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Often called the “Crossroads of the Pacific,” Honolulu is the capital of the multi-island state and port of entry for most of the state’s millions of visitors. The city is a diverse commercial, industrial, and economic center for the entire Pacific and a center for tourism and recreation. The Waikiki beachfront area bustles with shopping, nightlife, and active sports. The rest of the city is a mix of residential, commercial, and industrial activity. Most of the city was built in the 1960s. There are large areas of plain and unattractive concrete structures, and there is less historic preservation than one might expect in such a destination.
Honolulu has significant traffic problems. While the city boasts the only interstate highways in Hawaii, there is considerable congestion especially at rush hour. Public-transportation facilities are well developed. The downtown core is focused on government facilities, performing arts venues and historic sites, gently transitioning to commercial and tourist areas east and some rather unattractive commercial, shipping and industrial areas west. It looks and feels crowded. The nicer residential areas are found in the hills northeast of the central city but there isn’t much land available for building. Several pleasant communities also exist along the Interstate H-1 highway north from the city, within commuting distance. As a rule, although most tourist activity is centered in the Waikiki area, avoiding tourists and their impact is difficult. The city has a strong military presence.
The climate is one of the best in the world. The economy is robust although vulnerable to tourism-driven cycles and the state of the Asian—and particularly the Japanese—economy. The big negative is cost of living and housing. The oppressive Cost of Living Index of 177.5 has risen 25 points since 2004 and is driven in a large part by housing—average home prices are among the country’s highest. Because of the isolation from national markets for staples such as food and energy, prices for these items are high. Aside from cost, isolation from the mainland may reduce the appeal for some residents, although most urban amenities are available in abundance. Arts amenities of a high quality, and entertainment is ubiquitous – but it must all be shared with tourists. The surge in living costs is the biggest factor behind the ranking drop.
Honolulu is located on a broad coastal plain of Oahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands. The Koolau Range, at an average elevation of 2,000 feet, parallels the northeastern coast. The Waianae Mountains, somewhat higher in elevation, parallel the west coast. Most of the eastern half of the coastal plain is built up. The Hawaiian climate is unusually pleasant for the tropics. Outstanding features are the persistent northeasterly trade winds, remarkable variance in rainfall over short distances, sunny leeward lowlands with persistent cloudiness over nearby mountain crests, equable temperature, and infrequency of severe storms. The city sits mostly in the lee (downwind) direction of the Koolau Range, which blocks heavier rains at most times of the year. The mountain range is low enough that clouds spill over it, allowing for occasional light rain and drizzle even as the overhead sun shines—an effect known locally as “liquid sunshine.” Trade winds—and associated showers—are more prevalent in summer. Temperatures and humidity are generally comfortable, less than 90[dg]F and more than 50[dg]F. But when trade winds subside and tropical “Kona” weather emerges, hot, humid periods can occur. There may be more intense winter storms and heavy downpours associated with nearby tropical storms, but few of them strike directly.