, HI 96792
Complete guide to the city of Waianae, Oahu, Hawaii.
The town of Waianae is located on the west side of O'ahu but most of the west coast of O'ahu is known as the Waianae Coast so that's what this guide will cover. The area is located just northwest of the Ko Olina Resort.
The west side of the island is known as the leeward side and is far dryer than the east, or windward, side (see Hawaii Weather). Dryer weather means less rain which leads to less runoff into the ocean. Because of that the Waianae Coast is home to many pristine beaches and ultra clear waters.
The only way in or out of the Waianae Coast is on the Farrington Highway which is what the H1 Freeway turns into when it ends while you head west towards the Ko Olina Resort. So it's easy to find and reach but traffic can get backed up during rush hour. Specifically, avoid heading into (west) Waianae during evening rush hours (4-6pm) and avoid heading out (east) during morning rush hours (7-9am) when possible. When city planners (and I use the term "planners" loosely) only plan for 2 lanes of traffic (each direction) to feed a huge community, well, things don't work out so well. We talk more about that in Hawaii Living: Pests & Traffic.
The Waianae coast starts just north of Tracks Beach Park and runs all the way up the coast. It includes smaller towns such as Nanakuli and Makaha. You can drive the Farrington to the far northwest end of the island until the road ends at Keawa'ula Beach (Yokohama Beach) and the start of the Ka'ena Point Trail - West Shore. While that foot trail will connect to the northshore of the island, the road does not.
When you look back to ancient times and old Hawaiian lore, it's said that Maui - The Demigod and his wife settled in the Waianae area. Maui supposedly settled at Kaneana Cave / Makua Cave and even created Pu'u Heleakala (a mountain towards the south end of the area). It's said that Maui's influence on the land and sea helped the area become a prosperous fishing community.
Another interesting part of the old Hawaiian mythology is Nanaue - The Shapeshifting Shark-Man Of Makua Cave who also (at a different point in time) took up residence at Kaneana Cave / Makua Cave, a cave you can still visit today.
In the early 1800s the area started to see traders from America and Europe. These foreigners wanted to trade their goods in exchange for some of the local resources, like sandalwood trees. As the Hawaiian ali'i (chiefs) had the locals focused on harvesting the trees, their own crops were neglected. That combined with the diseases that the foreigners brought in caused local populations to drop significantly.
In the late 1800s Sugar in Hawaii was already a big deal and it was only a matter of time before somebody tried to exploit the land for cane fields. The Waianae Sugar Plantation was born and a railroad was built to connect the area to the Ewa Plain (today called Ewa Beach).
By 1946 the plantation closed and the railroad was abandoned until The Hawaiian Railway Society stepped in and took over the maintenance of the tracks (which are only maintained up to the Nanakuli area). Today the tracks and trains are a tourist attraction so you can contact The Hawaiian Railway Society for a ride.
If you find an old guide book on the Waianae area you'll likely read about how the area is a little bit on the rough side with many guidebooks suggesting you stay away for your own safety. Today, Waianae still gets a bad reputation that isn't deserved. Some people will say that some areas on this side of the island can be dangerous but that's probably true of some areas just about anywhere. There is certainly some people who moved way out here to get away from people and tourists and won't take kindly to you trespassing on their property (for example). But overall the area is full of just normal, everyday people and is tourist friendly. Treat the area and people with respect and you're likely to get that same treatment back. Of course, Vehicle Theft In Hawaii can be in an issue in areas so don't leave valuables in your car as we discuss in that article.
But it's not all rainbows and unicorns as the area is home to Hawaii's largest homeless camp, called Pu'uhonua o Waianae, which is located right next to the Waianae Boat Harbor. Previously, the state would come in and sweep these camps out and the homeless would disperse to another area. Rinse. Repeat. As of March 2018, Governor David Ige met with Twinkle Borge (who is the leader of Pu'uhonua o Waianae) and agreed not to kick the residents out but it's still not known what will happen with the area or the residents here.
One thing to know about Waianae is that it's more of a home for local residents than it is a touristy place to visit. Because of that you won't find any actual hotels here. If you really want to stay in the area there will be some condo rentals you can find but don't expect any 5 star luxury resorts over here any time soon.
On the same note, this also isn't home to tons of restaurants like you'll find in our Waikiki Guide or the Ko Olina Resort. There are food options here, just not a ton. If you're planning to eat in the area here is a list of restaurants in Waianae.
So why come to Waianae then? Beaches, hikes, nature, history, and exploring. If you have kids (or even if you don't) then Pokai Bay Beach Park is a great beach with waters that are usually calm. Get a little Hawaiian culture and history into your trip by checking out the Ku'ilioloa Heiau at Pokai Bay which is literally steps away.
Keawa'ula Beach (Yokohama Beach) is a beautiful beach, and one of our favorites, that's worth visiting. In the winter the waves can get quite large here which makes for a fun spectacle even if you wouldn't dare get in the water. If you plan to swim here talk with the lifeguards first. This beach is also the start of the Ka'ena Point Trail - West Shore. Right behind the beach, and up the large mountain, is a satellite tracking station. There is a very steep road that takes you up and leads to several hiking trails. Note that a 4x4 vehicle is required along with a permit to gain access to the road.
Makaha Beach Park is another great spot and a favorite of surfers and if you time things right you may even get to watch a surfing competition here. If you plan to swim be sure to check with the lifeguards first as this is not always a safe swimming beach.
If you're looking for some solitude then check out Pray For Sex Beach (Makua Beach) which isn't anywhere as bad as the name implies. Read more on Pray For Sex Beach (Makua Beach) to learn about the story behind that name.
We talked about Kaneana Cave / Makua Cave earlier in this guide but it's an interesting cave to explore. You can't go very deep but if you've never seen a cave there is some novelty. It's even more fun if you read up on Nanaue - The Shapeshifting Shark-Man Of Makua Cave before you go in. Parking is across the street so be very careful (especially if you have kids) when crossing as cars will be flying by quickly here.
Hikers might also enjoy checking out Upper Makua Cave Hike, Waianae Kai Trail / Mount Ka'ala Summit Hike, and Puu O Hulu Kai Trail / Maili Pink Pillbox Hike.
Another popular place explorers seek out over here is Mermaid Cave / Tunnels which is neat to see but we strongly advise you not to go into this cave.
Plenty of water tours will launch from the Waianae Boat Harbor as well. Some of those will take you to Kahe Point Beach Park (Electric Beach) to snorkel.
View all that Waianae has to offer here.
Waianae Fun Facts
Waianae is home to the summit of the tallest mountain on O'ahu, Mount Kaala. The name Waianae means "Waters of the Mullet" which is referring to a type of fish, not the sweet hair style.
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