LIHUE — When Guy Ambrose found out Hawaii was ranked as the ninth best place to live in the United States, he had one question.
“Why isn’t it No. 1?” asked the 7-year resident of Kalaheo. “It’s hard to explain why it’s so great to live here. So many reasons, it can be overwhelming.”
The Aloha State was named No. 9 on Wednesday by 24/7 Wall St. The organization ranked Massachusetts as the best place to live in the country and Connecticut came in second place.
Mississippi dominated the list of the worst places to live in America, followed by West Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas.
Access to nature is one of the big reasons many people love living in Hawaii.
Polihale Beach is one of the more special places on the island for Ambrose, who said he had a very moving and spiritual experience out at the end of the road on Kauai’s Westside.
“I stood at Polihale and looked east and I could feel my brother,” Ambrose said. “It’s never happened anywhere else; I’ve never felt that before. We were close; I lost him in (the Vietnam War).”
The list’s ranking was based on factors such as educational attainment, poverty levels, health and economic conditions.
Hawaii citizens have an average life expectancy of 80.6 years, which is the highest of any state and two years longer than the nationwide life expectancy. Only 4 percent of residents lack health insurance.
A typical household earns just over $73,000 a year, according to 24/7 Wall St., which is about $17,000 more than the average American household. Those incomes are tempered, however, with a cost of living that’s 17 percent higher than the nationwide average.
That means it can be difficult for people living in the archipelago to build savings.
“It’s expensive living here,” said Kat Gomes, who lives with her two teenage children in Wailua. “We have three people contributing and it’s hard to keep a savings.”
Gomes and her children were born in Hawaii and moved from Oahu to Kauai seven years ago.
The bus system, the variety in shopping and entertainment, and the city vibes of Honolulu are still dear to the family’s heart, but they’ve learned to love Kauai.
“The scenery is great and the people are interesting and friendly,” said Kukailimoku Gomes, Kat’s son. “The beaches are good, but we’re not tourists; we live here so we have to work a lot.”
The people of Kauai are another thing Ambrose and his wife love about living on the island.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been treated as well as we are here,” Ambrose said. “The people and this place are amazing.”
Nice people and a low crime rate make Kauai an optimal place to live for Erica Tabalba, who lives in Puhi with her husband and 4-year-old daughter.
She’s been on the island for 10 years.
“My husband was born and raised here, but I’m from Korea and was raised in Oahu,” Tabalba said. “I had a hard time adjusting for the first two years because I was so used to the big cities.”
She’s loving the country life now, though, because it offers a peaceful atmosphere.
“It’s really a chance to slow down and be in nature,” Tabalba said. “And you can do it for free — in Oahu, you have to pay for parking and then pay to get into the trail. Here, it’s free.”
Kauai also offers Tabalba’s daughter a chance to have a simple but varied childhood.
“It’s great for children’s experiences,” Tabalba said. “You can walk down the road and see the neighbor’s horses and Kipu Road with the cattle.”
Her daughter sees cows every day, she said, and some community events have opportunities for kids to ride horses.
“If we lived on Oahu, we wouldn’t probably have that opportunity,” Tabalba said.
“And I live in Puhi, so everything’s pretty close for a drive. It’s a great place to live and I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go back to big city living.”