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The tropical paradise of Hawaii is made up of several major islands, each with its own unique culture and landscape. As the 50th state to join the United States of America, Hawaii has a rich history intertwined with mainland politics.

If you’re wondering what city serves as the center of state governmental affairs, read on to learn more.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The state capital of Hawaii is Honolulu, located on the island of Oahu.

Honolulu: State Capital Since 1845

Brief History of Honolulu as Capital

Honolulu was designated as the capital city of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1845, just a few years before the islands were united under King Kamehameha III. At that time, Honolulu was already an important center of commerce and trade in the islands, with its natural harbor making it an ideal location.

When Hawaii became a U.S. territory in 1898 after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, Honolulu remained the capital city. Finally, after Hawaii was admitted as the 50th U.S. state in 1959, Honolulu officially became the capital of the state.

Location and Geography

Honolulu is located on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian island chain. With beautiful beaches, lush green mountains, and a near-perfect climate, it’s easy to see why Honolulu is an appealing location.

The city lies along the southeast coast of Oahu, with its Waikiki neighborhood fronting the famed white sand beaches that the islands are renowned for. Just inland are the Manoa and Palolo valleys, featuring verdant tropical rainforests and scenic waterfalls.

The Koʻolau Mountain Range provides a dramatic backdrop.

Architecture and Character of Honolulu

As Hawaii’s largest and most populous city, Honolulu has a distinctly cosmopolitan atmosphere compared to other islands in the chain. However, traces of Native Hawaiian culture and history are still abundant.

From the iconic Iolani Palace, the only official royal residence in the U.S., to the statue of King Kamehameha I found across from the Iolani Palace, Honolulu proudly displays its heritage as the capital of an ancient Polynesian kingdom.

The neighborhoods of Waikiki and Downtown feature mid-rise hotels, shopping, dining, and entertainment, while residential areas spread out into the valley and coastal regions. With no other large cities nearby, Honolulu dominates the economic and cultural landscape of Hawaii.

Other Major Cities in Hawaii


Hilo is located on the eastern side of Hawaii’s Big Island, known for its lush rainforests and breathtaking waterfalls. As the largest settlement on the island, Hilo offers small town charm combined with rich Hawaiian history and culture.

Some top attractions include the Pacific Tsunami Museum, chronicling the devastating 1946 and 1960 tsunamis, the lively Hilo Farmers Market showcasing tropical produce and crafts, and the scenic Liliuokalani Gardens Japanese temple and pagoda along Hilo Bay.


Kailua-Kona is situated along the western coastline of the Big Island. With its calm ocean waters and year-round sunny weather, Kailua-Kona is a popular tourist destination famous for water sports, coffee farms, and the annual Ironman World Championship triathlon.

Top sites include the ancient spiritual temple Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, the coffee tasting tours around Mt. Hualalai, and the nighttime manta ray snorkeling adventures.


Nestled along Maui’s western shore, the historic whaling town of Lahaina oozes Hawaiian culture and island vibes. Take a stroll down Front Street to peruse art galleries and souvenir shops housed in 19th century buildings, learn about the town’s whaling heyday at the Baldwin Home Museum, or hop aboard a catamaran at the bustling harbor for snorkeling with sea turtles and humpback whales.

From Hawaiian luau shows to frontier era architecture, Lahaina offers a glimpse into multiple eras of Hawaii’s past.

Unique Aspects of Hawaii’s Government

Indigenous Influence

Hawaii has a unique history of indigenous Hawaiian influence in its state government. Native Hawaiians were the original inhabitants of the Hawaiian islands with their own language, cultural traditions, and governance structures prior to western contact.

When Hawaii became a U.S. state in 1959, provisions were made to incorporate some elements of native culture into the state constitution and government.

For example, Hawaiian is recognized as an official state language along with English. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) was also established to provide programs and advocacy for issues impacting native Hawaiians.

The OHA has a board of trustees elected by Hawaiians to allocate funds and manage property intended for native beneficiaries. This acknowledges indigenous people’s right to self-governance to some degree.

There are also designated Hawaiian Home Lands controlled by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands that provide 99-year land leases at $1 per year to those with at least 50% Hawaiian ancestry. This helps native families maintain agricultural and cultural practices on ancestral lands.

Tourism Industry’s Impact

The tourism industry and related hospitality services are a mainstay of Hawaii’s economy. In 2021, Hawaii welcomed over 8 million visitors who spent nearly $18 billion, accounting for about 21% of Hawaii’s GDP.

The industry employs around 216,000 workers, representing about 25% of total non-farm jobs in Hawaii.

This dependence on tourism revenue shapes government policy and budgets. A hotel room tax helps fund state initiatives in environment protection, culture and arts, agriculture, and traffic management. Marketing subsidies promote Hawaii as a destination globally.

State parks, beaches, airports, highways, and public areas are strategically managed to optimize the visitor experience.

However, over-tourism issues like environmental damage, congestion, inflation in housing costs for locals, and inequality have become major concerns. Addressing these impacts while maintaining tourism revenue is an ongoing challenge.

Unique solutions like capping visitors, raising hotel taxes, encouraging cultural exchanges, and designating special tourist zones are being discussed and implemented.

In the future, Hawaii may need more varied industries and community-based tourism models to sustainably harness this key economic engine without sacrificing the islands’ natural splendor and people’s well-being.


As we’ve explored, Honolulu serves as Hawaii’s center of governmental operations and has done so since the 1840s. However, the island state features several other notable cities and towns, each with distinct cultures and economic drivers.

Hawaii’s unique history and relationship to native peoples shapes many aspects of its politics and policies as well. Understanding the tropical paradise’s capital city provides essential context on the Aloha State as a whole.

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