Like most major metropolitan areas, Honolulu has several distinct neighborhoods where shopping, dining, culture, and entertainment mingle. Familiarizing yourself with the general theme of each neighborhood makes it much easier to plan ahead for the day and to find your way around the city. Here’s a quick summary of what you’ll find in each major area.

Vista point view of Honolulu and the Waikiki shoreline.

View from Diamond Head of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. Photo © vacclav/123rf.


Downtown is the epicenter of Honolulu, and the financial and political center of the island and the state. Within downtown are the Historic District, comprised of the state capitol, ‘Iolani Palace, government buildings and offices, as well as other historical and cultural buildings. To the immediate west of the historic district is the financial district, where high-rise office buildings perch along one-way streets.

Map of Downtown Honolulu, Hawaii

Downtown Honolulu


Just west of the financial district is the historic Chinatown neighborhood, which stretches from Vineyard Boulevard to the north, to Aloha Tower along the harbor, with the Nu‘uanu Stream as its western border. Chinatown is home to a curious mix of bars, hip ethnic restaurants, Chinese and Pacific Rim cuisine, Chinese grocery stores, small local eateries, art galleries, and chic coffee shops.

Map of Honolulu's Chinatown

Honolulu Chinatown


At the forefront of the urban art scene, much of Kaka‘ako is industrial, especially the streets southeast of downtown. Young artists have transformed the area into an explosion of color and art, and drab building walls are now radiant and expressive. In addition to colorful building exteriors, art galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants, Kaka‘ako also has a green waterfront park. Kaka‘ako stretches toward the mountains all the way to the H-1 freeway.

Ala Moana

Dominated by Ala Moana Beach Park, Magic Island, and Ala Moana Center, the Ala Moana neighborhood straddles the gap between Kaka‘ako, Waikiki, and the McCully residential neighborhoods to the east. This central area for shopping encompasses several other malls are located to the west, along Ward Avenue.

Greater Honolulu

Honolulu is a sprawling metropolis with many neighborhoods stretching out in all directions from downtown. Some are industrial, others are urban, and some are in the valleys and on the mountains behind the city.

Map of Greater Honolulu, Hawaii

Greater Honolulu

In the mountains directly behind downtown Honolulu, you’ll find Nu‘uanu, defined by residential neighborhoods stretching from the north side of Chinatown and downtown back through Nu‘uanu Valley.

To the east of Nu‘uanu, on the mountain side of Interstate H-1, is Punchbowl, which consists of the old neighborhoods surrounding Punchbowl Crater.

Northeast of Punchbowl is the verdant Makiki neighborhood, which snakes up the mountains.

Heading east takes you to the upscale neighborhood of Manoa, which stretches from deep in Manoa Valley to the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

To the east and south are the old, congested neighborhoods of Kaimuki, where you’ll find ample shopping and dining on Waialae and Kapahulu Avenues.

Just to the west of Kaimuki is Moili‘ili, another predominantly residential area with some shops and dining along King and Beretania Streets.

To the west of downtown Honolulu and Nu‘uanu lie the local communities of Kalihi and Kalihi Valley. There is also a small area to the south of Kalihi called Iwilei, known for its seafood restaurants on Pier 38 in Honolulu Harbor.

Sand Island, south of downtown Honolulu across the harbor, is an industrial port with an oceanfront state recreation area.

To the west is the airport, and inland from the airport are the Salt Lake and Moanalua communities.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.