This is another article that we might ruffle a few feathers with. The first was in regards to the best coffee shops on Oahu, but that topic was debatable in a playful kind of way. Answering a question about visitor safety on the other hand is always contentious. Still, we didn’t shy away from when women across the world asked if Oahu was safe for solo female travelers, so don’t expect us to be reticent here either.
It’s funny, because the answer to the question is typically polarizing. On one hand, those who enjoy the cozy comforts of Ko Olina are quick to point out that one should never cross the neighboring border to Waianae, unless escorted by a tour group to Electric Beach. What more do you expect from someone who pays upwards of a $1000 per night for a double bed? Then there’s the other group who try and appeal to your compassionate side. Put money into socioeconomically challenged communities they say – there is nothing to worry about at all. The latter message usually comes courtesy of the local Chamber of Commerce. Who should you believe? Both, and neither. Confused? Good, because there is no clear cut answer. That said, we’re going to sum it up better than any previous attempt so that you can make a decision about whether or not to visit the wild west of Oahu. Let’s get to it.
7 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting and Staying on Oahu’s West Side Communities of Waianae and Makaha
Beast and the Beauty
As soon as you pass the Ko Olina signs on the throughway and deeper into the west (Waianae and Makaha) things go south aesthetically. Manicured putting greens transform into sun-scorched brush with fallen thistles that pierce through slippers and sandals. Concrete partitions become canvas for graffiti, and tent cities replace billion-dollar resorts. Rusted chain link fences surround plantation homes as barrel-shaped canines pace back and forth within, begging you to trespass. Abandoned vehicles that have been stripped for their parts before being burnt into a black and grey shell rest along railway tracks and beach park parking lots. This is the ugly side of Waianae and Makaha. It’s the moʻo (lizard beast) that winds along the leeward side, passing itself off as Farrington Highway. But when you look makai (to the ocean) and mauka (to the mountains) the beauty of the communities becomes evident.
For starters, Waianae and Makaha have the lowest average annual rainfall than all other parts of the island, at 21-inches and 16-inches respectively. As a result, the sun shines here more than anywhere on Oahu, which brightens the ocean, the reef below, the golden sand, and the beveled cliffs on the opposing side. The illuminating effect helps to create the best deep water snorkeling on the entire island. Beyond the lens of your goggles you’ll spy silver spinner dolphins, green sea turtles, and pinstriped triggerfish along with spotted rays. The Waianae coast beaches themselves are uncrowded and quite spectacular, especially when framed against the Waianae Mountain Range.
Bring Aloha, Get Aloha
“Hawaiian to me is a feeling of getting somewhere, without stepping on anybody’s toes, without causing friction with anybody.” (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole)
The quote may not be as eloquent as his lyrics, but Hawaiian music legend Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (who claimed Waianae as his home) summed up how everyone should approach their time on the West Side. If you don’t bring any problems, you won’t have any problems. On the flip side, if you come with aloha you will receive aloha from all whom you encounter. The mana of Kamakawiwo’ole (or Bruddah Iz) is felt throughout Waianae, so despite the at-times shocking exterior there is a warm and hospitable demeanor to the community. It all depends upon what you attract. Waianae watering hole The Beach House by 604 is an amazing place to mingle and get to know West Side “aloha” while enjoying great food and even better cocktails.
It’s Safe, But Never Leave Your Valuables Unattended
From dawn to dusk Waianae and Makaha are safe for tourists. The same is not necessarily true for their (your) belongings. Nearly every beach park on the Waianae coast has a homeless encampment nearby, and while most inhabitants respect your possessions, not everyone does. There are some who need what you have more than you do. They have no qualms about claiming it as their own if it’s ripe for the picking. What’s considered ripe? A backpack left unattended on the sand or iPhone on the dash of a rented vehicle. Smash and grab thievery happens under the shade of parking lot palms.
Leave your wallet and digital devices back at your accommodations or locked in the trunk of your vehicle. If you must bring them to the beach, cover your pack with a large towel and place it next to a family or other group of beachgoers before heading out for a short swim or snorkel. Local thieves shy away from crowds and confrontation. By exercising common sense you’ll leave with what you came with.
It’s Safe, But Don’t Wander Around at Night
Daytime along the Waianae coast is completely safe for tourists, but what about sundown? There’s nothing wrong with visiting the 24-hour Long’s Drugs to pickup snacks when hunger pangs strike at 11 PM. Public areas where shops and eateries are open for business are harmless. However, avoid hanging out at the beach and in parks at night, as questionable characters wander out from the bushes and look for mischief. This is as true of the leeward coast of Oahu as it is for most other populated communities on the mainland of North America.
Limited Access to Recreational Amenities
Recreational amenities are lean between Waianae and Makaha. You can buy snorkeling gear and assorted beach accessories from Long’s Drugs, CVS, or one of the independent markets found along Farrington Highway. However, when it comes to bike and board rentals (surfboards, SUPs, etc.) there is only one place to go – Hale Nalu Beach & Bike. Get directions to Hale Nalu.
Don’t stay or visit Waianae or Makaha without a rental car. The Waianae coast is remote and far from the attractions that you came to Oahu to see. While you can take the C – Country Express bus (download route) all the way to/from the sanctity of Ala Moana Center to Makaha Beach Park, it’s a time-consuming and exhausting ride. In addition, a long haul on the Country Express isn’t appealing for other reasons. There a few characters that commonly ride the route that you may not want to sit beside.
Where to Stay
If you’ve decided that you want to stay on the West Side, do so further down Farrington Highway in Makaha. Most of the Waianae vacation rentals that you find on Airbnb are seemingly appealing due to camera tricks. A “newly renovated beachfront suite” is of little comfort if you step out of the building lobby to find trash strewn about the sidewalk. Rental property owners don’t show the street-side of their buildings on Airbnb for a good reason. They also don’t name the building in fear of people using Google Street View to perform an inspection. The best place to stay in Waianae is the Hawaiian Princess Resort (get directions). The property is situated along the picturesque Papaoneone Beach where equally eye-catching Mauna Lahilahi (a small mountain of cultural significance) stands proud on the western end of the sand.
Makaha on the other hand, has some amazing and affordable vacation rental properties. Most of the area’s rentals are found within Makaha Valley Towers, a near-600 unit development that is nestled against the majestic Waianae Mountains (get directions). In addition to the lush beauty, visitors are delighted to discover hundreds of peacocks that call the mountain valley home. These magnificent beasts wander around like they own the place. In addition to Makaha Valley Towers, there are a number of Makaha Beach Park beachfront houses available on the short term rental market. They cost a fraction of what you’d pay for the same square footage on the other three sides of the island.
Do you have any other questions about visiting or staying on the leeward side of Oahu? Do you have any experiences that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below and we’ll check it out and reply!