There’s no doubt about it. Travel has re-emerged with a vengeance. And no place appears to be as in demand as Honolulu. That according to a study released this week by Hilton, “Nearly 80% of Americans plan to take a wish list trip in the coming months.”
Hilton also said that of those surveyed, nearly 60% want to book nicer accommodations and stay longer than usual. The online survey of 2,000 nationally representative American adults was conducted for Hilton in May 2021 by OnePoll. Unfortunately, we do not know how these adults were picked and if only destinations with Hilton hotels could be chosen.
At the top of the list, those surveyed selected Honolulu as their most desired destination, followed by New York and Las Vegas. “These locales are far-flung, yet they share common traits such as world-class food, eye-catching scenery, and a wide array of attractions,” according to Hilton. Fifty-five percent said they planned to spend more than in the past after not traveling during COVID.
There is an abundance of desirable things to do in Honolulu, that’s for sure. In fact, we have a list of some of those below. There’s nothing we enjoy more, however than visiting the local neighborhoods. And among those, our top pick remains Kaimuki. You may have unknowingly been near Kaimuki many times when you stopped at Leonard’s Bakery for malasadas. It’s also an easy drive from Diamond Head and the Kahala Mall.
We’re always looking for new things to do in Honolulu, yet Kaimuki remains one of our all-time favorites. So next time you visit, take a short drive to this neighborhood jewel. From Waikiki, follow Kapahulu under the H1, and continue up Waialae to 8th Avenue. That’s where the Kaimuki business district begins. We visited Kaimuki just last week and can report that it is still unique and sleepy, yet thriving.
“Kaimuki reminds me of the old Hawaii in my dreams with its plantation-style homes. It’s familiar, even legendary to locals and often overlooked by visitors.”
You’ll find a multifarious mix of older businesses and chic contemporary stores and eateries if you go. The surroundings retain a historical charm waiting to be discovered.
Looking up to the heights, you’ll see homes stretching as far as the eye can see. The legend is that Menehunes built their ti root ovens here in the hillsides giving Kaimuki its name.
“Before leaving my car, I turn left up Sierra Drive and make my way to the top. I soon understand why King Kamehameha used Kaimuki as his lookout to watch approaching enemies from the ocean. Another monarch, King Kalakaua, used Kaimuki for peaceful purposes with his ostrich farm.”
It’s a spectacular view over Waikiki, and we like the unique perspective of Diamond Head. Up here, you may even spot your Waikiki hotel in the distance. If you see rainbows over the Pacific, think of famed entertainer Israel Kamakawiwo`ole “IZ,” raised here in Kaimuki.
At the end of the road is Lanipo trailhead. It’s a strenuous 7-mile ridge hike rated one of Oahu’s best. You can split the hike in half and go as far as “two summits.” When a burning desire to shop and eat strikes, turn your car downhill.
Kaimuki is Best Explored on Foot
The storefronts don’t do justice to the unique finds inside. Within a five-block area, you can find coffee bars, purchase every type of Hawaiian fabric, have your shoes fixed, take a yoga class, make art, buy crack seed in jars, find every bead on the planet, watch a foreign film at the Movie Museum (reservations required), select some vegetables at an outdoor produce stand, look for imported clothing and design, find discounts at a second-hand store and discover any sheet of music you want. That’s just the tip of the Kaimuki experience.
And if you’re looking for a discount on manicures and pedicures, you’ve come to the right place. Our favorite remains Smiley Nails (closed Wednesday), where patrons received massages while getting their nails done on the cheap.
After a shopping workout, it’s time to eat.
Kaimuki’s name stands for something food-related, the Ti root oven. That’s not surprising, considering all the dining options available. You’ll find bakeries and coffee bars, noodle shops, to fine dining. The food and styles are as diverse as the owners and their patrons.
We decided on lunch at Kaimuki Superette and sampled a variety of options, including the octopus roll and a plate of assorted salads. Delicious. From there, we headed over to Breadshop, where you can now order online. Now in business for four years, it is as good as, if not better than ever. Their specialties include artisanal bread and pastries. With yummy dessert in hand, we headed to The Curb for divine nitro iced coffee (currently to-go only). We can report that these were all superb.
Next time we plan to try a completely different set of restaurants. There are so many choices that it will take many return visits before we run out.
Other places we’ve enjoyed grub in Kaimuki include Mud Hen Water, and for dessert, try Otto Cake.
A Sample of Landmark Businesses in Kaimuki
Queen Theater has sat at the top of Waialae Avenue for over 75 years. It’s been closed for the past quarter-century and is on the list of national historic theaters. There is an ongoing grassroots effort to restore it as one of the few freestanding theaters remaining in Honolulu.
Kaimuki Dry Goods is the ultimate source of Hawaiian fabric, has been in business for over 80 years, and is still thriving. We purchased a remnant for $6 on a prior visit and later reupholstered chairs in 30 minutes using a staple gun.
Crack Seed Store has glass jars filled with these Hawaii unique sweet-salty delights. Ask for a sample to try.
The independent book store, Da Shop, is another favorite of ours.
- Bring coins for parking (essential) or see if you score something free on a side street.
- Bus Riders can take route 303 from Waikiki.
- Most stores are located between 8th and 13th Avenues.
- Explore side streets for hidden finds.
- The best shopping days are Monday through Saturday.
- Kids will have fun at the neighborhood park.
Please share your Honolulu tips.
Six other things we love to do in Honolulu include:
Waikiki Natatorium — Sans Souci Beach
Historic Ala Moana Beach Park at Waikiki
Iolani Palace Features Hawaiian History For All
Karla D says
Love this website! You saved us much trouble and angst with your information on COVID testing for travelers during the run-up to our trip to the Big Island and Kauai last month. Thanks for that! And, by the way, Brother IZ was born on Oahu, but grew up on Ni’i”hou. My back-door neighbor from Kauai played in a band with one of his brothers on Kauai. No matter, his music was the back drop of our years of visiting Hawaii and still is! Thanks again for your great information.
Beat of Hawaii says
Thank you! Glad you were able to visit the BI and Kauai recently and we hope you have a great time.
Randy R. says
I still remember a great spot, off the beaten track in Kaimuki on Waialae, from the 1990’s, 3660 On the Rise, great spot and a respite from the crowded big names from The Black Orchid, John Dominus, Nick’s Fishmarket, Roy’s Hawaii Kai, Michel’s, Yanagi, Matteo’s and Hy’s. After 35 years of business and pleasure that brought us to the Islands, Oahu and Waikiki, remain our favorite, the energy, the International experience, with Covid have re-Scheduled 4 times since February 2020′ and are really looking forward to January ’22!
Marilyn S. says
So interesting! I lived in Waialae for 20+ years, left 33 years ago. But visit yearly now in Waikiki, and always visit W&M burgers on Waialae ave. (Usually take the bus from waikiki), and usually take cab to Side Street Inn in kapahulu for dinner (go early, always full). Try to go to McDonalds once for breakfast rice and eggs! And I am mostly vegetarian!
anthony p says
The various Islands of Hawaii offer great expectations— and rightly so. HOWEVER, since the last year plus, it is NOT a visitor’s paradise !!! Look at the local governments and state government, it is no longer visitor friendly. (See car rental prices; various blocks to sightseeing; plus other impediments.) I think anybody that would want to visit the Islands in the near future is not playing with a full deck. A note, when my wife was alive, we would visit the four major island for a total of 3+ months per year. Unless something drastically changes in the near future, I will NEVER visit the Islands again !!!
James P says
Thank you so much. Recently moved here from the Mainland, and want to be a local. We really appreciate the tips and directions
Timothy K says
Thanks for highlighting Kaimuki, recently moved after living there for over 60 years, born and raised. Most of the small mom and pop stores and eatery’s that made Kaimuki, Kaimuki have been closed for decades. My family lived next to Epiphany church / school, my siblings and I attended Epiphany transferred to St.Patrick’s/ Sacred Hearts, graduated from St. Louis High School. I’ll list the places we shopped and ate at as kids, hope it brings back some good memories. Aotani’s, Tanouye’s,National Dollar, Ben Franklin, Waialae Nui Farm Market,Zane’s Super Market, Paradise Market, 9th Ave. Bakery, Choice Bakery, Tropics Bakery, Stewart Drugs, Walrich, King’s Garden, Fuji’s Fishing Supply, Harry’s Music, Sakuda Shell Svc. Station, Hung Kung Restaurant, Viking Restaurant, Kaimuki Bowl, Sonny and Mike’s, Capitol’s AKA Caps, Kaimuki Pet Shop, Kaimuki Inn, and so much more that I’ve forgotten.Though there has been a slight resurgence lately, Kaimuki is no longer the family neighborhood it once was. With the building of H1 and young families relocating to new subdivisions in Hawaii Kai, Pearl City, Aiea, Kaimuki has become multi-generational households, with grandchildren and their parents returning to live with their grandparents and who never left. However, the neighborhood is still relatively quiet and mellow.But it’ll never be the Kaimuki of old.
Erich H says
Is the Sportsman Bar still there? Great local place. They also served Ahi as Puu Puus.
Tonya L. says
My husband and I followed your advice today. We started with the hike, around 11am, enjoyed strenuous amazing views, then parked at Koko Head Ave and Waialae Ave. I wish we had seen the post about the volcanic steam vents by Kiawe below!
Stopped at Crack Seed Store. Because of covid restrictions, we couldn’t try any samples or linger. We bought a small amount of kumquat licorice (our favorite), dried mango (like from Costco), and sweet cherry (our least favorite). Last, to Otto Cake for good brownies and carrot cake with the very best cream cheese frosting ever! Does anyone have the recipe?
Beat of Hawaii says
Thanks for that report on Kaimuki!
Martha W. says
We will have to visit this neighborhood next time we are in Honolulu.
Dave R says
It’s sad that you publicized this area. It was getting worse over the years as it got yuppified. Articles like this will deliver the coup de grace by attracting increasing numbers of tourists to Kaimuki. Then, over time, the local flavor will disappear as local businesses are forced out in favor of more revenue-generating tourist businesses. This is exactly what happened on Kalakaua over the past 20 years: all the surf shops are gone, the Kaitensushi place is gone, etc. Same out at Kaimana Beach. Remember “Scoop du Jour”? (Used to be a great place to come in after surfing, always some dish with rice; “no money right now? No problem, you pay next time.” One time I spend a couple of hours talking story with a group that had just finished paddling canoe from Moloka’i.) Gone.
Keepin’ It KAIMUKI!!!
My daughter has attended ChaminadeU the past couple yrs. She was blessed with off-campus housing in Kaimuki on the ridge towards Diamond Head. We didn’t realize initially how lucky she was; what a great neighborhood and what a great little business district!
When my wife and I have been fortunate to visit, we find ourselves returning to the excellent restaurants in Kaimuki. Superette and Curb are my favorites for coffee. And Koko Head Café meals are exquisite, always exciting experiences for the palate.
For geology buffs, there are two tiny hidden volcanic vents in Kaimuki. One is an old lava vent behind the fire station, just off Koko Head Ave. on the far side of the bridge over the highway; the interior is a small park. The other is on a deadend side street that climbs a cinder cone just as you start ascending Wilhelmina Rise; please note it is residential, so be considerate. Neither of them are obvious, but interesting sidelights nonetheless!
Mahola for sharing. I will have to find those vents now.
Betty T. says
I grew up in and around Kaimuki…attended Kaimuki Intermediate in the mid 50’s…attended the Nazarene Church that use to be located on the corner of 12th and Pahoa and my Dad worked at Kaimuki Bakery, the corner 0f 12th and Waialae. My mom was a seamstress and shopped at Kaimuki Dry Goods all the time. I visited the shop in 2017…the lady who waited on me remembered my Mom, who died in 2002. Lots of fond memories of Kaimuki.
Aloha, now I want to go to Oahu again! We went last year and had the best time exploring, mostly on foot. We really got a feel for Kapahulu and the great restaurants. Walked all around Diamond Head, the area around the zoo, over to Ala Moana… no not all at once! We had stayed at a condo near the zoo, great location, for two weeks. I hope we can stay there again, I heard the zoning changed.
Thanks for the fun article!
Beat of Hawaii says
I am glad I stumbled upon this Kaimuki article. Thank you.
The reason I was looking on your website was for some advice. I would like to fly lax to Kona, from Kona to Hnl then return to lax. What is the best way to do this? 2 one way tickets & interisland air, look at packages, not sure how to do this – I will have a hotel in Hnl – anything you can suggest would be greatly appreciated- mahalo
Beat of Hawaii says
Should be no problem to book into one island and out of the other, thus requiring only one inter-island flight. The airline websites all accommodate that. It will save you considerable time. Let us know if you have any other questions we might help with.
You didn’t mention my favorite restaurant on Oahu, Jawaiian Irie Jerk, Kaimuki. I also go there at least once when I’m on Oahu. I highly recommend eating there.
I found your article on Kaimuki to be most interesting. I managed the Kress Store at 3632 Waialae Ave for a couple years around 1970. I was also the Merchants Association President. Glad to see that Kaimuki Dry Goods is still striving. What a great family owned business and nice people. I still remember Eddie Yoneshige asst mgr, and Masako Fujioka Office supervisor.I remember a few faces but can’t put a name to them. I hired a young man Dennis Arakaki who became a kress mgr after I left.He is probably the only one still alive.I was 30 and now 75 and most everyone was 10-30 years older. My company transferred me to open the new store at Windward City.I was transferred to the mainland in 1974. I probably have been back to Hawaii for 60+ times, almost always to my favorite isle Maui. I love Hawaii…ALOHA
Beat of Hawaii says
Really interesting! Thanks so much for that input.
Brahdah Laine says
There’s a hidden gem vintage collectibles / antique store next door to the mentioned Queen theater called “Surf N Hula”. Awesome place and even more awesome people running it. Great place to find hawaiiana decor, furniture or souvenirs if just visiting the island. Highly recommend when in Kaimuki!