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What It’s Like Living in Oahu, Hawaii

spectacular view of honolulu city oah

Hawaii’s reputation as a paradise on earth is truly well-founded – and the island of Oahu is at the heart of it all.

With over one million residents, Oahu is home to more than two-thirds of Hawaii’s population. Honolulu, the state capital, is located here, making the island a major tourism and economic destination.

Oahu is Hawaii’s third largest island, next to Hawaii Island (or the Big Island) and Maui. It is a melting pot of people and cultures, combining the modern American lifestyle with deeply rooted native traditions and influences from its diverse population.

Hawaii visitors and locals converge in Oahu at one time or another, earning for it the nickname, The Gathering Place. Whether for business or leisure, the island has something to offer to everyone.

If you’re interested to learn more about living in Oahu, this guide will help you get started.

What’s Inside:

Why make the move to Oahu?

Laidback luxury lifestyle


There are dozens of reasons to make the move to Oahu, but foremost of these is the famous tropical resort lifestyle. Living in Oahu means being surrounded by beautiful beaches, raw nature, and exciting outdoor adventures every day of the year.

With everything it has to offer, Oahu has come to be known as a playground of the rich and the famous. As a result, luxury has become the norm here. You’ll find opulent hotels and resorts, private golf courses, exclusive beach clubs, and other amenities and attractions befitting anyone looking for the finest things in life.

  • Five-star hotels
  • Nothing speaks to the Oahu luxury lifestyle more than the wealth of upscale resorts and hotels in the area, many of which are operated by the most renowned five-star hotel chains in the world.

    Among the best known luxury destinations on the island are:

  • Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki
  • The Royal Hawaiian
  • The Kahala Hotel & Resort
  • Four Seasons Oahu
  • Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
  • Turtle Bay Resort
  • These resorts boast coveted waterfront locations, providing guests with amazing views and the best access to stunning beaches. They also offer impeccable services and top-of-class amenities, such as outdoor pools, exclusive outfitted cabanas, state-of-the-art spas, shops, restaurants, and many more.

  • Top-rated golf courses
  • Golf aficionados will find a host of public and private golf courses featuring breathtaking views, immaculate landscaping, and challenging layouts designed by the most recognized names in the sport.

  • The top golf courses on the island include:
  • Ko Olina Golf Course
  • Turtle Bay Palmer Course
  • Royal Hawaiian Golf Club
  • Hawaii Prince Golf Club
  • Hawaii Kai Golf Course
  • Luxury shopping
  • There are numerous shopping options in Oahu, particularly in the bustling Waikiki neighborhood. You can find everything from beach gear and native crafts to some of the most upscale brands in the world.

    A must-visit for high end shoppers is Luxury Row, a shopping district located at 2100 Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. Covering an area of 111,000 square feet, Luxury Row features shops of top luxury brands such as Bottega Veneta, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Tiffany & Co., and many more.

    Oahu is also home to the world’s largest open air shopping center – the Ala Moana Center located at Ala Moana Boulevard in Honolulu. The shops here are a mix of popular and upscale brands, including Alexander McQueen, Bloomingdale’s, Cartier, Gap, Hermes, and more.

  • Private clubs
  • The private sports and country clubs in Oahu offer utmost exclusivity and privacy for those who wish to avoid the throng of tourists that flock to the island. Many of these clubs were established in the early to mid-1900s, and their long history adds to their prestige.

    The clubs offer a wide range of recreational facilities, such as golf courses, tennis courts, fitness centers, restaurants, event venues, and more. Beach clubs like the Outrigger Canoe Club have specialized features like beach volleyball courts and canoeing gear.

    In addition to the Outrigger Canoe Club, the most historic private clubs on the island include:

  • The Pacific Club
  • Oahu Country Club
  • Mid-Pacific Country Club

Endless beaches

aerial view of kualoa area of oahu hawaii

Mention Hawaii and the first things that come to mind are breathtaking beaches with powerful waves being mastered by skilled surfers. Hawaii is synonymous with beaches, and many of the best ones are found in Oahu.

Hawaiian beaches are not all about big waves and large crowds. There are quite a few places where the water is calmer and the scene is more tranquil. Whether you’re looking for a beach party or a quiet time with the family, there’s a beach in Oahu that meets your preferences.

The top destinations include:

  • Waikiki Beach
  • One of the most famous beaches in the world, Waikiki Beach is located just minutes from the city center. It stretches two miles along the Pacific Ocean, lined by an array of five-star hotels and resorts. The calm waters and mild waves make it the perfect vacation spot for families, who can enjoy a host of activities like swimming, surfing, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, and more. The golden sandy beach is also a great place to simply relax under the sun while sipping a cocktail.

  • Lanikai Beach
  • Found on the eastern shores of the island, Lanikai Beach ticks all the boxes of the perfect beach – clear blue waters, soft white sands, abundant aquatic wildlife like sea turtles and reef fish, surrounding trails, and two small islands nearby that you can reach by canoeing. Considered one of the most scenic beaches in Hawaii, Lanikai Beach is ideal for an idyllic day laced with some adventures.

  • Sunset Beach
  • Oahu’s North Shore beaches are meccas for surfers around the world, and Sunset Beach is one of the most popular surfing destinations in the area. A venue for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, Sunset Beach has a dozen reef breaks,which help create giant waves in the winter that only professional surfers can manage. In the summer, however, the water turns calm and warm, making it a great place for family fun.

  • Kailua Beach Park
  • Popular with tourists and locals alike, Kailua Beach Park offers picture-perfect views, gentle waves, and visitor-friendly amenities like picnic tables, nearby eateries, and a volleyball court.

  • Waimea Bay
  • Another popular surfing spot, Waimea Bay has swells that can go as high as 30 feet to 40 feet in the winter. Spectators are treated to exciting action as the world’s best surfers try to overcome these giant watery walls. In the summer, however, the water is calm and flat, making it an ideal spot for a day with the family.

Outdoor adventures

hiker celebrating the beauty

Outdoor activities in Oahu go beyond the beaches and golf courses. With the island’s rich – and oftentimes raw – natural features, there are plenty of adventures to be had.

  • Hiking
  • Exploring the amazing trails around the island is a true feast for the senses. You’ll be treated to fascinating landmarks, spectacular ocean and mountain views, and unforgettable experiences.

    These top trails are the best examples of what you can experience when hiking around the island:

  • The Diamond Head Trail
  • The most trafficked trail on the island, the Diamond Head Trail will take you to the summit of the imposing Diamond Head volcano, one of the most defining sights in the Waikiki area. At the 761-foot high summit, you can visit the military bunkers that were built around the crater in 1915 and get breathtaking views of the ocean, the southeastern coastline, and the surrounding mountain range.

  • Manoa Falls Trail
  • Many trails in Oahu lead to spectacular waterfalls. The Manoa Falls Trail is one of the most popular trails of this kind because it is relatively short and easy to navigate. Hikers are rewarded with scenic views of lush forests along the way and of the 150 foot waterfalls at the end.

  • Makapuu Point & Lighthouse Trail
  • There are a number of trails in Oahu that lead to historic and picturesque lighthouses, and Makapuu Point & Lighthouse Trail is one of these. The lighthouse was built in 1909 on a volcanic ridge that rises more than 600 feet from the ocean. From the overlook around the lighthouse, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the ocean and the island’s eastern coastline. The area is also a great spot for whale watching from December to May, and the Makapuu Tide Pools are also a popular – although somewhat dangerous – attraction.

  • Diving and snorkeling
  • There is never a shortage of things you can do on the waters of Oahu, and diving and snorkeling are two of the most popular activities here. You can rent your gear from the many rentals around the island or perhaps join a sea tour which will take you to the best spots for diving or snorkeling.

    The waters around Oahu are teeming with wildlife, including sea turtles, tropical fish, manta rays, and so much more, so expect a thrilling underwater experience.

  • Deep sea fishing
  • Hawaii is home to some of the most sought-after game fishes in the world, such as blue and striped marlins, sailfish, ahi or yellowfin tuna, skipjack tuna, mahimahi, and others.You can rent a fishing charter and head off into the open sea for a true marine adventure. Some of the best deep sea fishing in Oahu can be had off the Leeward Coast, which is home to the Ko Olina resort area.

  • Other outdoor adventures
  • If you’re into more extreme or daring adventures, Oahu has something for you as well. These are some of your options:

  • Parasailing
  • Ziplining
  • ATV touring
  • Shark cage diving and swimming

Amazing food

homemade hawaiian huli chicken

The local food scene is one of the things that make Hawaii truly distinctive. Hawaiian cuisine is the fusion of various influences from the state’s highly diverse population, including native Polynesian, American, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Vietnamese.

In 1992, a group of 12 award-winning homegrown chefs came together to create the Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a program which aims to promote the use of fresh local ingredients in everyday dishes.

The most commonly used ingredients in Hawaiian cuisine include fish (particularly ahi or yellowfin tuna), coconut, beans, root crops, and pineapple, which has come to be associated with Hawaiian food throughout the world. Spam, the canned meat product, is also hugely popular, and is often referred to as “Hawaiian steak.”

Famous Hawaiian traditional dishes and delicacies include:

  • Poi, a paste made from taro root
  • Kalua pig, or pulled pork with steamed cabbage
  • Portuguese sweet bread
  • Meat roasted over an open fire or in underground ovens
  • Blackened ahi
  • Shave ice, a dessert made of shaved ice topped with colorful syrups and other toppings

In Oahu, there are many spots where you can enjoy native Hawaiian cuisine, from roadside food stands and food trucks to five-star restaurants. You can also find establishments that offer luaus, or traditional Hawaiian feasts, where you can sample the islands’ classic favorites.

Top quality education

For families, one of the perks of living in Oahu is the wealth of options for top-rated schools. Four school districts serve the area – Honolulu District, Central Oahu District, Leeward Oahu District, and Windward Oahu District. The Honolulu District alone includes over 200 schools from preschool to high school.

Among the top public schools in Oahu are:

  • King Hilohilo Elementary School
  • Salt Lake Elementary School
  • Moanalua Middle School
  • Aiea Intermediate School
  • Voyager – A Public Charter School
  • Moanalua High School
  • Mililani High School

There are also over 165 private schools in Honolulu, plus more in other areas around Oahu. The top institutions include:

Real estate in Oahu

duke kahanamoku lagoon in waikiki

Real estate in Oahu is as diverse as Hawaii itself. Whether you’re looking for a new residence, a getaway home, or a condo to rent out, you’re bound to find something that meets your needs and preferences.

Luxury home buyers are spoiled for choice. There’s an abundance of upscale condo developments and gorgeous homes and estates around the island. The most coveted properties are waterfront homes with stunning views of the ocean and easy access to the beach.

The highest priced homes are mostly found in Honolulu, and it’s easy to see why. The state capital affords residents with fantastic access to the best beaches in Oahu, as well as the many urban amenities and cultural attractions in the city.

  • Luxury condos
  • The scenic Ala Moana Boulevard, Kalakaua Avenue, Kapiolani Boulevard, and other waterfront strips are lined with condo developments with contemporary features, including glass walls and windows overlooking the ocean. They also come with top-of-the line amenities like swimming pools, fitness centers, and access to private docks or marinas.

  • Luxury single-family homes
  • There are also quite a few gated neighborhoods in Honolulu where you can find stunning waterfront single-family homes and estates. These properties are every luxury homebuyer’s dream, with their distinctive architecture, updated features, and desirable locations. Some of the best homes are on elevated sites, providing breathtaking views of the gorgeous surroundings.

  • Vintage homes
  • While there are many new housing developments around Oahu, you will also find vintage homes built in the early to mid-1900s, or even older. Most have been updated over the years, enhancing their traditional charm and prestige. They come in architectural styles that reflect the trends of previous eras, such as plantation houses, ranch, and Mid-Century Modern.

Top neighborhoods in Oahu

Geographically, Oahu is divided into five regions – North Shore, Central Oahu, the Windward Coast or the eastern coast, the Leeward Coast or the western coast, and Honolulu, which is found on the southern end of the island.

There’s no shortage of fantastic neighborhoods in any of these regions. With so many available options, picking the right one boils down to your preferred views, lifestyle, budget, and nearby amenities.

If your preference is a luxury lifestyle surrounded by the best that Hawaii can offer, consider finding your dream home in these top neighborhoods:

  • Diamond Head
  • Waikiki
  • Kahala
  • Black Point
  • Kai Nani
  • Aina Haina Beach
  • Portlock
  • Makiki Heights

The real estate market

Real estate in Oahu makes an excellent investment. Based on historical trends, home values on the island continue to appreciate, and while the market may fluctuate, the many perks of living in the state and the constant influx of tourists assure a constant demand for homes here.

According to, the median listing price in Oahu as of February, 2022 is $785,000, a 21% increase from the median listing price in February, 2021. As of January, 2022, the median sale price for single-family homes was $1,050,000, up 22% from January, 2021. The median sale price for condos was $510,000, up 14% from the previous year.

The median number of days a single-family home stays on the market is only 12, while condos stay for only 14 days on the market. This indicates that Oahu real estate is in high demand, with buyers jumping at the opportunity to close a sale as early as possible.

Learn more about living in Oahu with Marshall Mower

Named in Hawaii Business Magazine’s Top 100 Real Estate Hall of Fame, Marshall Mower is a respected and trusted name in Oahu real estate.

With over 22 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of local and international clients achieve their real estate goals in his beloved Hawaii through his untiring professionalism and unparalleled market expertise. Marshall knows the Oahu real estate market inside and out, and he leverages his formidable skills and knowledge to help his clients close the best possible transaction.

There’s no better guide to finding the perfect home and living your best life in Oahu than Marshall Mower. Call him today at 808.277.7878 or send an email to Marshall(dotted)Mower(at)compass(dotted)com to get started.

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