12 Weird Hawaii Laws That Will Surprise You

There are quite a few weird Hawaii laws that you may not expect. From traveling with fresh produce to having a pet hamster, here are some things that are illegal in Hawaii that will probably surprise you.

Maui Brewing Company beer can on a golden beach. Surprisingly, drinking on the beach is illegal in Hawaii. Talk about weird Hawaii laws!

Many of the weirdest laws in Hawaii are only “weird” in the sense that they’re uncommon. Regulating an island with a unique natural environment comes with its own set of challenges. Trying to preserve that environment often means that some interesting – but usually helpful – laws are put into place.

Before we get into things, let’s be clear. If you’re a tourist, most of these things don’t apply to you – you’re not going to be building buildings or putting up billboards any time soon – so don’t stress too much. BUT there are a couple that are good to know. After all, you don’t want to make some of the most common mistakes in Hawaii.

metal steps on bright green mountain, part of the famous, yet illegal Stairway to Heaven hike

Stairway to Heaven Hike

Despite probably being the most widely known hike in Hawaii, the Stairway to Heaven Hike, also known as Haiku Stairs, is actually illegal. And you can get a hefty fine if a guard catches you trying to tackle the trail.

While it might seem weird that the Stairway to Heaven is illegal, there are actually many Hawaii trails that are illegal to hike. Many times, these hikes are made off-limits to protect hikers from injuring themselves — or worse — on the trail (and other times, they’re illegal simply because they’re on private property). So while it may seem odd at first, this weird Hawaii law has reasoning behind it.

All of that said, Hawaii is home to many, many wonderful (legal) hikes. You can easily skip the illegal ones and opt for others that are just as beautiful, like these incredible Oahu hikes.

Up-close photo of pale orange hamster with its paws together. Hamsters are one of quite a few pets that are against Hawaii law.

Hamsters (and Other Pets)

Growing up, I thought a hamster would be a cool pet – and then I learned that they were illegal in Hawaii (which explains why none of my friends had one). But hamsters are just the first of many pet species that you’re not allowed to have in Hawaii, along with ferrets, snakes, gerbils, and snapping turtles.

And while this is definitely one of the weird Hawaii laws, this rule are in place in order to keep Hawaii’s fragile natural ecosystem safe. Every new animal (and plant) can have unforeseen effects on the islands’ environment. Take the introduced mongoose for example. While they’ve become semi-friendly faces in the islands, they’re actually responsible for the steep decline in Hawaii’s rare bird populations.

So if I can keep Hawaii’s endangered species a little bit safer, I’ll gladly forgo a pet hamster.

Buildings Taller Than a Coconut Palm Tree (on Kauai)

While there are loads of high rises in Honolulu and Waikiki, you won’t find any on Kauai. And that’s because they aren’t allowed! The official law is that you can’t build a building that’s taller than a coconut palm tree. (To be a little more precise, the building code says no building can be taller than four stories.)

In my opinion, this law allows Kauai to keep its calm, sleepy island feel, so it’s a plus to me! Instead of looking at tall buildings all day, you can always soak up the island’s best views and enjoy Kauai’s best things to do.

Three side-by-side containers of chemical sunscreen. Replace the chemical sunscreen -- made illegal in Hawaii in 2021 -- with reef-safe sunscreen options.

Chemical Sunscreen

The ban on chemical sunscreen is one of Hawaii’s more recently passed laws. Enacted in 2021, Hawaii banned the sale of chemical sunscreen – or more specifically, sunscreens with the ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate. This means that you can technically bring your chemical sunscreen in your suitcase with you, but it’s not recommended.

For those who aren’t from the islands, this rule definitely classifies as one of the weird Hawaii laws. But to many locals, it all makes sense. Studies have shown that chemical sunscreen causes significant damage to marine environments, doing everything from bleaching coral reefs to harming sea urchin immune systems. And given Hawaii’s island status, it should come as no surprise to find out that the ocean – and all of the animals in it – are an important part of our lives.

Instead, protect your skin with reef-safe sunscreen! Using either non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (we prefer the first option), these reef-safe sunscreen options will protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays without harming marine life.

While there are lots of local reef-safe sunscreen brands, Little Hands Hawaii is my personal favorite. Use the code BORDERS15 on the Little Hands Hawaii website to get 15% off your order! Or you can also find their products on Amazon.

For more information, here’s our in-depth guide to reef-safe sunscreen, where we interviewed Tatyana Cerullo from Kokua Sun Care, a local reef-safe sunscreen brand.

Plastic bag floating the breeze in front of gray background

Plastic Bags

On a similar note, plastic bags are illegal in Hawaii. You’ll only find paper bags in stores, and they cost $0.15 a pop, so it’s best to bring a reusable bag if you can – or buy one as a Hawaii souvenir!

night sky light up with white and red fireworks

Fireworks (on Oahu)

Growing up on Oahu, fireworks were a popular way to celebrate. Friends, neighbors, and family members would set them off on just about every holiday. But then in 2011, the island made them illegal without a permit (which, it’s safe to say, your average Joe does not have and will not get).

While the reason behind this law isn’t all that clear, there are a couple of strong potential purposes. First, Oahu may have banned fireworks for safety reasons. There are quite a few firework-related injuries every single year.

A second possible reason for Oahu’s firework ban may be because of the threat of fires – both house fires and wildfires. And with the recent, devasting Lahaina fires in August 2023, this threat seems more present than ever.

All of that said, this rule isn’t widely followed by any means, even with the threat of fines. You’re still going to see fireworks going off all over the island on New Year’s and the Fourth of the July.

If you want to see some legal fireworks in particular, the Hilton Hawaiian Village has some every Friday. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the best things to do on Oahu!

Bright flashing billboards of Times Square. Unlike in New York, billboards are illegal in Hawaii. Just another one of the weird Hawaii laws, but definitely an unexpected perk.

Billboards

Hawaii is actually just one of four states – alongside Maine, Vermont, and Alaska – where billboards are illegal. And I have to say, I think that’s a great call. After all, billboards have been shown to cause distracted driving, so their absence makes Hawaii’s roads a little safer.

close-up of a fuzzy-looking red fruit known as rambutan

Traveling with Fresh Produce

While you might be tempted to take home some fresh mangos and guava after your trip from Hawaii, that’s actually against the law. It’s also against the law to bring fresh produce into Hawaii, so be sure to check if you have a stray apple in your carry-on before you land!

If you do have that stray apple, there will be a bin where you can drop it off in each of the Hawaii airports. Gotta protect that fragile natural environment!

Endangered nene goose on Kauai. Oddly enough, it's illegal to annoy birds in Hawaii state parks.

Annoying Birds in a Public Park

This may be the weirdest Hawaii law on this list. It’s illegal to annoy birds in a public park. What counts as annoying them? Well, that’s anyone’s call.

(To be extra clear, I’ve never even heard of this law – let alone, seen it enforced – so don’t stress about this one.)

two turtles laying on the algae-covered rocks at Laniakea Beach on Oahu, Hawaii

Getting Too Close to Wildlife

Hawaii is home to many endangered species, and it’s important to keep them as happy and healthy as possible, so they don’t become extinct.

As a result, the state of Hawaii has implemented quite a few laws regarding how close you can get to certain animals. Since it’s a little difficult to keep track of them all – I think the distance you can be from a Hawaiian green sea turtle is different from a monk seal – staying a good five feet away from any wild animal is a solid rule of thumb.

Red Kona Brewing Co. beer can on the beach

Drinking at the Beach

Hawaii has quite a few drinking laws, specifically about the when and where. But the easiest one to break if you’re unaware of local laws is drinking at the beach.

Yes, you read that right. It’s illegal to drink at the beach in Hawaii. So toss those dreams of a beer on the beach goodbye, and swap them for a cold pineapple juice in hand.

Dancing and Drinking at the Same Time (on Maui)

Has Footloose been brought to life on Maui? Apparently, there’s an outdated law on Maui that says you’re not allowed to drink and dance at the same time! At some establishments, you’re not even allowed to bob your head while you’re waiting for a bartender to make your drink at the bar!

While there were attempts to get the law tossed out in 2015, I haven’t been able to find any updates, so I’m going to assume that the law is still in place. But regardless, it’s safe to say that this is one of the weirdest Hawaii laws — past or present.

Do you know of any other weird Hawaii laws that you can think of? Let me know in the comments!

Read More About Things to Know Before Your Hawaii Vacation

30 Mistakes to Avoid During Your First Time in Hawaii
18 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Waikiki Vacation
Hawaii Island Hopping: Everything You Need to Know

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2 Comments

  1. Everything I read about this place makes it feel like a true haven on Earth, like a piece of land separated from the normal noise of human life. Need to get myself up there. Thanks for your insights!

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