Neighborhood Spotlight: Kaimuki
Photo courtesy of Keep It Kaimuki

There’s no neighborhood more reminiscent of Honolulu in the 1950’s and 60’s than Kaimukī. It’s been a residential neighborhood since the early twentieth century, and today boasts plenty of single-family homes with a sprinkling of multi-family dwellings. Close to shopping and downtown Honolulu, the business center of Kaimukī retains its retro charm with old-style diners and boutique shops.

Kaimukī is situated on the mountainside of Diamond Head Crater between Kapahulu to the west and Kahala to the east. Pu‛u o Kaimukī Park, Kaimukī's highest elevation point, sits on the rim of an extinct volcanic crater and offers great views of everything down-slope.

Most of the homes in Kaimukī were constructed before the 1940’s, with a number of those homes still owned by the same families, passed down through the generations. Little by little, older homes are being renovated or replaced with new construction as homebuyers discover the value of Kaimukī’s convenient location. Most Kaimukī homes have modest-sized lots between 3,000-6,000 square feet.

Even amid the growing sprawl of O‛ahu, Kaimukī has managed to maintain its quaint charm and small-town vibe. Kapiolani Community College is in Kaimukī, and every Saturday it hosts the largest farmers market in the state. Converging on this iconic outdoor marketplace, residents and tourists alike plan their weekends and travel itineraries around it to find the best in fresh local produce and unique homemade crafts.

History of Kaimukī

Many ancient Hawaiian legends tell of a race of tiny people who did good deeds and built great structures during special nights. They were similar to stories of the Irish leprechauns, and they were called “menehune”.

Kaimukī got its name from stories that the menehune had ovens in this part of O‛ahu where they baked the roots of the ti plant into a sweet food that was eaten like candy. Thus, the name Kaimukī , which in the Hawaiian language, means “the ti root oven”.

Maybe Kaimukī really got its name from it's naturally dusty and dry landscape, having only one known spring in the area. Still, in the 19th century, King Kalākaua took the land over as his personal farmland and was known to let his ostriches roam wild in the mountains.

It wasn't until the Chinatown Fire of 1900 left many Chinese people homeless that Kaimukī began its transformation into a residential area in earnest. Those who didn’t rebuild in Chinatown moved their households and businesses to Kaimukī, where just a few years before, a water system had been constructed.

Being so close to Honolulu, an early vision for Kaimukī took shape: a suburb where residents could commute from each day for work. So, in the first decade of the 20th century, electric streetcar routes extended out to the Kaimukī area. That was all it took for waves of young families to move there.

Eventually, Kaimukī  became a live-work destination in its own right, as Waialae Avenue became a busy thoroughfare and magnet for businesses. However, issues arose: Ala Moana Shopping Center in Waikiki and the Waialae Shopping Center became competition to the mom and pop stores in Kaimukī. Additionally, the new H-1 Freeway hurt those small businesses even more by diverting commuters.

But the community fought to get exit ramps added, and the H-1 Freeway may have ultimately been what saved Kaimukī’s main business thoroughfare. Since traffic is diverted by the freeway, Kaimukī’s businesses can serve local residents without the added pressure of investors looking to demolish and rebuild larger shopping centers.

The Best Things About Kaimukī

Kaimukī is a little hamlet tucked behind Diamond Head Crater. Waialae Avenue is its business center and is lined with an eclectic mix of small shops, boutiques and some of the best eating spots on the island. Although it is known as a non-touristy part of Honolulu, if more tourists knew about it they’d enjoy the quirky vibe that is Kaimukī today.

And if more families knew about its school system, they might consider relocating. A neighborhood which houses many schools within its boundaries, Kaimukī boasts Waialae School, a public charter elementary school, along with Kaimukī Middle School and Kaimukī High School. Private schools also abound, with Saint Louis School for boys, Sacred Hearts Academy for girls, St. Patrick’s co-ed school for K-8, and Kaimukī Christian School. There’s also Kapiolani Community College on Kaimukī's perimeter, with the University of Hawai‛i Manoa Campus just two short miles away.

Besides a mix of shopping venues where you can find everything from vintage aloha shirts to Japanese fabrics, the eating places in Kaimukī are highly worth mentioning. You can satisfy your hunger with everything from Chinese dim sum at Happy Days restaurant to Portuguese donuts, called malasadas, at iconic Leonard’s Bakery. You could spend a whole weekend dining on the octopus salad sandwich at Kaimukī Superette, the breakfast bruschetta at Koko Head Café, or Lilikoi (Passion Fruit) gelato at Via Gelato. Indulge in boiled peanuts at Tamura’s, the teriyaki bento box at Okata Bento, or the freshest catch of the day at Fresh Catch. And try anything at all where former First Lady Michele Obama came to eat: the trendy farm-to-table restaurant, Town.

And the fun of Kaimukī is that there’s so much more to discover than the few places mentioned here.

What’s Ahead for Kaimukī?

Kaimukī is on the cusp between preservation and development. The vision is to find the balance for both.

On the preservation side, there’s a strong community in Kaimukī which continues to discuss the best options for residents. ENVISION KAIMUKĪ has already held a series of town hall-style meetings where they've discussed strategies for Kaimukī’s future. They aim to improve pedestrian safety, make Kaimukī more of an age-friendly community, develope bike-friendly streets, and beautify the mature tree canopy.

On the business end, KEEP IT KAIMUKĪ is a grassroots organization formed by small business owners who strive to collaborate to keep the business community strong.

With cooperation and aloha between residents and businesses, Kaimukī will continue to be a choice location to live, as well as work, for Hawai‛i residents. To see homes for sale in Kaimukī click here or call me at 808-843-0003.


Header image of Kaimuki as seen from Puu o Kaimuki Park, the highest point in the neighborhood, Travis Thurston, Wikipedia.