Now, more than ever, we can use a reminder that Aloha is alive and well.
Past visits to Hawaii inevitably lead to crammed phones with dozens of photos that capture the islands’ beauty. Which is all well and good, of course, but there’s something priceless about revisiting its exoticism with a Hawaii coffee table book.
From dazzling waterfalls to vast volcanic craters, Hawaii coffee table books allow you to display the views you’ve either seen or are inspired to visit—and will fill you with delight about Hawaii’s abundant beauty. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Here are 20 of the best on the market.
This gorgeous, oversized coffee table book—it tops the scale at three pounds—is worth its weight in gold. 150 carefully-curated photographs portray the majesty of the islands, while key information about Hawaii’s culture and natural wonders are presented with sensitivity and nuance.
While Maui is globally renowned for its white-sand beaches, each of its six major regions—South, North, East, West, Central, and Upcountry—boast wildly different landscapes. Tom Gustafson depicts such diversity in this unique collection of drone photographs, all of which provide a unique, aerial perspective on one of the world’s most beloved places.
Often called the “Mother of Modernism,” American artist Georgia O’Keeffe held a singular relationship with the Hawaiian Islands, a place she visited in 1939 when the Hawaiian Pineapple Company commissioned her to create two paintings for an advertising campaign. Her nine-week stay in Hawaii resulted in over 20 paintings, many of which are featured in this stunning compilation of the way the islands inspired her. Each piece evokes the islands’ lushness and enchanting colors, rendering it one of the most handsome books you might ever keep on your coffee table.
The allure of this coffee table book is that it honors the fact that contemporary Hawaii’s loveliness is comprised of both ancient landscapes and modern images. Within these pages, you’ll find it all, from verdant valleys and vertiginous cliffs to brilliant cityscapes.
According to some sources, the aloha shirt came into vogue in the 1920s or early 1930s, when the Honolulu dry-goods store, “Musa-Shiya the Shirtmaker,” began making shirts out of colorful Japanese prints. Whatever the origin may be, the aloha shirt—collared, button-up shirts featuring a variety of tropical-themed designs and hues—has been a hit ever since, and can be seen on everyone from Governor Ige to visitors enjoying a luau. This buoyantly-illustrated coffee table book is an ode to the aloha shirt’s history and popularity, and includes marvelous stories about the islands of its birthplace.
Given that surfing more or less began in Hawaii, it’s no wonder that the global surfer ethos maintains elements of aloha. Professional photographer Thom Gilbert pays tribute to this concept with his awe-inspiring coffee table book—an assemblage that celebrates the four years he spent among surfing’s elite, and takes viewers from breaks in Spain to Hawaii’s world-famous waves. If the surfer culture calls to you, then this is the book to keep out on display.
Need more of that alluring surfer culture in your world? Acclaimed North Shore surf photographer Clark Little presents just that in his superb album of shorebreak images. Flip through this and you’re apt to practically feel the ocean spray on your face, while the tome itself will both street cred and ambience to your space.
Hovering 10,003 feet above sea level—and going down as one of the largest dormant volcanic craters on Earth—Haleakala is a sight to behold. This coffee table book showcases its splendor with 46 photographs by Douglas Peebles, each of which catches the volcano’s immensity and alien-esque beauty.
Much of Hawaii’s magic rests in the reality that it has a rich, intricate past. Joseph G. Mullins memorializes this in Hawaiian Journey: Images of Yesteryear, a visual chronology that takes readers from the arrival of Polynesians in the islands to its multicultural society. Filled with vintage photos and news headlines, this is the book to buy if you’d like to dive into Hawaii’s fascinating history.
Each year, over two million visitors flock to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, a place where they can see land masses in the making—and the glory that comes with it. Photographer Brad C. Lewis lets you partake in the action—at least as an armchair traveler—in his striking collection of volcano photos. Even better? His photographs are accompanied by volcanist and educator Jim Kauahikaua’s thorough knowledge of Hawaiian myth and science.
For more on the home of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, gift yourself with Big Island: Images of the Island of Hawaii. This 48-page book—also featuring photographs by the abovementioned Peebles—boasts spectacular images of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai, and more.
Although published over two decades ago, Maui on My Mind has become a mainstay for lovers of the Valley Isle. For a good reason, too: The “Best Travel Book” of 1986, according to the American Travel Writers, features 256 pages of Maui’s most breathtaking images. Information about Maui’s history is nicely woven in throughout, creating, in the end, a splendid, in-depth look at the island.
Part of Hawaii’s widespread appeal lies in the warmth of its residents—the “aloha spirit,” after all, is as real as the state’s huge volcanoes. Acclaimed chef Mark Ellman—he of Maui’s Mala Tavern fame—got curious about the question of what aloha really means and set out on a journey to discover it. This anthology, subtitled “Stories, Recipes and Lyrics from Hawaii’s Favorite Folks,” is the result of his efforts. In this colorful and illuminating coffee table book, you’ll find the anecdotes, songs, and recipes that Ellman collected from 140 people, including musicians Mick Fleetwood and the Cazimero Brothers, former lieutenant governor Duke Aiona, and everyone from a tattoo artist to a school crossing guard. Exhibit it on your coffee table and you’re bound to spark more than a few lively discussions.
Another excellent conversation starter? Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii. While not necessarily a coffee table book, per se, this collection of the legendary author’s letters from the time he spent in Hawaii offers a portal into what the islands were like in 1866—and how they helped build the Twain we came to know in the years that followed.
…and speaking of 1866: That year, King Kamehameha V designated the small community of Kalaupapa on Molokai as a site for a leper colony; at its peak, more than 1,200 men, women, and children were exiled to the village because of what was then believed to be a highly contagious disease. This important and haunting book exposes what life was like at this time through remarkable photographs, maps, and manuscripts—many of which were previously unpublished before this book launched.
Dream of Hawaii and you’ll likely think of lovely hula dancers and their sensuous moves. It’s no wonder: They’ve become one of the most iconic images of the islands. In this one-of-a-kind coffee table book, Hawaii-born, San Francisco-based journalist Constance Hale tells the untold story of hula (an art form that originated in Hawaii) and how it went from an ancient ritual to an oppressed dance to a tourist cliché to, now, one of the biggest calls for celebration in Hawaii. The narrative will sweep you away, while the extraordinary, full-color photographs are indelible.
Love Hawaiian coffee? Then this is the book for you. This 154-page love letter to Hawaii’s coffee and its culture is written by coffee scientist and owner of Coffea Consulting (an international coffee consulting business) Shawn Steinman, and features enlightening information on everything from how coffee is cultivated in the islands to the process behind roasting beans. Given that it’s packed with great photography and imagery, it’ll look perfect on your coffee table—right next to that mug holding your Maui Mokka.
When the Hokule’a—a sixty-two-foot long, double-hulled canoe and replica of a traditional Polynesian sailing vessel—dispatched from Hawaii in 2014 to circumnavigate the globe, it caught the attention of people around the world. The voyage took its crew 60,000 miles around the planet and visited 23 countries—and all of it was done using only stars, birds, winds, and the seas for navigation. This magnificent hardcover book, complete with terrific photographs and smart content, is a moving homage to one of the 21st century’s most impressive expeditions.
The northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain encapsulates the breadth of Hawaii’s diversity, featuring everything from cascading waterfalls to enormous canyons to golden-sand beaches. The aforementioned photographer Douglas Peebles guides you through many of these places with photographs that practically deliver goosebumps.
Hawaii has long drawn artists of every stripe to its shores. This resplendent coffee table book commemorates this through artwork that spans more than 160 years. With art from the likes of John Webber—the official artist on Captain Cook’s third Pacific voyage—and the Volcano School (a group of artists who created sensational paintings of volcanos and eruptions), the book as a whole illustrates the radical changes Hawaii and its people have experienced. In turn, you’ll be able to get a taste of true Hawaii—a place that is, in the end, as complicated as it is exquisite.~