Celebrities Who Grew Up In Hawaii

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There is a lot to love about the state of Hawaii, including its year-round fantastic weather, gorgeous beaches, and rich, unique culture. And sure, they have the world's largest volcano, largest active volcano, and most active volcano — but they don't have endemic snakes (via HuffPost), and the life expectancy for the state is the highest in the nation (per the CDC). It comes as no surprise, then, that many awesome celebrities have roots in this incredible state.

From President Barack Obama — who was born at the Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Oahu, according to his birth certificate — to Woody Harrelson, who largely resides in Maui with his family (per The Globe and Mail), countless famous faces have at one time or another called Hawaii home. Many of them were born in Hawaii and then left to be reared elsewhere. This includes people like Nicole Kidman (born in Honolulu, raised in Sydney, Australia), Lauren Graham (born in Honolulu and moved around before settling in Arlington, Virginia), Timothy Olyphant (born in Honolulu and raised in Modesto, California), and Nicole Scherzinger (born in Honolulu and raised in Louisville, Kentucky). 

In this list, we wanted to focus on folks who actually spent the majority of their formative years in the Aloha State (with one exception, because duh, Jason Momoa). Here are 14 celebrities who grew up and attended school in Hawaii.

Tia Carrere

Chances are you have seen Tia Carrere around here and there. The actor started her career on "General Hospital" before hitting her peak in the early-to-mid 1990s when she appeared in films such as "Wayne's Word," "True Lies," and "Jury Duty." In addition to steadily working as an actor for nearly four decades, Carrere has also done multiple stints on reality TV, such as her time on "Dancing With the Stars" and "The Apprentice." Aside from the screen, Carrere is also a talented singer who has released multiple albums, winning two Grammy awards for Best Hawaiian Music Album and receiving another two nominations in that same category.

Per HawaiiNewsNow, Carrere grew up in the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu, on the island of O'ahu, and was discovered in a local grocery store, Waikiki Food Pantry.. While she is of Filipino descent — 37% of Hawaiians are Asian, per the Census, and Filipinos are the most common — Carrere only played her first Filipino character in 2022. "I've played Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai — so many different ethnic backgrounds but my own. So it was great to pull on my aunt's accent, my dad's accent, my next-door neighbors' in Hawaii, because I grew up in a Filipino neighborhood," Carrere told the Los Angeles Times. "And to get to celebrate that and amplify that was really fun, because I never got to play myself and what I knew best."

Janel Parrish

Janel Parrish is best known for playing Mona Vanderwaal on the original "Pretty Little Liars" and its spinoff "Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionist." She has also appeared in films such as "To All The Boys I've Loved Before," as well as a variety of TV movies and guest roles. Per the Honolulu Advertiser, Parrish's family actually moved to California when she was a teenager so that she could pursue her dreams of being in show business. Before that, they were living in Honolulu, and Hawaii is still where her heart is. "I still consider Hawai'i my home, but for doing what I want to do (acting and singing) I have to be in L.A.," she said in 2007.

More recently, Parrish exhibited her deep love for Hawaii by marrying there. In September 2018, Parrish married Chris Long in an outdoor ceremony at Kualoa Ranch in Kaneohe, Hawaii (via People). Kaneohe is also where Parrish lived when she was growing up, per Midweek. When she filmed a guest spot on "Hawaii Five-O" in 2013, Parrish brought her parents and sister along. "We stayed with my grandparents, and we went all over the place," she told Midweek. "We went hiking. I ate all my favorite local foods. We went to the beach and took a drive around the island." She returned to Hawaii again when she appeared in three episodes of "Magnum P.I.," which also filmed in the state.

Bette Midler

She's an icon, she's a legend, and she's a Hawaiian. Yup, the great Bette Midler is from the great state of Hawaii — Honolulu to be exact. It is there that she even made her film debut when she appeared in an uncredited role in the 1966 film "Hawaii" before moving to the mainland and hitting the big time. According to the book "Bette: An Intimate Biography of Bette Midler," Midler grew up in a majority Asian neighborhood of the suburb Aiea, where her family was one of the few Jewish families. She left Hawaii for New York City in 1965, per History.com.

By the early 1970s, Midler was a bonafide star. She won her first Grammy (for Best New Artist) in 1974, and has since won two more (out of 14 total nominations, via Grammy.com). In addition to music, she is a fantastic actor who has been nominated for two Academy Awards, nine Primetime Emmy Awards (winning three), eight Golden Globe Awards (winning four), and a Tony Award (which she won; she also has a special award from 1974). 

Midler's many films include "The Rose," "For the Boys," "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "The First Wives Club," and everyone's favorite Halloween classic "Hocus Pocus." She has also had her own sitcom ("Bette"), had a Vegas residency, starred on Broadway, went on tour 20 times, and released over 20 albums. In addition, she's produced a variety of screen and stage projects, and written a number of books.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars (real name: Peter Hernandez) was born and raised in Honolulu, where he lives in the Waikiki area (via Latina.com). According to Tidal, Mars' father moved to Hawaii from Brooklyn, New York, because of an obsession with Elvis Presley and the film "Blue Hawaii," and his mother immigrated there from the Philippines as a child. He was working as an entertainer before he could even form full sentences, appearing in his family's Doowop group, The Love Notes (via HawaiiNewsNow). By age four, he was a key part of the act (a child Elvis impersonator), and by his teens, he was performing Michael Jackson in the Aloha Las Vegas Revue (per Tidal).

In an interview with Latina.com, Mars admitted to struggling with his racial identity as a child in a mixed-race family. His mother is Spanish and Filipino while his father is Puerto Rican and Jewish, which left Mars grappling with where he fit. "Growing up in Hawaii, there are not too many Puerto Ricans there," he said, "so because of my hair, they thought I was black and white." The "fit" question again became an issue when Motown — the record company he signed with at just 18 — did not know how to market him and, thus, dropped him from their label after a year (per Contact Music). Mars eventually embraced his differences and found his lane, as evidenced by "Grenade," "Locked Out of Heaven," and all of his other hits.

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson's music has a very laid-back vibe, which is fitting for someone from a state that is known for its chill, slower-paced lifestyle. Per Men's Journal, Johnson was born and raised on O'ahu's North Shore, where he was the youngest of three boys. Like many Hawaiians, he grew up surfing and, according to NPR, Johnson was so serious a surfer that he even competed — which makes sense given that his father, Jeff Johnson, was a famous competitive surfer. He told Men's Journal that music became an interest around the start of his teenage years, though surfing is still a passion.

Johnson left Hawaii for California when he enrolled at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from where he graduated in 1997 with a degree in cinematography (via the UCSB Alumni Association's publication, Coastlines). But though he's dabbled in film, directing and appearing in a few documentaries, music is what Johnson is known for. In June 2022, he released his eighth studio album, "Meet the Moonlight," which peaked at number 47 on the Billboard charts. Four of his other albums have debuted at number one, and he has had seven songs enter the Billboard Top 100, including his biggest hit "You and Your Heart." According to Men's Journal, Johnson still lives in Hawaii on the North Shore, where he and his wife are very active in the community, having co-founded The Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation, a charity focused on environmental education.

Keiko Agena

As Rory Gilmore's (Alexis Bledel) best friend Lane Kim, Keiko Agena was one of our favorite things about the TV series "Gilmore Girls," a true classic that people still talk about today. More recently, Agena was a series regular on Fox's "Prodigal Son," where she played a cooky but lovable medical examiner. Her other credits include series such as "13 Reasons Why," "The First," and "Better Call Saul," as well as a number of other guest spots, short films, and independent feature films. She may not be a household name in all circles, but many have seen her work in some capacity. In addition to acting, Agena is also an author and an artist.

Agena was born and raised in Honolulu — more specifically, the Pearl City area of O'ahu, per "It's A Hawaii Thing." She went to school at the Mid-Pacific Institute, a private prep school located near the University of Hawaii in Manoa (via the Star Advertiser). She moved to the mainland to go to college in Walla Walla, Washington, which is where she first realized she may face limitations in Hollywood. "That was the first time I realized that I couldn't just play any part because I was Asian. I didn't even realize I was Asian, really," she told The Lily. "In my egotism I didn't think, 'Oh, because it's a British women in the 1800s. Maybe that's going to be a little weird.' I really didn't see that, because in Hawaii, you just played everything."

Kelly Hu

Beauty queen, model, and actor Kelly Hu is a Hawaiian native who grew up in Honolulu, where she was born, per her website. She became active in pageants at an early age and when she was crowned Miss Teen USA at age 16, she became the first person of Asian heritage to hold the title (according to an interview she did with House of Geekery). "Back in the 80s, this was in 1985, there was not a lot of Asian role models on television or film or anything like that. I had no idea of the significance until much later because I grew up in Hawaii, born and raised in Hawaii, where Asians are the majority," she said. "It never really occurred to me that this would be something that young Asian Americans across the United States would look up to, or be a significant thing for them."

Eight years later, in 1993, Hu was crowned Miss Hawaii USA, though most people know her because of her acting work. She has amassed over 140 screen credits on her resume (via IMDb), starting with a three-episode guest role on special Hawaiian episodes of "Growing Pains" in 1987 (she had already been working as a model in Japan and Hawaii by then, per House of Geekery). Many people know Hu from her roles in television series such as "Martial Law," "Nash Bridges," "Sunset Beach," and "Arrow." She has also appeared in many films including "X2," "The Doors," and "The Scorpion King."

Jason Momoa

Jason Momoa is perhaps one of the biggest celebrities ever to come out of Hawaii, and he expresses his culture extremely often. For example, he is known to wear traditional Hawaiian outfits like the Malo, which is basically just a loincloth. He even wore one on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" after getting attention for the fashion via his social media photos. Momoa is so associated with his Hawaiian roots that it might surprise you to learn he actually spent most of his school years in Iowa, not the Aloha State (per Britannica). Still, how could we have a list like this and not include one of the most famous Hawaiians?

Momoa was born in Honolulu but moved to Norwalk, Iowa as a baby after his parents divorced. One of his middle names is "Namakaeha," which means "all knowing eyes" and is a name from his paternal line (via the Des Moines Register). According to the Star Advertiser, Momoa started spending summers with his father's family in Nanakuli at age 12, and he later ended up moving back full-time to attend the University of Hawaii. Per the Des Moines Register, it was while a student (and a surf shop worker) that Momoa got his first gig, a role on "Baywatch: Hawaii." Fame came when he started appearing on "Game of Thrones" in 2011, the same year he had a starring role in "Conan the Barbarian." He has since established himself as a giant movie star, as the DC Universe's Aquaman.

Carrie Ann Inaba

Carrie Ann Inaba has dabbled in many creative fields including acting, singing, and dancing, but she is best known for being a judge on "Dancing with the Stars," a role she has held for all of the show's 31 seasons. She certainly has the credentials to sit at the judge's table, as a former backup dancer for Madonna and one of the "fly girls" on the 1990s sketch show "In Living Color" (per People). According to her IMDb, she has worked as a choreographer for many projects, including "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," and "The Swan." She was also briefly a teen pop star in Japan (per the Honolulu Star-Bulletin), and was at one time a host on "The Talk," but it was dance that really put her on the map.

Inaba was born and raised in Aina Haina, an area located in the City & County of Honolulu, on O'ahu. Though her career blossomed in California (where she now lives), Closer Weekly noted that her social media suggests she spends much of her time at her home in Miami (at least during the COVID-19 pandemic). She has also professed her love for the Aloha State in many posts, such as one from June 2020 where she wrote, "The ocean has always been my home. Growing up in Hawaii allowed me the privilege of knowing the magic healing powers of the sea. She knows my secrets, and she gives me solace."

Anthony Ruivivar

Anthony Ruivivar has been a working actor for more than three decades, ever since his screen debut in the TV movie "Maverick Square." He has been most active in television, where he has held series regular roles on series such as "Third Watch," "Banshee," "Traveler," and "Turner & Hooch." He has had arcs on plenty of other shows like "Southland" and "The Haunting of Hill House," and has appeared in over a dozen films, including the cult classic "Starship Troopers" and the action satire "Tropic Thunder."

Ruivivar was born into a relatively well-known Hawaiian family, as his father Tony Ruivivar was a part of a prominent show band in Waikiki, a buzzing Honolulu neighborhood (per the Star Advertiser). He left the state to attend college at Boston University, where he studied drama but found he had trouble getting cast due to his unique mix of ethnicities — Filipino, Chinese, Hispanic, Scottish, and German, according to an article published on the State of Hawaii's website. "What began being my downfall — my look — actually worked out really well for me because it was a commodity: a young, ethnic, classically trained actor. So I basically had my pick of agencies in New York," he said of his time after college graduation. Ruivivar's most recent role was a recurring stint on "NCIS: Hawai'i," which films in Honolulu.

Evan Mock

Evan Mock — who grew up on the North Shore of O'ahu — once told luxury brand Oliver Grand that he lived a routine life in Hawaii, focused largely around taking advantage of the Aloha State's fantastic climate that makes it hospitable for outdoor activities. This was made all the easier by the fact that he was homeschooled (via Glamour). "A normal day consisted of waking up to my 6:00am alarm clock to head down to Haleiwa Harbor and boat a few miles out to swim with all types of creatures like sharks, whales, dolphins, etc with my crew," he told Oliver Grand. "After that, I'd get an acai bowl and check the waves, go surf, and finish the day off at my local skatepark across the street from the famous Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu."

In fact, per Glamour, it was skateboarding that first brought Mock to California at age 18. His first brush with notoriety came when Frank Ocean posted a video of him skating (via The New York Times), after which Mock starting getting attention for everything from his boarding to his pink hair. Next up came modeling for brands like Calvin Klein, Gap, Fendi and Louis Vuitton, according to Vogue and Nylon. He also does photography and is a designer who incorporates Hawaiian vibes into his clothing (per Vogue), but Mock's biggest claim to fame is being a main cast member on the HBO Max "Gossip Girl" reboot, which is to date his sole acting credit.

Maggie Q

Look, Maggie Q is just cool. We mean, you kind of have to be to get away with having a one-letter last name and still have people take you seriously. But it is not just her name that makes Q (real last name: Quigley) super cool, it is also her general vibe and awesome resume. 

She is particularly known for her action and adventure roles, like her lead role as Nikita in the CW show of the same name or her work in movies such as "Mission Impossible III," "Live Free or Die Hard," and all three films in the "Divergent" franchise. Her other credits include main roles in various series — from "Stalker" to "Designated Survivor" to "Pivoting" — and a slew of other Chinese and American films.

Though she began her career modeling and acting in Asia (where she moved at age 18, according to Time Out Hong Kong), Q is American-born and raised. Her father is an American who met her Vietnamese mother when he was deployed during the Vietnam War, and together they settled in Hawaii (per New York Magazine). Q spent all of her formative years there before moving to Japan. From there, she went to Taiwan, where she was encouraged by a manager to move to Hong Kong, where she was told her look would be more appreciated (via Midweek). It was in Hong Kong that Q became a massive star — so big that she left because she felt like she was "suffocating," she told New York.

Candis Cayne

When she was cast on ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money" in 2007, Candis Cayne made history by becoming the first openly transgender actor to ever appear in a recurring role on a network television show, per Today. It was (and still is) a huge deal, and it is unfortunate that Cayne has not gotten a slew of opportunities since. That is not to say that she has not worked, but she is probably better known for appearing on Caitlyn Jenner's reality show "I am Cait" than for any of her acting roles. Still, there have been roles — a recurring part on SyFy's "The Magicians," a couple of episodes each of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Nip/Tuck," some small films — and Cayne has also established herself as an activist and author (per Vogue).

According to ABC News, Cayne grew up in Maui, Hawaii's second biggest island, where she was raised alongside a twin brother. She moved to Los Angeles to become a dance student after high school, but dropped out and eventually moved to New York in the early 1990s, via oday. In New York, Cayne established herself as a prominent drag performer in the city's best gay bars, and it is there that she began her transition, per Out. She has been appearing on screen since 1995, but Cayne said in an "E! True Hollywood Story" that she considers her 2007 role on "CSI: NY" (where she played a murder victim) her first big break.

Manti Te'O

Hawaii has bred a fair number of notable athletes including baseballers Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez, football players Mosi Tatupu and Olin Kreutz, and five-time Olympic medalist swimmer Duke Kahanamoku (per The Bleacher Report). But the most famous Hawaiian sports star just might be Manti Te'O — and not necessarily for the right reasons. 

Te'O became headline news in 2013 when it was revealed that he had been catfished while a student (and star athlete) at the University of Notre Dame. His fake girlfriend was believed to have "died" before Deadspin reported the news that she never existed, which came as a shock to all, including Te'O.

While many people still remember the controversy a decade later — Netflix made a two-part documentary, in case they don't — Te'O added to his story when he was drafted into the NFL in 2013. According to ESPN, he was a linebacker for the San Diego Chargers for four seasons and then the New Orleans Saints for three. He subsequently spent some time on the Chicago Bears practice squad. According to the Associated Press, Te'O was raised in the small O'ahu town of Laie, and it is his roots that initially drew him to his catfish, who he believed to also be Polynesian. "If I see somebody who I look like, who was supposedly raised the same way as me, there's a lot of things that you don't have to talk about. You just skip it over," he said (via NBC News).