Why I Moved to Kakaako... And Why I Left!
Long before Kakaako was even on my radar, I bought my first home in Mililani which is a suburb in Central Oahu about 20 miles from metro Honolulu. Mililani is this all-American, master planned community that feels very safe, the schools are highly ranked, there are parks, wide streets, mature trees, but depending on your lifestyle and if you work and play in town, the 1.5 to 2 hour commute in traffic each way, 5 days a week will kill you. As a realtor, we drive a lot at all times of day. You can plan around rush hour traffic, but If there’s an accident on the freeway at 2pm or if by golly it’s raining, there’s no planning for it. Getting stuck in it is the only way to know. Add in rail construction traffic which happens outside of rush hour and you start to believe there are traffic gods conspiring against you.
"Lord, please let me live in Kakaako one day..."
I’d drive through Kakaako on my way to appointments. I’d represent buyers and sellers in the neighborhood - even hung out with friends on their rec decks and lanais and found myself totally green with envy. So, one day I repented, rolled my window down as I was driving through, stuck my hand out the window and prayed, “Lord, please let me live in Kakaako someday.”
This was before the Kakaako you see today. There were luxury buildings like the original Hokua and Ko’olani, but that was pretty much it. We got in right at the start of the Oahu new construction boom with a resale of a previous reserved/affordable unit which was now being sold at a market price. We tried to get in to the Honolulu affordable housing buildings that were under construction at the time, but found ourselves stuck in the butt crack. As a young realtor, I made too much money, but still not enough to qualify for one of the new market units. The resale unit was our only chance and luckily, the Sellers took us on. We sold our Mililani townhome for almost 30% more than we bought it for which put us in the perfect position to get out of traffic and into Kakaako.
"If I weren’t a realtor in Kakaako, we probably could have been a one car family."
When we moved in, the closest grocery store was Foodland at Ala Moana Center – not too shabby at all. I mean, who’s gonna turn their nose up at a grocery store downstairs from Nordstrom where you can grab a delicious cold brew or gelato on the way, sample a perfume, and try on a pair of Tory Burch sandals? But it wasn’t necessarily in grocery shopping walking distance. It’s close, but a little far for carrying milk, eggs, and ice cream. Then, Kakaako Whole Foods opened at the foot of the A'eo Ward Village building which was only a 6 minute walk from my door step, to the elevator, and to the store entrance (yes I timed it). I probably cried the day it opened. It was a game changer not only because the grocery shopping was so convenient, but because they added the Two Tides Bar with TV’s so my husband could watch the Laker game while I grabbed the groceries I needed. We’d have a couple of beers and then walk home. If I weren’t a realtor in Kakaako, we probably could have been a one car family.
"You learn the names of the dogs, but quickly forget the names of the people."
Saturdays in Kakaako are the best. You wake up, workout in the fitness center (Kakaako buildings have the sickest fitness centers), grab coffee downstairs, walk to the farmers market for fresh local produce and baked goods. Sometimes I’d even grab fresh flowers to place in my dining area. There are free community events like dog parties at Victoria Park where you meet all the other dog parents. You learn the names of the dogs, but quickly forget the names of the people. (Oh look, there’s Bailey’s mom!). There’s free yoga, live local music, and night markets in the street where they shut down an entire block and fill it with local food vendors.
Ala Moana Beach Park comes alive with family parties, music, even sound bathing (not something I would normally seek out, but it’s free with cool lanterns and people looking like they’re taking the best naps of their lives. What the hell? We did it!). Adults have been known to buy roller skates from Hot Topic (yes been there, done that) and skate around the walk way bordering the ocean. Ala Moana Beach Park and the Kewalo Basin are directly south of Kakaako and host at least 7 surf breaks. Kewalo's is the home break to the Olympic Gold Champion of surfing, Carissa Moore. Whether you are skilled enough to hang in the water with her or just want to sit on the wall at Kakaako Waterfront Park, you will see her along with other surf groms.
"You can be a foodie, yogi, hipster IPA lover (there’s a very cool beer/brewery scene), shopaholic, beach lover, retiree, coffee snob, newlywed, single wanting to mingle..."
When you say you live in Kakaako, you may not even realize how special it is until you see the reaction from the person you say it to. I have to believe everyone has a little bit of Kakaako FOMO. You can be a foodie, yogi, hipster IPA lover (there’s a very cool beer/brewery scene), shopaholic, beach lover, retiree, coffee snob, newlywed, single wanting to mingle, parent who values time over the big house in the suburbs, luxury lifestyle lover wanting plush amenities and sweeping ocean views from your home in the sky, a 2nd home owner who loves where they live when it’s not winter or hades where you come from. You can either be someone who likes to be seen or a total introvert who finds comfort in being able lock their door when they come and go never to be bothered by their neighbors.
For me, it’s getting to know the staff and security in my building. It’s forming relationships with the local baristas. It was being able to walk to Anaha Ward Village and eat outside at Merrimen’s during lockdown when we couldn’t sit in a restaurant and feeling good about supporting a local business during such a trying time. It’s understanding what is meant by #OurKakaako and having that sense of care and pride in a robust community aimed at connecting people and allowing people to work and play where they live. It’s walking to lunch or brunch with girlfriends. It’s hosting friends and family for BBQs on the rec deck. It’s having movie night with friends and family in the theatre. It’s having my nieces and nephews over to swim in the pool. It’s pouring a glass of wine and watching the moon rise while relaxing in the jacuzzi. It’s watching free fireworks every Friday from the comfort of the couch. It’s convenient without being a convenience store.
"I never had a house and wanted to experience that before I buy"
Living in Kakaako was a dream and it’s a dream I keep alive. I moved away and bought a home in Hawaii Kai. If I loved it so much, why did I move? I have 2 dogs and wanted a yard. I never had a house and wanted to experience that before I die. (I’m a realtor for crying out loud!). I wanted to be able to yell across the yard to borrow sugar from my neighbor, water my own grass, plant some fruit trees, paint the exterior of my house whatever color I want, put up Christmas lights and decorations, hand out candy on Halloween, move the kitchen if I want, add an ADU for my aging parents, have the space to host guests from out of town (a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 crazy Cocker Spaniels isn’t the most accommodating). Perhaps it felt a little too much like a vacation. Someday, when I retire or feel my big house is just too much for me, I’ll likely look to move back – God willing. Meanwhile, I live vicariously through my clients and I still eat in the restaurants weekly, but instead of walking home on a full stomach and 4 glasses of wine, I plan accordingly for the drive home.