Few places on Earth more clearly embody the spirit of paradise than Hawaii, which is famous for its tropical flora, extraordinary beaches (including the jet-black sand at Punalu'u), and dramatic volcanic landscapes. Kaua’i and Ni'ihau were the first islands to bloom from the Pacific Ocean hot spot, which continues to shape and expand the Hawaiian Ridge. While there are hundreds of islands in the archipelago spread over some 1,500 miles, the eight largest are the center of Hawaiian life.
First settled by the Polynesians more than a millennium ago, the islands were named for an ancient hero, Hawaiiloa. According to myth, he first discovered the islands and led successive waves of settlers.
Before Hawaii became the 50th state in the union, it was an independent kingdom that flourished under two different dynasties for nearly a century. But the last reigning monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, was ultimately overthrown by a small group of American sugar planters, leading the islands to become a U.S. protectorate, and later a territory. It wasn't until 1959 that the island chain was finally granted statehood.
Since then, people from both the mainland United States as well as Asia have contributed to Hawaii's unique cultural heritage. Visitors travel great distances (Honolulu is an 11-hour, non-stop flight from New York City) to experience the islands’ natural beauty — like the stunning rainbow eucalyptus on Maui — and distinct cuisine. Dishes like lau lau (pork wrapped in taro) and spam musubi (a riff on sushi) are rarely found elsewhere.
Ready to cross the Aloha State off the bucket list? Here's everything you need to know about making your Hawaiian moemoeā come true.