Wahiawa: A Guide to Central Oahu’s Overlooked Town

Take it slow and you'll find plenty of interesting shops, eateries and sights to see.
wahiawa oahu guide

(Editor’s Note: As of March 2020, some of these businesses may have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Turn north on Route 99 in Pearl City, and the road ahead will feel like a beckoning finger.

With your windows down and the bright sun blazing, it can be easy to follow that siren’s call and drive straight to Haleiwa. But that would be a mistake.

We’ll admit it: We’ve been guilty of cruising past Wahiawa, but were inspired to take a closer look. Here’s what we found when we cruised that way:

Kilani Bakery

You’ll have to start early to nab some of the best brownies on the island—this bakery regularly sells out of them by 10 a.m. Established by Walter Takara in 1959 and now run by his children and grandchildren, the bakery is also known for its Chantilly cakes, custard-filled malasadas and icing-coated ensaymadas (a buttery Filipino confection). 704 Kilani Ave., (808) 621-5662.

Tropic Lightning Museum

tropic lightning museum
Displays at the Tropic Lightning Museum. Photo by Cody Kawamoto

You have to really want to visit this tiny, two-room museum. It’s on Schofield Barracks, a 2.7-square-mile Army installation in Wahiawa, and it could take you up to 40 minutes to get the requisite visitors pass and car search. Once you’ve made it through security, the museum proves a powerhouse of historical displays and memorabilia that together tell the history of the base and its 25th Infantry Division, also known as Tropic Lighting. (Not to be confused with “Tropic Thunder,” the 2008 film starring Ben Stiller) The division, formed 10 weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is so called because of its insignia—a taro leaf with a lightning bolt inside it—but also because it became known for its quick and aggressive actions during battle. The museum pays tribute with an assemblage of historical photographs, firsthand accounts, weapons, war artifacts and even a life-size recreation of bunk space inside one of the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. Foreign nationals require an escort by a Department of Defense cardholder. Waianae Ave., Bldg. 361, Schofield Barracks, (808) 655-0438, www.garrison.hawaii.army.mil/tlm.

Dong Yang Inn

dong yang inn wahiawa
Korean food at Dong Yang Inn. Photo by Cody Kawamoto

This no-frills establishment has been serving up massive portions of affordable Korean fare since 1975. The bibimbap and Korean barbecue chicken plates are popular, but this outfit is most beloved for its plate lunch, starring “meat chun,” thinly sliced beef fried in an egg batter and served over rice. It’s reserved for special occasions in Korea, but has been adopted as a menu staple in Hawaii. 546 Olive Ave., (808) 621-5031.

Dole Plantation Maze

dole plantation maze
The writer navigates the Dole Plantation maze.
Photo by Cody Kawamoto

Heading north from Wahiawa proper, the 61-acre headquarters of famed fruit brand Dole draws tourists by the busload with promises of a frosty Dole Whip (a pineapple soft-serve) and an ensuing sugar-crazed run through the world’s largest agricultural maze. Sound … interesting? We thought so, too. Five bucks gets you a time-stamped entry and a map of the aloha-shirt-shaped labyrinth, made of 14,000 plants. We recommend visiting in the morning or late afternoon, when the unrelenting sun is slightly more forgiving. 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy., (808) 621-8408, dole-plantation.com.

Lake Wilson

lake wilson
Lake Wilson from the boardwalk on Wilikinia Drive. Photo by Cody Kawamoto

A wooden boardwalk leads to a scenic overlook adjacent to the Route 99 shop with views of Lake Wilson (pictured at top). Created by a dam built in 1906 to supply water to the pineapple fields, the 400-acre lake houses a menagerie of released and stocked species, including peacock bass, channel catfish, tilapia, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and pongee. The popular fishing spot is the only designated freshwater site for the sport on Oahu (permit required).

Surfer’s Coffee Bar

surfers coffee bar wahiawa
A chai latte at Surfer’s Coffee Bar. Photo by Meghan Miner Murray

Three years ago, nonprofit organization Surfing the Nations bought and gutted an unsavory strip of downtown Wahiawa, home to a former porn shop, strip club and bar, and placed its global headquarters there. Surfer’s Coffee Bar, a volunteer-run hangout affiliated with the nonprofit has helped to successfully gentrify the area with its spacious lounge, a meeting place for surfers and a hip local clientele of all ages. A lending library of earmarked paperbacks in various languages, live music every Wednesday and Friday starting at 7:30 p.m., and Stumptown Coffee served amidst surf art make the space befitting of its name. 63 Kamehameha Hwy., (808) 439-3644, surferscoffee.com.

Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade

wow wow lemonade wahiawa
Refillable mason jars of flavored lemonade from Wow Wow
Lemonade. Photo by Cody Kawamoto

After a long day in the sun, nothing tastes better than a tangy, fresh-squeezed lemonade. Drinks are made mostly from Hawaii-sourced ingredients, such as Maui lavender and Hawaii Island lemons. Bottoms up. 43 S. Kamehameha Hwy., (808) 726-1077, wowwowlemonade.com.

Categories: First-Time, Oʻahu, O‘ahu Guides