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Can’t Afford to Live in Honolulu? Live Here Instead.

Living in the Aloha state doesn't seem possible, but these affordable cities can make your dreams come true.

By Emily Handy on April 7, 2023

When people think about living in paradise, Honolulu, Hawaii, often comes to mind. Honolulu is known for its stunning tropical landscapes and golden beaches, gorgeous weather year-round, diverse cultures and its presence as a global business hub. More draws of Honolulu are its world-class surfing, hiking and endless outdoor adventures. Recognized as a shopping destination, the shopping in Honolulu has almost become as popular as its famous beaches. The city is also the safest large city in the country, with the lowest crime rate per capita.

Of course, Honolulu is not all play, and business is booming here. Its biggest industries are hospitality and tourism, healthcare and trade. 

Living in a constant state of vacation mode 365 days a week sounds ideal, but the price tag is…not. Let’s face it: Hawaii is expensive, and its capital city Honolulu is especially costly — with living expenses skyrocketing at 222% higher than the national average. As a result, it ranks second in a roundup of the country’s most expensive cities, with New York City just above it. Naturally, housing and living costs hit residents’ pockets the hardest, and according to Realtor.com, the median home price in Honolulu was $635,000 in February 2023. For reference, the median household income here is $83,946 per year.

However, you can still move to Hawaii and soak up the sun (and that coveted aloha spirit for which the state is known) without taking out a second mortgage! We did the heavy lifting for you. Here are five Hawaiian cities that offer residents the same Honolulu vibes without completely emptying their pockets. 

1. Kea’au, Island of Hawaii

Median Household Income: $75,756
Median Home Price: $489,000
Average Commute: 24.2 minutes

For perfect weather year-round and coastal living, look no further than Kea’au. Tucked away on the Island of Hawaii (or the Big Island), Kea’au is a 20-minute drive from Hilo and its International Airport, so island hopping and traveling are a breeze. But you won’t want to leave!

Living in this island paradise is significantly less expensive than in Honolulu — 28%, in fact. Lower housing prices in Kea’au are a major bonus for those looking to settle down. 

Although much smaller than Honolulu, Kea’ua’s stunning black sand beaches and proximity to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park makes up for it. Home to two of the world’s largest active volcanoes, the park features fantastic hiking and adventure and is less than 30 minutes from the cozy town of Kea’au. Kea’au is also surrounded by an Ohia lehua forest and plenty of hidden swimming holes and hot springs nearby. 

Because it is situated on the side of the island with a wetter climate, the area in and around this town is known for its lush rainforests, untouched waterfalls and exceptional farmers markets. The Kea’au Farmer’s Market is one not to miss. 

2. Waianae, Oahu

Two kids crossing a big muddy puddle at Ka'ena State Park in Waianae. Hawaii. Waianae is one of the more affordable cities in Hawaii.

Median Household Income: $71,681
Median Home Price: $620,000
Average Commute: 48.5 minutes

The main town on the west (or leeward) coast of Oahu, Waianae, is just 40 minutes away from Honolulu but is easier on your pockets, especially for those looking to buy a home. The median home prices in this coastal town are 26% less than those in Honolulu. 

This area is often simply called the Waianae Coast and is particularly special because its weather is dryer. This means less runoff into the ocean and crystal clear waters. Waianae’s population is around 13,190. The city strikes an ideal balance between big city creature comforts and the relaxed vibes Hawaii is known for. 

Residents enjoy the untouched beaches, sweeping views of the Waianae Mountain Range and the tallest peak in Oahu, Mount Kaala. Māʻili Beach Park is a popular destination for surfing and snorkeling, and Pōkaʻī Bay Beach Park is known for its sea turtles and calm waters. With its idyllic weather and an abundance of adventures to be had, it is truly an outdoor lover’s paradise in Waianae.

3. Wailuku, Maui

Median Household Income: $83,393
Median Home Price: $745,000
Average Commute: 21.7 minutes

One of Maui’s oldest and most historic towns, Wailuku is truly a hidden gem on this island. The town is rich in ancient Hawaiian history, and residents can still see ruins of ancient Hawaiian temples. In 1790 the town was the site of the Battle of Kepaniwai which led to the unification of the islands. Wailuku is also recognized as the birthplace of the Hawaiian sugar industry. Touted as the most charming town in all of Maui, Wailuku’s downtown is having a resurgence and features streets lined with historic buildings, art galleries, cute boutiques and hip eateries. 

It is all about location, location, location in Wailuku. Being centrally located in Maui is a major plus, and it is a quick drive to Kahului’s airport and just a 30-minute drive to the world-class shopping of Lahaina. In addition, Maui’s Northshore area is close for all your wind sport and surfing needs. You’re also close to quality healthcare and several parks and natural areas. 

The overall cost of living in Wailuku is 10.4% cheaper than in Honolulu, and Wailuku’s lower transportation costs are a significant reason for its being a more affordable option. 

4. Hilo, Island of Hawaii

Median Household Income: $70,356 
Median Home Price: $437000
Average Commute: 17.6 minutes

The lush city of Hilo sits north of Kea’au on the East side of the Big Island. Like Kea’au, Hilo residents enjoy that wet, tropical climate among the dense, colorful rainforest.

As the home of the University of Hawaii at Hilo, this city truly has it all. It boasts a vibrant downtown packed with shops, museums and art galleries, and it is also known as a foodie city and the place to go for Hawaiian favorites — from street food to fine dining. 

Outdoor activities are endless in Hilo, and there’s something for everyone. Explore the lava tube at Kaumana Caves, stroll through the Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens, try to see a rainbow at Rainbow Falls or have a picnic at Coconut Island. It makes sense that Hilo residents are always celebrating something with festivals and parades year-round. The week-long Merrie Monarch Hula Festival is a local favorite. 

There’s so much to love about Hilo, but perhaps one of its best attributes is its affordability. Hilo is recognized as one of the more affordable cities to settle in Hawaii. Honolulu’s cost of living is a soaring 34.2% more than Hilo’s. Housing is still relatively affordable here, and Hilo’s median home price is a whopping 68% cheaper than in Honolulu.

5. Aiea, Oahu

Median Household Income: $114,961
Median Home Price: $574,500
Average Commute: 24.6 minutes

Just a quick 14-minute drive from Honolulu in Central Oahu sits the small town of Aiea. Aiea is close to the hustle and bustle of the big city and definitely has a more relaxed feel, but you still get to enjoy all of Honolulu’s amenities. 

However, Aiea also has its own great amenities. While it offers easy access to Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center, the world’s largest outdoor mall, Aiea is home to Pearlridge, the largest indoor shopping mall in the state. It is truly a shopper’s paradise. 

And for all the history buffs: Aiea is right next to Pearl Harbor and its historical memorials. The Pearl Harbor Bike Path is a fantastic 5-mile paved path that winds along the water from Aiea through Pearl City and Waipahu. 

While it doesn’t offer considerable savings in the cost of living being so close to Honolulu, residents will save some cash on housing. The median household income in Aiea is significantly higher than that in Honolulu. 

Aiea features beautiful, sunny weather and ocean views, and with good schools and low crime rates, it is an excellent place for both young professionals and those looking to start a family. So it’s no wonder it is often rated as one of Honolulu’s best suburbs and one of the best places to live in Oahu overall. 

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