Oahu is known as the gathering place of the Hawaiian Islands. Home to over a million residents, Oahu is the location of the capitol and metropolitan center of the State. We’re not going to lie: there is traffic and many of the other big-city problems. But there are also rain forests, mountains, beaches, waterfalls, palm trees, and all the other things that just made you google “moving to Hawaii.” Here’s a look at Oahu’s main geographic areas to help get you started.
Geologically divided by two mountain ranges, the Koolau and Waianae mountains, the island is all one county, the City & County of Honolulu, and generally described by geographical area more than actual town. We use mauka (toward the mountains) and makai (toward the ocean) a lot more than north, south, east, and west. It’s complicated, and the best way to really get it is via a tour – contact us when you’re ready to get started.
Town – Living in town means that you live in Honolulu or the surrounding suburbs, as far west as the airport and as far east as Kaimuki. Town commutes to downtown range from zero to about twenty minutes at rush hour. In town, you’ll find a mix of both condominiums and single-family homes. Neighborhoods in Town include Kakaako, Waikiki, Downtown, Nuuanu, Manoa, Kaimuki, Pacific Heights, Kalihi, St. Louis Heights, Wilhelmina Rise, and more.
East Oahu – East Oahu is generally defined as the area east of Diamond Head – all the way out to the eastern tip of Oahu in Hawaii Kai. The suburbs of Honolulu, this is an area with larger lots and homes, and includes luxury neighborhoods like Kahala. The commute to downtown is 20-40 minutes. Neighborhoods include Diamond Head, Kahala, Waialae Iki, Aina Haina, Hawaii Loa Ridge, Niu Valley, and Hawaii Kai.
Windward Oahu – Looking at a map, you might think Kailua and Waimanalo would qualify as East Oahu. Nope, don’t fall for it! They are both part of the windward side of Oahu. Windward Oahu is connected to Town via three highways: the Pali, Likelike, and H-3. The area faces north and east, and runs from the eastern tip of the island up to the North Shore. This area is quieter, with smaller beach towns, greener and rainier. The most popular area is probably Kailua, made famous as the Obama’s annual holiday getaway. Commutes from the windward side to downtown are 35-60 minutes. Neighborhoods include Kailua, Lanikai, Kaneohe, and Kahaluu.
Aiea and Pearlridge – Made up of older suburbs of Honolulu, Aiea and Pearl Ridge are a mix of single-family homes and condos surrounding Pearl Harbor Naval Base just west of downtown Honolulu. Commutes to Downtown range from 30 minutes to up to 60 minutes at peak hours due to heavy traffic from the West Oahu, Ewa, and Central Oahu areas. Many homes are built on ridges, so there are a lot of spectacular views.
Central Oahu – Mililani and Wahiawa are located in central Oahu, in the vicinity of Wheeler Air Force Base, half-way between Pearl Harbor and the North Shore. Mililani has a planned-community feel, with townhomes and single-family homes, tree-lined streets, and thoughtfully places malls and restaurants. Wahiawa is a mix of condos and older homes, some with old plantation roots. The commute to downtown is 60+ minutes, but these are great areas if you want easy access to the North Shore or military bases.
Ewa – West of the airport and Pearl Harbor is the Ewa plain, an area of mostly planned communities developed largely since the 1990s. A suburb of Honolulu, the area is made up of townhomes and single-family homes that are more affordable that those in Town or East Oahu. However, with only one major route in and out of the area, residents face commutes of 90 minutes or more in spite of their relatively close proximity to Honolulu.
West Oahu – The west side of Oahu, from Ko Olina out to Kaena Point, is made up of rural beach towns and valley neighborhoods. Also called Leeward Oahu, this side of the island is dry, and less runoff means beautiful clear ocean year-round. Real estate prices in the area are lower than Town or East Oahu, however, homes tend to be a bit older and the commute to downtown would be 60 minutes at off hours, but likely to be 90 minutes or more during peak hours. Towns include Makaha, Maili, Waianae, and Nanakuli.
North Shore – Also called “Country,” the North Shore is the rural area known for its world-class surfing and beaches. The North Shore is mostly made up of single-family homes spaced out along the coast. The commute to downtown is 60 minutes at off hours, but likely to be 90 minutes or more during peak hours. Towns include Haleiwa, Waialua, Mokuleia, Laie, and Kahuku.