Want a Local Experience? Top Five Charming Neighborhoods on Oahu

Recently, my husband had a colleague visit from Phoenix. And, when I asked him what his favorite part of the trip was, he mentioned how much he loved driving into the local enclaves and neighborhoods to see what life was REALLY like in Hawaii.

If you also like to experience the “local” side of things, here’s a look at our top five charming neighborhoods on Oahu:


Manoa is a great place to begin your “local” neighborhood exploration. That’s because it’s a lush, green, expansive enclave not too far from downtown. The neighborhood is approximately three miles (5 km) east and inland from downtown Honolulu and less than a mile (1600 m) from Ala Moana and Waikiki, so you’re still pretty close to all the action.

Similar to many Honolulu neighborhoods, Manoa consists of an entire valley, running from Manoa Falls at the mauka (inland-most) end to King Street. The valley receives almost daily rain, even during the dry season, and is thus richly vegetated — though the valley walls are often dry. Seeing rainbows in the valley is a common occurrence, too.

The neighborhood is composed of private houses built before the 1960s and low-rise condominiums. So, the architecture is hardly modern. But, the area’s old-school charm is what makes Manoa special. Although you can see downtown from the higher elevations, one visit to Manoa, and you’ll feel like you’re a million miles from the hustle-and-bustle of Waikiki.

Manoa is also home to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the flagship campus of the University of Hawaii System. And, the central shopping area of Manoa is the Manoa Marketplace which features a farmer’s market several days of the week.


Lanikai is located on the Windward side of Oahu and is home to the famous Lanikai Beach. But, the community itself has much more to offer than just beautiful scenery. It’s a small enclave that just oozes charm and class.

The name Lanikai means “heavenly sea,” and it refers to a small ½ mile strip of beach is consistently ranked among the best beaches in the world. But, adjacent to Lanikai Beach is a primarily upper-class residential area.

The name Lanikai means "heavenly sea," and it refers to a small ½ mile strip of beach is consistently ranked among the best beaches in the world. But, adjacent to Lanikai Beach is a primarily upper-class residential area.

Best to make your trip to Lanikai on a weekday because, on weekends, the beach becomes extremely crowded. What makes Lanikai Beach popular for photographers is having the two Islands in the background called the Na Mokulua or “mokes”. Kayakers will often row out to land on the larger northern island, but no one is allowed to land on the southern island as it is a bird sanctuary.

Due to its position on the Windward or east side of the island, Lanikai is recognized as being great place to watch the moonrise over the Mokuluas, especially during the full moon. Occasionally during the year the sun will rise directly between the Na Mokulua islands.


Since we’re already talking about multi-million dollar homes, we may as well talk about Kahala, which is located just a few minutes East of Waikiki.

The area is famous in Hawaii for its large concentration of expensive real estate and beachfront properties, which include some of the most expensive in the entire state. But, what makes this one of the most charming neighborhoods on Oahu is the eclectic nature of the area.

For example, as you drive around, you’ll notice quite a mix of old timers living in older residences (many for more than half a century) and newer arrivals living in large, expensive, mansion-like homes. Many celebrities and business moguls have also bought vacation homes in the area. Kahala is a favored spot for investors to buy and fix old homes and sell for record-breaking prices. You’ll also find the Kahala Hotel and Resort in the community.

The district is also home to several secluded (though publicly accessible) sandy beaches. Unlike the beaches of Waikiki, those in Kahala are rarely crowded.


Haleiwa is a North Shore community, located on Waialua Bay, the mouth of Anahulu Stream (also known as Anahulu River). It’s the largest commercial center on the North Shore of the island, but it still feels completely rural.

Its old plantation town character is preserved in many of the buildings, making this a popular destination for tourists and residents alike, visiting surfing and diving sites along the north shore. In fact, many visitors come to the North Shore of Oahu specifically to visit Haleiwa and take advantage of the cool vibe here.

It’s not uncommon to see a mix of locals, surfers, visitors, art collectors, and shoppers just breezing through the community as if they have all the time in the world. During your Oahu Circle Island Tour, your guide will take you through and provide time to sit-back and relax in this extraordinary enclave.

As you drive around Kahala, you'll notice quite a mix of old timers living in older residences (many for more than half a century) and newer arrivals living in large, expensive, mansion-like homes


Historically, Laie was a puuhonua, a sanctuary for fugitives — so anyone who broke a sacred kapu (law) could come here and escape penalty. Now, Laie is considered mostly made-up of members of The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). You can see the LDS temple here, and Laie is still considered the spiritual center for members of the LDS church on Oahu.

Here, you’ll find a mix of larger, newer homes and smaller, plantation-style homes, and the neighborhood almost always appears quiet and organized. One of the coolest places to visit in Laie is the Polynesian Cultural Center, which provides a great environment for learning about Pacific cultures.

Then, of course, there’s Laie Point, where you can see the winter waves breaking against the shores. It’s a spectacular sight, and you don’t want to miss the sheer power of Mother Nature, especially if you’re here during the Winter big wave season.

If you’re looking to escape the typical visitor destinations when you’re in Hawaii, consider visiting some of our top five charming neighborhoods on Oahu. You’ll get a feel for life as a local. And, who knows? Maybe you’ll find a great neighborhood in which you’d like to buy one day!