With its long stretches of sandy beaches and vibrant streets lined with shops and restaurants, it’s no wonder most visitors to Oahu rarely venture past Waikiki to explore the nearby neighborhoods (Kahala for one!). Built right on the island’s sunny south shore, Waikiki was once a playground for Hawaiian royalty, steeped in history and culture. The first hotel—the Moana Surfrider—opened here in 1901, and the iconic silhouette of Leahi (Diamond Head) perches above the hotels and high-rises at the eastern end of Waikiki. Whatever you’re looking for—friendly surf, upscale resorts, high-end restaurants, world-class shopping, karaoke bars, an aquarium, or a zoo—you’ll find here. But there’s a whole world east of Diamond Head, in the residential neighborhoods of Kahala and Kaimuki, and along the craggy coastline to the east, that’s worth exploring.
Kahala Hotel & Resort
Sip a white truffle martini as the sun sinks behind Diamond Head at The Veranda, an open-air piano bar just off the lobby at the posh Kahala Hotel & Resort. While you’re relaxing into the comfy Tommy Bahama sofas and listening to live jazz, it might seem hard to believe you’re just four miles east of bustling Waikiki. Situated in one of Oahu’s most exclusive residential neighborhoods, fronting a secluded 800-foot expanse of white-sand beach, this luxurious hotel is the epitome of elegance. It boasts a world-class spa, great dining options, and a slew of on-property activities, such as stand-up paddleboard yoga, hula aerobics, and hands-on experiences with live dolphins.
Rising above Kahala is the majestic Ko’olau, which spans the length of the island’s eastern coast for about 24 miles, with rippling rock faces and near-vertical ridges. There are dozens of state-managed trails that meander into lush valleys or snake along switchbacks to the summit with stunning views of the windward coastline. One of the easiest—and most breathtaking—hikes in East Honolulu is the paved trail to the historic Makapu’u Lighthouse. Located in the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline just off Kalanianaole Highway, this is a slightly uphill, mile-long walk along Oahu’s rugged southeastern coastline—with panoramic ocean views and, on clear days, sightings of Molokai and Lanai. As you make the gradual ascent to the summit, you see offshore islets that are wildlife sanctuaries for Hawaiian seabirds like the peculiar iwa (frigatebird) and elegant tropicbird. Between November and May, you can often spot migrating humpback whales breaching in the warm waters.
Mud Hen Water
The sleepy residential neighborhood of Kaimuki has become a haven for foodies, offering a range of diverse eateries in a such a small area. You can find Caribbean food, authentic Vietnamese pho, decadent French desserts, and a hot pot house all within a few blocks. A recent addition to the neighborhood is Mud Hen Water, the latest farm-to-table restaurant concept by Chef Ed Kenney, who runs two other eateries in Kaimuki. Easily the hottest restaurant right now, its airy dining area is almost always packed with locavores eager to sample the ever-changing menu of small plates brimming with local and Asian flavors. The vibe is utterly cool, with repurposed furniture mixed with an urban decor. It’s so modern, even the menu features QR codes that link to the bios of the fishermen who caught today’s special.
Right in Kahala, at the end of Kulamanu Place, is Kaalawai Beach, a small, secluded strip of sand great for sunbathing and relaxing. Follow the rock walls around the point, and you’re just below the historic Shangri La, Doris Duke’s fabled estate. East, past Hanauma Bay is Sandy Beach, one of the most popular bodyboarding beaches in the Islands, with its famous (and treacherous) shore break and spectacular sunrise views. Further down the highway is Makapu’u Beach, which sits below the rugged cliffs of the Ko’olau, with a perfect view of Manana (Rabbit) Island just offshore. And about 20 minutes past Makapu’u is Waimanalo Beach, known for its unassuming locale, calm conditions, and a 5.5-mile-long sandy shoreline. It’s so big, you can always find a quiet spot somewhere to relax. And isn’t that the point?