10 Awesome Places to Visit Near Hawai'i Kai
Hawai'i Kai is an exclusive suburban neighborhood where residents are surrounded by some of the most gorgeous sightseeing points and natural scenery on the island of O'ahu. People who live in Hawai'i Kai like to say that they live in "God's country", and it's not hard to see why once you lay your eyes on this corner of paradise.
Hawai'i Kai's zip code is 96825, and other neighborhoods in this zip code include Kalama Valley, Queen's Gate, Portlock, Haha'ione and Ka'alakei Valleys, and Mariners Ridge.
Hawai'i Kai is bordered on the west by the neighborhood of Kuli'ou'ou, on the east by the Koko Head area, on the south by Maunalua Bay and the Ko'olau mountains are the northern border.
How to Get to Hawai'i Kai
From Honolulu, take the H-1 East Freeway. That's all you need to do. Get on this freeway and drive until the freeway ends about 12 miles outside of Honolulu.
Some of the landmarks you'll pass on the way out of Honolulu are the Waikiki exits, the Punahou exit and Kapi'olani Women's and Children's Hospital, University of Hawai'i at Manoa up on the hill to your left, Kahala Mall on the right, and soon after that the freeway will end. You will be on Kalani'anaole Highway (Hwy 72), and all of the sightseeing in Hawai'i Kai can be accessed from this highway.
No complicated turns, and no getting lost.
There are two main shopping areas in Hawai'i Kai. The Hawai'i Kai Shopping Center has a Safeway grocery store, a Longs Drugstore, and various other small businesses and eating places. The Hawai'i Kai Towne Center has a Costco, Koa Pancake House, Outback Steakhouse, Ross, Sushi Man, Yogurtland and other service businesses.
If you plan to stop at beaches or do some hiking, you should bring a small cooler and stock it with lots of water and fresh fruit. And don't forget the sunscreen and a hat. Depending on the time of year, it can be a little windy and hot in this area.
There are so many great places to visit in the Hawai'i Kai area. Here are my 10 favorites, but they aren't arranged in any particular order. It's hard to play favorites with perfection.
- Koko Crater Botanical Garden
- Halona Beach
- Kokonuts Shave Ice and Snacks
- Hanauma Bay
- Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail Hike
- The Shack Hawai'i Kai
- Koko Crater Stairs
- Hawai'i Kai Golf Course
- Kona Brewing Company
- Sandy Beach
Shopping center with Costco, eating places like Roy's, Outback Steakhouse, Yogurtland, and many other service businesses
History of Hawai'i Kai
In ancient Hawai'i, the Kuapa Fishpond (Kuapa means "fishpond wall") was the largest fishpond, covering 523 acres, in the entire Hawaiian Island chain. The complete traditional name of the fishpond is Keahupua o Maunalua.
There are stories that say that the pond was partially built by the legendary little people known as "menehune", but historical records tell of Kamehameha I personally helping to restore the fishpond.
Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau wrote of Kamehameha .."he encouraged the chiefs and commoners to raise food and he went fishing and would work himself at carrying rock or timber . . . He worked at the fishponds at Ka-wai-nui, Ka’ele-pulu, Uko’a, Mauna-lua, and all about O’ahu. . . (Kamakau 1961:192)
Henry J. Kaiser (1882-1967) was an American industrialist known as the father of modern American shipbuilding. Besides owning several shipyards, his company was also involved in building the Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams. To help prevent illness among all of the workers he hired for his building projects, Kaiser created a comprehensive, prepaid health program that evolved into what is known today as Kaiser Permanente HealthCare.
Hawai'i Kai was established in the 1950s when Henry Kaiser oversaw the dredging and filling of Kuapa Pond which was separated by a natural barrier beach from Maunalua Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Dredging transformed parts of Kuapa Pond into what is known today as Koko Marina. Kaiser entered into a lease agreement with the landowner, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate, to develop the former fishpond acreage into residential tracts with a marina and small channels separated by strips of land and islands on which house lots and commercial properties were developed.
Today Hawai'i Kai is one of O'ahu's finest planned upscale communities with fine dining restaurants, a movie theatre multiplex, shopping, water sports, and a canoe halau.
1) Koko Crater Botanical Garden: 7491 Kokonani St., entrance at the end of Kokonani St., open daily sunrise to sunset, no admission fee, Phone 522-7060.
This unique botanical garden is in the 60 acre basin inside Koko Head Crater. It is one of the five Honolulu Botanical Gardens operated by the City and County of Honolulu. It's still in development and focuses on the cultivation of rare and endangered dryland plants in desert-like conditions. The highlights are Native Hawaiian plants, a cactus and succulent garden, plants from Africa and Madagascar, a plumeria grove and dryland palms.
It takes about 1 1/2 hours to take a self-guided walk; guided group tours are available upon prior request. As of this writing, there are no drinking fountains and only a portable toilet, so be prepared to rough it and bring drinking water, sunscreen and your camera.
2) Halona Beach: 8699 Kalani'anaole Hwy between Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach. This beach is named for the famous Halona Blowhole nearby. You can park at the Blowhole lookout and climb down to a semi-secluded beach famous for the passionate love scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the 1953 movie classic "From Here to Eternity". Other names for this beach include Cockroach Cove and Eternity Beach. When the ocean is calm, it's a great swimming spot. But never get near the blowhole itself. The ocean spectacle should only be viewed and photographed from a distance.
Caution: There are no lifeguards or public facilities here. Wear shoes if you are climbing down to the beach. The rocky climb may seem steep in some areas, so be careful. Remember that the distance you climbed down is the same distance you must climb out.
Once you're down in the protected cove area, it's divine.
3) Kokonuts Shave Ice and Snacks: 7192 Kalaniana'ole Highway in Koko Marina Center, open daily 10:30am-7:30pm (on Friday and Saturday they're open until 9pm), cash only, Phone 396-8809. Kokonuts was a stop-off for President Barack Obama and his daughters on one of his annual Hawaiian vacations. Photos of the presidential visit greet customers to this tiny shop.
Besides their infamous shaved ice, you can choose from ice cream, crepes, and acai bowls with a choice of toppings such as coconut flakes, mixed berries, honey and other yummy treats. Or you might want to try their bubble drinks where you can choose mochi balls instead of tapioca pearls.
Snorkeling Tips for Hanauma Bay
4) Hanauma Bay: 7455 Kalani'anaole Highway, call (808) 396-4229 for recorded message with current fees, times and ocean conditions. CALL BEFORE PLANNING A DAY AT HANAUMA BAY. HANAUMA BAY IS CLOSED ON TUESDAYS.
$1 per car parking fee. There is a large, paved parking lot, but come early, as it fills up fast.
$7.50 per person admission fee, free for those 12 and under. Also free for Hawai'i residents with proper ID.
Hanauma Bay is a Marine Life Conservation Area and Nature Preserve; no fishing or feeding the fish. Visitors must watch an educational film about the bay, the preserve and the marine life before going down to the beach. No pets allowed. No alcoholic beverages. No surfing or body boarding. IDEAL FOR SNORKELING - you'll feel like you're swimming in a tropical fish tank.
There is a paved walkway from the parking lot down to the beach.There is also an optional shuttle bus that can take you down to the beach and back up for about $1 each way, handicap accessible.
Amenities include: Lifeguards, picnic facilities with tables, concession stand near the entrance, restrooms, showers, phones, gift shop, locker rental. You can rent snorkels, masks and fins on the beach, but they run out quickly. To avoid disappointment, rent these items elsewhere before coming to Hanauma or buy a set so that you can use them wherever you go in Hawai'i.
Hanauma is a beautiful, protected cove that is ideal for snorkeling, scuba diving, and viewing marine and reef life.
5) Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail Hike: This 2 mile roundtrip hike is moderately difficult but affords gorgeous views of O'ahu's southeastern coast including Koko Head, Koko Crater and the blue, blue ocean beyond. The historic Makapu'u Lighthouse built in 1909 is a picturesque setting against the azure backdrop, but no one is allowed to enter the lighthouse itself.
Be sure to bring binoculars because on a clear day you may be able to see Moloka'i and Lana'i. From November to May, migrating humpback whales can sometimes be seen offshore, with the peak months being January through March.
The trail is exposed and can be very hot and sunny. At the summit it can be windy. Sunscreen, a hat and lots of water are recommended. Allow yourself about 2 hours for a leisurely hike to enjoy the views. There are viewing areas and rest benches along the trail.
Stay on the trail. Mountain biking is not allowed. Carry out at least what you carry in. No open fires. Camping isn't allowed. No hiking permit required.
The trailhead is off of Kalani'anaole Highway (Hwy 72). From Honolulu, take the H1 Freeway east to Hawai'i Kai. Follow the road beyond Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach Park until you reach the parking area adjacent to the highway.
6) The Shack Hawai'i Kai: Located in the Hawai'i Kai Shopping Center, 377 Keahole St., Suite C2, open daily from 11am-2am, Happy Hour 4-6pm, Phone 396-1919. This place is kind of an island-style "Cheers" bar; a cozy little dive with tropical décor and lots of friendly locals. There's another "Shack" in Waikiki, but it's nothing like this one.
Someone wrote on Yelp: "I love this place, best Happy Hour on the island, $3 for almost anything, it's awesome, everyone pretty much knows everybody. It reminds me of the high school cafeteria but with alcohol!! Did I mention the chicken wings are awesome?"
Everything on the regular menu is under $10 - sandwiches, burgers, plate lunches. You'll have a serene view of the marina; there are themed specials nights, pool tables, darts and video games.
7) Koko Crater Stairs: This isn't really a hike. It's been compared to a gigantic "stair master". Some call it "the stair master from hell". There are exactly 1,048 railroad ties or steps that will take you to the top of this extinct volcanic cone towering over East Honolulu. Especially on weekends, tourists and locals alike love to challenge themselves with this strenuous workout. The view from the top is stunning!! Don't forget your camera, binoculars, hat, sunscreen and water.
This is a historic trek to WWII bunkers that were used for observing O'ahu's south shore against possible invasion. There is plenty of free parking at Koko Head Regional Park. The trek is mostly paved at the beginning and then transitions into an abandoned railway that leads to the bunkers at the summit. It is very steep in some areas.
This is the ultimate fitness challenge and should only be undertaken if you are fit. Don't try this if you don't exercise regularly. Some people find it easier on overcast days simply because it's a little cooler. Allow at least a couple of hours to complete your climb.
Be forewarned: most people don't finish the 1,048 stair climb, but it's exhilarating if you reach the top. Be prepared to sweat and you'll probably lose a couple of pounds too.
8) Hawai'i Kai Golf Course: 8902 Kalani'anaole Highway, Phone 395-2358, about a mile past Sandy Beach.
With both a Championship Course and an Executive Course, the Hawai'i Kai Golf Course can be challenging and wind can be a factor on several holes. But where else can you golf and see the Pacific Ocean on every hole! On clear days, you could even see Maui or Moloka'i. In the winter months, humpback whales can be seen spouting or breeching offshore on the way to waters off Maui to give birth.
9) Kona Brewing Company: 7192 Kalani'anaole Highway in Koko Marina Center, phone 396-5662, open daily 11am to 10pm.
With its brewery at its original site in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, Kona Brewing Company opened its second restaurant at Koko Marina Center in 2003.
With a spacious 7,000 square foot restaurant on Koko Marina's docks, there is seating for 275 customers and a cutting-edge beer delivery system with 24 taps. The restaurant is decorated with koa wood furniture, vintage brewing equipment, and an open air kitchen.
Although there is plenty of seating indoors, why not ask to be seated outside where you can enjoy unobstructed views of Koko Marina and the lush Ko'olau mountain range?
10) Sandy Beach: Located 10 minutes past Hanauma Bay and near the Halona Blowhole. A popular spot for locals who surf, bodyboard, fish and fly kites. On crystal clear days, you can see Moloka'i. The wind at Sandy's can be very strong; that's why you can often catch locals flying kites on the grass there.
Because the waves break right on shore, Sandy's can be a challenging surfing spot but there's probably no better place to bodyboard on O'ahu.
Insider Tip: Sandy's Beach racks up more lifeguard rescues than any other beach on O'ahu. So if you're not a strong swimmer, abide by the old saying - "If in doubt, don't go out."
Whether you venture out into the ocean or hug the shore, you won't be sorry because Sandy Beach is a beautiful spot to spend some time!!
© 2013 Stephanie Launiu