Last Updated: 8/22/2022
Are you thinking of becoming one of the ~55,000 people who move to the island annually? If you’re planning a move, enjoy this Insider’s Guide to living on Oahu.
Let us be the first to say aloha and e komo mai (welcome)! Living on Oahu is like living nowhere else—and it will be an experience you’ll carry for the rest of your life. Things on Oahu operate a little differently than on the mainland, and we’d love to help your transition.
Since 1982, we’ve moved tens of thousands of families, individuals, and service members to Oahu. Use our recommendations as your unofficial manual for life on Oahu. You’ll discover the best neighborhoods, where to shop, where to work, and how to spend your days off. Let’s start with the most basic of all of your needs: where you’ll live.
Where to Live on Oahu
Oahu has a reputation in Hawaii for being the “busiest” island. Keep in mind, if you’re moving from a place like Los Angeles or Chicago, your idea of “busy” will likely be very different from ours!
- Honolulu – If you’re hoping to keep a piece of city life, Honolulu is the place for you. You’ll enjoy things like the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra, Bishop Museum, jazz shows at the Blue Note, and amazing restaurants. Check out our guide to living in Honolulu for a closer look at the neighborhoods to consider.
- Kailua – You’ll find this beach town on the eastern side of Oahu, also known as the Windward Coast. You’ll be minutes from several picture-perfect beaches, as well as a shopping area with coffee shops, boutiques, and even a Whole Foods. If you’re commuting into town, expect anywhere from a 25-50 minute drive.
- Ewa Beach – This fast-growing area is a favorite with families, notably for its newly constructed homes and for the amount of space you get for your money. Additionally, if a member of your family will be working on base, Ewa makes for a much easier commute than anything on the windward side. If you’re commuting to town, commutes can be anywhere from 40-90 minutes.
- Kaneohe – Prices in this neighborhood can be a bit lower than in nearby Kailua. You’ll also find a good variety of housing options in the area, including single-family homes and condos. Kaneohe also offers easy access to a number of major roads on Oahu, making it easy to get almost anywhere on the island.
- Haleiwa – Now for something pretty different! Haleiwa is located on Oahu’s laid-back North Shore, home to some of the most famous surf breaks in the world, including Pipeline and Sunset Beach. Life operates at a much slower pace up there. You’ll have to drive a little further for essentials like groceries, but the North Shore residents will tell you that it’s more than worth it!
If you’ve already done some research, you probably already know that the cost of living in Hawaii can be significantly higher than in other spots in the U.S. To compare to other places in the U.S., take a look at Zillow’s Observed Rent Index:
- Urban Honolulu: $2,168
- Phoenix, AZ: $1,563
- Los Angeles, CA: $2,540
- San Diego, CA: $2,394
- Seattle, WA: $1,905
- Portland, OR: $1,669
- San Francisco, CA: $2,919
- U.S. Overall: $1,750
As you look around the island for your dream home, you’ll learn that rents vary dramatically based on your location and the amenities. Use these ranges as a starting point:
- 1 BR – $1,300-1,800+
- 2 BR – $1,500-2,200+
What’s the best way to find a place?
If you’re renting, it’s always easier to secure a place once you’re here. A number of landlords simply won’t consider someone who’s not on island yet. Word of mouth is a great resource. Talk to everyone you know on Oahu and let them know you’re looking. Some of the best places (and the best deals!) never make it onto websites because they get passed around to friends and friends of friends. However, once you get here, these sites will be an excellent starting point:
Where to Shop on Oahu
This is an easy one; Oahu is the unofficial shopping capital of Hawaii. In addition to Ala Moana, the largest open-air shopping center in the world, you’ll have access to a smattering of large retailers including Target, Walmart, Costco, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. However, we love to shop locally-owned businesses as much as we can. Here are a few to check out:
- Na Mea Hawaii – If you’re looking for a gift that’s truly Hawaiian, make Na Mea your first stop. They also offer classes in traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts.
- The Public Pet – Located in hip Kaimuki, the Public Pet is a great place to pick up a Hawaii-themed toy for your furry friends (Spam musubi squeakers, anyone?!) as well as healthy treats and supplements to keep your pets in peak health.
- Onekea Bros. General Store – Live aloha aina with their selection of high-quality, reusable home products and zero-waste cleaning and personal care products. It’s a way to live both people and planet friendly.
- Jana Lam – This Kakaako-based design company offers one-of-a-kind, hand-printed and sewn clothing and home accessories all made in Hawaii.
- Hele Mele Botanicals – On Oahu, many occasions are celebrated by gifting lei—birthdays, graduations, retirements, and more. Hele Mele Botanicals is an excellent source for gorgeous lei and lei po’o, which are worn on the head.
Now that you’ve gotten a sense of where you might do some shopping on Oahu, let’s talk about paying for all that retail therapy with some income.
Where to Work on Oahu
Like the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu’s economy is centered around tourism and the industries that support it. If you have experience in hospitality, food and beverage, or retail, you’ll likely find it easier to secure a job on Oahu. Additionally, since Honolulu is the seat of the Hawaii state government, you’ll also meet a number of people on the island who are state employees. Oahu also has the highest number of military personnel in the Hawaiian Islands, so you’ll also meet a number of servicemembers stationed on the island, as well as their families.
If you’re not arriving to Oahu with a job, take a look at the biggest industries to get a sense of where you might fit into the economy.
Biggest Industries on Oahu
- Leisure and hospitality, including hotels, restaurants, bars, and tour companies
- Trade, transportation, and utilities, which also includes retail shops
- Federal, state, and local government
- Educational and health services
- Professional and business services
As with securing a place to live, it can be difficult to search for a job from a distance. Many employers want to meet potential employees in person. Additionally, a lot of people say they’re moving to Oahu, and then change their minds at the last minute. So if you don’t already have an offer, your best bet is to establish yourself on Oahu, then start your search.
Now that we’ve talked about work life, let’s talk about your leisure time and how to enjoy all that the island has to offer.
Making the Most of Your Time on Oahu
Once you’re settled into your new home, your next step will be exploring the island.
- Catch a Few Waves – Oahu is one of the best places in the world to surf, and you’ll find plenty of gentle, beginner breaks to get you started. (The team at Big Wave Dave are super friendly if you want to try a lesson!) Or, if you’re an accomplished surfer, Oahu will be the ultimate training ground for upping your game.
- Explore Hawaiian History – If you take the time to understand the history of these islands and the people who settled it, your experience on Oahu will be much richer. Iolani Palace, the home and virtual prison of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s last queen, is a great place to start. Make sure to pay a few extra dollars for the audio tour; it’s worth it!
- Take a Hike – You’ll find hikes ranging from easy strolls to challenging uphills with mind-blowing views to reward you for the hard work. (Olomana Trail is one of our favorites.) Make sure you wear shoes with good grip (no flip flops!) and bring plenty of water, since the sun and the heat can dehydrate you quickly.
- Spend Time Under the Sea – The waters surrounding Oahu are teeming with life—turtles, fish, octopus, squid, eels, and more. Additionally, many of these creatures are endemic so you won’t find them anywhere else. All you need is a mask, snorkel, and set of fins to enjoy a front-row seat to an underwater world surrounding Oahu. Hanauma Bay is a great place to start.
- Stuff Your Face – Hawaii is melting pot of a number of different cultures, and the resulting food scene reflects this diversity. On Oahu, you’ll find a number of unique dishes you won’t find anywhere else. This list will get you started.
Making Your Oahu Life Your Own
A move to Oahu often spans thousands of miles and a number of moving parts. It may also mean a significant lifestyle change for you and anyone else who’s moving with you. We hope you’ve enjoyed our Insider’s Guide to Living on Oahu. Maybe it’s helped you to visualize what island life might is like? If you decide to move to Oahu, we’d love to help you make a safe, easy, and affordable transition. It all starts with a complimentary quote from one of our experts. Just reach out, and we’ll take it from there.