13 In All/ Hawaiian Islands/ Oahu

What It’s Really Like to Live in Hawaii

In my previous post, part 1 of 2, titled 18 Reasons Living in Hawaii Isn’t Always Rainbows and Butterflies, I detailed 18 cons & downsides of what it’s really like to live in Hawaii to provide a more balanced and realistic perspective of daily life on the islands. But let’s be real, the pros of living in Hawaii highly outweigh the cons. In this article I talk about why I love living in Hawaii; #7 may surprise you!

I’ve lived on Oahu for a cumulative total of 11 years, and my family was born and raised on the island. All photos are my own from my personal adventures around the islands.

1) The Aloha Spirit Is Alive And Well And Living In Hawaii
(Points if you’re a musical theatre buff and see what I did there)
The word Aloha has so many meanings; it can mean hello, goodbye, I love you, be well, to your health, and more. But this beautiful word is so much more than just a word; it’s an innate feeling. Aloha can be demonstrated in many different ways, but if I had to narrow it down, I would call it intrinsic kindness and understanding.

Angel Wings North Shore Haleiwa Hawaii Oahu

Taking a different angle with the angel wings in Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu

2) You Can Wear Slippers (That’s What We Call “Flip Flops” Here – also known around the world as jandals, thongs and sandals) and Shorts Every Day All Year Long
Along these lines, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear your bikini or board shorts and go barefoot into a grocery store, especially if you’re on the North Shore. No shoes? No shirt? No problem. Hawaii is probably the most casual state in the U.S., which means that it’s acceptable to show up to a nice dinner in slacks, an aloha shirt and slippers (just not house slippers).

3) Acai Bowls and Poke Every Day
In all seriousness, if you live in Hawaii, you really need to watch your mercury intake. We have a tendency to eat too much ahi (tuna) here, but how can you not?! With the poke craze sweeping the world, Hawaii claims that this is where it all began. And there is no shortage of legitimate places to indulge in this Hawaiian treat. What is poke anyway, and how do you say it? Poke (pronounced po-keh) is raw tuna cut into chunks and usually served over rice. Don’t say “poki” – that means cat. You may have just tried to order raw cat. 🙊

To find the best poke on Oahu, check out my Ultimate Foodie Guide to Oahu (from a local’s perspective).

The photo below is from Hilo on the Big Island. If you’re headed there, you can read about where to find the best poke in my Hilo Hawaii Foodie Guide. 

Poke, Big Island Hawaii

Poke bowls can be served in a variety of ways, but most typically are simply served over rice. This bowl is from Poke ‘N Sides in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii

4) New Orleans Has The Beignet, But We Have The Malasada
Mala – what? A malasada is a Portuguese donut, usually filled with some sort of delicious and terrible-for-you filling, such as haupia (coconut), chocolate, or custard, then dipped generously in sugar. It’s basically a heart attack in a box, and yes it’s delicious.

Leonard's Malasada, Oahu Hawaii

5) Hawaii Is Humbling
When you live in a place that is so ridiculously beautiful and you see rainbows, turtles, and dolphins on a daily basis, it’s easy to feel small in this grand world. And I mean small in a good way. When you can feel as though something is greater than you, it’s humbling and grounding. Hawaii’s nature and easy-paced living provides that feeling every day.

Another thing I love about living in Hawaii is that you will rarely encounter someone who is pretentious. Hawaii has a word for this, and it’s called high makamaka, meaning hoity-toity or stuck up. At a party or event, people don’t typically ask you what you do for a living or what kind of car you drive. Instead they like to ask you what you enjoy doing on your free time or where your favorite surfing, diving, beach volleyball, or foodie spots are. We’ve got our priorities straight. Nobody tries to keep up with the Jones’ unless the Jones’ have gone surfing, then we wanna come with!

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6) Family is Big in Hawaii
Locals love their families. On any given Sunday, you will see families with four generations of aunties, uncles, cousins and kids running around barefoot, grilling at a local beach under a tent playing local music and talking story (chatting).

7) A Hug and Kiss on the Cheek is Actually a Business Greeting in Hawaii
When I first moved from Oahu to Seattle in 2014, I was hired to work in Tourism Development for the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass and thus entered the corporate management world; a completely foreign concept to me at the time being in my mid-twenties. On my first day our team had a marketing meeting and I hugged the Chief Marketing Officer. My colleagues poked fun at me saying, “what is this, hug the boss day?” It took me a while to extend my hand for a firm handshake in lieu of a hug and kiss on the cheek as a greeting when I met people for the first time.

8) There are Virtually No Poisonous Critters
…but we do have cockroaches, and we refer to them simply as “B52s” because they will literally fly at your face and down your shirt, they have no shame. If you hear your neighbor shrieking, you can usually assume that a large brown flying bug is the culprit. Other than that, you might say that Hawaii is pretty much the opposite of Australia in terms of things that try to kill you. We’ve got the centipede (they can be stepped on) and the wild boar (they can’t climb trees and can be out-run). There are no snakes here, but we do have a skittish critter similar to a weasel called the mongoose.
FUN FACT: There are no squirrels in Hawaii, but there are green geckos with blue eyeball perimeters and red spots.

Green gecko, north shore Oahu Hawaii

Isn’t he cute?

9) “Road Trips” Are Not a Thing, But Island Hopping Is!
How long does it take to drive around Oahu? Well, if there is no traffic and you make no stops, it will take just under three hours to circle Oahu island (excluding the West Side as there is no connecting road.)

There’s no such thing as a “road trip” on Oahu, because you’ll be back where you started within three hours. However, we do have island hopping, which you can do by plane (and technically by boat, but you need to know a guy with a boat and have a stomach of steel, crossing one of the roughest channels in the U.S.) No, there are no bridges between islands, and no there is no underground system (both questions I have received during my time as a concierge.)

10) Locals Get a Kama’aina Discount
Where else in the U.S. can you get a discount just by being a local? (I’ve heard that residents get paid by the government to live in Alaska, so that’s pretty cool.) If you’re a kama’aina (local resident) and present your Hawaii ID, you receive discounts in many stores and eateries. Also, our drivers license has a rainbow on it, and that’s pretty cool.

11) Beach Culture
We live on an island; therefore there are beaches…lots of them. I work in the tourism industry in Waikiki, so when I’m pau hana (finished with work), I’m just a five-minute walk from the beach for a swim, a beach run, or beach volleyball.

Stand up paddle boarding at sunset, Oahu Hawaii North Shore

Stand up paddle boarding on Oahu’s North Shore in Haleiwa

12) There’s Year-Round Hiking

Deadman's Catwalk Hike, Oahu, Hawaii

Though Hawaii’s hiking scene doesn’t quite compare to hiking in the Pacific Northwest in 14,000-foot mountains, it’s pretty darn awesome in its own special way. We have the Ko’olaus and the Waianae mountain range on Oahu, and Kauai has the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast. The best part is that you can hike every day, all year long.

13) There’s Always Fresh and Delicious Tropical Produce to be Found at Year-Round Farmers Markets
Remember how it’s warm and sunny all the time? That means that things grow here all year long, and they grow fast. Because of this, Hawaii has multiple farmers markets every week, selling local and fresh produce. Support your local farmers!

14) Hawaii Has Some of the Freshest Fish
Tuna (ahi) and mahi mahi are two commonly caught fish in the Pacific waters. And you know what this means…SUSHI!! To name a few other favorites, there’s monchong, opah, shutome (swordfish) and opakapaka (Hawaiian pink snapper).

Hawaiian fish

Family dinner with fresh grilled opah fish, grilled by my Dad.

15) The Island Smells Really Good
You know how every place has its smell? Like when you get off the airplane in a new place, you’re immediately hit with it? In Denver it’s the smell of cow poop. In Seattle it’s the smell of pine. In Hawaii you’re slapped right in the nostrils with wafts of the most fragrant plumeria, gardenia and puakenikeni and you’re immediately reminded of why you love living here.
FUN FACT: Hawaii’s state flower is the yellow hibiscus. 

16) There’s No Smog (Surprising after reading about #7 in this post)
Being an island, we are lucky in that we have trade winds, which prevent bad air from being trapped within the islands. However, we do have something called vog, which is volcanic smog that comes from the active volcano crater called Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Whenever the winds blow to the northwest and the trade winds stop, the vog gets stuck and can stick around anywhere from a few hours to several weeks. This can cause flu-like or allergy symptoms such as scratchy throat, itchy eyes and lethargy.

17) Everyone is Really Chill, All the Time
You may have seen a bumper sticker that says “slow down, dis ‘ain’t da mainland!” This is in both the pros and the cons section. While it’s generally awesome that people are so laid back and friendly all the time, it can get frustrating when you’re with friends and trying to make a decision and nobody steps up to be decisive. Or when people are just a bit too laid back and nothing gets done because “chill brah, we’re on Hawaiian time”.

Honu, Hawaiian sea turtle, Oahu Hawaii

Hawaiian sea turtles (also known as “honu”), can be found all over the island. They are a protected species, so please don’t touch them.

18) It’s Peaceful
There’s something special about waking up to the sound of birds and palm trees swaying, the occasional rooster (or 50 if you live in more rural parts of the island, especially Kauai, which is the rooster capital of the islands). Being able to submerge into warm ocean waters, play volleyball on the beach, dig your toes into sand after work, wear open-toed slippers anytime, and generally have a feeling of total freedom, does wonders for calming your soul and keeping you grounded.

Pali Puka, Oahu, Hawaii

Zen meditation on the side of the Pali (which means “cliff”)

19) Hawaii Has its Own Lingo
Yes, obviously there’s the Hawaiian language, but since Hawaiian was passed down only aurally and not written, unfortunately it is a slowly dying language. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893, teaching and learning the Hawaiian language was banned. Now the University of Hawaii at Manoa (my alma matter), offers Hawaiian studies as a major.

What is pidgin? No, I’m not referring to the dirty fowl that run rampant on the beaches of Waikiki, trying to poop on everything. You may hear common terms on the islands such as “shoots brah”, “howzit” and “ho, you dakine, ah?” This is called Pidgin English and by dictionary definition, means “an auxiliary language that has developed from the need of speakers to communicate and is a simplified form of one of the languages with a reduced vocabulary and grammatical structure”. During work in the plantation days, foreigners immigrated to Hawaii from all over the world, including Portugal, Japan, China, Korea and other parts of Polynesia. They needed a common language to understand one another, which is how pidgin was born.

20) A Beautiful Rainbow Graces us with its Presence Nearly Every Day (this really happens, especially during rainy season!)
We are called “The Rainbow State” for a reason! Because of the frequent rains and weather patterns over the islands, we are often delighted by vibrant rainbows so beautiful they could cause a car accident because people can’t look away!

Double rainbow over the Hawaii Kai Marina

Double rainbow over the Hawaii Kai Marina

21) We Have the Only Royal Palace on U.S. Soil
It’s called Iolani Palace, which was the residence of King Kamehameha and his sister Queen Liliuokalani. It once served as the capitol for over 80 years and is now an attraction for visitors and locals alike. You can also visit the State Capitol on a segway.

Iolani Palace by Segway, Honolulu Hawaii

22) Days Off in Hawaii Typically Look Like This

or this…

There are a plethora of activities to do, such as zip lining, ATV, snorkeling with dolphins, going on a sunset sail, paragliding, skydiving, playing beach volleyball, and the list goes on.

23) We Have Arguably Some of the Best Sunsets in the World
Even after having lived here for 11 years and visiting my entire life since I was a baby, whenever an epic sunset paints the dusk sky in cotton candy pinks, blues and oranges, I am stopped in my tracks. It never gets old. It always forces me to stop whatever I’m doing, clear my thoughts, take a deep breath, and realize just how grateful I am to live in such an incredible paradise, despite all the things that are not always hunky-dory.

I’m going to have to stop here, otherwise I could easily write a list of 500 reasons living in Hawaii is the best place ever. Between the pros listed above and the cons listed in my previous post, I would say that overall living in Hawaii is amazingly dreamy. Even after 11 years of living here, I have to pinch myself sometimes. I find that as long as I’m able to travel frequently to experience other cultures, eat ethnic foods, and switch up my surroundings to prevent me from feeling stagnant, and getting too “soft”, I’m content. When you go on holiday and see the return location on your plane ticket and it says “Honolulu”, that’s a pretty darn great place to come home to.

What are some of your favorite things about Hawaii that aren’t listed here?

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  • Reply
    July 12, 2018 at 1:05 am

    I love it! So many amazing things that definitely eclipse the previous reasons why it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. And oh God, that poke. I could eat it three meals a day. Plus, your pictures are incredible and really make me wish we had stopped in Hawaii when we flew from Japan to Colombia. I want to see the other 477 reasons…😁

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    Yulia Dyukova
    September 13, 2018 at 4:47 am

    I lived in the USA for three years and two states I really regret not visiting are Hawaii and Alaska! Your hiking pictures look so insanely amazing! I really I hope I’ll get a chance to return one day and explore your beautiful state.

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      September 13, 2018 at 7:52 am

      Hi Yulia! Thank you so much! Hawaii is a very photogenic place! By your name, do you mind me asking if you are Russian? My fiance is from St. Petersburg; we visited Russia for one month last June for White Nights; SPB, Moscow and Kazan. It was my first time and I fell in love! Such a beautiful country!

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    James Haskins
    October 16, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you for your posts. I appreciate all the pros and cons. I am looking to move to Hawaii in a few years. Just stockpiling savings for a while. I will be teaching (low income, I know), but should be able to purchase a small place outright and live off of income and savings. Looking forward to it!

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      October 18, 2020 at 9:26 pm

      Hi James, how exciting that you’ll be moving to Hawaii! I wish you the best of luck and I’m sure you will find your time on the islands to be enriching and fulfilling. I’m sure this goes without saying, but always be kind to everyone, especially the locals, and you should get on just fine. The island spirit is a very special thing. 🙂 Aloha!

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