Top 10 Iconic Film Locations in Hawaii
Lights, camera, action! From soaring mountains to sun-dappled bays, Hawaii’s diverse and unrivaled landscapes have starred in some of Hollywood’s most iconic blockbusters. Filmmakers have been drawn to the islands’ shores for decades.
Let’s step behind the silver screen to the lush tropical valleys, golden beaches, and historic sites that provided unforgettable backdrops for dinosaur adventures, wartime romances, and pirate tales. Explore the Hawaiian islands through the lens of cinema, visiting the historic landmarks that starred in your favorite blockbusters.
1. Kualoa Ranch (Oʻahu)
Nestled on Oʻahu’s windward coast, Kualoa Ranch spans 4,000 acres of wildly beautiful landscape. Gaze in awe at the towering Koʻolau Mountain Range while horses graze on wide green pastures. Wander past ancient Hawaiian temples to a primeval quiet valley bursting with tropical flowers.
This cinematic ranch featured heavily in Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Godzilla and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. As you tour famous filming sites like the iconic gates where the Brachiosaurus first enters, you’ll feel like you’re wandering the sets of Hollywood classics!
Fun fact: Kualoa has rightfully earned the nickname “Hollywood’s Backlot in Paradise.”
2. Ford Island (Oʻahu)
In the middle of Pearl Harbor lies Ford Island, an idyllic landscape rich with ancient Hawaiian heritage. Glimpse still waters rippling out towards the sun-kissed harbor while seabirds circle lazily overhead.
The 2001 epic Pearl Harbor dramatically retells the infamous WWII attack on this island airbase. As you wander past swaying palms and faded hangars, you can vividly imagine Kate Beckinsale as gutsy nurse Lt. Evelyn Johnson.
Fun fact: Ford Island’s ancient name Mokuʻumeʻume means “Island of Attraction.”
3. Pearl Harbor (Oʻahu)
The shimmering blue waters of Pearl Harbor frame a tranquil scene of docked warships. Yet this historic harbor holds darker tales. Descend into the sunken USS Arizona, retracing servicemen’s final steps. Study models recreating December 7, 1941 when waves of Japanese fighter planes unleashed their deadly attack.
Both the USS Arizona and USS Utah shipwrecks have National Historic Landmark status. And both featured heavily in Michael Bay’s action-packed Pearl Harbor.
Fun fact: Over 1.8 million people visit Pearl Harbor’s WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument yearly.
4. Hanalei Bay (Kauaʻi)
On Kauaʻi’s North Shore, Hanalei Bay opens into a sweeping 2-mile curve studded with palm trees. Watch surfers ride waves near the pier before strolling barefoot on golden sands beside taro fields and lush green mountains. This place reminds us of Hawaii’s state motto “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono” which translates to “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”.
The timeless beauty of Hanalei Bay held appeal for directors of both classic South Pacific (1958) and more modern The Descendants (2011).
Fun fact: Ancient Hawaiians cultivated taro in the bay’s fertile wetlands.
Known as “The Garden Isle,” Kauaʻi languishes in tropical beauty. Emerald mountains lord over winding rivers and thunderous waterfalls. Golden sand beaches melt into coral reefs teeming with sea turtles and technicolor fish. Majestic canyons and rainforests offer backdrops so stunning, they barely seem real.
This natural film set has lured Hollywood greats from Pirates of the Caribbean and Jurassic Park to Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Descendants.
Fun fact: Craggy Na Pali Coast State Park trails reveal some of Kauaʻi’s most insanely beautiful vistas.
Home to laidback North Shore surf towns and bustling capital Honolulu, Oʻahu provides filmmakers urban energy and small town charm. Waikīkī’s iconic strand appears in Elvis’ Blue Hawaii. Historic warships star in sci-fi blockbuster Pearl Harbor.
The island also served as backdrop for WWII romantic tragedy From Here to Eternity and long-running TV series Hawaii Five-O.
Fun fact: Oʻahu loosely translates to “The Gathering Place.” Over 1 million locals call this vibrant island home.
Lying just east of Oʻahu, Molokaʻi seems enveloped in tropical secrecy. As your boat nears, prepare for sheer sea cliffs towering over secluded beaches inaccessible by land. See kiawe and palms fringe the beautifully wild, barely developed north coast.
Here amidst soul-soothing tranquility and heartbreaking natural splendor, Hollywood drew inspiration for 2011 drama The Descendants.
Fun fact: Locals dub Molokaʻi “The Most Hawaiian Island” thanks to its slow pace and cultural richness.
8. Waimea Valley (Oʻahu)
A relic of sacred history, Waimea Valley holds remnants of heiau (temples) amidst keystone arches, verdant gardens and the breathlessly high Waimea Falls.
This quiet oasis of natural and cultural beauty served as backdrop for dystopian thriller The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. To Hawaiians it remains wahi pana (“legendary place”).
Fun fact: Peacocks, pheasants and endangered birds roam this 1,800-acre rainforest preserve.
9. Kealakekua Bay (Hawaiʻi)
On Hawaiʻi Island’s dramatic Kona coast, Kealakekua Bay makes a memorable movie cameo. Lush slopes packed with spiky palms plunge towards the bay’s impossible aquamarine, revealing an underwater world of spinner dolphins, manta rays, sea caves and pristine coral reefs.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow anchored in this protected marine sanctuary to recruit his pirate crew.
Fun fact: Kealakekua means “pathway of the gods” in Hawaiian.
10. Nuʻuanu (Oʻahu)
Tucked between towering emerald peaks, Nuʻuanu valley on Oʻahu holds ethereal mist-shrouded rainforests straight from dinosaur storyboards. Follow thundering cascades down guava and bamboo-lined streambeds. Listen for tropical birdcalls echoing off vine-strewn cliffs layered in primordial lushness.
Director Steven Spielberg drew inspiration from Nuʻuanu’s ancient isolation when creating iconic backdrops for Jurassic Park and Godzilla.
Fun fact: Nuʻuanu translates to “cool height”, likely referring to refreshing upland breezes.
Whether you prefer sipping fruity cocktails beside a famous beach from Blue Hawaii, or exploring the lush valleys and soaring cliffs of Jurassic Park, you’ll find endless cinematic adventures across the Hawaiian islands. Let these iconic filming locations set the scene for your next tropical blockbuster.