Thanks to its fresh tropical breezes, Pacific surf and bewitching beaches, Hawaii has a powerful pull on modern travelers. But what brought the islands' first tourists to shore?
Historians still argue that point. We do know that Polynesian immigrants first set foot here more than 1,500 years ago, completing a 2,000-mile canoe journey across the open ocean with little more than a star chart to lead the way. Tahitian refugees were the next to arrive, and their complicated system of kapu, or taboos, helped shape Hawaii's early spiritual growth. The islands were fairly insular until the 18th century and the arrival of an Englishman, Captain James Cook; he docked at Kauai in 1778, rechristened the region as the "Sandwich Islands" and kicked off 200 years of Western influence.
The islands, once ruled separately by an assortment of chieftains, were united as a kingdom in 1810 by King Kamehameha I. This arrangement was short lived -- American colonists staged a successful coup in 1893, placed the Hawaiian queen under house arrest and eventually secured the region as a U.S. territory.
The 19th and 20th centuries were busy ones for Hawaii. Sugar and pineapple farms flourished; the island of Lanai spent many years under the control of James Dole and served as the world's largest pineapple plantation. A U.S. military presence also sprouted on Oahu, in a former fishing spot known as Pearl Harbor. Those unfamiliar with Hawaii before Dec. 7, 1941, felt a certain kinship with the spot after the devastating bombing that forced the U.S. into World War II.
Hawaii celebrated its 50th year of statehood in 2009. Celebrate your own special occasion with a visit to these truly remarkable islands.