Welcome to one of Honolulu’s most charming neighborhoods, a charming refuge just beyond Waikīkī’s touristic tumult.
Text and images by Kainoa Reponte
This classic suburb ensconced on the south side of O‘ahu offers unexampled eccentricity and quaintness. Kaimuki emerged in the early 20th century, before which you would have been greeted by ostriches and cattle who occupied the grounds.
Today along its main thoroughfare, Wai‘alae Avenue, you will find a mixture of well-established businesses and chic newer shops creating a homegrown ethos that is reflected in the spirit of these small-business owners, the allegiance of families, and the unhurriedness of visitors.
Living and working in this neighborhood has exposed me to its vibrant, ongoing renaissance, making this district my go-to when playing tour guide for friends. On a sunny Saturday morning, we’ll stop by the Kapiolani Community College farmers market to pick up fresh blooms and snag samples from some of the diverse food vendors before heading to Wai‘alae Avenue to enjoy a cold brew and warm pastry.
We’ll pass the rest of the afternoon exploring some of Kaimukī’s quirky and unique shops, catching glimpses of Diamond Head and its soft ridges between avenues, and breathing in the serene, cooling breeze at every corner.
With more than 286 flavors in his repertoire, baker Scott “Otto” McDonough whips up handmade cheesecakes from scratch. The bakery’s wizardly décor, paired with its perfectly creamy treats, will leave you pondering the magic behind the indulgent and original cheesecake flavors like strawberry basil lime or poi and coconut with macadamia nuts.
An artisanal boulangerie in the heart of Kaimukī, the Breadshop serves a wide variety of freshly baked goods daily. Its owner, Chris Sy, focuses on making traditional breads like semolina and ciabatta as well as creating local fusions such as a furikake focaccia, which features a traditional Italian flat bread sprinkled with a dry Japanese seasoning. Pick up a loaf and some fromage for a perfect summer afternoon picnic.
Salvage Public is the epitome of contemporary Hawaiian menswear. A reinterpretation for the modern-day mondain, each garment features carefully considered design details with references to old Hawai‘i and urban Honolulu, from its traditional kapa patterns on smock shirts to its ripstop pants and stone-wash denim jackets. The studio space is open every weekend for those interested in learning more about the brand founded by Joseph Serrao, Noah Serrao, and Nāpali Souza.
In 2004, Olivier Vetter began serving coffee made with a timeless lever-and-pull machine from the back of an auto rickshaw on the streets of London. In 2018, Vetter brought Bean About Town to Kaimukī. Here, Parisian charm is infused with tropical allure through details like the 1955 Faema Urania espresso machine that pulls an unbeatable shot and the vintage Hawaiian vinyl covers that hang on the café’s walls. On an unhurried day, spend a quiet hour people-watching from the terrace with a cannelé and cold brew.
Whether it be for Saturday brunch, when dewy forenoon sunshine floods the beautifully designed space, or for a well-crafted evening cocktail, when outdoor lights twinkle overhead next to a colorful Case Maclaim mural, Mud Hen Water is a favorite gathering place on Wai‘alae Avenue. This restaurant helmed by chef Ed Keeney has an impressive menu that features modern regional dishes inspired by fresh fish and produce from local farmers.
This local barbershop evokes nostalgia with its mid-century modern furniture, vintage décor from the 1950s surf and car cultures, and traditional haircuts and shaves. From the building’s original pizza shaped-signage to the handcrafted wood barber stations that were made on O‘ahu, Golden Hawaii Barbershop is full of careful details worth exploring while you get sharpened up for a day on the town—or a surf. The shop also sells small quantities of retro-inspired surfboards shaped by shaper Eric Walden, a Kaimukī resident, under the label Golden Hawaii Surf Designs.
Bess Press has been a fixture of Hawai‘i’s publishing scene since 1979, and Da Shop is its premier destination. This bookstore maintains a rotating list of well-known Hawai‘i and Oceania classics sure to complement any bibliomaniac’s collection alongside a smart selection of contemporary international literature and children’s books. The modern space is also peppered with lounge chairs you can settle into while reading mo‘olelo (stories) of ancient Hawai‘i.
Graduating from barista to owner, Devin Uehara-Tilton has taken the helm of The Curb with his husband, Ross. This coffee shop is bedecked with details conceived of and created by loyal regulars, from the “Order Here” sign to the beautiful wood bar. The space represents the picturesque neighborhood’s sense of community and compassion, and its mission is simple: serve great, ethically sourced coffee; give back to the community; and pique interest in the developing coffee culture in Honolulu.
As soon as you walk into this café, a piquant aroma of freshly pressed waffle cones greets you––followed by an aproned employee explaining what popular flavors the case holds this week. Owner Melissa Bow has been mixing flavors with local tastes in mind since 2012. After a heavy dinner, stop by Via Gelato to cleanse your palate with scoops of the li hing pineapple sorbet or strawberry ume sorbet––flavors you won’t find anywhere else.
Started by Jordan Lee and Matthew Guevara, whose two dogs, Lola and Phiefer, were the inspirations for their store, this urban pet supply store carries goods for dogs and cats from local designers like Roberta Oaks and Dee Oliva, as well as companies that align with the owners’ values and aesthetics, like Dog for Dog and Wildebeest.