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Best Places to Live in Hawaii

Aloha!

Hawaii. You really don’t have to say more than that. Everyone pretty much has the same vision when they hear that word—perfect weather, beautiful sandy beaches, green jungles and nice people. Who wouldn’t want to move to an island paradise?

If you’re reading this, you might be one of the lucky ones who have to make a move to the Aloha State (and turn the rest of us green with envy). Maybe you have a job that’s taking you there. Or maybe you went there for vacation and think it would be great to just live on vacation. We’ve got you covered with some helpful tips for your relocation journey. So practice your “hang loose” shaka and let’s take a look at some of the best places to live in Hawaii.1

E komo mai (welcome)!

Best Places to Live on the Big Island (Hawaii)
Best Places to Live on Maui
Best Places to Live on Oahu
Best Places to Live on Kauai

Best Places to Live in Hawaii

Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island yourself, you probably know that the state of Hawaii is a chain of eight major islands in the Pacific Ocean—over 2,000 miles from the mainland United States. It’s also the youngest state in the union, achieving statehood in 1959 (Alaska beat them by six months!).

You’ve also probably heard that life in Hawaii is pretty awesome all around. Everywhere on the islands is a literal paradise surrounded by beaches, natural beauty, and weather that rarely gets below 70 degrees, even in winter. This makes for great outdoor activities year-round both on and off the beach. The diversity of wildlife is just as amazing (there are lots of bugs on the islands, but there are no snakes). And the Hawaiian people create a welcoming place, courtesy of the “spirit of aloha”—practicing hospitality and unbelievable generosity, treating everyone they meet like ohana (family).

Because of its status as America’s island paradise, Hawaii is a premier tourist destination. In fact, tourism is the state’s top industry no matter which island you land on—followed by agriculture, manufacturing and the military.2

But actually living in paradise ain’t cheap. See, Hawaii is isolated and doesn’t have the resources to make a lot of the things people need, so lots of stuff needs to be imported. Gas, food, clothing, utilities—everything you need to live is going to cost more. Even things like car and home insurance. Between the cost of living and the high taxes (third-worst state and local tax burdens), Hawaii is the most expensive state in America!3,4 So most Hawaiians have found creative ways to save money, whether it be shopping at Costco (which is a very popular spot in Hawaii) or having multiple generations living in one home.

Speaking of homes, the cost of a home considered modest back on the mainland can cost you twice, even four times, as much in Hawaii. And because of the great weather, most homes don’t have central heating or air conditioning, despite the high humidity—which makes homes prone to mold (though the constant trade winds do help). Shipping anything there is expensive (you can kiss free shipping offers goodbye, by the way), so most folks are better off just selling all their stuff before moving to Hawaii, including their cars. Be sure to do your research and map out the increase in costs in your relocation budget.

See how much house you can afford with our free mortgage calculator!

Though the Hawaiian population is a diverse and welcoming melting pot, some have found the culture and lifestyle difficult to melt into. Even in its largest cities, life in Hawaii is slower paced compared to the rest of the country. So if you’re used to the hurried life of a big city, you might be in for a shock. Hawaii is also a very transient society, with most people only sticking around for a few years before moving back to the mainland. And Hawaiians are very protective of their culture and their islands (in a good way). So if you respect the people and the land, you’ll get along just great.

So, now that you know what to prepare for on your journey to the Aloha State, here’s our list of the best places to live in Hawaii. We’ve grouped the cities by island, going east to west, and in no particular order. And to add a little more authenticity to our list, we’ve consulted with a few former Hawaiians for the inside scoop.

Best Places to Live on the Big Island (Hawaii)

We’re starting our tour with the state’s island namesake, also known as the “Big Island” because it’s the largest island in the chain (over 4,000 square miles—bigger than all the other islands combined!). Ironically, there are fewer people on this island compared to the others, which means that the population is more spread out. It’s also the island with the most affordable homes.

The Big Island’s five volcanoes (two of which are currently still active) have created an interesting contrast in climates. The east side is a lot like a tropical rainforest—lush, humid and green with almost constant cloud cover. The west side, however, is much more typical Hawaiian: dry and sunny with a lovely breeze. The fertile soil created by the volcanoes also makes the Big Island a center for agriculture.

Metro Area Population*

206,3155

Unemployment Rate**

2.8%6

*Metro area population includes the entire island of Hawaii.
**Unemployment rate is for all of Hawaii County/Island.

Hilo

Though it’s the largest city on the Big Island, Hilo (pronounced “hee-low”) retains the “old Hawaii” feel thanks to the old wooden storefronts along its downtown. Those storefronts now house many of the shops, museums, restaurants and art galleries that make up Hilo’s bustling arts scene—including the East Hawaii Cultural Center, Two Ladies Kitchen, and the Palace Theater. Hilo’s local events also reflect the old Hawaii spirit with the world-famous Merrie Monarch Festival, a week-long hula competition. And among the city’s local employers is Mauna Loa, the largest macadamia nut grower and supplier in the world (and named for one of the Big Island’s volcanoes).

Follow the Wailuku River west from Hilo Bay and you’ll come across Hilo’s local natural beauty: three massive waterfalls (Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots and Waiale Falls) and several state parks that preserve the area around them. Other nature-based activities include the Liliuokalani Gardens and the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo—the only zoo of its kind in the country! And Hilo is the closest big city to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home to both Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

Median Household Income

$75,5897

Median Home Price

$647,7508

Median Monthly Rent*

$2,0009

Average Annual Rainfall

83.9"10

*Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all apartment types.

Kailua-Kona

On the western side of the Big Island is Kailua-Kona (pronounced “ky-loo-ah koh-nah”), which is called “Kona” or “Kona Town” by locals. Established by King Kamehameha I in the 1700s, Kona was the original capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. One look at the beautiful Kona Coast with its cool temps and sunny days and you’ll see why the king made Kona his royal hideaway. The crystal-clear water is perfect for kayaking, snorkeling, sailing, fishing and more. And the volcanic soil of nearby Holualoa produces the famous Kona coffee.

In Kona, history lives side by side with all the modern conveniences. Alii Drive is home to historic Kailua Village—Kona’s downtown district that’s full of neat little shops and restaurants, as well as Kamehameha’s Hulihee Palace. There’s Kona International Airport, which is one of two large airports on the islands. The only Costco on the Big Island is also in Kona. Local events include the annual Ironman World Championship, which starts and finishes on Alii Drive.

With all the modern conveniences, along with a variety of single-family homes, condos and townhomes available in Kona, you’ll probably live better than Kamehameha did. He didn’t have Costco, after all!

Median Household Income

$87,26811

Median Home Price

$987,00012

Median Monthly Rent*

$3,20013

Average Annual Rainfall

120.4"14

*Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all apartment types.

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Best Place to Live on Maui

Maui is the second largest island in the Hawaiian chain. Called the “Valley Isle,” Maui is dominated by two volcanoes (Haleakala and Puu Kukui) on opposite ends of the island with a valley in between. Maui is the most naturally diverse island—rainforests, snow-capped mountains, lava flows, deserts and clearwater beaches with your choice of sand (white, black or red). Maui is also the most laid back of all the islands, with the local slogan being “Maui no kai oi” (“Maui is the best”).

Maui has big tourist centers, but they are less crowded than places like Honolulu or Hilo. The added seclusion and natural variety make Maui a magnet for wealthier residents. But the spirit of aloha is very strong there, as demonstrated by the help and kindness shown to their neighbors in Lahaina when the city was destroyed in a terrible wildfire in 2023 (most of Lahaina is still closed off, by the way).

Metro Area Population*

164,36515

Unemployment Rate**

4.3%16

*Metro area population numbers include the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.
**Unemployment rate is for Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina metro area(which includes the islands Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe).

Kahului

While Maui is geared toward tourists, the town of Kahului (pronounced “kah-hoo-loo-ee”) on the northern end of the island is where most of the locals live and is less touristy. Originally built for sugar and pineapple farming, Kahului is now the commercial hub of Maui with a busy harbor and airport. Cruise ships and commercial shipping vessels alike regularly go in and out of Kahului Bay.

Kahului is popular with locals because it’s where they go to do all their normal business—doctor visits, shopping, etc. Major retailers (including Costco) are there, along with several nice shopping areas like the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. The Maui Mall Village is home to Tasaka Guri-Guri, one of Kahului’s oldest and most well-known eateries, specializing in a signature Japanese sherbet called guri-guri. Other popular things to do include a stroll through the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, live performances at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, kiteboarding along Kahului Beach, and a day trip to Haleakala National Park.

Median Household Income

$94,71217

Median Home Price

$1.4 million18

Median Monthly Rent*

$3,80019

Average Annual Rainfall**

14.9"20

*Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all apartment types.
**Because no annual rainfall data for Kahului was available,the average annual rainfall total is for the adjacent city of Wailuku.

Best Places to Live on Oahu

It’s said that the island of Oahu’s name was derived from the Hawaiian term for “gathering place”—and it’s a pretty accurate description. Even though it’s the third largest island in the Hawaiian chain, Oahu holds almost 70% of the entire population of the state! But Oahu still retains the signature Hawaiian combo of great weather, endless beaches and friendly people . . . there are just a few more of that last one.

Because of the amount of people living on the island, each side of Oahu is different in culture, vibe and lifestyle—everything from urban condo-dweller to peaceful suburbanite and beachfront surfer dude. The Oahu population is also the most transient in the state. This is partially due to the big military presence, as Oahu is home to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) and all U.S. military branches have bases on the island.

Metro Area Population*

995,63821

Unemployment Rate**

2.8%22

*Metro area population numbers include the entire island of Oahu.
**Unemployment rate is for all of Oahu.

Honolulu

When Oahu locals say they’re going to “town,” they mean Honolulu—the capital of Hawaii. If you’re looking for a more fast-paced lifestyle compared to the other islands, this is your place. Honolulu (Hawaiian for “sheltered harbor”) is an oceanside urban metropolis with commercial skyscrapers and high-rise residential buildings piercing the perfect blue Hawaii sky, along with trendy districts for nightlife entertainment, shopping and fine dining.

Honolulu is also an ethnically diverse city, with lots of influences from Asian cultures (the city even has its own Chinatown). Honolulu’s city events celebrate this unique blend of cultures with a twist. One of the more popular events is the Spam Jam—a food festival dedicated to all the creative ways to prepare the popular canned meat (Spam has been a Hawaiian favorite since World War II).

Honolulu is also very touristy—arguably the most touristy spot in the state. While most are on the fun side like Waikiki Beach and the International Marketplace, others have a more serious purpose. Honolulu is adjacent to the military bases at Pearl Harbor and its memorials and museums dedicated to the thousands of brave souls who died during the attack on the harbor in 1941.

Median Household Income

$82,77223

Median Home Price

$744,00024

Median Monthly Rent*

$2,44325

Average Annual Rainfall

14.4"26

Unemployment Rate

2.6%27

*Median monthly rent number is based on a two-bedroom apartment.

Kailua

Along the southern portion of Oahu’s Windward Coast is Kailua (pronounced “ky-loo-ah”), named for the meeting of two ocean currents at Kailua Bay. And the ocean plays a big part in making Kailua one of the most desirable (and expensive) places to live in Hawaii. Both Kailua and Lanikai Beaches make perfect backdrops for stunning sunrises and the breezes provide fuel for wind-powered fun on the water like wind and kitesurfing (and that’s good because regular surfing waves are virtually nonexistent). Locals also enjoy paddleboarding or kayaking out to the Mokulua Islands (or “Mokes”) less than a mile offshore.

Back on land, Kailua is well known as one of the most walkable (and bikeable) beach towns in Hawaii. The streets are lined with coffee shops, pubs, boutiques—places where people gather with neighbors. The walkability turns into hikability with the hiking trail along the Kaiwa Ridge and beautiful views from the Lanikai Pillboxes, the remains of two World War II era bunkers.

Kailua is mostly made up of single-family homes and is considered a bedroom community, the kind of city where you want to live and commute to work somewhere else. And even though the neighbors are friendly, they have a reputation for calling the local police for any perceived disturbance—which is why the town is sometimes called “Cry-lua.”

Median Household Income

$138,36328

Median Home Price

$1.6 million29

Median Monthly Rent*

$3,86730

Average Annual Rainfall

24.7"31

*Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all apartment types.

Wahiawa

The town of Wahiawa (pronounced “wah-hee-wah”) is a great example of life in central Oahu. Inland and away from the hustle and bustle of the beach communities, Wahiawa feels more like a typical American suburb—a sort of time capsule of the quiet mid-century Oahu life before the island’s massive development. We’re talking older homes with bigger yards, which isn't typical in most parts of the state. Adding to the vintage atmosphere is the weather, as Wahiawa is the coldest place on the island (temps might get as low as 59 degrees . . . brrrr!). But if you want to warm up at the beach, Oahu’s North Shore is less than 10 miles away.

Like most parts of Hawaii, food is an important part of the Wahiawa culture. Many bakeries, coffee shops and restaurants in Wahiawa are locally owned and have been around for decades, becoming local staples in the process. Kilani Bakery, for example, is known for their delicious brownies. The Dole Plantation, originally opened in 1950 as a fruit stand, is now one of Wahiawa’s most well-known attractions—offering a neat tour of their pineapple production, as well as the world-famous Dole Whip frozen treat.

Wahiawa is also a military town. The Army’s Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield are literally right next to Wahiawa, along with Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Pacific. Schofield is actually larger than Wahiawa itself! So there are plenty of military families settling in Wahiawa as well.

Median Household Income

$81,43332

Median Home Price

$748,00033

Median Monthly Rent*

$2,25034

Average Annual Rainfall

19.6"35

*Median monthly rent number is based on a total of all apartment types.

Best Place to Live on Kauai

While the island of Kauai is home to around 70,000 people, it’s probably the least developed island in the state in a few senses of the word. The cities are less commercialized, with few mainstream big-chain stores and restaurants (don’t worry . . . there is a Costco). Agriculture is big on Kauai—the island was built on sugarcane and pineapple plantations but is now mostly cattle farms. The island has a lack of skilled professionals, so if you’re a plumber, a contractor, or a doctor, you’ll have no problem getting business.

Kauai is known as the “Garden Isle” because all the natural scenery is pristine Hawaiian wilderness. Residents like to say Kauai has all the best parts of the other islands’ natural beauty. The beaches are nice, not overcrowded, and contain the largest coral reef in Hawaii. And the inland mountains, canyons, rainforests and waterfalls are some of the most breathtaking sights on Earth. In fact, they’ve been featured in several Hollywood blockbusters—the best known are probably the Jurassic Park movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Metro Area Population*

73,81036

Unemployment Rate**

2.5%37

*Metro area population numbers include the islands of Kauai and Niihau.
**Unemployment rate is for all of Kauai.

Kapaa

Kapaa (pronounced “kah-pah-ah”) is a town that perfectly represents the simple, laid-back Kauai lifestyle. It’s the largest city on the island and a tourism-dependent beach town. Located on the east side of the island, Kapaa (Hawaiian for “solid”) takes up eight miles of Kauai’s beautiful Royal Coconut Coast (named for all the coconut trees growing there). It also has a stretch of the seven-mile-long Kauai Multiuse Path—a scenic roadway for walking, jogging and biking. Hiking is also big in Kapaa, with several trails that bring hikers to natural wonders like Hoopii Falls and Nounou Mountain.

Between Kapaa and its neighbor to the south, Wailua, there’s lots of beach-themed activities to do and see (though you’ll have to travel 30 minutes south for your Costco run). Live music can be found on the first Saturday of every month in Old Kapaa Town—the town’s historic district—which also has rows of locally owned shops and restaurants. Kapaa is also near two shopping areas: the Kinipopo Shopping Village (a boutique-style market) and the Coconut Marketplace, a very charming and beachy outdoor mall.

Median Household Income

$87,89538

Median Home Price

$1.5 million39

Median Monthly Rent*

$4,20040

Average Annual Rainfall**

47.5"41

*Median monthly rent number is based on a total number of all apartment types.
**Because no annual rainfall data for Kapaa was available,the average annual rainfall total is for the adjacent city of Wailua.

Best Places to Live in Hawaii for Families

If you have kids, you’re looking for a nice, safe place to raise them that has great schools and lots of activities (gotta get that kid energy out). Hawaii has all that and more—especially on Oahu, where the schools often receive top ratings. Here are a few examples of some great Hawaiian towns for families.

Hilo
Kailua
Mililani
Pearl City
Waikele

Best Places to Live in Hawaii for Young Singles

Being one of America’s and the world’s premier tourist destinations, there’s no shortage of fun things to do to fill a young single’s time. Take a look at these places to find some great culture and nightlife.

Hilo
Honolulu
Kailua
Kailua-Kona
Waimea

Best Places to Live in Hawaii for Retirees

Retiring in Hawaii sounds like a dream. Outdoor activities and great community will keep you moving and social. And the less stressful, slower pace of life might just be what the doctor ordered. Just make sure that you can afford a place like Hawaii on a fixed income and also research which communities are closer to medical care should you ever need it. Here are a few towns that fit the bill.

Honolulu
Kapaa
Maunawili
Wahiawa
Waikele
Waimea

Ready to Move to Hawaii?

Practiced your shaka, got your perfect pair of flip-flops, and looking forward to those stunning sunsets? A real estate agent can make the transition to the Aloha State a smooth one—guiding you through the process from start to finish with that same spirit of aloha the islands are famous for. And we’re not talking about just any real estate agent. For a fast and easy way to find local Hawaiian agents, look no further than our network of RamseyTrusted agents.

We only recommend agents who know the area and are completely dedicated to helping you find the perfect piece of paradise. And we trust them to take care of you the Ramsey way—with honesty and integrity. In other words, like ohana.

Mahalo!

 

Next Steps

  • Check out our Ramsey Relocation Guide to figure out all the details like knowing what you can afford.
  • Decide where in Hawaii you’re thinking about moving to and interview at least three trusted local agents from that area.
  • Choose one who’s right for you and start your moving journey!
See Hawaii Agents

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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