Guide to Hawaii Kai on the windward side of Oahu

Hawaii Kai is that Hidden gem that most visitors to the island just pass through to get to popular attractions like Hanauma Bay and the Makapu’u lighthouse and even Koko Head if they are looking for a real workout with fantastic views. But this hidden area tucked into the windward side of the island and just a short 25-minute drive from Waikiki is also a great place to base yourself and immerse in local activities, attractions and fun things to do outside of downtown Honolulu and Waikiki area. There’s fantastic dining venues, shopping and fun outdoor activities and natural places to visit in the area.

Guide to Hawaii Kai on the windward side of Oahu

A brief history to Hawaii Kai

Formerly a fish pond and wetland area in East Oahu, the area was developed into Oahu’s first planned community in the 1960s and boasts a shopping center, dining venues, schools, a harbor and recreational activities for locals and visitors alike to enjoy in the area with over 6000 acres of development in the subdivision. This includes three shopping venues with large scale retailers like Costco, theatres, a gym, clinics and a business center to make this one of the most desired places to stay and live on the islands in a nice mix use of condos and subdivisions in the area.

A brief history to Hawaii Kai

Things to do around the Hawaii Kai area

Halona Blowhole Lookout

As you pass through the Kalanianaole Highway, you’ll see the blowhole on the ocean side and which mimics the spouting of the Humpback whales that travel through the area in between the islands. Halona means “Lookout” in Hawaiian for the scenic lookout points in the area where popular movies and films were actually made. Turn off at the lookout point signs for the Halona Blowhole and stay within the boundary areas and awhile from the direct path of the blowhole.

Beach fun at Sandy Beach and Maunalua Bay Beach park

Beach fun at Sandy Beach and Maunalua Bay Beach park

The most popular beach area for surfing and boogie boarding fun is what most people like to do at this beach in the Hawaii Kai area or Maunalua Bay Beach park for kayaking, paddling or boating activities.

Hawaii Kai Shopping Centers

Hawaii Kai Shopping Centers

There are three popular shopping centers in Hawaii Kai at Koko Marine Shopping Center, Hawaii Kai Town Center and Hawaii Kai Shopping Center. The centers are all gathering spots for local dining, shopping, bars, movie theaters and coffee shops to relax and enjoy a meal or just hang out in one of the cafes at the center. You’ll enjoy some fantastic meals, views and cool shopping in the area.

Koko Head Crater

Koko Head Crater

After stuffing yourself with pastries and coffee, it’s time to work it off at the KoKo Head Crater trail which is a set of railroad tracks that goes up the side of the crater a total of 1048 steps to the top where you can check out the amazing views and pillboxes in the area and take a more relaxing hike back down from the trail.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

One of the biggest attractions in the area is Hanauma Bay with its protected bay lined with cliffs and a nice white sandy beach to lounge on in between the snorkeling fun around the bay. Hanauma Bay is world famous as a protected sanctuary where the corals and fish thrive in this area in spite of the massive amounts of visitors that come here to snorkel this beautiful place.

Makapu’u Lighthouse and trail

Makapu’u Lighthouse and trail

Probably the 2nd most popular trail to do in Oahu after Diamond Head, the Makapu’u Lighthouse and trail is relatively easy to moderate and on paved road from the bottom to the top which is about 2 miles roundtrip

Makapu’u tidepools and blowhole

Makapu’u tidepools and blowhole

Just off the main trail to the lookout point on top of the Makapu’u trail, is another side trail down to the tidepool areas and a hidden blowhole that is something you can experience from a distance.

Visit the Sea Life Park

Visit the Sea Life Park

A short drive to Sea Life Park which a popular family friendly marine park to enjoy with aquatic shows, marine mammal exploration areas, bird sanctuary and aquarium. Enjoy the sea lion and dolphin experiences or enjoy the feeding time hour with the various marine animals in the park area. Check out the details to visiting here for more information.

Beach day at Waimanalo

Beach day at Waimanalo

One of the most popular local beaches to enjoy on the east side and not so crowded is Waimanalo beach with a slower vibe, nice powdery white sands and gorgeous ocean aqua to blue water to swim in. No major development and commercial venues make this a low key and easy place to enjoy the outdoors and some fun beach time on the east side.

Explore the Koko Crater Botanical garden

Explore the Koko Crater Botanical garden

One of the fantastic botanical gardens of Oahu to explore, the Koko Crater botanical garden is over 60 acres of beautiful gardens carved out of the inner slopes of the Koko Crater. With gorgeous Xeriscape concepts covering dry, cactus to mediterranean plants that can survive this hot and dry area to explore. Check out the details to visiting the garden here for more information.

 Kailua town and beach

Road trip to Lanikai area and Kailua town and beach

The two popular beach areas on the windward side of Oahu are side by side at Lanikai and Kailua which is where trendy and hip meets old school and local. There’s a lot to do around Kailua along with outdoor fun in the area. Check out the top things to do in the Kailua area here for more fun things to do in the area from shopping, eating to outdoor fun in the area.

Where to eat around Hawaii Kai

Where to eat around Hawaii Kai

There’s a lot of fantastic eateries from waterfront to local style food to eat in the area. Check out these highly rated Hawaii Kai foodie venues below for your eating discoveries.

Kona Brewing Company – American style burritos, fish tacos, pizza and other bistro type food with craft beer

Moena Cafe – breakfast brunch, eggs benedict, omelets, short ribs and local style food

California Pizza Kitchen – Artisanal pizza, chicken, spaghetti and other popular favorite California style food

Roy’s Hawaii Kai – Fine dining al fresco with Pan Asian inspired and modern farm to table dishes

Hawaiian Island Cafe – local style food, plate lunches and breakfast specials at affordable prices.

Ono Shrimp and Steak shop – hole in the wall cafe with local style coconut shrimp, steak, fish tacos and affordable local style food.

Where to Stay around Hawaii Kai

If you are looking to stay around Hawaii Kai, most of the accommodations tend to be smaller inns and mom and pop boutique hotels or more close by in Waikiki. Check out these housing options below.

Kahala Hotel and Resort – a close drive to Hawaii Kai with this luxury resort with world class services and luxury accommodations.

Manoa Valley Bnb – a victorian charmer in Manoa Valley, local style, comfortable rooms, quiet and easy access to Hawaii Kai area.

Queen Kapiolani Hotel – located across from the park with Diamond Head and ocean views, walkable to many parts of Waikiki and upgraded rooms.

Check out all these top review sites through TripAdvisor here with current prices, availability and booking calendar.

Other cool things to do around Hawaii Kai and East Oahu

Other cool things to do around Hawaii Kai and East Oahu

Explore Kailua town and beach area

Koko Head trail

Visit Lanikai beach in East Oahu

Maku’u lighthouse trail

Beach fun at Waimanalo

HIke Diamond Head state park

Exploring the North Shore of Oahu

Free or cheap things to do in Oahu

A Diamond Head Hike in Honolulu

Family friendly beaches in Oahu

Top things to do in Honolulu

Explore and Hike Waimea Valley

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Conclusion on Visiting Hawaii Kai and top things to do around the windward side

Conclusion on Visiting Hawaii Kai and top things to do around the windward side

For Hawaii Kai fun, you’ll love explore all fun activities and attractions around this low key and popular district in East Oahu. Hope this gives you some great ideas of things to do and see around the town and outlying areas to visit.

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.