Visit Hawaii Kai: Discover Paradise in Oahu’s Scenic Waterfront Community (updated 2023)

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.

Where is Hawaii Kai located in Oahu?

Hawaii Kai is located on the southeastern coast of the island of Oahu, Hawaii. It is situated approximately 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Honolulu, the island’s capital, and is known for its beautiful waterfront properties, marinas, and scenic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Guide to Hawaii Kai on the windward side of Oahu

Guide to Hawaii Kai on the windward side of Oahu
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, movie 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.

How to get to Hawaii Kai in Oahu

To get to Hawaii Kai in Oahu, there are several transportation options available. Here’s a guide on how to reach this beautiful coastal community:

By Car: If you have access to a car, driving is the most convenient way to reach Hawaii Kai. From Honolulu, take the H1 Freeway eastbound and continue onto Kalanianaole Highway (Route 72). Follow the signs for Hawaii Kai, and you’ll soon arrive at your destination. The drive typically takes around 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.

By Bus: Oahu has an extensive public bus system operated by TheBus. From downtown Honolulu, you can take bus routes 1, 1L, 1M, or 22 to reach Hawaii Kai. The buses operate at regular intervals, and the journey takes approximately 40-50 minutes, depending on traffic. Make sure to check the bus schedule and plan accordingly.

By Taxi or Ride-Sharing Services: Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are available on Oahu. Simply request a ride to Hawaii Kai, and the driver will take you to your destination. This option provides flexibility and convenience, particularly if you prefer not to drive or navigate public transportation.

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.

The coastline here is rugged, untapped and really local so there’s room to explore the tidepools or have a fun beach day there.

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.

Check out our post to hiking up the Koko Head Crater here for more images and inspiration to doing this hike.

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.

Check out our post on visiting Hanauma Bay here for a fun beach and snorkeling day at this fantastic location.

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

Check out this post to visiting Makapu’u Lighthouse and trail here for more images and inspiration.

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.

Also, if you are visiting the gorgeous beach at Lanikai, check this post for more images and inspiration to visiting.

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

More inside tips to visiting Hawaii Kai in Oahu

Here are some inside tips for making the most of your visit to Hawaii Kai in Oahu:

Water Activities: Hawaii Kai is renowned for its water-centric activities. Consider renting a kayak or paddleboard to explore the stunning Maunalua Bay. You can also go snorkeling or take a boat tour to discover the area’s marine life.

Local Eateries: Sample local cuisine at Hawaii Kai’s restaurants. Try fresh seafood, poke, and Hawaiian plate lunches. Don’t miss out on malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) at the local bakery.

Maunalua Bay Beach Park: This beach park is a hidden gem for picnicking and relaxation. It’s less crowded than some other Oahu beaches, making it a peaceful spot to unwind.

Sunset at Sandy Beach: If you love sunsets, head to Sandy Beach in the early evening. It’s a local favorite for watching the sun dip below the horizon.

Local Farmers’ Markets: Check out the local farmers’ markets for fresh produce, snacks, and handmade crafts. It’s an opportunity to support local vendors and find unique items.

Respect Local Culture: Hawaii Kai is a residential area, so be mindful of noise levels and respect the local culture. Keep the serene atmosphere intact for everyone to enjoy.

Scenic Drives: Explore the scenic Kalanianaole Highway, which offers picturesque views of the coastline and lush landscapes. Be sure to pull over at lookout points for photos.

Learn to Surf: Hawaii Kai offers great surfing spots, and you can take lessons if you’re a beginner. It’s a fantastic way to experience Hawaii’s surf culture.

Remember that Hawaii Kai offers a blend of natural beauty and local culture. By immersing yourself in the community and enjoying its outdoor activities, you’ll create memorable experiences in this stunning part of 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

Weather and best time to visit Hawaii Kai, Oahu

Hawaii Kai, located on the southeastern coast of Oahu, offers visitors a delightful blend of natural beauty and modern amenities. To ensure a wonderful experience in Hawaii Kai, it’s important to understand the weather patterns and determine the best time to visit this coastal community.

Hawaii Kai enjoys a tropical climate throughout the year, characterized by warm temperatures and a refreshing ocean breeze. The average temperature ranges from 75°F (24°C) to 85°F (29°C), creating a pleasant environment for outdoor activities and exploration.

In terms of rainfall, Hawaii Kai experiences its wetter months between November and March. During this period, occasional showers and increased precipitation can be expected. However, these rain showers are usually brief, and the sun often emerges soon after.

For those seeking consistently dry and sunny weather, the drier months in Hawaii Kai are from April to October. During this time, the chances of rain are lower, and the skies are generally clear, making it ideal for enjoying the stunning beaches and engaging in water activities.

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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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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.