Guest poster alert: My wife Lily, a local who grew up on this beautiful island wrote this introduction. Probably more mentions of romance than I would put in an article about a town, but I will happily admit she is a much better writer than I, so enjoy her introduction to Hawaii Kai! Even after living on Oahu for years, I am still surprised when I’m reminded that Hawaii Kai is still considered to be within the boundaries of Honolulu. This is not only because Hawaii Kai is located so far East of downtown Honolulu, my cognitive disconnect arises from the noticeable changes in landscape and weather. As you drive onto Kalanianaole from the H1, you will notice that tall buildings become sparse, and the highway hugs the coastline. Fun Fact, you can consider yourself an honorary local when you have lived in Hawaii for seven years and can say Kalanianaole three times, fast
Ask me where I think the most romantic place on Oahu is, and I will say Hawaii Kai—it’s got some of the island’s most gorgeous scenery and lookouts located in one zip code. Living in Hawaii Kai in Honolulu, Hawai’i is a dream come true for many people. With its idyllic, yet urban setting, this neighborhood offers something for everyone. From the breathtaking beauty of the ocean, the lush landscapes and stunning views of the mountains, to the convenient access to downtown Honolulu, this area is the perfect place for those who want to experience the best of both worlds..
Things to do: Hawai’i is a nature-lover’s paradise and Waimanalo does not disappoint with numerous outdoor activities. It’s beaches are among the best on the island, with the two most popular among military members and veterans being Waimanalo Beach Park and Bellows Air Force Station. Both beaches have beautiful sand, crystal clear water, and lush green mountains in the background, Waimanalo Beaches are true paradise. The parks also offer picnic areas, showers, and restrooms, making it a great place to spend a day with family or friends.
The breathtaking beauty of the ocean is one of the biggest benefits of living in Hawaii Kai. However, the beaches in Hawaii Kai are not suitable for swimming due to several factors. First, the reefs that line the shoreline can be dangerous for swimmers. The shallow waters and rocks can make it difficult to navigate and the strong currents can be hazardous. Further, many of the beaches in Hawaii Kai are also home to endangered species and wildlife, and swimming in these areas is strictly forbidden. For these reasons, it is best to enjoy the beauty of the beaches in Hawaii Kai from the shoreline and refrain from swimming. Drive a bit farther east and you will find the white-sand beaches of Kailua and Waimanalo, to the crystal clear waters of the Pacific, you can experience the full beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaii Kai has a special place in my heart because it is where some of my favorite romantic spots on the island are located. This is where you can plan the perfect romantic outdoor dates. Hike up into the misty mountains of Kuliouou Ridge, a scene atop so picturesque it’d be where I’d imagine fairies would get married. Sit along the rocks to watch the sunset on China Walls for an intimate picnic at Portlock. Fly a kite in the open fields next to Sandy Beach or hold hands all the way up to the top of Koko Head. Every full moon, you will see couples taking a romantic stroll up to the Makapuu lighthouse during moonrise.
Kuliouou Ridge Trail is a beautiful hike located on the east side of Oahu. This trail is a great way to experience the stunning beauty of Hawaii while getting some exercise. The trail is approximately 3.5 miles long and begins in the valley of Kuliouou Ridge. The trail winds through lush, green vegetation and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding mountains. Along the way, you’ll be treated to stunning views of Makapu’u and Sandy beaches. The trail is also home to a variety of native Hawaiian bird species, making it a great spot for birdwatching. The hike ends with a steep climb to the top of Kuliouou Ridge, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the entire east coast of Oahu. With its beautiful scenery and variety of wildlife, Kuliouou Ridge Trail is a great way to experience the beauty of Hawaii.
China Walls in Portlock, Hawaii Kai is a popular spot for bodyboarding and surfing located on the south shore of Oahu. The spot is known for its strong waves, which can reach up to 10 feet in height. The area is also known for its stunning views of the ocean and the nearby Koko Head Crater. It is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike and is a great place to catch some waves and take in the beautiful scenery.
The Koko Head hike is a popular hiking trail located on Oahu’s east side. But probably not a first date attempt, unless you are Chris Pratt training for Guardians of the Galaxy (who was spotted on this hike by my friend once!) The trail begins at the Koko Head Stairs, a series of 1,048 steps that lead to the summit of Koko Head Crater. The trail is a great way to get in some cardio and take in the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding landscape. The trail is also home to a variety of native Hawaiian bird species, making it a great spot for birdwatching.
If you don’t look sexy hiking or even walking, fear not, you can still woo your partner just sitting down in Hawaii Kai. Sitting in your car, that is, and driving along Kalanianaole highway. The drive along the coast from Hawaii Kai to Waimanalo is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The journey begins with a stunning view of the majestic Koolau Mountains, and continues along the shoreline, passing by the picturesque beaches of Kailua and Waimanalo. Along the way, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the lush, green landscape of the Hawaiian Islands. The drive ends with a breathtaking view of the Waimanalo Bay, where the crystal clear waters of the Pacific meet the white sands of Waimanalo Beach. This drive is truly one of the most beautiful experiences in the world.
Another romantic stationary event is the annual Christmas boat festival at the Hawaii Kai Towne Center, a beloved holiday tradition. Every year, the Towne Centre hosts a dazzling display of colorful boats illuminated with Christmas lights. The festival also features live music, food booths, and a variety of holiday-themed activities for the whole family. The event is a great way to get in the Christmas spirit and enjoy the beauty of the holiday season. The festival typically lasts for several nights, giving people plenty of time to enjoy the festive atmosphere and take in the holiday spirit.
One of the downsides to living in Hawaii Kai is the cost of living. The area is known for its high cost of living, which can be a challenge for some people. Additionally, the area is also known for its traffic and congestion, especially during peak hours. Finally, the area is known for its rainy weather, which can make it difficult to enjoy outdoor activities. Although the area has its drawbacks, it is still a great place to live for those who want to experience all that Hawaii has to offer.
History: Before Western contact, the Hawaii Kai area was known as Maunalua, which means “two mountains” in Hawaiian, referring to Koko Head and Koko Crater. The region was fertile, with abundant fishponds, taro fields, and agricultural terraces. The Maunalua area was divided into several ahupua’a (land divisions), which extended from the mountains to the sea, providing the native Hawaiians with all the resources they needed to sustain their communities.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Maunalua area saw a transition to ranching and agriculture, with cattle grazing and crops such as sugar cane, pineapple, and sisal being cultivated. The land was owned by the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate, which leased it to ranchers and farmers.
The modern-day community of Hawaii Kai can be traced back to the vision of industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. In the late 1950s, Kaiser purchased a 6,000-acre tract of land in East Honolulu, including the Maunalua area, with plans to develop a suburban community. Kaiser’s ambitious project included dredging and filling the area’s natural fishponds and wetlands to create the Hawaii Kai Marina and additional land for housing developments. This large-scale transformation laid the foundation for the contemporary community of Hawaii Kai, with its residential neighborhoods, shopping centers, and recreational facilities.
The first homes in Hawaii Kai were built in the early 1960s, and the community continued to grow throughout the following decades. The development of the area was carefully planned, with a focus on preserving open spaces and creating a balanced, livable community.
Hawaii Kai is now home to a variety of residential neighborhoods, parks, schools, and commercial centers, such as the Koko Marina Center and the Hawaii Kai Towne Center. The area also boasts numerous outdoor recreational opportunities, with the nearby Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Koko Head Regional Park, and Sandy Beach Park attracting both residents and visitors alike.
Schools: One of the best selling points for military members PCSing to Hawaii Kai is the schools. From Elementary schools to Niu Valley Middle School to Kaiser High School many of Hawaii Kai’s schools consistently rank in the top 10% of Hawaii’s schools in both standardized testing and overall rankings. With such excellent public schools, private schools are an afterthought for many of the folks living in Hawaii Kai. There are private schools such as Calvary by the Sea Montessori School, Holy Trinity, and Waldorf for great elementary and middle school education. It is also in close enough proximity for your kids to go to all the town private schools. I would rate Hawaii Kai, Manoa, and Mililani as the best school districts top-to-bottom for military families.
Commute to Bases: It really depends where you work. If you are at the Coast Guard base downtown, it isn’t a terrible commute. But, as with anything on the island, your commute will depend on your work hours. If you leave early enough and return before 3 P.M. , not much is a problem. That being said, morning rush hour traffic from Hawaii Kai to town is some of the worst traffic on the island. So, if you are working typical 730-1630 type hours, this will be an extremely bad commute. If you are PCSing here and checking out the Hawaii Kai area I highly recommend trying a morning or two of the daily commutes before you decide to buy.
Things to do in Hawaii Kai: Hawaii Kai is in close enough proximity to town to include all of the Honolulu activities, but it can also function as a fairly self-contained town. There is a town center which includes a Cinema to see the new releases, and a variety of shops and restaurants. Things unique to Hawaii Kai include my favorite hike on the island, the Kuliouou Ridge Trail. This hike is shaded most of the way and truly a hidden gem in an island full of great hiking. You can also try snorkeling at the most famous snorkeling spot on the island, Hanauma Bay. If you live on island make sure you buy your own snorkeling gear as the cost to rent is almost 2/3s the price of buying the equipment. Hawaii Kai is also home to the Christmas Boat Parade where hundreds of residents decorate their boats and cruise along the shore for spectators to see.
Food and Shopping: Hawaii Kai has many grocery stores, including a Costco which means members and veterans do not have to make a trek to the commissary to save money. The Town Centre is filled with restaurants and stores to shop. The Kahala mall is also not far away from Hawaii Kai should the Town Centre not satisfy your shopping itch!
Utilizing your VA loan in Hawaii Kai: The median home price in the area is hovering at $1.2M making it slightly higher than the average price of a single-family home on Oahu. The schools, location, and natural beauty all make Hawaii Kai a great place to live. The biggest drawback is the commute. For those members and veterans working on JBPHH, Schofield Barracks, Camp Smith, or Ft Shafter, be prepared for a longer commute if you will be commuting during rush hour. Those looking to buy need to call Ben Puccetti ASAP. Ben is a leading agent for all over the island, but is a true expert on all things Hawaii Kai. For those looking for more education on VA loans please reach out for a free consultation on utilizing your Hawaii VA Home Loan benefit, or for any VA loan related questions you might have.