Hawaii (/həˈwaɪ.i/ (listen) hə-WY-ee; Hawaiian: Hawaiʻi [həˈvɐjʔi] or [həˈwɐjʔi]) is a U.S. state located in the Pacific Ocean. It is the only state outside North America, the only island state, and the only state in the tropics.
Hawaii encompasses nearly the entire eponymous archipelago, consisting of 137 volcanic islands spanning 1,500 miles (2,400 km), which are physiographically and ethnologically part of the Polynesian subregion of Oceania. The state’s ocean coastline is consequently the fourth longest in the U.S., at about 750 miles (1,210 km).[b] The eight main islands, from northwest to southeast, are Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui, and Hawaiʻi, after which the state is named; it is often called the “Big Island” or “Hawaii Island” to avoid confusion with the state or archipelago. The uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands make up most of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the largest protected area in the U.S. and the third largest in the world.
Of the fifty U.S. states, Hawaii is the eighth-smallest in area and the 11th-least populous, but with 1.4 million residents is the 13th-most densely populated. Two-thirds of the population lives on the island of Oʻahu, home to the state’s capital and largest city, Honolulu. Hawaii is among the most diverse states in the country, owing to its central location in the Pacific and successive waves of migration since the 18th century; it has the nation’s only Asian American majority, largest Buddhist community, and largest proportion of multiracial people. Consequently, the state is a unique melting pot of Southeast Asian, East Asian and North American cultures, in addition to its indigenous Hawaiian culture.
Settled by Polynesians some time between 124 and 1120, Hawaii was home to numerous rival independent chiefdoms. British explorer James Cook was the first known non-Polynesian to discover the archipelago in 1778; early British influence is reflected in the design of the state flag. An influx of explorers, traders, and whalers arrived shortly thereafter, introducing diseases that decimated the once-isolated indigenous community. Hawaii became a unified, internationally recognized kingdom in 1810, remaining independent until Western businessmen overthrew the monarchy in 1893; this led to annexation by the U.S. in 1898. As a strategically valuable U.S. territory, Hawaii was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941, which brought it global and historical significance, and contributed to America’s decisive entry into World War II. Hawaii became the most recent state to join the union on August 21, 1959. The U.S. government formally apologized for its role in the overthrow of Hawaii’s government in 1993, which remains a matter of contentious debate within the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.
Historically dominated by a plantation economy, Hawaii remains a major agricultural exporter due to its fertile soil and uniquely tropical climate in the U.S. Its economy has gradually diversified since the mid 20th century, with tourism and military defense becoming the two largest sectors. The state attracts tourists, surfers, and scientists from around the world with its diverse natural scenery, warm tropical climate, abundance of public beaches, oceanic surroundings, active volcanoes, and clear skies on the Big Island. Hawaii hosts the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the largest naval command in the world, as well as 75,000 employees of the Defense Department.
Although its relative isolation results in one of the nation’s highest costs of living, Hawaii ranks as the third wealthiest state in the U.S.; Honolulu ranks high in several world livability rankings, ranking 22nd out of 140 cities worldwide in the 2019 Global Liveability Index, the highest of any American city.