What’s It Like To Live In Hawaii-Unicorns Meet Reality


What is it like to live in Hawaii? Unicorns do not prance on beaches and rainbows do not flow out of the sky every fifteen minutes, (well, every other day) but whales DO breach on the horizon of the ocean and you DO get this crazy grin when you watch a sunset and taste a lime squeezed on a fresh papaya.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, I have a food fetish for papayas. It is a carry over when I was unable to obtain one for a year while I lived off the island in Lake Tahoe in 2016.  When I DID come back to visit, I realized how much of the happiness of Hawaii is wrapped in the yellow flesh of local goodness. During that time away, and sitting in a snow pack, I realized why many people start to salivate when thinking how life must be amazing if you live here. Well, let’s start with some of the great aspects if you live in the state of Hawaii, but Hawai’i Island in particular and West Hawaii, specifically.

5 Things You Will Love About Living on Hawai’i Island

The Ocean: Every. Single. Day. Whenever you drive anywhere around Kona or the Kohala Coast, you will always see the blue Pacific Ocean stretching out into the horizon. You will find yourself healthier and happier here thanks to the positive ions that all those beautiful crashing waves put into the air 24/7. You wonder why Hawaii has the healthiest people in the nation five years running according to this study? Count on that beautiful azure expanse to give you a few extra years in your life! Of course, getting into the warm waters and having all your cares washed away, including getting a complimentary sand scrub if you like to body surf, will make you cherish each moment you spend anywhere near a beach.

2. The Aloha Spirit: Tired of living in places where people honk at each other? Or refuse to let you into traffic from a side street or driveway?
That does not happen among people who live on the island. They let you in, make mistakes and give you the shaka, not another gesture. How about actually having people, ABSOLUTE STRANGERS, look you in the eye and smile? At first you may be uncomfortable with how much hugging and cheek kissing you are going to get vs a sterile handshake, but you’ll get used to it. And you’ll find yourself “a hugger” before you know it! Also, the Aloha Spirit will imbue everything you do. You’ll find yourself picking up beach trash, going out of your way to help a stranger, talking story to people around you. You’ll see it is infectious and everyone who lives on the island has caught it!

3. Living outside: When you look at available home listings, you may wonder why there are not many 4,000 square foot homes on the island or the real estate description always talks about lanais, decks, sliding glass doors, bringing the outside in, etc. It’s because we live outside more than we do inside. It will take you about a year or so to realize how free you are to enjoy Hawaii’s phenomenal year round climate. Each night is a chance to catch a sunset or stargaze or during the days, sit in the sun or entertain with friends. All outdoors! All the time! In shorts and slippahs!
When you acclimate, you may say it’s chilly in January at 72 degrees.) Memories of sitting in coastal fog, mountain snow, sleet and freezing rain, or anything below 69 or above 89 will be a distant memory. And you will smile..as you sit in a deck chair.

4. The Food: No, we don’t have 10,000 restaurants with every type of food from around the world. You’ll have to travel to Honolulu, SF or NYC
for that. What we do have is what Chef James Babian, owner of Pueo’s Osteria, calls “RSA”. Regional, seasonal and artisanal cuisine. In the health study that puts residents of Hawaii at the top of the health spectrum is the ability to eat local and fresh, and with limited processing and pesticides. You will find that you will eat more mangoes, papayas, lychee, lilikoi, pineapple, local grown lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms and grass fed beef than crackers, cereal, chips, popcorn, pastries and such. You will find yourself having conversations with the
farmers that actually produce your food and the chefs who love to prepare it. Really! There are so many different kinds of food festivals, you will give all kinds of new local delights a try. (The Taste of the Hawaiian Range, the Mango and Avocado Festival and the Big Island Chocolate Festival will give you local meat, fruit and cacao!) Did I mention papayas?

5. Understanding  a new culture: When you move to Hawaii, you move to a whole new life outside of the mainland. The Hawaiian culture is front and center as soon as you arrive at the airport. Leis
greet guests. Hawaiian words are interlaced into the language of everyday life. You’ll be saying “Pau Hana” “Keiki” “Mahalo” “Pupu’s” and “Hele On” before you know it and you will understand the deeper meaning of Aloha, mana, kuleana and pono. You may find your curiosity piqued to learn more about Hula when you see the islandwide fervor for the Merrie Monarch Festival and Hawaiian history when you see the King Kamehameha Parade and Hulihee Palace in downtown Kona. It’s a lifelong learning experience and you may find that you enjoy learning the language, customs and the food and sharing with others. Go ahead and become immersed as a resident by joining a halau or outrigger canoe team.

I wrote another post about this topic that you may enjoy, too 10 Things To Know About Coming to Kailua Kona From The Mainland

Current Realities To Living on Hawai’i Island as of 2020

  1. Housing: If you could just come to Hawaii and set up a tent and call a 12×12 place on a beach home, then I would not have to tell you about the lack of rental housing. Sadly, there is a homeless issue and there is definitley an affordable housing crunch going on right now. The state legislature cracked down on AirBnB and VRBO rentals as the proliferation of short term housing is causing workforce housing shortages. Landlords are king right now and rents show it. Awhile back on this blog, I was talking about $900 a month rental homes available. Those same homes are now $2000 to rent. Maui and Oahu are even more expensive.  And if you have pets? Even more scarce.  So, sorry, rental housing is not part of the unicorn mix.
  2. Cost to survive: Many people who retire here eat up their monthly alotment of fixed income pretty quick and have to take jobs at Costco to get health insurance or become substitute teachers or work retail. Whenever I try and tell people it is expensive to live here, they nod and say it is expensive to live in any tourist destination and they say put down the $16 MaiTai. I want to shake them and say, “No..you don’t understand. We have MANY things stacking up like energy and labor costs and taxes that eat away slowly at your monthly budget.” I spend $250 a week in groceries to feed a family of four and much of that is not buying fancy organic produce, but shopping at Target for two voracious teenagers.
  3. Health Care: You can read more here about health care issues .
  4. Jobs: If you come to work in the hospitality industry, jobs, due to the pandemic, will not be as plentiful as they had been. New retail centers are opening in Kona, but who knows how successful they will be after the island has been closed to tourists for months.  The problem with working retail, however, is that many people can not afford to make less than $20 an hour to live a comfortable life here. So, throw in cleaning vacation homes and driving Uber to help make ends meet if the tourists come back strong, and if not, get crafty.

I wrote an entire book about many of the pros and cons to living here:  “How to Move To Kona” 

I am not trying to take away the mystique of living on a Hawaiian island, but knowing that MANY people are trying to do the exact same thing, especially as renters, I wanted to show both sides. If you can afford to do it, buying a home so you are not at the mercy of the rental market could be a smart move. I write housing market updates and have a Facebook group dedicated to people considering purchasing a home you can join if you want more informaton. https://www.facebook.com/groups/365KonasMovingToHawaii/

Excuse me now, as I must jump on my trusty pink and blue steed, grab a papaya and find more clients!


Do want to avoid making costly mistakes in moving to Hawaii or buying a home? Eric & Julie can help! We offer a complimentary matchmaking service to our network of amazing real estate professionals AND grant you access to a private group for inside advice! Email us at [email protected]. You can also download guides to help you move here! 

Spread the word if you love what you heard! #365kona so we can say Thanks!

Meet the Author

Julie Ziemelis

Julie Ziemelis is an entrepreneur, business owner, author, blogger and vlogger in Kailua Kona. She created and moderates the “365 Things to Do in Kona” page and the Kona Newbies group on Facebook. She blogs at 365Kona.com and MoveToHawaii365.com and vlogs with her husband, Eric, at “365Hawaii” on YouTube. Julie also authored the books, “How to Move to Kona” and the “Insiders Guide to Buying Real Estate on the Big Island of Hawaii”. You will most likely find Julie in Kona hiking, running, biking, taking photos and sharing Aloha.

Leave a Question or Comment About this Topic

  • Mark Gross says:

    What a fun and at the same time informative article. Great writing Julie!

  • Mark Gross says:

    What a fun and at the same time informative article. Great writing Julie!

  • Tony B says:

    Thank you Julie for sharing…We are closing on our house in Keauhou this December and look forward to moving over within a year. Your articles and the video with your husband have been very encouraging and informative. Mahalo!

    • Julie Ziemelis says:

      Aloha Tony! Good to hear that I have been able to assist! Hope I can use this comment as a testimonial for the work I am doing for real estate referrals, too! Good luck in closing the deal and the move over!