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Honolulu

The Best Neighborhoods in Honolulu

IJfke Ridgley
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Visitors are often surprised that Honolulu is a sizable metropolis in the middle of the Pacific. The tall high-rises of downtown meet the hotel zone of Waikiki along the water, while sprawling suburbs of humble plantation homes, mid century walk-ups, and historic mansions creep into the surrounding valleys. The cityscape tends to be an architectural mishmash of different influences over the centuries, and what Honolulu lacks in urban appeal it more than makes up for in natural scenery. The lush, verdant peaks and valleys of the Ko’olau mountains frame the capital, with countless hikes and day trips offering an escape from the city. And then, of course, there is the Pacific. With miles of stunning coastline, some of the best surfing in the world, and a variety of beaches, Honolulu is a playground for ocean lovers. 

A melting pot of cultures that have settled in the islands over the centuries, the Hawaii population is a mix of Asian, European, and Polynesian ethnicities, all of which influence the islands’ food and customs. Honolulu has become an international destination with an exciting food scene and world-class shopping.

With nearly year-round sunny weather and tropical scenery, Honolulu is an appealing destination for remote workers who are seeking an active, outdoorsy life. At the same time, it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., and the cost of living in Hawaii, in general, can be quite high. When deciding where to stay during a remote work vacation in Honolulu, you’ll want to consider each neighborhood’s proximity to shops and restaurants, surf breaks, and the need for transportation in a city with surprisingly terrible traffic.

EXPLORE
DEEPER
WAIKIKI
RATINGS OUT OF 5
SAFETY
3
This neighborhood is okay.
This neighborhood is okay.
FOOD
5
There are too many good restaurants to choose from.
There are too many good restaurants to choose from.
VALUE FOR MONEY
2
Higher cost offset by amenities.
Higher cost offset by amenities.
REMOTE WORKING
2
This neighborhood has a few places to work outside the house.
This neighborhood has a few places to work outside the house.

When picturing Honolulu, most visitors are actually thinking of Waikiki, the city’s iconic tourist district with a famous beach and views of Diamond Head mountain. Tourists come from all over the world to experience the beauty of Waikiki and stay at its world-class historic hotels. The area saw its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, and while much has changed, there is still a sense of nostalgia for vintage Hawaii. While the streets adjacent to the beach are undoubtedly busy with tourist activity 24/7, there are parts of the neighborhood that are quieter and more residential, and the plus side to living in Waikiki is that you'll have access to everything you need without needing a car.

Waikiki may be lacking in formal coworking spaces, but it does have a wealth of coffee shops to work from. The Banyan Breeze is a quaint coffee shop in the lobby of the Waikiki Banyan, and Island Vintage Coffee in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center offers ample seating and a full food menu. Just across the bridge from Waikiki, you’ll find Honolulu Coffee Experience Center, a huge, quiet café perfect for days spent working without too much distraction.

Experience Old Waikiki with a visit to the iconic hotels The Moana Surfrider and the “Pink Princess,” The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, located right on Waikiki Beach. Off of Kuhio Avenue lie a few midcentury-modern hotels that have undergone recent renovations to restore them to their golden-era glory, and have corresponding restaurants that are noteworthy: Mahina & Suns at the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club and The Hideout at the Laylow have standout drinks and menus; don’t miss the view from Deck at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel and Hau Tree at Kaimana Beach Hotel; a poolside tropical cocktail is best enjoyed at Hey Day at White Sands Hotel. If you’d like to enjoy the sunset outdoors with a beverage, Duke’s Restaurant is a crowd favorite, while House Without a Key at Halekulani Hotel delivers an upscale ambiance and live Hawaiian music.

You can’t beat the shopping in Waikiki, with almost every major retailer making an appearance along Kalakaua Ave or in the nearby Ala Moana Shopping Center. International Market Place and Luxury Row are the destinations for luxury shopping, while smaller boutiques are scattered throughout Kalakaua and Kuhio Avenues.

Not surprisingly, the activities in Waikiki center around the ocean. You can enjoy the pool at any number of hotels, but the real draw is Waikiki Beach. When you’re feeling antsy, you can head over to Star Beach Boys to sign up for a surf lesson or outrigger canoe ride. Or if you prefer to let someone else steer the ship, gather some friends for a snorkel tour or booze cruise that leaves from one of the catamarans that leave Waikiki Beach, such as the Maita’i Catamaran or Na Hoku 2 Catamaran.

KA’AKAKO
RATINGS OUT OF 5
SAFETY
3
This neighborhood is okay.
This neighborhood is okay.
FOOD
5
There are too many good restaurants to choose from.
There are too many good restaurants to choose from.
VALUE FOR MONEY
4
Lower cost of living for remote workers.
Lower cost of living for remote workers.
REMOTE WORKING
5
This neighborhood has many places to work outside the house.
This neighborhood has many places to work outside the house.

What was once a forgettable and gritty industrial neighborhood sandwiched between Ala Moana Center and Downtown Honolulu, Ka’akako has seen a revival in the past decade. This is due in large part to the development of new high-rises and shopping areas that have brought more life to the area, as well as to POW!WOW!, an arts organization that aims to reinvigorate neglected public spaces with murals painted by famous and local street artists. The annual festival helped transform the area into the hip, trendsetting neighborhood it is today.

As a neighborhood geared towards creatives, it offers the best resources for those looking for coworking spaces. Impact Hub has been one of the pioneers in coworking in Hawaii, and its large office space caters to entrepreneurs living the Hawaii lifestyle, with networking events, bike-sharing, and surfboard storage. Just a couple blocks away in Ward Centre you’ll find BoxJelly, a coworking space whose outdoor lanai and coffee shop is popular with young creatives. Also at SALT, Arvo is another coffee shop with outdoor tables and a light food menu that draws a hip crowd, and Morning Brew is a spacious establishment with comfy armchairs and breakfast and lunch options.

Small, local boutiques are the calling card for the area, with favorites like At Dawn, Here, and Mahina being favorites. In the SALT complex, hit up Paikos for tropical flower arrangements, or Treehouse for analog photography supplies. Newcomer Island Boy Shop is a treasure trove of vintage, accessories, and interior décor for design lovers. 

Kaka’ako was once the historic hub of Oahu’s small beer industry, and recently a slew of new breweries has carried on the tradition. Honolulu Beer Works was one of the originals to offer a selection of beers on tap and bar snacks to an after-work crowd and Aloha Beer Co. brews its variety of beers on-site to pair with their large menu. Meanwhile, Waikiki Brewing Co. down the street is one of the largest producers of craft beer in the state. You can get a growler to go or taste one of their rotating beers, wine, or ciders on tap at Village Bottle Shop and Tasting Room, which is also a popular spot for their weekly Trivia Night at the SALT complex. 

There’s no shortage of notable restaurants in the area. Moku Kitchen has become a neighborhood hangout with a large dining area and live music and Merriman’s opened recently in Ward Centre, serving up upscale cuisine using locally grown ingredients. Pop into Highway Inn for a spread of traditional Hawaiian food, an island favorite since 1947, or try Ya-Ya’s Chophouse and Seafood, which is the place for upscale cuts of meat and local fish. 

Many visitors come to Kaka’ako to tour the colorful POW!WOW! murals that line the streets. They change every year with the annual festival, so it’s always worth an afternoon stroll to check them out. The Kaka’ako Farmers Market, held in the parking lot of Ward Village, is a Saturday morning favorite selling tropical flowers, locally grown produce, and artisanal bites from some of the island’s favorite popups. The neighborhood is more urban, but you can still get a nature view at the waterfront Ala Moana Beach Park and neighboring Kaka’ako waterfront park, which offers impressive views of Waikiki, Diamond Head, and a surf spot known as Point Panic.

KAIMUKI
RATINGS OUT OF 5
SAFETY
5
This neighborhood is very safe.
This neighborhood is very safe.
FOOD
4
There are many good restaurants.
There are many good restaurants.
VALUE FOR MONEY
3
Okay cost of living.
Okay cost of living.
REMOTE WORKING
2
This neighborhood has a few places to work outside the house.
This neighborhood has a few places to work outside the house.

Straddling the length of Waialae Avenue next to Diamond Head lies the neighborhood of Kaimuki, a quiet residential area of historic plantation houses and with great sea- and city views. While it has always been a desirable place to live due to its proximity to both the ocean and downtown Honolulu, it has seen a rise in popularity in recent years with the opening of acclaimed restaurants and trendy boutiques along Waialae Avenue. Young creatives have breathed life into this sleepy area, while still maintaining its historic facades and charm.

While there may be new restaurants and shops to peruse, Kaimuki doesn’t have much in the way of coworking spaces. However, there are a few notable coffee shops in the area that make for a good place to work. Coffee Talk is a neighborhood mainstay with an alternative college-town vibe, delicious pastries, and ample seating. Pop into The Curb for their fresh weekly rotating selection of roasted coffee, while nearby on 12th Ave you’ll find Bean About Town, which offers European-style coffees and pastries. 

Shopping in Kaimuki is limited to small, but unique, specialty stores. Sugarcane Shop is a one-stop-shop for island-inspired décor, trinkets, and souvenirs. Modern resort wear can be found at designer Summer Shiigi’s boutique Ten Tomorrow, housed in a cute cottage on 11th Avenue. Pick up a treat for your furry friend at The Public Pet, or a bouquet of locally-grown tropical flowers from Pua Hana.  When it’s time to restock your makeup, the Awa and Olena shop has you covered for Hawaii-made clean beauty products. 

Kaimuki has become somewhat of a dining destination with well-known local chefs opening notable eateries in the midcentury-modern buildings that line Waialae Avenue. Neighborhood bistro Mud Hen Water serves a creative take on Hawaiian-style tapas and artisanal cocktails from a bright, pretty bar. Across the street, Brew’d is a moody pub with craft beers on tap, while recent addition Miro boasts a fancy five-course prix fixe menu of French and Japanese-inspired cuisine. Health fanatics love Leahi Health for vegan bites and smoothies, while the ever-popular Koko Head Café always has a line for its creative local brunch menu.  For authentic Hawaiian food and poke, pick up a selection to-go from Fort Ruger Market, a bare-bones market in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Activities in the area are minimal, as Kaimuki is mostly a suburban neighborhood unless you count standing in the impressive line at Leonard’s—the island’s most popular bakery for “malasadas,” Portuguese-style doughnuts—an activity. Pick up a dozen before hiking Ka’au Crater, one of the island’s most arduous and rewarding hikes in the back of Palolo Valley. 

DIAMOND HEAD
RATINGS OUT OF 5
SAFETY
5
This neighborhood is very safe.
This neighborhood is very safe.
FOOD
2
There are a few good restaurants.
There are a few good restaurants.
VALUE FOR MONEY
1
This neighborhood is expensive for amenities.
This neighborhood is expensive for amenities.
REMOTE WORKING
2
This neighborhood has a few places to work outside the house.
This neighborhood has a few places to work outside the house.

The iconic mountain of Diamond Head takes center stage for the surrounding neighborhoods of Diamond Head and Kahala, one of the state’s most expensive zip codes. With wide, tree-lined avenues and one impressive mansion after the next, Kahala is a quiet, upscale residential neighborhood close to the ocean, while the shopping and dining area of Diamond Head is concentrated on Monsarrat Avenue. Though it is certainly far from affordable, you can still enjoy this area for its many activities and stunning views even if you don’t live here. 

The east-side town of Kailua’s favorite coworking space, Treehouse, just opened an outpost in Kahala, a much-need resource in a district with few remote working locations. The company focuses on networking, community, and sustainability for its entrepreneur and innovator members. Ars Café is a popular hangout on Monserrat Ave, both for those walking around Diamond Head needing a quick cup of Joe and those wanting a quiet place to work. 

Monsarrat Avenue has a couple of establishments for shopping: Pualani Hawaii Beachwear for bikinis and one-pieces, and Kealopiko sells breezy resort wear with native Hawaiian prints located in a sunny yellow cottage. Otherwise, Kahala Mall is the main shopping hub in the area. Check out Mahina for classic and trendy womenswear pieces, and island favorite T&C Surf for all your beach and surf needs. 

Surfers head to Da Cove Health Bar for smoothies and healthy bites before hitting the waves, and later to Pioneer Saloon for poke bowls and delicious seafood “plate lunch.” Diamond Head Market is a neighborhood favorite for to-go meals and tasty pastries. At the exclusive Kahala Hotel, Hoku’s is upscale, oceanfront dining at its best. Over in Kahala, the Olive Tree Café is a popular spot for Greek food, while nearby Et Al, located in Foodland Market, is a cozy, chic restaurant serving seasonal dishes inspired by Hawaii’s diverse cultures. 

The scenery around Diamond Head is some of the best on the island. Take in the views of Kahala the surf from the lookouts on Diamond Head Road, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can do an early morning hike to Diamond Head Crater. Just make sure to leave early, before the midday sun Diamond Head Beach and Kahala Beach are both stunning and perfect for long walks at low tide. Saturday mornings head to the Kapiolani Community College Farmer’s Market for local fruits and veggies and pop-ups from some of the island’s best eateries. For those interested in art and design, make reservations far in advance to see Shangri La, heiress Doris Duke’s impressive estate and ode to Islamic art perched on a cliff above the water.