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Five Great Neighborhoods in Hawaii

The gorgeous beaches of Kailua - One of the many Hawaiian neighborhoods that await you when you relocate to Hawaii. (Photo Credit: Ryan Kawailani Ozawa)

Guest Bloggers: Aloha Living.com

Although there are dozens of fantastic neighborhoods in the Aloha State, there’s no single best place for everyone that is considering moving to Hawaii. After all, everyone is looking for different things. Nightlife? Good schools? Rugged natural beauty? Nonetheless, to help you get a feel for the many flavors of Hawaii living, here are five very different local towns worth considering.

1. Kailua on the island of Oahu.

When people imagine small town life in Hawaii, they’re probably thinking of a town like Kailua. Downtown Honolulu is a mere 20 minutes away, just over and through the Ko’olau mountain range, but Kailua feels like part of an entirely different island. This green, breezy, fiercely preserved historic neighborhood is the heart of the Windward Side of Oahu.

Kailua is the third largest city in the state, but it doesn’t feel like it, making it one of the most sought after areas in island real estate. It’s a residential neighborhood that’s home to a mix of local families, military families and many recent island transplants. Long-time residents work hard to preserve Kailua’s distinct character, choosing small and quirky boutique stores and restaurants over megamarts and mainland chains. Its farmers market is said to be the best on the island.

Kailua is green, clean, safe and friendly, surrounded by the natural beauty that postcards are made of. There’s Kailua Beach, wide and welcoming, and nearby Lanikai Beach, a world-famous stretch of sand tucked behind some of the most coveted real estate on the island. And the nearby mountains and hills offer great hiking, and great views.

Kailua is one of the more bike friendly towns in Hawaii, and is developing a reputation for being pet friendly as well. The big city is a 20 minute drive (or bus ride) over the Pali Highway, but if you’re lucky, you’ll never want to make the trip.

2. Lahaina on the island of Maui.

For those seeking to live somewhere that offers something closer to a permanent vacation, there’s Maui’s crown jewel: Lahaina. Nestled against the breathtaking West Maui mountains, Lahaina has all the amenities of the perfect vacation, but still retains a distinctly Hawaiian history and personality.

Lahaina hosts a myriad of great activities, from land tours to ocean cruises, surfing and snorkeling, as well as being the location of several galleries, great restaurants and countless shops. There’s not much nightlife anywhere in Hawaii, but Lahaina has a good share of it, with bustling Front Street still serving as Maui’s after-hours hotspot.

Lahaina is located near Kaanapali, the quintessential resort town with high-end luxury hotels and huge golf courses, but is also a short drive away from pristine natural areas, including the imposing majesty of Haleakala, the largest dormant volcano in the world.

You can find everything from condos right on the beach, to single family homes, to multimillion dollar estates in Lahaina. If you’ve been looking to buy a Hawaii condo, Lahaina and nearby Kaanapali are great places to start your search. Lush and green and full of history, this former Hawaiian whaling village has something for everyone who wants to call Maui home.

3. Kapaa on the island of Kauai

On the tiny island of Kauai, Kapaa doesn’t capture the headlines and buzz that surrounds other Garden Island neighborhoods. Neither a quaint rural enclave nor a glistening resort town, Kapaa nonetheless has a lot to offer.

Kapaa feels like a smaller town than it is, with a great mix of small shops, boutique stores, restaurants and coffee shops lining its main avenues. For the artistically inclined, Kapaa shines, with museums galleries, and cultural exhibits galore. It’s also home to the island’s largest shopping center – which actually isn’t very large.

Nature lovers can explore the Makaleha mountains, admire Opaekaa Falls, or relax at nearby Kapaa Beach, a popular surf spot that’s renown for picture perfect sunrises. Families can enjoy several great parks, as well as the Kauai Children’s Discovery Museum.

Kapaa is centrally located, with world famous resorts to the north, and the airport and county center Lihue to the south. Kapaa also offers the widest range of housing options. More middle class than high class, it’s home to a great mix of people, from long-time working families to Hawaii newcomers.

And since it’s Kauai, if you’re still looking for something else, it’s no more than a 20-minute drive away.

4. Hilo on the Big Island

At a glance, Hilo would probably not be anyone’s first choice in choosing a tropical paradise. Instead of sunny skies, this East Hawaii town is known for its almost constant rainfall. Instead of four-star resorts with glistening swimming pools, Hilo is a sleepy residential community where most people work for a living.

But if you want a taste of the real Hawaii, of old Hawaii, Hilo fits the bill. To be sure, there’s a Wal-Mart and a shopping center and a modest rush hour every morning and evening. But the pace of life is slower, the people are friendlier, and the vibe is unmistakably local. Hilo is the second largest city in Hawaii behind Honolulu, but couldn’t be more different.

Hilo is the government seat of the Big Island, and also home to the University of Hawaii at Hilo, one of only two four-year college campuses in the state. With a population of over 40,000 people, Hilo is home to a wide variety of businesses and industries, from agriculture to astronomy to heavy industry. Though the economy is weak, the city’s character is strong, and whatever your specialty, you’ll likely find a niche to fill.

The East Side of the Big Island offers some of the lushest rainforests and tallest waterfalls in the state, although beaches are practically nonexistent. What the area lacks in sand it makes up for in lava, as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is just south of Hilo on Highway 11.

Best of all, Hilo real estate is affordable. At least compared to almost anywhere else in Hawaii. There are no towering condos in Hilo, however, mostly single family homes ranging from brand new to historic. They fill the sweet spot between cheap empty lots and overpriced resort condos.

5. Mililani on the island of Oahu

Mililani is the largest planned community in the state. With its countless cul de sacs and manicured medians, it could probably pass for a middle-class suburb anywhere else in the U.S. But what it lacks in personality, it makes up in amenities — particularly for families with kids.

Mililani is a relatively young city, established in 1968 but really coming into its own in the late ‘80s. It received the All-American City Award from the National Civic League in 1986, and has continued to grow and thrive ever since. Located near the center of Oahu, Mililani is a long drive from downtown Honolulu. But if you don’t have to commute, you can find everything you need in the neighborhood.

This master planned community was designed to have it all. It’s filled to the brim with parks, playgrounds, and sports fields, and has several community recreation centers with pools and gyms. There are three bustling shopping centers, strong schools, movie theaters, and a golf course. Mililani is ideal for families, and is where many local professionals find their first home. Situated near major military installations, the neighborhood is also popular with military families that want to live off base.

Mililani offers mostly single-family homes, some with huge yards but others clustered tightly together. But there are also hundreds of townhomes, and a few low-rise apartment buildings for more affordable options. For home buyers, it’s a great microcosm of Honolulu real estate.

Many urban Honolulu dwellers still see Mililani as too far away from the city, but compared to newer developments now sprawling across the west side of the island, its an increasingly popular neighborhood even for those who work in town. Served by both the Interstate H-2 freeway and Kamehameha Highway, residents are as close to Waikiki as they are the pristine beaches of the North Shore.

If you need more than one bedroom, crave the pride of homeownership, or want your kids to have room to grow and play, Mililani may be your best bet.

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