The most popular neighbourhoods in Honolulu come in a rich variety that is ripe for exploration. Downtown Honolulu is a good place to start. The state’s bustling financial and government district has local landmarks like Aloha Tower, and Chinatown and the arts district are just a short distance away. More far-flung neighbourhoods like Hawaii Kai and Manoa offer the perfect balance of nature and culture to discover, with picturesque beaches and hiking trails. Honolulu’s most famous neighbourhood by far is Waikiki, which attracts millions of visitors to its shores every year.  

    Regardless of where you go in Honolulu, its location on the south-eastern edge of Oahu island means that you’re never far from a beach, and the majestic Diamond Head crater is often within view. Here are some suggestions on the best neighbourhoods to visit and where to stay in Honolulu.

    1

    Waikiki

    A busy beachfront resort town

    Waikiki is not exactly a hidden destination, with more than 7 million beach lovers flocking to this beachside neighbourhood on Honolulu’s south shore every year. But even with the crowds and the towering rows of hotels, it’s still a lovely escape with 2 miles of soft sand and a terrific variety of places to eat, drink and shop. Surfers will want to pay homage to the statue of the Hawaiian surfing legend, Duke Kahanamoku, on the beachfront before they hit the waves.

    Though most visit Waikiki to enjoy the sand, surf and sunsets, it’s also fun to just wander the streets. Along the main strip of Kalakaua Avenue, you could spend hours exploring the boutique shops and cafes, and also pop into Royal Hawaiian Center mall to enjoy the free live entertainment. Waikiki’s Kapiolani Park is a peaceful place to relax and take in views of the island’s most famous landmark, the Diamond Head volcanic cone.  

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    2

    Kakaako

    Honolulu’s hip and artsy enclave

    • Couples
    • Shoppers
    • Budget

    Kakaako is a commercial district of Honolulu that's evolved into a hot spot for the island’s creative community. This becomes evident as soon as you enter the area and see all the large, vivid murals splashed across many walls around Kakaako.

    There's also a thriving farmers market that runs every Saturday morning where you'll find plenty for sale, like fresh fruits and veggies, gourmet coffee, seafood and local crafts, and enjoy some live music while you browse. You'll find more local food and goods at SALT shopping centre, which is home to several boutiques and cafes, and also hosts art exhibitions throughout the year.   

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    3

    Kaimuki

    Diverse dining and boutique shops

    Kaimuki is a small neighbourhood just a short drive from Waikiki that's best discovered on foot. It’s a business district packed with a unique range of shops and restaurants, mostly found along Waialae Avenue between 8th and 13th avenues. If you wander to the fringes of the area you'll see some historic homes set in the hillside of Maunalani Heights.

    A must-stop is the Crack Seed Store, a long-running shop selling tasty preserved “crack seed” fruit snacks in such flavours as plum and ginger. They sell cookies and candy, too, if crack seed isn’t your thing. You could also shop for a colourful variety of local products like the famous aloha shirts to jewellery made from shells or pearls. If you’re planning to stay in Kaimuki through the evening, try to make your way to Puu O Kaimuki Park, where there’s a great lookout to catch panoramic views of the sunset.

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    4

    Kapahulu

    Come here for a culinary journey

    Kapahulu is the perfect place to go if you're looking for some good eats but don't want to travel too far from Waikiki. This small neighbourhood next to Kaimuki takes just minutes to drive through but if you slow down and keep your senses alert you'll quickly find a spot to satisfy your cravings. Go for lunch at Ono Hawaiian Foods or Haili’s Hawaiian Food for a generous poke bowl serving, or stop by Waiola Bakery for a taste of its famous shave ice.

    Just a 5-minute drive from Kapahulu Avenue’s main strip is the KCC Farmers Market. This popular market, held every Saturday morning, is a one-stop-shop for foodies with everything from fresh seafood to tropical fruits to snacks and meals of all sorts like beef jerky, crepes and Bahn Mi sandwiches.

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    5

    Downtown Honolulu

    Oahu’s hub of commerce and culture

    • Couples
    • History
    • Business

    Downtown Honolulu is the main centre for Oahu’s business and government, with the Hawaii State Capitol and Honolulu Hale (city hall) located here, as well as several historic and cultural sites. It’s best explored on a walking tour, whether on your own or with a guide, where you'll see such landmarks as Aloha Tower and Iolani Palace – notably the only royal palace found in the US.

    The Honolulu State Art Museum across the street from Iolani Palace offers a fascinating look into Hawaii's unique art and traditions, set in a stunning Spanish Mission-style heritage building. Art and history buffs will want to venture just outside of downtown to visit the Honolulu Museum of Art to see its collection of more than 60,000 fine art pieces in a tranquil setting of galleries connected by open-air courtyards.

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    6

    Ala Moana

    The place for sun, sand, sea … and shopping

    Ala Moana is a district found about 3 km southeast of Honolulu, best known for its large shopping centre of the same name. Ala Moana Center is the biggest open-air mall in the world, and you could easily spend a day here browsing its mix of brand-name and local stores, enjoying a meal at some of the mall’s 160 dining spots, and watching the Hula shows staged here daily from Monday through Saturday.

    Ala Moana means “path to the sea”, and indeed you can easily reach the seaside here and relish in plenty of beach time. Ala Moana Beach is part of the Ala Moana Regional Park, a popular nature escape spread over 100 acres with many facilities including running paths, tennis courts and picnic sites. The park is near Magic Island Lagoon, another place to relax and enjoy views of the nearby marina and Honolulu skyline.

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    7

    Chinatown Honolulu

    Honolulu’s hub for art and Asian culture

    Honolulu’s Chinatown is found at the western edge of its financial district, with an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and temples to explore. The community first grew in the mid-1800s when Chinese migrants came to the island in large numbers to work on sugar plantations then stayed on to work elsewhere and open businesses. Since then, the area has attracted people from across Asia and around the world, making Chinatown one of Hawaii’s most diverse neighbourhoods.

    When visiting Chinatown Honolulu, now an official historical district, you’ll find many preserved buildings dating back to the early 1900s housing an assortment of shops and markets. As part of the Honolulu Arts District, there are also art galleries to explore in Chinatown as well as a monthly art walk. Maunakea Marketplace and the Oahu Market are lively spots where you’ll be able to find some tasty Asian delicacies.

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    photo by boaski (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    8

    Hawaii Kai

    Suburban escape with beaches and green spaces

    Hawaii Kai is a community ideal for outdoor lovers with its ample parkland and marine activities to enjoy. Found about 20 km east of downtown Honolulu, Hawaii Kai is home to some of Oahu’s most spectacular sights, including Hanauma Bay, Makapuu Lighthouse and the Halona Blowhole Lookout. Avid hikers could try the Koko Head Crater Hike, which leads up the side of the crater along an abandoned railway track.

    Sandy Beach draws many visitors to swim and sunbathe while Maunalua Bay Beach Park is good for kayaking and boating. If you tire of all that time in nature while exploring Hawaii Kai, you could retreat to Hawaii Kai Towne Center or Koko Marina Center for a bit of shopping and dining.

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    9

    Manoa

    A university town in a lush valley setting

    Manoa is a scenic neighbourhood found 8 km east of Downtown Honolulu that’s home to the main campus of the University of Hawaii. Set in a lush, green valley, Manoa is a great place for hikers with plenty of trails like the Na Ala Hele trail to Manoa Falls and the popular Pu'u Pia trail.

    If you’re curious to learn more about all the plants and trees that you come across on your Manoa valley hikes, it’s worth stopping by Manoa Heritage Center to explore its gardens. You can also join a tour that explains the area’s cultural heritage and environment. Go for a meal and shopping trip at Manoa Marketplace mall, which also hosts a farmers’ market every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

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    photo by Travis.Thurston (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    10

    Kahala

    Honolulu’s celebrity hideaway

    • Couples
    • Shoppers
    • Luxury

    Kahala is an upscale neighbourhood near Waikiki and the place to look if you’re wondering where to find Honolulu’s more affluent residents and visitors. It’s home to the exclusive Waialae Country Club and sprawling estates and multi-million-dollar beachfront mansions. The ritzy Kahala Hotel & Resort is found here, famous for its high-powered guest list of royals, magnates and presidents. The neighbourhood’s main shopping centre, Kahala Mall, caters to shoppers on a more generous budget with its boutique shops and jewellers.

    But even if you’re not among the rich and famous, there’s much to enjoy on a visit to Kahala. You could go for a swim and bask in the sun at any of the beaches along Kahala Avenue, which are accessible to the public. Among these is Waialae Beach Park, a great spot for a picnic. Plus, the sunset views are free.

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    Lana Willocks | Contributing Writer

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