23 Things Associated with Hawaii

Are you curious about Hawaii and what the islands are known for? Keep scrolling to find out 23 things associated with Hawaii you might not realize.
This list of things associated with Hawaii contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Hawaii is a beautiful state with many of the best things in life. It’s home to some amazing natural attractions, as well as surfing, snorkeling and other water sports.

The Hawaiian islands are one of the most popular destinations in the world. It’s also a great place to take your kids on vacation. It’s the only state in America where you can see active volcanoes, lush rainforests, and beautiful beaches all in one day!

It also has delicious food that you can’t find anywhere else on the planet. And it has warm weather year-round!

The Aloha State is a magical place that’s perfect for families.

So if you’re planning a trip there soon, here are 23 things that people associate with a Hawaiian vacation.

Hawaii Vacation FAQs

What’s the best Hawaiian island to visit?

It really depends on what you like to do. Oahu is a popular island for first timers because they can visit Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, and see Diamond Head. Maui has a great mix of luxury resorts as well as day trips like the Road to Hana and Haleakala Crater. Kauai is perfect for adventure travelers who want to hike the Na Pali Coast or explore the Waimea Canyon. And the Big Island has black sand beaches and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

What’s the best month to visit Hawaii?

If you want to escape the crowds, I suggest visiting Hawaii during its shoulder seasons. These run mid-April to June (between Spring Break and Summer Break) as well as September to mid-December (after the start of school and before Winter Break).

Should I rent a condo or hotel?

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Hawaii with a lot of amenities like on-site restaurants, pools, and a workout center, you’ll want to look at resorts in Hawaii. If you’re hoping to save money in Hawaii, look for condos with full kitchens and washer/dryers in the units.

23 Things Associated with Hawaii

1. Pineapples

Of course, I have to kick off this list with one of the most iconic Hawaiian fruits: Pineapples!

Pineapples are one of the top things associated with Hawaii. Image of a bunch of pineapples at a farmers market on Oahu.
You’ll see pineapples everywhere in Hawaii.

These delicious, sweet treats can be found in all kinds drinks and desserts here on island including Dole Whip! You can even tour pineapple plantations (like Dole Plantation on Oahu) to see how these luscious cones grow into a fruit we love so much.

2. Palm Trees

It’s hard to daydream about Hawaii without including a few swaying palm trees. But, did you know Hawaii has a bunch of varieties of palm trees?

Palm trees are another thing associated with Hawaii. Image of coconut palm trees on sandy Poipu Beach on Kauai.
Coconut Palm trees on the sandy Poipu beach on Kauai.

The Loulu Palms are the only palm trees native to Hawaii. The date palms, coconut palms, traveler’s palms and bottle palms found on the island are foreign to the land. Polynesian settlers introduced most of these species.

And while palm trees are awesome at providing shade, people also use the palm fronds for Polynesian dance costumes, hats, baskets, and more.

If you visit the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu, you’ll learn how to weave a fish using palm fronds.

3. Surfing

Surfing is a huge part of Hawaii’s culture. You see it in the artwork, on t-shirts and as an iconic symbol for the island state.

One of the top things associated with Hawaii is surfing! Image of a man surfing in Hawaii.
Surfing is a popular Hawaiian sport.

The connection between surfing and Hawaii has existed since King Kamehameha I united all the islands under his rule in 1810. However, surfing didn’t become popular worlwide until Westerners came to visit in the 1900s.

The most famous Hawaiian surfer is Duke Kahanamoku, who was an Olympic swimmer. People consider him the forefather of modern surfing.

In 2021, Native Hawaiian Carissa Moore won gold in women’s surfing at the Tokyo Olympics. This was the first time the Olympics featured it as a sport.

Find out the best surf lessons on Oahu and Maui! And check out my list of the best surfing gift ideas!

4. Ukulele

The ukulele is the most famous instrument associated with Hawaii. It’s easy to see why. It sounds beautiful and it’s small enough to carry on a plane or in your backpack.

Even though it's a Portuguese instrument, many people associated ukuleles with Hawaii. Image of a girl playing a kids ukulele
Many kids learn to play the ukulele.

Portuguese plantation workers actually brought over ukuleles to Hawaii in the late 1800s. King David Kalakaua (the last king of Hawaii) loved the sound so much that he incorporated it into Hawaiian music.

Today, you’ll hear the ukulele in many famous Hawaiian songs performed by top Hawaiian musicians.

The ukulele is also a popular first instrument for kids to play. That’s because it only has 4 strings. Find out the best ukuleles for kids in my comprehensive review.

5. Hula Dancing

Hula dancing is a traditional Hawaiian dance that has been practiced for centuries. Originally performed by men, women were allowed to dance beginning in the late 1700s.

It's hard to think of Hawaii without picturing hula dancers. Image of hula girls on the beach on Kauai.
There are many places to see hula dancing in Hawaii.

There are actually two types of hula dancing: Kahiko and Auana. Kahiko is the ancient style of dancing to drums and chanting. Auana is the more modern style with instrumental music and singing.

Today, you can enjoy some free hula shows in Hawaii or make a reservation at an authentic Hawaiian luau. Find out the best luaus on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island.

6. Mai Tai Cocktails

The Mai Tai is a classic cocktail that has been associated with Hawaii for decades. The drink was actually invented in 1944 at Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland. By 1960, it became one of the most popular drinks in America.

The best Hawaiian Mai Tai cocktail recipe from Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of two glasses filled with Mai Tai cocktails.
This is my favorite Mai Tai recipe!

There are many variations on this recipe depending on which part of the world you are drinking it. However, it usually consists of rum, pineapple juice, lime juice, orange liqueur, and orgeat syrup.

One of the best places to have a mai tai in Hawaii is Merriman’s or Monkeypod Kitchen. It’s the same company and they serve a mai tai with lilikoi foam on top that is incredible!

Get my copy-cat Monkeypod Kitchen Mai Tai recipe to make one at home!

7. Beaches

People come to the Hawaiian Islands for many reasons. Some are here on vacation, and others live here year-round. But one thing we know for sure is that there’s no place quite like Hawaii when it comes to beaches!

Hawaii is definitely known for amazing beaches. Image of surfboards on Waikiki Beach with view of Diamond Head
Waikiki Beach on Oahu.

There are so many beautiful beaches in Hawaii, from sunny Waikiki Beach with its iconic surfers and can’t miss Diamond Head Crater in the distance, or majestic Hanauma Bay where you can snorkel among an abundance of sea life in crystal clear waters.

And if you’re looking for a beach experience off the beaten path…we’ve got those too. Check out places like Ke’e Beach with stunning views of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. Or visit Green Sands Beach on the Big island.

8. Sunshine

I don’t know about you, but I almost always see the sun shining in pictures of Hawaii. It’s almost as if it’s a requirement for any photo of tropical paradise to showcase sunshine!

On average, Hawaii enjoys 240 sunny days per year.

The sunniest place in Hawaii is the Kohala Coast on the Big Island. It only gets about 10 inches of rain per year, making it one of the driest places in Hawaii.

Because of all this lovely sunshine, it’s important to protect your skin. Make sure to pack reef-safe sunscreen as well as SPF rashguards to shield yourself from UV rays.

9. Shave Ice

One of the items that you see EVERYWHERE in Hawaii is Shave Ice. It’s on every corner and there are even food trucks devoted to it!

One of the most iconic foods in Hawaii is shave ice. Image of Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice on Maui.
Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice on Maui.

When Japanese workers came to work in the plantations in the early 1900s, they brought with them this Japanese dessert. It’s basically a block of ice that is shaved to create fluffy snow and then it’s topped with fruit syrup.

Since then, this cold treat has evolved into a true masterpiece. Some of them feature organic fruit syrups, freshly cut tropical fruit, li hing mui, etc. And you can even find it with a scoop of Hawaiian ice cream on the bottom.

Find out the best places for shave ice on Maui and Oahu.

10. Rainbows

Rainbows are a common sight in Hawaii, and there’s a good reason for it. Hawaii is known for having quick bursts of rain followed by sunshine. The sun shines through water droplets in the air, which bend light rays as they pass through them like prisms.

It's hard not associating Hawaii with rainbows. Image of a double rainbow in Hawaii.
Double rainbow in Hawaii.

This is called refraction and we call those rainbows! And it’s not uncommon to see rainbows several times on your Hawaii vacation.

What’s really special about the rainbows in Hawaii is that often you can see double rainbows. And on rare instances, you can even see triple rainbows.

11. Poke

Poke is a Hawaiian dish that’s been associated with the state for quite some time, and it’s easy to see why. With its fresh ingredients and simple preparation method, poke has become one of the most popular dishes in Hawaii.

Oahu poke places are all the rage because they are usually portable like this one. Image of a plastic container filled with chopped up raw fish.
Hawaiian Poke. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

But what exactly is poke?

Poke is a traditional dish that is usually served as an appetizer or snack in Hawaii. It’s typically made with cooked cubes of raw fish, seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil, and mixed together with seaweed (or other vegetables).

It’s one of the latest food crazes on the Mainland and you can find poke bowls (poke with rice) and even poke nachos.

Find out the best places to get poke on Oahu and Maui.

12. Leis

Leis are flowers that are strung together using a needle and thread. Giving a lei to someone is a way to show your love and appreciation. And it’s also a way to mark an occasion like a wedding, graduation, birthday, or other special event.

Leis are one of the most iconic things in Hawaii. Image of a Hawaii woman showing flower lei garland of pink orchids. Beautiful smiling mixed race woman in bikini on beach giving a welcoming Lei on the hawaiian island Big Island.
You’ll see tons of leis in Hawaii.

Leis are a common symbol of Hawaii, and they’re worn by many people who visit the islands.

While a lot of people assume they will get a lei when they arrive in Hawaii, that hasn’t been the case for many decades. You can pay to book a lei greeting at the airport, though. That’s great for first trips to Hawaii.

If you attend a Hawaiian luau or check into a fancy resort, you’ll probably get a fresh flower lei as soon as you arrive.

One of the best Hawaiian holidays is Lei Day. This takes place on May 1st and there are usually lei making contests, royal processions, and pageants.

13. Malasadas

Besides the ukulele, Portuguese settlers also brought along malasadas. These Portuguese-style donuts are covered in sugar. They’re light, fluffy and delicious!

Get this Hawaiian malasada recipe by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids. Image of a bunch of sugar coated malasadas with a cup of coffee.
Coconut-filled malasadas.

The traditional recipe is made of flour, yeast, water, butter, milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract. Then, it’s shaped into balls before being deep-fried until golden brown.

Today, many bakeries also fill them with cream and fruit filling, like passion fruit, mango, or even ube.

It’s hard to find them outside of Hawaii so you should stop by your local bakery for some while on vacation in Hawaii! Leonard’s Bakery is the most famous place to get malasadas on Oahu.

Or you can try to make them at home. Get my melt-in-your-mouth malasada recipe.

14. Kona Coffee

The Big Island of Hawaii is home to Kona coffee, which has a reputation for being the best in the state. It’s also one of the most expensive coffees in the world.

Image of Kona Coffee Farm on the Big Island of Hawaii
Kona coffee beans on the Big Island.

The coffee beans are grown on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa. Only coffee grown in the Kona district can authentically be called “Kona coffee.”

So, if you’re visiting the Big Island, you’ll definitely want to stop by some of the coffee plantations and try this delectable drink for yourself.

But, they also sell Kona coffee just about anywhere in Hawaii. You can even pick up a few bags to bring home as Hawaiian souvenirs.

15. Volcanoes

Some people don’t realize it, but Hawaii was completely formed by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago.

Haleakala is a famous volcano on Maui. People drive up to see the sunrise at Haleakala Crater or ride bikes down for a scenic activity. However, Haleakala is a dormant volcano, meaning it doesn’t erupt.

The Ultimate Guide to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids: Hawaii lava tourist. Tourists taking photo of flowing lava from Kilauea volcano around Hawaii volcanoes national park, USA.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.

If you’re wanting to see an active volcano in Hawaii, your best bet is to check out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. That’s where you’ll find Kilauea.

Make sure to check to see whether or not it’s currently erupting before you go. Regardless, it’s still a really cool place to explore.

16. Spam

You will see Spam on just about every menu in Hawaii. It’s served with eggs for breakfast, it’s chopped up in fried noodles and fried rice, and you’ll even see it on burgers.

Spam Musubi recipe by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids
Spam musubi.

It’s super popular in Hawaii because of World War II. It began when the U.S. government shipped this canned meat to Hawaii for American soldiers. There was a surplus and people who lived in Hawaii started incorporating it into their usual recipes.

The reason that it’s continued to be used so much in Hawaii is that it’s a pantry item that doesn’t quickly expire. That’s important for islands that import most of their food items.

It’s such a celebrated food that it has a whole festival dedicated to it called Spam Jam.

My favorite spam item is Spam Musubi. You’ll find this tasty snack item at convenience stores (like ABC Stores and 7-11) as well as on restaurant menus. It’s an easy breakfast, lunch, or mid-day snack to take to the beach.

17. Aloha Shirts

Aloha shirts first became popular in Hawaii in the 1920s-1930s featuring Japanese prints. There’s actually some conflicting reports of who exactly invented it. Regardless, they have since become an iconic piece of Hawaiian clothing.

short sleeve Aloha shirts for sale in a department store
Aloha shirts in Hawaii.

After World War II, many servicemen who were stationed in Hawaii came back to the mainland with a few Aloha shirts.

Today, these colorful and fun-loving pieces of clothing can be seen at any tourist spot in Hawaii. And they are worn by everyone from surfers to businessmen.

And you can find them anywhere from the Aloha Swap Meet to Costco to high-end luxury stores. People even collect the fancy Aloha shirts from Reyn Spooner.

18. Mu’u Mu’u Dresses

Missionaries actually brought the mu’u mu’u dresses to Hawaii in the 1820s. They were called Mother Hubbard dresses and their main purpose was to cover women up and promote modesty.

Image of a rack of colorful mu'u mu'u dresses in Hawaii.
Colorful mu’u mu’u dresses from Mu’u Mu’u Mamas on Oahu.

Throughout the years, the style has changed. Some are pretty form-fitting and used for hula dancing. Some have a long train for formal events. There are even shorter styles for everyday use.

Today, the mu’u mu’u dress is making a fashion comeback. I urge you to pick one up to wear to a luau or any event in Hawaii.

19. Sugar Cane

Polynesian settlers first brought sugar cane to Hawaii as early as 600 AD. Used for medicine and food, it’s played a huge part in Hawaiian culture.

There used to be tons of sugar cane plantations in Hawaii. Image of sugar cane.
Sugar cane in Hawaii.

In the mid-1800s, sugar plantations were established and workers came from all over the world to work the fields. That’s a big reason why Hawaii is considered a true melting pot of cultures.

Today, the sugar cane plantations in Hawaii have all shut down. Some have turned into museums, like the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum on Maui.

20. Coconuts

A lot of people don’t realize it, but coconuts aren’t naturally from Hawaii. The early Polynesian settlers brought them in their canoes as a source of food.

Coconuts are definitely one of the top things associated with Hawaii islands. Image of a Coconut sliced in half
Coconuts are used in lots of stuff in Hawaii.

However, coconuts are everywhere in Hawaii, from the coconut trees lining the coast to island drinks like Mai Tai’s and Piña Coladas. You can’t go anywhere without seeing a sign or advertisement for fresh coconuts.

They are also a major ingredient in a lot of Hawaiian desserts like chocolate haupia pie and coconut cake.

21. Hawaii Five-0 (and other TV shows)

There are tons of TV shows filmed in Hawaii, but the most well-know is Hawaii Five-0. The original series was filmed in the 1960s-1970s and featured the iconic line “Book ’em Danno!”

Promo image for Hawaii Five-O featuring cast members in Hawaii
Hawaii Five-O poster.

In 2010, the show was re-booted and lasted 10 seasons. They filmed mostly on Oahu.

Magnum P.I. was another popular show filmed in Hawaii in the 1980s starring Tom Selleck. It was re-booted in 2018.

22. Shrimp Trucks

Hawaii has some of the sweetest shrimp in the world. And there’s no better place to taste it than the North Shore of Oahu.

The best things to do in North Shore Oahu featured by top Hawaii blog, Hawaii Travel with Kids: Stopping at a shrimp truck is just one of the best things to do on North Shore Oahu. Get the full North Shore guide from Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids
Eating at a shrimp truck on the North Shore. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Here, you can find tons of North Shore food trucks. Many of them specialize in garlic shrimp, butter shrimp, and even coconut shrimp.

These shrimp plates usually come with rice and a scoop of macaroni salad.

23. Macadamia Nuts

Macadamia nuts are originally from Australia, but they’ve become so popular in Hawaii that it is now synonymous with the state.

Macadamia nut growing on branch, Hilo, Big Island
Fresh macadamia nuts growing on a branch. Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

The popularity of these delicious treats has a lot to do with their taste and texture. That’s why many people find them more flavorful and crunchier than other types of nuts.

You’ll see them used in lots of different savory recipes, including macadamia nut crusted fish, as well as Hawaiian desserts.

And one of the most popular Hawaii souvenirs include chocolate covered macadamia nuts! Hawaiian Host and Mauna Loa are two popular brands of chocolate macadamia nuts.

Wrap Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the top things associated with Hawaii. From pineapples and shave ice to surfing and hula dancing, there really is something for everyone in this beautiful state.

If you are traveling soon or want a little help planning your next trip to the island, be sure to download my step-by-step vacation planner that will have everything covered from booking flights (and seats) through packing tips!

Enjoy exploring all that Hawaii has to offer!

Want to know more about Hawaii? Learn the biggest Hawaii mistakes tourists make, find out what to expect at a luau, and get all your Hawaii questions answered.