Like many Honolulu neighborhoods, Mānoa exists entirely within an epinymous valley. Running from Mānoa Falls at the mauka (inland-most) end down to Lunalilo Freeway. The valley receives almost daily rain, even during the dry season, and is thus richly vegetated. Seeing rainbows in the valley is a common occurrence, and is the source of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa sports team names, the Rainbow Warriors (for most men's teams) and Rainbow Wahine (for the women).
The neighborhood is composed mostly of private houses built before the 1960s with some low-rise condominiums. Mānoa is home to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the flagship campus of the University of Hawaiʻi System, located at the mouth of the valley. The University has several faculty and student residence areas located on and above campus. Other educational institutions located in Mānoa include Mānoa Elementary School, Noelani Elementary School, Mid-Pacific Institute, Saint Francis School and a handful of small, private pre-schools. The central shopping area of Mānoa is the Mānoa Marketplace which features a farmer's market several days of the week. More recent development has seen housing on steeper parts of the Diamond Head side valley wall.
Mānoa stream begins at the base of Mānoa Falls and runs through the valley before joining Palolo stream to form the Manoa-Palolo drainage canal, which flows into the Ala Wai Canal. Floods caused by high rainfall have plagued the residents living along Mānoa stream, most recently on October 30, 2004 when Mānoa stream overflowed causing millions of dollars in damages to residential homes and University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa buildings.
Mānoa was the site of the first sugarcane and coffee plantations in the Hawaiian Islands. John Wilkinson tended the first crops in 1825, brought on the ship HMS Blonde. Hawaiʻi is the only state in the United States that produces coffee commercially.
Mānoa means thick, solid, vast, depth or thickness in the Hawaiian language. There is another valley named Mānoa on the north shore of Kauaʻi.
There are many legends associated with Mānoa, including the well-known story of Kahalaopuna. Kahalaopuna was born to Kahaukani and Kauakuahine. Kahaukani is the wind of Mānoa and Kauakuahine is the rain of Mānoa. Kakaukani and Kauakuahine were brother and sister, both born to Akaʻaka (the projecting spur of the Mānoa mountain range near the center of the valley) and Nalehuaʻakaʻaka (the lehua that grows on the brow of the Mānoa ridge).