From foreign settlement to King Kamehameha uniting the archipelago, Hawaii is full of unique history, and there are various towns that have held onto their history through the restoration of historic buildings and areas. For a Hawaiian history buff, a visit to any of these 12 towns where Hawaii’s history has survived the test of time is an absolute must.
Lahaina is not only one of Maui’s greatest seaside towns, but also the original seat of Hawaiian royalty. The town was often considered Kamehameha the Great’s historically famous “royalty playground,” and is now full of old world architecture from the town’s plantation era.
Established by King Kamehameha I to be the seat of his government when he was he chief of Mona before he consolidated rule of the island chain. The historic town later became the capital of a newly unified kingdom, before it moved to Lahaina, and later, Honolulu. Until the late 1900s, Kailua-Kona was a a small fishing village, but the community witnessed a real estate and construction boom fueled by tourism.
With a small one-lane bridge leading into town, and an unusual mix of shopping and dining options, the very small town – approximately 0.8 square miles – is full of old world charm. I bet you weren’t aware that from 1817 to 1853, three Russian forts near Hanalei were part of the tsarist Russian America.
Located on Oahu’s north shore is this quintessential Hawaiian town established in 1898 when businessman Benjamin Dillingham opened a hotel on the north shore and named it Hale’iwa. The town is now considered the gateway to some of the best beaches on the island, and is home to various boutiques, eateries and galleries.
The history of this eclectic surfing town on Maui’s north shore can be traced to the opening of the Paia Sugar Mill in 1880. Plantation camps housed workers of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Puerto Rican, Portuguese, and Native Hawaiian descent, and in 1896, the Paia Store was opened to support the needs of immigrant sugar workers.
This small Molokai community was established in the 1800s as a leper colony by Kamehameha V, and despite a declining population, a Kalaupapa post office is still in operation. The town is full of the incredible history of one of Hawaii’s darker secrets, and you will feel as though you have been sent to the past the minute you enter the town.
7) Hawi & Kappau
The birthplace of Kamehameha I, the area surrounding Hawi and Kappau holds great cultural and historic significance as the site of the Mo’okini heiau and the Kohala Sugar Mill.
8) Lanai City
The city sits 1,600 feet above sea level, and is a tidy grid of pastel-colored, tin-roofed cottages that date to when the town was first settled in the 1920s. The town was once home to entrepreneur James Dole’s pineapple plantation, which employed thousands. The historic district features homes, a Laundromat and jailhouse.
Kapa’a once flourished as the site of sugar and pineapple production. You can still find various buildings – like an old pineapple cannery – that have survived throughout the years.
Hilo can be traced back to 1100 AD, when the first Polynesian inhabitants arrived in the area. The town was later the site of sugar production – like much of Hawaii – and has never experienced huge tourist draws, which means it has stayed true to the state’s pre-World War II persona.
11) Honolulu’s Chinatown
It is said that the Chinatown district of Honolulu was once used by fishermen in ancient Hawaii, though little evidence of this remains. In the 19th century, laborers were imported from China to work on the sugar plantations. Two major fires destroyed many of the area’s buildings in 1886 and 1900, and as a result, many of the current structures date back to only 1901. Not so fun fact: the 1900 fires were started intentionally to destroy the bubonic plague, but spread due to the wind, destroying much of the area.
The largest town on the island of Molokai, Kaunakakai was once the royal summer residence of King Kamehameha V, and was made famous in the 1930s with the song, “The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai.”
Have you visited any other historic areas of Hawaii? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.