Best Places to Live

Whether you're enjoying retirement or saving for your kids' college tuition, loving life in the fast lane or trying to slow down, we've got the neighborhood for you.


Published:

In Hawai‘i, it’s almost impossible to pick a bad neighborhood to call home. No matter where you go, you can expect a few things to stay exactly the same—the year-round warm weather, the friendly neighbors and the annual property taxes probably exceeding the price of your first car.

There are plenty of reasons you settle where you do, but odds are, you’re one of five kinds of homeowners: empty nester, nest builder, luxury dweller, small towner or bargain hunter. And no matter what category you fall into, we’ve got you covered with our look at 36 neighborhoods across the state.

We’ve hassled real estate agents and analysts, bugged unassuming homeowners and pounded the pavement to find you the best neighborhood for your lifestyle. Want to live in a community where kids still play in the street? A historic neighborhood with a personality all its own? What about a low-maintenance, high-amenity residence with ample room for two? We’ll show you how to get there.

Dream Hoods

There are some neighborhoods that most of us can only fantasize about—the ones that we drive our out-of-town guests through to gawk at palatial abodes, the ones that remind us of those exclusive Mainland hoods where they sell maps of celebrities’ homes. But if you’re one of the fortunate few who’ve never seen a price tag that made your mouth drop, read on.

The good life in Portlock. photo: Linny Morris

Everyone knows what makes an area expensive. Say it with us: Location, location, location. Two kinds of properties continue to demand top dollar, even in our cooling local real estate market—oceanfront and ridgeline. And lucky you live Hawai‘i, because we’ve got plenty of both.

The most desirable waterfront stretches eastward from Diamond Head, where Mediterranean showpieces mingle with expansive kamaÔaina estates. No address declares, ÒIÕve got money, and lots of itÓ like Kahala Avenue. Hands-down the priciest street on OÔahu, where a half-acre of vacant oceanfront land last year fetched $8 million. The cheapest Kahala Avenue home we could find on the market was a $2.9 million, 3,000-square-foot houseÑon the mauka side of the street. The priciest? A 10,000-square-foot house at nearly 10 times that, $26 million.

Travel up the coast up a bit, to the other side of Maunalua Bay, and youÕll see why HawaiÔi Kai developer Henry Kaiser picked the southwestern slopes of Koko Head to build his home in the Õ60s. In Portlock, home prices range from $1.5 million for a fixer-upper to $20 million for a piece of the former Kaiser estate. ÒPortlock is one of the most prestigious neighborhoods, with large lots, sandy beaches and an older, kamaÔaina-style feel,Ó says Cherie Tsukamoto, broker-in-charge of East OÔahu Realty.

These days, ultra-luxe living doesn’t mean you’re limited to one side of the island. East O‘ahu boasts several of the Islands’ most coveted ridgeline communities—N-a Pali Haweo, Wai‘alae Iki and Wai‘alae Nui. Hawai‘i Loa Ridge, takes exclusivity to a whole new level with The Pointe, a gated community within its already-gated community. But over the past few years, the hillsides of Makakilo in West O‘ahu have produced their share of million-dollar homes. Panoramic Diamond Head-to-‘Ewa views can be found in brand-new residential developments such as Palehua Heights, Highpointe and the gated community of Kumulani, where we spotted a five-bedroom, two-bath house listed for $2.3 million. “To get a great view, you need to be up and above, and beautiful homes don’t always have to be right on the ocean,” says realtor Wes Anderson.

DREAM HOODS
  KAHALA KOKO KAI/
PORTLOCK
HAWAI‘I LOA RIDGE MAKAKILO RIDGE MANOA
Median Price in the First Half of 2006 $1,640,000 $1,915,000 $1,850,000 $590,500 $946,500
Median Price a Year Earlier $1,530,000 $1,715,000 $1,500,000 $685,000 $860,000

You'll love...

Estates so large you’ll never have to meet your neighbors. The best views of Maunalua Bay, a haven for water enthusiasts. Supply of vacant lots means you can custom build your dream home. A bird's-eye view of Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor, from your perch above Kapolei. Stately, not showy, residences in a hood with homespun heritage.

... Except for

 

The daily drive past marble Greek columns and Wyland-inspired iron gates. Impudent locals dashing across your property to get to the beach.

The realization that one gate isn’t enough to keep out the riff raff.

Always having to specify you live in upper Makakilo. Discovering that a drafty, 80-year-old house still costs you more than a million bucks.
Commute Time to Downtown Honolulu
30 minutes 45 minutes 40 minutes 70 minutes 20 minutes
Median prices provided by Research Department, Prudential Locations. Prices reflect median sales for single-family homes.

Nest Builders

That’s you in the minivan. Or, you with the new wedding-gifted Cuisinart. Or, you, bouncing along Bishop Street in the clothes you used to only need for church. Either way, you’re young, and you’re branching out. Here’s where you can settle down.

The Mililani Town Association ensures everything is juuust right in suburbia. photo: Linny Morris

Young families are to good schools as caffeinated gnats are to kitchen lights.

KaneÔohe has several beacons, which is part of what makes it so attractive to young families. HeÕeia, Kapunahala, KaneÔohe and ÔAhuimanu elementary schools all made the top 100 in our May 2006 ÒGrading the Public SchoolsÓ rankings. Add some moderate prices (well, relativelyÑcurrent median: $700,000), spacious homes and room for yards, and families are sprouting up like Sea Monkeys. Plus, if you want your kids to grow up in natural surroundings without banishing yourself to the boonies, the lush and majestic KoÔolauÕs arenÕt a bad backdrop.

Four-legged family members also may find Kane‘ohe particularly hospitable. Misty conditions for low-maintenance greens and two nearby on-leash animal parks make the area especially appealing to furry friends. Pets can rest easy with several nearby veterinarians, doggie day sitters, animal hospitals and obedience schools.

A strong survivor out of the planned community trend of the ’60s, Mililani offers a safe neighborhood swollen with community resources. The neighborhood is stocked with grassy parks and six recreational centers with swimming pools and large meeting rooms, and within a 10-minute drive, you can zip by 35 tennis courts. It’s common to see groups of children outside, playing soccer, baseball, softball, or tennis, as part of the community’s many sports leagues.

Kapolei, Hawai‘i’s version of Wisteria Lane. photo: Linny Morris

Within the vicinity, a large shopping center, a group of restaurants, good public schools and churches satisfy residents’ other basic needs. The Mililani area is generationally diverse, with the median age at 36, but newer Mililani Mauka is especially dense with young families—a hotbed of play groups and other couples experiencing similar joys and woes.

Drop the PDA, and discover a gentler family life by settling down in Kihei. WhatÕs a tropical vacation for Maui visitors is a home playground for residents. The gaggle of resort complexes keeps several well-maintained beaches to play on and offers sports opportunities for the kids. The stroller-bound can roam freely, too, since libraries, grocery stores, clothing shops, small swap meets and the Bermuda TriangleÑa row of restaurants within a few blocksÑare in walking distance.

Christine Black (right), a 45-year resident of Kane‘ohe, pictured with sons Cody and Tyler and husband John.

Although the high concentration of tourists comes with its share of property crime, residents still feel safe. ÒEven the hoodlums arenÕt bad here,Ó says Linda Hedden, whoÕs raised her family in Kihei for six years. ÒI donÕt worry all the time that someone is going to kidnap my kids. I can relax.Ó The drawback? The privilege of shoveling Kihei sand means the pain of shoveling the dough. The median price in Kihei falls at $742,500. Did we mention the resort beaches?

NEST BUILDERS
  MILILANI KAPOLEI HAWAI‘I KAI KANE‘OHE KIHEI, Maui
Median Price in the First Half of 2006 $615,000 $742,500 $900,000 $700,000 $742,500
Median Price a Year Earlier $520,000 $700,000 $775,000 $650,000 $700,000
You'll love... Kids thrive here like mosquitoes in still water. Everyone, sing together now! “We are fam-i-lyyy!” Safe community, varied housing. Put away your bonzai—there’s room for full-sized trees! Sun, sand, surf.
... Except for Another mom might bring better musubis than yours to the soccer game. Um, no, that’s the neighbor’s house, not yours. Yeah, the outside could have fooled me, too. You’re out of luck if Mom and Dad won’t help with the down payment. Everywhere else you gotta go is on the other side of the Pali. Inching through rush-hour traffic in the Vegas-like heat.
Commute Time to Downtown Honolulu 60 minutes 50 minutes 45 minutes 40 minutes n/a
Median prices provided by Research Department, Prudential Locations. Prices reflect median sales for single-family homes.

 

Empty Nesters

Kids. You’ve given them life, taught them right from wrong and guided them to become mature, responsible adults. Yes, that’s right; they’re finally out of the house. So now what are you going to do?

If you’ve lived in the same house since the Nixon administration, you’ll probably succumb to the overwhelming urge to stay put. But if you’re suddenly feeling like you have more house than you need, you might be ready for a change. Over the past five years, more empty nesters have downsized from single-family homes in the suburbs to sparkling, spankin’ new high-rise condos in Kaka‘ako—units once considered the exclusive domain of Mainland and foreign buyers.

Welcome to your new backyard in Hawai‘i Kai. photo: Linny Morris

“The same people who once moved to the suburbs to raise their children are now moving back into town,” says Kai McDurmin, projects director at Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties. “I think what appealed to them was that Kaka‘ako was really the first time a neighborhood was truly within walking distance of restaurants, the mall and the beach.”

When last we talked with Antone and Stephanie DeCambra, they were in the process of buying a two-bedroom condo in Alexander & Baldwin’s Keola La‘i, scheduled for a 2008 completion, after more than 20 years of living in a three-bedroom house in Kailua. “The kids are getting older, and pretty soon, it’s only going to be the two of us,” says Antone, a retired federal employee. “I still have a mortgage on my house, but soon I’ll be on a fixed income. When we sell our house in Kailua, I can pay off my condo in Keola La‘i. It will save us a lot of money.”

Ko Olina, a mini-vacation every day of the week. photo: Linny Morris

Downsizing doesnÕt mean you have to give up all of the perks of a single-family home. Hokua on Ala Moana Boulevard, for instance, entices baby-boomer buyers with resort-like amenitiesÑa minimum of two parking spaces per unit, ample storage space, a concierge service, 24-hour security, a private entrance and recreation area.

Units at H-okua and Ko‘olani, two of the first of this new breed of luxury condos in Kaka‘ako, originally sold for between $600,000 and $2.5 million. Condos currently under construction in the area come with more affordable price tags, attracting even more local buyers. Two-bedroom condos at Moana Pacific on Kapi‘olani Boulevard start at $470,000, while comparable units at Keola La‘i on Queen Street start at $445,000.

Antone DeCambra (left), retired federal employee and future Kaka‘ako resident, pictured with wife Stephanie. photo: Monte Costa

But what if you can’t stand the hustle and bustle of the big city? Downsizing doesn’t mean you have to leave your neighborhood, either. As boomers reach retirement age, more of them opt for smaller pads just down the street.

“When people want to move someplace after they retire, they like to stay on their side of the island,” says Berton Hamamoto, president-elect of the Honolulu Board of Realtors. “People who live in single-family homes in Kailua want to move into condos in Kailua. Hawai‘i Kai guys have Hawai‘i Kai condos. Town guys, town condos.”

Or maybe you’re finally ready to get away from it all, somewhere with no freeway on-ramp or big-box store in sight. And you’ve got the money to do it. You might look to the migratory habits of Hawai‘i’s snowbirds, whose idea of retirement ranges from Waimea ranch houses on the Big Island to Kapalua villas on Maui to exclusive Princeville resort homes on Kaua‘i. Or consider Ko Olina, a resort community on O‘ahu’s Leeward coast.

“Ko Olina is being developed tremendously into an up-and-coming second Waik-õk-õ,” says realtor Wes Anderson. “It reminds me of Ka‘anapali on Maui when it first started up.”

EMPTY NESTERS
  KakaÔako
(condos)
Hawai‘i Kai Ko Olina waimea, big island
kapalua, maui
Median Price in the First Half of 2006 $765,000 $900,000 Not Available $467,250 $3,600,000
Median Price a Year Earlier $572,500 $775,000 $1,750,000 $499,500 $3,100,000
You'll love... Never needing to repaint, reroof or weedwhack again. The proximity to some of O‘ahu’s most popular restaurants, beaches and hiking trails. Your own resort getaway right here on O‘ahu. Ranch-style houses, rolling pastures and authentic paniolo history. West Maui mountains, pristine beaches and three championship golf courses.
... Except for Having to make reservations to
barbecue in the backyard.
The neverending roadwork on Kalaniana‘ole Highway. The laughter of sunbathers as you begin your 25-mile commute to downtown. Finding stuff to do that doesn’t involve livestock. See “Median Price” above.
Commute Time to Downtown Honolulu 10 minutes 45 minutes 90 minutes n/a n/a
Median prices provided by Research Department, Prudential Locations. Prices reflect median sales for single-family homes, unless otherwise noted.

 

Small Town Hawai‘i

Home on the range in historic Makawao. photo: Matt Thayer

Ah. Some things don’t change. These towns are historical pockets of the Islands that have, despite the tentacles of sprawl and modernity, preserved their own distinct characters and identities. You like one small kine local town fo’ live in? We get ’um.

The preferred mode of transportation on O‘ahu’s North Shore. photo: Linny Morris
Aileen Young (right), Kaimuki resident, pictured with husband Curt and daughter Kayla. photo: Monte Costa
Michelle Bennett (right), CFO of her husbandÕs practice, Retina Institute, and four-year Kahala resident, pictured with Michael at home. photo: Monte Costa

Kailua is distinguished by its surf and turf: The Windward town offers a cozy shop-and-coffee scene, nestled between the dramatic KoÔolau range and prime kamaÔaina beaches, Kailua and Lanikai. Kailua mornings are upbeat, with the sun sliding above the ocean and early risers with their children and pets making their regular rounds at locally owned breakfast houses and cafŽs. Between Castle Hospital and tattoo parlors, plate lunches and car repair shops, the town earns loyal residents who embrace Kailua pride. ÒOnce you get [Kailua] under your skin, itÕs hard to leave it,Ó says Mary Beddow, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties. ÒYouÕve got everything right hereÑgood shopping, good restaurants, good hospital. You donÕt feel like you have to go into town for everything, and some people like that.Ó

Frankly, though, it can be a bit of a bother to drive to downtown from the Windward side. Try somewhere a bit closer with Kaimuki. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin called Kaimuki-Òfallen from its heydayÓ in 1996, but, since then, thriving restaurants, small shops and cafŽs have rejuvenated the district without betraying its history. The stretch on WaiÔalae Avenue boasts new landscaped sidewalks and a slew of trendy restaurants, such as 3660 On the Rise and Town, but remains home to Honolulu institutions, such as HarryÕs Music store, which opened in 1946, and Kaimuki. Dry Goods, which opened in 1926. To quit the buzz of the busy town, residents just have to take a step away from WaiÔalae Avenue, where theyÕll find a quiet, cluster of houses. Nostalgic folk can live in an old neighborhood without living in an old house. The mix of keepsake houses from the Õ50s and Õ60s with modern houses preserves not only the memories, but also the prices.

If Kaimuki.sports a bit too much action, head north to HaleÔiwa. Age and seclusion have distinguised HaleÔiwa as one of the most distinct towns on OÔahu. City dwellers may groan, but the hour-and-a-half commute to downtown Honolulu has its benefits for small-town life. The tide gives the time in this surfing community, legendary for its looming winter waves. Painting, jewelry and clothing stores make up a quiet community, save for the busloads of tourists and the hum of cars, the sound of a single-road town. ÒItÕs good for nonconformists,Ó says Chapman.

In Makawao on Maui, you’ll find mostly mom-and-pop stores with old paniolo-style storefronts from the 1800s. Strolling along the walkway covered by old-fashioned store awnings, you’ll bump into friends and neighbors who have lived in Makawao their entire lives. While Maui residents may commute to Kahului to work, residents in Makawao tend to embrace their neighborhood in pre-automobile style—they live there, they work there, they play there, they don’t leave and they don’t need to.

SMALL TOWN HAWAI‘I
  LILIHA KAIMUKI KAILUA HALE‘IWA MAKAWAO, MAUI
Median Price in the First Half of 2006 $595,000 $769,000 $799,250 $810,000 $557,500
Median Price a Year Earlier $382,500 $742,500 $795,000 $595,000 $650,000
You'll love... Some of Hawai‘i’s most preserved historical roots. A new home in an old neighborhood—your new kitchen and the charming cottage next door. Almost forgetting there’s an outside world. Bumping into Kelly Slater at Foodland. One of the easiest time portals to a different age.
... Except for The weight you'll gain from Liliha Bakery’s pancakes and cocoa puffs. Oh, but it’s worth it. A new home in a old neighborhood—your new kitchen and the termite fest next door. Worrying about everyone else moving in. 1 road to town + 1 accident = 2 bad for you. Getting stuck behind Haleakal-a bicycling tour groups.
Commute Time to Downtown Honolulu 5 minutes 15 minutes 20 minutes 90 minutes n/a
Median prices provided by Research Department, Prudential Locations. Prices reflect median sales for single-family homes.

 

Bargain Neighborhoods

Let’s face it. These days, there’s really no such thing as an inexpensive neighborhood in Hawai‘i. But there are still rare pockets where home prices haven’t kept up with the breakneck increases seen across the state. So while we’d never call the following neighborhoods cheap, we can say they offer some of the best deals in the Islands.

In Moanalua, a quiet community nestled between Tripler and Fort Shafter, buyers can still find sizeable single-family homes in the $650,000 to $800,000 price range—a great value for a well-kept metro Honolulu neighborhood only five miles from downtown.

Many area residents bought their homes when the community was originally developed in the 1960s, notes Berton Hamamoto, president-elect of the Honolulu Board of Realtors. “It’s an older, tight-knit community, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of turnover. If you put those same houses closer in town, they’d go for a lot more,” he says.

Itching for a property on O‘ahu’s coveted North Shore, but lacking the bankroll of a professional surfer? Half-million-dollar homes are the norm in Waialua and L-a‘ie, which practically bookend the island’s famed “seven-mile miracle.” Want to live right on the beach? We found several oceanfront homes in both communities in the $800,000-range.

The killer view—and drive—down Wilhemina Rise. photo: Ronna Bolante

If you’re an eastsider for life, consider Kalama Valley, an affordable alternative to Hawai‘i Kai, with homes starting in the lower- to mid-$600,000 price range. “It’s an ideal location with more mid-range homes, and it’s looking more attractive now, because large parts of Hawai‘i Kai are being built up,” says Cherie Tsukamoto, broker-in-charge of East O‘ahu Realty. “It’s one of the few neighborhoods where you can walk to Sandy Beach, and there are few places on O‘ahu where you can walk to a beach and buy a home for less than a million dollars.”

Though sprouting condominiums in KakaÔako are slowly intruding on the views, a strategically placed window in Makiki can still provide a pleasant view of the ocean, even from miles away. A home in lower Makiki sold in the $600,000 range earlier this yearÑnot bad for a neighborhood that borders upscale Manoa. Sure, the structure of these houses might be as strong as papier-mache, but you can still find a solid house or condominium close to town.

St. Louis Heights and Wilhemina Rise are popular places for academics, especially because of their proximity to the University of HawaiÔi at Manoa. But, really, anyone looking for a better deal can check it out (all the smart people live there, right?). The cool, green slopes host both Õ50s relics and brand-new cribs. A house may not hold as a long-term investment, because older houses keep new ones from appreciating much. But, for that same reason, houses tend to be more affordable. ÒThose areas are more affordable than Kahala and WaiÔalae, but there are still some nice houses there,Ó says Lee Alden Chapman, realtor for Re/Max real estate.

As an added benefit, in a world of global warming and offensive gas prices, you don’t even need to accelerate on your way down the hill. Although, coming home is a different story.

True, Palolo is better known for its affordable housing projects and senior residents than for its elegance and class. Convincing someone that housing is affordable there is probably the smaller issue. Indeed, Palolo has seen its hard times, but realtors are quickly recognizing the district as an improving area, where more middle- and upper-middle-class families are choosing to settle. As other town areas become increasingly expensive, the neighborhood seems like a bargain alternative, where residents appreciate the mom-and-pop-store mentality and convenient location.

Palolo’s district park. photo: Ronna Bolante

People worried about the area’s rocky past might feel better knowing that a satellite police station has made Palolo safer, and its district park—equipped with a weight room, computer lab and sports programs—helps keep kids out of trouble.

Exceptional values are even more common on the Neighbor Islands, where your dollar goes a lot farther even near resort towns. On the ritzy North Shore of KauaÔi, for example, you can still buy a single-family home for around $500,000 in the charming town of Kilauea. ItÕs a nature-loverÕs paradise, with its proximity to the Kilauea Point Wildlife Refuge, hiking trails and choice spots for observing humpback whales and spinner dolphins.

Head over to the Kauai’s west side, rich with sugar plantation history, where you’ll find even sweeter deals. “In traditional plantation communities like Waimea, Kekaha and Hanapepe, pricing is not even near the resort range,” with homes starting in the $300,000 to $400,000 price range, says Rick Shaw, president of the Kaua‘i Board of Realtors.

The Big Island has become home to a growing industry of construction and service jobs, with many Neighbor Island and Mainland workers settling there to provide the work force. Often young and hopeful of keeping their piggy banks intact, many of these people look to Kamuela as a bargain area. As in many hoods, it depends on where you look. Last we looked at real estate listings, a single-family home went on the market for as much as $7.2 million and a three-bedroom house went for as little as $216,000.

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module

Subscribe to Honolulu

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags