You may have been near the Kaimuki neighborhood many times without knowing it 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. 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.”
If you go you’ll find a multifarious mix of older businesses and chic contemporary stores and eateries. 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,” who was 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, 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. The most popular was 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 simply 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. Now in business for three years, it is as good as, if not better than ever. Their specialties include artisinal breads and pastries. With yummy dessert in hand, we headed to The Curb for divine nitro iced coffee. 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.
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 grass roots 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.
- Best shopping days are Monday through Saturday.
- Kids will have fun at the neighborhood park.