5 Oahu Towns You Should Visit, Besides The Obvious Waikiki

There's a lot more to Hawaii than Waikiki.

If "go to Waikiki" is the extent of your dream Hawaii vacation, you're not alone. The tourist district on the island of Oahu is the most popular spot in the state whose main economy is tourism, and 2.2 million people visited the island of Oahu last year.

But this week, visitors were greeted by warning signs telling them not to get into the water. Torrential rain had flooded the city's plumbing system, causing 393,000 gallons of sewage to spill onto Waikiki Beach, 129,ooo of which flowed into the ocean.

It got us thinking that now's a good time to remember there's so much more than Waikiki that Hawaii can offer visitors -- here are five of our (other) favorite Oahu neighborhoods.

Kaimuki

Kaimuki is an eclectic urban town a walking distance from Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki near two universities, an embattled historic theater, network of Koolau mountain trails, and a set of dive and award-winning bars and restaurants along Waialae Avenue, its main drag.

We love starting off with a loaded brunch at Lee Ann Wong's Koko Head Cafe, spending the day at nearby Kahala Beach, cooling off with an acai bowl from Jewel or Juice or eating dinner at town, a locavore spot led by Hawaii chef Ed Kenney, before grabbing the mic at Aloha Lounge (arguably the best karaoke experience in Honolulu).

Kakaako

Kakaako is probably the fastest-changing Honolulu neighborhood, quickly moving from its days as an industrial area to a cluster of exclusive condo towers. It was also a finalist as the location for Obama's presidential library.

Boutiques (such as Paiko) and cocktail bars (Bevy) line several blocks, and urban projects are under construction that many hope will provide more pedestrian-friendly passageways.

Because developers want more foot traffic, a lot of Honolulu's recurring arts-focused events are held in Kakaako, from the annual Pow! Wow! Hawaii street art festival to fashion shows, independent film screenings, panel discussions and art shows at Kakaako Agora.

Chinatown, Honolulu

While there's a lot of new growth in Kakaako -- buildings being razed for new condominiums and such -- downtown Honolulu's historic Chinatown neighborhood is a great place to support the local economy with your good money. Not only is it full of incredible shopping (from Hawaii's best local designers -- Owens & Co., Roberta Oaks, streets of authentic lei stands -- to an unsurpassed farmers and seafood market), there are art galleries and museums (Hawaii State Art Museum, The Arts at Marks Garage, The Manifest), the historic Hawaii Theatre, and First Friday block parties.

Kaneohe
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For its sheer natural beauty, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more stunning Oahu neighborhood than Kaneohe, on the other side of the mountains from Waikiki. Kaneohe Bay has nearly 20 square miles of turquoise water with offshore islands to explore (Mokolii/Chinaman's Hat), valleys to drool over (Kualoa Ranch), lush gardens for picnicking (Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden) and temples for finding your moment of zen.

Anybody who stays in Waikiki their whole trip is clearly missing out.

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Kalihi

Go to Kalihi for the local experience. Alicia's Market is renowned for serving the best poke on the island; Tamashiro Market is equally revered for its selection of fresh-caught fish. And many locals have stories of their first taste of Liliha Bakery's creme puffs and "nuclear" jelly.

The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is like Hawaii's museum of natural history. Halls are filled with the history of Hawaii and its people, from early Polynesian settlers to the emergence and growth of the Hawaiian culture to modern Hawaii, post-statehood. There's also a planetarium that hosts occasional celestial viewings on the lawn at night.

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