In the Hawaiian language, Kailua means “two seas,” or “two currents,” a contraction of the words kai (meaning sea or seawater) and ʻelua (meaning two); it is so named because of the two lagoons in the district or the two currents which run through Kailua Bay.

Kailua is located in Windward Oahu in the judicial district and the ahupua’a named Ko’olaupoko. It is located 12 miles northeast of Honolulu – over Nu’uanu Pali, the tallest mountain peak in the Ko’olau mountain range.

The town is a typical suburb spawned by post-war development Kaiwanui Marsh, and Enchanted Lake. The Kailua Chamber of Commerce supports the communities within the triangle from Marine Corp Base Hawaii to the edge of Kaneohe to the outskirts of Waimanalo. Many small businesses and community organizations support this unique town with its beautiful, protected beaches, and improved highways bringing thousands home from their workplaces in Honolulu. 

Natural Features

Kailua is a place of much natural beauty. The most significant features of Kailua are the bay, the mountains, and the wetlands.  Kailua Bay is a magnificent place symbolizing the regional quality of the community.  Kailua Beach and nearby Lanikai have been on the “Worlds Best Beach” lists by several publishers for many years.

Wai Nui (the big water) Marsh, a natural wetland, provides habitat for many species of wildlife. The marsh was a center of life for early Kailuans. Here is where they farmed, managed their fishponds and prayed to their gods. A huge saltwater wetland, it’s peacefulness can be enjoyed on the hiking/biking pathway that wraps around its edge.

Mount Olomana towers over every neighborhood in Kailua. It’s three peaks are it’s significant feature and a challenge for the hardiest hikers.

A Special Corner of the Gathering Place

Many people come from all over the world to visit Kailua’s picturesque beaches, great restaurants and wonderful people.  Its tight nit community, laid back vibe and uncrowded beaches  is what appeals to people like President Obama, and many other celebrities who make Kailua home. Celebrities enjoy a town you can hang out in, where the residents leave them alone.  It isn’t uncommon to have celebrity encounters in Kailua. 

The “sense of place” shopping and dining experiences you have today are the result of cooperation between the City & County of Honolulu, local businesses and community volunteers in the renovation of our malls, buildings and streets.

There is still more is to come. Stroll around our town and enjoy the ambiance of our revitalized Kailua Town.


“I remember one day, I saw Jason Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Sandler, Famous Amos, Michelle Pfeifer and some of the cast of Lost all in the same day, just around down doing normal things.  No one bothers them, the are treated like normal people.  I think that is why they love it here.”
Kailua Resident 

Kailua History

Historians and researchers believe that it is possible that Kailua was home to Hawaiian families at least 1,500 years ago. The earliest settlers are thought to have lived fished and played on the slopes surrounding Kawainui Marsh. A Bishop Museum report on archaeological excavations of the marshland concludes that when the marsh slopes were first occupied about 500 A.D., agriculture was not possible. The report said that early Hawaiian occupants of Kailua apparently lived beside a lagoon or bay open to the sea hundreds of yards shoreside of today’s shoreline.
In the 16th century, Kailua attracted the ali’i giving birth to many rich Hawaiian legends, some of which may be found in written and oral reminiscences in Hawaii State Libraries. Many legends were born here including the menehune who were known for working at night in Kaiwainui Marsh and mo’o who took the shape of a large lizardthat attracted fish. Kailua was denselypopulated before the arrival of Captain Cook and was the ancient capital of O’ahu’s kings. The biggest event in Kailua and the entire Windward side was in 1795 when King Kamehameha I conquered O’ahu in his quest to unite the Hawaiian Islands. The King granted Kaiwainui Marsh and old Kailua, which included large freshwater fish ponds and saltwater ponds at Mokapu, to the warriors and chiefs that had helped him. The land was used in various forms for agriculture from sugarcane to rice to taro and eventually was used primarily for cattle raising.

Kailua was a sleepy town of barely 3,000 in the 1940s. However, the events of World War II changed the appearance of Kailua. Kaneohe Ranch sold portions of land to the government for expansion of the Navy base (now Marine Corps Base Hawaii) and the Army’s Fort Hase. Finally in 1942, Kaneohe Ranch closed down its cattle raising operations entirely, freeing thousands of acres for post-war development. Harold K.L. Castle, owner of Kaneohe Ranch, donated the land for many churches, schools, and for a new hospital.  A new four-lane highway, tunneling through the Ko’olau Mountains, was completed in the late 1950s. In 1946, a small Liberty House (now Macy’s) shop opened with three employees and upgraded to a full-line department store in 1953 with nearly 50 employees.  The first bowling alley, a branch office of the telephone company, and the very first supermarket in Hawaii opened in Kailua in 1947.   By the end of the 1950s, Hawaii had become a state and Kailua became the official postal designation (previously known as Lanikai).  Castle Hospital (now Castle Medical Center) opened in 1963. By 1960 the population was up to 24,400.


The town has grown more than 100 percent since 1960 when its population was 24,402. It has a compact, easy-to-shop business district surrounded by mostly single-family homes. By 1992 50,000 residents encompassed a central urban core with surrounding residential areas. 

kialuacoverHistorical Photos courtesy of the Kailua Historical Society.  These photos and much more are available in their new book that was just released in 2010 that can be purchased by clicking here. 

Historial Landmarks

Kawainui Marsh Sacred to Hawaiians, Kawainui Marsh, the largest remaining emergent wetland in Hawaii and Hawaii’s largest ancient freshwater fishpond, is located in what was once the center of a caldera of the Koolau shield volcano. The marsh provides primary habitat for four of Hawaii’s endemic and endangered waterbirds, including Laysan Duck and Hawaiian Goose or Nene, and contains archaeological and cultural resources, including ancient walled taro water gardens (lo’i) where fish were also cultivated. Kawainui Marsh stores surface water, providing flood protection for adjacent Kailua town, one of the largest towns on the windward side of O’ahu. 
Hamakua Marsh is a smaller wetland historically connected to and immediately downstream of Kawainui Marsh, which also provides significant habitat for several of Hawaii’s endemic and endangered waterbirds. The Ae‘o, or Stilt, is a native of Hawaii and, standing 16 inches on bright pink legs, it is the tallest shorebird.  The Stilt is one of four endangered native Hawaiian waterfowl that live in the Hamakua Marsh.  To see them, all you need to do is walk along the stream or sit and watch for a while. 

Ulupō  Heiau measures 140 by 180 feet with walls up to 30 feet in height. The construction of this massive terraced platform required a large work force under the direction of a powerful ali’i. The massiveness and quantity of rock carried many miles hint at its cultural importance. Tradition records Kualoa, more than 10 miles away, as one source of these stones. 

It is likely that the function of this heiau changed over time. It probably began as a mapele or agricultural heiau with ceremonies and rites conducted to insure the fertility of the crops grown in Kawainui. In later times, it may have become a heiau luakini dedicated to success in war.

If you come here, you’ll enjoy nice views of Kailua Bay and Kawainui Marsh. Many fruit trees grow at the heiau, such as bananas and noni. Taro is also being grown here. Show respect when you visit the heiau and stay on the trails.

The Ulupo Heiau is located in Kailua, right next to the Kawainui Regional Park and off of Kailua Road, behind the YMCA.


Maunawili Valley

The population center on the Windward side 100 years ago was Maunawili, not Kailua.  Maunawili was a hub of urban traffic and a bustling town.  Five stores near the intersection of what is now Highway 61 and Auloa Road catered to the Chinese, Hawaiian and Japanese clientele that made up most of the population.

Establishments included a general store, a barbershop, a tailor shop, a pool hall and  the only store still open today: Kalapawai Store; although it has moved to Kailua Beach.

Twenty minutes past Maunawili falls is the area Queen Lili’uokalani used as a summer retreat.  In the 1870s, this is where people of power and influence gathered for parties.  Nearby it is the Queen’s bath, and 10 minutes from the Queen’s Bath is the Kukapoki Heiau.  Built over 500 years ago, this was where the Hawaiians brought their offerings of produce.  

Private tours of Maunawili valley are rare but worthwhile; available through the Kailua Historical Society with Dr. Paul Brennan. (Read an article about Historical Maunawili. Page 1    Page 2)


Lanikai ‘Pillboxes’: One of the favorite spots for Kailuans is the view from atop Ka Iwi Ridge behind Lanikai. The short, steep hike to the “pillboxes” offers breathtaking views of the Mokulua Islands and Koolua Mountains.   While it is unclear how many were actually constructed, we do know that both the Lanikai and Diamond Head pillboxes were part of the island’s defensive system. They reportedly were observation posts built between World Wars I and II, which could alert shore artillery batteries to any approaching enemy ships. Eventually they were stripped out and left abandoned by the military. 

Lanikai Marker:  This stone and concrete marker was built in 1924 by Charles Frazier at the entrance of the New beach subdivision Lanikai.  Approximately 300 acres of land was acquired from Harold Castle’s holdings and W.G. Irwin Estate and renamed Lanikai for this development.  Lots were being sold on easy terms by the Trent Trust Company, Ltd.  There are beautiful views of Kailua Bay and Flat Island from where this marker stands.  

The Hilltop House:  This historical house is perched up on the hilltop overlooking Lanikai and Kailua Bay; offer 360 degree views. Built by Arthur and Anne Powlison in the 1920’s, this special home was constructed without removing or destroying any of the rocks.  Parts of  the walls, floor and furniture are the rocks. “We can truthfully say that we have not chipped, chiseled, or thrown away any of the rocks…only added a bit of compatible stone” Anne Powlison, Sharing Hilltop Living 1976. For three years during WW2, the military used this home as a training center and vantage point.

Anne Powlison was affectionately known by hundreds of children as the “Bird Lady”, visiting classrooms to teach about Hawai’i’s bird life, in the 1960’s.  This home is now a private residence and not open to the public for tours or visits.

Marine Corp Base Hawaii

MCB Hawaii includes seven installations, and although the main base and air station are labeled “Kaneohe Bay”, they are an integral part of the windward community and share more than just local business with Kailua. Their partnership includes employment, homes, hosting the commander in chief, schools and social events. Many of the marines and their families live in Kailua and many folks in Kailua work with the base as well.

The Marine Corps Base Hawaii Marines regularly participate in community events such as color guard presentations, parade formations, static vehicle displays, and speaking engagements.

If your organization is interested in having Marine Corps presence at your public event, you can send a written request to the Public Affairs Office at least 60 days prior to the event. If regulations and training schedule allow Marine Corps support of your event, our office will coordinate that support for you.

If you’re interested in having the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band perform at an event, call (808) 257-7040 or (808) 257- 7350.

Relocating to Kailua

Your big decision to move to the Island of Oahu, and particularly to the town of Kailua, has been a big one and you will need to know some of the things necessary to do before you step on the airplane for your final destination.

ACCOMMODATIONS: When you arrive, you will need a place to stay. Kailua does not have any hotels.  But we have many award-winning vacation rentals and B&B’s. You might want to stay in one of the many bed and breakfast cottages. If you have been able to make an advance trip to either purchase a home or to arrange for a home rental you will find lots of help for your choices. Our homes on the island are generally smaller, usually more open to the outdoors, with no attics, basements, furnaces or fireplaces.


REAL ESTATE: If you are relocating to Kailua, plenty of opportunities to both rent and purchase real property are available. Contrary to what many people from outside Hawaii still believe, you can own fee simple property in Hawaii. In fact, most properties for sale now are fee simple (and not leasehold). This did not use to be the case. Please consult with a licensed REALTOR for the details of this. Real estate in Kailua, and all over Oahu, is generally considered “expensive” by mainland standards. Compare prices here in Kailua, to desirable coastal cities in California or big cities like New York or Chicago, and the sticker shock will not be so bad.

Despite the cost, Kailua is a great place to think about buying real estate, to live, or to invest. Even in a down market, property values in the Kailua area have held up much better than most other areas on the island of Oahu. With the island’s most gorgeous beaches, a relaxed lifestyle, and an easy and beautiful commute to Honolulu, it is no wonder people prefer to live in Kailua. This, and the proximity to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, makes rental properties quite attractive to investors.

Kailua offers its residents various lifestyle opportunities. There are lots of single-family homes and also, condominiums and townhomes, in many neighborhoods. Most residential areas in Kailua are, at most, a few miles to the beach and other activities, such as golf and hiking. Most single-family homes, in Kailua, are relatively modest — originally built between 1945 and 1965, and starting as small post-war post & pier bungalows, or mid-century bungalows, plantation or ranch-style homes. But there are a few areas of newer construction as well. Many homes in Kailua have undergone extensive remodels and additions, to update and upgrade, or to expand the size of the home for larger families or multi-generational living. There are also areas of Kailua, such as Beachside and Lanikai, where you can find spectacular luxury homes and estates.

Each of more than a dozen neighborhoods in Kailua has its own unique charm and character. Water-lovers can find homes that are beachfront and oceanfront. Others may prefer lakefront (Enchanted Lake) or canal front (Kaelepulu Stream) homes, some of which have boat docks. Golf course and preservation fronting homes may also be found in Kailua. And the views you can find from the hillsides in Kailua will amaze you. The great thing about Kailua is that no matter what neighborhood in which you choose to live, you will be only minutes from Kailua Town Center and its thriving business district!

Find a Kailua Chamber Real Estate Professional 

CHILDREN: If your children will be attending school in Kailua or on the island, and according to the time of the school year, it will be necessary to choose a school so that registration, etc can be made before your arrival. Kailua is blessed with many schools both public and private. The location of your new home will dictate which public school your children will attend. Check out our education section for a list of schools. Your Realtor should be able to help you with which public schools would be fed from which areas.  

PETS: Hawaii is a rabies-free state and has strict rules regarding bringing animals into the islands, so it’s best to get started early to get your pet ready for easy entry.  There are ways to prepare your animal ahead of time and often get an immediate release at the airport rather than putting them into quarantine but you will need to get started early up to 4 months. Go to http://hawaii.gov/hdoa/ai/aqs/info for everything you will need to know. Your vet can work with you on preparing your pet. It is very important you follow the rules carefully or your pet could be quarantined or denied entry. Be sure to check with the airline you plan to use, to find out the rules regarding your pet and cost.  Find direct flights to avoid stress on your pet.

MOVING: There are several shipping companies bringing containers to the islands.  You can fill a container, large or small ship a car, or put your belongings on a pallet. If you are using a container, it can be delivered to your home to pack up at your leisure and then it will be transported to the dock for loading.  A car will need to be driven to the dock to be loaded.  Be sure to find out the requirements for the car, such a registration, etc. If you are using the pallet method, your belongings will need to be brought to the dock, for loading on the pallet(s) and wrapped for shipping. Once your belongings are delivered to the island, you might want to contact a mover, who will either pick up the pallets or meet you at your destination to unload your container. 

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