A guided hike on the Manoa Falls.

A visual journey through Oahu's lush Manoa Valley

The epitome of Oahu's urban residential valleys, Manoa Valley is filled with lush natural wonders, age-old architecture and ono grinds.

It’s not a coincidence that manoa, in Hawaiian, means “vast.”

Not only is this lush valley on Oahu’s south shore immense in physical size — extending from the emerald peaks of the Koolau Mountains to the coral reefs off Waikiki — but its history, its culture, its people and its offerings are vast, too.

A true residential valley, rich with churches, parks and tree-lined streets with homes finished in traditional New England-style charm and modern flair, Manoa is also stocked with waterfalls and miles of hiking trails. All of it, just footsteps from Honolulu’s busy urban core. The valley is home to a venerable performing arts theater, a Chinese cemetery, a world-class arboretum and the state’s flagship university. You’ll also find great bakeries, a crêperie, grocery stores, restaurants, sandwich shops, boutiques, gas stations, yoga studios and a weekly farmers’ market where you can buy shiitake mushrooms, apple bananas and lettuce grown in and named for the valley.

Once an agricultural valley—for more than a century its floor was home to everything from sugar and coffee plantations to taro fields—Manoa now boasts a residential population numbering more than 40,000. Its clanging trolleys and horse-drawn wagons have disappeared, long ago yielding to automobiles and paved roads.

But remnants of Old Hawaii still remain in this valley, peeking from behind Manoa’s restrained urbanity and whispered in its ghost stories. It’s still the kind of neighborhood where people wave to each other and store owners remember your name. Even the daily rain showers that keep the valley perpetually green seem friendlier here.

This is Manoa now. And once you’ve visited, you’ll want to return.

The great outdoors:

Manoa Valley’s verdant backdrop is the majestic peaks of the Koolau mountain range, often dressed with clouds that bathe the valley with frequent rains. Many trails meander through the valley’s forests and along its ridges. One of the most popular is the gentle, nearly mile-long trail to Manoa Falls (pictured below). The trail passes through rain forests and bamboo groves to the base of the 150-foot waterfall deep in the valley. The rustle of the trees and cacophony of birdsongs will leave you questioning whether you’re really only five miles from urban Honolulu.

 

Hikers take pictures of the majestic Manoa Falls.

 

Hikers climb the gradual incline of the trail to Manoa Falls.

 

A view of the back of the valley from the 2.3-mile Manoa Cliffs Trail.

 

Aihualama Falls is a welcome sight at the end of a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike from Lyon Arboretum,
a 200-acre botanical garden and research facility at the back of Manoa Valley.

 

An abondoned seismographic station on the Lyon Arboretum's Aihualama Falls Trail has become a stage for haunted tales. 

 

The trail to Manoa Falls cuts through a stunning bamboo forest.

 

Close enough to the city, yet deep enough in Manoa Valley to feel its quietude, the view of Honolulu from Huelani Drive,
whose residences cling to the back cliffside of the valley.

 

Where past meets present:

Seeming to blend organically with the natural beauty of Manoa Valley is the movement of its everyday life. From students rushing by night-blooming cereus along the stone walls of famed Punahou School to the yukata-clad dancers munching on roasted corn and sweet andagi doughnuts at Koganji Temple bon dances during the summer, Manoa is a magical blend of ancient and modern, natural and manmade. The historic home, Kualii (pictured below), on Manoa Road, is proof the two can co-exist. The grand Tudor Revival-style edifice boasts a steep gable roof and façade, with timbered and stucco walls. The estate is also home to Manoa Heritage Center and Kukaoo Heiau, the latter a restored agricultural temple originally constructed by the valley’s ancient Hawaiian residents.

 

Kualii, a historic home on Manoa Road reminds us of simpler days.

 

Bishop Jikyu Rose stands outside Koganji Temple, built nearly 40 years ago on what was once an orchid farm.

 

Manoa has its own post office, public pool, shopping center and fire station, Engine No. 22. 

 

College Hill, built in 1902 and for decades home to University of Hawaii Manoa presidents,
is now a place for university fundraising events and meetings.

 

The intimate, 250-seat Manoa Valley Theatre produces six plays each year. 

 

The Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at UH-Manoa offers a taro cultivation class on a loi (irrigated terrace) with
40 varieties of taro, alongside Manoa Stream. 

 

A view of Koganji Temple, which annualy hosts a lively bon dance festival honoring the spirits of its members' ancestors.

 

The playing board for konane, an ancient Hawaiian game resembling checkers, at Kualii. 

 

The view from Kukaoo Heiau will surely cause you to fall in love with Manoa.

 

Though mere minutes from the bright lights of Honolulu, stars in the night sky are still visible deep
in the valley at the Manoa Chinese Cemetery.

 

Ono Manoa:

In Manoa you’ll find the best food in the most unexpected of places—restored, decades-old buildings, alongside fast-food restaurants and in neighborhood shopping centers. Manoa is home to dozens of quirky eateries, from a gourmet pizza place to a crêperie tucked away in a former gas station. Andy Rodrigues (pictured below) and his wife, Norma, have been running Andy’s Sandwiches & Smoothies on East Manoa Road since 1977 in a restored neighborhood marketplace that is a valley landmark. Andy’s specializes in ono (tasty) stacked sandwiches, fresh smoothies and pastries, and serves up the valley’s best breakfast. The always gregarious Rodrigues loves to talk to his customers. Stop by once and you’ll become a regular.

 

Andy Rodrigues has been running Andy's Sandwiches & Smoothies since 1977.

 

Le Crêpe Café serves a variety of crêpes, such as the three-cheese Cheese Louise to the sweeter
Honey Lovers, filled with butter, bananas and honey.

 

A popular lunch at Andy's: an avocado and tuna sandwich with carrots, lettuce and sprouts on
homemade whole wheat bread.

 

A baker at Fendu Boulangerie in Manoa Marketplace prepares dough for gourmet pizzas. 

 

Andy's is more than a sandwich shop, it's a neighborhood hangout.

 

The berry panna cotta at Fendu.

 

Contact information:

 

Andy's Sandwiches & Smoothies

2904, East Manoa Rd., (808) 988-6161.

College Hill

2230 Kamehameha Ave., not open for tours.

Fendu Boulangerie

2752 Woodlawn Dr., (808) 988-4310.

Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies

2645 Dole St., (808) 956-0555.

Koganji Temple

2869 Oahu Ave., (808) 988-4905, koganjitemple.org

Manoa Heritage Center

2859 Manoa Rd., (808) 988-1287, manoaheritagecenter.org.

Le Crêpe Café

2752 Woodlawn Dr., (808) 988-6688, lecrepecafe.com.

Lyon Arboretum 

3660 Manoa Rd., (808) 988-0456., hawaii.edu/lyonarboretum.

Manoa Chinese Cemetery

3225 Pakanu St.

Manoa Cliffs Trail

Trailhead off Round Top Drive, hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov.

Manoa Falls Trail

Trailhead at the end of Manoa Road, hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov.

This story was originally published in HAWAII Magazine's MAR/APR 2011 print issue.