Who doesn’t love a road trip? And exploring a place you’ve visited before has the comfort of familiarity, but the adventure of discovering new finds. Kailua is just that place for me. Having grown up on the East side of Oahu just around the bend from Kailua, it has always been on my radar. But this is not the Kailua I grew up with — hipster coffee shops, highly-curated mens’ surf shops, and a mega Wholefoods to boot. Back in the day, Kailua was a sleepy ‘burb like Hawaii Kai, an extension of the bustling windward town of Kaneohe. Today it’s a real hodgepodge of eclectic shops, modern conveniences, and a home town feel where transplants come looking for their piece of paradise to raise a family.
I haven’t been back to Kailua since 2014 and even in that short time, new hot spots have popped up which I discovered on my recent trip this month. A Target now resides in the center of town, a stone’s throw from the Wholefoods. But it’s not just the big guys that have moved in. I recently discovered a little strip of cool shops on Hekili St., the little street that could (reminds me of my ‘ol Smith Street days in Brooklyn.) A few of my favorite finds — Twin Islands, Aloha Beach Club, and Nalu Health Bar.
Twin Islands, a company founded by a Kailua brother honoring his late twin, epitomizes the laid back lifestyle of Kailua locals. Their unisex apparel represents the Mokulua (twin) islands off Lanikai beach which grace their uber soft tees and branded surf wear.
Aloha Beach Club, a hipster man’s paradise of understated surf apparel appropriate for city and beach. With a flagship boutique in San Diego, this island outpost brings a little style to the once sleepy enclave. Their motto, simple things can, and should, be made well, is apparent in this minimalist mens shop. Perfect for the surfer dude (or wanna-be) who is anti-Quicksilver and doesn’t want loud in-your-face prints and logos. Most hipster shops on the Mainland have a coffee bar inside, but in Hawaii, it’s a shave-ice bar – The Local.
Across the bustling Kailua Road are three more hidden gems for the fashion set. Olive Boutique, one of the pioneer shops in Kailua on Kihapai St., has been around the longest and has injected some cool factor to Kailua. With bus loads of Japanese tourists coming in armed with travel books with their must-have stops, Olive and Oliver (the mens outpost next door), is the first on their list. The latest contemporary labels from CA and NY are on display next to curated accessories by Baggu, Rifle Paper Co., Voluspa Candles, and Dolce Vita shoes.
And my favorite spot, Kailua Living on Oneawa St., is the ultimate beach house you dream of having in Hawaii. This cozy turquoise heaven is stocked with hand-stamped linens, pillows, and clutches by owner Michele Baginski’s Local Living Design, and chic beach coverups and apparel by local designers. The smell when you walk in conjures up memories of your favorite beach vacation — the scent of coconut and bamboo from Bungalow fragrance by Stacia.
Kawapalai Market, the little beachside corner market, has been around since 1932 and is a Kailua landmark in town. If you need a sandwich, coffee, or a quick shave ice before the beach, this is the spot. Right at the end of Kailua Rd. before hitting the beach to the right towards Lanikai or towards the left to Kalama Beach, the old green country-style building should be your first stop.
And after the shopping is all said and done, what’s left but to head to the beach! My two favorite spots are Kalama Beach park, a dog and kid-friendly locals beach great for boogie-boarding. For a more idyllic beach, head in the opposite direction towards Lanikai (where 2 of my 3 kids were blessed by Kahu Silva at age 2!) A boat basin just before Lanikai is the perfect spot to launch a kayak, SUP, or surfboard to head over to the twin Mokulua islands, the Mokes, as the locals call them. My next trip goal is to surf Mokes, a perfect long-board wave.
So is Kailua destined to be the next Waikiki with all the bus loads of tourists flocking in, the sprouting of big-box chains, and the gridlock on Kailua Road? Probably not. I see the growth as progress, and Kailua is definitely a cooler place for it and not just for outsiders to enjoy. The locals (whether haole or not) want modern conveniences for their young families, but still the laid-back vibe of the islands. And Kailua is a slice of paradise with cool organic juice bars, kayak/SUP shops, and a home-town feel. Who wouldn’t want to live there?!