Why All the Billionaires Are Moving to Hawaii

In 1969 a young idealist, on her first trip to Hawaii, checked into the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a sublime pink confection of a place in Waikiki Beach, on the island of Oahu. She threw open the balcony curtains, only to have the view of the surrounding mountains spoiled when she looked down onto the parking lot of the neighboring Sheraton Waikiki, then under construction. In April of the following year, the woman in question released "Big Yellow Taxi," a protest song inspired by her stay at the legendary resort. A couple of the lyrics—"You don't know what you got 'til it's gone" and "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot"—became bywords of the '60s counterculture.

If Joni Mitchell were to check in today, and her antennae were still finely tuned (according to local lore, the line "They took all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum/And charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em" refers to Foster Botanical Garden in downtown Honolulu), the vista might inspire an entire catalog of new music. Pilloried by its detractors for being as ersatz as an Elvis movie, Waikiki has more than lived up to its planners' promise to become a Bain de Soleil–covered bastion of resort living. And the gentrification doesn't stop there.

In a turn of events that in another era might have galvanized a generation of tambourine-wielding folklorists, the rest of this remote Pacific archipelago has become Eden for the one percent.