Hawaii may be officially a part of the United States, but this beautiful archipelago seems like an entire world on its own.
Full of beautiful islands, lush scenery, and probably some of the friendliest people you could ever meet, it’s no surprise that Hawaii is such a popular destination for domestic and international tourists.
The Aloha State, named so precisely because of the hospitality and friendliness of its people, has such a broad range of offerings from beach activities to treks through nature, as well as many city activities like art events, exploring the nightlife, or even a helicopter tour.
A place as diverse as Hawaii opens up many possibilities in the world of modern media entertainment – as we’ll soon find out with this list of the best TV shows set in Hawaii!
Whether you’re looking for a beach-themed drama or an action-packed police procedural, this list has it all!
So let’s get this luau started, shall we?
Magnum P.I., CBS (1980 – 1988)
Set in Oahu, the original Magnum P.I. stars Tom Selleck as the titular Thomas Magnum, a private investigator.
In exchange for favors he pulled prior to the series for renowned author (and unseen character) Robin Masters, Magnum has been invited to stay at Masters’ luxurious estate in Hawaii.
From there, Magnum is free to take on cases as a PI and use the estate’s facilities to help him – though he often butts heads with Jonathan Higgins, the mansion’s strict British caretaker, on when and how to use these resources.
Magnum is also helped along by buddies T.C. and Rick.
Magnum P.I., CBS (2018 – present)
In 2017, CBS announced that a reboot of the Magnum P.I. classic crime drama was in the works, and the series premiered in the fall season of 2018.
The reboot stays pretty close to the source material, with Jay Hernandez taking on the role of Thomas Magnum, the eponymous Navy SEAL turned private investigator.
Like the original, he resides at the Masters mansion but this time, he’s accompanied by former MI6 agent Juliet Higgins and native Kumu Tuileta, the estate’s cultural curator.
Higgins assists him on his cases, along with the same military friends, T.C. and Rick.
Hawaii Five-O, CBS (1968 – 1980)
When the original run of Hawaii Five-O ended after twelve seasons in 1980, it was the longest-running police procedural drama in American TV history.
Over the course of its run, fans were able to follow along with Detective Steve McGarrett, who leads a special division of the state police in Hawaii.
Based on a real-life unit that existed post-World War 2, the Five-O team is tasked with bringing down organized crime across the islands.
Though the episodes tackle many a criminal, McGarrett’s true nemesis was Wo Fat, a rogue intelligence officer from China who he finally faces down in the series finale.
Hawaii Five-0, CBS (2010 – 2020)
Thirty years after the original run, CBS brought back its popular police drama Hawaii Five-0 (switching the “O” in the original title for “0” in the reboot).
Like the parent series, Hawaii Five-0 follows a specialized task force that operates within the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.
With benefits like immunity, full use of resources, and almost completely free jurisdiction by answering only to the state Governor, the Five-0 team is able to investigate all kinds of crimes, from kidnapping and murder to large-scale terrorism.
Led by former Navy SEAL Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett, his handpicked team is truly the best of the best from the islands.
North Shore, Fox (2004 – 2005)
The next show moves away from the crime genre and into primetime soap opera territory.
Fox’s North Shore takes place primarily within the grounds of the beautiful Grand Waimea Hotel and Resort (fictionally named, but filmed on the actual Turtle Bay Resort) on the North Shore in O’ahu, Hawaii.
It focused on the lives of the hotel’s staff, primarily Jason Matthews.
He’s had no trouble running the hotel thus far but when old flame Nicole Booth is hired as Director of Guest Relations, the line between personal and professional begins to blur and affect the hotel’s operations.
NCIS: Hawai’i, CBS (2021 – present)
NCIS: Hawai’i, which premiered just this fall, is a further expansion to the ever-present NCIS TV franchise.
We know that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for which the show is named focuses on crimes within the Navy and Marine Corps and this time, the show takes us to the shores of Hawaii.
It follows the team based out of the Pearl Harbor Field Office, led by the first female Special Agent in Charge of the NCIS: Pearl, Jane Tennant.
With a mix of highly skilled agents from the mainland and Hawaii natives who know the islands like the back of their hands, this team is unstoppable.
Baywatch: Hawaii, NBC/syndication (1989 – 2001)
I sincerely believe there isn’t a soul out there who doesn’t know Baywatch, whether because of the 2017 film adaptation or this original series.
Either way, Baywatch: Hawaii became the title of the series towards the latter end of its run, after the majority of the original characters were overhauled and the setting moved from the California beaches to the Aloha State.
The series followed a team of (stunning) lifeguards who patrolled the islands’ beaches.
Much of the storyline relied on them having to confront the dangers of the beach and water, as well as their interpersonal relationships.
The White Lotus, HBO (2021 – present)
HBO brings a smash hit to the table with The White Lotus, a social satire in the form of a comedy-drama series.
On the surface, it’s your typical drama series that outlines the lives and interactions between both guests and staff at a beautiful tropical resort in Hawaii. O
ver the week, however, darker undertones are slowly revealed in the details of each of the vacationers’ lives, as well as that of the “cheerful” hotel employees and even the resort itself.
The White Lotus was an instant success, prompting a quick renewal for a second season that will feature a new group of travelers on a new White Lotus property.
Island Son, CBS (1989 – 1990)
Moving on now to a medical drama, CBS’ Island Son premiered for one season at the start of the 90s, sadly being canceled before a proper resolution for the main character could pan out smoothly.
The protagonist is Dr. Daniel Kulani, a Hawaii native who has returned to his hometown after a long medical career on the mainland.
Viewers were privy to his complicated life throughout the 18 episodes, a life that was a constant mix of a stressful work environment, family troubles with his adoptive parents and teenage son, and testing the waters with his love interest.
Doogie Kameāloha, M.D., Disney+ (premiering 2021)
We’re getting another series reboot from Disney+: Doogie Kameāloha, M.D.
This name might sound familiar, and that’s because the show is a reboot of the 1989 series Doogie Howser, M.D.!
In this adaptation, the original series is acknowledged as a TV show and is used as a reference to nickname the new main character, Lahela Kameāloha.
Lahela, or Doogie as she is now called by her peers, is a 16-year-old prodigy.
Though she tries to live a normal high school life, that’s pretty tough when she’s also juggling an actual medical career as a Harvard Medical School graduate!
One West Waikiki, CBS/syndication (1994 – 1996)
CBS brings yet another Hawaii-based crime drama to this list with One West Waikiki, which aired for two seasons back in the mid-1990s.
Dr. Dawn “Holli” Holliday is a forensics expert who used to work with the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office. However, after the murder of her boyfriend, she relocates to Hawaii and is appointed as the police department’s medical examiner.
With her assistant Nui’s help, Holli assists the Honolulu PD with solving crimes.
This is when she often goes head to head with their top homicide detective, Lt. Mack Wolfe, though they must work through their love-hate relationship to solve their cases.
Young Rock, NBC (2021 – present)
Set in the format of a “story within a story”, NBC’s sitcom Young Rock mixes fiction with reality in retelling the life of this generation’s most recognizable celebrities: Dwayne Johnson.
The fictional part? The overarching plot is that Johnson is running his campaign as a candidate for the 2032 US presidential election.
This theme is what drives the flashbacks that borrow heavily from Johnson’s reality: pivotal moments in his youth that contributed to the person he is today.
Young Rock lets us peek behind the curtain of Johnson as a ten-year-old in Hawaii, a high schooler in Pennsylvania, a football player at the University of Miami, and today.
Raven, CBS (1992 – 1993)
The eponymous main character of CBS’ Raven is ninja-trained Special Forces agent Jonathan Raven.
Whereas he previously used his intense martial arts training as one of the Special Forces’ top assassins, he spends his retirement using them to search for his long-lost son in Honolulu, Hawaii.
He is also constantly on the run from a group of assassins from the deadly Black Dragon clan, who are hellbent on killing both him and his son.
Raven is helped along the way by a former military buddy turned private eye, Herman “Ski” Jablonski.
The Brian Keith Show, NBC (1972 – 1974)
The Brian Keith Show was actually titled The Little People during its first season!
The series followed Dr. Sean Jamison (played by the later-titular actor Brian Keith) and his daughter Dr. Anne Jamison, who were both pediatricians running a free clinic for children in O’ahu, Hawaii, and each episode featured a unique pediatric case treated by the Dr. Jamisons.
The second season brought a host of new characters, including Dr. Austin Chaffee, who rents an office space at his clinic and becomes a source of conflict (albeit nothing serious) throughout the plot.
Lilo & Stitch: The Series, Disney Channel/ABC Kids (2003 – 2006)
Despite being an animated series with a young target audience, we can’t talk about Hawaii without including Lilo & Stitch: The Series (and the films, of course!).
It picks up right where the 2003 movie sequel Stitch! The Movie ended, where Lilo and Stitch are trying to collect the rest of Jumba’s 625 missing alien experiments.
Whenever they successfully find one of Stitch’s alien buddies, they turn them into a good creature and drop them off at a place where they can put their unique talent to good use.
Hawaiian Eye, ABC (1959 – 1963)
Hawaiian Eye was a detective series that aired for four seasons in the early 1960s, with the title referencing the detective agency and private security firm that is central to the series.
Private Investigators Tracy Steele and Tom Lopaka are partners at the firm, who provide security services to the Hawaiian Village Hotel in exchange for a private compound on hotel grounds.
With the help of singer-photographer Connie Blake and cabbie Kim Quisado (whose contacts around Hawaii are pivotal), the Hawaiian Eye agency is able to solve various mysteries and protect their clients across the islands.
Marker, UPN (1995)
When a TV show has a tagline like “America’s Coolest Hero”, there’s no doubt that your curiosity would be piqued.
UPN’s Marker tells the story of Richard DeMorra, whose late father was a wealthy business mogul in Hawaii’s rose-growing business.
Whenever his father met someone he believed had contributed in some way to his success, he’d give them a “marker” and a promise that they could call him in for a favor at any time.
This legacy was left to Richard when his father passed and he tries his best to continue his father’s work, with each episode showing a new marker and the journey that comes with it.
Beyond the Break, The N (2006 – 2009)
Beyond the Break is a drama series that focuses on one of the most popular pastimes in Hawaii: surfing.
More specifically, it tells the story of four strong women who are trying to carve their paths in the competitive world of professional surfing.
Lacey Farmer, Birdie Scott, Kai Kealoha, and Dawn Preston are aiming for stardom when it comes to catching the waves and must band together to overcome differences in their personal lives in order to do so.
They’re helped along on their journey by their instructor Justin Healy.
The Byrds of Paradise, ABC (1994)
ABC’s The Byrds of Paradise follows the titular Byrd family who, after the sudden death of the family matriarch, relocate from New Haven, Connecticut to Hawaii.
Sam Byrd accepts a position as headmaster of a private school there, and both he and his kids try to adjust to their new environment.
The Byrds of Paradise depicts a much more realistic view of local Hawaiian life, as it really injects many different aspects of Hawaiian culture and shows the struggles of a family in a completely unfamiliar lifestyle.
The local characters they interact with are all local actors as well!
Follow the Sun, ABC (1961 – 1962)
Last but not least, we have another classic that aired in the 1960s: Follow the Sun.
The show’s plot revolves around two freelance magazine journalists who are based in Hawaii, chronicling their daily lives within the confines of both their work and their active social lives (on the mainland islands and their boat, The Scuber).
Because the nature of their work involves seeking out and chasing after the most interesting stories.
Follow the Sun also featured many guest appearances from some of the biggest celebrities of the time.