Kauai’s golden town

LIHUE — Champ Ono lived in several towns on Kauai before settling in Lihue.

It is, he said, a great place, and the former school principal isn’t alone when it comes to enjoying retirement in Lihue.

“The people are nice here,” he said. “And they serve good food.”

A recent study by the financial group Smart Asset pegged Kauai’s most populous town as the second-best place in Hawaii for retirement, based on tax friendliness, medical care and social life.

“For older people, Lihue is convenient,” said Tierny Waialeale, of Waimea, who was enjoying lunch at Isenberg Park. “Even if they need to drive, the stores are close and so is a lot of other things like the hospital and the airport.”

For the study, Smart Asset looked at state and local tax rates — income and sales. The effective rates were based on a typical retiree earning $35,000 annually (from retirement savings, social security, or part-time employment, and spending disposal income on taxable goods).

The study also broke down doctor offices, recreation centers and retirement centers per 1,000 people. Lihue had 4.3 doctor offices, .1 rec centers and 1.7 retirement centers. Seniors accounted for 16.6 percent of Lihue’s 7,489 population.

“Lihue is close to everything,” said retired judge Alfred Laureta, who calls Lihue home. “I like the convenience. I like pretty much everything about Lihue because I can get to the different stores I need to go to.”

Susan Matsumoto also retired in Lihue. She was born in Seattle and raised in Downey, California, and moved to Kauai with her husband, who was born in Kekaha.

She said she’s happy to spend her golden years far from her home and said the sunny, warm weather is a factor.

“I love this place,” Matsumoto said. “It’s so beautiful. I love walking around the place every day and it helps improve my health.”

Flora Visitacion was born in Ilocos Norte in the Philippines and now lives in Lihue. He was practicing Filipino dance with Alan Villaflor this week at the Lihue Senior Center.

“Living in Lihue is very good for me,” Visitacion said. “It is the capital of Kauai, and everything is very close.”

Sharon Lasker, marketing director for the Regency, said Lihue is the heart of Kauai.

“It’s a good feeder area for the entire island,” she said. “Retiring to Lihue brings the slower pace of ‘old Hawaii.’ This pace and the amazing air we breathe lends itself to longevity.”

Lihue was the only Kauai town to make the list. The winner was Aiea, which is close to Honolulu. Just over 20.1 percent of its population were seniors.

“We live in a good neighborhood,” said Gene Rayno, who was enjoying an afternoon snack at the Kukui Grove Center. “I was born and raised in Hanamaulu and bought a house in Lihue, where we have good neighbors. When we worked, we were at the Kauai Surf, which is just down the hill. It’s very convenient.”

Nationally, Lihue is ranked No. 225 best place to retire compared to No. 53 for Hawaii’s top-rated Aiea.

Following Lihue in the Hawaii Top 10 list were Kailua, Kaneohe, Ewa Beach, Kihei, Waipahu, Pearl City, Waianae, and Pukalani.

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