Oahu Neighborhoods > Kapahulu Neighborhood Guide
Tucked away just behind Waikiki is the neighborhood of Kapahulu (kah-pah-hoo-loo). Originally dominated by Mom and Pop shops, Kapahulu is now anchored by two supermarkets (Safeway and Foodland) and dotted with a mix of foodie institutions, fast-food chains, local restaurants and bars, and homegrown retail stores.
Getting there from Waikiki is a piece of cake. Kapahulu Avenue intersects with Kalakaua Avenue, at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki by Honolulu Zoo. Follow that road and it will take you straight there, a 2-minute drive or 10-minute walk. Kapahulu Avenue is the main thoroughfare, it attracts a constant ebb and flow of people exploring the delights of the area.
Here’s the Waikiki Beach Stays guide to the best places to eat, drink, shop, and play in Kapahulu.
Distance from Waikiki to Kapahulu: 2-minutes drive; 10-minutes walk
Kapahulu Local Foods
Kapahulu’s most iconic attraction is Leonard’s Bakery, open since 1952. Locals and tourists alike flock to try freshly-made malasadas. These golden-fried Portuguese doughnuts without a hole come coated in plain, cinnamon, or li-hing (sweet and salty) sugar or filled with custard, dobash (chocolate), haupia (coconut), macadamia nut or guava flavors. They make tasty pastries, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, cakes, pao doce (sweet bread) and Dole Whip pineapple soft serve. Pick up branded items while you’re there, like a vintage-style tee.
What McDonalds is to the world, Zippys is to Hawaii. Zippys has been Hawaii’s favorite fast-food chain for generations. The menu reflects the island’s diversity from Hawaiian Stew, Portuguese Bean Soup, and Korean Fried Chicken, to Saimin, American Burgers, and Zippys famous Chili. It’s popular for breakfast, especially the Breakfast Bento’s with Spam, Portuguese sausage, or corn beef hash, rice and scrambled eggs. Grab a sweet treat on your way out, like a Napples (flaky pastry crust turnover), from the in-house Napoleon’s Bakery.
The family-run Rainbow Drive-In in Kapahulu, cooking since 1961. The food is hearty, quick and affordable, geared towards the working crowd on their lunch break and local beach beachgoers. They’re famous for the Hawaii Plate Lunch, dishing out over 1,000 plates a day! This classic meal consists of a protein, choose from a hamburger patty with gravy, BBQ beef or pork, boneless chicken or breaded mahimahi, with two-scoops of rice and macaroni salad. Wash it down with a Slush Float, a strawberry slushie topped with ice cream.
Hawaii’s Favorite Kitchens
Located next door to Rainbow Drive-In, Hawaii’s Favorite Kitchens is a one-stop-shop for local food vendors including KC Drive Inn, Shimazu Shave Ice, Lin’s Hawaiian Snacks, and a retail shop with nostalgic gear from Hawaii Nostalgia Studio. The food highlights here include KC Waffle Dogs, a hot dog dipped in waffle mixture and sandwich pressed (pairs well with a side of chili), Garlic Shrimp Plates, Rotisserie Chicken Plates, over 70 flavors of Shave Ice and an extensive array of Hawaiian and Asian snacks.
Best Breakfast in Kapahulu
Sweet E’s Cafe
Hit up Sweet E’s Cafe for American style big breakfasts, served all day. This is an indoor-outdoor venue that’s always buzzing with activity. The waitstaff are largely made up of local boys from Hawaii, they’re quick to bring you coffee and take your order. The menu features Extraordinary Eggs Benedict, Epic Breakfast Burritos, Enormous Sandwiches, Elated Pancakes … you get the idea! There’s usually a wait to be seated, but it’s worth it.
Cafe Kaila is a small restaurant with meals made to order from scratch, using fresh and organic ingredients when available. It’s located in a Market City Shopping Center, a small open-air marketplace at the top of Kapahulu Avenue with a seriously local vibe. It’s the place to fill up on pancakes, French toast, waffles, and Eggs Benedict (from traditional to smoked salmon and floretine varities). Arrive as close to opening as possible, or expect to wait.
Hailing from Oahu’s North Shore, Kono’s is renowned for award-winning breakfasts and plate lunches, along with hand-crafted milkshakes and freshly squeezed limeade and lemonades. Their hero ingredient is 12-hour slow-roasted kalua pork, this delicious meat can be eaten in Breakfast Bombers (burritos) and Sandwiches, added to Plates and Bowls, and on Nachos. This casual cafe is next to Leonard’s Bakery, and is great for a grab and go breakfast.
Kapahulu Fast Food
Fort Ruger Market
Pull into Fort Ruger Market for auction-fresh poke and Hawaiian food to-go. It has one of the best selections of poke on Oahu, from ahi to hamachi and tako varieties (try the ahi ginger poke!). Customize your own Hawaiian Plate with a choice of Pork or Chicken Laulau, Kalua Pig, Pipikaula, Lomi Salmon or Squid Luau served with rice. Add a bowl of Beef Stew or Chicken Long Rice – they have it all. They also have Filipino cuisine offering up Pork Adobo, Pork Gisantes, Dinaguan, Pinakbet, Mongo Beans, and Sari Sari. This is a true local experience, the perfect place to stock up for a picnic or pitstop enroute to the beach.
Poke is life in Hawaii, and we’d be remiss not to mention this excellent little poke place on Kapahulu Avenue. Ono Seafood is the cream of the crop when it comes to fresh seafood, think melt-in-your-mouth quality. They sell all of the ‘best in show’ items including spicy ahi and shoyu poke, and local delicacies including Hawaiian-style taco (octopus) and raw crab. You can assured that when you eat Hawaii poke from Ono’s, you’re eating the real deal.
Fast Food Chains
When it comes to eating out, you can find almost anything you’re craving along Kapahulu Avenue including a great selection of fast food outlets. For a quick and dirty feed there are two drive-through options, get your burger and taco fix from Jack in the Box or line-up for a fried chicken sandwich at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Dine-in customers can enjoy American Chinese food at Panda Express, Mexican-inspired meals at Taco Bell, and fresh Mediterranean wraps at Pita Pit.
Best Restaurants in Kapahulu
Rigo is an Italian-Spanish restaurant with high ceilings and a red bull head on the wall. It’s ‘bocalicious’! Boca meaning ‘mouth’ in Spanish plus delicious! Never-ending tapas including Ajillo, prawns fried with Italian parsley butter, premium pastas, and wood-fired pizzas made inside a traditional oven Napolitana-style. Need I say more? There’s also a beautiful bar area ideal for pre-dinner cocktails, local beers and wines. This spot is great for date nights!
House of Wong
Chinese restaurants are rare in Waikiki, thankfully House of Wong can be found in nearby Kapahulu. This is a no-frills neighborhood gem providing fabulous family-style Asian food. The menu features all the traditional dishes including a mean Peking Duck. They specialize in platters by the pound, choose from Lobster, Dungeness Crab, Island Prawns and Island Fish, smothered in sauce. The famed dessert is the Fish-shaped Mango Pudding, good for up to 10 people.
Siam Palace Thai Restaurant
Venture a 10-minute drive from Waikiki’s main street to Siam Palace, an affordable Thai eatery in Kapahulu. Eat among bright Asian-inspired decorations in this cozy little restaurant with an authentic feel. Pad Thai is the firm winner, second to the Whole Fresh Snapper golden deep-fried served with your choice of five sauces. It’s BYO, arrive with your beverages or detour via Safeway Kapahulu (just up the road) beforehand.
Bars & Bites in Kapahulu
Escape to a whole-new level of sophistication at Blind Ox, Honolulu’s newest speakeasy. This bar oozes opulance with elegant red and gold decor, fancy wallpaper, chandeliers and high-end furnishings. There’s also a hidden courtyard for your outdoor dining pleasure. Enjoy a wide selection of premium whiskey (including whiskey flights) and spirits, creative seasonal cocktails, and tanilizing tapas including favorites, Blind Ox Blue Balls and 24K Gold Popcorn Chicken.
Experience the very best of Hawaii and American made beers at Growler Hawaii, a microbrew pub in Kapahulu. The large bar is impressive with a selection with around 100 craft beers on tap, along with draught wine, ciders, kombucha, coffee, hand-crafted soda, and more. Pair your bevvy with Beer Bites, Salad Greens, Mains or Dessert. For sport fans, there are plenty of TV screens and live entertainment on some evenings.
Side Street Inn
If you’re looking for a sports bar with sensational comfort food, look no further than Side Street Inn. This bar was the second location opened by the late chef Colin Nishida. His legacy continues with his “broke-da-mout” (absolutely delicious) dishes including Signature Fried Rice, House Made Fried Chicken, Pan-Fried Pork Chops, and Yakisoba Noodles, to name a few. The portions run big, making it ideal for large groups and catering.
Uncle Bo’s Pupu Bar & Grill
These meals at Uncle Bo’s remind me of the big feeds you get back home in Australia at the RSL or surf club bistros. This modern casual dining restaurant is ideal for starting or ending your night, just a few blocks from Waikiki. Pupu means appetizer in Hawaiian, and the menu is rich in large plates that are perfect for sharing. There’s a couple of veggie options like Nut Wraps, and a solid spread of pizza, pasta, meat, and seafood.
Things to Do in Kapahulu
Ala Wai Driving Range
Unbeknownst to most, Ala Wai Golf Course sits directly Waikiki along the Ala Wai Canal accessible off Kapahulu Avenue. It’s a traditional golf establishment patronized mostly by local residents. You can hit a few balls at the Ala Wai Driving Range, large buckets are just $8 each making it a great value for money activity. Enjoy this casual experience while you can, apparently Top Golf is coming to this location in the near future.
Hawaii Cat Cafe
Enjoy a Honolulu Coffee Co. brew and a kitty-shaped cookie in the presence of friendly felines at Hawaii Cat Cafe, the first cat cafe on the island. All of the kitties in this unique cat lounge on Kapahulu Avenue are adoptable through a partnership with the Oahu Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Visit this small local business to support the mission, and enjoy the “catmosphere”. On occassion Cats & Mat Yoga classes are available, all experience levels welcome.
There are two farmers markets in close vicinity to Kapahulu, and they’re both on Saturday mornings. Waikiki Specialty Farmers Market (Saturdays 8am-2pm) takes place on the corner of Kapahulu and Kuhio Avenues, it’s a cute little farmers market with only a handful of vendors. It’s a good choice for picking up fruits and vegetables and local food snacks. KCC Farmer’s Markets (Saturdays 7:30am-11am) is a much larger market that’s extremely popular with tourists staying in Waikiki. Shop from over 50 local vendors, everything from honey, coffee and cookie producers, to prepared hot and cold foods, fresh local fruits and vegetables, and so much more.
Where to Shop in Kapahulu
Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts
Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts, an unassuming pink building on Kapahulu Avenue, is the staple vintage shop of the area. What a unique experience to shop over 15,000 aloha shirts, island-inspired dresses and Hawaii-style antiques, collectables and trinkets. Choose from attire that spans the decades, including a very popular denim section. We guarantee you’ll score something special to remind you of your time in Hawaii.
Na Lima Mili Hulu Noeau
The Hawaiian goods store Na Lima Mili Hulu Noeau has been a part of the Kapahulu landscape for many generations. Run by descendants of Hawaiian feather artists, this is where master feather work is created. This delicate and time-consuming endeavor produces one-of-a-kind keepsakes. Pop-in to browse or purchase from their collection of feather lei, hat bands and capes. Visitors can learn how to make feather lei via classes and workshops (by appointment only).
Outrigger canoeing is the official state team sport of Hawaii and serves as a historical reminder that to live in this part of the world is to know and respect the ocean. Hawaii’s outrigger paddling store, Island Paddler, is the premier place to purchase paddles, paddle covers and bags, rigging, paddle hangers, and accessories. They stock a variety of racing, decorative and steering paddles. They can arrange shipping to U.S. destinations, sadly international shipping proves difficult due it costing more than the paddle itself! If you’d like to try outrigger canoeing while in Hawaii, Waikiki Beach has Outrigger Canoe Surfing lessons available.
Snorkel Bob’s rents out high-quality dive and snorkel gear, beach chairs and coolers, wetsuits, boogie boards, floatation belts and snorkel vests. Their gear is clean and safe, sanitized in a 3-step process. They also help visitors reserve island adventures at discount prices. This Oahu store is based in Kapahulu near Waikiki, conveniently positioned on the way to Hanauma Bay. If you’re island-hopping, you can arrange to drop-off any hired gear at their inter-island locations.
Sporty types will be glad they discovered Kapahulu with it’s array of sports stores including Island Triathlon & Bike, Soccer Locker Hawaii and The Running Room. Island Triathlon & Bike, around since the early 80s, is the king of cycling gear including jerseys, shorts, and bags. Soccer Locker Hawaii caters to all soccer-related needs including apparel, training and field equipment, and accessories. The Running Room is a store for runners, by runners servicing Oahu since 1976.
South Shore Paperie
Tucked away in Kilohana Square, a tiny strip mall at the top of Kapahulu is South Shore Paperie. A custom stationery studio offering in-house design and letterpress printing services. They also sell hand-picked artisan product lines including stationery, greetings cards and gifts, as well as custom invitations for every occasion. They offer consultation on wedding and event-related etiquette and host specialty craft classes seasonally.
Kapahulu is a mecca for surfboard shops including RV’s Ocean Sport, Inter-Island Surf Shop, and Diamond Head Surfboards Hawaii. With so much of life in Hawaii associated with surfing, it’s an excellent way to explore the island of Oahu. Rather than renting a surfboard, visitors can consider buying their own board. Most airlines flying to/from Hawaii will allow surfboards to be checked-in as luggage for a small fee, refer to your airline for rules.
Kapahulu Groceries & Essentials
Safeway is an American supermarket chain. There’s a huge store in Kapahulu with lots of ground floor and rooftop parking. It carries brand names, signature groceries, a fresh produce department, meat and seafood sections, a deli and bakery, has an in-store florist, and more. Stop by the Service Desk to sign up for a Safeway Club Card for access to discounts. There is an American Savings Bank including an ATM in the supermarket, in case you need cash or quarters (for parking or laundry).
Foodland Market City
Foodland Farms is Hawaii’s largest locally-owned grocery retailer. This supermarket stocks more Hawaii-made items, veggies from family-run farms, meats procured from island ranches and bakes bread in-house. You’ll find everything you need in one location including plenty of pre-prepared foods, a fresh poke bar, an impressive wine section, and so much more. Like Safeway Kapahulu, there is an American Savings Bank including an ATM in the supermarket, in case you need cash or quarters (for parking or laundry).
Texaco & Aloha Gas
If you need to fuel up before driving around the island there are a number of convenient gas stations in the Kapahulu area including Texaco, Aloha Gas and 76. Aloha Gas Station features an Island Mart, where you can pick up Dunkin’ Donuts. 76 Gas Station has an on-site 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven stores in Hawaii have brand staples like Big Gulp and Slurpee but also offer Hawaii specialties such as Spam Musubi (sushi), Big Bento, Steamed Manapua, and unique local snacks.
Kapahulu Sweet Treats
The best traditional donut shop on Oahu is Donut King Hawaii. They’re quite the experts having been frying up heavenly sweet treats including a Maple Bacon Donut for more than 14 years. For visitors with a car, it’s the perfect breakfast stop before heading out on an island road trip. Find it at Market City Shopping Center 10-minutes drive from Waikiki (it’s not that far from Leonard’s Bakery if you’re over that way).
The Nanding’s Bakery in Kapahulu is one of three Nanding’s bakeries on the island. This much-loved local bakery is the home of the original Spanish Rolls (bread with a sweet buttery filling). It’s jam-packed with yummy treats including custard pies, an assortment of scones and cookies, sticky buns, bread loaves, ensaymada (sweet dough pastries), meat rolls, and ube-flavored goodies. There’s also a large drinks cabinet offering refreshing cold drinks.
Anu Island Soft Serve
Anu Island Soft Serve is a little shack in the corner of a parking lot on Kapahulu Avenue, next to Ono Seafood. They offer take-out dairy-free coconut-based soft serve, paired with fresh fruits and organic toppings including hemp seeds, goji berries, almonds, and cocoa nibs. Organic acai bowls are also available. Brighten your day in Kapahulu by supporting local and indulging in one of their sweet and refreshing desserts.
Hawaii is famous for shave ice, and Kapahulu is the perfect place to try it! Seek out Waioli Shave Ice on Mokihana Street or Shimazu Shave Ice inside Hawaii’s Favorite Kitchens. When it comes to ordering, start by selecting any bottom treats including vanilla ice cream, azuki beans (Japanese red beans cooked with sugar and water), and/or mochi balls (Japanese rice cake usually sweet, soft and chewy). Choose up to three shave ice flavors, we love lilikoi (passionfruit), haupia (coconut) and lime. Pick your toppings from flavored syrups, sweetened condensed milk or li hing mui (a salt, sour and sweet plum powder). Last but not least, grab a lot of napkins and savor every last mouthful.
READ NEXT // Manoa Neighborhood Guide
Image Credit: Waikiki Beach Stays/Ashlee Galea