Where do you start with Oahu real estate? North Shore oceanfront homes? Kakaako condos – the future of Honolulu? Rapidly emerging Kapolei? There's no right, or best, place to start. Instead, your most effective home search starts with becoming acquainted with some of the major areas of Oahu. Get to know what each uniquely offers you and your life. You can't make the right choice until you understand all the options and this island has a lot of them. There's no better way to see this than to take a tour of the island. We'll begin in Honolulu, travel counter-clockwise around the coast, and end right in the center of Oahu. Ready?
Honolulu Real Estate
Honolulu is a case in point of how astonishingly different your environment can be in Hawaii, even within just a few miles. These next 6 neighborhoods are perfect examples, all of them contained within the city limits of Honolulu:
Once completed this neighborhood will redefine living in Honolulu. A compact, suburban style community right beside downtown. Large parks and outdoor gathering places. Choices of dining and shopping you leisurely walk to from your brand new condo. A condo that just might have an incredible ocean view. Cutting-edge convenience combined with the timeless pleasures of open air, green spaces and broad pedestrian avenues. That's Kakaako and it's taking shape right now.
Manoa Real Estate
One of the immediate impressions you'll have of Manoa is how green it is. Everywhere. A sprinkling of rain falls here almost daily, a fact of life in a valley that becomes more fully tropical rainforest the farther you go back. This is historically where upper-class Hawaii made their homes, retreating to its coolness and lush backdrop. So many houses dating from the 30's and 40's still stand here that you almost expect to see vintage cars parked in their driveways. The protected, genteel lifestyle still exists here today, keeping its homes in the upper reaches of the market.
This world-famous tourist spot packs a lot in for daily life, too. The beach is in easy walking distance from almost every corner of the district and there's always new food choices to sample or a night spot to check out. Almost exclusively condos, you have the full range from small walk-ups to the world-class luxury of places like Trump Waikiki. If you like living in a place where there's something always going on, you need to be here.
Diamond Head Real Estate
If there's a top of the market in Oahu real estate, this might be it. The exclusive property that sits under iconic Diamond Head is also on some of the most beautiful oceanfront in Hawaii, or anywhere else for that matter. Prime luxury houses and condos that seem to hover over the ocean spray are what you'll find along this coastline, as you'd expect in this masterpiece of Mother Nature's. Expect 7 figures or more on the price tag. Worth every penny.
Kahala Real Estate
When people think of an upscale neighborhood on Oahu, this is guaranteed to be the first one to come to mind. Kahala is where old and new Hawaii money meet, with modern mansions that look as if they were transported whole from Beverly Hills alongside more modest-sized yet unmistakably upper class kamaaina houses, decades old, but eternal in their charms. What just might be the most impressive thing to say at a local party is that you live on Kahala Avenue. Its oceanfront luxury homes are probably the most expensive in Hawaii real estate, which is really saying something. Overall, the community is low-rise, but a few condo towers do exist that have beautiful views. As you can imagine, Kahala residences will be priced at a higher level than just about anywhere else. Exclusive is the word.
Hawaii Kai Real Estate
Built by businessman Henry Kaiser in the 1960's, everything revolves around the water. This oceanside community features a massive marina with homes all along its shores and on man-made peninsulas. For some lucky residents, the marina is their backyard, with personal docks floating a few steps from their doors. Taller condo buildings stand further back in the valley, affording them awesome views of both marina and ocean, along with the green mountains behind. All shopping needs are taken care of in the 3 major shopping centers, that include a full range of dining and eating choices as well. Best of all, you can even ride your boat over to do your shopping, or dining, then take it right back home. Only in Hawaii Kai.
Kailua Real Estate
Coming into Kailua, you need to apply your brakes, both literally and mentally. You're on the Windward Side of Oahu now and they like to live life at a slower pace. That's clear, not only from the almost complete lack of high, or even mid, rises, but also the easy attitude of the locals here. Don't like the sound of car horns? Wish people could be more courteous to each other? Is 'No Worries' your motto? Then Kailua is for you.
Real estate is almost exclusively houses, with primarily one or two story homes, in keeping with the open, unobstructed skyline that isn't just a point of pride, it's a non-negotiable part of the town. Blessed with a repeat winner of the Best Beach in America, what you have in Kailua is an oceanside community that embodies laid-back Hawaii - except when someone tries to change it.
Kaneohe Real Estate
Head up the Windward Coast just a little ways and you're in Kaneohe. The town raises the pace a little with its urban highway strip going right through it and the presence of the largest shopping center on this side of the Koolaus, Windward Mall. The dominant natural feature here is Kaneohe Bay, notorious for the Sandbar, a small sand island that emerges at low tide. Boaters swarm the temporary strip to enjoy a party that lasts as long as the place stays above water. It must be experienced at least once.
Kaneohe features a variety of neighborhoods, from the more crowded subdivisions around that highway to a healthy number of condos throughout the district and finally a collection of upscale oceanfront, and ocean view, houses and townhomes that rival comparable properties all over Oahu.
Development continues to grow the community, including recent real estate additions like the homes at Bayview Golf Course, which opened in 2012. Cooler and rainier than Kailua, it's often more affordable, but it has a lot to brag about in the luxury department as well.
North Shore Real Estate
If you think it's all surfers up here, you're partly right. Though the awe-inspiring ocean of the North Shore is a big factor in bringing and keeping residents, it's also about being in the midst of Nature in its most powerful forms. The renowned waves are just the start. It's the vast open fields all around you, the freely growing plants, tree and tropical flowers, the fact that the buildings up here are more decorative to the landscape, not dominant.
In some ways, you feel on your own up here. There's not much at all in the way of real shopping resources. For these locals, a Costco run is a well-planned out trip, not a quick spur-of-the-moment errand.
There's a strong community feel throughout because you recognize a shared desire to not only live in this place, but preserve it. Development has been repeatedly proposed and each time it has been defeated.
Prime oceanfront, and ocean view, homes are all here as expected, but they must to be seen to be fully believed. When you want to truly get back to Hawaii as it was a hundred years ago, you'll rarely get closer on Oahu than the North Shore.
Waianae & Makaha Real Estate
Waianae and Makaha sit on the opposite side of Oahu on the East, commonly called the Leeward Side. Hotter and drier than Windward Side, these communities are above the Ewa Plain, closer to the Northwest corner of the island. Makaha is especially near that mark, it being the last real community on the West. Both Makaha and Waianae have significant Native Hawaiian populations so the culture is very strong here and practiced even more than in other areas.
Homes are also more affordable, generally, and there are condos, though not in the numbers of Honolulu or Ewa Beach. The residents in these towns like being away from the central, more tourist-oriented districts, preferring to live outside its influence.
Waianae is the larger, more paved community, while Makaha can truly be called an outpost of Oahu, where you come to live a very rural existence that doesn't get many outsiders coming through. It's a place where people keep to themselves and being from there is a strong piece of their identity.
Kapolei Real Estate
Despite Kapolei's title of Second City, the real estate is predominantly made up of townhomes and houses. There are very few high-rise condos so far. The soaring build up on the lands here hasn't changed the fact that properties are larger and priced more affordably than anything in eastern or central Oahu. That has attracted a lot of young families who have dreamt of an actual lawn and more than 2 bedrooms.
Kapolei's position as the western end of the new rail project has only raised the level of convenience that already exists. Most of the major shopping centers on this side of the island are in this community, alongside numerous golf courses – with exclusive fairway homes – and a growing branch of the University of Hawaii.
The creation of new subdivisions is far from over, growing in its focus to now include higher end options like Kapolei-Iwalani, which features Kahala-style mansions and larger residences. You can be a part of this still unraveling real estate adventure as an entire city comes to life on these lands.
Ewa Real Estate
Ewa has been experiencing strong growth even longer than neighboring Kapolei, taking off with a bang in 1988 when former plantation lands were opened up for development. They follow the same pattern of houses and townhomes for the most part, all at price points better than Honolulu's. Residents are easily close enough to regularly use the shopping and eating choices of nearby Kapolei.
The recent history of the town means that almost every home is, at most, 25 years old. A large percentage are even younger, like the Ka Makana & Kipuka projects that came in after 2009. These two are also part of a new level of homes targeted toward the higher-end homebuyer. The fact that some of these houses center around golf courses is an important factor in their targeted market. High or lower end, though, you're in a place where the benefits will only get better.
Makakilo Real Estate
The neighborhood of Makakilo is a little different from most Ewa Plain communities because it lies above the characteristic flat land of the area, rather than sitting on it. Just across the highway from Kapolei and all of its amenties, this hillside had homes earlier than its neighbors, starting at the bottom in the 1960's. Development spread up the heights as word got out about the sweeping views from here that took in not only the ocean and most of Ewa, but even far-off Diamond Head!
Townhome communities have been added alongside the large house lots over the years and the work continues even now. One of the most recent additions is the Makakilo-Kahiwelo subdivision which has both types of residences in 3 to 5 BR floor plans. From Makakilo you can't always see forever, but even on the cloudiest of days your view will make you the envy of all your friends.
Pearl City & Aiea Real Estate
Pearl City and Aiea sit around the western side of Pearl Harbor, both very lively towns with Kamehameha Hwy running right through with numerous shopping centers lining it, including Pearlridge Mall, the 2nd biggest mall on Oahu. Most of their residences sit on the hillsides, giving many perfect views of Pearl Harbor and the ocean.
Aiea is known for its contrast of homes built in the mid-1900's, mainly on its eastern side, with more modern houses, townhomes and condos on its western end, around Pearlridge. On average, Aiea homes are the higher priced of the two, but properties in both areas fall in being lower than Honolulu, but higher than out in the Ewa district.
Pearl City is also noted for having many beautiful examples of houses from the 1950's and 60's on its streets, mixed in with much more recent residential build-up. Like Aiea, this is an extremely diverse community, including people with roots all over Asia & Polynesia. The surprising range of its eateries are just one way this rich blend comes out.
Though all of Hawaii is celebrated for its diversity, Aiea & Pearl City just might be the most vivid example of it, in the very best ways!
Waipahu & Waikele
The lands of Waipahu & Waikele were once covered in sugarcane, home to huge Plantations until the mid-to-late 1900's. Waipahu is the older and more urbanized of the two, its main strip on Farrington Hwy a busy avenue with businesses lining both sides.
Residences run the gamut with houses, condos and townhomes all available within the city limits. Waipahu real estate tends to be more affordable than other parts of the island, attracting many first time buyers. Though located past Pearl City, it is still a major commuting area into downtown Honolulu.
Waikele is very different, though cheek-to-cheek with Waipahu. Here the real estate is distinctly upscale suburban with house and townhome properties spread out more and parks and green areas spread throughout. The utilities are underground as well, so no poles or wires, opening up the scenery and the skies completely to your gaze.
This community is a younger addition to Hawaii, coming up between 1990 and 2000, based around the Waikele Golf Course. Residents also have the benefits of the Waikele Outlets, where the shopping has gone viral. They even truck in tourists from Waikiki to get in on the deals.
This is unmistakably a higher-end area, but with a friendly, tranquil and inviting atmosphere that has much to do with its popularity.
Mililani Mauka Real Estate
Located at the center of the island, the building of Mililani Mauka began in 1991, finishing up in 2007. It lies on the east side of H-2, which separates it from the older, larger Mililani Town. You enjoy not only cooler temperatures up here due to the elevation, you also get a wide range of floor plans to revel in it.
The houses and townhomes go from 4,000 up to 10,000 sq ft, many with covered garages and at least some yard to spend outdoor time in or let the dog have a space of his own. The one thing lacking from this upscale community is shopping, but there's plenty a short drive away in Mililani Town. This can feel a little inconvenient for those used to easier access, but it preserves the quiet serenity that you'll soon find to be the greatest reward in living here.
What's Next in Your Oahu Real Estate Journey?
Oahu real estate isn't one-size or one-place fits all. There's a lot to consider, just in climate alone – Manoa's rainforest, Ewa's drier, warmer days or the plateau coolness of Mililani. It's no secret that many initially approach real estate in Oahu with images of sand and palm trees. Understandably, because that's what gets all the press. As wonderful, and as real, as that picture is, you're shortchanging yourself by not exploring the incredible array of living possibilities on Oahu. You know some of it now. It's time to dive deeper.