39 Amazing Things Hawaii is Known For (+ Famous For)

From the big island to luaus, if you’re wondering, “what is Hawaii known for?” or “what is Hawaii famous for?” then you’ve come to the right place!

This is a state of the Aloha spirit, pineapples, gorgeous natural scenery, a volcanic landscape and a rich and deep history that expands far past its time as a state.

There are so many great things to do in Hawaii, and as someone who has traveled extensively around the US, I can tell you that while Hawaii is perhaps one of the best known states and vacation destinations, there are probably some things on this list that you didn’t know before!

Whether you’re a local or you’re thinking of visiting, enjoy this deep dive into the things Hawaii is known for, including foods that Hawaii is known for, people that Hawaii is famous for, and lots more.

1. Beautiful Beaches

Hawaii’s reputation for its beautiful beaches is well-deserved.

With its turquoise waters, soft sands, and lush palm trees, the state offers a diverse range of beach experiences.

From the world-famous Waikiki Beach with its bustling atmosphere and vibrant nightlife to the serene and secluded shores of Lanikai, each beach has its own distinct charm.

Some beaches are perfect for swimming and sunbathing, while others are renowned for their impressive waves, attracting surfers and water sports enthusiasts from around the globe.

2. Volcanoes

The Hawaiian islands are a testament to the powerful forces of nature.

Formed through millions of years of volcanic activity, the archipelago is home to some of the most iconic volcanoes in the world.

Kilauea, located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is one such volcano that has shaped the landscape over centuries.

Its frequent eruptions contribute to the ever-changing landforms, attracting scientists and curious travelers alike.

3. Hula Dance

Hula dance is an ancient and deeply symbolic art form that originated in Hawaii and is inseparable from its culture.

This rhythmic and graceful dance communicates stories, legends, and emotions through subtle movements of the hands, hips, and feet.

The hula preserves Hawaiian history and mythology, connecting generations and keeping traditions alive.

4. Surfing

Hawaii’s association with surfing is not just a historical fact; it’s a cultural phenomenon that has influenced the world.

Surfing, or he’e nalu in Hawaiian, has deep roots in the islands, dating back centuries.

Ancient Hawaiians considered surfing not only a sport but a spiritual activity that connected them to the ocean and nature.

Today, Hawaii’s North Shore on Oahu is legendary for its massive waves and hosts world-class competitions like the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.

5. Pineapples

While the pineapple industry in Hawaii has diminished in recent years, the sweet and tangy fruit is still synonymous with the state.

Pineapple plantations were once a dominant feature of the landscape, particularly on Maui and Oahu. Dole Plantation on Oahu offers a glimpse into this history, showcasing the journey of pineapple cultivation.

The fruit’s importance is reflected in Hawaiian cuisine, where it appears in dishes like pineapple fried rice and on the classic Hawaiian pizza.

6. Aloha Spirit

Aloha goes beyond a simple greeting; it’s a way of life in Hawaii.

The Aloha Spirit encompasses love, compassion, and understanding.

It’s the idea of treating others with respect and extending warmth and hospitality to everyone.

This concept is woven into everyday interactions, community gatherings, and even official state laws.

7. Hawaiian Shirts

The iconic Hawaiian shirt, known as the aloha shirt, is a symbol of relaxed and colorful island fashion.

These shirts feature vibrant prints inspired by the tropical flora, fauna, and landscapes of Hawaii.

They’re worn casually and formally, reflecting the state’s laid-back lifestyle.

Beyond being a fashion statement, Hawaiian shirts evoke a sense of leisure and happiness, capturing the essence of a tropical paradise.

8. Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor holds significant historical importance as the site of the surprise Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, which led the United States to enter World War II.

The USS Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken battleship, serves as a solemn reminder of the lives lost during the attack.

Visitors can learn about the events that unfolded that day and pay their respects to the fallen.

9. Humpback Whales

The warm Hawaiian waters provide a vital winter breeding ground for humpback whales, drawing these magnificent creatures from colder Alaskan waters.

Every year, from December to April, visitors have the incredible opportunity to witness humpback whales in their natural habitat.

10. Tropical Fruits

Hawaii’s tropical climate is ideal for cultivating a diverse range of exotic fruits.

Mangoes, papayas, bananas, and passion fruit thrive on the islands, offering a burst of flavors and nutrients.

The abundance of fresh tropical fruits contributes to the state’s vibrant culinary scene, making them key ingredients in dishes, beverages, and desserts.

11. Waterfalls

The lush landscapes of Hawaii are dotted with an array of stunning waterfalls.

These cascading wonders are often hidden within verdant rainforests or visible from scenic hiking trails.

One such gem is Akaka Falls on the Big Island, where visitors can marvel at the 442-foot plunge into a lush gorge.

The sight and sound of waterfalls like these create a serene and awe-inspiring atmosphere, reminding all who visit of the islands’ natural beauty and the power of water’s shaping force.

12. Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, and its summit is one of the world’s most renowned locations for astronomical observatories.

With its high elevation and clear skies, the summit provides an ideal platform for studying the universe.

The Mauna Kea Observatories have contributed to groundbreaking discoveries in astronomy, providing insights into the cosmos and expanding humanity’s understanding of the universe.

13. Lei

The lei is a symbol of Hawaiian hospitality and affection, often given as a gesture of welcome, love, or celebration.

These colorful garlands are made from various materials, including flowers, shells, and leaves, and are crafted with care and skill.

Gifting a lei or wearing one is a way to honor tradition, express gratitude, and connect with the island’s natural beauty.

14. Tropical Flora

Hawaii’s diverse climate zones give rise to an incredible variety of flora, from the fiery red blooms of the ‘Ohi’a Lehua to the fragrant plumeria flowers that adorn landscapes with their distinct aroma.

The islands are also home to rare and endemic species, making them an essential part of Hawaii’s unique ecosystem.

Gardens and botanical attractions showcase this natural beauty, offering visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the captivating world of Hawaiian flora.

15. Kona Coffee

Grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island, Kona coffee is celebrated for its exceptional flavor and quality.

The volcanic soil and favorable climate provide optimal conditions for coffee cultivation.

The beans are handpicked and sun-dried, resulting in a smooth and rich coffee with distinct notes of chocolate and nut.

Visiting Kona coffee farms provides insight into the labor-intensive process behind each cup and allows coffee enthusiasts to appreciate the artistry of producing this internationally recognized Hawaiian specialty.

16. Hawaiian Cuisine

Hawaii’s cuisine is a delicious blend of indigenous flavors and the influences of its diverse population, including Native Hawaiians, Polynesians, Asians, and more.

Dishes like poke (marinated raw fish), plate lunch (a combo meal featuring meat, rice, and salad), and poi (a traditional staple made from taro) are a reflection of this culinary fusion.

The use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including seafood, fruits, and vegetables, contributes to the vibrant flavors that characterize Hawaiian cuisine.

17. Hawaiian Language

The Hawaiian language, also known as ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, is a key part of the islands’ cultural heritage.

Although it’s endangered, efforts to preserve and revitalize the language are ongoing.

The language is closely tied to Hawaiian traditions, songs, and stories, offering a window into the rich history and worldview of the indigenous people.

18. Island Hopping

Hawaii’s archipelago consists of multiple islands, each with its own unique character and attractions.

Island hopping allows visitors to experience a diverse range of landscapes, activities, and cultures within a relatively small geographical area.

From the bustling city life of Honolulu on Oahu to the rural charm of Molokai, each island presents a distinct blend of urban sophistication and rural tranquility.

19. Sunsets

The Hawaiian islands offer some of the most breathtaking sunsets in the world.

As the sun dips below the horizon, the skies come alive with hues of orange, pink, and purple, casting a warm glow over the land and sea.

Watching a Hawaiian sunset is a magical experience that invites reflection and contemplation, making it a cherished ritual for locals and a must-do activity for visitors.

20. Tropical Rainforests

Hawaii’s lush tropical rainforests are teeming with life, featuring dense vegetation, vibrant flowers, and a symphony of birdsong.

These ecosystems are rich in biodiversity and play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the environment.

Exploring the rainforests allows visitors to discover hidden waterfalls, traverse lush trails, and encounter unique plant and animal species.

21. Kamehameha the Great

Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great, was a visionary Hawaiian leader who united the Hawaiian islands under a single monarchy in the late 18th century.

His legacy is still honored today, with statues, landmarks, and cultural references throughout the islands.

22. Traditional Canoeing

Hawaiian culture has deep ties to the ocean, and traditional canoeing is a testament to this relationship.

Canoeing played a vital role in the migration of Polynesians to the islands and remains an integral part of Hawaiian identity.

The construction and navigation of outrigger canoes require skill and knowledge passed down through generations.

23. Hawaiian Music

Hawaiian music is a melodic tapestry that weaves together cultural influences, storytelling, and a deep connection to nature.

Instruments like the ukulele and slack-key guitar create distinctive sounds that capture the laid-back essence of the islands.

Traditional mele (songs) often carry poetic narratives, celebrating the beauty of the land, the sea, and the relationships that define Hawaiian life.

24. Haleakalā

Often referred to as the “House of the Sun,” Haleakalā is a massive shield volcano on Maui that holds significant cultural and geological importance.

Its summit crater is a popular destination for watching breathtaking sunrises, with visitors ascending to the rim before dawn to witness the sun’s first rays illuminating the landscape.

25. Lū‘au

A traditional Hawaiian lū‘au is a festive and communal gathering that celebrates culture, food, and entertainment.

Guests are treated to an array of local dishes, often cooked in an imu (underground oven) and served buffet-style.

The evening comes alive with music, hula dancing, and performances that share the stories and legends of Hawaii.

26. Flower Farms

Hawaii’s ideal climate allows a stunning variety of flowers to flourish, making it a hub for flower farms.

Orchids and plumerias, in particular, are cultivated in abundance, filling the air with their sweet scents and adorning landscapes with their vibrant colors.

Visitors can explore these farms to learn about the cultivation and care of these delicate blooms, and even participate in hands-on activities like lei-making workshops.

27. Hawaiian Quilting

Hawaiian quilting is a unique craft that combines artistic expression with cultural heritage.

Traditional Hawaiian quilts are characterized by their intricate geometric patterns, often inspired by the islands’ natural elements.

Quilting has a historical significance as a form of storytelling, with each quilt containing narratives and symbols that reflect the quilter’s experiences and the beauty of their surroundings.

28. Coconut Trees

The swaying coconut palms lining Hawaii’s beaches evoke images of a tropical paradise.

These iconic trees provide not only shade and picturesque views but also valuable resources for the islands’ inhabitants.

Coconuts offer nourishment through their meat and water, while their husks and leaves can be transformed into various materials, including baskets and roofing for traditional structures.

29. Island Spirituality

Hawaiian spirituality is deeply rooted in the land, the ocean, and the elements.

The islands are seen as a sacred home, and the connection to nature is reflected in cultural practices, rituals, and beliefs.

Traditional Hawaiian religion includes reverence for gods, goddesses, and natural forces.

Sacred sites like heiau (temples) and petroglyphs provide insights into the spiritual practices of the indigenous people.

30. Tiki Culture

Tiki culture emerged in the mid-20th century as a fascination with Polynesian art, architecture, and aesthetics.

Tiki bars, adorned with carved wooden figures and tropical decor, became symbols of escapism and leisure.

31. Rainbow State

Hawaii’s nickname, the “Rainbow State,” is a fitting tribute to the state’s colorful and diverse environment.

The interplay of sunlight and rain showers often results in vivid rainbows arching across the sky.

These rainbows serve as a reminder of the dynamic weather patterns and the awe-inspiring beauty that define Hawaii’s natural landscapes.

32. Historical Sites

Hawaii’s history is rich and layered, with ancient temples, petroglyphs, and archaeological sites offering glimpses into the past.

Heiau, or temples, were sacred places of worship and rituals, while petroglyphs carved into rocks served as a form of communication and storytelling.

33. Merrie Monarch Festival

The Merrie Monarch Festival is an annual week-long event held in Hilo, Hawaii, celebrating hula and Hawaiian culture.

Named after King David Kalakaua, who was known as the “Merrie Monarch,” the festival features hula competitions, traditional crafts, and cultural exhibitions.

34. Green Sea Turtles

The Hawaiian islands are home to the endangered green sea turtle, known as honu in Hawaiian.

These majestic creatures can often be spotted swimming near the shores or sunbathing on beaches.

Green sea turtles are revered in Hawaiian culture and are considered symbols of wisdom, protection, and longevity.

35. Kona Coast

The Kona Coast on the Big Island is a haven for beach enthusiasts, water sports enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike.

Its crystal-clear waters offer exceptional snorkeling and diving opportunities, with vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life.

The Kona coast is also famous for its calm conditions, making it an ideal location for kayaking and paddleboarding.

36. Trade Winds

Hawaii’s trade winds are constant, prevailing winds that have a profound impact on the state’s weather patterns and climate.

These winds bring refreshing breezes, moderate temperatures, and contribute to the lushness of the islands.

The trade winds have historical significance as well, as they guided early Polynesian voyagers to Hawaii and influenced the routes of explorers.

37. Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu offers a comprehensive exploration of Polynesian cultures, traditions, and histories.

The center features interactive exhibits, live performances, and immersive experiences that allow visitors to learn about the diverse cultures of Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, and more.

38. Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines is the flagship carrier of Hawaii, connecting the islands with destinations across the world.

Founded in 1929, the airline has played a pivotal role in facilitating travel to and from the state, contributing to its economic growth and cultural exchange.

39. Ohana

The concept of ohana, meaning “family” in Hawaiian, extends beyond blood relations to encompass the broader sense of community, belonging, and interconnectedness.

Ohana represents a deep and unconditional bond that transcends individual differences and nurtures support, love, and care.

The notion of ohana is at the core of Hawaiian values and guides the way people interact, prioritize relationships, and work together for the betterment of their communities.

Want to know what things the other US states are known for? Check out our other guides!

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