The 55th largest city in the United States, Honolulu might be small but it packs a punch. Famed for its long golden sandy stretches, epic surf and dramatic mountainscape backdrop, it’s most people’s idea of an idyllic tropical escape. But beyond the sand and the waves, how much do you know about this Polynesian capital city? From America’s only royal palace to the birth of Barack Obama, here are a few interesting facts about Honolulu that might surprise you.
1. Honolulu is home to the only royal palace in the United States
In 1795, the Kingdom of Hawaii was formed. From 1795 until 1874, the Kamehameha dynasty reigned over the islands. However, it wasn’t until the reign of Kamehameha I that Honolulu became the capital. Like any good king, he needed a good palace. He commissioned the construction of Iolani Palace but died before it was completed. Today it houses the Suptreme Court.
2. One of the deadliest attacks on the United States took place in Honolulu
Pearl Harbor is an American lagoon harbour nestled on the west coast of Honolulu. The United States purchased the spot from the Hawaiian Kingdom with the signing of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 and in 1887 it gained exclusive use of the inlet to maintain a repair and coating station for ships. The Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the naval base on December 7, 1941 Over 1,100 sailors and marines died during the attack. This ultimately prompted the United States to declare war on China and join the Allies in World War II.
Today, you can find out more about the attack at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
3. It’s one of the most expensive places to live in the United States
In Honolulu, the cost of living is 88% higher than the national average. It’s the third most expensive city to live in the United States, after New York and San Francisco. Utilities are notably pricy, costing residents a hefty 102% more than the national average. Groceries are expensive too, weighing in 70% above the national average. Surprisingly, average wages are not much higher than the US national average.
4. The ‘father of modern surfing’ was from Honolulu
Nicknamed ‘The Duke’ and ‘The Big Kahuna’, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku is widely considered the father of modern-day surfing. Missionaries in the 19th century had practically erased surfing from the islands and only a handful of locals would ever dare ride the waves. In 1914, he became the start of the first-ever surfing exhibition in Freshwater Beach, Sydney, Australia. Duke Kahanamoku was the first person to appear on both the Surfing Hall of Fame and the Swimming Hall of Fame.
5. Barack Obama was born in Honolulu
Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, was born in Honolulu on 4 August 1961. That was just two years after the territory became the 50th state. He spent most of his childhood in Honolulu, where his mother attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The Obamas still head to Hawaii for their annual Christmas trip.
6. It’s the state capital of Hawaii
Honolulu became the state capital in 1959. Previously, Maui, Lahaina and Kailua-Kona were the capitals of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
The Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii is located in Honolulu in the Ali’iolani Hale Building, also known as Iolani Palace. The court was established in 1841 and includes five justices who serve for ten years. Commissioned by John A. Burns, the second Governor of Hawaii in 1969, the State Capitol is in downtown Honolulu.
7. Honolulu means ‘Sheltered Harbour’
Honolulu means ‘calm port’ or ‘sheltered harbour’. ‘Hono’ means port and ‘lulu’ means calm or quiet. Sandy Island shelters the natural port.
The ‘sheltered’ part has nothing to do with the weather though. In fact, Honolulu sees an average of 90 rainy days each year, more than the US average. The rainiest time to visit is December, with ten days of rain on average, while the driest time to visit is August, with just six.