At least 100,000 people in Hawaii were ordered to move from the shoreline to higher ground after a tsunami warning.
However, the first waves were less forceful than had been feared, no damage was reported and the warning has been downgraded to an advisory.
The waves were caused by a powerful earthquake off Canada's Pacific coast several hours earlier.
The tsunami struck shortly after 10.30pm (8.30am Irish time), as motorists clogged roadways in a mass exodus from low-lying areas.
"The tsunami arrived about when we expected it should," Senior Geophysicist Gerard Fryer told reporters, saying: "I was expecting it to be a little bigger."
The height of the first surge was initially put at 90cm, but the warning centre subsequently reported that early tsunami wave activity peaked at just 75cm at the island of Maui.
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie announced that the warning was being downgraded, ending the threat of serious damage.
Mr Abercrombie said that the state was lucky to avoid more severe surges but beaches and harbours were still closed.
Elsewhere, the National Weather Service has cancelled tsunami advisories for Canada and Oregon.
The US Geological Survey said the quake hit the Queen Charlotte Islands just after 8pm local time (4am Irish time) at a depth of about 5km and was centred 155km south of Masset, British Columbia.
It was one of the biggest earthquakes around Canada in decades and was felt across a wide area in British Columbia.