Interesting Hawaii facts

130 Interesting Facts About Hawaii

Hawaii is the youngest and only island state of the United States. The island chain is famous for Pearl Harbor, poke, surfing, and Native Hawaiian culture.

Find out what else the “Aloha State” is known for with these fun Hawaii facts! And also don’t miss these fun facts about Honolulu, the state capital of Hawaii!

General Hawaii Facts

  • Hawaii is the only US state that’s located outside of North America, or the “continental” United States.
  • Hawaii is also the only US state in the tropics and the only island state.
  • Located roughly in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian Islands (Mokupuni o Hawai‘i) are one of the most isolated archipelagoes on Earth. They are technically in the North Pacific, as they are north of the equator, although they are commonly associated with the South Pacific.
  • The Hawaiian Islands are the northernmost islands of Polynesia, a collection of over 1000 culturally homogenous islands spanning a huge area of the Pacific Ocean, including New Zealand, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and Samoa.
  • The Hawaiian islands are often incorrectly called the most remote/isolated islands in the world. The distinction of most remote island goes to Bouvet Island (Norway), while the most remote inhabited island chain is Tristan da Cunha (British Overseas Territory).
  • The main islands of Hawaii are about 2350 mi (3782 km) away from their nearest point on the North American continent, in Mexico, or 3195 mi (5143 km) from their nearest point on the Asian continent, in Russia.
  • Hawaii has a total area of 10,931 mi² (28,311 km²). That makes it the 8th smallest US state, between Maryland and Massachusetts.
Aerial view of the coast and mountains of Kauai island, Hawaii
Kauai island seen from above
  • Compared to island countries, Hawaii is twice as large as The Bahamas, about half the size of Dominican Republic, and a quarter the size of Cuba.
  • Hawaii has 8 main islands, in order of size: Hawaiʻi (“The Big Island”), Maui (known for its hidden gems), Oʻahu (“The Main Island, home to the capital), Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi, Lanai, Niʻihau, and Kahoʻolawe. They range in size from 4028 mi2 (Hawaiʻi) to 44.6 mi2 (Kahoʻolawe).
  • The other 7 main islands could fit inside the Big Island with room to spare.
  • In total, there are about 137 islands in Hawaii, including islands, shoals, reefs, and islets. They include most (but not all) of the islands in the Hawaiian archipelago.
A coastal cliff covered in vegetation on Hawaii's Big Island
The coast of the Big Island
  • One Hawaiian island not included in the state is Midway Atoll in the chain’s far northwest, near the international date line. It is also owned by the US, but classified as an unincorporated territory and a wildlife refuge. Kure Atoll is even further away, but does belong to Hawaii state.
  • The main 8 islands span 385 mi (620 km) from southeast (Hawaii Island) to northwest (Kure Atoll).
  • If all the ocean between its islands were included, Hawaii spans a total area of 167,182 mi2 (433,000 km2), similar in size to California.
  • Hawaii’s ocean coastline is the 4th longest in the nation, at 750 mi (1210 km).
A sandy beach, with the island of Kahoʻolawe visible across the ocean
Uninhabited Kahoʻolawe island and Molokini crater island viewed from Maui
  • Hawaii is the 11th least populous state, with just over 1.4 million residents. It has more people than New Hampshire, but less than West Virginia.
  • Over 70% of Hawaii residents, or about 1 million people, live on Oahu island.
  • The least populated main island, Kahoolawe, has a population of 0. Only 84 people inhabit Niihau, the “Forbidden Island”, which is privately owned, has strict limits for tourists, and no Internet or electricity.
  • Honolulu, Oahu is the largest and capital city of Hawaii. With a population of 343,000, it is the nation’s 55th largest city, similar in size to Anaheim city in Greater Los Angeles, California.
  • East Honolulu, essentially an upscale suburb of Honolulu but technically a city of its own, is the 2nd largest city in Hawaii (population 51,000), while Pearl City, also on Oahu, and Hilo, on Hawaii Island, are roughly tied for 3rd largest (population 45,000 each).
Buildings along the beach and coast of Honolulu in Hawaii
  • People that have Hawaiian lineage are called “Kanaka Maoli” which means Native or Indigenous person. White people or others who are born in Hawaii are called “Kama’aina” which means child of the land (without bloodline).
  • Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders make up 10.8% of the population of Hawaii.
  • The Native Hawaiian language only has 13 letters: 8 consonants (H,K,L,M,N,P,W, and the okina, or glottal stop, represented by ‘) and 5 vowels (A,E,I,O,U). In writing, it uses the Latin script (same as English).
  • Hawaiian words that have entered the English language include aloha (hello), mahalo (thank you), kahuna (a wise person or expert), lei (garland of flowers), ukulele (a musical instrument that looks like a tiny guitar), taboo (a cultural restriction), mana (spiritual power), poke (a food), and hula (a kind of dance).
  • They’ve also given us the shaka hand gesture, made by sticking up the thumb and pinky, which means “hang loose”, and is associated with surf culture.
Close up of a Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa fish
Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa, the official state fish of Hawaii
  • Hawaii has the lowest percentage of Whites (22.9%) and highest percentage of Asians (37.2%) of any US state. Filipino-Americans are the most common (14.6%), while Japanese-Americans are second (13.6%). It is the most ethnically diverse US state.
  • HI is the abbreviation for Hawaii.
  • The official Hawaii state flower was the Hibiscus (all colors of Hibiscus), but yellow hibiscus was specifically designated in 1988.
  • The official state fish of Hawaii is the fun-to-say Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa, or reef triggerfish.
  • Hawaii has two official state sports: surfing (individual sport) and outrigger canoe paddling (team sport).
  • Hawaii’s state motto is in Native Hawaiian – “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono“, which translates to “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”.
The Hawaiian state flag
The state flag of Hawaii
  • Some common nicknames for Hawaii are Aloha State, Pineapple State, Paradise of the Pacific, and Rainbow State – rainbows are common there, and the rainbow appears on Hawaii license plates.
  • Tourism slogans for Hawaii have included “The Islands of Aloha”, “Come Taste Paradise”, and “The Safest Place in the World” (in an effort to welcome tourists back after COVID).
  • The official state flag of Hawaii features the Union jack in the top-left corner and 8 horizontal stripes for Hawaii’s 8 major islands. The white stripes symbolize truth, the red symbolize Hawaii’s gods, and blue is for the ocean.

Interesting Facts About Hawaii

  • Haiwaii is consistently chosen as the happiest state in the US.
  • Out of the 24 time zones that exist in the world, Hawaii has its own: Hawaiian Standard Time. There is no daylight savings time.
  • Waikiki is a district of Honolulu and home to the state’s most famous beach, Waikiki Beach. Many of the things to do in Waikiki are aimed at tourists. In fact, before all the tourists arrived, Waikiki was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii (1795 to 1796).
Orange molten lava spilling into the sea on Hawaii Big Island
Lava spilling into the sea from Kīlauea
  • Hawaii has 2 national parks: Hawaiʻi Volcanoes (protecting the super active Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes on Hawaii island) and Haleakalā (a lunar volcanic landscape on Maui, with more endangered species living in the park than any other in the US).
  • Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth. It has been erupting for 700,000 years. Kīlauea is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, and is the one where lava can sometimes be seen flowing into the sea.
  • Hawaiʻi Volcanoes, as well as Papahānaumokuākea, are the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Hawaii. The latter is the world’s largest protected marine area, at 140,000 mi2 (360,000 km2).
  • Papahānaumokuākea is also a designated National Monument, as is Pacific Remote Islands Marine (technically not in Hawaii state, but part of the US Minor Outlying Islands southwest of Hawaii.
Aerial view of Diamond Head crater in Hawaii with neighborhoods built around it
Diamond Head, a volcanic crater right next to Waikiki Beach
  • There are 50 state parks in Hawaii, with Diamond Head (a tuff cone volcano on the coast of Honolulu) being the most visited, and Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park on Kauai island being the largest (and made famous by scenes shot there in Jurassic Park).
  • Hawaii has the highest percentage of protected lands of any state, totaling 9.41%. Alaska and California are in 2nd and 3rd place, respectively.
  • Hawaii has over 500 endangered species, more than any other state, and over 90% of Hawaii’s flora are found nowhere else.
  • Ancient Hawaiian chiefs used to participate in hōlua, an extremely dangerous activity sort of like tobogganing, but down volcanic rock hills. The most famous site is the Keauhou Holua Slide on Hawaii island.
The exterior of the Pearl Harbor Memorial on Oahu, Hawaii
Pearl Harbor Memorial
  • Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Oahu is the only royal palace in the United States.
  • Mauna Kea on Hawaii island beats Mount Everest in height if measured from the base of the ocean. It is 9330 m (30,610 ft) above the sea floor (the figures for this vary, as it is difficult to measure exactly where the mountain stops and sea floor begins)
  • At 4207.3 m (13,803 ft) above sea level, Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s tallest, and the second tallest mountain on an island in the world, after Puncak Jaya on New Guinea island, Indonesia.
  • Hawaii’s mean elevation is 3030 ft (923.5 m) above sea level.
  • The highest temperature ever recorded in Hawaii was 100°F (38°C) on April 27, 1931 in Pahala. The lowest was 12°F (11.1°C) on May 17, 1979 at the Mauna Kea Observatories.
  • Hawaii is the wettest state in the US, receiving 1618 mm (63.7 inches) of rain per year. That’s 3 times more rain than California, and 6 times more than Nevada.
  • At Post-a-Nut, run by the Hoolehua Post Office on Molokai island, you can mail a coconut as a postcard to anywhere in the world. The coconuts are collected from the beach nearby, and around 3000 are mailed per year.
A woman wearing a lei and holding up a coconut postcard with a beach in Hawaii behind her
Coconut postcards can be sent from Hawaii
  • The Pineapple Garden Maze on the Dole plantation on Oahu was the largest in the world when it was first built in 2008. (Today, the Yancheng Dafeng Dream Maze in China is larger.)
  • The traditional Hawaiian greeting is called honi. It involves touching forehead to forehead, nose to nose, and exchanging a breath. Today, many Hawaiians hug and kiss cheeks when they meet.
  • Putting a lei, or garland of flowers, is a common form of welcoming a guest in Hawaii and other Polynesian islands. In Hawaii, it is often done to arriving tourists.
  • Another famous trait of traditional Hawaiian culture is hula dancing, which often takes place at a lūʻau, a traditional party/feast.
  • The word ‘hula hoop’ was chosen because of the movements of the hip required to spin a hula hoop are similar to those of hula dancing, but hula hoops were invented in other parts of the world, not in Hawaii.
  • Music in Hawaii often includes the ukelele, an instrument that originated in Portugal, but that was popularized in and is most commonly associated with Hawaii.
A Hawaiian woman doing hula dancing with a beach behind her
Hula dancer on the beach
  • Many Hawaiian homes have signs reminding visiting Americans to take off their shoes inside ­– the American practice of wearing shoes inside is considered disrespectful there.
  • Since Hawaii’s statehood, tourism has been the largest industry, with around 10 million visitors per year (pre-COVID figure).
  • As of 2023, Hawaii is the most expensive state in the country to buy a house.
  • Hawaiians have the highest life expectancy of any US state. The average Hawaiian lives past 80, the only such state.
  • Hawaii was the first US state to commit to the goal of 100% clean, renewable energy (it’s currently sitting around 40%) and net-negative emissions. The goal is to reach it by 2045.
  • Hawaii is known for its agriculture thanks to its fertile volcanic soil and tropical climate. It all began with sugar and continued with pineapples, macadamia nuts (originally from Australia), coffee, vanilla, and cacao.
  • Kona coffee, the name for coffee grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Haulalai in the Kona districts of the Big Island, is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. It has a delicate, sweet, fruity, and nutty flavor profile.
Close up of kona coffee beans on a coffee plantation in Hawaii
Kona coffee beans growing in Hawaii
  • The headquarters of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, as well as Air Force, Army, and Marine bases, are all in Hawaii. There are over 50,000 military personnel in Hawaii, one of the highest concentrations in the country.
  • The Mauna Kea Observatories on Hawaii island is the largest collection of big telescopes in the world, but is controversial because of the mountain is sacred to Native Hawaiians.
  • Hawaii has the 2nd highest number of shark attacks per year, after Florida. Still, there are only about 3 per year (average), and most of them are not fatal. Statistics show that you have a higher chance of dying from a dog, bathtub, ladder, oyster, sex, Christmas tree, or air freshener.
  • Surfing was invented in Hawaii around 1500 years ago.
  • Hawaii’s traditional surfboards were massive, measuring up to 20 ft (6 m) and weighing up to 200 lbs (90 kg). These were used up until the 1930s.
A large wave off the coast of Oahu's North Shore with people surfing on it and trees in the foreground
Surfers on Oahu’s North Shore
  • In the 1920s, Tom Blake of Milwaukee, Wisconsin traveled to Hawaii and became interested in surfing. In 1932, he patented his hallow surfboard, revolutionizing surfing. He also set the record for longest ride (4500 feet, near Waikiki), which still stands today, and is considered the founder of California surf culture.
  • The North Shore of Oahu is famous for its huge waves (reaching uo to 50 ft or 15 m) and surf scene. The Triple Crown of Surfing takes place there.
  • The first Olympic medalist from Hawaii was swimmer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
  • The assisted opening mechanism for Kershaw Knives, the “SpeedSafe”, was invented by Kenneth J. Onion. Kenneth was an award winning knifemaker from Kaneohe, Oahu.
  • Some of the most famous people born in Hawaii include former US president Barack Obama, musicians Bruno Mars and Jack Johnson, actresses Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Tia Carrere, and Lauren Graham, actors Jason Momoa (half Native Hawaiian, he played Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones), and children’s book author Lois Lowry.
A mosaic of famous people from Hawaii
Famous Hawaiians Nicole Kidman, Tai Carrere, Barack Obama, Jason Momao, Jack Johnson, and Brono Mars (clockwise from top-left)
  • Other famous people who have lived or owned homes in Hawaii include Mark Zuckerburg, Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”), Oprah Winfrey, Owen Wilson, Emma Stone, Julia Roberts, Beyonce and Jay Z, Rihanna, Neil Young, Carlos Santana, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
  • Bethany Hamilton is a professional surfer from Hawaii who lost her arm in a 2003 shark attack. She still surfs today.
  • Marcus Mariota, quarterback from the Atlanta Falcons, is of Samoan descent and is the first Hawaii-born player to receive the Heisman Trophy.
  • The only house in Hawaii designed by the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright is called the Passive Solar Hemi-Cycle Home in Waimea, Hawaii island.
  • Wright’s plans were also used to build a house that was originally intended to be for Marilyn Monroe. Today it is on the the King Kamehameha Golf Club in Maui.
  • Some famous movies filmed partially or fully (or set) in Hawaii include The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jumanji, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Blue Crush, and Lilo and Stitch.
  • TV shows Gilligan’s Island, Hawaii Five-O, Magnum P.I., Dog the Bounty Hunter, and Lost were also filmed in Hawaii.
Close up of three pieces of spam musubi
Spam musubi is one if Hawaii’s most famous snacks
  • Spam is a staple in Hawaii’s local cuisine and it’s been that way since World War II.
  • Spam musubi, or spam sushi, is sold from convenience stores around the state.
  • Poke, which consists of diced chunks of raw fish and other ingredients, usually served on rice, also originated in Hawaii. It exploded in popularity in the continental US and other countries in the mid-2010s.
  • Another traditional staple in Hawaii is poi, a thick paste made from pounded taro.
  • Cocktails invented in Hawaii include Blue Hawaii, Lava Flow, and Hawaiian Margarita (basically a margarita plus pineapple juice and coconut water).
Three glasses of bright blue drinks called Blue Cocktail with pineapple and cherry on top
The Blue Hawaii cocktail
  • The Mai Tai is extremely popular in Hawaii but was actually invented at Trader Vic’s in Oakland (Greater San Francisco), California in 1944, and brought to Hawaii in 1953.
  • Hawaii is no stranger to strange laws. For instance, it’s illegal for buildings to be taller than a palm tree in Kauai.
  • Hawaii became the first state to outlaw billboards in the 1920s.
  • In Hawaii, it’s technically against the law to place coins in one’s ears.
  • By law, you also can’t get a tattoo behind your ear or on your eyelid.
  • According to another old law, if you’re a resident of Hawaii and you don’t own a boat, you can face a fine.

Historical Facts About Hawaii

  • Polynesians first arrived in Hawaii as early as 1500 years ago (figures vary from 400 to 1100 CE) in hokule’a, or Polynesian canoes. They navigated there from French Polynesia using the stars.
  • Around 400 CE, Polynesians began to ride boards on the waves. After bringing those to Hawaii, Hawaiians began standing up on the boards, inventing surfing.
  • In around 1000 CE, settlers began cultivating crops in Hawaii.
A traditional Hawaiian canoe on the water
A traditional Polynesian outrigger canoe similar to those ancient Hawaiians might have arrived in
  • From 1000 to 1200, new settlers from Tahiti created a a hierarchical society ruled by a king and guided by the kahuna (high priests).
  • The first European to make contact with the Hawaiian Islanders was Captain James Cook of England. He landed on the island of Kauai at Waimea Bay in 1778. Cook named the archipelago the “Sandwich Islands”, after the Earl of Sandwich (also the source of the name of sandwiches the food).
  • In 1779, the locals killed Captain James Cook at Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii island when they caught him trying to kill their chief.
  • For 15 years, Kamehameha I (also known as Kamehameha the Great) of Hawaii island tried to unite the Hawaiian Islands. He finally established the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1795, with its capital (only briefly) at Waikiki. Kamehameha and his descendants ruled the island until 1872.
  • The first missionaries arrived in Hawaii in 1820.
Close up of a black statue of Kamehameha with gold clothing in front of a building in Honolulu, Hawaii
Kamehameha statue in Honolulu
  • Between 1820 and 1845, Lahaina was the Hawaiian Kingdom’s capital.
  • In 1828, coffee plants were brought to Hawaii from Brazil.
  • Kauai’s first sugar plantation opened in 1835. Hawaii gained recognition for their prime agricultural land, resulting in their dominant economic force becoming agriculture.
  • Honolulu became the Hawaiian Kingdom’s new capital in 1845.
  • In 1850, foreigners were granted the right to buy land.
  • The demand for sugar from Hawaii increased in 1861 due to the American Civil War.
  • In 1874, William C. Lunalilo became the first of two elected monarchs of Hawaii, and the 6th ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
A field of sugar cane with the ocean and a big island in the background
Sugar cane growing on Maui
  • In 1885, the first Japanese arrived in Hawaii for work, and would soon grow into one of the largest ethnic groups in the islands.
  • Queen Liliuokalani took the throne in 1891, becoming the first queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and its final ruler.
  • When the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, Queen Liliuokalani was placed under house arrest at the Iolani Palace.
  • The Committee of Safety, who overthrew the Kingdom, had the goal of annexing Hawaii to the United States. The US had been concerned about European spread in the Pacific, plus Hawaii was a strategic location and had valuable resources like sugar.
  • On July 4, 1894, Hawaii was established as an independent republic. Sandford Dole became the first president of the Republic of Hawaii, which lasted for 4 years.
A black and white photo of Queen Liliuokalani
Queen Liliuokalani, the last ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii
  • In 1898, Hawaii was annexed under President William McKinley. Hawaii became the Territory of Hawaii until it was made an official state nearly 60 years later.
  • In 1909, a strike by the many Japanese workers on Hawaiian farms led to an attempt to bring in Russian workers, but most of them didn’t stay.
  • The Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu on December 7, 1941. It led to 2335 deaths and resulted in America’s entry into WWII the next day. The USS Arizona today stands as a memorial on Pearl Harbor.
  • On August 20, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th and most recent state of the US, about six months after Alaska joined, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. 93% of Hawaii’s residents had voted in favor of joining.
  • In the 1950s and 60s, a Hawaiian/Polynesian-themed restaurant and bar fad exploded in the continental US, often called “tiki bars”. The Trader Vic’s chain was one of the biggest, where the Mai Tai cocktail was invented.
Tiki glasses on the counter in a tiki bar
Polynesian-themed “tiki bars” caught on in a big way in the mid- to late-1900s.
  • In 1978, Hawaii became the first and only state to have a non-English language as an official language. Hawaiian was made the state’s official language by the Hawaii State Constitutional Convention.
  • Kīlauea had a major eruption in 1990. Lava from the eruption destroyed the town of Kalapana, and the coastline was extended 1000 feet into the Pacific Ocean.
  • In 1993, President Clinton issued an apology for America overthrowing the Hawaiian Kingdom 100 years earlier.
  • In 2009, Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, was inaugurated as the 44th president (and first African American one) of the US.
  • In 2009, the Akaka Bill was passed, giving Native Hawaiians federal recognition similar to a Native American tribe.
Close up of the front of the Hokuea, a traditional Hawaiian canoe, on the sea
The Houlea canoe
  • From 2014 to 2017, the Hōkūleʻa, a traditional Hawaiian canoe, set out from Hawaii on the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Its purpose was “bridging traditional and new technologies to live sustainably, while sharing, learning, creating global relationships, and discovering the wonders of this precious place we all call home”.
  • Tourism to Hawaii plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, the state had some of the strictest COVID restrictions in the US, as well as some of the highest vaccination rates.
  • On October 11, 2021 Ekundu, a 13-year-old male lion at Honolulu Zoo, died of COVID.

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