Your O‘ahu Neighborhood Guide: Kamehameha Highway in Pearl City
This three-block strip of Kamehameha Highway from Neal S. Blaisdell Park to the Waiau Power Plant in Pearl City reveals an old-school neighborhood grappling with growth, development and rail.
The Pearl Harbor Bike Path connects Pearl City to the West Side.
It’s not the West Side. It’s not ‘Aiea. It’s Pearl City. It seems like many don’t stop to smell the roses (or the honeydew-scented soap—we’ll explain this later) along the stretch of Kamehameha Highway sandwiched between bustling Pearlridge Center and the glitzier Manana area. But what we found here is a small-town charm underneath a tough exterior.
Neal S. Blaisdell Park
A walk in the park?
Neal S. Blaisdell Park is on the makai end of Ka‘ahumanu Street—the dividing line between ‘Aiea and Pearl City. Although the park technically has an ‘Aiea ZIP code (according to Google Maps), a good chunk of it is on the Pearl City side of the street. It’s no secret that the 21-acre park and the Pearl Harbor Bike Path have had issues. Tents pitched by homeless people have at times outnumbered birthday parties, picnics and family gatherings. The city has tried to clean up the park, even closing a section of the path for a month last year to sweep the area. Since then, there are fewer camps.
Alvin Dumlao remembers when he regularly jogged the path from Waipahu High to Aloha Stadium years ago. But he hasn’t been back to the park since the homeless issue started growing; that is, until recently when he drove down to fill his cooler with water before a fishing adventure.
Neal S. Blaisdell Park
Laurie McAdams and her husband, Ken, found themselves taking in the beautiful views of Pearl Harbor after a search for a furniture store led them to Pearl City. The couple own a condo in Waikīkī and split time between California and the Islands every year.
“It was a nice surprise,” Laurie says. “We probably stick to the main roads, but it’s nice to go off the beaten path.”
98-319 Kamehameha Highway, ‘Aiea.
Pearl Harbor Bike Path
The Chow Hound owner Jackie Loo jokes that her pet supply shop is part of the “trifecta” at the tiny shopping center—Zippy’s Waiau (the only one open 24/7 in the area) and a Wholesale Unlimited Express round out the group.
“They get their dinner at Zippy’s, then get their snacks at Wholesale, and then come here for their pets,” says Loo, who opened the shop six years ago. She’s a pet owner herself—you can find her cat, Abby, roaming around the store.
At the front of the shop are photos of dogs and cats tacked to a bulletin board—mementos from Loo’s regulars. “People send me their Christmas cards,” she says. “It’s really nice to be included in their friends and family.”
A few doors down, the Wholesale Unlimited Express looks tiny from the outside, but is packed, wall to wall, with all kinds of local goodies, including cornflake cookies, arare and almost every dried fruit you can think of topped with li hing.
The Chow Hound
Terri Freitas, 40, is the company’s longest-serving employee. She’s logged 18 years with Wholesale, 15 of them at the Pearl City location. And she’s been pregnant with all four of her kids while working for the company (she’s even brought her two nieces on board—one of them works the weekend shift at the store).
“This place keeps me young. It’s fun,” she says. “I have regular customers, and I feel like I know them. I recognize what they buy, so when they come in, I just start ringing them up.”
She usually brings lunch from home, but every once in a while she’ll treat herself to a Zip Pac or mahimahi plate next door.
Wholesale Unlimited Express
Mainland, Meet Pearl City
Detail Garage Hawai‘i, the new kid on the block, is the only local location of the Mainland franchise. Since it opened in 2017, assistant manager Jay Rodriguez says the auto-detailing supply store has made decisions based on local customers’ wants and needs.
“You can’t take a Hawai‘i shop and run it [like] the Mainland,” he says.
Remember the honeydew-scented soap we mentioned earlier? This is the place to get it, plus about 20 other scented soaps, a fact driven home by the burst of fruity, sweet smells that hits you at the door. The neatly organized shelves are also stocked with towels, power tools, apparel, accessories and more.
Detail Garage Hawai‘i
The store has an easygoing feel. (The reggae music playing on the speakers helps.) A few of the staff chat with some of the regulars, most of whom seem like longtime friends. A man eating a taco from Jack in the Box stands at the counter, cracking jokes and laughing with the workers. Ronald Retuta isn’t shopping. He’s spending his day off at the shop visiting Rodriguez, an old friend. When asked what he’s done to his white truck parked out front, he pauses and replies: “Everything. Polish it. Wax it. Seal it. I do whatever he recommends,” he says, pointing to Rodriguez while laughing.
406 Kamehameha Highway, (808) 773-7362, detailgaragehawaii.com
Aloha Signs & Graphics
Open for Business
A block or so down the highway, bright orange cones block two of three lanes. What seems like an endless stream of cars roars down the road, drivers obviously annoyed with the construction vehicles and workers. The piercing, deafening sound of a drill can be heard loud and clear at Aloha Signs & Graphics.
Co-owner Pat Field says rail’s constant construction is frustrating and sometimes a “nightmare” to deal with. Luckily, he says it hasn’t affected business too much since he and his staff go out to service their regular customers and don’t rely heavily on foot traffic.
The family-run company makes all kinds of signs—from graduation and birthday party banners to storefront and campaign signs. Last year, they made about 100 graduation signs. They have also made custom signs for their neighbors, Goodyear and Popeyes.
Elite Car Stereo & Security
Field and his wife, Freda, opened the tiny shop in 2008 after moving from a nearby location in 1995. The shop has deep family roots—Freda’s grandpa was an artist in the Philippines and some of his portraits hang on the walls of the shop. The workers are “all family here, in some way or another,” Field says.
Across the street, Elite Car Stereo & Security co-owner Mohammad Hasan agrees that the No. 1 complaint about the area is the road closures and construction. His father opened the shop, which sells all kinds of gadgets like amp kits, security systems and LED headlights, in 1985 in Downtown before settling in at the Pearl City location in 2005.
“They want the loudest cars and the newest gadgets,” Hasan says about his customers, while laughing. “I meet a lot of people, and we get to work on a lot of different cars.”
Aloha Signs & Graphics: 98-101 Hila Place, (808) 486-4614, alohasign.com; Elite Car Stereo & Security, 379 Kamehameha Highway, (808) 486-4707.
Parking and Traffic
Parking isn’t a major issue. Both the Zippy’s Waiau complex and Blaisdell Park have pretty spacious lots, while the other businesses have a few spots up front.
But construction, road closures and uneven surfaces make the drive somewhat difficult to navigate. And it’s slow-going if just one of the three lanes is closed.
The Bottom Line
Although not the most walkable or pedestrian friendly area, you get a taste of almost everything here—food, small businesses, shopping, a park, the rail and even the historic Waiau Power Plant (across from Zippy’s).