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Best Books to Read Before You Visit Oahu, Hawaii

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

Rich native legends, iconic 20th-century events, flora, fauna, and wildlife found nowhere else on earth - there is so much more to Hawaii than palm trees and postcards. While planning a trip to Waikiki and the North Shore in 2022, I set out to find books that would introduce readers to the history and adventurous spirit of Oahu and the Hawaiian Islands. Below are the ones I enjoyed the most! However, I have yet to find a good mystery set on Oahu. If you've enjoyed one and are willing to share the title, please do so in the comments!

Fiction Books Set on Oahu

The Islands at the End of the World

By Austin Aslan

A global disaster causes Hawaii to be cut off from the rest of the world in this fast-paced, post-apocalyptic read. Sixteen-year-old Lei and her father are visiting Oahu at the time and must find a way to get back home to Hilo, Hawaii, amidst the chaos. Readers can't help but think about what they would do in a similar situation and will be drawn in by the themes of family and overcoming limitations. For fans of dystopia, survival stories, science fiction, and teen fiction.


By Alan Brennert

Prior to renaming herself Jin, a young Korean girl named Regret seeks a new life in Hawaii as a "picture bride" to an unknown Korean man in 1914. Instead of the more fulfilling life she dreamed of and the wealthy husband she was promised, Jin experiences extreme loss and eye-opening experiences that take her from sugar plantations to the streets of a burgeoning Honolulu. Not only will you learn about a key time period in the development of Honolulu (the 1910s-1930s), but Korean culture and their experiences under imperial Japan. The best historical fiction book I've read in quite some time.

This Is Paradise

By Kristiana Kahakauwila

These stories of love, loneliness, and family will resonate with all readers and provide Hawaiian tourists with a taste of real life beyond the palm trees. The collection features housekeepers who witness a young tourist making poor choices, a young woman determined to become a prized cockfighter like her father, a soon-to-be fiancé unsure about his choices, a daughter coming to terms with her father's betrayals, and a son seeking reassurance and acceptance during his father's last days. The stories are set on Oahu, Maui, Kaua'i, and the Big Island. For fans of realistic fiction.

Non-Fiction Books About Oahu or Hawaii

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

By William Finnegan

From the waves of Waikiki to the shores of Madagascar, Finnegan's memoir takes readers across the globe and along for a ride as he grows up through the 1960s, 70s, and beyond. Upheaval in his own life and the changing social times around him are shared through his memories and observations. The thread through it all is surfing, the taste, texture, and pure addiction of surfing. Barbarian Days won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Biography.

On the Horizon: World War II Reflections

By Lois Lowry & Kenard Pak

This book of poetry is a quick, 30-minute read that features accounts of the lives lost aboard the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor and the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. The snippets are interspersed with the author's memories as a young child playing in the surf at Waikiki Beach as the USS Arizona passed by on the horizon and time spent living in Tokyo as a young teen. Intended for ages 10-14, but a fantastic introduction and reminder for all ages of the humanity lost during WWII.

Race to Hawaii: The 1927 Dole Air Derby and the Thrilling First Flights That Opened the Pacific

By Jason Ryan

Following Charles Lindbergh's historic flight across the Atlantic, the public clamored for all things aviation and the next great feat of aerial heroism. The prospect of the first non-stop flight to Hawaii captured the world's attention. Ryan presents the thrilling attempts of the 1920s, including those done by the US Navy, Army, and everyday barnstormers. The book features the 1927 Dole Air Derby, sponsored by American Industrialist and Hawaiian Pineapple Company founder James Dole, and chronicles the history of flight in the Pacific. For fans of survival stories, military history, and aviation.

The Odyssey of KP2

By Terrie M. Williams

When a Hawaiian monk seal pup is abandoned by its mother, scientists rescue it for study. Kauai Pup 2 is eventually released back into the wild, but the young seal's zeal for people and surfing, developed while in captivity, makes it impossible for him to thrive. KP2 is transported to a research facility in Santa Cruz, CA, where the author oversaw his care and chronicled his experiences growing from a Hawaiian icon to a global social media sensation. Dr. Williams also shares what it takes to train research animals and how the information gleaned could help save Hawaiian monk seals from extinction. For fans of animal stories, environmental conservation, and marine biology.

More Reading Recommendations

What are your favorite books about Hawaii?

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