23 classic photos of Hawaii during its '60s heyday

George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesA surfer rides along the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, 1963.
  • Hawaii officially became a state in 1959, and soon after became one of the hottest vacation destinations of the decade.
  • Its rise in popularity coincided with the air travel boom of the 1960s.
  • Presidents, musicians, and ordinary vacationers alike flocked to the new and exotic state, seeking crystal blue waters and tropical temperatures.

Simply put, Hawaii in the 1960s was the place to be. The newest addition to the US, Hawaii fascinated Americans with its tropical temperatures, crystal blue waters, and rich culture.

Naturally, vacationers flocked to the state, as did many celebrities and politicians. Elvis Presley gave the island a popularity boost after filming “Blue Hawaii” in 1961, and as surf culture began to take the nation by storm, so did the state.

Keep scrolling to see some classic photos of Hawaii during its ’60s heyday.


Hawaii was granted statehood in 1959, and vacationers began to flock.

Keystone/Getty ImagesStunt surfers in Hawaii, 1960.

Hawaii became a tourist hub in the 1960s and people flocked to the new and exotic state for vacation. According to the Smithsonian, “travel boomed in the subsequent decades” following World War II, especially “thanks to lower prices, new routes, more efficient aircraft.”


Americans romanticized Hawaii and all it had to offer.

H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty ImagesHula dancers circa 1960s.

According to Huff Post, throughout the decade “a romanticized idea of Hawaii spread like wildfire, complete with tiki torches, bright aloha shirts and beautiful, tanned hula dancers.”


And surfing was the activity du jour.

Ralph Crane/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty ImagesHawaiian boys surfing, 1960.

Surfing has ancient Polynesian roots, but many Americans were unaware of the sport until the ’60s. The surf culture explosion of the decade had a lot to do with the Beach Boys’ 1962 hit “Surfin’ Safari.”


This couple decided to brave the waves of Waikiki in 1962.

John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesCouple surfing, 1962.

Between 1960 and 1970, tourist arrivals increased from 296,000 per year to 1.7 million.


The clear waters of Oahu made for ideal surfing conditions.

George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesSurfer in Oahu, 1963.

To this day, the surfing in Waikiki is world-renowned, and the beach even offers lessons.

George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesSurfers in Oahu, 1963.

Since the beach waters are super gentle, surfing is easy to learn along the coast of Oahu.


Pearl Harbour was also a big draw for tourists.

Ralph Crane/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty ImagesMother and child visiting Pearl Harbour, 1960.

You can still tour the historic site today.


Hawaii was beloved for its natural beauty and exotic vegetation.

Ralph Crane/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty ImagesWomen sorting through flowers, 1960.

Here, Hawaiian women are sorting through bright pink flowers.


It’s also an island with a rich history.

Archive Photos/Getty ImagesWomen in traditional Hawaiian attire.

To honour the history of the island, Hawaii has celebrated Aloha Week since 1946. In 1991, Aloha Week became Aloha Festivals – a statewide celebration with over 100,000 attendees on the island of Oahu. In this photo, two Hawaiian women are posing in traditional attire during Aloha Festivals in Hawaii circa 1960.


The views from Waikiki Beach were stunningly blue.

Archive Photos/Getty ImagesWaikiki Beach circa 1960.

Sunbathing (shown above) is still a popular activity.


Elvis Presley also drew attention to the state after filming “Blue Hawaii” in 1961.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesElvis at a press conference in Honolulu, 1961.

The King of rock ‘n’ roll was also largely responsible for the Hawaiian zeitgeist of the 1960s. Elvis Presley filmed the popular film “Blue Hawaii” on the islands of Oahu and Kauai in 1961, and it quickly became one of the superstar’s most successful forays in film. The soundtrack went Gold in 1961, and features the now-standard “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”


Other stars, like Don Ho, came out of Hawaii.

NBCU Photo BankDon Ho and company, 1968.

Don Ho was one of Hawaii’s most popular entertainers with a string of successful albums in the 1960s. Ho had fans worldwide and made many TV appearances throughout the decade.


The Beach Boys took their surf inspiration to its source in 1967.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesThe Beach Boys, 1967.

Here, the legendary band is rehearsing for a performance at the Honolulu International Center.


Visitors loved to soak up the local culture — including hula dancing.

Eric Bard/Corbis via Getty ImagesHula dancing, 1960.

Guests at the Hawaiian Village Resort in 1960 are watching a traditional hula dance in the hotel’s lounge.


In this photo, Hawaiian Congresswoman Patsy Mink holds a traditional doll.

Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesCongresswoman Patsy Mink, 1960s.

Hawaiian native Patsy Takemoto Mink made history when she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1964: she became the first woman of colour elected, and the first Asian-American congresswoman.


Hawaii wasn’t just for celebrities: world leaders and politicians frequently visited.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesPresident Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, in Hawaii in 1966.

President Lyndon Johnson arrived on the island in October 1966, and he and his wife were greeted with leis.


Airport welcomes were customary, and they still are.

Roland Witschel/picture alliance via Getty ImagesWomen hula dancing at the airport, 1963.

Dancers Rose Marie Alvaro and Priscilla Leggett showed their skills — and colourful dresses — on the tarmac in 1964.

Barry James Gilmour/Fairfax Media via Getty ImagesAlvaro and Leggett, 1964.

Alvaro also appeared in an episode of Hawaii Five-O.


Actually, Rose Marie Alvaro won Hawaii’s Beauty of the Pacific contest in 1962.

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty ImagesRose Marie Alvaro, 1962.

She was a poster girl for the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.


Hawaii’s obvious beauty also inspired the fashion industry. Here’s a snapshot from Vogue’s Hawaii spread in 1966.

Franco Rubartelli/Condé Nast via Getty ImagesVeruschka von Lehndorff, 1966.

Model Veruschka von Lehndorff poses in Hawaii for a Vogue photo spread wearing Oscar de la Renta circa 1966.


The beach provided a stunning backdrop for photographs.

Franco Rubartelli/Condé Nast via Getty ImagesVeruschka von Lehndorff, 1966.

Hawaii even inspired the fashion itself.

Franco Rubartelli/Condé Nast via Getty ImagesVeruschka von Lehndorff, 1966.

In this photo, Veruschka von Lehndorff sports a sarong pajama set designed by Sun Fashions of Hawaii in 1966.


At the end of the day, nothing beats Hawaii’s unique charm.

Tom Kelley/Getty ImagesModel posing in Hawaii, 1966.

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