Hawaii boasts a unique, native culture that still prevails even in the midst of modern development. There are many sites upon the islands that are restricted indigenous land. However, many of these areas are open to the public with prior permission. Surfing is almost a religion in the state, as are plenty of other water activities, like outrigger canoeing.


Polynesian descendants were the first people to arrive on the Hawaiian Islands. Historians believe the first settlers migrated from the islands of Tahiti or Marquesas, hundreds of years before Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778, yet Cook is regarded as the first European explorer to have visited the islands.

At the time of Cook’s visit, the islands of Hawaii were separate kingdoms. By 1810, all of the islands were controlled by Kamehameha I, without much interference by Europeans. This later changed after Kamehameha II adopted more ‘Western’ ideals and allowed missionaries from American colonies to reside on the islands and spread Christianity. The missionaries became the first ‘land owners’ on the islands.

During the 19th century, American businessmen began to develop the islands’ pineapple and sugar cane industries. Labor migrations saw influxes of Japanese, Korean, and Filipino immigrants. By 1893, the Hawaiian monarchy disintegrated and in 1900, Hawaii was annexed by the US and the area became known as the Hawaiian Territory. It didn’t become a recognized state until 1959.

During the 20th century, Hawaii became an important military base for the US. Pearl Harbor, which was ferociously bombed by the Japanese in 1941, is the largest naval base in the area and home to the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial (1 Arizona Memorial Road, Honolulu) are great sites to visit to explore Hawaii’s history and pay your respects.

Following Hawaii’s involvement in WWII, the islands continued to host US military bases, with still present today. Since 1945, Hawaii’s cities have undergone modernization and now boast an urban culture close to that found in cities of the US mainland. The Bishop Museum (1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu) is a grand cultural center that highlights the history of Hawaii through its collections.


Modern Hawaiian culture becomes more ‘Americanized’ every year. Visitors will find cities and towns that resemble conurbations found in the US, with major retail companies operating throughout the state. Nevertheless, tourism has been the largest industry for Hawaii since the 20th century. Massive resorts line the beaches of Waikiki, while other once secluded spots like Lanai have developed into important resort getaways.

Of course, modern Hawaii still bases its culture on traditional indigenous ideals of nature and the water. The ocean culture in Hawaii is still prevalent through surfing and other sports. Visitors can explore several exclusively indigenous areas, including Niihau, while holidaying in the US’s latest state. Hawaii’s volcanic landscape has also helped shape this intriguing holiday destination, with several active volcanoes still rumbling away.