii Kai. These are upscale neighborhoods that you reach when you pass by Diamond Head and the ritzy Kahala neighborhood and continue on to Koko Head and Hanauma Bay. As a guide I often pass through here, but rarely stop. There are some houses to note as you go by – the wedding cake shaped house on the hill belongs to Keanu Reeves – or at least it used to. As a child, Barack Obama and his mother lived in a non-descript house in Aina Haina. The house used as the family home of Steve McGarrett on Hawaii 5-0 is in Aina Haina too.
Other than that, these are simply suburbs i a very pretty setting. Aina Haina was named after Robert Hind, a local dairyman – it literally means Hind’s Land. Hind owned the Hind-Clarke Dairy which is long gone, but the name remains. There are several pretty beach parks here.
Hawaii Kai is a bit more interesting as it is the former site of a royal fishpond. Prominent local developer Henry Kaiser dredged the Kuapa Pond in 1959 and used the tailings to fill in much of what is there today and create the Koko Marina. Together with the Bishop Estate, Kaiser turned the area into a world class marina and developed the surrounding suburbs.
There are several attractions nearby including Koko Head Crater, Hanauma Bay, Koko Head Stairs, Hawaii Kai golf course, Sandy’s Beach and just around the south shore Makapu’u Point, Sea Life Park, and more.
While it’s probably not what it wants to be known for, the town of Waipahu’s most famous resident is probably Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked large amounts of classified information from U.S. intelligence agencies. Of course, there is much more to Waipahu than just Edward Snowden. Waipahu is a central Oahu town which used to be the heart of the sugarcane plantation industry.
A natural spring gives the town its name. Waipahu means ‘fresh water bursting upward. The spring was so important that Waipahu, now mostly forgotten or unknown by the many tourists who visit Oahu, was once the capital of the island and of the Oahu Kingdom which proceeded the unification of Hawaii by King Kamehameha.
Waipahu became important to sugar in 1897 when the Oahu Sugar Company formed there. Workers from Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Norway and the Phillipines kept the mill going and the sugar growing. The history of the plantation and the plantation workers can be experienced and learned about at Hawaii’s Plantation Village – an often missed attraction located in Waipahu. It was established in 1973 and is a living history museum focused on that time and place.
Waipahu has about 40,000 residents today and includes several suburbs including Waikele where many visitors to Hawaii go to visit the outlet malls. Other suburbs are Waipio, Village Park, and Royal Kunia. The majority ethnic group in Wapahu is Filipino followed by Japanese and Chinese. Pacific Islander’s make up about 12% of the population, Caucasion and African-Americans maku up only about 5% of Waipahu’s population when combined. Waipahu has a growing Hispanic population at about 6%.
Waipahu has a notable Little League Baseball team which won the Little League World Series back in 2008.
Lanikai Beach gets all the glory, but if you ask me, the most beautiful beach in the world is just down the road in the town of Waimanalo. Waimanalo is a little cowboy town on the windward side of Oahu. Less than five thousand people, a large number of them Native Hawaiian. The name Waimanalo means ‘good drinking water’.
If you go across the Pali Lookout and into the town of Kailua but then head south, you will come to Waimanalo. If you are coming from the south side of Oahu you will go past Sea Life Park and then Waimanalo will be the next town you come to. Waimanalo is the longest stretch of sandy beach on Oahu and it would connect to Lanikai if it weren’t broken up by Bellows Air Force Station.
Waimanalo is famous for the cowboys (paniolo) and for Akebono (aka Chad Rowan). Akebono was the first non-Japanese to ever achieve the title of yakuzuna, which translates as Grand Master in the Sumo wrestling world. On the south end is the remains of the Anderson Estate which was used in the original Magnum P.I. series. Waimanalo was also where the first prisoner of war taken by U.S. forces was captured during World War II (after the attack on Pearl Harbor).
Waimanalo is a laid back and good natured place. Don’t be shocked to see a lot of homeless camping in certain areas – Waimanalo is one of the few majority Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander areas on Oahu and they are among the hardest hit with being priced out of paradise. Where do you go when you can’t afford to live on the island in the middle of the Pacific where your ancestors lived for thousands of years? Well, you go to Waimanalo or Waianae and you do what you can to survive. It’s a raw deal. The aloha spirit is alive and well in Waimanalo – but I’m sure that plenty of residents wish that the world had never come knocking on Hawaii’s door – or that they could have kept the door closed. In any event, it’s too late now.
Honolulu, Hawaii on Oahu is my home. It’s the capital of the Hawaiian Islands and the State of Hawaii. It’s the largest city in Hawaii and the second largest city in Polynesia (Auckland is first). It is the most isolated city in the world and has a population of about 400,000 with close to 1 million in the consolidated metro area. Honolulu exists not just as a city but also as a county government – so our mayor is also our county executive. It’s a crazy and down to earth place that is completely different from anyplace else on Planet Earth.
Honolulu has a huge US military presence and hosts millions of tourists each year. It’s a major hub for fligths from Asia, Oceania, and North America with Honolulu International Airport serving as a sort of gateway where East meets West. The city sits on the southern coast of Oahu but actually the boundaries of the City and County of Honolulu extend northwest for nearly 2500 miles and include the Northwest Hawaiian Islands up to Midway Atoll.
When I moved here in 2001, I had come from a neighborhood/town called Fairhaven in Bellingham, Washington and I was surprised to learn that Honolulu actually translated as Fair Harbor or Fair Haven – which was pretty cool. The name fits. Honolulu is the safest city in the USA with lowest violent crime rate of any American place of comparable size – if you watch Hawaii 5-0 or Dog the Bounty Hunter, that might be hard to believe – but it’s the truth, not TV fiction. Honolulu is consistantly ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world with a perfect climate and peaceful, educated population. The downside is that it’s damn expensive to live here with the median price of a single family home in the million dollar range and rent ranging from $2,000 to $5000 per month. It is the second most expensive urban rental market in the USA.We have more homeless per capita than anywhere in the USA.
The archaeological evidence shows that Honolulu has been occupied for over a thousand years. King Kamehameha made it his capital after conquering Oahu at the battle of the Nu’uanu Pali in 1809. The first European to come to Honolulu was Captain William Brown – an Englishman who came in 1794. Many more followed. Honolulu became a main stopover for ships between Asia and North America.
Honolulu is the only American City that was once the capital of an independent kingdom and as such it is the only one that has a palace that was home to ruling royalty. Iolani Palace sits in the downtown historic district. There are tens of thousands of hotel rooms and vacation rentals in Honolulu which cater to the tourism industry – the economic lifeblood of modern Hawaii.
Visitors are often struck by how clean Honolulu is – which is a point of pride for residents. People who live here are called locals – although some have tried to make the term ‘Honoluluan’ stick since it doesn’t have the same racial overtone of local (generally locals are brown and haoles are white).
The tallest building presently is the First Hawaiian Center at 438 feet. There are numerous museums, attractions, monuments, and points of interest in Honolulu. Among them are Chinatown, the statue of King Kamehameha, Iolani Palace, the Bishop Musuem, the Honolulu Academy of Arts (Honolulu Art Museum), Hawaii State Art Museum, the murals of Kaka’ako, Waikiki, the Punchbowl memorial, Ala Moana shopping center, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Aloha Tower, Diamond Head, a variety of botanical gardens, beautiful beaches, and much more.
The weather here can only be described as perfect staying mostly in the 70s and 80s (24-35 celsius). It rains every day and is sunny every day so the weather men have it easy. Partly cloudy with a chance of rain…every day. Which means rainbows daily. Lots and lots of rainbows. The water is usually the perfect temperature for a swim.
The population here is roughly spilt with slightly higher female to male ratio. Ethnicty is roughly 55% Asian, 20% Causcasion, 8% Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders , 11% mixed race, and the remaining 6% made up of African American, Latino, and other ethnicity. Median age is about 40 years old. The Asian population is broken down into 40% Japanese, 26% Flipino, 20% Chinese, 8% Korean, 4% Vietnamese, 2% being Indian, Thai, Cambodian, and Indonesian. Native Hawaiians make up only about 3% of the total population.
Honolulu ranks highly as one of the most fit cities in the USA. Each year there is the Honolulu Marathon and the Great Aloha Run as well as the Honolulu Triathalon. While we don’t have any professional sports teams here, we are big supporters of the University of Hawaii football, basketball, and volleyball programs as well as high school sports. Honolulu’s Little League team has won the world championship three times…most recently in 2018.
Honolulu has consulates for Japan, South Korea, the Phillipines, Micronesia, Australia, and the Marshall Islands. There are also numerous church and religions headquarters located here.
On a not so positive note, Honolulu often ranks with the worst traffic in the United States. A somewhat controversial rail system is being built to help with the problem but has run into numerous budget and time issues. It remains to be seen if if will help at all. Our bus system is frequently lauded as being very good, but in recent years has degraded and become unpleasant and too expensive for the slow speed of delivery. Lyft and Uber are readily available as well as bike-share and soon scooter share programs. Parking is a big issue in Honolulu and if you have a car but don’t have designated parking expect to spend a significant portion of your time waiting for a parking space at shops and in neighborhoods.
We have three interstates – which is funny if you think about it, but they are there to connect the major bases of Schofield Barracks (Army), Pearl Harbor (Navy), and Marine Corps Base Hawaii (Marines) as well as Hickam and Wheeler Fields (Air Force). The military are those most able to afford living on Oahu with plenty of subsidized housing, tax free and discounted shopping in the commisary and Navy Exchange shops, and discounts for nearly everything. It’s also nice for those military coming here that they are able to have their household goods and vehicles shipped here via tax dollars which living in base housing and shopping on base, they pay less of.
On the whole – Honolulu is a great place to live – if you can afford it. Most people can’t and for those who live here, that means working two, three, or more jobs. It’s a great place to visit, but unless you or being subsidized by the US government or are independently wealthy – don’t try to live here.
There are songs and dreams of Waikiki. All over the world there are cafes, restaurants, streets, and shops named for this little slice of paradise on the southern end of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Waikiki is properly written Waikīkī if you use the script that German missionaries created for the Hawaiian people – but mostly it’s really a word and a name you should say. The Hawaiians went for more than a thousand years without a written language and to be honest, written language seems to have brought more problems than solutions – so I don’t get too uptight about the punctuation – but some people do.
Waikiki might be the most famous tropical beach in the world. It is not the only beach in the Waikiki neighborhood though. There are actually seven of them. Queens, Kuhio, Kaimana, Gray’s, Fort DeRussy, and Duke’s (also known as Kahanumoku Beach and named for Duke Kahanamoku .) The name Waikiki means spouting fresh water and while it’s hard to believe today, it was once a swamp – but one without mosquitos (introduced by ship about 1840), snakes, gators, or other unpleasantness. Instead it was a paradise. The beach portion was pretty minor back then…and actually, the beach is almost entirely man made with sand brought from a variety of locations to make it.
The Ala Wai Canal on the ‘back side’ of Waikiki, was built to ‘drain the swamp’ and the emptied wetlands were filled with the dredgings. Prior to that, this was a retreat for Hawaiian Royalty – the literal Kings and Queens of Surf would lounge about in little more than their birthday suits among wetland agriculture, swimming ponds, and some small beaches . In the 1800s there were a couple of guest houses but the first ‘resort’ was at Sans Souci beach (now Kaimana). Many more would follow. And of course the resorts wanted beaches so they built them with sand from the North Shore, California, Maui, Fiji, Australia…an astounding number of places – but the truth is, Mother Nature doesn’t want a beach in Waikiki and she erodes the sand away constantly. If the beach were not ‘replenished’ or ‘nourished’ or more accurately restocked with foreign sand – it would not exist. The sand which washed out has also impacted the reef and changed the surf breaks.
Seawalls, piers, pillows, groins, and sand bags have all done their part to try to protect the commercialy important beach, but you can’t stop Mother Ocean. Still with scores of hotels that charge $500 per night for rooms – there is plenty of money to spend keeping the tide at bay. The first big hotels were the Moana Surf Rider and the Royal Hawaiian – built by the Matson Shipping company but the age of jet travel brought a lot more tourists and the cabanas at Halekulani were upgraded to Hawaii’s poshest hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village was born, and others have kept growing to match the ever increasing number of tourists who fulfill their dreams by coming here. You would think the resorts would pay for all of the beach ‘nourishment’ but actually, that falls on the people who live and work here for the low wages tourism offers. Tax dollars foot the bill and corporate dollars buy the politicians that distribute it.
Still, no one blames the tourists, the hotels, or the government because quite frankly, the beach is nice and even if most locals don’t get to enjoy the beach as much as they would like – we all get down there from time to time. There are surf competitions, a nightly free hula show, the lighting of the torches, and every high end shop or restaurant you can imagine all competing for those coveted tourist vacation dollars.
Waikiki is essentially the neighborhood from the Ala Wai Canal to the beach to the Diamond Head Lighthouse including Kapiolani Park, bequethed by and named for Queen Kapiolani, the wife of King Kalakaua (see statue of her above). The main roads in Waikiki are Kalakaua Avenue (named for King Kalakaua), Kuhio Avenue, and Ala Wai running parallel with the beach along with Kapahulu running inland (which will lead you to Leonard’s Bakery). There are also a large number of smaller cross roads. Kalakaua is the main drag for high end shopping. Kapahulu takes you out of Waikiki and to some great restaurants. Ala Wai takes you back to Ala Moana – and Kuhio is a little bit of a red light district – though not as bad as it used to be.
Waikiki is primarily a place known for surfing with a wide variety of breaks and waves. The statue of Duke Kahanamoku draws admirers and each year there are numerous competitions held there. If you want to learn how to surf, it is possibly the best place in the world to do so. Other attractions here are the Honolulu Zoo, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the International Marketplace .It is also where most people start and finish their Hawaii vacations…which is a bit of a shame – because with a great guide, it’s easy to realize that Waikiki is just another manufactured tourist destination next to the beach – but Honolulu, Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, Lanai, and Molokai are where you will actually discover Hawaii. I’m not saying that Waikiki isn’t great, because it is great, but it’s not the best that Hawaii has to offer – though it is the best place to start and finish your trip here.
I lived in Lanikai once. It’s a bit of a heavenly dream combined with a heavy sadness.
Lanikai is consistently ranked among the top beaches in the world. It’s the only beach in the USA that makes those lists. It’s powdery white sand, the view of the Mokulua Islands, the calm and protected waters sitting like a piece of blue sik encrusted with turquoise jewels. Lanikai is a bit of heaven. The name means Heavenly Sea – but rather than having been named by Hawaiians, this beach was named by savvy haole developer Charles Frazier when he bought the land from Harold Castle and created the Lanikai Subdivision in 1924.
The beach itself is a relatively small strip of sand in a pocket of Kailua town on the windward side of Oahu – while it used to be more than a mile long, erosion and climate change have reduced it to just 1/2 mile of heaven and social media and internet coverage have made it one of the most crowded beaches on Oahu during weekends and holidays – despite efforts by residents and the City and County of Honolulu to discourage people from going there. Those efforts include draconian parking restrictions, fines of $200 and more for illegal parking, and no restrooms, showers, or lifeguards.
Living in Lanikai more than a decade ago was amazing. I’d walk to the beach in the morning or sometimes climb to the famous Lanikai Pillbox before my morning swim. Then home for a shower. Today, the crowds, the parking, the uptight neighbors venting their frustrations at the crowds and the parking – I wouldn’t live there today – even if I coudl afford the $4000/month rent or had the ability to buy one of the median average of nearly $2 million dollar houses in the neighborhood.
The people who live in Lanikai would like nothing better than to make Lanikai a private, residents only, beach. Who can blame them? But Hawaii state law guarantees that all beaches in Hawaii are public access (with a few military exceptions) – so instead they have passed laws that prohibit commercial vehicles or tour companies from dropping off visitors in Lanikai or even stopping on the street for visitors to take pictures of the residence where Barack Obama frequently stays on his vacations to Oahu.
Obama’s stays in Lanikai were at about the same time that Japanese guide books started listing Lanikai as one of the must-see places to visit in the Hawaiian Islands. It wasn’t long before big tour buses began dropping of literal busloads of tourists in the neighborhood. Prior to this, small tour companies and private guides used to bring small groups to Lanikai – companies like Oahu Nature Tours which I used to work for. The small tour groups didn’t bother anyone very much – but the buses and the Obama seeking tourists – it lit a fire under the neighborhood association and since Lanikai is more than a little bit affluent, it wasn’t long before all commercial activity in Lanikai was banned. Not long after, all public parking during holidays and long weekends was banned.
Today, if you want to visit Lanikai – your best bet is to park at Kailua Beach Park and then walk up the hill to the Lanikai Marker (no, it’s not the entrance to the Penis Park) where you get great views of the Mokulua Islands (the Mokes) and Flat Island on the Kailua Beach side. You can also take ‘Da Bus’ into Lanikai from either Honolulu or Kailua.
As a guide, one of the top requests I get is to ‘see Diamond Head’ – which is funny, because often when I get the request – it’s in Waikiki where Diamond Head is most visible! Diamond Head is just one of those monuments that people have heard of but don’t really know what it is – sometimes they know it’s a volcano, sometimes they know it’s a hike, sometime’s they know it’s a surf break – but Diamond Head is that and more. It’s also a neigborhood, a road, a direction, a crater, a park, a National Guard base, a historic military lookout, a lighthouse – and quite frankly – an experience and feeling – a sense of actually being in Waikiki.
Geologically speaking, Diamond Head is a tuff cone volcano that last erupted about 400,000 years ago. The Hawaiians called it Le’ahi which means ‘forehead of the tuna’ and from Waikiki – that’s exactly what it looks like. Western sailors gave it the current name because it was a visible landmark from sea – also known as a ‘head’. The shape of the top is roughly diamond shape which makes sense to me but there are other stories about sailors finding calcite crystals they thought were diamonds and even about the way the light refracted off of it at sunset. At it’s tallest point, it is 762 feet tall (232 m). Diamond Head was the last gasp of the Oahu volcanos and took place millions of years after the main island-forming eruptions of the Ko’olau and Waianae Volcanos. The Pali Lookout sits at the top of the Ko’olau Volcano rim – sometimes people get the lookouts confused.
In modern times, the crater and nearby areas outside the crater were part of the U.S. Army’s Fort Ruger. Today there is still a National Guard Unit and Hawaii Civil Defense inside the crater. It was used as a lookout point for the U.S. Military in Hawaii during both world wars and the pillboxes at the top of the popular interior hike are the remnants of those bygone days.
Diamond Head is a U.S. National Monument and Natural Landmark – so it is protected. In the 1960s and 70s there were huge Woodstock style concerts in the crater with the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and more. I would have loved seeing the Grateful Dead in there.
Today, most people who come to Diamond Head want to do the hike. It is less than a mile each direction but with some serious elevation gain (about 560 feet). Bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and take breaks if you need to. The trail was built in 1908 by the U.S. Army. In ancient times, there was a Heiau (temple) dedicated to the God of Winds up near where tourists take in the view today. You’ll see why – so hold onto your hat! Admission is $5 per car if driving or $1 per person if walking. It is open every day of the year from 6am to 6pm with last entrance at 4:30 pm daily.
Parking is cheap but you may have to wait for a few minutes. To get there just drive up Diamond Head Road to Kapiolani Community College and turn right at the sign, drive through the tunnel into the crater, and pay for parking at the gate.
After you take the hike, drive back out through the tunnel and continue on around Diamond Head’s exterior. You will find several pullouts where you can take in the view of the surf on one side and the exterior of the Volcano on the other. Between the lookouts and the Diamond Head Lighthouse which is operated by the U.S. Coast Guard – you will see a trail that leads down to the surf break. Diamond Head is one of the most consistant and popular surf breaks on the island of Oahu. You will have to hike your board down (and back up) but it will be worth it. If you just want to watch the surfers, the lookout with the Amelia Earhardt memorial is the best spot.
Further down the road, you will enter the Diamond Head neighborhood, one of Oahu’s most exclusive and expensive places to live. Just a bit further and you will be back in Waikiki at Kapiolani Community Park. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the beauty and grace of Diamond Head as you enjoy Waikiki.
From the moment I first saw it, way back in 2001, I knew that I wanted to live in Kailua. Who wouldn’t want to live there? Gentle trade winds, sandy beaches, lush picturesque mountains behind, and a laid back beach town atmosphere that seemed to have come right out of the movies. The first time I saw it, I wasn’t a tourist, I was breaking up a concrete driveway for my then boss with a pick and shovel for $10 an hour.
After nearly killing myself to get the job done, my boss suggested that I walk down to the beach and take a swim – her house was just a few blocks away from Kailua Beach Park. I walked down there – saw the picture perfect islands beyond the picture perfect sand beyond the picture perfect grass rimmed with picture perfect palm trees and then I got in the water and it was love love love.
Two years later when I moved back to Oahu from Kauai and decided to stay on Oahu, I rented a storage unit and mailbox in Kailua – my first step towards living there. It took a year of living in my van but finally, I found a good job and an apartment in Kailua – a large studio for the then princely sum of $750/month. It was three blocks from the beach.
I dream of my daughter riding her bike in Kailua, I dream of living close to my old studio there, but the cheapest small studio I could find was now in the range of $2000/month and there was no way that I could afford it. The prices in Hawai’i have more than doubled in the last 10 years – for housiing and for everything else- and there is no way to live in Kailua, at least not for now, not as an Oahu Tour Guide – which is pretty sad, actually.
What changed in Kailua (and Hawai’i for that matter)? I can see several things. First of all, President Obama really put Kailua on the map when he took his family vacations there…next was the extreme concentration of wealth after the great recession- the rich have consolidated their holdings and Kailua is the perfect place for a rich person’s vacation home – finally, and perhaps most importantly – AirBnB and similar peer-to-peer vacation rentals have made renting an apartment or house for the night more profitable than renting it for a year – landlords have converted almost wholesale to hoteliers with managed housekeeping and outsourced concierge.
Kailua is a place where you can live if you lived there before all of this or if you have extreme wealth – but other than that – there aren’t a lot of good jobs there, the commute to jobs in town is longer than necessary, and frankly, the landlord class has determined that temporary residents increase their wealth more than long term. All of this, of course, has driven the real estate prices sky high – not just in Kailua but on Oahu as a whole. Median price for a single family home is in excesss of $1 million and median price for an apartment is over $800k – which means there is a lot of competition to buy the very shitty properties that clock in under those numbers….I don’t have the data on who the owners of real estate are in Hawai’i, but when you take out the military (which owns a huge amount) and organizations like Kamehameha Schools, Bishop Estate, and Campbell Estate – what you are left with is ultra-rich absentee landlords – and they have priced nearly everyone out of paradise – not just out of Kailua, but out of Hawai’i in general.
We manage to survive on my tour guide wages – but it’s not easy. I sell at the Aloha Swapmeet, sell at the antique shows, cruise garage sales and thriftshops in my off time, and sell on eBay too. I’m always doing something to raise money to pay our bills – and it’s worth it even if we can’t afford to live in Kailua -yet. But my heart still lives there. I go there every chance I can. I still get my mail there with a rented post box. So, my address is in Kailua even if my apartment isn’t. Using my post box, my business is actually based in Kailua as well. I don’t plan on changing that – but I do plan on changing my income at some point and moving my family to Kailua. It will happen.
I’ve lived in a couple of neighborhoods and towns on Oahu. Waikiki, Kailua, Lanikai, Punchbowl, Punalu’u, Manoa, and since 2017, the Salt Lake neighborhood.
I never thought I would live in Salt Lake – not Salt Lake City, Utah nor Salt Lake – the neighborhood in West Honolulu in which I currently reside. It’s not because of problems in either place – I had a great time in Salt Lake City and made some great friends there – and honestly, I never really thought about Salt Lake in Honolulu much at all – I just drove by it if I was going to the H3 or coming back to town from a North Shore trip. Salt Lake was firmly in my mind as a place intimately connected with ‘the bases’ meaning Pearl Harbor Naval Base, Hickam Air Force Base, Fort Shafter Army base, and Camp Smith – a US Marine Corps installation which holds the headquarters of the United States Pacific Command. In addition to those – there is Red Hill – the strategic fuel reserves located deep underground which the Japanese forgot to bomb when they hit Pearl Harbor (it probably cost them the war because if they had hit it, the US fleet would have been paralyzed for much longer).
Up on the hill is the Tripler Army Hospital, home of the VA in Hawaii and nearby are the cities of Aiea (the only town in the US with no consonants) and Pearl City – both of which I always intimately associated with the bases. In my mind – those cities and the Salt Lake and Red Hill neighborhoods were most likely filled with military families, base housing, families who worked on base, and the kind of low rent businesses I used to see around Marine bases – discount furniture, tattoo shops, strip bars, and car lots. Certainly, there is an element of all of that in the surrounding areas – but in truth – Salt Lake is far different than I expected even if it is surrounded on all sides by military bases, military housing, and freeway interchanges. And we have no shortage of rainbows.
First of all, let me point out that there is nothing touristic about this neighborhood. It sits between the airport on the ocean side and the beautiful pink buildings of Tripler on the mountain side. There is Pearl Harbor to the West and Makiki to the East. I include the Moanalua neighborhood as a part of Salt Lake since the two are intimately connected with Moanalua High School. Salt Lake is a densely packed high rise neighborhood with golf courses on either side of it – the Navy Marine Course and the other the Honolulu Country Club. There is one little shopping center with a half dozen unremarkable restaraunts, a McDonalds, a small Safeway, and a Longs drugs. That’s it. A couple of schools and lots and lots and lots of apartments in high rise buildings.
The nearby hill, called Alia’manu by the Hawaiians (salt crusted bird) and Aliapa’akai (Crusted Salt Lake) was said to have been created by Pele on her first circuit of the islands as she looked for a home. It was a salt crusted pond where prized salt was harvested and traded throughout the Hawaiian Islands – the red dirt and salt were said to have been dropped by her as she rested and her bottom created the lake. The salt was valued so highly by the Chinese for making incense that the lake itself was completely depleted by 1900s and ceased to be even a pond. Before that time, the shores and bottom of the lake were covered with crystal blocks of salt – it was considered the chief wonder of Oahu and several early visitors even described it as the most remarkable site in the islands. All that is left today is a pond on the golf course of the Honolulu Country Club – not salty at all and no blocks of crystal. A comprehensive history can be found on Peter T. Young’s blog.
Salt Lake had a reputation for high crime in the 1990s and 2000s – a reputation which appears to have been largely wiped away. According to several demographic samplings online – Salt Lake is the most densely packed Asian neighborhood in the entire United States – a fact that I can’t confirm but which my wife assures me must be true. She points out that I’m virtually the only white person she sees here, something I don’t really notice not being able to see myself – actually, I think I tend to think of myself as a brown person and it is usually a bit of a shock to see myself in the mirror or in photos – so perhaps she is right. To be fair though, I do sometimes see white people here when I’m not looking in the mirror, but not very often.
The population here is mostly Japanese with a strong mix of Chinese and Filipino and a sprinkling of Hawaiians, Koreans, African Americans, and haoles like me. People are friendly but keep a respectful distance – there are no welcome wagons of neighbors knocking on your doors when you move in.
To sum up, I like Salt Lake. It’s central to everything and feels safe and comfortable. I like that there is no touristic reason for people to visit. The weather is nice but can get a bit hot at times. There are a couple of nice parks, decent schools (by Hawaiian standards) and we even get an annual homecoming parade from Moanalua High School. The neighborhood is split between the houses and the high rises and it is circled by busy highways and surrounded by base housing and military bases. My one big complaint is that there is no safe way to ride my bicycle to and from our neighborhood without crossing busy highways that lack bike lanes. Actually, I do have another complaint – it would be nice if we had a farmer’s market here but the Aloha Stadium Swapmeet is not far and usually has a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Kaka’ako is one of the fastest growing and most vibrant neighborhoods in Hawai’i. This formerly neglected area between the financial district and Ala Moana consisted mostly of industrial and low rent business for most of the 20th century. In the past ten years it has been transformed with seven luxury condo towers going up in the last five years and reports that up to FIFTY more will be going upn over the next decade. What you see today, probably won’t be there in a few years – which is a shame, because it’s beautiful.
Long ago, before white people came to Hawai’i – the area called Kaka’ako which now sits between Honolulu Harbor, Downtown Honolulu, and Ala Moana Shopping Center was a place where Hawaiian royalty lived – it was a rich agricultural landscape of terrace agriculture. There were fishponds, homes, and burial sites. Even Kamehameha the Great kept a home in Kaka’ako.
Up until the middle of the 20th century, Kaka’ako was a place where families lived and where indsutrial businesses existed. The neighborhood fell on hard times in the 1900s – lots of fight clubs and gyms moved into the warehouses and it gained a reputation as a rough place. Then, because of politics in the 1970s it became even further degraded while all around it development thrived. Kaka’ako became an industrial neighborhood of warehouses and mechanic shops. The city even built a huge landfill near the waterfront – in other words Kaka’ako was a dump.
In the 1990s and 2000s that started to change…
The City and County of Honolulu poured a huge amount of money into developing the Kaka’ako Waterfront into three distinct beach parks over the top of the landfill. The result was a 35 acre greenspace that quickly became beloved by residents for family outings, barbecues, and even beach goers due to the proximity of the Point Panic surf break – to be clear, there is no sandy beach at Kaka’ako. Next artists and those looking for cheaper rent began to move into Kaka’ako. Some surprisingly awesome restaurants opened in dark alleyways next to auto body shops. Finally, Kamehameha Schools in concert with Castle and Cooke began to do some serious redevelopment in the early 2000s. The formation of Our Kaka’ako and SALT has brought new life into Kaka’ako centered around art, culture, and community…a big part of that has been the mural projects in the neighborhood.
Today, no trip to Honolulu, Hawaii is complete without a drive through Kaka’ako to admire the many murals there. Below are just a few of them…there are many more…If you’d like to explore Kaka’ako and the cool neighborhood it is growing into – just get in touch. I’d love to show it to you. In the meantime, here’s a little sampling: