In addition to the books discussed below, you may want to peruse Frommer's Maui Day by Day. Those planning an extended trip to Hawaii should check out Frommer's Honolulu, Waikiki & Oahu; Frommer's Honolulu & Oahu Day by Day; Frommer's Kauai; Frommer's Hawaii; and Frommer's Hawaii with Kids (all published by Wiley Publishing, Inc.).


Fiction --The first book people think about is James A. Michener's Hawaii (Fawcett Crest, 1974). This epic novel manages to put the island's history into chronological order, but remember, it is still fiction, and very sanitized fiction, too. For a more contemporary look at life in Hawaii today, one of the best novels is Shark Dialogues, by Kiana Davenport (Plume, 1995). The novel tells the story of Pono, a larger-than-life matriarch, and her four daughters of mixed races. Davenport skillfully weaves legends and myths of Hawaii into the "real life" reality that Pono and her family face in the complex Hawaii of today. Lois-Ann Yamanaka uses a very "local" voice and stark depictions of life in the islands in her fabulous novels Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), Blu's Hanging (Avon, 1997), and Heads by Harry (Avon, 1999).

Nonfiction --Mark Twain's writing on Hawaii in the 1860s offers a wonderful introduction to Hawaii's history. One of his best books is Mark Twain in Hawaii: Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands (Mutual Publishing, 1990). A great depiction of the Hawaii of 1889 is Travels in Hawaii, by Robert Louis Stevenson (University of Hawaii Press, 1973).

For a contemporary perspective on Hawaii's unique culture, read Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian Elders Speak, by M. J. Harden (Aka Press, 1999). Some 24 different kahuna (experts) in their fields were interviewed about their talent, skill, or artistic practice. These living treasures talk about how Hawaiians of yesteryear viewed nature, spirituality and healing, preservation and history, dance and music, arts and crafts, canoes, and the next generation.

Native Planters in Old Hawaii: Their Life, Lore, and Environment (Bishop Museum Press, 2004) was originally published in 1972 but is still one of the most important ethnographic works on traditional Hawaiian culture, portraying the lives of the common folk and their relationship with the land before the arrival of Westerners. This revised edition, with a great index that allows you to find anything, is an excellent resource for anyone interested in Hawaii.

Honolulu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing (Mutual Publishing, 2008), edited by Gavan Daws and Bennett Hymer, is a fascinating 1,000-plus-page book filled with the writings of various authors over the past 200 years. More than 350 selections -- ranging from short stories; excerpts from novels; and scenes from plays, musicals, and operas to poems, songs, Hawaiian chants, cartoons, slams, and even stand-up comedy routines -- are contained in this must-read for anyone interested in Hawaii. The authors range from Hawaiian kings and queens to Hawaiian chefs and commoners, including some well-known writers (translated from seven different languages) -- all telling their own stories about Honolulu.

Flora & Fauna -- Because Hawaii is so lush with nature and blessed with plants, animals, and reef fish seen nowhere else on the planet, a few reference books can help you identify what you're looking at and make your trip more interesting. In the botanical world, Angela Kay Kepler's Hawaiian Heritage Plants (University of Hawaii Press, 1998) is the standard for plant reference. In a series of essays, Kepler weaves culture, history, geography, botany, and even spirituality into her vivid descriptions of plants. You'll never look at plants the same way again. There are great color photos and drawings to help you sort through the myriad species. Another great resource is Tropicals, by Gordon Courtright (Timber Press, 1988), which is filled with color photos identifying everything from hibiscus and heliconia to trees and palms.

The other necessary reference to have in Hawaii is one that identifies the colorful reef fish you will see snorkeling. The best of the bunch is John E. Randall's Shore Fishes of Hawaii (University of Hawaii Press, 1998). Two other books on reef-fish identification, with easy-to-use spiral bindings, are Hawaiian Reef Fish: The Identification Book (Blue Kirio Publishing, 1993) by Casey Mahaney and Hawaiian Reef Fish (Island Heritage, 1998) by Astrid Witte and Casey Mahaney.

To learn everything you need to identify Hawaii's unique birds, try H. Douglas Pratt's A Pocket Guide to Hawaii's Birds (Mutual Publishing, 1996).

For fans of the Hawaiian lei, Na Lei Makamae: The Treasured Lei (University of Hawaii Press, 2003) by Marie McDonald and Paul Weissich is a comprehensive work on this incredible art form. McDonald is one of Hawaii's top lei makers, and Weissich is the director emeritus of Honolulu Botanical Gardens; together they cover some 88 flowers and plants used for leis.

For a complete rundown on where to see the best botanical gardens on Maui (and other Hawaiian islands), get Kevin Whitton's A Pocket Guide to Hawaii's Botanical Gardens (Mutual Publishing, 2009).

History -- There are many great books on Hawaii's history, but one of the best to start with is David E. Eyre's By Wind, By Wave: An Introduction to Hawaii's Natural History (Bess Press, 2000), which vividly describes the formation of the Hawaiian Islands. In addition to chronicling the natural history of Hawaii, Eyre discusses the complex interrelationships among the plants, animals, ocean, and people. He points out that Hawaii has become the "extinction capital of the world," but rather than dwelling on that fact, he urges readers to do something about it and carefully spells out how.

For an even more complete tome, get the University of Hawaii Press's Hawaiian Natural History, Ecology, and Evolution (2002), by Alan C. Ziegler. Readers can trace the natural history of the Hawaiian archipelago through the book's 28 chapters, or focus on specific topics such as island formation by plate tectonics, plant and animal evolution, flightless birds and their fossil sites, Polynesian migrational history and ecology, the effects of humans and exotic animals on the environment, current conservation efforts, and the contributions of the many naturalists who visited the islands over the centuries and the stories behind their discoveries.

For a history of "precontact" Hawaii (before Westerners arrived), David Malo's Hawaiian Antiquities (Bishop Museum Press, 1976) is the preeminent source. Malo was born around 1793 and wrote about the Hawaiian lifestyle at that time, as well as the beliefs and religion of his people. It's an excellent reference book, but not a fast read. For more readable books on old Hawaii, try Stories of Old Hawaii (Bess Press, 1997) by Roy Kakulu Alameida, Hawaiian Folk Tales (Mutual Publishing, 1998) by Thomas G. Thrum, and The Legends and Myths of Hawaii (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1992) by David Kalakaua.

The best story of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy is told by Queen Liliuokalani, in her book Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen, Liliuokalani (Mutual Publishing, 1990). When it was written, it was an international plea for justice for her people, but it is a poignant read even today. It's also a must-read for people interested in current events and the recent rally for sovereignty in the 50th state. Two contemporary books on the question of Hawaii's sovereignty are Tom Coffman's Nation Within: The Story of America's Annexation of the Nation of Hawaii (Epicenter, 1998) and Thurston Twigg-Smith's Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter? (Goodale, 2000), which explores the opposite view. Twigg-Smith, former publisher of the statewide newspaper the Honolulu Advertiser, is the grandson of Lorrin A. Thurston, one of the architects of the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy. His so-called politically incorrect views present a different look on this hotly debated topic.

For more recent history, Lawrence H. Fuchs's Hawaii Pono (Bess Press, 1991) is a carefully researched tome on the contributions of each of Hawaii's main immigrant communities (Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino) between 1893 and 1959.

An insightful look at history and its effect on the Hawaiian culture is Waikiki, A History of Forgetting & Remembering (University of Hawaii Press, 2006) by Andrea Feeser. A beautiful art book (designed by Gaye Chan), this is not your typical coffee-table book, but a different look at the cultural and environmental history of Waikiki. Using historical texts, photos, government documents, and interviews, this book lays out the story of how Waikiki went from a self-sufficient agricultural area to a tourism mecca, detailing the price that was paid along the way.

Another great cultural book is Davianna Pomaikai McGregor's Na Kua'aina: Living Hawaiian Culture (University of Hawaii Press, 2007). I love this book for so many reasons -- first, it focuses not on the Hawaiian royalty, but on the common people of Hawaii and how they lived. McGregor, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii, examines how people lived in rural lands and how they kept the Hawaiian traditions alive. She describes the cultural significance of each area (the island of Molokai; Hana, Maui; and Puna), the landscape, the Hawaiian gods who lived there, the chants and myths about the area, and how the westernization of the area has changed the land and the Hawaiian people.


My favorite films made in Hawaii but about other places are:

  • Bird of Paradise: Delmer Daves's 1951 remake of the 1932 film stars Debra Paget as an island princess who falls in love with a visiting Frenchman (Louis Jourdan) against the wishes of the princess's people. It was filmed on the island of Kauai with a new technology called Technicolor.
  • The Devil at Four O'Clock: Mervyn LeRoy directed this 1961 movie about faith and redemption (filmed on Maui), which tells the story of an alcoholic priest (Spencer Tracy) who enlists the aid of three condemned convicts (one played by Frank Sinatra) to help in the rescue of native children threatened by an erupting volcano.
  • Donovan's Reef: John Ford directed this 1963 John Wayne romantic comedy about two ex-navy men who remain on a South Seas island (played by Kauai) after World War II. "Guns" Donovan (Wayne) runs the local bar, while Doc Dedham (Jack Warden) has married a local princess. A former shipmate (Lee Marvin) arrives, followed by a high-society Bostonian (Elizabeth Allen).
  • The Enemy Below: This classic story (released in 1957) of a U.S. destroyer chasing a German submarine during World War II stars Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens in the lead roles as the American and German captains. While all of the ocean scenes take place in the North Atlantic, they were actually filmed in Hawaii.
  • Islands in the Stream: Filmed on Kauai, this 1977 movie is based on Ernest Hemingway's last published novel. Set on the island of Bimini in the Caribbean, it is about artist Thomas Hudson's renewed relationship with his three young sons and former wife.
  • Joe Versus the Volcano: This least well-known of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movies is a romantic comedy filmed in 1990. John Shanley's film tells the tale of a hypochondriac who, when told that he is dying, accepts an offer to throw himself into the volcano of a remote tropical island. En route, however, he learns that there are many reasons to keep on living.
  • Jurassic Park: Filmed on the islands of Kauai and Oahu, Steven Spielberg's 1993 megahit, which was billed as "an adventure 65 million years in the making," is the story of dinosaurs on the loose at the site of the world's only dinosaur farm and theme park, where creatures from the past are produced using harvested DNA.
  • The Karate Kid, Part II: In one of those instances where the sequel is actually better than the original, this 1986 movie takes our hero Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his mentor, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), to Miyagi's homeland, Okinawa, to visit his dying father and confront his old rival. An entire Okinawan village was re-created on Oahu's Windward Coast.
  • King Kong: John Guillermin's 1976 version of the classic story of the great ape and the girl (Jessica Lange) was filmed on parts of Kauai rarely seen by visitors or residents.
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park: In Steven Spielberg's 1997 follow-up to Jurassic Park, dinosaurs have been bred and then escaped following the abandonment of the project in the first installment. The sequel features much more Hawaiian scenery than the original.
  • Mister Roberts: John Ford's 1955 comedy-drama, set aboard an insignificant ship stationed in the Pacific during World War II, was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Jack Lemmon won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Ensign Pulver. The film also stars Henry Fonda in the title role and James Cagney as Captain Morton.
  • None But the Brave: Frank Sinatra directed and starred in this 1965 story of American and Japanese soldiers who, when stranded on a tiny Pacific island during World War II (filmed on Kauai), must make a temporary truce and cooperate to survive. This is the only film directed by Sinatra.
  • Outbreak: Wolfgang Petersen directed this 1995 tale of a lethal virus that is transported to the United States by an African monkey host. Federal agencies rush to find an antidote before the planet's population is wiped out. The scenes of the African village were filmed near the Wailua River on Kauai.
  • Planet of the Apes: Tim Burton's 2001 remake of the 1968 science-fiction classic, which starred Charlton Heston, is more faithful to the original Pierre Boulle novel, but also much more dark and sinister. Exterior battle scenes were filmed on lava fields on the Big Island of Hawaii.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark: Filmed on Kauai, Steven Spielberg's 1981 film follows archaeologist Indiana Jones on a search for the Ark of the Covenant, which is also sought by the Nazis under orders from Hitler.
  • Six Days Seven Nights: Ivan Reitman's 1998 adventure-comedy is about a New York magazine editor and a gruff pilot who are forced to put aside their dislike for each other in order to survive after crash landing on a deserted South Seas island (filmed on Kauai). It stars Harrison Ford and Anne Heche.
  • South Pacific: The 1958 motion-picture adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was filmed on Kauai. The film has an all-star cast, with Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor in the lead roles. It was nominated for three Academy Awards but won only for Best Sound.
  • Uncommon Valor: Ted Kotcheff's 1983 story tells of a retired Marine colonel (Gene Hackman) who reunites his son's former unit to organize a secret raid on a Vietnamese prison camp, where he hopes to rescue his son and other American POWs. The climactic scenes set in Laos were filmed on the island of Kauai.
  • The Wackiest Ship in the Army: Richard Murphy directed this 1960 comedy set during World War II and filmed on Kauai and Oahu. The crew and captain (played by Jack Lemmon) are sent on a secret mission in waters patrolled by the Japanese. The film is based on the true story of a mission ordered by General Douglas MacArthur.
  • Waterworld: Kevin Costner directed and stars in this 1995 film about a future in which the polar ice caps have melted, leaving most of the world's surface deep beneath the oceans. The survivors live poorly on the water's surface, dreaming of finding "dry land." Some of the water scenes were filmed off Kauai. The final and most beautiful scenes in the movie were filmed in the Waipio Valley on the Big Island.

My favorite films made in Hawaii and about Hawaii are:

  • Blue Hawaii: Chad Gates (Elvis Presley), upon discharge from the army, returns to Hawaii to enjoy life with his buddies and girlfriend, against the wishes of his parents, who want him to work for the family business. Presley, Joan Blackman, and Angela Lansbury make this 1961 film a classic, with great music and beautiful Hawaiian scenery from the early 1960s.
  • 50 First Dates: This 2004 romantic comedy stars Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in a story about a young woman (Barrymore) who has lost her short-term memory in a car accident and who now relives each day as if it were October 13. She follows the same routine every day, until she meets Henry Roth (Sandler), who falls in love with her and seeks a way to forge a long-term relationship.
  • From Here to Eternity: Fred Zinnemann's 1953 multiple-Oscar winner, set in pre-World War II Hawaii, tells the story of several army soldiers stationed on Oahu on the eve of Pearl Harbor. The film won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Donna Reed), and five other awards.
  • Hawaii: George Roy Hill's 1966 adaptation of the James Michener novel features amazing island scenery and stars Julie Andrews, Max von Sydow, and Richard Harris. It is a great introduction to the early history of Hawaii.
  • Honeymoon in Vegas: Andrew Bergman's 1992 comedy starring James Caan, Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Pat Morita is primarily set in Las Vegas, but has a wonderful segment shot on Kauai at the fictional home of millionaire Tommy Korman (Caan).
  • In Harm's Way: Otto Preminger's 1965 classic drama of the war in the Pacific focuses on several navy officers (and the women in their lives) who are suddenly catapulted into the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It stars John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, and Paula Prentiss.
  • Molokai: The Story of Father Damien: This 1999 film follows the life of Belgian priest Damien de Veuster from 1872, the year before his arrival in Kalaupapa, through his years ministering to the patients with Hansen's disease at Kalaupapa, until his death at the Molokai settlement in 1889.
  • Pearl Harbor: Michael Bay's 2001 film depicts the time before, during, and after the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack (with the best re-creation of the Pearl Harbor attack ever filmed) and tells the story of two best friends and the woman they both love.
  • Picture Bride: Japanese director Kayo Hatta presents this 1995 film about a Japanese woman who travels to Hawaii to marry a man whom she has never met but has seen only through photos and letters. She soon discovers that he is twice her age and that much turmoil awaits her in her new home. Beautifully filmed on the North Shore of Oahu and the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, with a special appearance by Toshiro Mifune.
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!: This 1970 film tells the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as seen from both the American and the Japanese perspectives.


Hawaiian music ranges from traditional ancient chants and hula to slack-key guitar, to contemporary rock and a new genre, Jawaiian, a cross of reggae, Jamaican, and Hawaiian. To listen to Hawaiian music, check out Hawaiian 105 ( Below are my picks.

  • Best of the Gabby Band, by Gabby Pahinui (traditional Hawaiian)
  • Gently Weeps, by Jake Shimabukuro (contemporary Hawaiian)
  • Hapa, by Hapa (contemporary Hawaiian)
  • Hawaiian Blossom, by Raiatea Helm (traditional Hawaiian)
  • Hawaiian Tradition, by Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom (traditional Hawaiian)
  • Honolulu City Lights, by Keola & Kapono Beamer (contemporary Hawaiian)
  • Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, by various artists (a collection of slack-key guitar music and a 2007 Grammy winner)
  • Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 1, by various artists (a collection of slack-key guitar music and a 2006 Grammy winner)
  • Na Leo Hawaii Kaniko, by the Master Chanters of Hawaii (chanting)
  • Na Pua O Hawaii, by Makaha Sons (contemporary Hawaiian)
  • Wonderful World, by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (contemporary Hawaiian)

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.