For those outside Hawaii, our real estate, and the lifestyle that goes with it, is often a narrow picture. This isn’t an issue unique to the Islands. When considering a move to Las Vegas you may just assume that your future home will be near the Strip, when you actually may be in a suburb that feels more small town America.
Honolulu’s homes and neighborhoods inhabit a rich, diverse reality, in environments and styles that are extremely surprising, revealing more and more the closer you look. Here’s just a few areas that’ll upend what you think living in Honolulu can be, even if you’re a longtime local.
Hawaii Loa Ridge
One thing the Ancient Hawaiians figured out quickly was the advantages of the high ground and not just for strategic reasons. The Alii often retreated to the heights during the summer months, luxuriating in not only the awesome views, but, just as importantly, the cooler temperatures.
These same qualities attracted the rich kamaaina of the 19th and early 20th Century, who could afford to build up there. Now, Hawaii Loa Ridge has taken this lifestyle to a whole new level.
The steep slope kept developers at bay until the 1980’s when it finally became financially viable to build this neighborhood. Houses have been added from that time into the present, with a variety of home layouts.
What is consistent are the dimensions that provide room to wander, with a minimum of 2300+ sq ft and growing to as much as 17,000 sq ft for those who truly seek to impress. Most also have pools, another sign that this is a neighborhood of the Arrived, rather than the Up and Coming.
The upward angle of this community, combined with being across the street from the coastline, lays the ocean out for miles for you to relish from home. This envied site also puts you overlooking Diamond Head, from an angle few get to see, along with the sights eastward, like Koko Head and Maunalua Bay.
With every one of the residences on top of the ridge, rather than on the hillside, you live fully removed from everything, making it an oasis that few other Honolulu neighborhoods can match. Yet, Kalanianaole Hwy is just down the hill, so you’re still in the midst of shopping and dining choices in nearby Kahala or Hawaii Kai.
It brings one other exceptional benefit – the setting of the sun lasts longer up here. From your elevated perch your outlook to the horizon is further, extending that nightly display, which entrances all who see it.
The gated entrance, the greater space between homes and the heights you live on, far above the highway below, bring the noise levels down to almost zero. It’s a place you can sit on your lanai and dive into a good book or take some time to meditate, without any fear of interruption from the street or active neighbors.
As you can imagine, there is a 7, or even 8, figure budget required to make your way up this hill. Once you get there, though, you’ll have no doubt it was money well spent.
It’s no accident that THE luxury resort district of Oahu, maybe all of Hawaii, is taking root in Ko Olina. Though the West Side is known for higher temperatures, this particular area is blessed with what some call the best weather on the Island. Its exceptional slice of coastline further cemented the possibilities developers saw, not just for the tourist trade, but for homes as well.
Out in Ko Olina you can live in the midst of some of the most incredible leisure districts anywhere, surrounded by properties like Disney’s Aulani and the Four Seasons that attract the level of visitors who expect the best. ‘The Best’ can now be your daily experience in your homes on these grounds.
Where Waikiki is the modern, urban version of the vacation spot, Ko Olina is the spacious luxury retreat that has the open, green spaces that just aren’t there anymore in today’s Honolulu. It’s a place where golf carts are used to travel around to the amenities you enjoy as part of the home ownership package.
Currently you can live in one of the 5 single family home neighborhoods that all have distinctive designs of their own, many modeled on the Plantation and Old Kamaaina styles, which create an unmistakable soothing, genteel Island feel. They also vary in their immediate backdrop, with lots being along the golf course fairways or right on the ocean.
There’s also the Beach Villas at Ko Olina condo towers, that stand beside one of the 3 lagoons this area is famous for, giving residents panoramic ocean views of the waves. Inside you have your own gourmet kitchen and huge lanais to truly soak all of this in. The best news for Oahu condo buyers? More of these properties are on the way.
Ko Olina is a magnetic combination of the best of Turtle Bay and Waikiki. You have the serenity, the calm and the natural elegance of the former, but with the dining, shopping and leisure choices of the latter all within a short drive eastward to neighboring Kapolei.
It’s a place where the Other Half, as their vacation here ends, actually feel the rare pangs of envy for those who get to stay and live in such a way.
Though it lacks the name recognition of Ko Olina or Diamond Head, this neighborhood has no problem attracting buyers with a healthy budget and a desire for something roomy and rural. These North Shore properties are hidden on the mauka side of Kamehameha Hwy, roughly between Waimea Bay and Banzai Pipeline.
In addition to calling this surf world mecca home, owners get to spread out over lots with at least 1 full acre of space. Enough room for a large house on a unfailingly green grounds that feature native plants, trees and gardens. On these lands you have a small estate of your own, with little to spoil the mood due to the distance to any kind of traffic or even your next door neighbor.
Being on the highway’s mauka side doesn’t mean you leave the ocean behind. Due to the elevated ground these homes are on, many have views of the massive swells that inspire wonder and awe. Imagine enjoying this display from your home by merely stepping out on your lanai. It’s a reality for Pupukea residents.
One of the main concerns keeping Oahu home buyers up at night is future development. Losing your pristine view, treasured green spaces being covered by pavement or even condos, daily traffic congestion. It’s a spectre that haunts homeowners who have seen it happen so many places. Except in Pupukea.
The life, and lifestyle. of this tropical sanctuary is now being set in stone through land purchases made specifically to take away the possibilities of build-up. Ever.
You will gaze out at rich natural beauty as only the North Shore can do, enjoy the hush of the country and look up at stars that shine in their fullness, undimmed by the artificial light of development. And you’ll do so for as long as you live here.
Diamond Head has been known for over 100 years as the choice for celebrities and those with the means to live wherever they choose. Initially it was prosperous kamaaina who built here, constructing homes that were rarely of the size or grandeur you’d associate with this level of real estate. That would change with the arrival of affluent buyers from all over the world, who would start adding much larger structures to this landscape.
The attraction of living beneath one of the world’s iconic profiles can’t be underestimated. However, that alone cannot account fully for the passionate affection Diamond Head homes spark in their residents.
Part of it is the lay of the land itself. Ancient Hawaiians and even the US Military used this area as a lookout and for good reason. The outward curve of the land creates a wider angled vista out to the ocean. In short, better and greater views of the Pacific. It’s hard to put a price on that.
For current residents, it has more benefits, like a more distinct separation between neighbors. The slope of the land also create clearer sight lines for every home, along with providing further insulation from any loud activity nearby.
The lifestyle possibilities do have a range within this area, beginning with the Gold Coast condominiums that line the shore, all built at a time when buildings were permitted to be so close to the water. They’re the last holders of a priceless privilege, connecting the lives of their residents to that of the ocean itself. An immeasurable gift to those lucky enough to dwell here.
This same area includes many vintage homes, including the Gingerbread Houses that can stop people in their tracks to savor the sight. Just up the hill, above Kapiolani Park, is a collection of homes that trade the oceanfront for greener surroundings, a more cloistered environment and larger lots.
Heading east on Diamond Head Road, the sometimes huge houses sit out of sight on the hillside below the road, as well as more luxurious CPR communities that gather homes under a governing board.
It’s easy to say that the lifestyle here is one of wealth and exclusivity, but that neglects what these lands give to those living here. This is a place of elegance, bestowed by Nature’s hands, with an outlook on the ocean that can feel exceptionally personal due to the angle of the lands and, in some cases, its embracing proximity.
Though Waikiki’s beaches, designer shops and dining experiences can be walked to, there is a marked difference the moment you cross into Diamond Head from its tourist packed neighbor. You begin to hear the sound of the waves more clearly, now that the the crowds and traffic are left behind. The homes breathe more fully, with greater space between, and, outside of the Gold Coast, little in this district rises over 2 or 3 stories.
It is amazing that Diamond Head has held onto its serene environment, so close is it to Waikiki, yet it has and it is something wonderfully special.
The initial unveiling of the plans for this neighborhood were met with a mixture of excitement and a healthy level of skepticism. It was so ambitious, so unprecedented and so unexpected that some took an ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’. A number of projects on Oahu over recent decades have been proposed, only to implode on the launching pad, the victim of a variety of factors. Was this really going to happen?
It’s safe to say that it is and some of it already has now, proving that the plans were right on the money. In every sense.
Construction is proceeding at a rate that is breathtaking even for longtime Honolulu real estate watchers, with one of the showpieces completed as of this writing. Waiea, with its glass ‘cast fishnet’ design wall, has opened the first 31 floors, the remaining to follow next month – December 2016.
Anaha, another architecturally daring tower, will follow next year, the two making a dramatic statement declaring the arrival of Kakaako’s forward looking and innovative environment.
The vision goes beyond building design. They’re fashioning an entire community that caters to the urban pedestrian, with wide sidewalks and walking paths, green spaces and parks throughout and abundant shopping and dining choices to stroll to in no time from home. It’s almost the New York City lifestyle.
This is urban tropical, though, with Ala Moana Beach Park a few blocks away at most, palm trees swaying along your street and the Aloha spirit spilling from every corner – and ocean views from the most cutting edge luxury Honolulu condos.
Condo residences with huge lanais made for entertaining, private pools, bedrooms with walls of windows that bring in the panorama of Diamond Head, Waikiki and the Pacific, along with the latest in green technology throughout. That’s just the beginning of what Kakaako offers to owners who want the very best.
What you have here is the rarest of opportunities. To be part of more than just a newly forming community, but a living experience and environment previously unknown in Hawaii, but built fully upon the treasured values and culture of Hawaii.
Though the tourist side greatly overshadows the residential, it’s precisely what draws almost 8 million visitors each year to this beachside community that makes it the perfect place to live for many. Those who love excitement in their days – and nights -, designer stores and some of the most famous sands on Earth will find all of that and more.
Locals will tell you that Waikiki is different from the rest of Oahu. That’s true. It is faster paced, extremely developed and very urban. It isn’t just unique from every other part of Hawaii, it is unparalleled in the entire Pacific between Asia and the Americas. It is the modern jewel of this region.
A completely rebuilt International Market Place is now welcoming shoppers and almost every top designer brand has a presence somewhere on Kalakaua Ave, along with fashionable, if less expensive, choices like H & M and Forever 21.
In addition to raising the level of its shopping and dining choices in the last couple of decades, the residences have begun to follow this trend as well. Ritz-Carlton has just opened a luxury condo tower befitting the brand’s reputation, Trump Waikiki opened its doors in 2009 here and a 33 floor tower is set to start construction shortly right on the main stretch of Kalakaua Ave.
Inevitably, your home here will be in a condominium, there being extremely few houses on these streets. Those who need a yard will not find it here. However, almost every Waikiki condo is within easy walking distance from the beach, the same sands that visitors spend thousands to lie on for a few days. You can be here every day.
Until Kakaako fully takes shape, this is the only pedestrian-centered neighborhood, allowing you to walk to restaurants, to stores and to recreation. It’s a self-contained community that provides the height of experiences because that is its business. For you, though, it’s home.
Lanikai forms what could be called the cul-de-sac of the Kailua coastline. You can go no further, at least by car, with just one road going into the neighborhood and one coming out that connect it to the rest of Kailua. The separation is increased further by the fact that the coast curves at the very entrance to the neighborhood, hiding this pocket of Windward Oahu around a natural corner.
Finally, an equally important buffer is also created by the untouched hillside that bookends the land side at the curve, topped by the golf course of Mid-Pacific Country Club that spreads out over the top of that same hill, completing the detachment from Kailua.
All of that has created the upscale beach colony feel of Lanikai, where the days are spent on the beach along the ocean side of the neighborhood, one of the very best on Oahu. The nights are reserved for enjoying the cool Hawaii evenings in the peacefulness that reigns on these streets.
The sloped ground this community is built on guarantees that many of the homes away from the coastline still have views of the ocean sparkling before them, including the 2 small islands just off the coast that all locals know as the ‘Mokes’. For some, this is THE view of the Island.
With no shops or stores, you do have to drive for groceries or any other needs, but it’s also one more factor that retains that unique Lanikai environment where worries are left at the curve that leads into this blessed community.
Although vintage Oahu homes still lend their charm to some lots, large luxury houses are very common now, unsurprising for some of the most valuable properties on our Island. Some could even be called estates, so extensive are their layouts and comforts.
Still, even those creations cannot rival the beauty of what has always been here or the uncommonly calming lifestyle that is pure Lanikai.
Kaneohe Bay & Mahinui
The Kaneohe Bay and Mahinui neighborhoods take up much of the real estate near and against the south side of the shoreline of the bay itself, forming a waterfront community that departs from most of Hawaii’s coastal life.
Customarily the activity of oceanfront neighborhoods revolve around the beach – laying out on the sand, working on a tan – and individual activities – surfing and swimming, for example. Not at Kaneohe Bay.
There’s no beach here and the waves don’t come in either, so what has sprung up on these waters is more a boating community. The calmer waters and the absence of swimmers has made this the perfect place to tie up or head out on the Windward Side. The Kaneohe Yacht Club’s forest of masts and the numerous private, even personal, docks along the coast are a testament to this pursuit.
Much of both Mahinui and Kaneohe Bay are on, or just off of, Kaneohe Bay Rd, with most on the makai side, fronting or at least very close to the water. One aspect that stands out about these residences is that some of the largest lots are right on the ocean, bucking the usual trend where they usually become larger as you head mauka.
A natural slope upward from the bay provides sight lines that extend out to the bay even for residents that are further from the shoreline. You may not be on the waters, but you still accrue the benefits these views give every day.
These are also long established neighborhoods, making it common to find vintage listings from the 1930’s on, perfect for those seeking an Oahu home that has a history to it. Even so, the gradual settling of the area, combined with replacement of older structures, ensures that properties from almost any era, even recent additions, sit on these lots.
In some ways, this is the most ‘Kailua’ part of Kaneohe, with greater spaces between homes, much less development than the central part of the city and a low-rise landscape that characterizes the whole made up by the two districts.
Those who love the ocean, but not the crowds and activity that beaches so famously attract will find this feels like home.
Kawailoa is usually passed by without much thought by most on Kamehameha Hwy between Haleiwa and Waimea Bay. It stands out for being the one real collection of homes on this strip, with houses on both sides of the road. Still, there’s no reason to stop if you don’t live here.
There’s no place to pull over and park, so beach-goers head on to more publicly accessible areas down the road. It’s a stunning piece of North Shore that residents have to themselves, even with the growing throngs coming to this coastline. It’s difficult to exaggerate what that means to those living here.
Kawailoa is placed strategically, reaping the rewards of this location. Here the makai side houses sit on property serenaded by the sizzle of the surf and awed by the sights of an ocean that is alternately inviting and unfathomable. Best of all, there are few neighbors and fewer beachcombers that make it down here.
The mauka side is made up of 7 or 8 short roads that all dead-end, so few ever come down them except for your fellow residents. These lots, and their homes, gain from the greater space, most having larger property and houses than the ocean side.
Buying real estate in Kawailoa is a path to being within the main options of the North Shore, near Haleiwa’s dining and shopping and the massive playgrounds of Waimea or Pipeline, yet live almost as if you were off on your own, in the timeless natural beauty and power of this coast.
Its status as the pinnacle of luxury neighborhoods up here says it best of all. Those who could live anywhere on this oceanfront are drawn here, captivated by the thought of spending their days where time doesn’t merely slow down, it sometimes feels like it stops entirely.
Tantalus is a mountaintop community, but one with a distinct difference. The best way to understand it is to drive on its roads for yourself. Do that and you’ll soon wonder if there are any homes up there at all.
This summit over Honolulu is covered, literally, in trees and greenery that flourish in this rainforest-like setting, nourished by a consistently high rate of rainfall. From the street, and even from above, it is hard to see the houses, despite many of them being very substantial.
Up here you live under a canopy formed by trees, shaded throughout the day, and the year, and in what could be called a private kingdom, protected by the walls of greenery that embrace, rather than enclose you.
Even with this abundance of natural cover, you still have the views that make mountaintop homes so magnetic. This community’s lookout over the Honolulu city lights at night has such romance that couples drive up here in the evening to take it in together. The daytime is just as inspiring. You can see across Oahu’s southern coastline heading both east and west, including Diamond Head, and, of course, out at the Pacific’s grandeur, stretching for miles.
One other important point that will surprise newcomers. First-timers are often startled by the sight of a chimney on these homes. It’s not for affect. It can get a little cold up here, so residents do use their fireplaces, adding a little different side of Hawaii life to this neighborhood.
These Honolulu homes have larger sized lots and often homes to match. It is also common for them to have gated entrances, adding further privacy to what nature has provided so freely.
Tantalus houses do not fit the preconceived notion of what Hawaii real estate is supposed to be. In some ways it confounds them completely, with their fireplaces and the almost rainforest environment. Many, though, find it to be exactly what they want, showing that there is much more to love on Oahu than just sun and sand.
What Does This All Mean To Your Oahu Real Estate Search?
After this journey around our Island, it should be evident that not only is there an array of lifestyle possibilities available, you probably weren’t even aware at least some of them existed. These communities present Oahu real estate in a new light, as more than just a choice of a ‘Good place to live’ or ‘a solid buy’.
There’s deeper dimensions and considerations that will impact every day of your life. Fortunately you now know more than when you started reading this post and now you can move forward with a clearer vision of where you should be – and why.