Most 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 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.
From 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.
The 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.