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7 Must-See Honolulu Neighborhoods and How To Visit

Offering everything from historic storefronts to under-the-radar beaches, these seven Honolulu neighborhoods should definitely be on your itinerary.

Hi, I'm Wendy!

Wendy Awai-Dakroub is a native Hawaiian freelance writer based in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is the CEO of a software company that helps Native Hawaiian–owned businesses expand their concepts globally. She also co-founded Honolulu's first learner-driven school, Acton Digital Academy and spends her free time at the beach or writing for her blog EAT|PLAY|STAY|HAWAII.

Situated on Oahu's southeastern shore, Honolulu is the state capital and largest city in the Hawaiian islands. Most visitors to this cosmopolitan city often choose to stay in the world-famous neighborhood of Waikiki—and for good reason. Once the stomping grounds of Hawaii's elite, Waikiki today showcases some of Honolulu's best beaches, high-end shopping, and award-winning fine dining.

But look beyond Waikiki's iconic stretch of beachfront realty, and you'll discover neighborhoods brimming with history and charm. Here are seven more must-see neighborhoods in Honolulu.

1. Downtown Honolulu

Iolani Palace in the heart of Honolulu.
Visit Iolani Palace to understand the history of Hawaii.Foto: Allen.G / Shutterstock

For an immersive lesson in history.

From Iolani Palace, the only royal residence in the United States, to the centuries-old Kawaiahao Church—a National Historic Landmark since 1962—downtown Honolulu is a haven for historical sights. Immerse yourself in the neighborhood's rich history and culture on a 1-hour long guided walking tour, which shows you the area's highlights—including the State Capitol and the King Kamehameha Statue—through the lens of a local historian.

2. Chinatown

People stroll through Chinatown in Honolulu.
Honolulu's Chinatown is one of the coolest parts of the city.Foto: Theodore Trimmer / Shutterstock

Welcome to Honolulu's dining and nightlife district.

A resurgence in creative arts, dining, and nightlife has transformed Chinatown into one of the city's hottest neighborhoods in the past decade. During the day, visitors can explore the quaint storefronts that house everything from herbalists and antique shops to lei makers and acupuncturists. After dark, the area transforms into a playground for nightlife enthusiasts. To get a taste of Chinatown's diverse restaurant scene, take a food tour. Not only will you get to bite into some of Oahu's most popular dishes—including manapua and poke—but you'll also get a glimpse of some of the most famous open-air marketplaces.

3. Ala Moana

People stroll by the water in Ala Moana in Honolulu.
Ala Moana is a popular place from which to enjoy the water.Foto: Page Light Studios / Shutterstock

For calm waters and Instagram-worthy sunset views.

Situated 2 miles west of Waikiki is Ala Moana Beach Park, a popular spot for Oahu residents to picnic, swim, and stand-up paddleboard in the wave-free, clear blue waters. After a morning soaking up the sun here, head to Ala Moana Center, the world's largest open-air mall, where you can shop and dine at local favorites including Ahi and Vegetable. For an epic only-in-Hawaii sunset, head to the Magic Island lagoon on the park's east edge. It offers an unobstructed view of the sun setting directly over the Pacific Ocean.

4. Kaka'ako

Murals in Kaka'ako in Honolulu.
Get to know the local arts scene in Kaka'ako.Foto: ITRT / Tripadvisor

Discover Oahu's vibrant arts scene.

Once a warehouse district, Kaka'ako now serves as Honolulu's epicenter for arts and culture with the biannual Honolulu Night Market block parties and the eclectic shopping and dining options at Salt at Our Kaka'ako. The vibrant street murals remain the neighborhood's primary draw, however, with the best ones found along Coral, Cooke, and Pohukaina streets or during a street art tour.

5. Hawaii Kai

People go swimming in Hawaii Kai in Honolulu.
Hawaii Kai is one of the ritzier parts of town.Foto: maxoculi / Shutterstock

Hidden beaches and scenic coastline views.

Once home to an ancient Hawaiian fishpond and wetlands, Hawaii Kai is now one of Honolulu's wealthiest residential neighborhoods with enviable views that span from mauka (mountain) to makai (ocean). However, a plethora of hiking trails—including the exhilarating Koko Head Crater trail—and secret beaches including Koko Kai Beach Park and Halona Beach Cove also make this eastern neighborhood a paradise for outdoorsy city slickers. Handily, Waikiki and downtown Honolulu are just a 20-minute drive away.

6. Manoa

People go hiking by a waterfall in Manoa in Honolulu.
You'll find natural beauty not far from downtown Honolulu.Foto: Elyse Butler / Viator

For hiking and cascading waterfalls within the city's confines.

Manoa's verdant tropical valley landscape, complete with hiking trails, an arboretum, and a botanical garden, makes it hard to believe that downtown Honolulu is just 5 miles (8 kilometers) away. A leisurely hike through dense foliage takes you to Manoa Falls, an impressive 150-foot (46-meter) waterfall that’s one of Oahu's most accessible. The quiet neighborhood also houses the University of Hawaii's campus, which features a 200-acre (81 hectare) on-site arboretum with over 5,500 tropical and subtropical flora and fauna, including its own waterfall, ʻAihualama Falls.

7. Kaimuki

A bento box of Japanese food in Honolulu.
Order bento boxes and more in Kaimuki.Foto: えっつん / Tripadvisor

Head to this quaint neighborhood for a culinary awakening.

Old meets new in Kaimuki. According to Hawaiian legend, the neighborhood gets its name from the Menehune that used to cook ti leaf roots in an underground oven nearby. So it's no surprise that Kaimuki today serves as a culinary mecca for visitors and locals alike. Take a walk along Waiʻalae Avenue, the neighborhood's main drag, and you'll find stalwarts such as Okata Bento—a staple since 1981—and the Crack Seed Store right next to culinary hot spots including Pipeline Bakeshop and Yakitori Ando.

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