Can't see the ocean. But for many Hawaiians, Las Vegas is home. (2023)

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Can't see the ocean. But for many Hawaiians, Las Vegas is home. (1)

The scenery is incomparable. So why are more and more Hawaiians moving there?



why are you here

We explore how America defines itself one place at a time. Lured by casinos and affordable accommodations, Hawaiians are increasingly migrating to Las Vegas.

backEliza Fawcett

author photoAsano Ladd

Reporting from Las Vegas

(Video) Why Can’t Hawaiians Afford To Live In Hawaii?

When Pauline Kauinani Souza was a child, she spent her mornings in Hawaii watering her grandfather's watermelon and papaya trees.

Her family lived a simple life, eating homemade bread and boiling water over a fire for bathing. But living without unnecessary stuff has the ultimate advantage: living close to the beach and falling asleep at night to the sound of waves lapping gently on the shore.

Ms. Souza, 80, lives in Las Vegas, a newly invented desert city far from the ocean and her ancestral homeland. It's not paradise, but it's full of native Hawaiians like her who have flocked in recent years to enjoy the endless fun, reasonable cost of living, and something few can find in Hawaii: affordable housing.

"I totally own it," she says proudly of her two-bedroom Las Vegas ranch home. "There aren't many people in Hawaii who can say that."

Las Vegas is increasingly attracting Hawaiians who visit and choose to stay, believing cheap fake islands are better than endlessly struggling with the real thing.



Between 2011 and 2021, the Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander population in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, grew about 40 percent to a total of nearly 22,000 people. That's the largest number of newcomers in any county's census outside of Hawaii, according to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. Over the same period, Clark County's overall population increased by about 17 percent.

For many, real estate is attractive: The median list price for a home in the Las Vegas area is about $460,000, according to Federal Reserve economic data, while the median list price for a home in Honolulu is about $800,000 .

It is not uncommon for Americans to migrate in search of cheaper housing, most notably the decades-long shift from the Northeast to the Sunbelt. But the migration from the island's incredibly green natural landscape to the frenetic Las Vegas desert is particularly vivid in showing how the search for housing can transform the country in sometimes surprising ways.

The Connection Between Hawaii and Las Vegasdating back decades, thanks in large part to the California Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. Opened in 1975, Cal has long served Hawaii residents with special travel deals and targeted marketing. In the casino, table dealers wear Hawaiian shirts, guests dine on island specialties, and a sign outside the hotel reads: "Here They Say Aloha."

Today, a thriving Hawaiian community is spread across what is informally known as the Ninth Island. Las Vegas parents who want to raise their children in the Hawaiian tradition can enroll them in Hawaiian language lessons or at local dance classescatch up with the danceThis month, Las Vegas garland makers are scrambling to fill orders for high school and college graduates.


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In Las Vegas, Hawaii residents looking for local fare can choose from local restaurants serving lunch and fresh poke. Spam musubi, a popular Hawaiian snack of rice and spam wrapped in seaweed, and poi, a Hawaiian taro meal, are easy to find. Even the popular Hawaiian restaurant chain Zippy's is getting ready to open.

“What we’re doing is creating our own Hawaii,” Cece Cullen, 38, a native Hawaiian, said at a garland ceremony this month at an office park in the city of Henderson, near Las Vegas.

Ms. Cullen attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the early 2000s before returning to Oahu. But living with a growing family is difficult. She and her husband Nakoa Hoikaika Cullen, 37, work multiple jobs and rent a tiny 800-square-meter house. But their wages are quickly gone.

"You get to a point where that's it? Is this life?" he said.

In 2018, Ms. Karen and her family returned to Las Vegas. A few months into the pandemic, she and her husband bought a roughly 3,000-square-foot home on a quiet cul-de-sac. They were among the first in their family to own a home. They lived a comfortable life in Las Vegas, raising their four children.



Ms. Karen, who teaches Hawaiian at the local library, makes exposing her children to the island's culture a top priority.

They kicked us out of Paradise," he said. "But all these traditions, all our languages, are part of our identity. "

Cost of living in Hawaii said to be highest of all 50 states and DC in 2022dataProvided by the Social and Economic Research Council. The vast majority of the country's food is imported, making it a daily staplevery expensive. Strict building codes lead to housing shortages and prices unaffordable for many.

Representative Nadine K. Nakamura, the majority leader of the Hawaii State House of Representatives, said the state recognizes the financial pressures facing residents in the area and is working to expand tax credits and build more affordable housing.

Ms. Nakamura, a Democrat who represents parts of Kauai, said that while many Hawaiians head to the mainland in search of better jobs and housing, the island's natural beauty and ohana, or family ties, often draw them back.

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People are just drawn to Hawaii for its natural beauty, its friendliness, its ethnic melting pot and the people who generally get along and support each other," he said.

Far from the islands, Hawaiians found creative ways to keep their culture alive in the desert. After moving from Oahu to Las Vegas in 2014, Tiffanie Zuttermeister, 46, admitted she would never be able to grow her own titanium leaves for leis and hula skirts.

"At home, you can go out into your yard and pick up everything," he said. "It's a desert here, and it won't last long."

However, Ms. Zuttermeister managed to create a successful side business making wreaths for graduations and other events. Unlike other local leia makers who use plastic flowers, he sources flowers and orders leaves and orchids from Los Angeles or Hawaii.

“Leaving home, I miss the sea, the mountains and the greenery,” she said one afternoon, expertly crafting a garland of daisies, carnations and baby’s breath. "But I will not miss this honor."

Corny Suze.



More than two decades ago, the "eyes full of stars" trip to Las Vegas, ma'am. Souza took her gambling winnings from Cal and bought a $50,000 house in the local neighborhood on a whim. By 2005, she and her husband had retired and moved to Las Vegas. Their daughter has moved to the area, and they have a son, Vincent Jokimo Sosa, soon after.

Mr. Souza, 56, found his former career as a cruise ship operator in Hawaii easily translated into the world of entertainment on the Las Vegas Strip. In the years since, he has become a leader in the native Hawaiian community, teaching hula and performing traditional family blessings for newcomers.

"We shouldn't be moving out of our homes on the island because of the high cost of living," he said. "But when islands are now a commodity, there's only so much land around them."

On a recent afternoon, Frankie Sevilleja, 52, and his early-start teammates paddled along Lake Mead, east of Las Vegas. . Members of the 9th Island Outrigger Canoe Club practice the traditional Hawaiian sport in a most unusual location: a reservoir in the desert, showing off the white rim of the tubhow much waterOver the years, the lake has disappeared.


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Mr. Sevilleja grew up racing horses in the beautiful blue waters of Hawaii. In the 1990s, he moved to Las Vegas in search of woodworking work and a cheaper life. Lake Mead isn't exactly a dream world in his hometown, but for Mr. Seville, that's enough.

"This is my ocean," he said.

Andrew A. Beveridge contributed to this study.

Eliza Fawcett is a National News reporter and 2022-2023 New York Times Community Fellow. @Eliza Fawcett

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Can't see the ocean. But for many Hawaiians, Las Vegas is home.? ›

Between 2011 and 2021, the population of Pacific Islanders in Clark County, Nevada grew by about 40%. There's No Ocean in Sight. But Many Hawaiians Make Las Vegas Their Home. The scenery can't compare.

Why do so many Hawaiians go to Las Vegas? ›

Hawaiians come to Las Vegas to enjoy the entertainment, the gambling and the excellent food (can't blame them). It doesn't hurt that the cost of living is so much more reasonable, too. Also, Las Vegas has a certain charm. It's no wonder why so many people come back again and again and again.

What do Hawaiians call Las Vegas? ›

About 1 in 10 citizens of Hawai'i visit Las Vegas each year, with many visiting two or three times per year. And when they come to the city that has become affectionately known as “the ninth island,” they overwhelmingly choose to stay and play at The California Hotel, a Boyd Gaming Corp.

Is Vegas a Hawaiian island? ›

And, most importantly, Las Vegas is home to one of largest population of Native Hawaiians outside of Hawaii. It's for this reason that Las Vegas has been called Hawaii's "ninth island."

Why is Las Vegas considered the 9th Hawaiian island? ›

Home is where the heart is and for many native Hawaiians and Las Vegas has become their adopted home. In fact, so many have settled in Southern Nevada that Vegas has earned a reputation as being the "Ninth Island."

What state do most Hawaiians move to? ›

According to 2021 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the biggest growth of Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander populations was in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, and Sacramento County, California.

Where do most Hawaiians live in us? ›

This group represents about 0.4 percent of the U.S. population. Out of that number, about 355,000 Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders reside in Hawaii.

What is the white word in Hawaii? ›

Today, “haole” is basically a word used in Hawai''i to describe a white person. Many cultures around the world have their own term for haole.

Where are the most Hawaiians outside of Hawaii? ›

As a result of this exodus, nearly 50% of all Native Hawaiians live outside of Hawaii. California hosts the largest Hawaiian diaspora community, followed by Washington state and Nevada.

What are Hawaiian cowboys called? ›

Even before the mythology of the cowboy in the American "wild west" became popularized, Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo) were wrangling longhorn cattle on Hawaiʻi Island.

Is there a Hawaiian island that you Cannot visit? ›

No one is allowed to visit Hawaii's Forbidden Isle—the 70-square-mile island, which on a clear day can be spied from Kauai's west coast—unless they are invited by Niihau owners the Robinson family, or by one of its 70 full-time Native Hawaiian residents.

Do you need a passport to travel to Hawaii from Las Vegas? ›

Documents for travel to/from Hawaii and within the Hawaiian Islands are the same for any other U.S. state. If you are flying to Hawai'i within the United States, you only need a valid government photo ID.

Which Hawaiian island is the most private? ›

A privately owned island with an estimated 170 residents, Niihau, aka Niʻihau, is commonly referred to as Hawaii's “Forbidden Island.” This invite-only destination tantalizes travelers from across the globe due to its extreme exclusivity.

Why are two islands forbidden in Hawaii? ›

The island first earned its “forbidden” status in the 1930s, when the Robinsons completely cut off visits to Niihau to protect inhabitants from new diseases, including measles and, later, polio.

Why is it called the Forbidden island in Hawaii? ›

Once owned by Royalty, Niihau was purchased from King Kamehameha in 1864 and up to 1987, visits to the island were typically restricted to the owners and their guests, or government officials, which is how it gained its moniker; “The Forbidden Island”.

Who owns Ninth Island? ›

Ninth Island Wines are part of the Pipers Brook Vineyards Group.

What is the friendliest Hawaiian island to live? ›

Among the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai is known as the Friendly Isle, and those who live there would consider it the best island to live on by far. With many longtime families and few visitors living on remote Molokai, it is one of the most secluded Hawaiian Islands.

Do Native Hawaiians like tourists? ›

It is important to note that these concerns are not universal, & some Native Hawaiians welcome tourists who show respect for the culture and environment of the islands. Although due to the behavior of the majority of tourists, it's fair to say that most natives do not welcome tourists.

What city has the most Hawaiians? ›

The majority of Hawaiians are living in Los Angeles, followed by San Diego, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and King County, Washington (where Seattle is located).

Are there any 100% Hawaiians left? ›

“Native Hawaiian” is a racial classification used by the United States. In the most recent Census, 690,000 people reported that they were Native Hawaiian or of a mixed race that includes Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. There may now be as few as 5,000 pure-blood Native Hawaiians remaining in the world.

Can any American live in Hawaii? ›

In 1959, Hawaii officially became the 50th state. As a result, anyone who has the ability to legally live in the United States—including citizens and permanent residents—can move to Hawaii. Legally, it's just like moving to any other state. However, there is one major difference you'll want to be aware of.

Are you American if you live in Hawaii? ›

A person born in Hawaii on or after August 12, 1898, and before April 30, 1900, is declared to be a citizen of the United States as of April 30, 1900. A person born in Hawaii on or after April 30, 1900, is a citizen of the United States at birth.

What do Hawaiians call foreigners? ›

Haole is a Hawaiian word for non-native Hawaiian or Polynesian people, often referring to white people. Usage can be in an insulting or pejorative manner, but it usually refers to a foreigner or tourist.

What do Hawaiians call the US? ›

To most Native Hawaiians, Hawai'i is the mainland and North America is “the continent,” “turtle island,” etc.

What do Hawaiians always say? ›

Aloha – Hello

This tropical greeting is known around the world, but its literal meaning is 'love'. In Hawaii, Aloha means more than 'hello'; it expresses wishes for a positive and respectful life. Use Aloha kakahiaka to say, 'good morning', Aloha 'auinalā for 'good afternoon' and Aloha ahiahi for 'good evening'.

What is the most crowded Hawaiian island? ›

Oahu - The Gathering Place

Oahu is the most visited of all the Hawaiian islands, at nearly 4.7 million visitors annually. Oahu is primarily defined by the state capital of Honolulu, as well as Pearl Harbor and the famous beach known as Waikiki. These areas attract tourists by the thousands daily.

Why do so many Hawaiians move to Oregon? ›

Today, the driving forces bringing Hawaiians to the Pacific Northwest are better educational opportunities and cheaper cost of living as housing prices continue to increase in Hawai'i.

Where do Native Hawaiians go on vacation? ›

Fiji. Even people in Hawaii need a tropical retreat to run off to, and that place is Fiji. There are only about a million residents scattered throughout the 110 inhabited islands, which makes Fiji the perfect place for Hawaiian residents to get away from it all even more!

Are horses native to Hawaii? ›

Horses were originally brought to the Islands to help Hawaiians herd cattle. While they still do that, many horses serve today by giving trail rides and riding lessons, and performing in rodeos and polo matches. Manuel Himenes is one of Oahu's four equine veterinarians and he also treats horses on Kauai.

What do you call a Hawaiian warrior? ›

Koa warriors were an important part of ancient Hawaiian society. They served to protect lands, natural resources and the rightful status of the ruling chiefs. They were the frontline fighters when disputes erupted. These Hawaiian warriors were called Koa. Koa warriors were merciless in hand battle.

What's the biggest ranch in Hawaii? ›

Spread across approximately 130,000 acres (53,000 ha) of the island, Parker Ranch is among the nation's largest cattle ranches. A cowboy on the ranch is called a paniolo (Hawaiian language pronunciation of Spanish: Español), since the first cowboys were Spanish-speaking and came from Mexico.

What Hawaiian island does not like tourists? ›

Niihau, also known as the Forbidden Isle, is a beautiful small island in Hawaii spread across 180 sq km. The island is off-limits to outsiders and only the Robinson family, their relatives, invited gu...

Which Hawaiian island is less touristy? ›

LANAI ISLAND - THE PLACE TO RELAX Lanai entices the sophisticated traveller with a handful of exclusive luxury resorts and championship golf courses. It's the least visited Hawaiian Island, small in size and slow in pace those that travel to Lanai, by air or on the ferry from Maui, are forced to rest and relax.

Why are tourists not allowed to visit Niihau? ›

The Robinson family decided to restrict access of Niihau back in 1864, giving it its nickname of the “Forbidden Island.” They put a policy in place to ensure that all those born on Niihau would be able to live there for their entire life with limited exposure to the outside world.

Do i need to be vaccinated to fly to Hawaii from Vegas? ›

As of March 26, you no longer need to quarantine, take a COVID-19 pre-travel test or show proof of vaccination.

Can you drive from Las Vegas to Hawaii? ›

It is not possible to drive to Hawaii from mainland United States. You can ship your car over to Hawaii using a freight service or you can fly and pick up a rental car instead. Once you get to Hawaii, there are no car ferries between the different islands.

Do I need to carry my passport in Vegas? ›

Carrying your passport

Technically, you should carry some form of identification with you at all times, since you will need to verify you're age (that you're over 21) when gaming, drinking or entering a nightclub as well as who you are when paying with credit cards or cashing traveler's checks.

Does a billionaire own a Hawaiian island? ›

Billionaire Larry Ellison owns an island in Hawaii. 98 per cent of the island of Lanai is his property.

Which Hawaiian island is more expensive? ›

Maui is the most expensive island to visit, coming in nearly $1,000 more expensive, with a total cost of $3,600. The Grand Wailea in Maui, a luxury resort.

Which is the most expensive Hawaiian island to live on? ›

The amount you need for a comfortable life will vary depending on the island and the city you choose. If we look at the overall cost ratio, Oahu is the most expensive island. The reason for this is that Oahu is the business center of Hawaii, with the majority of people living there due to job availability.

What island do only native people live on? ›

Nickname: The Forbidden Isle
Location of Niʻihau in the state of Hawaiʻi
Niʻihau Show map of Hawaii Show map of North Pacific Show all
LocationNorth Pacific Ocean
24 more rows

Which island offers the most swimmable beaches? ›

As Oahu has the most swimmable beaches and most easily accessible beaches, it takes the prize for the best beaches in Hawaii. As the second oldest major Hawaiian Island, Oahu has 227 miles of shoreline. You won't find towering sea cliffs on Oahu as you find on Kauai or Molokai.

What family owns Niihau? ›

Since 2002, Ni'ihau has been owned and managed by Bruce Robinson and Keith Robinson, Elizabeth Sinclair's great-great-grandsons.

Which Hawaiian island is the cheapest to live on? ›

What's the most affordable Hawaiian island to live on? The Big Island. With Hawaii's lowest average cost of living (according to MIT's Living Wage project), lowest fair market rents, and lowest typical yearly expenses, the Big Island can be the most economical island in Hawaii.

Who owns most of Kauai? ›

State of Hawaii

Combined, the state and department control 1.54 million acres, including more than a million on the island of Hawaii, 156,000 on Kauai, 128,000 on Maui and, on Oahu, some 85,000 acres — a stake that's almost the size of Ellison's on Lanai.

Why are there so many Hawaiians in Las Vegas? ›

Hawaiians come to Las Vegas to enjoy the entertainment, the gambling and the excellent food (can't blame them). It doesn't hurt that the cost of living is so much more reasonable, too. Also, Las Vegas has a certain charm. It's no wonder why so many people come back again and again and again.

Why is it called the 9th Island? ›

Home is where the heart is and for many native Hawaiians and Las Vegas has become their adopted home. In fact, so many have settled in Southern Nevada that Vegas has earned a reputation as being the "Ninth Island."

Who owns Pipers Brook? ›

Pipers Brook operates a cellar door at the winery and is owned by Belgian-owned sheepskin business Kreglinger, which has also established the large Norfolk Island winery and vineyard at Mount Benson in SA.

Why are Hawaiians moving out of Hawaii? ›

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New data shows that more Native Hawaiians are leaving the Aloha State due to the high cost of living. The median price for a single-family home tops $1 million in Honolulu. Hawaii residents also spend more than 40% of their income on rent — that's more than any other state.

Why are Native Hawaiians asking tourists to leave? ›

Some Native Hawaiians may feel that tourists do not show enough respect for the environment. We've seen too many viral videos of disrespectful visitors coming too close to wildlife & we've had enough.

How many Hawaiian miles to Las Vegas? ›

North America Flights
TravelMiles Earned in CoachMiles Earned in First Class
Honolulu - Austin3,7605,640
Honolulu - Boston5,0957,643
Honolulu - Las Vegas2,7624,143
Honolulu - Long Beach2,5673,851
27 more rows

How many Native Hawaiians live in Nevada? ›

The population of non-Hispanic Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders in Nevada has doubled in the past decade, from 7,769 to 15,456, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released in February.

Where do most Hawaiians live besides Hawaii? ›

As a result of this exodus, nearly 50% of all Native Hawaiians live outside of Hawaii. California hosts the largest Hawaiian diaspora community, followed by Washington state and Nevada.

Is Hawaii losing residents? ›

Oahu's population dipped below 1 million in 2022 after a net loss of nearly 21,000 residents from April 1, 2020, to July 1, 2022, as Hawaii saw its population drop 1% to 1.44 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday.

Do Hawaiians want their own country? ›

The Hawaiian sovereignty movement (Hawaiian: ke ea Hawaiʻi) is a grassroots political and cultural campaign to reestablish an autonomous or independent nation or kingdom of Hawaii out of a desire for sovereignty, self-determination, and self-governance.

How do you respect native Hawaiians when visiting? ›

Always ask questions and permission. The best way to respect the Hawaiian culture is to ask! If you're not sure about anything, such as where to go or what to wear, you can never go wrong by asking a local.

Why can't you take things from Hawaii? ›

For most people, lava rocks are the perfect souvenir. But you should think twice before taking anything from the Island. Legend has it that Pele, the goddess of fire and volcano, enacts a curse on anyone who steals items off the Island. She considers the rocks and sand her children and will do anything to protect them.

Is Hawaii very expensive? ›

To live comfortably in Hawaii, an annual income of around $70,000 to $100,000 for a single person, or $120,000 to $200,000 for a family is recommended. Is it expensive to live in Hawaii? Yes, Hawaii is known for its high cost of living due to factors such as housing, groceries, utilities, and transportation.

How long does it take to fly from Las Vegas to Hawaii? ›

It takes about 6 hours 31 minutes to fly from Las Vegas (LAS) to Honolulu (HNL).

Is Hawaiian Airlines worth it? ›

Hawaiian Airlines was named the world's best domestic airline for 2022 by Travel + Leisure. I've flown with them for years, and I've always had positive experiences with the staff. I love that the carrier uses local vendors and provides free snacks on even the shortest flights.

Is Las Vegas affordable to live? ›

Is it expensive to live in Las Vegas? Many day-to-day expenses in Las Vegas are pricier than the U.S. average, including gas, car insurance, food and housing costs. However, Sin City is still more affordable than other nearby cities in the Western region, such as Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.

What city has the most Native Hawaiians? ›

In fact, the town in Hawaii with the most Native Hawaiians is Honolulu. Of course, Honolulu has far more total residents than Waianae or the other Leeward Coast towns. But there are mainland cities with even larger populations that one might think could have even more Native Hawaiian residents.


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