Kick back! Get away from the hustle and bustle and throngs of visitors – go to a place that takes you back in time, but with all the amenities of today. You’ll truly understand the slogan “Lucky we live Hawaii” if you make Kaneohe your home.
Kaneohe is the perfect part of paradise to settle in – especially if you enjoy sailing and fishing and being connected to this spread-out but small-town windward community. The centerpiece of Kaneohe is Kaneohe Bay that changes its look like a chameleon. Sometimes the water is like glass and the sailboats sit still like a painting on the wall. Some early mornings a brilliant rainbow graces the sky above the Bay. Other times, rain clouds cover the majestic Koolau mountain range that runs along the opposite perimeter of Kaneohe, making the Bay look dark and forbidding, but still amazingly beautiful. Then, the sun comes out and the water glistens like diamonds have been sprinkled over its surface.
Sail boats sashay back and forth and depending on your view vantage point, Chinaman’s Hat sticks its recognizable silhouette into the idyllic scene. Access to the Bay is through Marine Corps Base Hawaii, the Kaneohe Yacht Club off of Kaneohe Bay Drive, the Hawaii state pier at Coconut Island off of Lilipuna Road and Heeia Kea State Park, fishing pier and boat ramp.
A blessing in disguise, Kaneohe rains turn summer’s bare mountains into winter’s green, sometimes presenting us with more than a dozen waterfalls at once. Although it was once an agricultural area, today, Kaneohe is mostly residential with many small communities that sprouted up on mountain and ocean sides. Kaneohe is primarily divided by Kamehameha Highway that begins at Castle Junction. Make the turn off the Pali Highway and you’ll see a huge expanse of green lawn and a white building on the hillside. That’s Hawaii Pacific University’s Windward campus. On your left is the Pali Golf Course open to the public with the Koolau Golf Club (privately owned but open to the public) next door. Known as one of the most difficult courses in the U.S., the Koolau course also offers spectacular Bay views, making facing the course challenges worth the effort. The Hawaii National Veterans Cemetery and Hawaiian Memorial Park plus Pohai Nani Senior Residence are on your right just a short distance away off of Kam Highway. An auto dealer; Yamashiro’s Building Supply – the venerable local hardware store that seems to have a zillion products – a few locally-owned stores and services, Koolau Medical Clinic, part of Kaiser Permanente, VCA Animal Hospital, and Zia’s Caffe are on your right taking you almost to the Likelike Hwy intersection. (Hidden behind these busy little shopping areas is the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden. Founded in 1982, it features plants from major tropical regions around the world grouped geographically. The Windward City Shopping Center is on your right anchored by Longs Drugs, Ross Dress for Less, 24-Hr. Fitness, and Foodland Market.
If you turn onto Likelike Highway, then right on to Kahekili Highway, you will skip the main Kaneohe downtown area but we can catch up to it on the way back. Just off Kahekili Highway at Keaahala Rd., toward the mountains, is Kaneohe District Park and Windward Community College. Continue on Kahekili Highway to Kahuhipa Street where there are about five condominium complexes, each with its own personality. Turn left on to the next street, Haiku Road, and you’ll find townhouse communities and luxury homes. A little more than half a mile up Haiku Road on your left is the secluded local favorite, Haleiwa Joe’s Restaurant – open-air overlooking a lily pond and surrounded by lush vegetation – the land was once a Hawaiian royal possession.
Head back to Kahekili Highway and continue on to Temple Valley. Churches and special temples dot Kaneohe’s neighborhoods. One that appeals to visitors and Islanders alike will also connect and nurture you. It’s the Valley of the Temples, a tourist site because of the beautiful temple and grounds, and a place of deep serenity for those who live here to visit and find solace. It also has a cemetery where families go on weekends to visit their loved ones who have passed. The abbot there is a very wise and approachable man and having a conversation with him will take you back to a time when life was not so complicated.
Just about where Kahekili Highway meets Kamehameha Highway is the Hygienic Store – once the company store of the Hygienic Dairy, founded in 1907. It’s a grocery store where time stands still. Once a real community meeting place for many, many years in the area of Kaneohe known as Kahaluu, today the Hygienic Store is a landmark and a quick stop to get a last minute item. Another landmark in Kahaluu is the Sunshine Arts Gallery. It’s hard to miss the bright yellow building with the 1970s look. Inside the Gallery, local artists are featured, plus original art, Hawaiiana, contemporary and historical artworks.
The last place in the 96744 Kaneohe zip code is Kualoa Regional Park, a great place to experience nature and leave your iPad and smartphone behind. Accompanying the Regional Park is Kaneohe Ranch, a 4000-acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch, and farm. More than 50 movies and TV shows have been filmed at Kualoa over the years, including Paradise, Hawaiian Style; Jurassic Park; Jurassic World; You, Me and Dupree; Hawaii Five-0; Mighty Joe Young; Pearl Harbor; Windtalkers; Godzilla; King Kong: Skull Island and Lost.
No matter where you are in Kaneohe, you can feel the connection of the local people and their relationship to the ocean and the land. On certain days the sand on the Bay will appear to be pink. That happens late in the day when the sunlight bounces off the Koolau mountains and then reflects on the beach. It’s a magical moment and you will never forget it should you be lucky enough to see it.
Now you can make a U-turn, heading back on Kahekili Highway through residential neighborhoods, and turn left on to Haiku Road. In just a few blocks you will be at the side entrance to Windward Mall. Windward Mall is more like a community gathering place rather than Waikiki-style all-designer brands shopping temple. Early in the morning Kaneohe’s seniors gather in the mall for some serious walking and to talk story. The main stage in the mall hosts local school talent shows and other local events. And on Wednesday afternoons and Sunday mornings at Windward Mall, Oahu’s highly respected Nalo Farms presents two floors of fresh produce, herbs, flowers, breads, cakes, and more. This Farmers’ Market is authentic, fun and another time and place for neighbors to get together.
In addition to the restaurants at the Mall, Zippy’s – Hawaii’s local coffee shop chain is next door across the street from Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center. This strip mall is anchored by Safeway, Longs Drugs, PetCo and Walgreen’s. In addition to national chains, many little mom and pop restaurants and stores are still thriving.
Pah Ke’s, next to the Post Office in Kaneohe town is such a place. Authentic Hong Kong cuisine that rivals the best and most expensive Chinese restaurants in Waikiki is served humbly by the Siu family. The décor is old-time Chinese family restaurant style. Not much ambience, but lots of delicious food, some dishes not seen on other Chinese restaurant menus.
Also, Dean’s Drive Inn that had to move from its tiny place after being featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, to William Henry Road, opposite the Bank of Hawaii, is a place that locals flock to. Dean Mishimi is a local boy serving local food for more than four decades. His specialty dishes include ginger soy ono, ahi cakes, and broiled teriyaki beef which Guy Fieri calls “the epitome of casual gourmet.”
Kaneohe town, convenient to the many different little neighborhoods in Kaneohe, has all the banks, stores, restaurants, supermarkets and services needed by its residents. This small town is not at all concerned with getting tourist dollars. It sure does make it a lot more laid back, quiet and real!
Kaneohe has a precious balance of new and old with a lot of Aloha. It is an awesome place to live!