Last Updated: 8/29/2022
If you share the sentiments of legendary slack-key guitarist Keola Beamer, you might feel Honolulu’s city lights bringing you back again and again. Maybe the call has gotten so strong that you’re considering making Honolulu your home. If so, we’d love to welcome you to the Big Pineapple with an insider’s tour to Hawaii’s capital city.
With a population of just around 350,000, Honolulu is Hawaii’s most populated urban area. Depending on how you define a city, it’s also one of the globe’s most isolated, along with Auckland, New Zealand and Perth, Australia.
Because Honolulu is a major hub of activity, the city can offer an easier transition to people who are moving to an island for the first time. If you’re moving from an urban area, Honolulu’s skyscrapers and busy streets may feel familiar. It also offers the sunny, warm climate many people imagine when they think about life in Hawaii, as well as a large number of employment opportunities.
Adjacent to Honolulu, you’ll find Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam, the military base that serves as the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Because of its proximity, many military families choose to live in Honolulu for easy access to the base.
Honolulu is also a major transportation hub for Oahu. In addition to hosting the island chain’s largest international airport, Daniel K. Inouye Airport (HNL), it’s also home to the largest shipping port, the Port of Honolulu. You’ll find our Royal Hawaiian Movers office and warehouse right next door! Stop in and say hi, or, even better, meet us at Mitch’s Sushi Bar right down the block for a “pau hana” (also known as an after-work drink)!
If the city of Honolulu sounds like your kind of place, we’d be happy to get your research started. We’ll walk you through where to live, where to shop—and how to enjoy your days off on the beautiful island of Oahu.
Neighborhoods to Explore
The city of Honolulu (not to be confused with the County of Honolulu, which encompasses the rest of the island of Oahu and beyond), is an area on the southeastern side of Oahu. The city is big enough to require 41 zip codes, and, within the city, you’ll find a rich diversity of neighborhoods to explore. A couple you might want to check out include:
Kaimuki – In the 19th century, Kaimuki was all farmland belonging to King Kalakaua, the last king of the Kingdom of Hawaii. You’ll find Kaimuki nestled right next to Diamond Head, giving it close proximity to all the retail options and excitement of downtown Waikiki but with a much quieter feel. You’ll also enjoy plenty of food shopping options, including Whole Foods, Down to Earth (a local organic food store), the Kapiolani Community College farmer’s market and the famous malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery.
Kakaako – If Honolulu has a “Brooklyn,” Kakaako is it. This formerly industrial area has transformed into an up-and-coming neighborhood featuring trendy restaurants, colorful street murals, coffee shops, art galleries and more. New high-rise buildings have popped up in the neighborhood in recent years, offering new opportunities for people who like Kakaako’s artsy vibe and its proximity to all the excitement of downtown.
Manoa – This lush valley is home to a tight-knit community where it might feel like everyone knows everyone, as well as the University of Hawaii at Manoa. If you love a quiet, tropical landscape fueled by almost daily rain, Manoa might be the place for you. The Manoa Marketplace offers plenty of close-by options for dining and shopping, making Manoa a pretty convenient neighborhood to settle in.
Waialae-Kahala – If Magnum P.I. played any part in your inspiration to move to Oahu, you’ll be interested to know that Tom Selleck’s iconic television series was filmed in this neighborhood. This peaceful and quiet neighborhood features luxury estates along the beach, as well as older single-level houses a few blocks from the ocean. The real estate isn’t cheap in this increasingly upscale neighborhood, but many love the laid-back vibe and gorgeous ocean views.
As with the rest of the Hawaiian islands, the cost of living in Honolulu isn’t cheap. That being said, prices will vary greatly depending on the amenities you’re looking for, but, in general, you’ll find prices that fall within the following ranges:
- 1BR: $1,250-1,500
- 2BR: $1,800-2,100
Know that properties go quickly! Be prepared to make a snap decision if you tour a property that you like—especially if you feel like it’s a bargain. If you take a few days to think about it, it may be gone.
Where to Shop When Living in Honolulu
Honolulu has some of the most plentiful and diverse shopping in the entire island chain. You’ll find no shortage of retail, food and beverage options in the city. That being said, you might have to look a little harder to find reasonably-priced options that make sense on your everyday budget. This is especially true if you’re close to Waikiki, where prices are more in line with tourists’ budgets. However, with so many options for shopping, while living in Honolulu, you’ll have a bunch of stores to explore in order to find your “go-to” spots.
Below, you’ll find some of our favorite spots in and around Honolulu:
- Kapiolani Community College Farmer’s Market: The Saturday market is Honolulu’s largest, and you’ll find crafts, vendors and food stalls in addition to produce. If you’re looking for something a little more laid back, the Mahiku Farmer’s Market offers several locations and times throughout the week. You’ll find that buying local produce gives you access to some of the freshest items available—often at better prices than you’ll see at supermarkets.
- Ala Moana Center: Okay, okay, this one might seem like it’s more for tourists than residents. However, we’ve included it on our list because you can get almost everything at Ala Moana. This massive shopping center is the largest open-air shopping mall in the world, and it’s also home to the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble Bookstores and more than 350 other stores. If you’re a mainlander, you might not think this is a big deal, but Ala Moana is a magnet for residents from Maui, Kauai and the Big Island who can’t find many of these stores on their home island. Did we also mention the center has a Foodland inside? Once you’re done with your retail therapy, pick up a couple of varieties of poke to take home.
- Barrio Vintage: If Ala Moana is a little too mainstream for your taste, make your way over the Chinatown area to check out the latest finds at Barrio Vintage. The store’s carefully curated pieces offer options you won’t find anywhere else. Combine it with a First Friday event, and you’ll also get the chance to tour the area’s hip art galleries and trendy bars. Make a reservation at Pig and the Lady if you want to make a full night of it.
- Village Bottle Shop: Tucked into hip Kakaako, the Village Bottle Shop offers a sweet combination of 18 beers and 8 wines on tap, plus a wall of coolers where you can buy loose bottles and cans of hard-to-find craft beers. Don’t miss the chance to wander the neighborhood a bit and admire the murals decorating the streets.
- Roberta Oaks: If you’re going to be doing business on Oahu, you’re going to need to ditch the suit and get some aloha wear. If you want something with a little extra polish, check out Roberta Oaks. Modern prints and tailored fits dominate at this store, which keeps both men and women looking sharp. Plus, all the clothing is created in Honolulu, so you’ll be supporting a fully locally-based business. They even have pet bandannas so your furry friends can get in on the action!
What to Do on Your Days Off While Living in Honolulu
You’ll find plenty to do in and around Honolulu, and the city also serves as the perfect jumping-off point for discovering the island. Discovering your own activities when living in Honolulu will be part of the fun of learning your new environs, and we have a few ideas to get you started:
Hike Diamond Head – Diamond Head Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Oahu, probably due to the stunning views from the summit of this volcanic tuff cone. Although the hike is steep, the trail is less than a mile to the summit, making it a good intro hike. Once you conquer Diamond Head, try Koko Head Crater Trail, which offers a 360-degree view that includes Molokai, Lanai, and Maui on a clear day. Just know that the Koko Head Crater Trail involves more than 1,000 stairs to the top. But trust us, the view is worth it!
Take in a Waterfall – The hike to 100 ft. Manoa Falls is another great beginner-level hike. If you’re a fan of Jurassic Park, you may recognize some of the surrounding rainforest-like scenery from the movie. The 1.6-mile hike is mostly flat but, but it does require a little bit of climbing. You’ll also want to keep in mind that this trail can be quite muddy. Proper hiking shoes (no slippers!) are a must to keep you from sliding around.
Surf Iconic Waikiki – If you’ve ever laid eyes on surf footage, it’s likely that you’ve seen a surfer catching a wave in Waikiki with either Diamond Head or Waikiki’s high-rise hotels as a backdrop. If you already know how to surf, you can pick any one of the multiple line-ups along the two-mile-long beach and enjoy the view in between sets. However, if you need lessons, stop by Big Wave Dave’s in Waikiki for some friendly instruction.
Visit the USS Arizona Memorial – After a long period of renovation, the USS Arizona Memorial has re-opened. A sobering experience for all, this memorial commemorates the servicemen whose lives were lost during the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Tours include a preface video, onshore exhibits and a ride to the sunken battleship where 1,102 men still lie entombed in the ship’s remains. It is highly recommended that you reserve your tickets online since the timed tickets are complimentary and issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
Drive to the North Shore – If you want to get outside of Honolulu and explore the rest of the island, the North Shore of Oahu is only a quick drive away! The beaches of North Shore, known for their legendary surf, attract some of the best surfers in the world. These beaches also host premiere surf competitions during the peak winter months when waves can swell to 30+ feet! You’ll also enjoy the laid-back vibe on Oahu’s North Shore, which offers quite a contrast to busy Honolulu.
Catch a Show at the Republik – If live music is your thing, then the Republik is your venue. The club features both local and national acts, with the Raconteurs, Nathaniel Rateliff, Slayer, Queens of the Stone Age, Dropkick Murphys, Nas and more having made past appearances. If jazz is more your style, drop by the Dragon Upstairs instead.
Making Your Home in Honolulu
With plentiful retail, arts, cultural, music, food and beverage options, one thing’s for sure: You’ll never get bored in Honolulu. You’ll enjoy the best of both worlds—the plentiful resources of an urban setting, right alongside the beaches, hiking trails and watersports options of an island lifestyle. Whether you’re moving for work, relocating as part of PCOS orders with the military or just embracing a new lifestyle, you’ll soon find there’s a little of something for everyone in Hawaii’s capital city.
Need a hand moving to Honolulu? We can assist with local moves, Mainland moves and anything in between. Just get in touch with us for a complimentary quote. We’d be happy to help you make your new home amongst the city lights of Honolulu.