Rooted in Marin, Abloom in Hawaii

Three transplants to the islands share the thrills of their new lives — and what they miss.

At some point during a trip to Hawaii — or even while watching the new Hawaii Five-O — you may have wondered what it would be like to move there. We’ve got just the ticket: three transplants from Marin describe how they’re living the dream on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island — and give insider tips for visiting local-style.

THE TRANSPLANT: Jimmy Dillon, Maui


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In Kula, Upcountry Maui, at about 2,000 feet elevation. “It’s so beautiful where we live. We look at both parts of the island, we have horses and we can grow anything in the garden.”


A native of Los Angeles, Dillon moved to Sausalito in his late teens in 1969, which proved formative. “Imagine a 17-year-old kid driving down Alexander Avenue. It was still the blush of the Summer of Love, with all the great sounds and sights and smells of Marin in the early ’70s. Marin has been my home since then, although I’ve lived other places.”


Dillon has a long history with the Valley Isle. He camped on Makena Beach in the 1970s and, after a successful collaboration with a member of the Moody Blues, bought his first home in Upcountry Maui. Although he toured the world with Clarence Clemons, whom he met in Marin, and lived in the South of France to record American roots music albums for most of the ’90s, he and wife Kelli, a dancer and aesthetician then at Mill Valley’s Bella Sutra Skin Care, “always had our eye on (moving) over to Maui at some point.” They finally made the leap in February 2019.


“That perfect espresso on a cold foggy day, the cafe society of Mill Valley — there’s no place like it, the big-city sensibility in a small village.

I miss my brothers in arms in the Bay Area, where I could pick up the phone and play the Sweetwater anytime I wanted. When you move from a place where you were well-known to where you’re not, it’s kind of humbling.” Still, Hawaii’s natural beauty and warm weather make up for a lot. “I’m in the warm ocean almost every day, and I play golf two or three days every week.”


“What I found out, to my happiness, is that there are some great musicians, singers and writers here who aren’t necessarily that well-known to the average Joe, although some are legendary in their field.” One is Dayin Kai, a blind, Maui-born singer and multi-instrumentalist. “We’ve played a couple of sold-out shows together, and it made me so happy to connect with a young guy but such an old soul. We’re having a real blast.” Dillon also connected with new neighbor Jason Moffatt, “one of the top influencers on the planet and a guitar nut.” Together they created the website, “and I’m making videos and teaching people [guitar] all over the world. There’s this new kind of creativity going on in my life.”


Dillon plays regularly at Casanova’s in Makawao and at the Saturday Upcountry Maui farmers market above Pukalani. You might also spot him and Kelli at restaurants such as Flatbread in Paia, Coconuts in Kihei or the Kula Bistro. At Mulligan’s in Wailea, Dillon could be onstage or just enjoying a meal.


“We love Hookipa, where the big waves are and where you can watch the turtles, and Baldwin Beach in Paia, and Makena is obviously such a beautiful beach. I like Makawao town; it’s really funky. And Keanae [on the road to Hana] is obviously breathtaking.”


Maui has its own climate, Dillon notes: “If it’s 92 in Kihei, it’s 82 here. It’s like Santa Barbara weather.”

THE TRANSPLANT: Nancy Williams, Kauai


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A “beautiful home” in Princeville, her third residence on Kauai’s north shore since moving there in 2012.


Williams attended College of Marin and Sonoma State after moving to California from her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, in 1988. She lived for about 15 years in Mill Valley and for five years in Sausalito, then moved to Santa Cruz in 2008.


“It had been my heart’s desire to move here since I first visited Kauai in 1992.” She’d loved Northern California, but “the freezing cold water and the fog just drove me bonkers.” After selling her online honeymoon registry company in 2012, she realized she could finally make the move to the Garden Isle. “I looked at different things I could do that would allow me to generate an income to afford to live here and still be somewhat self-employed. Real estate checked all those boxes, but as it turns out I love it.”


“Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s! Oh, and a greater variety of restaurants — I really miss the India Palace in Travelodge off 101 in Mill Valley,” she adds with a laugh. “Actually, other than my friends, I don’t really miss anything about the mainland. The longer I’m here, the weirder it feels when I go back.”


Williams quickly discovered outrigger canoe paddling and now paddles competitively for the Hanalei Canoe Club. “There is an outrigger canoe club in Sausalito, but I never knew about it until I moved here. It’s a cultural activity that dates back centuries and it’s the state sport of Hawaii, but it also gets me out where I love to be — on the ocean on warm water. I also love paddling with other awesome women and seeing what we can do together as a team.”


You need to be an experienced paddler to join Williams at the Hanalei Canoe Club, “but you can also rent a kayak and head up the Hanalei River, and in summer, when the ocean is usually flat, you can take it into Hanalei Bay.” As a real estate agent, Williams works predominantly with buyers from the mainland. Recently she helped two outrigger canoe paddlers — one from Tiburon, one from Alameda — buy vacation rentals where they now live full time. “I feel good about helping turn vacation rentals into permanent homes.”


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Besides “guidebook highlights” like Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Trail hike along the Na Pali Coast out to Hanakapiai Beach, “where you now need parking permits, and those sell out in advance,” Williams recommends ATVs, zip line tours and tubing through old irrigation channels. “Although they do cost money, they go to really exquisite places that you can’t get to without a private tour, and they’re fun as well.

“There are also some off-the-beaten-track spots where I take friends of mine that I wouldn’t put in print or I’d be run off the island. But really, everywhere you go is beautiful on this island.” Hawaii Island

THE TRANSPLANT: Marty Corrigan, Hawaii Island


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A five acre farm in the Kona coffee belt, shared with three dogs, two cats and a flock of chickens.


Born in San Francisco, Corrigan moved to Novato at age 7 in 1970. He later studied at College of Marin in Kentfield and Novato and became an underwriting insurance manager. In 1999, Corrigan and insurance broker Greg Colden became a couple and a year later relocated to the Oakland hills. They created their natural soap company, with Colden as soap maker and Corrigan in charge of the books, on the mainland, then fully launched the business after moving to Hawaii in 2004.


“When I went to Kauai in 1985, I fell in love with Hawaii and thought I would live here someday. I would have lived on Kauai, but it’s just too small in size and population. On the Big Island, you might be able to drive for a few hours if you wanted to get away.”

He and Colden purchased the farm while still living in California with an eye to retiring on the property eventually, but by 2004 “we were getting tired of the rat race on the mainland, and we thought, ‘Screw it, let’s just start something.’ We wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big-city life and go pursue something we wanted to do.”

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Scenic Kauai Kilauea Iki crater floor


“Besides friends and family, I miss some of the hiking you can do around the [Northern California] beaches and the coastal areas, out to Stinson or Limantour or Tomales Bay, especially in the springtime. I miss all the fields of poppies, mustard plants and things like that.”


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Cacao beans

The coffee and cacao they grow were originally meant to serve solely as soap ingredients, but friendly interactions with local partners have led them to sell their delicious coffee (roasted elsewhere) and bars of chocolate. The latter even won a bean-to-bar award at the 2019 International Cacao Competition in Paris, for which Colden credits local master cacao fermenter Gini Choobua and the chocolatiers of Puna Chocolate Co. “We sell as much chocolate as they make for us with these award-winning beans,” Colden says.


While Corrigan usually stays behind the scenes, a variety of tours provide a look at the couple’s tropical lifestyle. Colden leads small groups on farm and factory tours Thursday mornings. Puna Chocolate Co. brings a 90-minute cacao-themed tour by on Tuesdays and Fridays. Most Wednesdays, Home Tours Hawaii schedules three-hour visits that include a tour of the farm and soap factory, chocolate tasting and conversation with Colden in the couple’s Polynesian pod-style farmhouse. You can “talk story” for free with Colden at Alii Gardens Marketplace in Kailua-Kona, open Tuesday through Sunday, where he’s often at the company kiosk.


“I tell visitors to go to Kua Bay, for the beach; to the volcano, if they’ve never been, to experience it; and to Hilo, to see how diverse it is here,” Corrigan says. “We’re so dry on this side and it’s so wet on that side.” He also offers important advice for prospective transplants, especially would-be entrepreneurs: “Practice the aloha spirit. Be kind, don’t talk ill of people, and just be nice to each other.”

For more articles on Hawaii, check out our Travel + Outdoors page.

Jeanne CooperJeanne Cooper, former San Francisco Chronicle Travel editor, writes frequently about the Wine Country for Marin Magazine and other publications. She is particularly fond of wines from the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys. She supports ongoing work of Ecumenical Hunger Project in East Palo Alto and the disaster response efforts of World Central Kitchen and San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.

Categories: Destinations, Hawaii, Travel+Outdoors