The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has issued an "all-clear" for the state of Hawaii.
"We dodged a bullet," said Gerard Fryer, a geophysist for the tsunami center, who defended the decision to urge evacuations of coastal areas, saying "better safe than sorry."
The tsunami raced across the Pacific Ocean in terrifying force after the magnitude-8.8 quake hit Chile. Officials in Hawaii had ample time to get people out of the potential disaster area, and thousands were evacuated.
The tsunami was causing a series of surges that were about 20 minutes apart, and the waves arrived later and smaller than originally predicted. The highest wave at Hilo measured 5.5 feet high, while Maui saw some as high as 6 feet.
No major damage was immediately reported, but scientists cautioned the waves would continue into the afternoon.
Sirens blared in Hawaii to alert residents to the potential waves. As the waves expected arrival drew near, roads into tourist-heavy Waikiki were closed off. Police patrolled main roads, telling tourists to get off the streets.
Authorities even flew overhead in Cessna blaring warnings to people to get out of the potential danger zone, and residents in Honolulu lined up at supermarkets to stock up on food and batteries. Cars lined up 15 long at several gas stations.
The tsunami fear was not unique to Hawaii.
The waves hit California, but barely registered a notice amid stormy weather. No injuries or property damage are reported. Authorities reported unusual tidal surges to the south of Santa Monica, in San Diego.
The Navy was moving more than a half dozen vessels Saturday to try to avoid damage from the tsunami. A frigate, three destroyers and two smaller vessels were being sent out of Pearl Harbor and a cruiser out of Naval Base San Diego, the Navy said.
In Tonga, where nine people died in a Sept. 29 tsunami, police and defense forces began evacuating tens of thousands of people from low-lying coastal areas as they warned residents that waves about three feet high could wash ashore.
"I can hear the church bells ringing to alert the people," National Disaster Office deputy director Mali'u Takai said.
In a news conference Saturday, President Obama urged residents in Hawaii and other parts of the U.S. that might be affected by a potential tsunami to "carefully heed the instructions of your state and local officials."
Obama said local officials have the U.S. government's full support.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.